Many people I know are applauding John MacArthur, the immensely popular, influential pastor of Grace Community Church (GCC) in Sun Valley, CA for defying the California ban on church gatherings this past Sunday. I'm not. Not because I think the government of California is right, but because MacArthur has just demonstrated more clearly than ever that he cares more about holding Sunday services than loving his neighbor (by which I mean his preborn neighbor), and millions follow his lead.
If you read GCC's statement on this decision without knowing much else about the position of MacArthur and Grace Community Church (GCC), you'd think they were all about obeying God and defying wicked secular edicts. But this is the same man who denounced the pro-life rescues that took place in Los Angeles in 1989, and even counseled Bob Vernon (then an elder at GCC and Assistant Chief of the LAPD) to go right ahead and arrest all the Christians attempting to prevent preborn murders (abortions) by blocking access to the abortuaries with their bodies! According to MacArthur, by disobeying the government the rescuers were disobeying Christ. As the film below shows, Vernon and his officers got pretty violent, and neither Vernon nor MacArthur has ever apologized for this act of collaboration. Indeed, they continue to defend it!
Yet this Sunday, GCC openly defied California and gathered together in massive numbers, without social distancing and without a mask requirement. What gives? Why break the law so you can hear a sermon and not to save lives?
Officially, it's about how we square certain Bible passages like Romans 13 with the rest of the Bible (and with our consciences). According to men like MacArthur, Christians must always obey Caesar UNLESS he orders you to sin. For example, if Caesar orders you to shoot an innocent man, you should refuse. But Caesar wants money? Pay it. Caesar wants land? Give it up. Caesar wants to regulate every aspect of your life? Deal with it. Caesar wants to let women kill babies? Don't interfere.
[If you think I'm misrepresenting John MacArthur's theory, I'm open to changing my mind. But so far everything I've read about him tells me I'm basically correct.]
Such an philosophy is excrement. It reduces Christian responsibility (and therefore Christ's authority) to a very short list of items and essentially gives the state authority to compel us into sins of omission. It's a very convenient theory for people who askew conflict and want an excuse to abandon those targeted by corrupt governments. Still, it's an attempt to understand the Bible and I can (sort of) respect someone who held to it consistently.
However, this decision by GCC to reopen their church Sunday throws me for a loop. MacArthur's mind-bending explanation doesn't make any sense. He essentially says that by forbidding church gatherings, California has ordered Christians to disobey Christ (i.e. commit a sin of commission). So he defies the edict. I agree that Christ ordered Christians to gather together and worship. Refraining from this too long is sin. But didn't God also order us to protect the fatherless and help those who were unfairly treated? Admittedly He didn't say exactly who, when and how, but those details, like the details concerning when and where we are to gather for worship, are merely matters of wisdom. There's a right answer and we ought to find it, or at least strike as close as possible. That's how general commandments work. That's how you avoid sins of omission. And if one such general command is good grounds for defying the government, all of them are.
So I cannot believe that this is really about Biblical exegesis. It's about love. John MacArthur, like almost all of us, loves his routine enough to fight for it. But he does not love preborn babies. His actions demonstrate this.
MacArthur's duplicity is really just the most egregious example of the wicked and disobedient way that American Christians have responded to the abortion holocaust. Regardless of our philosophy on the relationship between church and state, nearly every church in the nation, of any size, has treated Sunday services and other programs as more important than our duty to protect our neighbors from murder. The list of things we put ahead of baby lives is endless. Even worse, while some pastors (MacArthur is now one) have defied the state and held services when they weren't supposed to, the vast majority just canceled everything without a fight or switched to digital platforms, demonstrating that the "essential" programs taking precedence over preborn life were never that essential after all. Did they do it out of concern for coronavirus victims? Maybe. But all that proves is that coronavirus victims take precedence over programs. Programs still take precedence over abortion victims.
I've commented on this more extensively elsewhere, but it's very hard to reach the minds of a most men with a new idea. Perhaps the best thing that might happen at this point is for the state of California, and other draconian states, to crack down hard on Christians who dare defy their quarantine dictates. Perhaps it would be good for pastors to go to jail and churches to get boarded up! I say this not because I agree with such policies or have personal animosity towards anyone, but because it may be the only thing capable of disrupting us enough that we re-evaluate our lifestyles. When our idol (and normalcy is definitely an idol) is taken away, we sometimes realize it wasn't necessary to begin with. Once we learn to sacrifice (even for a small cause) sacrifice itself no longer seems unthinkable. Once our bad, spiritual sounding arguments for evading our duty are exposed as nonsense, we just might learn to obey.