By Elizabeth Prata
Yesterday, Sunday, September 13, Pastor-Teacher John MacArthur opened his service with an announcement. In an ongoing legal battle the church is fighting against the County of Los Angeles, Dr. MacArthur told his congregation the requirements that LA County is demanding that churches (and other large venue gatherings) fulfill in order to meet (an not inside, either, just outside). In the latest legal skirmish, the Judge this week ruled against the Church, saying they may not meet unless the ‘health restrictions’ were met. After all, the County wasn’t denying them the opportunity to meet at all, just that they could not meet in the way they desired.
I suppose that is one way to circumvent the First Amendment to the Constitution, which says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. In effect, the Judge on behalf of the County is saying, ‘You CAN meet, just do thus and such’. Let’s look at the thus and such the County requires of churches in order to worship God together, and see if the benchmark of “free exercise of” is happening or not. MacArthur read some of the limits and requirements the County places on churches and it seemed ot me that they may NOT freely exercise their religion. At all.
I re-ordered the list that MacArthur spoke into two sections. The first section infringes on the ecclesiology of churches, i.e. what the government says churches may or may do within their own services, and the second part is related to so-called health mandates that relate to church buildings and property. These are not all of what LA County is requiring, either: (Health Order here). Just some of the limits.
MacArthur said: “Before we begin, the question has come up a number of times about why Grace Church does not just comply with the orders that have been laid down for churches, and I thought it might be helpful to give you the list of things that are required of us as a church so that you understand how utterly impossible that would be. Here are the basic orders:Source
–no indoor meetings at all,Source
–people only allowed on church property for scheduled events, (Ed note: so staff employment is impacted as well as packing and delivery of ministry materials for shipping)
–no hymn books,
–no offering containers,
–no pew Bibles,
–no shaking hands,
–the services have to be shortened,
–and based on the separation we could only meet in the tent with a maximum of three hundred and fifty to four hundred people,
–restrooms are to be used during the service to minimize the rush,
–Anybody who comes in contact with someone outside their family for more than fifteen minutes must self-quarantine for two weeks (Editor note: this means if you mingled with someone not of your family, you would miss the next two services and could only return on the third week. You would miss half the services per month).
–preregistration of every person who comes on the church property,Source
–every person who comes on the property is to be individually screened and have their temperature taken at the entry,
–we all must maintain six feet of social distance at all times everywhere including the parking lot and the restrooms,
–every other parking space must be left vacant,
–marked pathways to maintain social distance keeping people apart monitored by staff monitors,
–everyone always wearing a mask,
–restroom monitors to control six feet social distancing at restrooms,
–tape on the ground marking distance,
–signs indicating these mandates and also full exposure on social media,
–disposable seat covers changed between services,
You can see that these are the requirements that would completely shut the church down. Obviously, this is not Constitutional. But more importantly, this goes against the will of the Lord of the church. He calls us to gather. Amen?!” —John MacArthurSource
Don Green was formerly a Teacher and Leader at Grace Church, is a pastor in OH now, and is also a lawyer. He reminded his Facebook readers that:
With their left hand, they [LA County] have obtained a restraining order from the Superior Court that bans GCC’s indoor services in the name of “public health.”
“But we gladly allow you to meet outdoors!”
They posture themselves as benevolent rulers.
But see what they do with their right hand.
They are simultaneously terminating an agreement that takes away hundreds of parking spaces for which GCC has been making timely and substantial payments for 45 years.
Friends, those parking spaces are no threat to public health. So what is the justification for this action at this vulnerable time for GCC?
Don’t miss it. Los Angeles County with judicial imprimatur takes away indoor services AND indispensable accommodations that make even limited outdoor services possible.Source
Many Christians are watching this legal battle with eagle eyes. Other churches in California and elsewhere may also be going through the same fight, but the most public right now is GCC. The fact it is happening in America is shocking, where we are Constitutionally protected from these kinds of government infringements upon the free exercise of religion.
The lesson for pastors and congregants here is: what will you do when this begins to happen in your state or county? When Caesar says you may not fellowship? You may not give? You may not have Lord’s Supper, one of the two ordinances Jesus commanded? You many not sing? Your service must be of a certain length? Your fellow member must now become a compliance officer (spy) inside your warm and caring fellowship? You must register with the government before you attend church??
The power grabs by various governments during this coronavirus time have been stunning. If Grace Church ultimately loses, how much more emboldened will Caesar will be in other places? Are you prepared to be arrested? Lose your job? (An arrest often means you’d be prohibited from working in certain jobs). Are you prepared to obey God rather than man? (Acts 4:19, Acts 5:29; Daniel 6:13).
It’s coming. We are in a time where it seems the Lord is shaking his church to see who is still salt and who has lost their savor.
A Lamp Under a Basket
And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. (Mark 4:21-24).
It is a grief and a shame that some entities and national Christian leaders are hiding under the bushel basket, dimming their light so hopefully Caesar will overlook them. It is a joy to see one beacon standing taller each time Caesar comes for them, deliberately shining their light even brighter. This is the bushel basket time. Stand and shine? Or cover and hide?