In a January sermon, Pastor John MacArthur looked back at the year 2020, calling his congregation to appreciate the clarity brought by the year. The church he pastors, Grace Community in Los Angeles, California has been resisting efforts from state and local governments, including fines, lawsuits, threats to have water shut off, and attempts to revoke a lease of county property for church parking. At the same time, they have been faced with ridicule and slander from within the American church, as they’ve endured accusations and slander of irresponsibility and putting congregants’ lives at risk through their decision to take seriously the Bible’s command to not “neglect the assembly of believers,” even as the congregation has been free of any meaningful presence of Covid 19.
But this is MacArthur’s response to all of that, “I look at evangelicalism and I see this clarity that’s coming in the culture. I love the fact there’s going to be the true church and the people who hate the truth. There’s going to be the truth and lies. There’s going to be church and anti-church. There’s Christ and Antichrist. I love that clarity. These are the best of times. Incredibly wonderful to have that kind of clarity, where there’s no reason to be a compromiser, because the price is too high…”
We can see the price going up all around us. Whatever one thinks of Donald Trump, no one would accuse him of being hostile to followers of Christ. The same cannot be said of President Biden who has already become the champion of gender confusion in school children, promises to fortify our culture’s grizzly practice of the slaughter and dismemberment of infants, and whose advisors and cabinet members openly support institutional theft.
Even under Trump, churches have suffered under state and local leadership that has attempted to restrict the God-ordained “fellowship of believers.” Here in Michigan a Christian school has been shut down for allowing parents to balance the risks themselves of their kids catching Covid or having to wear a soggy cloth on their face all day, and an American Christian has already been arrested by city authorities in Idaho for singing Psalms with other believers in the city hall parking lot. Meanwhile, just in the past several days, the Supreme Court of the United States has upheld the states’ rights to limit attendance to church attendance 25% and prohibit singing. This means that more Americans could be fined or imprisoned for communal worship of God.
In MacArthur’s words, “2020 means clarity.” We’ve seen how the state has overstepped its authority. We’ve seen how many churches would rather comply with illegitimate state authority than to risk the derision of a fear-focused, godless society. We’ve also seen the vacuum left in society when those churches are not sharing the truth with their communities.
I believe we’ve seen that in the violence throughout last summer as a generation that has swallowed lies about themselves and their fellow man has tried to enforce its own sick, misinformed, misshapen version of justice: social justice. Even the level of terror in our society over this virus, I believe, comes in large part from an undeveloped understanding of God’s providence over our lives and a fear of death which is incompatible with strong faith in God. This is not to say that we shouldn’t respect the virus for what it is. It kills people, and we ought to be responsible and diligent in our care for the vulnerable. Nor is it to say that those who are vulnerable ought to flout common sense and live as if there were no risk. But, the amount of able-bodied, healthy, likely-riskless people who have sacrificed a year of their life so far to the fear of a disease they will overcome at least 998 times out of 1,000 if they even catch it is a tragedy in itself.
G.K. Chesterson said this: “It is only by believing in God that we can ever criticize the government. Once abolish God, and the government becomes the God.” As we look around us, we can see how many Americans have put their hope in the government, both in the current administration and the former. Maybe some of us are guilty of that ourselves, and if so, now is the time to allow ourselves to be disillusioned. There’s no political figure coming to lead us back to the comforts of previous years. If Chesterton is correct that knowing God is foundational to justly criticizing government, and if our government needs to be criticized as I believe it does, what conclusion does that leave us with? We need to believe in God and put our hope in Him and lead others to put their hope in Him.
A few weeks ago I received a chain email from a “Q” type conspiracy theorist. It was pages and pages long and it alluded to tiny insignificant details which the writer had noticed about Donald Trump and which he believed Trump was using to signal his next moves. I didn’t bother reading much of it, but it was clearly written by someone obsessed. Most of us have not been that obsessed, but maybe we’ve been a little more invested in following the political landscape than was spiritually healthy for us. I’m not saying we shouldn’t know what’s going on, but if we observe the wickedness of the world and that leads us to political activism more than it leads us to prayer, perhaps that should be a sign to us that we need to reevaluate our priorities. What if the writer of that email took that same obsession that led him to notice and point out details like the shade of Donald Trump’s hair during different appearances and applied it instead to studying God’s Word? Which do you think would result in a bigger blessing to Himself and the people around Him?
If 2020 has made anything clear, it’s that Christians need to understand God’s Word to a greater extent than we do now. We need a deeper faith with more understanding than many of our churches have offered us. There is no better way to prepare for whatever lies ahead.