LOS ANGELES — Renowned pastor John MacArthur of Grace Community Church in California has reportedly received a letter from the City of Los Angeles threatening him with fines or arrest if he does not comply with a state order to stop holding indoor church services due to the COVID outbreak.
“He (Jesus) is the head of our Church,” MacArthur told Shannon Bream of “Fox News @ Night” during an interview on Monday. “Governor (Gavin) Newsom is not the head of the Church. Mayor (Eric) Garcetti is not the head of the Church.”
“We respect them for their temporal leadership in government, but when they move into the life of the Church and tell the Church what it can do, they are usurping a role they don’t have,” he stated. “The Constitution doesn’t give them the power to do that and they certainly do not have the spiritual power to do that.”
On July 13, Gov. Gavin Newsom decided to again close indoor dining, movie theaters, bars, and similar venues due to concerns over the continued spread of the novel coronavirus. 31 counties that were of particular concern were also ordered to close barbershops, salons, malls, gyms, and to cease holding indoor church services.
Some churches decided to consequently meet outside. MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, along with his elders, pondered how to respond to the shutdown. In a subsequent statement, the church concluded that they have a duty before God to stay open.
“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,” it said. “Compliance would be disobedience to our Lord’s clear commands.”
“[W]hile civil government is invested with divine authority to rule the state, neither of those texts (nor any other) grants civic rulers jurisdiction over the Church,” the statement outlined. “God has not granted civic rulers authority over the doctrine, practice, or polity of the church. The biblical framework limits the authority of each institution to its specific jurisdiction.”
“Therefore, in response to the recent state order requiring churches in California to limit or suspend all meetings indefinitely,” it continued, “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 church also published an addendum noting that the church complied with the initial prohibition on in-person services earlier this year because they did not know at that time “the true severity of the virus” and they believe it is “legitimate for Christians to abstain from the assembly of saints temporarily in the face of illness or an imminent threat to public health.”
But because “[i]t is apparent that those original projections of death were wrong and the virus is nowhere near as dangerous as originally feared” and cancellations of 2021 public events signaled that shutdowns would drag out into next year, the church felt that California had “force[d] churches to choose between the clear command of our Lord and the government officials.”
MacArthur therefore proceeded to hold indoor meetings as usual throughout the month of July, delivering a sermon entitled “We Must Obey God Rather Than Men”.
According to a press release from the Thomas More Society, the City of Los Angeles has now issued MacArthur and Grace Community Church a cease and desist letter, threatening a daily fine of $1,000 or arrest for continuing to hold indoor church services.
MacArthur has retained the Thomas More Society, along with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) affiliate attorney Jenna Ellis as legal representation. The press release states that Ellis, a senior fellow at the Falkirk Center for Faith & Liberty at Liberty University, is also “the senior legal adviser to the Trump 2020 campaign, private counsel to President Donald Trump, and served on his legal team for the 2020 impeachment trial.”
The Thomas More Society is named after the historic Catholic figure who opposed the Protestant Reformation. The organization assists many pro-life Americans and others needing legal intervention.
“This is not the first time we as Christ’s church have stood for Truth. We will continue to stand firm for the Truth today like we have every prior day in our 63-year history and as the biblical New Testament Church has done for more than 2000 years,” MacArthur said in a statement.
“We stand firm to continue fulfilling our biblical mandate from Christ to proclaim the Gospel and assemble together, and I earnestly hope that our stance will encourage other pastors, churches, and the general public across America and the world to also stand firm for biblical Truth. Church is essential.”