It’s a fight to the finish.

And so begins the statement issued by Dr. John MacArthur, Senior Pastor of Grace Community Church in Sunland, California to return to worship as usual. The language is a clear declaration of the authority of Jesus Christ over every other authority on this earth. It’s entirely possible that MacArthur’s statement may become the opening salvo in the Corona War we have chronicled previously. It now seems to have morphed into the Church-Corona War. The combatants are The Church—in this case, the pastors and the congregations of the local churches—and The State. It shouldn’t be this way, but, sadly, it is.

Consider these words by James J. O’Donnell in an essay on Augustine: Christianity and Society

  • “ ‘Things are seldom what they seem,’ crooned Little Buttercup, full of a revelation that would transform the society around her. Augustine would have agreed. No a priori reason compels us to think that appearances, depending directly on the subjective experience of the observer, give any very coherent picture of reality. The perceptions that record these appearances have no compelling independent authority. On this point Christianity shares the ground with other philosophical and religious traditions. It holds that there is such a thing as real being, and even that the world of appearances is directly related to the world of real being… In short, human beings live in a dream world from which they can be liberated into reality only with help from outside. Hence, revelation.” (1)

In other words, be careful to believe everything you read and hear, but believe in The Revealed Truth of God.

MacArthur’s statement was issued after five months of governmental edict by California Governor Gavin Newsom. Like all of the diktats that have flowed from the first statements by The National Institute of Health through Dr. Anthony Fauci, both Federal and State orders began with the idea that business closures, “non-essential” services, restaurants, and even some public facilities would close only for a couple of weeks. Time enough we were told, to allow hospitals and emergency medical facilities to “flatten-the-curve,” and slow the rate of transmission.

Historical data and probative analyses now reveal dire predictions were often overstated, even wildly so. Grace Community’s Board of Elders carefully and plainly laid out their case for supporting MacArthur’s decision, even explaining they did so after emphasizing how they initially complied only because they did not want to subject the congregation to danger if the projections proved to be true. MacArthur’s decision took into account the mortality rate of COVID-19 in the state of California is .02%. This is calculated on the basis of overall population and actual recorded deaths—9,857 in 40,000,000.

To be sure, no death is acceptable in a perfect world. This world isn’t, and death is relentless. 

MacArthur is not alone, but he is not part of a crowd either. In his amazing interview with Eric Metaxas, MacArthur laments at around the 22:00 minute mark, “A lot of evangelical leaders across the country that I know, and not one of them [sic] that is a prominent person, has contacted me to say thank you.” Later he flatly declares: “The first hill we come to, we’ll die on that hill for the Gospel.” 

Wouldn’t be interesting to see if a highly politicized pathogen would reveal a flaw the state of the contemporary institutional church as unwilling to question—let alone confront—the state, even knowing that both the laws of the land and the law of God might finally compel such a church to do just that. Those who turn to Romans 13 as answer to the church’s obedience to the Apostle Paul’s injunction to obey the law and their rulers might find this resource compelling. Christians should obey the law and respect their rulers. Romans 13 calls us to the deeper way of Christ: one that recognizes the intrinsic evil of the state and requires us to not take part in its evils, while at the same time commands that we refuse to participate in sedition and violent revolution. 

If confrontation is too strong a word, perhaps resist then? The enormity of government lock-downs, arbitrary closures, and determining who is, and who isn’t essential ought to at least engender a deep concern. How far the state is willing to go in expecting churches to be subjected to such extended closures, and the effect this has on ministering to the ill, the needy, and the poor in spirit? What is the true cost of no children’s ministry, no counseling, no weddings or funerals, no hospital visitation without dramatic altering of liturgy, the celebration, the koinonia that The Church provides? Will The Church assume that it is no longer essential as the state suggests? One thing we want to ponder and pray about… the winds of war are only now starting to blow, as we see from this ominous development from the Ventura County Board of Supervisors against Godspeak Church in Newbury Park, California.

How now should we live? 

(1) O’Donnell, James J. Augustine: Christianity and Society