My spirit is troubled as I watch the conflict unfold between Pastor John MacArthur and the civil authorities in California. I read relevant news articles with bated breath and a lot of prayers because I see this situation as a vivid manifestation of the church’s struggle against the spiritual forces of evil (Eph 6:12). MacArthur represents the true church of Jesus Christ, while elected officials carry out the will of their father the devil (Jn 8:44). Furthermore, those who criticize MacArthur for not “loving his neighbors” by keeping his church closed may very well be that rocky ground—the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, but when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, he falls away (Mt 13:20, 21).
I can hardly think of any gospel minister as bold, faithful, and unyielding as John MacArthur. He has never let pop culture dictate his message or sway his thinking. After more than fifty years, he continues to teach God’s word without fear, shame, or the slightest hesitation despite his many critics. If I’m inclined to trust any man’s spiritual discernment these days, it is John MacArthur’s.
When uncertainty about COVID-19 prevailed, Grace Community Church stopped meeting. While plenty of confusion still exists, the numbers make the situation relatively clear—undoubtedly clear enough. This virus is not the threat we once thought. Every death is tragic, but it’s also an inevitable consequence of living in a fallen world. When more than 99.9% of California’s population survives COVID-19, Grace Church no longer has justification for neglecting to meet together (Heb 10:25). They must obey God rather than men who hypocritically threaten to fine and imprison Christians for gathering while making exceptions for liquor stores, abortion clinics, and massive crowds of lawless rioters (Ac 5:29).
It is no longer reasonable for me to believe pro-lockdown governing authorities are acting as God’s servant for our good (Ro 13:1, 4). An avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer does not wield his sword against Christ’s disciples or financially and psychologically devastate millions of others while proudly supporting Planned Parenthood or the current cultural Marxist uprising. Scripture may still require us to be subject to them, but that does not mean we blindly follow every foolish mandate. If we must, like Daniel, we obey God right into the lions’ den (Ac 5:29). We keep God’s law first, then submit to man’s unrighteous judgment later.
I am watching MacArthur’s battle closely because it will likely prove to be a valid litmus test for the fate of genuine believers throughout this country. Will 21st-century America uphold the First Amendment or kick the door wide open for state-sponsored persecution against the Lord’s church to enter our 244-year experiment with religious freedom? I am desperately praying for the former, but I have a sensible expectation of the latter based on biblical reasons I’ve previously expressed.
Sadly, more than a few Christian leaders have publicly chastised MacArthur for opening his church against government mandates. They claim we should save the fight for when it really matters. Some have proposed restructuring the church in a way that complies with quarantine rules, though their proposal is identical to the very models they once opposed. Brothers, wake up from your drunken stupor (1Co 15:34). When civil authorities demand we stop gathering (i.e., cease to be the ekklēsia) for a virus that may not be much deadlier than the seasonal flu, the right time is now. What better time to open our doors than when the nation is confused, distraught, and in dire need of the one place where lost people can find hope?
I don’t claim the gift of prophecy, but my gut’s been screaming since the beginning of this COVID nightmare. The world’s response never felt quite right, yet I remained mostly silent. I shared my concerns with a handful of pastors, but each assured me the experts know best. We should trust their collective judgment, these men suggested, so I did. The experts, however, were wrong. Their projections were catastrophically incorrect. While we should see dead bodies lining the streets, medical professionals are marking car accident victims and 95-year-old people as COVID deaths to maintain just enough fear to warrant oppressive lockdowns, which have led to the destruction of businesses and livelihoods and may very well result in the extinction of our liberty.
In recent months, my mind keeps returning to Romans 1.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:18-32)
Please note that God’s judgment doesn’t always come in the form of a worldwide flood or fire falling from heaven. Sometimes he judges by merely removing his prior restraints on evil. In other words, he leaves wicked people and nations to destroy themselves with their own wickedness. If you ask me to be openly candid, I’m inclined to believe God has abandoned the United States of America just as Paul described.
The true church, however, is and will always be another story. God promises his people, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb 13:5). So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Heb 13:6). Jesus suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify us through his own blood (Heb 13:12). Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured if necessary (Heb 13:13). For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come (Heb 13:14). Let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God even when the government forbids it and threatens to punish us (Heb 13:15).
I’m praying for Pastor John and Grace Community Church. Whatever happens, it will likely happen to all of us sooner or later.