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California churches defy worship restrictions

by Rachel Lynn Aldrich
Posted 7/27/20, 05:45 pm

Worshippers, many without masks, filled Grace Community Church’s 3,500-person-capacity sanctuary in Sun Valley, Calif., on Sunday. Pastor John MacArthur on Friday wrote that his church would not comply with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s renewed coronavirus restrictions, arguing that the government overstepped its authority by regulating worship. The Democratic governor halted reopening plans in several counties two weeks ago following a surge of COVID-19 cases. Other churches in the state met on Sunday in defiance of restrictions, as well.

What are courts saying? The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday voted 5-4 to deny a request from Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley in Dayton, Nev., for an injunction blocking the enforcement of a 50-person cap on worship services in the state. Nevada has allowed casinos, restaurants, and other businesses to operate at 50 percent capacity. Justices Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, and Neil Gorsuch all wrote sharp dissents. “There is no world in which the Constitution permits Nevada to favor Caesars Palace over Calvary Chapel,” Gorsuch said.

Dig deeper: Read Steve West’s report in Liberties about Newsom’s singing ban.

Editor’s note: WORLD has updated this report to clarify the Supreme Court’s decision in the Nevada case.


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Rachel Lynn Aldrich

Rachel is an assistant editor for WORLD Digital. Follow Rachel on Twitter @Rachel_Lynn_A.

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  • MTJanet
    Posted: Mon, 07/27/2020 06:25 pm

    I am no fan of Newsome, but there is nothing that says we have to meet in a "church" building to have church or to worship.  It's a slap in the face to 1st century Christians and all Bible readers to imply otherwise.  What Bible verse covers this?  I agree with Heb. 10:25 - that still does not imply a building.  And not wearing masks in a crowded facility is simply not being wise.  I don't know how many will be infected from this episode, but I hope there are no deaths.  

  • Nanamiro
    Posted: Tue, 07/28/2020 02:31 pm

    If meeting in the flesh is not important, then why do we do it? Wouldn't it be cheaper to just stay home every Sunday and watch/listen to some worship music and a sermon? Why do we gather? If meeting together is so unnecesary that a virus, that doesn't cause any lasting harm in the vast majority of people who get it, is enough reason to not meet, why do we do it at all? 

  • Narissara
    Posted: Wed, 07/29/2020 03:00 pm

    Nanamiro,

    I was scrolling through the comments without realizing I was signed in.  I accidentally hit the "report comment" button to your comment.  That was totally unintentional.  I actually like what you have to say.  My apologies.  

  • KING LUN WONG
    Posted: Mon, 07/27/2020 07:15 pm

    In New Mexico, singing in churches is also forbidden by Governor Lujan-Grisham.  Although we can meet at 25% capacity, we must wear masks and may not sing.  Many of us are quite unhappy with these restrictions--it is truly restricting our religious freedom.  Kudos to the churches in California who are praising the Lord together, with music.  

  • Steve SoCal
    Posted: Tue, 07/28/2020 12:47 am

    Our church in California has started meeting both online and outside the church building under canopies that we set up and tear down each week while following recommended safety, screening, and distancing guidelines.  It is less convenient, for sure, but we are free to worship and hear from God's word.  It has actually been a good experience, in my opinion, to stretch us beyond our habits and accustomed comfort and ease.  And we can rise to the added challenges in unity and love strengthened by God's Spirit, His word, and the prayers and care of our brothers and sisters.

    I absolutely would oppose any true restriction on religious freedom, and I wouldn't put it past our governing authorities to try.  But I just don't think the pride and carelessness towards others that is being displayed by some Christians in gathering closely without masks is any kind of positive witness to the love of Jesus Christ.

  • not silent
    Posted: Tue, 07/28/2020 11:38 am

    Steve SoCal, thanks for your comment.  I agree wholeheartedly.  My church in Florida, which is fairly large, has had online meetings only for months.  They send out regular emails, and there are Bible studies on Zoom to help people feel less isolated. My Bible study group has remained in touch by text.  It's not ideal, but it is a way to stay connected.  We are all still worshipping God and praying, and I am free to sing as loudly as I like at home during online services.  

    Here's the thing: we aren't being forcibly shut down by the government.  We are being told to observe certain inconvenient and frustrating restrictions FOR A TIME to protect others with the hope that we can soon return to our previous practices. I honestly don't understand why Christians, of all people, aren't willing to do something for a short time that will demonstrate good will and caring towards others.  This is hurting our witness and hindering the gospel.  (i.e., A Christian friend recently told me that she and a Jewish friend were invited to a party at the home of another Christian; and the hostess made a point of telling all guests she would NOT be using masks, social distancing, or any other measures that have been recommended for gatherings because she wasn't personally afraid of COVID and "always" hosted parties that way. My Christian friend, who is in healthcare and whose patients would be at risk if she got infected, pleaded with the hostess to reconsider; but she refused. The Jewish friend was very puzzled by the whole situation and asked, "Didn't Jesus say to help others?")

    People are screaming about freedom of religion, but there's a difference between dealing with inconvenient restrictions to protect others from illness and being denied the right to worship. I don't actually know of any churches that have been literally forced to close, that I fear some MAY be literally shut down if they insist on defying government regulations. 

  • Nanamiro
    Posted: Tue, 07/28/2020 02:40 pm

    I am stunned by the pride of our government authorities, media and even church leaders who don't think we are smart enough or self-preserving enough to protect ourselves and those we love from death by a virus. I believe most people are smart enough and love life enough to not take part in behaviors that will likely lead to their deaths. If a parishoner is at a higher risk of complications or death by Covid, influenza or any other contagious virus, they will stay home or take extra precautions to not catch the virus. Our leaders are so arrogant that they feel we need them to save us from ourselves. 

  • VolunteerBB
    Posted: Tue, 07/28/2020 04:05 pm

    Yes, you are free to worship and hear from God's word, with or without masks.  We are smart enough to make decisons for ourselves and don't need politicians to tell us, especially when it comes to churches and preventing people from meeting and/or singing.

  • not silent
    Posted: Tue, 07/28/2020 07:56 pm

    I respectfully disagree. It seems clear from the picture (assuming it is actually from this past weekend) that we are NOT smart enough to protect ourselves and those we love from death by a virus.  There have been numerous other reports of people who defied guidelines and wound up infecting people who later died. 

    I PERSONALLY have a friend who was invited to a party and told by the hostess (who is known to all as a "born again Christian") that she would not wear a mask, use social distancing, or engage in any of the guidelines recommended for such gatherings. My friend works in healthcare; and, even if SHE is not in one of the at risk groups, her patients ARE and some of the other guests are also.  One of her other friends, who is Jewish, commented, "Didn't Jesus say to help other people?"

    We have no control over the pride demonstrated by others, particularly non-believers.  But we DO have control over OURSELVES.

  •  Uff Da's picture
    Uff Da
    Posted: Tue, 07/28/2020 11:22 am

    Gather?  Certainly!

    Wear masks?  Yes!!!

  • VolunteerBB
    Posted: Tue, 07/28/2020 01:51 pm

    As Christians, we want to go along to get along, and to obey the authorities.  However, there comes a time when we must disobey, and this is one of them.  It is interesting to me to read about those who scream about separation of church and state when there is a cross at a cemetary or nativity scene on public property, but how silent they are now when a government is actively shutting down churches or curtailing their attendance, yet a casino and marijuana stores are business as usual or close to it.  Civil government serves at the pleasure of the people, not the other way around.  

    Most of us are old enough to know that if A leads to B leads to C leads to D and D is death (or whatever), then we had better start resisting at A and not wait until it is too late and more things are entrenched.  Just think about the abortion issue (right to privacy), gay rights (just leave us alone and what we do in the privacy of our own home is no one's business), look where we are now.  Abortion on demand from conception to almost birth for any reason; and LGBTQ, etc., now forcing their beliefs on everyone, including prohibiting minors from talking to a counselor if they are having gender/sexual identiy or same sex attraction issues.  Already law in CA, coming to a community/state near you.  Slippery slopes y'all!  We've seen them, experienced them, and know they will continue.

  • Nanamiro
    Posted: Tue, 07/28/2020 02:44 pm

    I agree. This virus is deadly among a very small percentage of people, but that is not reason enough to have to jump through endless government-imposed hoops for the forseeable future. 

  • Nanamiro
    Posted: Tue, 07/28/2020 02:49 pm

    I am so glad to see a prominent pastor willing to stand up and declare that gathering as believers is important. I have not yet read his letter, but I am sure he trusts his congregation to decide for themselves personally whether coming back to church, mask or not, is a risk they want to take. If not, they can continue to meet online. At such a horribly divisive time in our country as now, the church needs to be together and not living in perpetual fear.

  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Wed, 07/29/2020 09:27 am

    My point and question is whether government restrictions and edicts are preventing us from obeying God. If so, and to quote Francis Schaeffer, "How should we then live?" Maybe the fallout from this pandemic and governmental over reach is giving us opportunities to reexamine how we "DO Church" to make us conformed to His image and be part of his Divine plan that began before the World began!! As pointed out in another WORLD piece, men fall asleep during sermons and long for something more...

    Not desiring to be pedantic, but in an attempt to peel back the onion layers a bit, please allow me to make a point about the oft quoted part of Hebrews 10:25

    "Christians are therefore commanded not to forsake the practice of meeting together" (paraphrase from the Grace Community statement linked to this article).

    The context goes like this (Hebrews 10:19-25):

    Therefore brethren having boldness to enter the holiest by the blood of Jesus (10:19)

    Then three commands:

    1)let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Heb. 10:22)

    2)Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. (Heb. 10:23)

    3) And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, (Heb. 10:24)

    Those are the only 3 commands in this context. ONLY 3!

    And then a subpoint in verse 25:

    'not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together... BUT exhorting one another..."

    This is not a command in Greek and should not be made one in English. But we love to take verses out of context and use them to support our agenda. The command most closely associated with "not forsaking...but exhorting" is "Let us consider."

    So, that being said, what is the church called to do?

    Can she accomplish her task, vis a vis the three specific commands in this passage in Hebrews by sitting in pews and listening to a sermon?

    Are we called to simply gather and thus have fulfilled God's call on our lives? Does this allow us to consider one another to stir up love and good works? If so we must do it. If not, or if there are other ways to obey these injunctions, we should pursue them!

    Again, my point and question is whether government restrictions and edicts are preventing us from any of this? And if so, "How should we then live?" Maybe God is giving us opportunities to reexamine how we "DO Church" to make us conformed to His image and be part of his Divine plan that began before the World began!! As pointed out in another WORLD piece, men fall asleep during sermons and long for something more...

  • OldMike
    Posted: Wed, 07/29/2020 12:48 pm

    As we "consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, [verse 24, NIV] Let us not give up meeting together... but let us encourage one another [verse 25]."  In our present world with things like Zoom and Facebook available, I believe we must see that we can accomplish the "spur(ring) one another" and "encourage(ing) one another" quite well by meeting online--without physically meeting face-to-face, when there's a strong chance that meeting face-to-face could be harmful to some of us.  In our present world, do we not also accept that the Scriptures can come in the form of text on our phones and other electronic devices?  Do we not accept the use of electric lights in our meeting places?  And so forth. Or will we insist the only Scriptural way to do something is to follow the exact ways available to First Century Believers?  And possibly be prideful about having been "so spiritual?"

    I wish the Comments feature in World News would allow us to post a "thumbs up" for a comment we find really pertinent and true.  Steve Shive, I would definitely give you one for what you've pointed out! Amen!  Thank you!  

  • Rebecca I
    Posted: Sat, 08/01/2020 12:56 pm

    The reporting on the Supreme Court denial in Nevada is not quite accurate.  Calvary Chapel requested the Supreme Court place an injunction on the Nevada ruling prohibiting more than 50 worshippers at a time (reasoning that Casinos and more got a different treatment).  That injuction was to be put in place as they were appealing the ruling.  It was the injunction which was denied, not the appeal. In the dissenting opinion, the justices mentioned that Calvary Chapel would very likely win a 1st amendment appeal, and they therefore thought that the injunction should be put in place. 

    Calvary Chapel may continue to appeal this Nevada ruling; but they are told to abide by the ruling in the meantime. Maybe they should hold church in a Casino!!!!! Or a bowling alley where 500 can meat at a time. 

    If the 'heart of the King is in the harnd of the Lord, who turns it where He pleases' (Proverbs) perhaps God is telling us to take our worship to the streets and open spaces and glorify him there, in the midst of people who may never enter a church otherwise. 

  • Lee's picture
    Lee
    Posted: Tue, 08/04/2020 03:54 am

    How long will the "professionals" who think social distancing and masks are effective continue to demand we follow their hypocritical guidelines? "Hypocritical," because they are so very inconsistent in their demands and beliefs. 

    To worship as we each feel led is not a sin or a lack of love. Those with strong or legalistic views on social distancing and the like should stop unlovingly shaming those who do not hold to their beliefs. I say "beliefs" because the science on this is very inconsistent. The data is inconsistent and the interpretations and safety guidelines are politically charged.

    Let those who want to worship in whatever way they want, do so with our full support. Let us pray for the safety of all and for the continued religious freedom we've been blessed with in this "free" nation.

    If we die, let it be as free men and women fully serving and worshiping God together as we see the day approaching. 

  • Lee's picture
    Lee
    Posted: Tue, 08/04/2020 04:02 am

    It is very hard to sing as a group on zoom or the like. Singing hymns and spiritual songs are best done together. Physical interaction is important for encouragement. When we first met together we felt the presence of God and were extremely blessed. 

    I do agree that we can worship anywhere, but it ought to be the choice of that local group and not anyone else's decision. Let them follow God's leading rather than man. 

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