Obeying God Rather Than Man
Author: Lisa Van Houten  

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Christians gathering for worship under the threat of fines and arrest.  Government officials sending spies into worship services and threatening to shut off power and water if churches open their doors.  It sounds like what our persecuted brothers and sisters in China face; but it’s happening here, in the “land of the free.”

For over five months now – nearly half a year – government officials in states such as California have banned churches from holding indoor worship services and have even prohibited them from singing.  In Los Angeles, officials threatened to turn off utilities if their lawless dictates were not obeyed.  As statistics have shown that Covid-19 has a survival of rate of over 99%; as liquor stores and abortion clinics are deemed essential, but not churches; as leftist protestors are allowed to gather en masse, but not Christians; it’s obvious that closing churches has little to do with public safety.

In July, renown pastor John MacArthur of Grace Community church in LA County, issued the following statement: “In response to the recent state order requiring churches in California to limit or suspend all meetings indefinitely, we, the pastors and elders of Grace Community Church, respectfully inform our civic leaders that they have exceeded their legitimate jurisdiction.  Faithfulness to Christ prohibits us from observing the restrictions they want to impose on our corporate worship services. …

Christ is Lord of all. He is the one true head of the church (Ephesians 1:22; 5:23; Colossians 1:18). He is also King of kings—sovereign over every earthly authority (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14; 19:16). Grace Community Church has always stood immovably on those biblical principles.  Therefore we cannot and will not acquiesce to a government-imposed moratorium on our weekly congregational worship or other regular corporate gathers. Compliance would be disobedience to our Lord’s clear commands. …”

“When officials restrict church attendance to a certain number, they attempt to impose a restriction that in principle makes it impossible for the saints to gather as the church. When officials prohibit singing in worship services, they attempt to impose a restriction that in principle makes it impossible for the people of God to obey the commands of Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16.  …

In a later message, MacArthur stated: “… We cannot sacrifice robust spiritual health, the preaching of the gospel, and the gathering of the church for worship under the power of divine truth in order to guard people from something that is only slightly more threatening than the seasonal flu.  We don’t “save lives” in any way that counts for eternity by putting a muzzle on our public proclamation of the Word of life.”

MacArthur also appealed to pastors specifically with this charge:

“To pastors around the world, I remind you that you have not been given a pause from the divine mandate to let your light so shine before men …nor to preach the Word in season  and out of season …Let the light shine; gather your sheep; feed the flock of God; welcome the fellowship of the saints; celebrate the Lord’s supper; give your people biblical instruction – and most of all, persist in preaching the gospel.

“The question of whether we should keep our churches open is without controversy.  There is no other option if we are going to be faithful to our Lord.”

In response, the state has threatened Pastor MacArthur with arrest and/or a daily $1,000 fine. Thankfully, the LA police chief has assured MacArthur that his police force will not cooperate with city officials that seek to shut down the church.  However, that hasn’t stopped government officials from going to court three times (as of this writing) in order to seek an injunction against the church.  County officials latest move is to cancel the parking lot lease the church has held for 45 years.

And they’re not the only church that the state is going after.  For example, a Ventura County judge issued a restraining order against Pastor Rob McCoy of Godspeak Calvary Chapel for continuing to hold worship services and threatened to issue citations to the thousand worshippers who attended. And in Santa Clara, government officials have sent spies into worship services at North Valley Baptist Church.  The church has now been fined over $52,000for holding morning and evening worship services, in which the government spy found worshippers singing praise to God – an act now deemed illegal in the state.

However, as MacArthur makes clear, Christians “do not need the state’s permission to serve and worship our Lord as He has commanded.  Freedom of worship is a command of God, not a privilege granted by the state.  It has never been the prerogative of civil government to order, modify, forbid, or mandate worship.  When, how, and how often the church worships is not subject to Caesar. Caesar himself is subject to God.”

Indeed, as Jenna Ellis, attorney for MacArthur and Grace Community, who also serves as legal counsel for President Trump, stated:  Pastor MacArthur and Grace Community Church are not disobeying the Constitution; it is California’s Governor Gavin Newsom and Mayor Eric Garcetti that are defying their constitutional obligation to protect religious freedom and church assembly.

“Our American system of government specifically recognizes that our individual, fundamental right to free exercise of religion and freedom of assembly is a pre-political, God-given, inalienable right. That right is not given by the government or the Constitution, but rather, government is mandated by the Constitution to preserve and protect it for the church.”

God has ordained the church and the state as two distinct institutions, each with different spheres of authority and responsibilities. Historically, our nation has understood what the Bible teaches – that the authority of each of these spheres comes from God and they are accountable to Him.  Yet today, it’s not surprising that we’re seeing the greatest restriction of freedom coming from secular leftists.  The god they worship is power, and individual liberty is a threat to their power.  In their eyes, they are the ultimate authority. 

And as the state has usurped authority that doesn’t belong to them, far too many churches and Christians have meekly stood by and let it happen.  They are the equivalent of Neville Chamberlain, the prime minister of Great Britain in the 1930s who thought appeasement with Hitler would lead to “peace in our day.”  Pastors and Christians who acquiesce to such tyrannical decrees will find that it only leads to further tyranny. 

Once our freedom is lost, it will not be easily regained.  Today, freedom of speech is more restricted than at any time in our history.  As our God-given freedoms are swept away in a matter of months with barely a peep from the Church, the left has learned how spineless the body of Christ is in America. 

As Christians, we need to vote as if religious liberty hangs in the balance - for indeed it does. What will happen if leftist Democrats, like those in California, gain control of the White House and Congress?   What will our churches do when faced with prosecution for teaching what God’s Word says about sexuality and gender? 

I pray John MacArthur’s pledge will be that of every believer: “We will continue to stand firm for the Truth today … as the biblical New Testament Church has done for more than 2000 years. We stand firm to continue fulfilling our biblical mandate from Christ to proclaim the Gospel and assemble together, and I earnestly hope that our stance will encourage other pastors, churches, and the general public across America and the world to also stand firm for biblical Truth. Church is essential.”

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