On Thursday, a California judge issued a restraining order against John MacArthur and his Grace Community Church holding massive indoor worship services. Three days later, on Sunday, Sept. 13, the pastor and church defied that court order by gathering thousands of worshipers under one roof, without masks or social distancing.
The state court ruling and the county public health mandates are “not constitutional,” MacArthur told his congregation. They also go “against the will of the Lord of the church who calls us to gather,” he said.
As of Monday morning, Sept. 14, there was no indication whether the county or state would pursue fines or other actions against MacArthur and the church for violating the court order and the public health order. Both mandates carry the potential for fines or imprisonment.
Congregants applauded the pastor multiple times as he entered the pulpit and explained why he would not be bowed by a court ruling. He read aloud a list of things required for churches to meet in person — such as masks and social distancing and signage — and declared meeting those mandates is “utterly impossible.”
Although the majority of Christian churches in Los Angeles County have found ways to abide by the public health mandates against large indoor gatherings, MacArthur labeled the regulations something that, if followed, “would completely shut the church down.”
Throughout his months-long battle with city, county and state officials, MacArthur has defined in-person worship as “essential” to being the church. He has repeatedly rejected the notion that the church can function — for the sake of public health — through online or outdoor services.
In his Sunday sermon, MacArthur said God’s judgment will fall on governments that block God’s will for the church: “When any government separates from God and his law in Scripture and from his people to his church it invites judgment on a personal scale and a national scale.”
Further, he declared that “the notion of a secular state is a lie. Government is ordained by God” and therefore should empower God’s will.
Twitter lit up with defenses and condemnations of the high-profile pastor. Some called him a much-needed example of standing up for the rights of churches, while others called him a poor example of pastoral leadership. Some tweets said MacArthur is highlighting the kind of persecution all churches face today, while others said being asked to find alternative ways of conducting worship is not actual persecution.
On the day of MacArthur’s latest defiance, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health confirmed 11 new deaths and 816 new cases of COVID-19, with 793 patients currently hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID — 35% of those in ICU.
Although the number of cases has dropped some in the last two weeks, “COVID-19 is widespread in L.A. County,” the department said.
To date, county officials have reported 253,985 positive cases of COVID-19 across the county and 6,208 deaths.
MacArthur has said no one in his congregation has been affected by COVID-19 and that “there is no pandemic.”