Los Angeles Superior Court: John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church can’t hold indoor worship services

Here is Religion News Service:

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge granted a preliminary injunction against Grace Community Church, prohibiting Pastor John MacArthur from holding indoor worship services.

The County of Los Angeles has sought to stop the megachurch from hosting indoor services that have filled the sanctuary with many unmasked congregants sitting next to each other in recent weeks. 

Los Angeles County attorneys recently sent a cease and desist letter to the megachurch, threatening arrest or a daily fine of $1,000.

County officials sent a statement to Religion News Service, saying they were grateful for the court’s decision to uphold the county’s COVID-19 public health orders that temporarily ban indoor religious services.

Read the rest here.

Warren Throckmorton has more details at his blog.

Here is a statement from the Thomas More Society, the public interest law firm that is representing Grace Community Church:

The Los Angeles Superior Court issued a preliminary injunction on September 10, 2020, against Grace Community Church and Pastor John MacArthur, refusing to follow the U.S. and California State constitutional protections for churches. The ruling fails to apply the appropriate constitutional standard of review. The order prohibits the church from “conducting, participating in, or attending any indoor worship services” and also bans outdoor worship unless onerous restrictions are followed in a heavy-handed move against the internationally known preacher and his congregation. MacArthur and Grace Community Church’s attorneys from the Thomas More Society said the judge refused to consider their important separation of powers arguments “in any meaningful fashion” and essentially “ducked the issue.”

Thomas More Society Special Counsel Charles LiMandri said, “We are disappointed in the ruling on the preliminary injunction as the court did not apply the strict scrutiny analysis to the government order that we believe is required by the California Constitution and legal precedent. The court also did not properly consider the medical and scientific evidence that the current number of people with serious COVID-19 symptoms no longer justifies a shuttering of the churches. Nor do we believe that the court gave adequate consideration to the fact that churches have been treated as second-class citizens compared to the tens of thousands of protestors. More than ever, California’s churches are essential. Therefore, we plan to appeal this ruling to ultimately vindicate our clients’ constitutionally protected right to free exercise of religion.”

Thomas More Society Special Counsel Special Counsel Jenna Ellis said, “Although this is a temporary setback, we will continue to fight for Pastor MacArthur and Grace Community Church’s constitutionally protected right to hold church. While the judge did go out of his way to repeatedly state that he is not ruling on the merits, only a ruling at this very preliminary stage, Pastor MacArthur is still harmed because he has every right to hold church. Church is essential, and no government agent has the runaway, unlimited power to force churches to close indefinitely. The County’s argument was basically ‘because we can,’ which is the very definition of tyranny. Without limiting government’s power in favor of freedom and protected rights, we have no liberty. We will fight for religious freedom, as our founders did when they wrote the First Amendment.”

Pastor John MacArthur said, “In an inexplicable ruling, the judge said the ‘scale tipped in favor of the county.’ 1/100th of 1% of Californians with a virus apparently wins over the U.S. Constitution and religious freedom for all? That is not what our founders said. Nor is that what God says, who gave us our rights that our government—including the judicial branch—is supposed to protect. The scale should always tip in favor of liberty, especially for churches.”

Read the Ruling explaining the Order Granting Preliminary Injunction, issued September 10, 2020, by Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff in the Superior Court of California – County of Los Angeles – Central District in County of Los Angeles et al. v. Grace Community Church et alhere.

Will MacArthur pay the daily fine or go to prison? Or perhaps he will adjust his interpretation of Romans 13 and obey the order. No word on whether or not he will hold indoor services on Sunday in defiance of the preliminary injunctions.

How John MacArthur politicizes science

Last Sunday John MacArthur, the pastor of Grace Community Church in Los Angeles, told his congregation that “there is no [COVID-19] pandemic.” The congregation cheered. Watch:

Notice that MacArthur says that he is not giving a “political speech.” I beg to differ. MacArthur claims that he just preaches the word of God. He does not get involved in politics or “social justice” issues. But as Yonat Shimron’s reporting shows, MacArthur’s interpretation of a recent Center for Disease Control and Prevention report is deeply political.

Here is a taste of her piece at Religion News Service:

This past Sunday (Aug. 30) John MacArthur, the senior pastor of Los Angeles’ Grace Community Church, made a startling statement.

“There is no pandemic,” he said.

His proof? A recent Centers for Disease Control report that only 6% of U.S. deaths attributed to COVID-19 listed the virus as the only cause of death; the remaining 94% listed additional underlying health conditions known as “co-morbidities.”

But according to health experts, MacArthur made quite a jump to conclude that, of the estimated 160,000 U.S. deaths examined in the CDC’s report, only 9,210 were due to COVID-19, and all the rest died of something else.

In fact, it’s wrong.

As of Monday, 6 million Americans have been infected with COVID-19 — including 700,000 Californians — and an estimated 184,000 Americans have died from it. When recording the reasons for a patient’s death, doctors list all factors leading to the person’s demise — but the virus remains the main reason they died.

MacArthur’s non-denominational church has been defying California’s ban on large indoor meetings without masks or social distancing. In doing so, the church appears to be wading into a highly politicized campaign to minimize or outright deny the existence of the coronavirus. Recently, MacArthur told President Trump in a phone conversation that “any real, true believer” of Christianity will be forced to vote for him over Biden in November.

Shimron’s sources have led her to three conclusions:

  1. “Most people with underlying heath issues would still be alive but for COVID-19
  2. “Death is only one outcome from COVID-19.”
  3. “The science is being politicized ahead of the presidential election”

Read the entire piece here.

Here is Anthony Fauci: “Let there not be any confusion…It’s not 9,000 deaths from COVID-19. It’s 180,000-plus deaths.”  He adds, “The point that the CDC was trying to make was that a certain percentage of [deaths] had nothing else but COVID. That does not mean that someone who has hypertension, or diabetes who dies of COVID didn’t die of COVID-19. They did.”

John MacArthur: “There is no pandemic.” Those who believe otherwise have been deceived by Satan

Watch:

Warren Throckmorton sent me this video and commented on it at his blog. Here is a taste:

MacArthur cited a recent CDC report on causes of COVID-19 deaths (Here is the CDC report in question). It provides the comorbid conditions for the vast majority of deaths triggered by COVID-19. COVID-19 and something else contributed to most deaths. What MacArthur seems to be unaware of is that most of those people would be alive today if they had not contracted COVID-19.

What is embarrassing for MacArthur is that this has been known for months. The CDC has released reports before showing the underlying health conditions of deaths and hospitalized patients.  Yet, in ominous tones, MacArthur makes it appear he is revealing some previously concealed truth. While his scary announcement may serve his persecution narrative, it also makes his congregation and followers more vulnerable to the virus.

Read the rest here.

In 1918, the devil was the source of the pandemic. For MacArthur, there is no pandemic and the devil is the state of California.

UPDATE: At 11:41pm on August 30 I changed the title of this post. The second sentence in the original title of the post read, “Those who believe otherwise are Satanic.”

Several of you have told me that the original title was an unfair rendering of what MacArthur said. I disagree. I think that the original phrase captures the spirit of what MacArthur said in the video. Merriam-Webster defines “satanic” as “of, relating to, or characteristic of Satan.” A secondary definition is: “characterized by extreme cruelty or viciousness.” MacArthur is clearly saying that those who believe COVID-19 is a legitimate pandemic, and as a result are putting restriction on churches, are both “of, relating to, or characteristic of Satan” and “characterized by extreme cruelty or viciousness.”

In the end, however, I decided to change the title so that it more directly reflects MacArthur’s words.

John MacArthur’s views on slavery sound eerily familiar

MacArthur

Someone just sent this to me. Here is Grace Community Church pastor John MacArthur, the subject of the recent controversy over the opening of churches during the COVID-19 pandemic, talking about the benefits of slavery. The video was posted in 2012.

I hope MacArthur has changed his views on slavery, but I am not holding my breath. MacArthur sounds exactly like an antebellum Southern intellectual making a case for slavery. Any student who has taken me for a U.S. history survey course or a Civil War course will recognize this rhetoric.

Here is George Fitzhugh in 1857 on the “blessings of slavery“:

The negro slaves of the South are the happiest, and in some sense, the freest people in the world. The children and the aged and infirm work not at all, and yet have all the comforts and necessaries of life provided for them. They enjoy liberty, because they are oppressed neither by care or labor. The women do little hard work, and are protected from the despotism of their husbands by their masters. The negro men and stout boys work, on the average, in good weather, no more than nine hours a day. The balance of their time is spent in perfect abandon. Besides, they have their Sabbaths and holidays. White men, with som muh of license and abandon, would die of ennui; but negroes luxuriate in corporeal and mental repose. With their faces upturned to the sun, they can sleep at any hour; and quiet sleep is the gretest of human enjoyments. “Blessed be the man who invented sleep.” ‘Tis happiness in itself–and results from contentment in the present, and confident assurance of the future.

And this from the same document:

To insist that a status of society, which has been almost universal, and which is expressly and continually justified by Holy Writ, is its natural, normal, and necessary status, under the ordinary circumstances, is on its face a plausible and probable proposition. To insist on less, is to yield our cause, and to give up our religion; for if white slavery be morally wrong, be a violation of natural rights, the Bible cannot be true. Human and divine authority do seem in the general to concur, in establishing the expediency of having masters and slaves of different races.

And this, also from the same document:

The civilized man hates the savage, and the savage returns the hatred with interest. Hence West India slavery of newly caught negroes is not a very humane, affectionate, or civilizing institution. Virginia negroes have become moral and intelligent. They love their master and his family, and the attachment is reciprocated. Still, we like the idle, but intelligent house-servants, better than the hard-used, but stupid outhands; and we like the mulatto better than the negro; yet the negro is generally more affectionate, contented, and faithful. The world at large looks on negro slavery as much the worst form of slavery; because it is only acquainted with West India slavery. But our Southern slavery has become a benign and protective institution, and our negroes are confessedly better off than any free laboring population in the world. How can we contend that white slavery is wrong, whilst all the great body of free laborers are starving; and slaves, white or black, throughout the world, are enjoying comfort? . . 

Here is a defense of slavery from Thomas Dew, president of The College of William and Mary:

When we turn to the New Testament, we find hot one single passage at all calculated to disturb the conscience of an honest slaveholder. No one can read it without seeing and admiring that the meek and humble Saviour of the world in no instance meddled with the established institutions of mankind; he came to save a fallen work, and not to excite the black passions of man and array them in deadly hostility against each other. From no one did he turn away; his plan was offered alike to all—to the monarch and the subject, the rich and the poor, the master and the slave. He was born in the Roman world, a world in which the most galling slavery existed, a thousand times more cruel than the slavery in our own country; and yet he nowhere encourages insurrection, he nowhere fosters discontent; but exhorts always to implicit obedience and fidelity.

What a rebuke does the practice of the Redeemer of mankind imply upon the conduct of some of his nominal disciples of the day, who seek to destroy the contentment of the slave, to rouse their most deadly passions, to break up the deep foundations of society, and to lead on to a night of darkness and confusion! “Let every man,” (says Paul) “abide in the same calling wherein he is called. Art thou called being a servant? Care not for it; but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather” (I Corinth. vii. 20,21). . . . Servants are even commanded in Scripture to be faithful and obedient to unkind masters. “Servants,” (says Peter) “be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle but to the froward. For what glory is it if when ye shall be buffeted for your faults ye take it patiently; but if when ye do will and suffer for it, yet take it patiently, this is acceptable with God” (I Peter ii. 18,20). These and many other passages in the New Testament most convincingly prove that slavery in the Roman world was nowhere charged as a fault or crime upon the holder, and everywhere is the most implicit obedience enjoined.

More Dew:

Every one acquainted with Southern slaves knows that the slave rejoices in the elevation and prosperity of his master; and the heart of no one is more gladdened at the successful debut of the young master or miss on the great theater of the world than that of either the young slave who has grown up with them and shared in all their sports, and even partaken of all their delicacies, or the aged one who has looked on and watched them from birth to manhood, with the kindest and most affectionate solicitude, and has ever met from them all the kind treatment and generous sympathies of feeling, tender hearts. 

Now go back and listen again to MacArthur. This also reminds me of recent comments from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Al Mohler.

This interview tells us a lot about John MacArthur and the movement he represents

MacArthur

Chris Hutchison, the pastor of Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Blacksburg, VA, brought this to my attention today via Twitter.

Watch John MacArthur speaking to Ryan Helfenbein of the Liberty University Falkirk Center about his battle with the state of California and why no Christian could ever vote for Joe Biden:

Notice what MacArthur does here. He equates biblical teaching with abortion, homosexual marriage, and transgenderism. That’s it. For MacArthur, biblical thinking about politics essentially comes down to these three things. As a result, he believes Christians cannot vote for Joe Biden or any member of the Democratic Party.

Instead, MacArthur wants his church to vote for a Republican candidate whose policies will hurt the poor, who uses racist dog whistles, who has brought pornography into the news, and who lies to the American people multiple times a day. Last time I checked, the Bible says a lot about human dignity, truth, lust, and the poor.

What are the historical forces that have led MacArthur to believe that abortion, homosexual marriage, and transgenderism are the only issues Christian voters should be concerned about? We need to keep asking this question because MacArthur thinks that his view of politics is shaped by a reading of the Bible untainted by social and cultural forces.

About midway through the clip, Helfenbein asks MacArthur about critics who say the members of the Christian Right are single-issue voters. MacArthur responds:

That sounds like 25 or 30 years ago when the differences were sociological or economic between you know ownership and labor. That is long gone.

I have no idea what MacArthur is talking about here. But it sounds like he is trying to say that economic inequality is no longer an issue in the United States in the way that it was “25 or 30 years ago.” (Does he really think that the Christian Right did not push single-issue voting in 1995 or 1990?).

MacArthur seems unaware of the success of democratic socialist politicians like Bernie Sanders who have called attention to economic inequality. Sanders attracted millions of American voters–including many young evangelicals–in 2016 and 2020. MacArthur may not like Bernie’s ideas, but the Vermont senator’s views on income inequality have resonated with Americans. It sounds as if MacArthur has had his head in the sand.

MacArthur says that the Democrats are assaulting American and Christian values, namely the conscience, the family, government, and the church. If a biblical view of the conscience, family, government, and church is indeed eroding as MacArthur says it is, then what does this tell us about the influence of Christians in American life over the last 50-75 years? MacArthur’s diagnosis seems to suggest that Christians have failed miserably in their efforts at sustaining a moral culture. Christians like MacArthur should look into the mirror instead of blaming the Democrats. The church is on the hook here.

Why has the church failed? Have the forces of secularism been too strong? Perhaps.

Or maybe evangelicals have placed too much trust in politics to preserve a moral culture. If you need evidence of this, just consider evangelical support for Donald Trump.

MacArthur believes that the best way to protect the conscience is to vote for a man with no conscience.

MacArthur believes that the best way to save the family is to vote for a man who cheated on all his wives, has been divorced twice, sleeps with porn stars, and has been heard on tape saying he wants to sexually assault women.

MacArthur believes that Trump, with his endless lies and incompetent leadership, is the best man to lead a just and moral government.

MacArthur believes that Christians getting into bed with Trump is good for the church and the proclamation of the Gospel.

Something doesn’t seem right here.

Finally, MacArthur says:

Joe Biden said the other day he’s going to fill his cabinet with Muslims. That is as anti-Christian a statement as you could possibly make. That is a blasphemy of the true and living God.

Yes, it would be blasphemous to fill a cabinet with Muslims if we were living in a Christian theocracy. But we don’t live in a theocracy. We live in a democratic society that celebrates pluralism. As Hutchinson notes in his tweet, we have no religious test for federal office in this country. The United States Constitution, as originally written and ratified by the states, makes one reference to religion. Article 6 affirms that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public trust under the United States.” So Biden is perfectly within his constitutional rights to fill his cabinet with Muslims.

But MacArthur goes on about this:

No thinking person, no person who wanted any kind of life for anyone in the future could possible affirm that kind of behavior.

Last time I checked, the founding fathers who wrote the Constitution were “thinking people” who cared about the “future” of the republic.

Hutchinson wonders if MacArthur’s claim about Biden filling his cabinet with Muslims is true.

Of course Ryan Helfenbein nods his head in agreement with everything MacArthur says. In this interview we get one of our best views into what is really going-on with both the Grace Community Church controversy and the Liberty University Falkirk Center.

Thanks again to Chris Hutchinson for bringing all of this to my attention. Things are getting really strange.

Los Angeles Superior Court: MacArthur’s Grace Community Church can hold indoor services, but they must wear masks and social distance

Grace Community Church

You can read the judge’s temporary order at Warren Throckmorton’s blog.

MacArthur’s legal team is celebrating this win. Indeed, Grace Community Church will continue to hold indoor services and the city will not be levying any fines, at least for the moment.

But MacArthur can no longer get away with packing the sanctuary full of mask-less worshippers like he has done the last couple of Sundays. Moreover, the judge’s order is temporary. A full hearing on the case will take place on September 4, 2020.

Quick thoughts:

  1. Why did it take a judge to force MacArthur to require social distancing and mask-wearing?
  2. The judge’s decision implies that COVID-19 is indeed a threat to the health of the people of Los Angeles. We know from previous interviews that MacArthur does not believe this. But he has chosen to submit to the judge anyway.  MacArthur responded: ““I am very grateful the court has allowed us to meet inside and we are happy for a few weeks to comply and respect what the judge has asked of us because he is allowing us to meet. This vindicates our desire to stay open and serve our people. This also gives us an opportunity to show that we are not trying to be rebellious or unreasonable, but that we will stand firm to protect our church against unreasonable, unconstitutional restrictions.” This appears to be another Romans 13 moment for MacArthur.

The Falkirk Center on the John MacArthur controversy. Or how culture warriors write.

 

Grace Community

Some of you have been following the situation at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California. For the past two Sundays, pastor John MacArthur has held religious services in defiance of California’s COVID-19 regulations. MacArthur said:  “We will obey God rather than men. We’re going to be faithful to our Lord.” Pictures of last Sunday’s services show that the church was filled. I did not see many face masks. People were singing. It did not look like people were social distancing.

MacArthur does not believe that COVID-19 is a threat. The state of California disagrees.

As might be expected, evangelical conservatives and the Fox News crowd are rallying around MacArthur, claiming that his First Amendment rights are in jeopardy. I doubt that argument is going to hold up, but I am not writing this post to argue one way or the other.

am writing to illustrate how the Christian Right is spinning this incident and how its adherents are contributing to our divided and polarized culture. For example, take a recent op-ed at the The Western Journal by Ryan Helfenbein, the director of communications at Jerry Falwell’s and Charlie Kirk’s Falkirk Center at Liberty University.

Helfenbein describes the California government as a “giant” that needs to be “slayed.” Such a characterization ignores the fact that governor Gavin Newsom is simply trying to protect the citizens of the state. He has scientists and public health officials advising him. Anthony Fauci has praised his handling of the crisis. Yet Helfenbein portrays the government of California as an evil giant doing everything in its power to close churches. This is not an issue of liberty versus freedom. It is a debate over how to reconcile two competing goods. Newsom has not convinced me that he wants to destroy Christianity or that he is a modern-day Goliath.

Helfenbein writes: “After doing what should have been a simple, mundane act–that is, holding their regular Sunday worship service–the church and its leadership have been threatened….” I’m sorry, but bringing thousands of people into an indoor space during a pandemic is not a “simple” and “mundane” act.

Helfenbein continues: “Now, in the face of the unconstitutional, godless mandate by California authorities to indefinitely cease in-person worship of the living God….” Notice the sensationalist language. And since when is it a “godless” act to try to prevent people from dying or getting sick? One might even argue that the regulations on worship are actually more Christian than MacArthur’s appeal to individual rights.

In order to fire-up the base, Helfenbein calls this “the most consequential First Amendment case of our lifetime. You can decide if he is right. He describes governor Newsom’s regulations as “wildly unconstitutional oppression.” Notice that these regulations are not just unconstitutional to Helfenbein, they are “wildly” unconstitutional. The use of the adverb here reminds me of this scene from A Few Good Men:

Helfenbein and the rest of his friends at the Falkirk Center don’t really care about how this issue might be handled through dialogue, conversation, compromise, and a good-willed effort to understand the arguments on both sides of the debate. (In other words, the stuff people should be doing in a democratic society). Nope–this is a war. Christians must gird-up their loins and fight for their constitutional rights even if it means placing people’s health and lives in jeopardy.

If you want a thoughtful evangelical response to this issue, check out pastor Gavin Ortlund‘s post.  And I am not just pointing you to his blog because I took his Dad for a class on the Minor Prophets at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in the early 1990s. :-).  (Wow, that last line make me feel old!).

Evangelical pastor John MacArthur suggests churches that remain closed during COVID-19 are not “true” churches

MacArthur

Who is John MacArthur and what is this all about? Get up to speed here.

Kate Shellnut and Nicole Sparks report on MacArthur’s sermon Sunday at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California.

Here is a taste of their piece at Christianity Today:

During Sunday’s sermon, MacArthur suggested that churches that close are not true churches. “There has never been a time when the world didn’t need the message of the true church,” he said. “I have to say, ‘true church.’ I hate to think of that, but there’s so many false forms of the church. Let them shut down.”

The congregation laughed then cheered.

Some critics have questioned why Grace Church didn’t meet outside or adjust its indoor gatherings to meet health department guidelines rather than resort to a form of civil disobedience. Others brought up the risk of infection, since experts suggest church contexts, particularly with large crowds not practicing social distancing, are particularly susceptible to and responsible for several recent outbreaks.

Read the entire piece here.

Another evangelical pastor, Gavin Ortlund, has a different take.

Placing John MacArthur’s decision to open his church in historical context

MacArthur

Get up to speed on this story here.

Messiah University alum Morgan Lee interviews historian Daniel Williams for Christianity Today’s “Quick to Listen” podcast. Here is a taste:

Lee: Thoreau’s vision of civil disobedience, and even that of the Civil rights movement, was primarily nonviolent. Was there a turning point of people thinking that protest was dominantly nonviolent? Or was there a time when protest was just seen as inevitably becoming more violent?

Daniel K. Williams: The whole idea of political protest is something that I’m not sure was conceivable to people in the early church in the way that it is today. I think in the New Testament, the way that these stories were told was part of a package of proclaiming Jesus as the sovereign Lord over all of the earth. And Caesar, as well as every other king, of course, was far below that.

That was the framework. It wasn’t the idea that the government of Rome needed to be challenged or changed. It was rather that the government of Rome had no legitimate authority over Christians, except for that authority that God had given to that power. And so that’s the framework in which I think Christian martyrdom occurred for the first few centuries.

Thoreau had a very different framework. His was the framework of the new American Republic and the idea that this is a government that has been created contractually. It’s a Lockean framework. Well, if that’s your framework, at what point did nonviolent protest take hold instead of violence?

And I guess I would say that with the American Revolution, it started nonviolently. The early demonstrations in the 1760s and even very early 1770s against British power were not directly violent. They involved a lot of petitions, pamphlets, street theater, and that sort of thing. And violence only developed.

And I guess I would say the same thing with Thoreau. He was an advocate of nonviolence and he believed that this could be done nonviolently. Within a decade, others like John Brown thought differently over the same issue and most of the rest of the country was beginning to think differently.

There, of course, are those who’ve drawn a firm line between nonviolence and violence. And there’s, of course, a strong Christian tradition on that side. One could look at the Quakers and find many examples of creative ways to nonviolently challenge slavery or other injustices.

For others, it’s been a less firm line. And many people started out as advocates of nonviolence—Frederick Douglass would be one example—who then became willing to accept at least one form of violence. Sometimes people would differentiate and say they might accept state violence through war, but not necessarily private violence around the lines of John Brown.

Read the entire interview here.  I would disagree with Williams on one point here. The coming of the American Revolution in the 1760s and 1770s was actually very violent.

What is going on with John MacArthur and Romans 13?

MacArthur

I could say a lot of things here about John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, but until yesterday I always thought he took a pretty consistent stand on passages like Romans 13 that require Christians to submit to governing authorities. Whether you agree or disagree with MacArthur’s interpretation and application of Romans 13, his views have changed little over time. As I have noted before as this blog, MacArthur even believes that the American Revolution was staged in violation of this biblical passage.

In late May, MacArthur announced that Grace Community Church would be returning to face-to-face worship for the first time since the COVID-19 outbreak. Donald Trump said that churches were “essential. MacArthur listened and responded with his re-opening announcement. He wrote:

We were elated yesterday morning when President Trump declared churches to be essential, asked us to open this very Sunday, and promised to fight any state government that tried to stand in the way. As I’ve said many times, the Bible would have us submit to the governing authorities, and in the United States, there is no higher human executive authority than the president, who was speaking on a matter of federal and constitutional interest, specifically the First Amendment.

This announcement was made on a Friday. On Saturday evening, MacArthur learned that the Ninth Circuit Court ruled in favor of California Governor Gavin Newsom’s statewide stay-at-home order. This order prevented churches from gathering in face-to-face settings. MacArthur was not happy about the decision, but he admitted that “the Ninth Circuit decision is sadly the law of the land in California, and we gladly submit to the sovereign purposes of God.”

Now, in an online statement, MacArthur seems to have changed his position on Romans 13. He has decided that Newsom’s  current ban on indoor religious services is intruding on his congregation’s right to worship. He writes:

However, while civil government is invested with divine authority to rule the state, neither of those texts (nor any other) grants civic rulers jurisdiction over the church. God has established three institutions within human society: the family, the state, and the church. Each institution has a sphere of authority with jurisdictional limits that must be respected. A father’s authority is limited to his own family. Church leaders’ authority (which is delegated to them by Christ) is limited to church matters. And government is specifically tasked with the oversight and protection of civic peace and well-being within the boundaries of a nation or community. God has not granted civic rulers authority over the doctrine, practice, or polity of the church. The biblical framework limits the authority of each institution to its specific jurisdiction. The church does not have the right to meddle in the affairs of individual families and ignore parental authority. Parents do not have authority to manage civil matters while circumventing government officials. And similarly, government officials have no right to interfere in ecclesiastical matters in a way that undermines or disregards the God-given authority of pastors and elders.

When any one of the three institutions exceeds the bounds of its jurisdiction it is the duty of the other institutions to curtail that overreach. Therefore, when any government official issues orders regulating worship (such as bans on singing, caps on attendance, or prohibitions against gatherings and services), he steps outside the legitimate bounds of his God-ordained authority as a civic official and arrogates to himself authority that God expressly grants only to the Lord Jesus Christ as sovereign over His Kingdom, which is the church. His rule is mediated to local churches through those pastors and elders who teach His Word (Matthew 16:18–192 Timothy 3:16–4:2).

Read the entire piece here. MacArthur makes it sound like Newsom and all government officials concerned about the health of their citizens are somehow equivalent to an atheist totalitarian state trying to suppress all forms of religious belief.

What happened to the principled Romans 13 argument that MacArthur made back in May? He addresses this issue in an addendum posted this morning:

Below we want to answer the primary question we have received in response to the statement:Why did you submit to the original government order, citing Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2?

The elders of Grace Church considered and independently consented to the original government order, not because we believed the state has a right to tell churches when, whether, or how to worship. To be clear, we believe that the original orders were just as much an illegitimate intrusion of state authority into ecclesiastical matters as we believe it is now. However, because we could not possibly have known the true severity of the virus, and because we care about people as our Lord did, we believe guarding public health against serious contagions is a rightful function of Christians as well as civil government. Therefore, we voluntarily followed the initial recommendations of our government. It is, of course, legitimate for Christians to abstain from the assembly of saints temporarily in the face of illness or an imminent threat to public health.

When the devastating lockdown began, it was supposed to be a short-term stopgap measure, with the goal to “flatten the curve”—meaning they wanted to slow the rate of infection to ensure that hospitals weren’t overwhelmed. And there were horrific projections of death. In light of those factors, our pastors supported the measures by observing the guidelines that were issued for churches.

But we did not yield our spiritual authority to the secular government. We said from the very start that our voluntary compliance was subject to change if the restrictions dragged on beyond the stated goal, or politicians unduly intruded into church affairs, or if health officials added restrictions that would to attempt to undermine the church’s mission. We made every decision with our own burden of responsibility in mind. We simply took the early opportunity to support the concerns of health officials and accommodate the same concerns among our church members, out of a desire to act in an abundance of care and reasonableness (Philippians 4:5).

But we are now more than twenty weeks into the unrelieved restrictions. It is apparent that those original projections of death were wrong and the virus is nowhere near as dangerous as originally feared. Still, roughly forty percent of the year has passed with our church essentially unable to gather in a normal way. Pastors’ ability to shepherd their flocks has been severely curtailed. The unity and influence of the church has been threatened. Opportunities for believers to serve and minister to one another have been missed. And the suffering of Christians who are troubled, fearful, distressed, infirm, or otherwise in urgent need of fellowship and encouragement has been magnified beyond anything that could reasonably be considered just or necessary. Major public events that were planned for 2021 are already being canceled, signaling that officials are preparing to keep restrictions in place into next year and beyond. That forces churches to choose between the clear command of our Lord and the government officials. Therefore, following the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, we gladly choose to obey Him.

This reads like some of the American patriots in the 1760s and 1770s trying to twist and contort their reading of Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 in order to justify the American Revolution against the arguments of Loyalists clergy like Samuel Seabury and Charles Inglis

Now John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church WILL NOT Open Tomorrow

MacArthurNOTE: Read this post and the addendum. This is an evolving story.

On Friday, John MacArthur said Grace Community Church would be open on Sunday. Watch the video here.

Here is the transcript:

Well this is Friday, and it turned-out to be a really incredible day. When I came into the office the first thing in front of me was a letter from a United States congressman–a wonderful man who have basically been an army infantryman who fought in combat in the Middle East and really had an incredible story. [He] went from there to the United States Congress and from there more recently into pastoral ministry. And he was just expressing gratitude to me for the ways in which the word of God that goes forth here at Grace Church from the pulpit and in books, through all the forms, had impacted his life and how much of what we have been teaching here, he had the privilege of disseminating to the United States Congress. Sometimes we wonder if those people in political power ever do hear the truth of the word of God. But by a faithful congressman, they have heard. What a delightful letter that was.

I was enjoying the warmth of that very sweet note, gracious note, when I heard that President Trump had declared church to be an “essential service.” We’ve always known that for certain, its the most essential of all things. And that he said you can go back to church on Sunday. And he said that on this Friday. And put no restraints whatsoever on the meeting of the church or synagogues or any other religious gatherings and made it very clear that the federal government and the president, the leader of this nation, deemed churches to be essential and encourage people to go back to church.

So in the response to the leadership of our president, we’re gonna go to church. And we’re going to go to church this Sunday. That’s really, really good news. We’re going to start in a responsible way. We’re going to have a service at 8:30 in the morning on Sunday [and] have another one at 10:30. They’re just going to be briefer service [sic]. We’ll have singing, congregational singing. I’ll bring the word of God, in fact I’ll finish the message on fellowship that I started last Sunday. And then we’re going to come around the Lord’s table. We’re going to take communion together as a church family. We’re going to do it in a different way so that we’re thoughtful and careful about that so no one will be concerned that it was in any sense unsafe. 

But our president didn’t lay down any demands or mandates for us. There are a lot of narratives floating around out there about the realities of what we’re going through and I think by now all of us know that masks do no good. If you’ve ever touched your mask, stuffed it in your pocket and put it on again it’s useless. We all have heard all the narratives. So we’re just saying come to church–8:30, 10:30. We will have seating in the chapel. We’ll have seating in the family center, the gym, and we’ll have seating in the worship center and you can be wherever you want to be to be comfortable and then we’ll take the Lord’s Supper in a unique way that would remove any concern people would have about folks handling the communion before it gets to you.

So, it’s going to be a wonderful, glorious Sunday. Again, obviously, you don’t have to come to church if you’re not feeling well or if you have someone who’s ill and you want to take special care of them–someone older like me, let’s say. You know those things anyway. Those are reasonable things at any time in life. But beyond that, we want you to come and we are going to sing, in fact we are going to sing our hearts out. I think by the time we’re done on Sunday we’ll have sung at least eight or nine wonderful hymns and heard the word of God and joined around the Lord’s table. 

So welcome back to Grace Church. That’s this next Sunday, May 24.  Just two days from now. We look forward to coming together and seeing the blessing of God in the reunion. See you on Sunday.

Rod Dreher has some good thoughts here, but I want to focus on something else.

MacArthur is a big fan of Romans 13. This is the passage that exhorts Christians to “be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority, except that which God has established…Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves….”

This passage has been used in a lot of interesting ways throughout American history. Unlike others who champion Romans 13, MacArthur has been consistent. He has even claimed that the American Revolution was a sinful event. I have no doubt that MacArthur’s view of Romans 13 is at work in his decision to re-open Grace Community Church.

MacArthur believes that Trump’s call to open churches as “essential” services comes from the “governing authorities” and thus must be obeyed. But who are the real “governing authorities” here? St. Paul, the author of Romans, was obviously referring to Rome. But who are the governing authorities in a constitutional republic? The president? Congress? The governors and local officials?

As several pundits and scholars have noted, the authorities here are the state governors. Today the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. It upheld California Governor Gavin Newsom’s ban on in-person church services.

By opening tomorrow, is MacArthur following Romans 13? Or is this a sinful act of rebellion against the Supreme Court and the governor of his state? I am sure he will have an answer.

ADDENDUM:

Well, after all of that, it now looks like Grace Community Church WILL NOT OPEN tomorrow. Here is the press release:

We were elated yesterday morning when President Trump declared churches to be essential, asked us to open this very Sunday, and promised to fight any state government that tried to stand in the way. As I’ve said many times, the Bible would have us submit to the governing authorities, and in the United States, there is no higher human executive authority than the president, who was speaking on a matter of federal and constitutional interest, specifically the First Amendment.

With that said, at our last elder meeting, we talked about how this situation was changing not just day-by-day, but even hour-by-hour, and that sadly turned out to be true here. Late Friday night, the Ninth Circuit, which is generally known as the most left-wing and anti-biblical circuit court in the nation, ruled 2-1 in favor of California Governor Newsom’s statewide stay-at-home order, rejecting an emergency motion to allow for religious services to proceed.

To say that we strenuously disagree with this decision would be an understatement. All credible data show that this coronavirus is far less dangerous than initially projected, even while the economic, mental, and spiritual toll of an extended lockdown order is far more dangerous. Meanwhile, although the initial response arguably might have been somewhat even-handed, as the situation has developed, religious organizations have increasingly been unfairly treated, even targeted.

For a state like California to decide that abortion providers, marijuana dispensaries, and liquor stores are “essential” while churches are forced to the back of the line via a seemingly endless series of moving goalposts and ever more restrictive hoops to jump through, is the very essence of upside-down Romans 1 immorality. We stand against it plainly, and moving forward, we are striving to pursue every biblical and legal means to oppose it.

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.

Separate and apart from the legal questions raised above, our worship services are not to be times of media circus and frenzy, particularly when we gather around the Lord’s Table. To prevent that from occurring, the elders of Grace Community Church desire to delay our reopening and leave it in the hands of God.

We covet your prayers even as we pray for you. We will continue to meet with live stream at 10:30 AM and 6:00 PM, which obviously the Lord has blessed.

It looks like MacArthur remains consistent in his view on Romans 13, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t going to take shot at Newsom and the 9th Circuit. In addition to this press release, the Grace Community website states:

Ninth Circuit Court Rules Against the President and Churches: Late Friday night, the Ninth Circuit, which is generally known as the most left-wing and anti-biblical circuit court in the nation, ruled 2-1 in favor of California Governor Newsom’s statewide stay-at-home order, rejecting an emergency motion to allow for religious services to proceed.

Haugen: Young Evangelicals are Committed to Social Justice

Black Lives Matter

At the recent Faith Angle Forum in Miami, Gary Haugen, founder and CEO of the International Justice Mission, said that there is a major divide between older and younger white evangelicals on issues of race and social justice in America.  I think one finds the same age-based division in white evangelical support for Donald Trump.

Here is a taste of Jon Ward’s piece at Yahoo News:

The generational divide among white evangelicals over issues of race and social justice has given the group a more conservative reputation than is merited, but that will change in the coming decade, according to the head of an influential Christian aid group.

Speaking with a group of journalists here this week, Gary Haugen, founder and CEO of the International Justice Mission (IJM), which mostly works outside the United States, also addressed questions about what insights he might have about injustice in America.

Haugen avoided commenting directly on issues of racial injustice, or on the question of why white evangelical Christians have been stalwart supporters of President Trump, who rose to power by demonizing immigrants. But Haugen stood by his assertion years ago, before the rise of Trump, that there is a “sea change” among evangelicals as it relates to issues of injustice. However, he qualified that much of this change is not yet being seen among older white evangelicals.

In particular, Haugen pinpointed the world of conservative philanthropy, which intersects closely with nonprofit and aid work. The tension, he intimated, is between a money sector in evangelicalism dominated by wealthy individuals who skew older and much more conservative in their politics, and an activist sector that is younger and far more progressive in its worldview.

This report is very interesting in light of the debate taking place right now between the followers of California megachurch pastor John MacArthur and the Calvinist conservative evangelical group The Gospel Coalition.  Some of you may recall that MacArthur is the megachurch pastor who claims that the Bible does not teach social justice.  The Gospel Coalition includes evangelical theologians and pastors such as Tim Keller, D.A. Carson, Russell Moore, Al Mohler, and John Piper.  They have a long way to go before someone would call their constituency “social justice warriors,” but they are making efforts, particularly as it relates to racial reconciliation.

Here are few examples how this debate is playing out:

In a recent blog post, a MacArthur follower from an organization called Sovereign Nations argues that the Gospel Coalition is drifting towards identity politics by replacing the central message of the Gospel (salvation through Christ) with social justice.

Both MacArthur followers and some Gospel Coalition followers attacked Jemar Tisby on Twitter after the Gospel Coalition published a positive review of his The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism.  (We talked to Tisby about this in Episode 48 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast).

Here are some of the authors of MacArthur’s social justice statement.  This is Sovereign Nations event:

If you don’t want to watch the whole video above, you can get a taste here:

If Haugen is correct about generational shifts, and I think he is, these anti-social justice crusaders are going to be in for a rude awakening.

So What DOES Al Mohler Believe About Social Justice?

Mohler Macarthur

Albert Mohler and John MacArthur in 2014

At a recent conference at John MacArthur‘s Grace Community Church, someone asked Al Mohler, a Southern Baptist seminary president, why he did not sign MacArthur’s statement condemning “social justice” in the evangelical community.  (We covered this here and here).

Here is a taste of Samuel Smith’s reporting at the Christian Post:

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler explained why he did not sign last summer’s John MacArthur-led statement condemning evangelicals’ embrace of social justice as dangerous to the Gospel.

Mohler, an influential voice in conservative evangelicalism who frequently voices his opinions on current events through his daily podcast, took part in a panel discussion last week at the 2019 Shepherd’s Conference at MacArthur’s Grace Community Church in California.

During the panel discussion moderated by Grace to You Executive Director Phil Johnson, Mohler and other panelists on stage were asked why they didn’t sign The Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel.

The statement spearheaded last year by the 79-year-old MacArthur claimed that social justice “values borrowed from secular culture are currently undermining Scripture in the areas of race and ethnicity, manhood and womanhood, and human sexuality.”

I read this entire article and I still don’t know what Mohler thinks about social justice.  He seems to have tip-toed around the issue without really saying anything. Here is a taste of Smith’s reporting:

When directly asked why he didn’t sign, Mohler explained:

“I want to be very honest. You have known me for a long time. So you know of my concerns. I am having before God trying to address those concerns the way I think best consistent with 35 years of public ministry,” Mohler said. “I was not particularly appreciative of being handed a statement.”

Mohler stressed that when it came to the statement, he had no opportunity to “offer any particular consultation or suggestion.”

“It is not pride of authorship but I am just reluctant to sign onto anything that is not creedal and confessional that doesn’t express exactly how I want to say something,” Mohler explained. “Not signing should not be interpreted as a rejection of common concern. I don’t think that is fair.”

Read the entire piece here.

Apparently the Southern Baptists are divided on this issue.

The President of the Master’s University and Seminary Speaks About His Poor Accreditation Report

Master's

Earlier today I called your attention to a Chronicle of Higher Education piece on the WASC Senior College and University Commission accreditation report on The Master’s College and Seminary, an evangelical institution run by megachurch pastor John MacArthur.  Read it here.

After a three-day study of MacArthur’s school, the reviewers hired by the accrediting agency concluded that Master’s has “a pervasive climate of fear, intimidation, bullying and uncertainty.”  Their report noted that “reports of lack of leadership ethics and accountability” were “unmatched for members of this review team.”

MacArthur responded to this negative report in an August 2018 speech to the students enrolled in the Master’s Seminary.  The Chronicle of Higher Education obtained a copy of the speech. (It is currently behind the paywall).  Here are some of themes:

  • He tells first-year students that they have arrived at The Master’s Seminary at the “best time ever.”
  • MacArthur calls this an “apostolic moment” for him and compares himself to the Apostle Paul.  He tells the student body that the attacks on him and his ministry (and by implication his university and seminary) are similar to the kind of attacks that these future ministers will face in their churches and ministries one day.
  • He takes a shot at Fuller Theological Seminary for not upholding a belief in the doctrine of biblical inerrancy.  (Read about this history here).  I am not sure why this is important in this context, but he takes the shot nonetheless.
  • MacArthur says that the chair of the accreditation review committee told him a week before the team’s visit that he expected everything would go well.
  • After the visit, the chair of the committee came into MacArthur’s office and told him, “you are under attack.”
  • When the report said that Master’s had a climate of bullying, intimidation, and fear, MacArthur said he was “puzzled” by this.
  • The attacks, MacArthur claimed, were “on me personally, not the seminary.”
  • MacArthur claims that the attacks came from people “outside the university and seminary” who the committee spoke with during their study of the campus.
  • MacArthur implies that some of the people from outside the university and seminary who spoke negatively about him to the accreditation committee were former disgruntled employees.  (He also seems to say that there are disgruntled current employees as well, but I can’t make out that part of the recording).
  • There was much in the accreditation report that was untruthful and “completely unrelated to reality.”
  • MacArthur said the Master’s University and Seminary has responded to the negative assessment with a “full report.”  The accrediting agency eventually “praised” this report.  MacArthur is confident that Master’s will not lose their accreditation.
  • He compares disgruntled employees at Master’s to NFL players kneeling before the National Anthem.  Both, he says, are disrespecting their employers.
  • MacArthur says that the college needs to do more “spiritual shepherding” to get disgruntled employees in line.
  • MacArthur alludes to the possibility of a “coup” going on at Master’s.  It is led by people “with ambition.”
  • MacArthur then moves into his ongoing critique of “social justice.”
  • MacArthur does not believe that WASC is “adversarial” to Master’s.  The review committee just responded to the things they were told during their visit to campus.  MacArthur believes these things were untrue.

What is Going on at The Master’s University and Seminary?

MacArthur

John MacArthur, president of The Master’s University and Seminary

The Chronicle of Higher Education is calling the WASC Senior College and University Commission’s report on The Masters University and Seminary, a conservative evangelical Christian institution in Santa Clarita, California, “one of the most scathing accreditation reports in recent memory.”  As some of you know, the founder and president of the school is evangelical clergyman John MacArthur.  Here is a taste of the piece at The Chronicle:

Over the summer, students at Master’s University and Seminary found out their institution had been placed on probation by its accreditor. To quell the controversy, the college’s president did what he does best. He preached to them.

During an hourlong address, the Rev. John F. MacArthur warned seminarians that the accreditor’s action was the result of an attack “orchestrated, if not by any humans, by Satan himself.” The Chronicle has obtained a recording of the speech, which was delivered in late August.

MacArthur downplayed accreditors’ concerns and alluded to unnamed enemies who coveted his authority. “If somebody wants your position, somebody wants to make the decisions that you’re making, it’s not the ground troops that start those things,” he said. “It’s people with ambition.”

As he spoke, he railed against social justice and compared those who complained about the university to NFL players kneeling during the national anthem. And he told students that the accreditor, the WASC Senior College and University Commission, didn’t understand places like Master’s.

Plenty of small private colleges have religious affiliations, usually through a Christian denomination. Those colleges can present a particular challenge for accrediting agencies, which must apply a broad set of secular standards to the institutions while respecting their religious missions. That challenge is raised to a whole new level at Master’s. The college is linked to a single, independent church and its pastor, MacArthur, whose strong personality and influence have benefited the college — but have now put it at risk.

In a report to the accrediting agency, a group of reviewers acknowledged that Master’s is doing some important things right. Under MacArthur, they said, the institution has engendered deep loyalty from faculty, students, and donors. At the same time, the report depicted Master’s as an accreditor’s nightmare: an insular and oppressive institution where loyalty to the president and his church has sometimes trumped both academic and financial concerns.

Officials at the accrediting agency declined to comment. But using the kind of blunt language rarely found in an accreditation report, the reviewers wrote that Master’s has “a pervasive climate of fear, intimidation, bullying and uncertainty.”

“The related reports of lack of leadership ethics and accountability that emerged was unmatched for members of this review team,” the report said. “It seems this has been part of the operation for so long that it is practiced without question.”

Master’s is unlikely to lose its accreditation, which it must maintain to be eligible for federal financial aid dollars. Very few colleges do. But the situation is an uncommonly acute test for both the accreditor and the college. How far can the accreditor push a singular college to change to meet its standards? And how much will that college be willing to change?

Read the entire piece here.

*Christianity Today* Editor Weighs-In on the John MacArthur Social Justice Statement

Good Samaritan

We blogged about MacArthur and his statement here.  Here is a taste of CT editor Mark Galli’s response to the statement:

Anyone involved in social justice ministries is subject to the loss of the transcendent. As Charles Taylor so effectively argued in A Secular Age, we live today in a time that is defined by what he calls “the immanent frame.” At the risk of oversimplifying, this means living as if this world is all there is. This world is reality; the world beyond it is a matter of personal opinion or speculation. In other ages, the world beyond this—the supernatural, the spiritual, the transcendent—was simply assumed and was clearly believed to be the most real.

This is one reason many Christians are more confident making definitive pronouncements about social concerns (the “immanent”) and hesitate to speak boldly about theological concerns (the transcendent). We live in an era dominated by the immanent framing of things, and it takes concerted effort to remember that, as important and vital as our world is, it is but a shadow of the reality beyond us and the reality we will enjoy in the kingdom of heaven.

Social justice activism by its very nature lives day to day within the immanent frame. It is concerned about the horizontal: how states and institutions treat people and how people treat one another. The Christian might be initially motivated by uniquely Christian ideals to engage in social justice efforts, as well she should, but as history shows, it doesn’t take much before the immanent frame starts to frame everything.

So what exactly is the transcendent dimension of social justice for the evangelical Christian? This is something we’ve been arguing about as a movement for some decades. But I would put it this way: The ultimate goal of social justice is the same as the ultimate goal of all our activity for Jesus—whether that be encouraging Bible reading and prayer, loving our next door neighbor, practicing business as mission, or a hundred other things—that all might come to know and love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. If our social justice doesn’t have this end in view, I believe we will soon become nothing but the Democratic or Republican parties at prayer.

Amen.  Thanks, Mark.

Read the entire piece here.

Michael Gerson and John MacArthur on “Social Justice”

MacArthur

In case you haven’t been following this, John MacArthur, a pastor of a large megachurch in California, has issued a “Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel.”  Here is my summary of the statement:

  • The Bible is inerrant and intersectionality, radical feminism, and critical race theory are inconsistent with biblical teaching.
  •  All human beings are created in the image of God.  As a result, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, religion, or sex neither “negates or contributes” to an individual’s worth.
  • Christians must pursue justice. Society is responsible for correcting injustices “imposed through cultural prejudice.”  Christians cannot “live justly in the world under any principles other than the biblical standard of righteousness.”
  • Obligations that do not “arise from God’s commandments” cannot be “legitimately imposed on Christians as prescriptions for righteous living.”
  • All human beings, regardless of age, ethnicity, race, or sex, are sinners in need of salvation.  This also applies to “systems” and “institutions.”  People must repent of individual sins and “one’s ethnicity” does not “establish a connection to any particular sin.”
  • The pursuit of justice is important, but only a belief in the person and work of Jesus Christ, including his virgin birth, atoning death, and bodily resurrection, will save one’s soul.
  • Those who embrace the Gospel are all equal before God regardless of “age, ethnicity, or sex.
  • The church should proclaim the Gospel, teach “sound doctrine,” and administer the ordinances (baptism and the Lord’s Supper).  It should not be involved in “political or social activism.”
  • Marriage is between a man and a woman.  Homosexuality is sin.  Singleness is a “noble” calling.  “Gay Christian” is not a “legitimate biblical category.”
  • Complementarianism.  God has “designed men and women with distinct traits and to fulfill distinct roles.”
  • “Race” is not a “biblical category.”  It is a “social construct that often has been used to classify groups of people in terms of inferiority and superiority.” Christians should not segregate themselves into racial groups or regard “racial identity above, or even equal to, their identity in Christ.”  Any teaching that “encourages racial groups to view themselves as privileged oppressors or entitled victims of oppression” is unbiblical.
  • Deficiencies in culture must be overcome “through conversion and the training of both mind and heart through biblical truth.”
  • Racism is sin and must be condemned “by all who would honor the image of God in all people.”   “Racial sin” can “subtly or overtly manifest itself as racial animosity or racial vainglory.” “Systemic racism” is incompatible with evangelical belief.  Lectures on social issues (or activism aimed at reshaping the wider culture) are not as vital “to the life and health of the church as the preaching of the gospel and the exposition of the scriptures.” Such lectures “inevitably lead to departures from the gospel.”

I was actually surprised by just how much I agreed with in this statement.  (I expected to agree with none of it, but some of it is pretty good evangelical theology).

But the statement is also ignorant of the historic and current state of race-relations in the United States and the role that white men and women played in propagating racism.  It fails to show any empathy for people of color who lived through such discrimination.  (A reference to “weeping with those who weep” in the “race/ethnicity” section is little more than a throw-away line).  As one evangelical commentator noted, “this document could have been signed by the antebellum slaveowners.”

The statement often reads like an early 20th-century fundamentalist critique of the Social Gospel.  It  assumes that the pursuing “a biblical standard of righteousness” has nothing to do with engaging social sins.

Michael Gerson has commented on MacArthur’s statement in his recent Washington Post column.  Here is a taste:

By way of background, it seems that this statement was created in outraged response to another group of evangelicals — the Gospel Coalition — that held a conference on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death. MacArthur clearly wants to paint the participants — including prominent pastors Tim Keller, Russell Moore, Thabiti Anyabwile and John Piper — as liberals at risk of heresy.

Where to start a response? First, there is the matter of judgment. MacArthur surveys the evangelical movement in 2018 — increasingly discredited by rank hypocrisy and close ties to an angry, ethno-nationalist political movement — and concludes that its main problem is too much … social justice. It is a sad case of complete spiritual blindness.

Second, there is a matter of history. Elsewhere MacArthur complains that evangelicals have a “newfound obsession” with social justice. This could only be claimed by someone who knows nothing of the evangelical story. In the 19th century, northern evangelicalism was generally viewed as inseparable from social activism. Evangelist Charles Finney insisted that “the loss of interest in benevolent enterprises” was usually evidence of a “backslidden heart.” Among these enterprises Finney listed good government, temperance reform, the abolition of slavery and relief for the poor. “The Gospel,” preached abolitionist Gilbert Haven in 1863, “is not confined to a repentance and faith that have no connection with social or civil duties. The Evangel of Christ is an all-embracing theme.”

But most damaging is the MacArthur statement’s position on racial matters. What could a group of largely white evangelicals, many of them southerners, possibly mean by criticizing “racial vainglory”? Is it vanity to praise the unbroken spirit of Africans in America during more than four centuries of vicious oppression, which was often blessed by elements of the Christian church? Is it vanity to recognize the redemptive role played by African-American Christianity in calling our nation to the highest ideals of its founding?

Read the rest of Gerson’s column here.

Here are few more comments:

  • Thirteen men are listed as “initial signers” of the document.  Except for MacArthur, I do not recognize any of their names.  In fact, I hesitated to even write about this story.  It is a fringe element of evangelicalism.  I was surprised Gerson devoted a column to it.
  • At the time I am writing this, nearly 7000 people have signed this statement, most of them are men.
  • Back in the 1980s, MacArthur was a champion of something called “Lordship Salvation.”  This was the idea that saving faith should be accompanied by the “saved” person making Jesus “the Lord of his or her life.”  In other words, a true convert will manifest his or her newfound salvation in good works (presumably acts of social justice would be part of these “good works”).  MacArthur was challenging the idea of so-called “cheap grace” or, more officially, “Free Grace Theology.”  This was the idea, popularized by some professors at Dallas Theological Seminary, that a person was saved by believing in the Gospel alone.  In this view, one could accept Jesus as “Savior” without making him “Lord,” or pursuing a life of discipleship.  Those who embrace Free Grace Theology believe that good works are essential to the Christian life, but only intellectual assent or belief will save one’s soul from hell.  The defenders of this view taught that Lordship Salvation, as championed by MacArthur in a book titled The Gospel According to Jesus, was a form of “salvation by works.”  So how does MacArthur reconcile his belief in “Lordship Salvation” with his rejection of social justice?  Isn’t the pursuit of social justice part of pursuing a life of discipleship?  (Wow–I haven’t thought about this stuff in a while!)