MacArthur defends worship
Religious Liberty | California churches push back against tighter restrictions in the state
by Steve West
Posted 8/10/20, 05:37 pm
Pastor John MacArthur stood behind the pulpit at his Southern California megachurch on Sunday and said, “I’m so happy to welcome you to the Grace Community Church peaceful protest.”
Though the church in Sun Valley, Calif., initially complied with the state’s coronavirus shelter-in-place orders, it has held packed indoor and outdoor worship services on the last three Sundays after church leaders issued a statement defending civil disobedience in response to tighter restrictions. California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s most recent order closes all places of worship in the state’s most populous counties, including Los Angeles County, where Grace Community is located. The shutdown currently affects 80 percent of the state’s population. In counties where indoor services are allowed, attendance is limited to 25 percent of a building’s capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees, whichever is lower. The Democratic governor also banned indoor singing and chanting during worship. Outdoor services are permitted throughout the state, provided social distancing protocols are followed.
Last week, Grace Community’s leadership retained a personal lawyer to President Donald Trump as part of a litigation team in case the county responds with legal action. Attorney Jenna Ellis, working in her capacity as a special counsel for the Thomas More Society, confirmed on Friday that county officials, through private counsel, sent a cease-and-desist letter to MacArthur on July 29 threatening fines or arrest. She declined to discuss the church’s next steps other than to say in an email, “We are considering all remedies available to defend the church’s constitutionally protected right to be open.”
Other congregations also have pushed back against California’s strict gathering limits. Pasadena’s Harvest Rock Church, which also is in Los Angeles County and has met since Newsom issued his latest orders, sued the state to bar enforcement of the gathering ban. A federal court hearing in the case is scheduled for Wednesday.
Last week, neighboring Ventura County, Calif., sued Godspeak Calvary Chapel and Pastor Rob McCoy for violating its gathering ban. After a hearing on Friday, a state court temporarily barred the Newbury Park church from meeting until an evidentiary hearing takes place.
“I wish it didn’t have to come to this, I really do, but we will be violating the judge’s order,” McCoy said in a message on Saturday to members. “We will be open this Sunday.” During Sunday’s service, demonstrators for and against the church scuffled outside, KABC-TV in Los Angeles reported.
Not all church leaders share MacArthur’s belief that COVID-19 restrictions necessitate civil disobedience. Jonathan Leeman, editorial director of the 9Marks ministry, said Grace Community’s decision to meet in person and inside is “a legitimate decision to make, but it’s not the only decision a church can make.” He noted that the church and state have overlapping spheres of authority.
Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a WORLD News Group board member, concluded on the Aug. 3 episode of his podcast The Briefing that “in the main, Christian churches and Christian leaders should respect all temporary, neutral, and generally applicable guidelines that are handed down by appropriate government and health officials in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
While affirming the Biblical principles in Grace Community’s statement, Mohler said Scripture addresses neither the frequency nor place of worship, noting “the reality is that Christians have had to be adaptable throughout the Christian centuries, more than two millennia of Christian experience.”
Editor’s note: WORLD has updated this article to clarify California’s current restrictions on worship.
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