Pastor John MacArthur of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California is risking everything to defy the strict COVID-19 guidelines that have been put in place in his state.
In the latest episode of the “Edifi With Billy Hallowell” podcast, MacArthur opened up about his decision to defy the orders, saying that his church was initially complying with the coronavirus guidelines. In recent weeks, however, the church changed its mind.
“I’ve been here 50 years; the church is 63 years old, and this church has never had any kind of mandate from the government to close,” MacArthur said. “So, when they came up with this mandate it seemed to be so rare and so unusual that we were listening.”
As soon as he heard the dire death toll predictions, the pastor said it was “enough to make anybody with common sense” pause and take steps to ensure no one was endangered. The church moved to a livestream model and closed down in-person services for a few weeks, but then people started showing up in person again.
“They were beginning to realize that it wasn’t what they said it was going to be,” MacArthur explained of the pandemic’s impact, estimating that only about .02% of California’s population had died. “There were 8,500 deaths [in California] — half of them were people over 80 with obvious comorbidity issues.”
“It just seemed to me that 99.98 is pretty good odds to come to church, and people were crying out to open the church because of the fears — and then of course the church is the center of life for people who love the Lord, and they were cut off from their friends,” he added.
Since the church reopened, thousands of people have attended services, with 3,000 attending the first weekend and an estimated 6,000 the second. Though there have been threats of a government crackdown for what he is doing, MacArthur says he has no intention of backing down.
“Grace Church is going to meet…and we’re going to continue to meet and we’re going to always meet because Jesus Christ is the head of the church. Jesus is Lord,” he said. “And government has a certain purview given by God, but it doesn’t cross over into the realm of the kingdom of God, so we’re going to meet.”
The pastor added that the church has hired lawyers, and that their leaders will do whatever they can to defend themselves so they can keep holding services.
“I don’t know what that’s going to look like […] this is not the America that I’ve known for many, many decades,” MacArthur said. “It’s just a bizarre reality that we haven’t navigated in the past. I’m not a prophet, so I can’t predict what’s going to happen, but I can say this: Grace Community is going to meet.”
He went on to say that politics aside, he does not feel that Governor Gavin Newsom (D) has the authority to deem churches “nonessential” entities.
“The governor said the church is not essential. Some things were essential — liquor stores were essential, abortion clinics were essential, grocery stores were essential but the church was not essential,” MacArthur said. “Based on the Constitution, the governor doesn’t have the authority to say what is essential…the governor has no constitutional authority to say the church is not.”
When it comes down to it, the pastor believes “intentional discrimination” is unfolding “against biblical Christianity and the church.” MacArthur concluded by saying that he sees no end in sight to the restrictions ushered in by COVID-19.