Grace Community Church, led by Pastor John MacArthur, announced this week that it will not submit to California Governor Gavin Newsom’s order to halt indoor church services, declaring that “Christ, Not Caesar, is head of the church.”
The church’s declaration follows Gov. Newsom’s recent announcement that all indoor and in-home religious gatherings, as well as restaurants, bars, fitness centers, hair salons, and barbershops in at least 32 counties must cease operations.
On Friday, MacArthur stated in a church blog post that the church in Sun Valley would continue worshiping in person.
Christ is Lord of all. He is the one true head of the church (Ephesians 1:22; 5:23; Colossians 1:18). He is also King of kings—sovereign over every earthly authority (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14; 19:16). Grace Community Church has always stood immovably on those biblical principles. As His people, we are subject to His will and commands as revealed in Scripture. Therefore we cannot and will not acquiesce to a government-imposed moratorium on our weekly congregational worship or other regular corporate gatherings. Compliance would be disobedience to our Lord’s clear commands.
While MacArthur acknowledges that texts such as Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 demonstrate the authority granted by God of civil government, he argues that “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.”
“Therefore, in response to the recent state order requiring churches in California to limit or suspend all meetings indefinitely,” MacArthur goes on, “we, the pastors and elders of Grace Community Church, 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.”
“The biblical order is clear: Christ is Lord over Caesar, not vice versa. Christ, not Caesar, is head of the church,” MacArthur writes. “Conversely, the church does not in any sense rule the state. Again, these are distinct kingdoms, and Christ is sovereign over both.”
He also argued that because the church is by nature an assembly, any restrictions goes against the nature of the church “in principle.”
“As government policy moves further away from biblical principles, and as legal and political pressures against the church intensify, we must recognize that the Lord may be using these pressures as means of purging to reveal the true church,” MacArthur continues. “Succumbing to governmental overreach may cause churches to remain closed indefinitely. How can the true church of Jesus Christ distinguish herself in such a hostile climate? There is only one way: bold allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ.”
“We said from the very start that our voluntary compliance was subject to change if the restrictions dragged on beyond the stated goal, or politicians unduly intruded into church affairs, or if health officials added restrictions that would to attempt to undermine the church’s mission,” MacArthur goes on, explaining the departure from Grace Community Church’s previous stance on complying with orders to shut down. “We simply took the early opportunity to support the concerns of health officials and accommodate the same concerns among our church members, out of a desire to act in an abundance of care and reasonableness (Philippians 4:5).”
“But we are now more than twenty weeks into the unrelieved restrictions,” MacArthur declares, highlighting the importance of the church to believers and the community. “It is apparent that those original projections of death were wrong and the virus is nowhere near as dangerous as originally feared. Still, roughly forty percent of the year has passed with our church essentially unable to gather in a normal way. Pastors’ ability to shepherd their flocks has been severely curtailed. The unity and influence of the church has been threatened. Opportunities for believers to serve and minister to one another have been missed. And the suffering of Christians who are troubled, fearful, distressed, infirm, or otherwise in urgent need of fellowship and encouragement has been magnified beyond anything that could reasonably be considered just or necessary.”
MacArthur points to the cancelation of events as far ahead as 2021, which he marks as a harbinger that “officials are preparing to keep restrictions in place into next year and beyond.”
“That forces churches to choose between the clear command of our Lord and the government officials,” he concludes. “Therefore, following the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, we gladly choose to obey Him.”
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