Standoff continues between John MacArthur and Los Angeles County – Baptist News Global

standoff-continues-between-john-macarthur-and-los-angeles-county-–-baptist-news-global

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A California judge has declined again to grant Los Angeles County a temporary restraining order against John MacArthur and his Grace Community Church for defying a county public health order related to the coronavirus pandemic.
However, despite the court also reaffirming the county’s right to issue and enforce public health restrictions, the county to date has not issued fines against the church, which has welcomed thousands of unmasked worshipers into its indoor sanctuary for the last four Sundays. Instead, the county has sought — with mixed results — to enlist the court’s assistance in stopping the indoor worship gatherings.
After receiving new input from both sides on Monday, Aug. 24, Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff of the California Superior Court issued a ruling on Tuesday, Aug. 25, denying the county a temporary restraining order against the church. And while the church celebrated that as a victory, the same judge also affirmed the county’s right to adopt and enforce its own health restrictions.
Government officials, citing the public health threat of coronavirus “super-spreader” events, have sought the court’s help to shut down the massive public gatherings at the church. They also claim that the church has prevented county health officials from entering church property to observe what’s going on there during Sunday services.
The church services are livestreamed but in recent weeks the camera has shown only the pulpit areas and musicians, not the congregation. However, others present for the services have posted photos and videos showing thousands of worshipers not wearing masks and not practicing social distancing.
The next scheduled hearing on the original lawsuit filed by the church against the county and the countersuit filed by the county against the church is slated for Sept. 4.
At the heart of the current, secondary disagreement between the county and the church is a question of whether there is, in fact, a court order against the church. The county says there is; the church says there isn’t.
At the heart of the current, secondary disagreement between the county and the church is a question of whether there is, in fact, a court order against the church. The county says there is; the church says there isn’t.
To date, the county has prevailed all the way to the California Court of Appeal, which issued an emergency ruling Aug. 15 saying the preponderance of evidence falls in favor of the county health department and therefore the church should not be allowed to hold indoor services while the original lawsuit is pending. And yet the local judge has declined to issue a temporary restraining order to support that higher court ruling.
Thus, when county officials say there has been a court ruling against the church’s indoor services, Court of Appeal action is the ruling to which they refer. When the church says there has not been a ruling against the church, they are speaking of the Superior Court.
Disputing the state and county health orders
In its latest brief to the court, the county said: “There can be no dispute that the Court of Appeal has upheld the validity of — and the county’s right to enforce — the health order. That health order prohibits indoor services. There is also no dispute that defendants continue conducting indoor services even after the Court of Appeal order. Now, the county seeks a temporary restraining order ensuring that the church complies with the valid health order. As the Court of Appeal stated, the county will likely prevail in this suit and the balance of the equities favors the county’s request for temporary relief prohibiting indoor services. For these reasons, a TRO is appropriate and should be granted.”
Grace Community Church’s website invites members to write to county officials asking them to stop attacking the church.
In comments to his congregation posted online and echoed in legal briefs filed Aug. 24, MacArthur said: “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 attempt to undermine the church’s mission.
“But we are now more than 20 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 40% 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.”
The county and state restrictions force churches to “choose between the clear command of our Lord and the government officials,” MacArthur said. “Therefore, following the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, we gladly choose to obey him.”
The case for defying government orders
MacArthur has repeatedly said the church will not obey “illegitimate” government orders.
At trial, the church intends to call witnesses to dispute the science used by the county in its warnings.
Just because the church originally complied doesn’t mean the church ceded its authority to the state, he told the congregation. “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.”
His and the church’s argument now rests on the assertion that the state and county are overreacting to the threat of the virus. At trial, the church intends to call witnesses to dispute the science used by the county in its warnings.
While the vast majority of Christian churches in COVID-19 hotspots like Los Angeles have continued to offer only online worship services, some of the most conservative pastors and churches — particularly those who follow and have been shaped by MacArthur — have asserted their urgent need to be open for in-person services.
Don Green
Don Green is pastor of Truth Community Church in Cincinnati and former managing director of “Grace to You,” where he oversaw daily operation of John MacArthur’s radio ministry. He wrote a lengthy Facebook post last week about why churches need to be open for in-person worship. That post was shared on Twitter by Phil Johnson, another of MacArthur’s broadcasting handlers and influencers.
Green lamented that there is too much “unbiblical thinking these days” shaping the debate over COVID-19 and churches.
“The consensus biblical argument against churches holding their normal services is, ‘You shouldn’t do that. You’re putting people at risk. After all, the Christian message is to love your neighbor.” That is a devilish argument as measured by both its superficial plausibility and the more weighty truth it omits,” he wrote.
“The Christian message,” Green said, is not about loving neighbor but about loving God and worshiping God. “Christians love their neighbors in the prior context of the gospel.”
He then accused “our critics” of not truly caring about “biblical love” because their “love your neighbor” message is “their effort to contradict, condemn and control us through the shame tactics that work in other segments of society.”
Of these critics — which presumably would include some government officials and even fellow pastors — Green said: “They don’t get to define acceptable worship” and “we’re right not to cave in to them.”
Green declared that love of neighbor “is not the gospel” and “it’s not even the first goal of the law.” He quoted Jesus from Matthew 22, where he said the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.” He stopped short of continuing the passage where Jesus says, “And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“Our obligation to God is greater than our obligation to our neighbor.”
“Loving our neighbor is important, but it comes in second place to love and obedience to God,” Green declared. “Our obligation to God is greater than our obligation to our neighbor.”
He added: “Our preeminent duty to God limits and informs the way we love our neighbor. We do not disregard our Lord for the sake of catering to the fearful, controlling demands of men. We may or may not wear masks and keep social distancing. That’s up to us, not them. Our prior, higher duty is to love and obey God first. Masks and social distancing have to fit around that, not vice-versa.”
In Atlanta, another biblical perspective
Across the country, in Atlanta, another equally prominent pastor as MacArthur has taken the opposite tack and declared his church will not reopen for in-person worship the rest of this year. This church through its various campuses reaches about 30,000 people weekly.
Andy Stanley
Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point Church in Atlanta, preached a sermon on Sunday, Aug. 16, titled “Not in It to Win It.” His church’s decision about remaining online only for now may not be in the best interest of his church but it is in the best interest of the community, he said.
This is not “bowing to Caesar,” Stanley said, noting that Atlanta does not face the same government restriction on assembly as Los Angeles. “The church always looks more Christlike when we are defending other people’s rights rather than our own.”
Churches and pastors that make COVID-19 restrictions a hill to die on live in “the version of Christianity consumed with winning” culture wars, the Atlanta pastor said.
Related articles:
MacArthur defies late-night court order against indoor worship
How John MacArthur loves the Bible but not his neighbor
John MacArthur retains Trump lawyer in fight over COVID restrictions
MacArthur sues LA County, county countersues in fight over COVID restrictions

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