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California churches refuse to shut down in face of local leaders threatening to cut power

Public worship will continue, the pastors said, because 'God has not granted civic rules authority over the doctrine, practice, or polity of the church.'
Tue Jul 28, 2020 - 6:00 am EST
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SUN VALLEY, California, July 27, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – The elders of Grace Community Church have no intention of submitting to California’s demands that they shut down worship services, even if authorities shut off their power in retaliation.

The Bible commands Christian churches to remain open regardless of the dictates of secular leaders, church leadership argued in an open letter posted to Grace’s website: “Scripture does mandate careful, conscientious obedience to all governing authority, including kings, governors, employers, and their agents” as long as “government authorities do not attempt to assert ecclesiastical authority or issue orders that forbid our obedience to God’s law.” 

But “God has not granted civic rulers authority over the doctrine, practice, or polity of the church,” declared Pastor John MacArthur and the rest of the church elders. And “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. 

“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,” the letter declared.

“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,” the statement continued. “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.”

The declaration comes in response to California Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom banning indoor religious services in 29 counties representing 80 percent of the state’s population, in the name of containing the spread of COVID-19. Other churches to defy the order include Cornerstone Church of Fresno, Destiny Christian Church of Rocklin, and Harvest Rock Church of Pasadena. Some churches have switched to outdoor services.

Over the weekend Phil Johnson, executive director of MacArthur’s Grace to You ministry, said that local officials have threatened to cut off power to churches that remain open in violation of Newsom’s order. Earlier this year, Los Angeles Democrat Mayor Eric Garcetti threatened to do just that to any “irresponsible and selfish” private entity that defied shutdown orders.

California churches are still forced to choose between exercising their faith and obeying the law in large part because last month a 5-4 Supreme Court majority, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, upheld the state’s requirement that “Places of worship must ... limit attendance to 25 percent of building capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees, whichever is lower.”

“California’s 25 percent occupancy cap on religious worship services indisputably discriminates against religion, and such discrimination violates the First Amendment,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh argued in a dissenting opinion to the case, noting that “factories, offices, supermarkets, restaurants, retail stores, pharmacies, shopping malls, pet grooming shops, bookstores, florists, hair salons, and cannabis dispensaries” were not subject to the same cap.


  california, coronavirus, covid-19, grace community church, john macarthur, lockdown orders, religious assembly, religious freedom

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