A Bad Argument from a Good Man

Grace Community Church, where John MacArthur serves, has released a statement announcing its intent to defy California’s latest rollback of church gatherings due to concerns of a resurgent COVID-19.

The statement is a disaster.

If MacArthur wishes to defy the California government, he needs to do better than this. Here are some relevant excerpts:

As pastors and elders, we cannot hand over to earthly authorities any privilege or power that belongs solely to Christ as head of His church. Pastors and elders are the ones to whom Christ has given the duty and the right to exercise His spiritual authority in the church (1 Peter 5:1–4; Hebrews 13:7, 17)—and Scripture alone defines how and whom they are to serve (1 Corinthians 4:1–4). They have no duty to follow orders from a civil government attempting to regulate the worship or governance of the church. In fact, pastors who cede their Christ-delegated authority in the church to a civil ruler have abdicated their responsibility before their Lord and violated the God-ordained spheres of authority as much as the secular official who illegitimately imposes his authority upon the church.

He continues:

History is full of painful reminders that government power is easily and frequently abused for evil purposes. Politicians may manipulate statistics and the media can cover up or camouflage inconvenient truths. So a discerning church cannot passively or automatically comply if the government orders a shutdown of congregational meetings—even if the reason given is a concern for public health and safety.

MacArthur explains:

When officials restrict church attendance to a certain number, they attempt to impose a restriction that in principle makes it impossible for the saints to gather as the church. When officials prohibit singing in worship services, they attempt to impose a restriction that in principle makes it impossible for the people of God to obey the commands of Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. When officials mandate distancing, they attempt to impose a restriction that in principle makes it impossible to experience the close communion between believers that is commanded in Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, and 1 Thessalonians 5:26. In all those spheres, we must submit to our Lord.

Unfortunately, MacArthur made no substantive case, here.

In the New Covenant, without a Yahweh-mandated theocracy, we find precedent for defying the State in the Book of Acts. That volume shows the Church (1) being ordered to not preach the Gospel because the quasi-civil authorities do not like the Gospel, and (2) the Church refusing to obey (Acts 4:15-20).

In order to take advantage of this precedent, the Church must argue a local jurisdiction is acting in a way that fits the pattern. Specifically, persecution or otherwise discriminatory treatment because of religion. Of course, Luke is not on hand to take us into the minds of civil authorities, so we must use a “reasonable person” standard.

So, you must separate government directives into two broad categories of impetus for our context; (1) public health, and (2) persecution or otherwise discriminatory treatment because of religion. In order to trigger civil disobedience, a church must make a plausible case Scenario #2 is happening. In this, MacArthur has not succeeded.

He’s essentially advocating civil disobedience whenever a church disagrees with civil authorities. In fact, on his argument, why should any Christian ever obey his government? This logic is a blank cheque for anarchy, for those looking for it. I expected better from MacArthur.

What about Nevada?

Consider the situation in Nevada.

The Supreme Court (“SCOTUS”) declined last week to hear arguments from Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley alleging religious discrimination by the State of Nevada. Calvary Chapel sought to hold services with 90 people, with appropriate social distancing. However, Nevada restricts churches (and certain other institutions) to 50 people flat. But certain other public facilities, including casinos, are limited to 50% of the fire code capacity. Clearly, these are different metrics. When SCOTUS declined to hear the case, it let the lower court decision stand. In Justice Alito’s dissent, he noted:

The Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion. It says nothing about the freedom to play craps or black-jack, to feed tokens into a slot machine, or to engage in any other game of chance. But the Governor of Nevada apparently has different priorities.

Claiming virtually unbounded power to restrict constitutional rights during the COVID–19 pandemic, he has issued a directive that severely limits attendance at religious services. A church, synagogue, or mosque, regardless of its size, may not admit more than 50 persons, but casinos and certain other favored facilities may admit 50% of their maximum occupancy—and in the case of gigantic Las Vegas casinos, this means that thousands of patrons are allowed.

That Nevada would discriminate in favor of the powerful gaming industry and its employees may not come as a surprise, but this Court’s willingness to allow such discrimination is disappointing. We have a duty to defend the Constitution, and even a public health emergency does not absolve us of that responsibility.

If I were in Nevada, I would give serious consideration to defying the State’s order. To return to California, if Grace Community Church feels it’s in an analogous situation, it should explain. Perhaps it cannot.

In short, MacArthur (et al) has made a bad argument. No doubt, some evangelicals will gleefully post it as though Christ has spoken and the matter is settled.

It is not settled.

Perhaps there is an argument to be made that churches can defy the California governor. John MacArthur just hasn’t made it. No Christian should rely on this statement as a basis for defying his State government. We must do better than this.

Return to California

In response to questions about what, precisely, has changed to warrant this reaction, Grace Community Church released a clarification appended to the original article. It reads, in part:

But we are now more than twenty weeks into the unrelieved restrictions. It is apparent that those original projections of death were wrong and the virus is nowhere near as dangerous as originally feared.

This appears to be the beginning of an argument for civil disobedience based on government incompetence. But, again, the examples from the Book of Acts show us quasi-civil authorities who order the Church to not preach the Gospel because they doesn’t like the message. We have no example of the Church disobeying civil authorities simply because it disagrees with public policy. If Grace Community Church believe otherwise, it ought to prove its case.

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.

To be sure, this is hard. Every pastor feels it. But, is there really nothing that can be done? A full, corporate worship service in your auditorium is the only solution to this problem? You can’t do visitation? You can’t have smaller gatherings in homes? You can’t have outdoor services?

Major public events that were planned for 2021 are already being canceled, signaling 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. Therefore, following the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, we gladly choose to obey Him.

If MacArthur believes California is doing this to deliberately target religious institutions, then he must provide evidence. If he has none, then he’s encouraging any Christian on earth to disobey the State whenever he disagrees or otherwise finds civil authority inconvenient. This is puzzling coming from MacArthur, who believes (rightly, in my view) there was no biblical warrant for the Colonies to revolt against the British!

This is a terrible document. Too many Christians will accept it uncritically. Some of them will do so because they’re anxious for theological cover, any cover, to justify what they already want to do. Others, perhaps some of the same, will be moved by conspiracy theories or animated by political animus. Given MacArthur’s stature in the evangelical world, the bad arguments here are particularly disappointing. Even worse, MacArthur encourages you to “add your signature to the statement,” regardless of whether California’s civil context is your own.

I shall close with a summary from Phil Johnson, of Grace Community Church, made in the context of a dispute with Mark Dever about a 9Marks article which disagreed with the decision:

This is not an argument that triggers Scenario #2. Again, I say it’s possible there is an argument to be made for civil disobedience in California’s context. MacArthur just hasn’t made it.

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There are 66 Comments

TylerR's picture

Editor

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God (1 Peter 2:13–16).

I realize this may make little difference to some people. The formula of:

  1. eternal suspicion of "the government" (any government) if it is not Republican +
  2. unwillingness to consider that government has a public health responsibility +
  3. unwitting radicalization from selective media sources +
  4. varied doses of conspiracy theories about COVID-19 +
  5. willingness (nay, eagerness, in some instances) to impugn the integrity of dedicated public health employees and elected officials at city, county, State and Federal levels +
  6. a "damn the torpedoes" mindset +
  7. a "they're all corrupt, so we don't owe allegiance ... until the GOP wins" political animus (Founders has a podcast out just today titled, in part, "Defying Tyrants ..." about the JMac situation)

will sometimes trump (pun intended) scripture and its implications of the context for our present situation. This certainly isn't why JMac issued his statement. But, perhaps it is why some evangelicals are so eager to follow along on his coattails.

Of course, one can make the argument that Satan rarely works in such obvious ways. After all, wasn't Pilate just doing his job without a particular hatred against Jesus? This is why I suggested two triggers; (1) deliberate animus (ala Acts 4,5), or (2) discriminatory treatment. The latter has a lower threshold than the former. The NV situation is a prototype of my Trigger #2.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Don Johnson's picture

T Howard wrote:

Third, Don, you began your statement with "In the first century..." Thus, "at that time" would cover Nero. Regardless, Kevin is correct. Rome's issue with Christianity was that it promoted "atheism" and refused to worship Caesar as deity. Additionally, Christianity opposed many of the societal norms of Greco-Roman society.

Straining at gnats?

Why then would this be the charge in Acts 16: "and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, "These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews, 21 and are proclaiming customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans."

Perhaps you need to read more about Rome?

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Don Johnson's picture

dgszweda wrote:

 

Don Johnson wrote:

 

 

dgszweda wrote:

 

 

Don Johnson wrote:

 

In the first century, Rome didn't allow unapproved religions to propagate their message. The apostles preached the gospel anyway. Rome's laws weren't directed against Christianity per se, there was no particular animus against Christianity at that time, there was a reasonable argument that "you can't just let every religious quack have a soapbox"...

I think you are over thinking this. 

 

 

Really, Don?  No animus against Christianity at that time in Rome?  Most of the Apostles were killed as a result of the animus.  You have Nero, who killed Peter and Paul, you have Nero blaming the Christians for the fire and mass persecution of them....

 

 

Really. Note how I worded it. "At that time" - Nero's persecution is post-Acts.

 

 

You said "In the first century". Acts ends between 62 and 63 AD.  The fire was 64 AD, both were in the first century. Nero's persecution was tagged onto already a disdain for the Christian cult.

Again, straining at gnats.

And, FWIW, Acts ends about 60. Paul was arrested in Jerusalem about 57, imprisoned in Caesarea between 57-59, then to Rome, arriving about 60. That's where Acts ends.

My comments clearly focus on what the apostles were doing prior to the end of Acts. They fearlessly proclaimed Christ regardless of the laws about approved cults or not. I think my point stands.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

TylerR's picture

Editor

By the way, "protests" ala Portland are now growing in Seattle. They have been for the past several days. The same mistakes made in Portland are being repeated here. The "protests" are peaceful, etc. The WA Governor tweeted this just today:

I have seen no statement from Gov. Inslee condemning the unlawful, large gatherings. Perhaps they are available. I'll be looking. I'm gathering evidence so, when Gov. Inslee ratchets things back down once more and puts further restrictions on churches, our congregation will be in a position to make an informed case one way or the other.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

dgszweda's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

Again, straining at gnats.

And, FWIW, Acts ends about 60. Paul was arrested in Jerusalem about 57, imprisoned in Caesarea between 57-59, then to Rome, arriving about 60. That's where Acts ends.

My comments clearly focus on what the apostles were doing prior to the end of Acts. They fearlessly proclaimed Christ regardless of the laws about approved cults or not. I think my point stands.

I am not straining at gnats, because I am just trying to correct a misstatement.  You need to brush up a bit on Acts.  Acts 28:30, "He lived there two whole years".  He arrived in Rome in 60AD, but that is not where Acts ends, it continues to discuss his life for 2 years after arriving in Rome, so somewhere between 62AD and 63AD, depending on when he arrived in 60AD.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I don't understand the complexity some have introduced on this. It's simple. If there is any way to obey both God and man, churches must obey both. If there isn't, we obey God.

Churches in Calif have not been told they cannot meet.... which makes this odd:

We need to support and pray for JM and the Grace ministries.  The churches are suffering in California.  My daughter's baptist church has not met for nearly 5 months.  Very negative impact on her family.  He is taking the lead so that other churches can meet again as well.  

Other than Nevada, are there any "churches that cannot meet"?

I'm not even going to include Nevada. They can meet digitally, which is still meeting.

(If it's not meeting, what is it? Seriously, tell me what it is.)

The NT does not authorize Christians and churches to disobey laws because we think them unjust, unfair, inconsistent, or wickedly motivated.

Edit: Even in Nevada, groups up to 50 are permitted. There is no biblical case for disobedience even there. None. 

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Mark_Smith's picture

A few observations:

1- I infer a lot of hyperbole in critics of the statement and a lot of personal resentment and jealousy of MacArthur. The statement is from GCC Pastor and Elders. John MacArthur's name nowhere appears in the statement. It is not a "papal bull" as some critics seem to act like it is. John directing how everyone else is to act. I think MacArthur is being very careful here. It is a statement from the church leadership, not just him.

2- Most critics hardly mention the California context. There, the state govt has ruled there is no singing to be done, if I understand correctly. Also, there is a number limit to a church gathering irrespective of facility size. Can 500 people meet safely in a room built to hold 4000? California does not care.

3- Critics are engaged in GCC statement as if the only concern is the gathering itself. But the state is wanting to limit singing in worship.

4- Critics compare the statement's rejection of state oversight of the church to zoning laws. The problem with this comparison is a church can still gather somewhere even if a property is not zoned properly. Here, the state is saying churches MAY NOT GATHER at all above a certain size. Plus. if they do gather, they cannot sing. Well... that is the state dictating the practice of religion to a church. I have a major problem with that. So, GCC is concerned not just about gathering in their building, but the state claiming they can tell GCC worshippers to not sing.

I am thankful GCC is fighting this government overreach in California.

 

Andrew K's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

I don't understand the complexity some have introduced on this. It's simple. If there is any way to obey both God and man, churches must obey both. If there isn't, we obey God.

Churches in Calif have not been told they cannot meet.... which makes this odd:

We need to support and pray for JM and the Grace ministries.  The churches are suffering in California.  My daughter's baptist church has not met for nearly 5 months.  Very negative impact on her family.  He is taking the lead so that other churches can meet again as well.  

Other than Nevada, are there any "churches that cannot meet"?

I'm not even going to include Nevada. They can meet digitally, which is still meeting.

(If it's not meeting, what is it? Seriously, tell me what it is.)

The NT does not authorize Christians and churches to disobey laws because we think them unjust, unfair, inconsistent, or wickedly motivated.

Edit: Even in Nevada, groups up to 50 are permitted. There is no biblical case for disobedience even there. None. 

Because life, government, and religious freedom is a complex topic. The world beyond the US realizes this, and we're becoming more aware of it ourselves.

Do Christians have the right to flee state-sponsored persecution? Technically, they're disobeying the law by doing so. Yet God has not commanded them to flee, so this isn't a case of choosing between obeying God or the government. How can this be justified? Or can it?

TylerR's picture

Editor

You just made a better argument than MacArthur.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Don Johnson's picture

dgszweda wrote:

I am not straining at gnats, because I am just trying to correct a misstatement.  You need to brush up a bit on Acts.  Acts 28:30, "He lived there two whole years".  He arrived in Rome in 60AD, but that is not where Acts ends, it continues to discuss his life for 2 years after arriving in Rome, so somewhere between 62AD and 63AD, depending on when he arrived in 60AD.

Ok, so you have the last two verses of Acts which refers in a very generic way to spending two years in Rome under house arrest awaiting trial. Many scholars believe Nero released him after this period, some statements in the epistles lend credence to this theory. Nevertheless, if you want to insist that the whole storyline of Acts (28 chapters minus the last two verses) somehow now lurch into the Neronian persecution and invalidates my statements above ... well... OK David, have at it.

This line of discussion is a bit off topic, however, so we probably should drop it.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Ken S's picture

To my understanding, churches in California are not being told they cannot assemble or sing. They are being told they cannot do that indoors. This is not an order that is causing churches to disobey God.

Of course it's inconvenient and maybe difficult to do the service outdoors, but churches can put in the effort to figure it out and continue meeting. I can't see how there's any justification for defying the government order. It shouldn't matter whether or not the government is treating them fairly in comparison to other organizations, or whether churches think they are being targeted. And if they feel they should be able to meet, then find a legal means to address the situation. Defying the order when it isn't prohibiting them from following Scripture is a pretty bad look, in my opinion.

 

AndyE's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:
Critics compare the statement's rejection of state oversight of the church to zoning laws. The problem with this comparison is a church can still gather somewhere even if a property is not zoned properly. Here, the state is saying churches MAY NOT GATHER at all above a certain size. Plus. if they do gather, they cannot sing. Well... that is the state dictating the practice of religion to a church. I have a major problem with that. So, GCC is concerned not just about gathering in their building, but the state claiming they can tell GCC worshippers to not sing.

Let me push back on this if I may.  You very well could be right about this but I’d like to explore a few things just for my understanding.

While it is technically true that a church may gather somewhere else if the place they want to gather is zoned in a way that they can’t, or if the fire marshal concludes that their current building is not safe, or doesn’t meet code, the fact of the matter is that such a ruling may very well mean that the church cannot gather for a period of time while (1) they find a new location and/or (2) fix the issues in their current location.  In both the fire marshal case and the pandemic case, the government is restricting the church from gathering like they would like for a period of time. In the meantime the church can gather in different ways – virtually (which I agree is not what God wants in the norm), in smaller groups, maybe in a large outdoor field, or maybe in cars, maybe in a different state, or whatever. Agreed that none of this is ideal or maybe even feasible, but it seems to be the same situation in both cases:  temporary and dictated by the God-given role of government to protect the health and safety of its citizens.

What about the prohibition against singing, and greeting each other physically (with a holy kiss), etc?  I also agree that these are essential elements of church life, things that God wants us to do.  But when David’s men were dying from hunger, they partook of the bread of the presence.  They were not condemned because, as Jesus said in Matt 12:7, God desires mercy and not sacrifice.  Christ is Lord of the Sabbath and he is Lord of his worship.  It seems to me that if singing and greeting each other physically are very dangerous in this time of pandemic, and if these things can and have killed people who have done them in churches, that (1) temporarily refraining from these things during this time is God-approved mercy in this situation and (2) a legitimate concern of the state.  Now, if you wanted to argue that the pastor should have jurisdiction over these potential prohibitions rather than the state, you could probably make that argument, but it also doesn’t seem unreasonable for the state to do so either.  MacArthur was on Tucker Carlson and bragging about how his people were not taking any precautions like wearing masks or refraining from physical contact.  I really hope nothing happens there as a result of what seems to be fairly reckless behavior.  This type of behavior is exactly why states put in these types of regulations. 

Again, I'm not saying I'm 100% right. I'm mainly trying to think through these issues. 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Do Christians have the right to flee state-sponsored persecution? Technically, they're disobeying the law by doing so. Yet God has not commanded them to flee, so this isn't a case of choosing between obeying God or the government. How can this be justified? Or can it?

There is no law that says you can't leave. I suppose in some countries there is. Fleeing is a bit of a special case because you're trading one set of "powers that be" for another. I don't think it can be reasonably characterized as disobeying the powers that be. Even in a nation that has a law that says you can't leave, you're ending your relationship with that nation and putting yourself under another one.

So the situation, I think would be similar in conquest. Say you're in occupied France in WWII. Germany effectively says "We're the government here now." But are they? Christians would have to decide which government they're under. Most of us would agree the conquest was unjust and, in hindsight, probably temporary, so it's not that hard to say the legit. authority there is France.... but what if it's decades later and Germany hadn't been defeated? It's harder then. But the point is, a transfer of obligation from one gov. to another can happen.

MacArthur on Romans 13  

It reflects poorly on a person's theological depth if they teach a passage a particular way then, as soon as it's tested a little bit in the real world, walk back their teaching.

MacArthur... (emphasis added)

The best thing Christians could do was continue to live peaceably and honorably as citizens in their society. They were not to be associated with the Jewish mentality of insurrection and rebellion. Paul wrote this chapter to remind believers of their duty as citizens--to establish exemplary conduct epitomized by Christ, the Apostles, and the believers in the earliest days of the church. Paul wanted to separate Christianity from insurrectionist Judaism. He wanted to affirm that Christians are to be good citizens. Good citizenship is a question not only of not committing crimes, but also of honoring and respecting those in authority over us.

In Romans 13:1 Paul established this basic principle: Whatever the form and whoever the ruler, civil government should be obeyed and submitted to by Christians. The Christian has a duty to his nation, even if the ruler is a Nero or a Hitler.

- MacArthur (pre-Covid)

Later, in the same study, on 1 Pet. 2:12

First Peter 2:12 says, "Having your behavior honest among the Gentiles, that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation." In other words, "They may speak evil of you, but let that be a lie." But how are you going promote goodness in a society that wants to persecute you? Verses 13-15 say, "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether it be to the king, as supreme, or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers [the police] .... For so is the will of God, that with well-doing you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men." Foolish men look for something to criticize. You're lack of good citizenship and obedience to the civil authority will give them their reason. Verse 16 says not to use "your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness." So Peter told a persecuted group of believers to accept and obey their authorities.

So was he right then or is he right now, when the disobedience being advocated isn't even an issue of obedience to God? To me, the answer couldn't be more plain. He was right then, and the current political climate and strains this COVID battle is putting on all of us have clouded the judgment of men who should know better--and who, frankly, should have been better prepared to see their faith in Rom. 13 put to the test.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

T Howard's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

 

T Howard wrote:

 

Third, Don, you began your statement with "In the first century..." Thus, "at that time" would cover Nero. Regardless, Kevin is correct. Rome's issue with Christianity was that it promoted "atheism" and refused to worship Caesar as deity. Additionally, Christianity opposed many of the societal norms of Greco-Roman society.

 

 

Straining at gnats?

Why then would this be the charge in Acts 16: "and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, "These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews, 21 and are proclaiming customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans."

Perhaps you need to read more about Rome?

Don, just practicing good reading comprehension. BTW, you will remember, of course, that the emperor Claudius forbid Roman Jews from meeting in synagogues around A.D. 41 and expelled them completely from Rome around A.D. 49. Claudius took these actions because, "the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus [i.e. Christ]” (Suetonius, Divus Claudius 25). To the Romans, Christianity was initially seen as a Jewish sect. And, the "customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe" are what I described earlier.

BTW, this week I'm finishing Lucian (the last Greek author on my list) and beginning with Plautus (the first Roman author on my list).

Larry's picture

Moderator

So was he right then or is he right now, when the disobedience being advocated isn't even an issue of obedience to God?

Why not consider that he is right both times and is talking about different things. CA limits gatherings to 100 and forbids singing. How isn't that a matter of obedience to God?

Don Johnson's picture

T Howard wrote:

 BTW, you will remember, of course, that the emperor Claudius forbid Roman Jews from meeting in synagogues around A.D. 41 and expelled them completely from Rome around A.D. 49. Claudius took these actions because, "the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus [i.e. Christ]” (Suetonius, Divus Claudius 25).

According to Wikipedia, the reference to Chrestus is debatable, and in any case the expulsion was anti-Jewish, not anti-Christian as such.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Dan Miller's picture

Aaron: I don't understand the complexity some have introduced on this. It's simple. If there is any way to obey both God and man, churches must obey both. If there isn't, we obey God.

The difficulty is that we are commanded to meet and worship. But this suffers from the sins of omission concept: at what point of not doing these are we sinning? The method and timing of them is not a clearly commanded thing. 
These are matters of personal conviction and church leadership conviction. If an elder board says, "We are convicted to obey meet and worship in this way, but the government says, "No, not that way," then it seems to me that the government is usurping some of the church's and individual's authority. 
I don't mean to imply that the church is right in their decision - only that they have the right to make it. 

T Howard's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

According to Wikipedia, the reference to Chrestus is debatable, and in any case the expulsion was anti-Jewish, not anti-Christian as such.

Good to know Wikipedia is your source of truth. The expulsion was anti-Jewish because at that time Rome saw Christianity as a Jewish sect and not as a separate religious group.

...and now, back to our regularly scheduled program.

Don Johnson's picture

T Howard wrote:

 

Don Johnson wrote:

 

According to Wikipedia, the reference to Chrestus is debatable, and in any case the expulsion was anti-Jewish, not anti-Christian as such.

 

 

Good to know Wikipedia is your source of truth. The expulsion was anti-Jewish because at that time Rome saw Christianity as a Jewish sect and not as a separate religious group.

...and now, back to our regularly scheduled program.

Nice tone.

I posted Wikipedia for convenience sake. If you know for certain that the Jews were expelled from Rome by Claudius because of Christianity, you are welcome to post links to studies/papers/books whatever that *prove* your assertion. Sarcasm doesn't do it.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

T Howard's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

Nice tone.

I posted Wikipedia for convenience sake. If you know for certain that the Jews were expelled from Rome by Claudius because of Christianity, you are welcome to post links to studies/papers/books whatever that *prove* your assertion. Sarcasm doesn't do it.

No thanks. No need.

Don Johnson's picture

T Howard wrote:

 

Don Johnson wrote:

 

Nice tone.

I posted Wikipedia for convenience sake. If you know for certain that the Jews were expelled from Rome by Claudius because of Christianity, you are welcome to post links to studies/papers/books whatever that *prove* your assertion. Sarcasm doesn't do it.

 

 

No thanks. No need.

pathetic

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Don Johnson's picture

Before others successfully derailed my point on side issues, I said:

In the first century, Rome didn't allow unapproved religions to propagate their message. The apostles preached the gospel anyway. Rome's laws weren't directed against Christianity per se, there was no particular animus against Christianity at that time, there was a reasonable argument that "you can't just let every religious quack have a soapbox"...

I think you are over thinking this. 

Tyler has not chosen to respond to this, but I'll add a bit more.

Was Daniel's refusal to eat the king's diet in response to a direct anti-Jewish attack? Was Daniel justified, by your logic, in taking his stand?

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

TylerR's picture

Editor

I have explained my preliminary argument has two possible triggers:

  1. Directives that appear to target religious institutions due to animus against the message and/or its people.
  2. Directives that unfairly discriminate against religious institutions. That is, religious institutions are treated differently for insufficient reasons. This is the defacto form of #1, above, but likely not as explicit.

Unless you have an extraordinarily careless local government, it's unlikely Trigger #1 will apply. However, Trigger #2 is another matter entirely. There needs be no overt animus, just discriminatory treatment. By "discrimination," I mean "unjust or prejudicial treatment" (New Oxford American Dictionary, s.v. "discrimination," n., 1). Justice Gorsuch, casting about in a similar manner to apply "discriminate" in the context of Bostock v. Clayton County, defined such treatment as "treating that individual worse than others who were similarly situated," (Bostock, 7). Again, I say the situation in Nevada is a good example.

To return to your claims about Rome. Assuming for the sake of the discussion I grant your point, we would thus, under Trigger #2, have a parallel situation. The State issues an edict not directed against religion per se, but it's impact is discriminatory because it treats "similarly situated" entities (public facilities like churches and casinos) differently, in a prejudicial manner. By "prejudicial," I mean detrimental or harmful (New Oxford American Dictionary).

Your parallel of Daniel is out of order. We are not in a theocracy. The Church is a party to the New Covenant, which is in full effect. We are not prisoners of war. At best, the example is helpful for some broad principles.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Mark_Smith's picture

You guys have turned this into some kind of Supreme Court level twisted argument. This situation is in fact simple. In California, the governor has ordered that churches cannot meet in groups over 100 (I think that is the number). Furthermore, if a church does meet, it cannot sing.

This is unconstitutional given the First Amendment (and 14th) prohibition against government affecting the exercise of religion.

Churches initially accepted orders to not meet during the coronavirus situation given the potential threat and the reasonable need for the government to stop the outbreak. Since then it has become obvious the disease is not as virulent as supposed (though still serious). Thus, reasonable restrictions are acceptable. However, in this case, not allowing churches to sing is above the power of government. Second, the inflexible attendance cutoff is also suspect given the size of the facilities of many large churches.

This has nothing to do with Rome, or zoning, or any other thing.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Again, you're making a better argument than MacArthur. I never said there wasn't an argument to be made. I just say he didn't make a good one. My analysis is actually pretty simple; two possible triggers! I have simply sketched, with emphasis on the word sketched, one possible route to make a substantive biblical case for civil disobedience. And, let me emphasize, this is a possible route to a robust, logical argument to satisfy your conscience and the congregation's. It isn't necessarily a legal argument.

It may seem like a complicated route to some. Not to me. I do this kind of analysis every day, and I've done it every day for 18 years. I recently spent all day being deposed by corporate attorneys who wished to argue about what "predecessor" means in the context of a case my unit finished, as our attorneys gear up for litigation with the company. The fact is that it always comes down to these little things. Always. That's the nitty gritty reality of things that frustrate "outsiders."

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Mark_Smith's picture

I got all my stuff from the GCC statement (not the MacArthur statement, but the elders at GCC), so I don't know why you think it is so deficient.

Mark_Smith's picture

If Churches can't meet, and can't sing, why is there a mass gathering for John Lewis' funeral? My mother died recently. No funeral allowed. Why does he get one? There are singers there too.

Jim's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

If Churches can't meet, and can't sing, why is there a mass gathering for John Lewis' funeral? My mother died recently. No funeral allowed. Why does he get one? There are singers there too.

Because ... he's special (and you're not)

Also works for Hollywood luminaries and leftist politicians who can either have guns or be protected by gun-toting bodyguards ... but your right to own a gun  is questioned.

Also works for Hollywood and other luminaries who can have a large 'carbon footprint' but you shouldn't! (Al Gore, British princes, John Travolta et al)

Larry's picture

Moderator
  1. Directives that appear to target religious institutions due to animus against the message and/or its people.
  2. Directives that unfairly discriminate against religious institutions. That is, religious institutions are treated differently for insufficient reasons. This is the defacto form of #1, above, but likely not as explicit.

I think there remains a burden to demonstrate that these are biblical considerations, that following Christ's commands depend on animus or unfair treatment. Where in the Bible are we taught that it is okay to disobey so long as those requiring disobedience require it of everyone? 

(Again, distinguish this question from the question of whether or not churches should have stopped meeting. I am here talking about a government requirement to stop meeting.)

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