Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.Proverbs 3:5-6
As early as in September 2020, one community megachurch in the United States stood out among the rest with its defiance against an order to limit attendance, invoked by the State of California to curb rising COVID-19 infections. The pastor of Grace Community Church, John MacArthur asserted that “The one who’s behind the virus of deception is the arch deceiver Satan himself”, while keeping church doors opened and resisting instructions imposed on attendance.
Public opinions levied against MacArthur include allegations of greed, of not wanting to disrupt the flow of money being given by believers to the church, to being reminded of the clarity of Scripture in Romans 13, where Paul taught the importance of submission to the authorities and anyone who resists the ordinance of God, will invite judgment on themselves.
One citizen, Barry Wasserman from Huntington Beach, argued that, “America has always been a land that pride itself on having religion as a foundation for deciding between right and wrong. But there are times when people should take a moment to reason with themselves about whether what they are being told is in their best interest.”
The public backlash continued to mount as the government went all out against MacArthur and Grace Community Church, by obtaining court restraining orders directing the church to stop holding indoor services, on the basis that there’s immediate threat to public health and safety due to the rising pandemic. Among other things the Los Angeles Superior Court also directed the church to mandate that congregation members wear masks and practice physical distancing if the house of worship decides to hold outdoor services.
The Defiant John MacArthur
Pastor John MacArthur insisted and complained about the various health measures required by local and state authorities under the pretext to prevent further spread of the coronavirus.
He said, “The question has come up a number of times about why Grace Church does not just comply with the orders that have been laid down for churches, and 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 also stated that following the rules would mean a complete shut down of the church itself.
And he went on point to clarify that obviously these directives are not constitutional, and it goes against the will of the Lord of the church, who calls us together, the pastor said.
And so the legal battles, of what is perceived to be right and wrong, begins. To the rest of Christians in the world, Grace Community Church and John MacArthur, gave us the sort of “litmus test” of Romans 13 and as churches how we are to read the Bible and interpret them, even during unusual circumstances and times, in which conflict of interest prevailed and occupy the thoughts of the people.
Despite the charges, the State of California and the Los Angeles County that repeatedly claimed the church flouted health restrictions during the pandemic, brought the case to an end in a surprising outcome, with the county Board of Supervisors approving a $400,000 payment to the church to settle the case out-of-court.
According to a county staff report, the settlement calls for the state to pay an additional $400,000 to resolve the litigation with Grace Community Church. The report indicates that the county has already spent more than $950,000 in attorneys fees on top of other costs related to the legal battle with the church.
The strange twist of events that resulted in an out-of-court settlement by the government, its details were never quite made known to the public and how did the County initiated the legal suits against the church, but only to have it abruptly ended without a verdict, and done by way of a quick settlement. However, we do know as a matter of fact, no one in any highly contested legal dispute, would pull out and settle out of court, unless they are aware or come to knowledge that the odds of the evidence is against them, and their chances of a victory is very slim.
During a panel discussion organized the G3 Ministries recently, John MacArthur gave some insights to the events that led to the out-of-court settlement. He gave accounts of how he was described as doing something bold, defying the authorities, continue to hold church services, ignoring rules of mask wearing or social distancing etc. He stated how on the premise of faith, he continued to hold church gatherings, to meet the needs of God’s people. For a person having experienced 80 years of providence from God, MacArthur said that is how by going with what he knows, he held on to his faith despite not knowing the outcome, of whether he will be put away in jail or fined or being reprimanded in any other ways.
“The lawsuit with the state, the city and the county, went on for a year and every Sunday was a contempt of court and which has attached to it for me a fine and jail sentence, and all kinds of fines from the Health Department, but they went to court 12 times and the judge wouldn’t rule in favor of the city or the State because they couldn’t get past the First Amendment. And as long as the First Amendment was hanging out there and with the court having made a couple of decisions with regard to the First Amendment, you couldn’t put anymore constrain on a church than you could on any essential business. So the County didn’t know what to do. Well, to draw it to an end, our attorneys went to the County and said we wanted to depose the County Health officials, call them in for a legal deposition, and in 24 hours they gave us everything we wanted. BECAUSE THEY COULDN’T LET THE TRUTH BE KNOWN,” John MacActhur explained.
The Lesson We Learned; Trust The Lord
Grace Community Church and its Pastor John MacArthur have set, yet another gold standard for other churches to follow, that by submitting to the practical truth and trusting the truth is what leads us to providence and favor from God. Regardless of the hardships that the truth appears to be lunging with it, it is never a detrimental thing to follow the footsteps of the truth.
Jesus Himself made it all too loud and clear, that other than He is the Way and the Life, He is also the truth. And by observing and honoring the practical truth in our lives, we are in fact honoring Christ and His will.
And if we abide by these basic principles in Christian living, thus the bride conforms to the wishes of the bridegroom, because the friends and the bride could never mourn, as long as the Bridegroom is with them (Matthew 9:15).
In Romans 13:8-10, “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Paul’s exposition in Romans 13 clearly relates to the obedience of God’s holy commandments and that the authorities in power of the day in any given nation, are appointed by God to enforce His laws and that we are to submit to these appointed authorities and therefore anyone who resists will only bring judgment on himself. In Romans 13:4, it says if you do evil, be afraid. And defying of public order that goes against the basic principle of gathering to worship God, cannot be considered evil. That is what Romans 13 is about.
Meanwhile, Grace Church and John MacArthur landed themselves with an unexpected, bountiful catch; the church literally exploded in membership numbers, with thousands and thousands of Californians and nearby residents flocking to the church to attend their services, because other churches were either closed or limited during the lockdown. They even had to open up for the children to come in, as John MacArthur identified that it is not cohesive for our kids be remain under prolong lockdown without giving them fundamental access to fellowship.