John MacArthur Defies State Restrictions on Worship; Says Compliance is “Disobedience”

By Julie Roys
John MacArthur preaches at Grace Community Church

Well-known author and pastor, John MacArthur, announced yesterday that his megachurch in California will not comply with state restrictions on congregational worship, adding that doing so “would be disobedience to our Lord’s clear commands.”

In a blog post Friday, MacArthur acknowledged that Scripture tells Christians to submit to governing authorities. But he said that when government tries to exercise authority over religious practice, it oversteps its God-appointed boundaries.

“(I)t has never been the prerogative of civil government to order, modify, forbid, or mandate worship,” MacArthur wrote. “When, how, and how often the church worships is not subject to Caesar. Caesar himself is subject to God.”

MacArthur pastors Grace Community Church—a megachurch in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, California, with average attendance around 8,300. Los Angeles County is the most populous county in California and accounts for nearly half of the state’s COVID-19 cases.

For the month of July, Grace has been meeting outdoors under a tent, which complies with California Governor Gavin Newsome’s ban on indoor religious services.

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I called Grace Community Church on Friday and asked if the church will be moving services indoors. I was forwarded to voicemail and did not receive a call back.

MacArthur said his conviction that churches should gather, regardless of what the state says, is based solely on Scripture, not constitutional arguments.

Notice that we are not making a constitutional argument, even though the First Amendment of the United States Constitution expressly affirms this principle in its opening words: ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.’ The right we are appealing to was not created by the Constitution. It is one of those unalienable rights granted solely by God, who ordained human government and establishes both the extent and the limitations of the state’s authority (Romans 13:1–7). . . . In other words, freedom of worship is a command of God, not a privilege granted by the state.

MacArthur also warned that if churches allow the government to close churches now, they may stay “closed indefinitely”:

As government policy moves further away from biblical principles, and as legal and political pressures against the church intensify, we must recognize that the Lord may be using these pressures as means of purging to reveal the true church. Succumbing to governmental overreach may cause churches to remain closed indefinitely. How can the true church of Jesus Christ distinguish herself in such a hostile climate? There is only one way: bold allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ.

The response to MacArthur’s statement on social media has been mixed. A woman named Jeana tweeted: “Yes yes yes! Finally! I cried my eyes out reading this. . . . ENOUGH IS ENOUGH, WE SERVE CHRIST ALONE!”

Another person tweeted, “This really may become a defining moment as to whether the state recognizes the independence of the church.”

Yet, some strongly disagreed with MacArthur’s statement. David Shaw, a lecturer in New Testament from Australia tweeted, “This is not loving your neighbours… you realise after gathering you disperse immediately into the community & become a COVID bomb waiting to explode . . .”

Grace Community Church not loving neighbors

Someone named Anna K also noted that Grace Community Church recently took $1-$2 million in federal COVID relief funds. According to a tweet by Mike Riccardi, pastor of local outreach ministries at Grace Community Church, Grace applied for and received a government loan, but returned it when the church “learned of the changing requirements and strings attached.” The IRS reportedly never updated its database, so Grace is still listed as a recipient.

MacArthur's Church accepts COVID funds from state but not restrictions

A few asked why Grace originally closed in compliance with the state order, but now was objecting to state-imposed restrictions.

In response, the elders of Grace published an addendum to MacArthur’s post, saying they believed that the “original orders were just as much an illegitimate intrusion of state authority.” However, they said the church initially complied because it didn’t know “the true severity of the virus” and leaders believed “guarding public health . . . is a rightful function of Christians as well as civil government.”

Now, the elders say the “original projections of death were wrong and the virus is nowhere near as dangerous as originally feared.” They add that “the suffering of Christians . . . has been magnified beyond anything that could reasonably be considered just or necessary.”

UPDATE: The information about Grace returning its government loan was added after this article was originally published. 



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37 thoughts on “John MacArthur Defies State Restrictions on Worship; Says Compliance is “Disobedience””

  1. More information would be helpful. If Grace is meeting inside with no mask requirement or suggested mask use even, no social distancing or santizer use, are they unnecessarily offending a weaker brother? (e.g. the vast majority of other American Christians who already are currently meeting outside, online or inside with these common sense health precautions). If Grace is already implementing these CDC suggestions, then they also can legitimately claim they are being singled out over Walmart or other neccessary activities/large businesses open to the public in California. Do the police there uniformly enforce the meeting restriction mandate if protestors are not wearing masks or social distancing? I would hope their Elders have the foresight to require the CDC recommendations inside, then their meeting would be legally much less problematic (or much less expensive in using ministry funds later on eventual defense lawyers needed).

    1. You can watch the GCC livestream online. They were sitting and singing shoulder to shoulder, packed house, no masks to be seen. MacArthur previously shared a video where he stated that that “everybody knows” masks are useless, so that wasn’t a huge surprise. Poor shepherding and little love of neighbor shown, imho. If they had regathered inside and included following protocols that would potentially reduce viral spread, that would have been easier to affirm. As Al Mohler pointed out on his 8/3 episode of “The Briefing” – the Nevada church case is quite different from this.

  2. I agree! Churches should not be singled out for discipline and threats if they are following the guidelines that any other establishment follows and is allowed to operate when doing so.

    Apart from that I see another issue. We don’t need to share the same level/depth of fear that non-believers do. We trust in the Lord and know our days are in His hand. This influences our behavior in a way that should stand out from the world. Our calm confidence in His providence is a great witness during this chaotic time. Let them see the power of faith and peace it brings.

    Gathering for worship is essential to our lives. It is a travesty to have that taken away from us at a time when we need it most.

    1. His Child-did you know that Martin Luther gave advice to his people during the Plague?

      BE WISE AND CAREFUL! This is my own version of what he spoke, but you get the idea.

      I respect the opinion of others, but they will be taking an unwarranted risk. If any of his older congregants, or those with underlying risks contract COVID 19, it could be fatal. Especially for overweight, middle-aged white guys such as myself.

    2. Worship doesn’t just happen in a building. However, we love our neighbor when we are outside the building. So, if you get sick at church, it doesn’t just affect you and your family, it can affect the grocery clerk who bags your groceries, the neighbor you may stop to talk with on your daily walk, or someone in any medical facility you visit.

  3. I wonder if it’s economic, i.e., no offering, paychecks. It Takes a lot of money to run a MegaChurch. Why would you take money from the government if you don’t believe it has any say in your church? I’m confused.
    Also why does he say it’s not so dangerous and the projections of death were wrong. We are right on track of the model projections. The death rate is already double the flu. Many people say “I don’t know anyone so it can’t be real”. Although I am sure that many believe it now in the new hotspots. But what about People who get sick, if they have a job they will have to take off work. Besides that, even if you don’t die what of the doctor’s bills and hospital costs for treatment or if you have no health insurance. As far as I know treatment is not free.
    I love john McArthur’s teaching and I have listened to his sermons for years and bought his books. I noticed in the last podcast interview with Mr. johnson, he seemed to take the virus very lightly and was so political and angry. I was very surprised.
    I know that this virus has resulted in the greatest economic redistribution of wealth in the history of this country. And I understand his suspicions of church interference. So far I’ve not read evidence of interference that was successful. In fact most jurisdictions seem to bend over backwards to help churches. Frankly, the things I’ve read lately seem to indicate that the American church is very Worldly and far away from true worship and light. I’m not so sure the Church is even on the government radar except during election time. Sadly, I have noticed many Christians friends all over the place on conspiracy, discredited videos and political rants, the “evil Dr. Fauci” etc. , this and that. What is so surprising and sad is that this virus and political turmoil has sown so much division inside the church. It has revealed hearts and motives of many people in surprising ways. I am just watching in amazement and waiting to see what surprise will come next. Yet I’m praying for the Pastor McArthur, the Church and of course my own susceptibility. Blessings and thank you for your journalism.

    1. Mad Artist-please see articles here or on the Wartburg Watch on The Masters College and family members of Mr. Mac. This will give you an idea of why he seems angry. I too have listened to him in the past. He has made a couple of trips up to the Bay Area. Much more beautiful than LA County. He’s probably angry he cannot live up here too :)

  4. Glad you included the update. However, I think it was irresponsible to give voice to the criticisms related to stimulus money in the first place. That money was loaned/given to for-profits and non-profits alike for the purpose of PROTECTING EMPLOYEES nationwide. The goal of the legislation was to help businesses float through the shutdowns without laying off their workers. To retroactively decide that the money purchases undying loyalty to government from the business/non-profits who accepted it is unfair.

    1. Justin Darnell

      The same people telling us that truth is a lie and lies are truth are the ones telling us to mask up and don’t attend worship services. In the last days there will be a great apostasy in the church. Maybe this apostasy comes from people that believe the media and science to be there god. Our God is true and His Word is true. He said that He appoints when man dies, you could die from COVID or get whacked by an ambulance in the testing line. Yes I wear a mask to “love” people who are in fear of this “killer virus” but I am not afraid of dying or infecting anyone with COVID. Because I believe the Bible to be absolute authority not a handful of satan worshipping liberals that hate God and the truth. Wake up people, the end is near or here.
      Ps. Handiwork 11, you said it all, right on
      Pps. To sum it up, God appoints when someone dies, ergo any attempt to circumvent this will not change your appointment

  5. While I agree in principle with the Mac, concerning the legit concerns of religious freedom and freedom to congregate, I question if this is loving his community. He seems kinda like a black and white sort of fella, with no shades of grey (not to be confused with 50 shades of grey). I guess he didn’t get the memo concerning the 1,200 cases of COVID per day in CA.? This is up from 4000 per day (appr. numbers)

    Francis Collins (I think he had something to do with the human genome), who runs the 4 billion+ dollar NIH and the boss of Dr. Fauci, remains at home while running this agency. Mr. Collins is also the founder of Biologos-please check out the website and read or listen to him. Wonderful guy.

    He also plays gigs with his band during down times.

    The evidence is clear that COVID is air-born and singing in close proximity does put congregants at risk.

    Time will tell if he made a bad choice.

    1. Well, Francis Collins may want to remind Dr. Fauci to keep his mask on in public and to social distance while watching major league baseball games or run the risk of looking like a hypocrite.

      No one made those people attend the worship service. Maybe they just wanted to worship the Lord.

  6. I cannot understand why it is so hard for we Christians to recognize that we are called by Jesus to love and serve our neighbors, period. Anything and everything we can do to help stop the spread of Co Vid19 should be embraced. Is it my constitutional right, as a Christian to worship together with other Christians in the building where we normally meet? Absolutely yes! No argument there. Jesus had rights he could have acted upon to avoid death, not to mention, he could have called all the angels of heaven to protect his right to walk the planet he created. Instead, he laid aside his power and his “rights” as God in human flesh, to bare our sins.
    So, I ask, why do we cling so tightly to our rights as U.S. citizens, when by doing so, we jeopardize the lives of our neighbors? Do you realize what this looks like?
    In closing, I remember an episode of Andy Griffith where he told Opie, “Sometimes you can be so right, you’re wrong.”

    1. Good point John.
      Just a very variation on your take. The first thing we are to do as Christians is to watch and pray so we can read the signs of the times. That means while there’s things going on in the natural, there’s things going on in the spiritual. Social distancing, washing hands etc is for the natural, are we praying and doing the spiritual warfare against the fear and circumstances the enemy is trying to take advantage of I would include that in “anything and everything”.

      We should be in the habit of meeting together. Churches need to pray and discern what that looks like for them. It seems good MacArthur wants to meet, I also hope their church is taking precautions like distancing, meeting outside, providing different services for people who feel more at risk or want more cautions, etc.

      Being foolhardy won’t help.

      If concerts can meet outside, if people can congregate in bars, or go to the beach (depending on your community) churches can meet. That will look different for different churches.

      The main thing is to not give way to fear.

      We have faith. Let’s listen to God!

    2. While I mostly agree with what Don M says and we are to love our neighbors, we as Christians are to watch and pray and discern the signs of the times. We see the battle in that natural re covid-19 there is also a supernatural battle and we must not forget the call to pray. We, the Church have the authority to battle in the heavens. We shouldn’t be surprised if the enemy is trying to use whatever it can to silence and frighten the church.

      It is good to meet, we must not be foolhardy. Churches can pray to discern on how to meet, God will give wisdom.on how to meet, while using distancing guidelines, etc.

      And I do hope MacArthurs church is doing that as they meet.

      We are not to fear. We must have faith.

    3. I believe you have 100% missed the point. Did you even read MacArthur’s letter or just read the article?

      One of MacArthur’s points is that the Scriptural call to worship isn’t just something bound up in the U.S. constitution – it is a call regulated by and commanded by God. Any man-made regulation that restricts this call/obligation is beneath the instruction of God. MacArthur isn’t acting upon his right as an American – which, by the way, we do have, he is acting upon the instruction of God.

      Related to doing “anything and everything we can do to help stop the spread of Co Vid 19″…have you checked the mortality rates lately? Do you also realize the harm being inflicted upon millions upon millions of other people who are having to deal with the consequences of “Co Vid”? What about loving and serving these people?

      Also, people were not made to attend this worship service or any others. If people were concerned, they could stay at home and watch on TV. Or they could have worn a mask. Or a bag on their head. They exercised their personal choice to worship the one true God.

  7. Some one please tell me how John MacAurther and his board of elders KNOW that the covid pandemic is not as bad as it’s being made out to be and everything will be alright. Just thought I’d toss that out there, you know, just to see what kind of brainiac responses I’d get.

    1. Well, I’m definitely not a brainiac…

      There are valid sets of data beginning to form. I’m generally skeptical of most data reported (regardless of who reports is), so I’m not saying any or all data are 100% accurate, but In my state, the health department is reporting about 80,000 positive cases. Of those 80,000 “confirmed” cases, on 54 people with no chronic lung, heart, kidney or liver issues or with no diabetes have died. The median age of death is 73. So…this tells us that it is rare for generally healthy people to die from Covid-19. (There were 1,446 deaths when I last looked at the web site.)

      From there, we’ve heard a couple of couple of things. 1) Covid deaths *may* be inflated; and 2) some government officials have commented that perhaps 10 times as many people are infected as is being reported. If either of these is true – and I’m not saying they are – they make the mortality rates even lower.

      Yes, people are dying and no one likes this. I don’t and I don’t want one more person to have to. But that isn’t real life. There are risks involved with living and right now the risk of getting Covid – especially for healthy people – isn’t worth the risk of shutting down the economy of a state or country.

  8. From what I can gather from this article, MacArthur seems like he’s framing this issue as one that decides who is the “true church” or not. The ones who disobey the order and hold worship services (like Grace) are the “true church” and those who do not…are not? I’m fairly certain this is not a “Are you a Christian or not?” type of issue. Good grief, MacArthur!

    1. Did you read the letter he wrote or just the article above? He clearly and logically laid out, via Scripture, whey he thought the government had overstepped their bounds. In no way did the article read like “you’re not a Christian if you don’t agree.”

      In no way did he mandate that all of his church members had to attend. He referred to three areas where we are subject – family, church and government – and detailed how the government had overstepped their boundaries.

      1. Hi Handiwork – As with many of MacArthur’s writings he doesn’t present his opinions as merely opinions or “thoughts” but as the capital “T” truth. It’s the same with the blog post explaining why he and the elders at GCC are going to disobey the government’s orders. It’s not a bad argument; in fact, it’s a pretty good argument, and I can see where he’s coming from. But he does represent his argument as the only Biblical opinion the true church should hold, evidenced by this quotation:

        “How can the true church of Jesus Christ distinguish herself in such a hostile climate? There is only one way: bold allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ.”

        The “bold allegiance” he’s talking about is the choice to disobey government orders and gather for worship. He even invites people reading the article to stand in solidarity with him by signing a pledge to disobey the governments orders.

        It’s this kind of rhetoric that is unnecessarily divisive. It is obvious to me that other segments of the “true church” are allowed to come to different opinions and remain faithful to Christ. It actually really saddens me that MacArthur, who is spot-on in so many of the things he says, so many times resorts to this type of thinking. He needs someone to critique him on this, but I don’t think the only people who can (the GCC elders) are up to the challenge or maybe even aware of the problem.

  9. Samuel Robinson

    I agree with not complying with the government when it comes to being denied the right to worship, but isn’t this the man who believes the founding fathers may have been wrong in declaring independence because they should’ve continued living under the authority of the king?

    1. I very much appreciate this discussion. I have two points I’d like to make. First, the church would be better led if leaders could find more innovative and creative ways of reaching their communities with the gospel. It’s a much better use of time and resources than whining about how you aren’t “allowed” to meet – which remains untrue. Second, John MacArthur lost all credibility when he publicly mocked Beth Moore.

      1. Well, if you have a call to worship and the government limits your ability to meet isn’t that sort of a big deal?

        I didn’t like how MacArthur handled some of the Beth Moore issue, but he was correct theologically in his critique of her.

        1. I agree we have a call to worship. If the Bible is our measuring stick (I believe it should be), what we are being denied now does not limit what was happening in the days of the early church. They met in homes for prayer and Communion. Small numbers I’m guessing. So if you want to get technical…

          I think it’s too early in this crazy time we are living in to jump to conspiracy theories about the government wanting to squelch our freedom. I also don’t believe it’s a slippery slope as so many say. When they come for my forearm and want to chip me – that will be a different story.

          And I’m not arguing for or against John’s theology…I’m criticizing his lack of character.

          As I said in my original response, this is a good discussion.

    2. You are correct based upon my reading.

      I think, however, this was based upon his thinking that the Church is supposed to be about the gospel of Jesus Christ and not “social issues.” (I don’t agree with him on this particular matter, but I haven’t researched his full opinion.)

  10. Jacob Van Halteren

    It is true that the state cannot tell us when and where we can worship but they have been mandating what we can say for years already because if one says something publically against sodomy, transvestites, abortion, etc. they have been persecuting Christians for speaking the truth.
    If they said ” we don’t know if face masks reduce corona and would appreciate it if everyone wears one. ” I would not have an issue.
    In the past people with TB were openly walking around coughing out disease but no one told everyone else to mask up. So are we to do?
    Exercise your rights to worship and love your neighbors as yourself.That means be careful because you could get sick if you hang around with the wrong people and if you are a disease carrier, you could get someone else sick.

  11. Brent Thompson

    Dr. MacArthur posed the question, “How can the true church of Jesus Christ distinguish herself in such a hostile climate?” Does anyone know the scriptural basis for his answer that, “There is only one way: bold allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ.”?

    For my notes, because I want to get this right: MacArthur says there is “only one way” by which the “true church of Jesus Christ can distinguish herself” in the face of public health orders suspending corporate worship services during a pandemic, and that is by boldly going to corporate worship services. *Pencil poised above notebook.* Did I get that right? That’s the only way?

    The reason I ask is that I had always thought Jesus made it pretty clear in John 13:34-35 that “love one another” was Jesus’s way for disciples to distinguish themselves in any hostile climate. But Dr. MacArthur is teaching that *refers to notebook* going to church is the only way for American Christians to distinguish themselves in this particular hostile climate. So, did the anonymous writer of Hebrews 10:25 add to/enhance/override Jesus’s teaching recorded by the Apostle John?

  12. I was sort of expecting this would happen by now, as even during the course of his sermons, John would refer to this virus as “the flu”, which is pretty inherently dishonest, as it has already far exceeded flu deaths per year. That is a common point among some who want to downplay this.

  13. We can comment all we want, to, Mac is going to do anything he wants because he really believes he is a know it all. This is what removes his credibility and labels him as arrogant. I really hope I’m wrong but I’m praying no one in this congregation becomes ill or worse.

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