In the times we live in, we often lament the extreme shortage of solid Bible teachers in the church landscape. One of the few we would recommend as being serious about Scripture is John MacArthur. It has been interesting to observe the response of the church to the Covid lockdown, particularly his church which we would argue has taken a fairly provocative stance in this instance by filing a lawsuit against the State.
We recently blogged about whether churches were being unfairly treated by the secular authorities in relation to the UK. We concluded that, as things stand, we do not feel that the church is being treated unfairly during this pandemic. We recognise that Covid-19 has a very small mortality rate and that as the weeks have ticked by, the infection appears to be under control. Also, there are some clear inconsistencies with the guidance such as pubs being allowed to open while churches had to remain closed for longer. And now that churches can open, they are subjected to fairly restrictive distancing measures with everyone having to wear masks and not permitted to sing – something that seems a little excessive.
However, on the other hand, the church has been able to continue its operation to a large extent with the help of technology during this period. Furthermore, and this is a crucial point, the lockdown restrictions are not an example of persecution. If the authorities were enforcing more extreme restrictions that singled out the church alone (from other faith-groups) then this would be a different matter. This would also be the case if the church was being prevented the freedom to share the gospel in some way. However, along with most other people-gatherings in society, the church is simply being asked to comply with the same guidance that affects many other organisations. And, above all, this isn’t this simply a case of respectfully submitting to our civil authorities?
However, churches such as John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church appears to be openly defying the authorities over Covid-19 restrictions and have even filed a lawsuit against the State. The church have explained this in a statement which it calls ‘A Biblical Case for the Church’s Duty to Remain Open‘. This explains their stance that essentially says that ‘Christ, not Caesar, is Head of the Church’ and that they feel compelled to remain open.
Now there are differences in culture that could partly explain the different approach. The overt secular humanism of the UK and our inherent cultural restraint are different when compared to the more visible platform the church has within US society. We also acknowledge that we could be wrong on this and concede that John MacArthur’s spiritual maturity and pastoral experience is far greater than ours. However, this seems an unnecessary provocative juncture to draw a line in the sand on and risks escalating a conflict that losing public goodwill along the way. Surely, the better witness would be to turn the other cheek and submit to the authorities, even if the measures do seem a little excessive?
We fear that this particular situation will escalate and attract widespread negative media attention – we have already seen a number of features on Grace Community Church in mainstream US media and this is likely to increase each week and become a developing story. It is perfectly possible that good will come of this and we are open to the possibility that the Lord will be using this in some positive way. However, we are not sure there is much to be gained by openly defying government advice and resorting to lawsuits unless there is no other option – something that does not seem to apply here.
This is clearly a delicate judgment call and we will watch with interest in the coming weeks. We must pray for John MacArthur and his church that the Lord grants them an abundance of wisdom and integrity as they endeavour to discern God’s will in the coming weeks.
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:17-18)