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High-profile California church defies state order to shut down: 'Christ, not Caesar, is head of the church'

Church will be meeting in person going forward

John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California. (Image source: YouTube video screenshot)

Grace Community Church in Southern California, led by prominent evangelical pastor John MacArthur, will no longer comply with the state's COVID-19 restrictions against in-person gatherings, MacArthur wrote in a statement Friday.

California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom renewed the state's lockdown earlier this month, prohibiting in-person worship gatherings for counties that are on the state's monitoring list for increased spread of the virus.

MacArthur wrote that the indefinite order banning church worship is an act of overreach by the state government and that the church has a biblical obligation not to comply.

"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. 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," MacArthur wrote. "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."

MacArthur made it clear the church is taking a biblical stand against the restrictions, not a constitutional one, pointing out that the First Amendment right to free exercise of religion is based on God's authority.

"The right we are appealing to was not created by the Constitution," MacArthur wrote. "It is one of those unalienable rights granted solely by God, who ordained human government and establishes both the extent and the limitations of the state's authority (Romans 13:1–7). Our argument therefore is purposely not grounded in the First Amendment; it is based on the same biblical principles that the Amendment itself is founded upon."

Grace Community Church complied with the initial lockdown at the beginning of the U.S. epidemic, believing it to be in the best interest of the congregation at a time when the lethality of COVID-19 and its impact on health care systems were unknown. Now, with the benefit of more knowledge about the virus, MacArthur believes the government is going too far with indefinite restrictions.

"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," MacArthur wrote. "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."

MacArthur has spoken in-depth about how to view the COVID-19 pandemic biblically:

Thinking Biblically About the COVID-19 Pandemic: An Interview with John MacArthur www.youtube.com

(H/T: The Daily Wire)

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