John MacArthur is a prominent Los Angeles, California pastor and author who described COVID-19 regulations on churches as “government overreach,” and said his church will not follow mandated coronavirus restrictions, claiming they go against the Bible.
The church followed coronavirus restrictions in the first phase of shutdowns, but on July 24, 2020, MacArthur penned a statement saying a new wave of closures restricting churches from gathering goes too far. The restrictions, laid out by California Governor Gavin Newsom July 13, allow places of worship to operate outdoors even in counties with the highest number of positive cases. Pastor John MacArthur also has a live stream of his services and broadcasts of other sermons.
“Christ is Lord of all,” MacArthur’s statement begins. “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. As His people, we are subject to His will and commands as revealed in Scripture. Therefore we cannot and will not acquiesce to a government-imposed moratorium on our weekly congregational worship or other regular corporate gatherings. Compliance would be disobedience to our Lord’s clear commands.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. John MacArthur Is Pastor of Grace Community Church in Southern California, Which Fills 3,000 Seats at Each Service
John MacArthur is the pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, a neighborhood in Los Angeles. MacArthur has been with the church for more than 50 years, following his graduation from a theological school. The church has two Sunday morning services with a 3,000-seat auditorium. The auditorium is filled to capacity at both services, according to the Grace Community Church website. It was not clear whether MacArthur and the church elders planned to implement social distancing rules during the services, but his blog post said imposing restrictions goes against the Bible.
“Under John’s leadership, Grace Community Church’s two morning worship services fill the three-thousand-seat auditorium to capacity. Several thousand members participate every week in dozens of fellowship groups and training programs, most led by lay leaders and each dedicated to equipping members for ministry on local, national, and international levels,” the website says.
On Saturday, the County of Los Angeles Public Health Department reported there were 53 new COVID-19 deaths in the county and 3,628 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus. However, the report noted the high numbers were due to a backlog in positive results because of a recent resolution in the state’s reporting system.
“To the families that are grieving the loss of a loved one to COVID-19, we send you our deepest sympathies and prayers to you every day. We’re also thinking of the many people who are hospitalized, sick and recovering from this virus,” said Barbara Ferrer, PhD, MPH, MEd, Director of Public Health in a statement. “I know these are frustrating times and that we want life to return to normal. We want to join our friends for dinner inside a restaurant and gather with extended family for a summer barbeque. Unfortunately, we just are not at a point where those activities are safe. We need to commit to the behaviors that we know will reduce our infection rate and slow the spread of the virus. In order to stay safe, we need to continue wearing face coverings, avoiding gatherings with people we don’t live with, we need to wash our hands frequently, and keep physical distance from others. These are effective tools, that when used consistently, reduce transmission of the virus and save lives.”
2. Pastor John MacArthur Wrote ‘Christ, Not Caesar” Is the Head of The Church & They Have ‘a Duty’ to Remain Open
Pastor John MacArthur of Grace Community Church in Los Angeles, California wrote in a blog post that closing the church would be disobedience to God. The church and its elders decided to abide by mandates during the first phase of shutdowns due to the coronavirus, but MacArthur said in his statement that they will not follow the new regulations laid out by California Governor Gavin Newsom on July 13. All counties were ordered to close businesses including in-door dining, movie theaters and entertainment centers due to an increase in cases of the coronavirus. In counties where confirmed cases have remained a concern, the list includes places of worship, personal care salons, gyms and malls. The requirements allow for modifications to operate outside or by pickup.
MacArthur’s statement said he and the church elders consider the new regulations to be an overreach of the government. You can read his blog post in full here.
“Therefore, 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, and faithfulness to Christ prohibits us from observing the restrictions they want to impose on our corporate worship services,” MacArthur wrote.
He goes on to say that limiting the number of people in a building and imposing distancing guidelines are restricting people from following their Biblical directives.
“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,” MacArthur wrote in the statement. “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. When officials mandate distancing, they attempt to impose a restriction that in principle makes it impossible to experience the close communion between believers that is commanded in Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, and 1 Thessalonians 5:26. In all those spheres, we must submit to our Lord.”
3. Grace Community Church Remained Closed Under the Direction of John MacArthur & Elders in the First Round of Coronavirus Mandated Closures
Churches in California, including Grace Community Church, had been waiting on court decisions in May to see whether they would be permitted to reopen. President Donald Trump said in May that churches should be considered “essential,” and that places of worship should be allowed to reopen. At the same time, the Centers for Disease Control released Considerations for Communities of Faith, offering suggestions on how to safely reopen.
At the time, the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of California Governor Gavin Newsom’s statewide stay-at-home order, and rejected an emergency motion to allow for in-person religious services in California. Following the court decision, the elders of Grace Community Church said in a statement to The Christian Post they would continue to delay the church’s reopening “and leave it in the hands of God.”
The statement went on to say, “”Even so, for now, the Ninth Circuit decision is sadly the law of the land in California, and we gladly submit to the sovereign purposes of God.”
Also in May, two church-related events were declared to be sources of major exposure to the coronavirus. The Associated Press reported a person that attended a Mother’s Day service had COVID-19 without yet knowing it, and exposed 180 people. A choir practice in Washington state was labeled a “superspreading” event by the CDC.
4. John MacArthur Has Written Hundreds of Books, Including a New Testament Commentary
John MacArthur is an extraordinarily prolific author. He has written hundreds of books, beginning with two books, “Take God’s Word for It” and “Christians and Demons,” both published in 1969. The most recent addition to his list of publications is “Only Jesus,” which was published March 17, 2020. That was his second book for 2020, following, “Sanctification: God’s Passion for His People,” published February 5, 2020.
“Only Jesus” answers questions like “what does it really mean to be a Christian? What is saving faith? And how should we invite sinners to embrace Christ—as Savior only? Or also as Lord?” his book description says.
“Many people believe you can be a Christian without following Jesus. As long as you agree with the mere fact that Christ died for sinners, the reasoning goes, you can live however you want and still be confident that you’ll end up in heaven,” the description says. “Often, people embrace that view with the best of intentions. They know that salvation is by grace through faith, and they don’t want to nullify that grace by adding a requirement of works. But Jesus Himself taught that the cost of following Him is high—that the way is narrow and few find it. He even said that many who now call Him “Lord” will one day be denied entrance to the kingdom of heaven.”
Other books include “The Gospel According to Jesus,” “Our Sufficiency in Christ,” “Strange Fire,” “Ashamed of the Gospel,” “The Murder of Jesus,” “The Prodigal Son,” “Twelve Ordinary Men,” “The Truth War,” “The Jesus You Can’t Ignore,” “Slave,” “One Perfect Life,” “The Gospel According to Paul,” “Parables,” and “One Faithful Life.” He also wrote “The MacArthur Study Bible,” which he considers the cornerstone resource of his ministry. He also completed 34 volumes of “The MacArthur New Testament Commentary” in 2015, which takes a reader “detail by detail, verse by verse, through the entire New Testament.”
5. John MacArthur & His Wife, Patricia, Live in Southern California & Have 4 Children & 15 Grandchildren
John MacArthur is married to wife, Patricia, and the couple has four adult children. John and Patricia MacArthur live in southern California. They had two boys and two girls: Matt, Marcy, Mark and Melinda. They also have 15 grandchildren.
“John and his wife, Patricia, live in Southern California and have four married children: Matt, Marcy, Mark, and Melinda. They also enjoy the enthusiastic company of their fifteen grandchildren,” his biography says.
Patricia MacArthur suffered life-threatening injuries in a serious car accident, breaking multiple bones in her face and a deep cut to her head. You can read more about the accident here.
MacArthur graduated from Talbot Theological Seminary and joined Grace Community Church in 1969. The emphasis of his ministry is careful, verse-by-verse study of the Bible and with special attention to the historical and grammatical background of each passage, his biography says.
He has also been president of The Master’s College since 1985, and founded The Master’s Seminary in 1986.