John MacArthur’s Church to Produce Feature Length Documentary About Fighting Pandemic Health Restrictions

From the synopsis: “When Grace Community Church faces state orders to shut down indefinitely because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they realize the state’s attempt to replace Jesus Christ as the head of the Church” - C.Leaders

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

When the first sentence of the synopsis is misleading, that's not a good sign. Calling it "misleading" is charitable. Were they ever ordered to "shut down indefinitely"? If that happened at all, it was late in the sequence of events.

First, the church was not singled out until it got ornery. Second, if there was ever a "don't meet at all" order in California, it was very short lived. Like most other places, California banned indoor gatherings larger than a specified number. Churches were included in that. Also, like most places, there were some inconsistent exceptions to the rules.

The NT does not command churches to meet indoors or all at once or in groups of a certain size. The case can certainly be made that the rules were unfair and unwarranted. Whether they should be disobeyed on biblical grounds is a completely different question, and a stretch at best--especially from a group that historically took a very different position on obedience and Romans 13. 

For example, back when MacArthur preached this, the emphasis was quite different

 I am amazed at how many evangelical Christians who would have avoided such activity fifteen years ago are now aggressively pursuing the political lobby approach. I'm also amazed at the number of belligerent people who join together on issues of civil authority and civil rights yet who would never find any common ground on the issue of truth. You can find true believers, charlatans, frauds, and false prophets all united for the sake of "religious freedom," who believe that political lobbying will preserve the Kingdom of God in America.

(2) The attending result

One of the worst fallouts of the new preoccupation with political issues is that ultimately the ministry of the church is prostituted. People are selling themselves for something short of what the church is called to do. It cannot afford to become a flag-waving, protest voice for governmental change. That's not its calling. I am appalled to see that many pastors have turned from an emphasis on the gospel to an emphasis on politics--from an emphasis on teaching the Bible to an emphasis on coalitions that support particular kinds of legislation. Worst of all, their emphasis is based on the ridiculous premise that the growth and impact of Christianity is somehow related to government policy in America.

Later in the same message...

Paul was very careful in what he said in Romans 13:1-7 because he didn't want to be misunderstood. It was possible that if Christians pushed too hard for their freedoms and didn't respond properly to the Roman government, they could have been in trouble. 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.

Also along the way... (emphasis added)

To some people, evangelical Christianity was a proper justification for the American Revolution. They believe we had every right to load up our guns and kill Englishmen for the sake of our religious freedom. There are some Christians I know personally who refuse to pay their taxes because they believe that their freedoms are being violated. The truth is, the United States was born out of a violation of Romans 13:1-7 in the name of Christian freedom.

And... (emphasis added)

The one time we have a right to disobey the government is when it commands us not to do something God has commanded us to do, or when it commands us to do something God has commanded us not to do. For example, if all the laws that are being enacted for the rights of homosexuals at some point put demands on Grace Community Church to hire homosexuals, that's when we would say, "We won't hire them because you have just told us to do something that God has forbidden us to do." That is an occasion when we have justification for disobedience. I hope that if we are faced with having to disobey, we will have opportunity to speak loudly and clearly about why we stand with the truth of God.

Note there is no doctrine of "spheres" or even a hint that it's OK to disobey if the government is issuing directives outside its sphere.

So what we have here on this point is a flip-flop. I'm not going to say a teacher can never change his mind. I'd like to hear J.Mac explain why they was wrong years ago on this topic but is right now.

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.

Dave White's picture

Yawn

Larry's picture

Moderator

I am not a fan of churches making feature length movies, but it would be good to remember that GCC and other churches were vindicated in the courts and the government ended up paying millions of dollars to a number of churches because of their actions. Those court orders did not make the government actions illegal. It confirmed that they were illegal all along. The shutdown orders came early and they were such that while there might have technically been some room, it was virtually impossible.

If you would like to hear JMac explain, he explained it more than a year and a half ago, as did Phil Johnson. Phil Johnson also hlghlighted a number of reasons why the orders were unreasonable. This also was done over a year and a half ago.

When the government began to tell the church how it could practice its religion, it was a problem. Some have still failed to recognize the problem in that but it doesn't make it any less of a problem. Again, faithful Christians might disagree on exactly how to navigate this; it was complex. However, the more we know, the less reasonable most of the restrictions were. And there were people who said all this two years ago. So it is not really in the category of an understandable error or mistake in many cases.

Jay's picture

Since when is it the church's responsibility to glorify itself?  This reeks of a carnival barker summoning the crowd to look at how great Grace Community Church is.

I don't know what in the world has happened to JMac or at that church over the last decade or so, but they need to remember that we exist to bring glory to God, not magnify or lionize ourselves. We are just servants of the Most High. John ought to know, since he wrote a literal book on it.

Less focus on John MacArthur / Grace Community Church and more focus on Christ crucified, please. 

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Don Johnson's picture

Larry wrote:

I am not a fan of churches making feature length movies, but it would be good to remember that GCC and other churches were vindicated in the courts and the government ended up paying millions of dollars to a number of churches because of their actions.

Yes, but the court decisions were based on constitutional arguments, not Biblical ones. Further, "vindicated"?? Their constitutional rights were upheld, the righteousness or unrighteousness of their behaviour had nothing to do with it. They weren't vindicated.

 

Larry wrote:
If you would like to hear JMac explain, he explained it more than a year and a half ago, as did Phil Johnson. Phil Johnson also hlghlighted a number of reasons why the orders were unreasonable. This also was done over a year and a half ago.

When the government began to tell the church how it could practice its religion, it was a problem. Some have still failed to recognize the problem in that but it doesn't make it any less of a problem. Again, faithful Christians might disagree on exactly how to navigate this; it was complex. However, the more we know, the less reasonable most of the restrictions were. And there were people who said all this two years ago. So it is not really in the category of an understandable error or mistake in many cases.

I agree the governments were unreasonable in this issue, but when you say "the more we know," your case weakens. When the orders were put in place, we knew less. Though they were unreasonable then (my opinion), we knew less than we do now. It is somewhat ridiculous to condemn someone for acting on ignorance when they were acting on their best information at the time. Do you condemn 19th century doctors for bloodletting because we know now that harms more than helps? We might point out their ignorance, but we don't impute malfeasance.

Finally, the government told all society how to assemble, they didn't tell churches how to worship. In the USA, they overstepped bounds, but it is specious to claim that they were trying to specifically target religion (in most cases).

 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Larry wrote:

... it would be good to remember that GCC and other churches were vindicated in the courts and the government ended up paying millions of dollars to a number of churches because of their actions. Those court orders did not make the government actions illegal. It confirmed that they were illegal all along. The shutdown orders came early and they were such that while there might have technically been some room, it was virtually impossible.

A distinction is important here, one I already noted: there's a difference between "this is improper government restriction" and "this is biblical cause for defiance and disobedience." On the latter, no court decision is "vindication." On the former, yes.

I argued at some length in article that Capitol Bible Church took the better approach: comply and also sue in the courts. GCC rejected that option, and winning in court doesn't justify their decision.

It's also important to note that in our system of governance we don't usually get to decide ourselves that a law is invalid and then later get a court to agree with us. The law is valid until the court says it isn't. It's in writing then. It's called jurisprudence. It's law. Until then, it's just "every man doing what's right in his own eyes." We know how that usually works out.

Quote:
 If you would like to hear JMac explain, he explained it more than a year and a half ago, as did Phil Johnson. Phil Johnson also hlghlighted a number of reasons why the orders were unreasonable. This also was done over a year and a half ago.

"Unreasonable," sure. Not in dispute.

I read and heard most if not all of that and replied to it previously. In the post above, what I said I'd like to hear explained, in particular, is why JMac et al were wrong in what they taught for years before 2020. Maybe they've done that and I missed it. It would also be interesting to know why the old teaching is still online at Grace to You. They should take it down or revise it, since they've revised their doctrine.

Quote:
 When the government began to tell the church how it could practice its religion, it was a problem. Some have still failed to recognize the problem in that but it doesn't make it any less of a problem. 

I don't know of anybody who thinks it was not a problem. But there are all kinds of problems. When the heater goes out in your church building on Saturday afternoon in January when it's -30 degrees outside, that's a problem. Usually churches decide not to meat that day... though in the case of my church at the time, friends reached out to friends, and we met in the school gym.

But my point is is that "a problem" in general does not necessarily constitute "a government order to disobey God that we must defy... and encourage everyone to join us in defying" in particular.

Let's not forget that GCC rejected multiple options that were on the table. This is not a complete list:

  • Comply and sue, as CBC did.
  • Defy and sue but frame it as "what we believe we need to do but are not recommending to anyone else."

Instead, they posted a petition online and actively encouraged churches everywhere to join them in their chosen course of action.

Another couple of things that get conflated in all this are a) firmly insisting that a church did the wrong thing in case A vs. b) declaring a church and ministry and its leaders to be worthless in every possible way.  These are two different things. The conflation is an expression of a problem that takes many forms across conservative evangelical and fundamentalist ministry these days. The problem is conflating the concept of "a matter of conscience believers may disagree about" with "a matter that nobody should take a firm stand on or openly declare to be wrong." These are also two different things.

So I'm not saying GCC and JMac are apostate or worthless, etc. I'm saying they took a wrong path in this matter. I'm also saying, though, that I have lost a great deal of respect for, and confidence in, and interest in that ministry as a result. I try to keep an open mind about individuals involved there in various ways. I know some of them to be really good people. Better people than me (which is really not saying much! but I should acknowledge it). Still, there is a distaste I feel now that I can't quite make go away. I really wish they had handled it differently or would rethink it now. They have a lot of influence and clearly mean to use it. But they chose one of the worst of the available options, and are sticking to it. That's sad.

We haven't seen the last of apparent and actual government oppression of Christian churches and ministries, and we need to get busy working through the theology and practice on these things.

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.

Dave White's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

[when] churches decide not to meat that day ....

They will be ... vegetarians!

Larry's picture

Moderator

Yes, but the court decisions were based on constitutional arguments, not Biblical ones. Further, "vindicated"?? Their constitutional rights were upheld, the righteousness or unrighteousness of their behaviour had nothing to do with it. They weren't vindicated.

The constitutional ones matter biblically, particularly in America. It is part of "Caesar" and we are allowed to do things that are legal which include challenging laws and civil disobedience. And yes, it was vindicated legally. Their behavior did not become legal when the courts said so. It was legal all along (just like any other court verdict). Biblical Christianity has long had a place for this kind of approach of civil disobedience to bring about change. It is part of our system. And even if it were not legally vindicated, there is a strong biblical case that it was the right thing to do. The most reasonable case is that the government's mandate required disobedience to God in multiple ways. Resisting that was not merely a political statement. It was, for many, a matter of conscience. 

 When the orders were put in place, we knew less.

There were many people who predicted early on that this was not what we were told it was. And we began to get clarity early on. In fact, as early at January 2020 these things were known. We don't need to relitigate that, especially here. But we should at least acknowledge that a lot more was known than was let on by some. And in terms of church and legal issues, we can say there was some level of malfeasance. States knew they were crossing a line which is why Michigan and other states did it differently so as not to cross that line.

Finally, the government told all society how to assemble, they didn't tell churches how to worship. In the USA, they overstepped bounds, but it is specious to claim that they were trying to specifically target religion (in most cases).

How to worship cannot be separated from how to assemble. Assembling is part of worship. You cannot have corporate worship without assembly. Again that is the weak ecclesiology that I think COVID revealed. Assembling became optional. Partial assembling became acceptable as a matter of mandate. The governmetn could demand the church to disobey God's command to sing, to observe communion. And there were all kinds of rationales for it and they had holes all over. It just wasn't a good time for the church. Or perhaps it was.

As far as trying to target religion, it is irrelevant. Again, there is a good case to be made that God requires obedience even if other businesses or organizations are treated differently. And the first amendment expressly gives religion a protection that other businesses like concerts, sports, bars, etc. do not have. (Ironically Scalia was likely the one who changed that.) I think good and faithful Christians can disagree on the right approach to dealing with it. But it seems like we are living in different worlds. 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Dave White wrote:

 

Aaron Blumer wrote:

 

[when] churches decide not to meat that day ....

 

 

They will be ... vegetarians!

I must have been hungry when I wrote that! I was trying to remember the term for when scribes would put the wrong word in a manuscript because it had the same sound. It's not quite homeoteleuton. I thought there was a fancy word for it, but maybe it's just "typo."

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.