County officials have allegedly threatened Grace Community Church in California with fines and possible arrest for reopening his church in defiance of lockdown orders from Gov. Gavin Newsom during the pandemic. Still, Pastor John MacArthur has vowed to continue in-person services.
"We will obey God rather than men," MacArthur said in a video statement Friday. "We're going to be faithful to the Lord and we're going to leave the results to Him. Whatever happens is going to be what He allows to happen. But He will be on our side because we will be obedient and faithful to His word."
“We will not bow to Caesar,” he added. "The Lord Jesus Christ is our king."
Officials from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health have threatened MacArthur with “repercussions such as fines and even possible arrest” if his church doesn’t comply with state orders, the Rev. Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, wrote on Facebook.
The department’s Environmental Health division "is investigating and will be reaching out to the church leaders to let them know they need to comply with the Health Officer Order,” Religion News Service reported.
MacArthur noted that this wouldn't be the first time that they find themselves "in a trial" or "end up in a court setting." In 1980, Grace Community Church was sued for clergy malpractice by the parents of a 24-year-old, who was part of the church, after he committed suicide. Nearly a decade later, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, allowing California Supreme Court's decision to dismiss the lawsuit to stand.
While he said he doesn't know "what the Lord has for us" this time around, they will continue meeting for worship every Sunday.
"We will meet as the church of Jesus Christ because we're commanded to do that. We will sing, we will pray, we will fellowship, we will proclaim the Word of God far and wide and even around the world through this livestream opportunity that we have," the pastor stressed.
Commenting on churches, including megachurches, that have chosen to shut down until January, MacArthur said, "I don’t have any way to understand that other than they don’t know what a church is and they don’t shepherd their people but that’s sad.
"And you have a lot of people in Christianity, who seem to be significant leaders, who aren’t giving any strength and courage to the church, they’re not standing up and rising up and calling on Christians to be the church in the world as I said on Sunday."
The pastor also addressed "misinformation" about his church and ministry regarding the Paycheck Protection Program.
He clarified that the federal government “did send us money; we did not receive that money. We sent it back … We did not receive a dime from the federal government.”
California continues to see a surge in coronavirus cases. It had a record high of 215 COVID-19 deaths on Friday. Total confirmed cases so far are 516,000 and over 9,000 deaths have been recorded in the state. Amid the surge, Newsom indefinitely closed churches and other businesses in more than 30 of the state’s 58 counties.
Some churches, including Destiny Christian Church in Rocklin, said they would still gather for worship.
In an earlier statement, MacArthur and elders of the church said they "respectfully inform our civic leaders that they have exceeded their legitimate jurisdiction, and faithfulness to Christ prohibits us from observing the restrictions they want to impose on our corporate worship services."
“Government officials have no right to interfere in ecclesiastical matters in a way that undermines or disregards the God-given authority of pastors and elders,” MacArthur wrote. "Compliance would be disobedience to our Lord’s clear commands."
Grace Community Church is making efforts to accommodate all persons as they take various precautions during the pandemic.
About a thousand extra seats will be kept outside the church building for those who may want to sit in the open. The church will also provide sanitizers and masks for those who want them.
MacArthur noted that they want to be as "gracious as we can be to as many people as possible" and be welcoming to all — whether people want to remain at home and watch online, attend in person but prefer outside seating, or wear masks or not wear masks.
"We don't want anybody to feel unwelcome. We don't want anybody to feel like an outsider because they sit outside or because they decide to wear a mask ... That's all fine. That's all temporary. That's all superficial kinds of things," he said.