John MacArthur responded to a pastor's criticisms of his church’s decision to reopen in defiance of Gov. Gavin Newsom's second round of lockdown orders, saying his church is “not spreading anything but the Gospel.”
“We are a church that has a reputation for the last 50 years of obeying the government,” MacArthur, senior pastor of Grace Community Church in Los Angeles County, California, said in a Monday interview with Fox News’ Shannon Bream.
“We are a friend to this society, to every level of this society. We have been given awards and accolades and plaques from the city government, the police department, all in authority, because they recognize what an honorable congregation this church has been,” he said.
“But never before has the government invaded the territory the belongs only to the Lord Jesus Christ and told us we can't meet, we can't worship, we can't sing,” the pastor continued. “There's no power given to the government to make those kinds of calls against us. ... We love our neighbors. We're not spreading anything but the Gospel.”
MacArthur’s comments were made in response to Pastor Gavin Ortlund, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Ojai, who wrote in a blog post that while he affirms the vital importance of corporate worship, he believes “the current situation is more complicated than MacArthur’s perspective allows.”
According to Ortlund, there are at least four biblical values that should inform the church’s decision-making in this situation: The importance of worship, love for neighbor, obedience to government, and maintaining a good witness.
“What concerns me about defying the state order right now is that it seems to prioritize 1 at the expense of 2-4,” Ortlund wrote. “Christ, not Caesar, is head of the church: and when the two conflict, we must obey Christ. But when we seek to avoid undue defiance of Caesar, we also act in obedience to Christ.”
Similarly, Jonathan Leeman, editorial director of the church-equipping ministry 9Marks, penned a response and said, “civil disobedience may not be the only legitimate or moral course of action at this moment.” Leeman said he wanted to “open up a little space of Christian freedom for other churches to make different judgments.”
"Christians have endured the inconveniences of persecution and pandemics for years, even decades, before," he wrote.
Speaking to Bream, MacArthur said that out of 7,000 church members, “no one has had any effect if they’ve had COVID.”
“We've had no issues there in the state of California,” he said. “The statistics are about 8,500 to 9,000 people have died out of 40 million. That means in California, you have a 99.98 percent chance of getting through this without any fatal illness. So the lockdown and the draconian things that have been going on to stifle this culture, to stifle it educationally, to stifle the businesses, to lock down people, and then to shut down churches is just not warranted by the reality of the virus.”
“We feel like we are the most essential reality in the world,” MacArthur added. “Look, Jesus is Lord. That is the Christian confession. It's always been our confession since He rose from the dead, Jesus is Lord. He's Lord of the universe, and He's Lord and head of His beloved Church, which He redeemed with His own blood. He is the head of our church. Governor Newsome is not the head of the church, Mayor Garcetti is not the head of the church.”
Officials from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health have reportedly threatened MacArthur with “repercussions such as fines and even possible arrest” if his church doesn’t comply with state orders.
In response, MacArthur said that while he respects civil leaders for their “their temporal officer leadership in our government,” they’re “usurping a role that they don't have” when they “move into the life of the church and tell the church what it can do.”
“The Constitution doesn't give them the power to do that,” he stressed. “And they don't certainly have the spiritual power to usurp the place that only Jesus Christ has over His Church.”
California’s restrictions for indoor religious gatherings include a ban on singing, as chanting and singing "negate the risk-reduction achieved through six feet of physical distancing," according to health officials.
At least three churches in California have already sued the state for banning singing and chanting in places of worship, calling it an “unconstitutional abuse of power.”