By Elizabeth Prata
An historic tussle is occurring in the United States right now between Church and State. The Framers of the Constitution were mindful of the potential for overreach in their civil leaders, monarchs, and other authorities. They had known of the persecution of the Protestants, Puritans, and Huguenots of the 1600s. So when they hammered out the rights of the citizens, protecting the freedom to worship (or not) was part of the foundation of this country.
The highest law in our land is the U.S. Constitution, which has some amendments, known as the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights guarantees that the government can never deprive people in the U.S. of certain fundamental rights including the right to freedom of religion and to free speech and the due process of law. (Source)
Here is the actual language:
The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution prevents the government from making laws which regulate an establishment of religion, prohibit the free exercise of religion, or abridge the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, the right to peaceably assemble, or the right to petition the government for redress of grievances. It was adopted on December 15, 1791, as one of the ten amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights. (Source)
In March 2020, Americans were told that a new virus was coming. Because it was new, our immune systems would be vulnerable to it, we were told. As a result, our hospitals would be overrun, they warned. Thus, the government of the US and the 50 states set forth a national health emergency and asked Americans to close schools, businesses, churches, etc and stay home in order to get ahead of the coming spread so that we could medically service the worst of the coming cases.
Because we have goodwill and compassion, we acquiesced.
However, it became apparent that overrun was not happening, hospitals were operating just fine, and people were not dying in the streets.
But is was too late. When you give power to an entity, they are loath to give it back. Lockdowns remained. Rather than restrictions getting looser as the reality presented itself, the noose around Americans’ necks in some states got even tighter. One of those states is California.
Government deemed abortion clinics, marijuana dispensaries, and liquor stores “essential” (thus allowed to remain open) but churches were deemed unessential and told to stay closed. In fact, further draconian limits were put in place on churches that were not put in place on other large gatherings, for example, protests and riots in the streets. While thousands of protesters in the streets were chanting and singing and marching without limit, churches had attendance caps placed on them, bans on singing, and other measures that severely limited constitutional right to freely assemble and worship.
In one particular church, Grace Community Church led for the past 51 years by Pastor-Teacher Dr. John MacArthur, people saw the disconnect between what they were being told by local government and the reality of the situation, and chose to re-attend church despite civil authority banning it. They returned and returned and returned, until the capacity of the 4000 seat facility was filled to the brim and more.
Outdoor seating was available for those hesitant to enter inside, and masks were not mandated nor derided for people on both sides of the issue. The point was, come and worship our holy God, who is above all things, including civil authorities. Sing, as we are commanded in His word. Fellowship, as we enact love and compassion with our brethren. Eventually, Pastor MacArthur made that statement public. Come back. We’re open. We have our duties, and Caesar is not to interfere with them.
And that’s when the trouble started.
I won’t go into a summary of what those troubles are, you can read them online. This essay is not about the pastor who made the statement and took the courageous stand to eyeball the full weight of civil authority and say, this far, no farther! You can see his many interviews and things written about him as well. I am grateful that the Lord raised him up for a time of trouble we are experiencing now, and for his steady, scandal-free, solid teaching for over 5 decades! I’m also grateful for his courage, and please note, many of his brethren in evangelicalism are NOT standing with him. He stands practically alone.
No, this essay is about the people who attend his church.
A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. (Matthew 10:24).
What is it about a congregation that continues to arrive at a worship place in 110 degree heat and sit outside under a sweltering tent, to listen to a sermon? What is it about a sanctuary where people enter in droves to listen to a sermon when the very place has been threatened with water turnoff, air conditioning turnoff, or arrest?
John MacArthur’s example. His courage. His teaching.
For 51 years he has taught the primacy of the word. The glory of Christ. The importance of worship. This teaching and life-by-example permeates his people, and so, he has raised up thousands of people in like mind.
A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. (Luke 6:40)
American Christians have forgotten that we are in a war. Christianity is war. We fight not against people but the powers and principalities of the air, (Ephesians 6:12), of satan and his unholy angels who seek to usurp God from His throne. (Isaiah 14:13-14). It is against our own sin and fleshly desires. It is against the world that wants to squash Christ but cannot do so, therefore they seek to squash His people. There is war in heaven. Why would there not be war on earth? There is.
Too many pastors for too long have lived and taught a poor example of the warfare in which the Christians is supposed to engage. They have made Christian life one of easy believism, easy lifestyle, and easy worship. They folded like a house of cards when the going got a tiny bit tough. They closed their church for the duration and beyond, or reorganized their full gathering into something unrecognizable.
With examples like that, what can one expect of their disciples? Of the laypeople looking to their leaders for wisdom, courage, a firm stand? They fold like a house of cards too.
Church is a place of relief from the world, a chance to worship Jesus in togetherness, and to praise and love and just be Christian.
It is ALSO a training facility. It’s boot camp. The Sunday gathering is a call to action! Military boot camp takes in soft and ignorant civilians, and turns them into fighting machines with skills upon which to stand against the enemy. So, worship is the same. Church takes in new believers, pours into them the truth week after week, a truth that the Spirit transforms within them and turns from soft putty to solid beliefs and establishes them with armor upon the rock beachhead of Christ.
Too many pastors have forgotten that, and brought their people along on a cruise-ship full of wordly things that distract them from training. And when trouble comes, instead of soldiers of God they are weak, mewling kittens.
Not GCC folks. They stand. They have put on “the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil“. (Ephesians 6:11). They have been trained.
Fight the good fight of faith! (1 Timothy 6:12). JC Ryle wrote in his book Holiness,
True Christianity! Let us mind that word “true.” There is a vast quantity of religion current in the world which is not true, genuine Christianity. There are thousands of men and women who go to churches and chapels every Sunday and call themselves Christians. They make a “profession” of faith in Christ. Their names are on the baptismal register. They are reckoned Christians while they live. They are married with a Christian marriage service. They mean to be buried as Christians when they die.
But you never see any “fight” about their religion! Of spiritual strife and exertion and conflict and self-denial and watching and warring — they know literally nothing at all. Such Christianity may satisfy man, and those who say anything against it may be thought very hard and uncharitable — but it certainly is not the Christianity of the Bible. It is not the religion which the Lord Jesus founded, and His apostles preached. It is not the religion which produces real holiness. True Christianity is a fight!
The true Christian is called to be a soldier, and must behave as such from the day of his conversion to the day of his death. He is not meant to live a life of pious ease, indolence and security. He must never imagine for a moment, that he can sleep and doze along the way to Heaven, like one traveling in an easy carriage. If he takes his standard of Christianity from the people of this world, he may be content with such vain notions — but he will find no countenance for them in the Word of God. If the Bible is the rule of his faith and practice, he will find his course laid down very plainly in this matter. He must fight!
Are you trained and ready for the fight? As John Benzinger wrote,
In the end, you may not agree with John MacArthur, but he doesn’t care, and neither should you. What you should be asking about John MacArthur is not, “Do I agree with what he’s doing?” Instead ask, “Will I have his courage when it’s my turn to stand?” Courage is the lesson young pastors (and a ton of older ones) should be learning from John MacArthur right now.
We often ask in America, “Are you ready?” which people know means are you ready to stand before Christ upon your death or the second coming? That is only part 2 of the answer. Part 1 of Are You Ready is, are you ready for the fight that happens before you meet Jesus? Are you ready for trouble, trial, persecution, arrest, joblessness, maligning, reputation loss… Are you ready? If your leaders have not prepared you for the battle, and you have not delved into the word for your training and battle, then GET READY NOW!
“Truth leads to convictions and convictions produce courage.” ~John Benzinger
If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. (John 15:18-20).