Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church defied a court order that directed them to refrain from holding indoor services amid COVID-19. The pastor argued that following the county’s stringent guidelines would ”completely shut the church down.”
On Sunday, Grace Community held a packed morning service, just days after a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge granted the county’s request for an injunction prohibiting the Sun Valley-based church from holding indoor services in violation of county health orders.
MacArthur began the service by outlining why “Grace Church does not just comply with the orders that have been laid down for churches.”
“I thought it might be helpful to give you the list of things that are required of us as a church so that you understand how utterly impossible that would be," MacArthur said.
He then read a long list of the county's requirements, including no singing, no hugging, temperature checks, no communion, using the bathroom exclusively during the service, shortening sermons, and maintaining six feet of social distance at all times everywhere, among others.
MacArthur said following all the rules would "completely shut the church down."
"Obviously, this is not constitutional, but more importantly, it goes against the will of the Lord of the church, who calls us together," the pastor said. “So look at the person next to you and say, ‘I don't know who you are but I'm so glad I'm sitting next to you.’”
The pastor went on to question whether or not the United States is truly a “nation under God.”
“Nations are obligated to worship the true God,” he stressed. “Did you hear what I just said? They're obligated to worship the true God and there are dire circumstances that will come upon them if they fail to do that ... That is not an option; that is a divine command.”
MacArthur argued that “when any government separates from God and His law in Scripture and from His people and His church, it invites judgment on a personal scale and a national scale.”
"It’s unavoidable because God is immutable. He doesn't change," he said. "When [the] government thinks its only responsibility is for physical, material, social temporal needs and ignores the spiritual reality of the true God and people's spiritual needs, when a nation becomes indifferent to the true God and His Word and His law, it makes a grave mistake, which if not reversed, will lead that nation to its own destruction.”
“The notion of a secular state is a lie,” he declared. “Government is ordained by God.”
County officials have repeatedly tried to get a court order to shutter the church, which has been holding in-person worship services since last month in violation of orders from Gov. Gavin Newsom.
On Thursday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff ruled that the church must not conduct any indoor worship services; as for outdoor worship services, the county allows them as long as attendees fully comply with the county’s mandates relating to physical distancing and face coverings, according to the nonprofit law firm Thomas More Society.
In an 18-page ruling, Beckloff wrote that the county demonstrated “a likelihood of success on the merits of its claims” and found that the “balance of harms tips in its favor.”
"The potential consequences of community spread of COVID-19 and concomitant risk of death to members of the community — associated and unassociated with the Church — outweighs the harm that flows from the restriction on indoor worship caused by the County Health Order," the judge wrote.
Previously, officials sent a cease and desist letter to the church and threatened MacArthur with fines and even possible arrest if his church doesn’t comply with state orders.
In August, Los Angeles County terminated a lease agreement for a parking lot the church has used for over 40 years.
And last week, the county fined Grace Community $1,000 for violating a COVID-19 sign ordinance due to the placement of the sign.
Following Thursday’s ruling, Thomas More Society Special Counsel Jenna Ellis said attorneys will “continue to fight for Pastor MacArthur and Grace Community Church’s constitutionally protected right to hold church.”
“While the judge did go out of his way to repeatedly state that he is not ruling on the merits, only a ruling at this very preliminary stage, Pastor MacArthur is still harmed because he has every right to hold church," Ellis contended.
“Church is essential, and no government agent has the runaway, unlimited power to force churches to close indefinitely. The County’s argument was basically ‘because we can,’ which is the very definition of tyranny. Without limiting government’s power in favor of freedom and protected rights, we have no liberty. We will fight for religious freedom, as our founders did when they wrote the First Amendment.”