In this case, I feel they are responding to different circumstances, and I believe that each of them has valid points. Pastor MacArthur believes the California government has exceeded its rightful reach by forbidding church gatherings, also contending that COVID-19 poses little to no danger.
In his words, "I would say to pastors, 'have church, open up, have church.' You don't have to fear someone's going to die. You don't have to fear you're going to get sick, because they're not going to be able to trace this back. I haven't seen anything like that anywhere." He continued, "Health mandates and governors' orders are not law. I don't think you have to fear that. You need to open the church because this, of all times, when people fear is where they need to come. I don't think you have to give a clinical explanation; I think you have to welcome them and not make them follow protocol that you know is pointless."
Let's start with scripture. The key verses today do not instruct you to veer out of your lane to offer up your meaningless opinions about things you do not understand. Johnny Mac can preach. He can exegete. He can interpret. He is not however an epidemiologist. He has no background in virology. If you need to have your appendix removed would you feel confident looking up from the operating table and seeing John MacArthur standing there with a bone saw? Then why in the world would you trust him to make your medical decisions regarding a pandemic that has killed 200,000 people in this country? You don't have to fear getting sick because they cannot trace it back? How morally bankrupt is that statement? I would have expected Stanley to say something so wickedly callous. The hairsplitting over Governor mandates and law are moronic. The Governor carries the full weight of law. He is in charge of the public health for his state. As for tracing, is MacArthur willfully ignorant or deceitful. There are a plethora of stories in the news about church gatherings infecting people, which they discovered through tracing. Read the story in Maine where one man infecting an entire town and the pastor who took it back to his church. Read the story from Strawberry Alabama and the pastor who got his entire congregation sick with COVID. Read the two stories in Virginia of pastors who defied and then died. Read the story from Illinois or New Orleans. Cannot trace? Disgusting and inaccurate. What you do have to fear pastor is standing before Christ and explaining your dead sheep sacrificed on the altar of your own purpose driven ego.
On the one hand, I do not fully share Pastor MacArthur's dismissal of health concerns, since I have colleagues who restarted their church services only to shut down because of a serious outbreak of the virus. I have read of other pastors (whom I do not know personally) who flaunted health and safety guidelines and are now dead. On the other hand, I too have urged pastors to defy government hypocrisy and overreach. This would certainly apply to states like California, where mass, public Black Lives Matter protests were welcomed but Christian gatherings were placed under severe restrictions (including "Thou shalt not sing!") and even home Bible studies were banned.
Full stop. So Dr. Michael Brown admits that he personally knows pastors who have had to shut down because their church got the virus and he knows pastors who have flaunted the guidelines and are now dead yet he still defies pastors to defy the government? Seriously? What is the rationale for this? His disdain for Black Lives Matter. Brown goes off the NAR deep end again comparing protests to church service. Do not lose sight that behind the reasonable sounding argument is a man who claims Christianity while trying to find a reason to defy the key scriptures. Does Romans 13 say unless that state mete's out decrees in a way you find imbalanced? No. As for thou shall not sing, California rightfully prohibits public singing because of the obvious danger of viral spread. Perhaps the more duplicitous reference is to the alleged ban on in home bible studies. I have seen this referenced before so I decided to do some research. The first three pages of search results have nothing but links to apostate Christian websites stamping their feet at the notion of banning at home bible studies. Finally I came to the underlying case. It seems a couple in California tried to be cute and pass off a gathering of 50 people as a "bible study." Anyone who knows anything about bible studies or even group dynamics, knows you cannot have a bible study that large. There is word for what that couple had that day - church. So a neighbor got upset at the large gathering and complained, resulting in a $300 fine. The Christian couple referred to their neighbor as a "snitch." Hallelujah.
As for Pastor Stanley, his position is that the government is doing its best to solve a difficult problem, that churches are no more being singled out than professional sports leagues and that this is how we love our neighbors. Plus, we have plenty of other ways to gather together. (Pastor MacArthur has emphasized the importance of our public gatherings during such a stressful and difficult time.) That's why Pastor Stanley's church has cancelled full public services for the balance of the year. In his words, "This was just our way of loving our neighbors and loving our neighborhoods, trying to keep our neighborhoods safe as we get closer to school reopening. "The schools are having a difficult enough time opening and staying open. Even the university systems, as you know. So it just seemed like the wisest thing to do as it related to the community and as we wait this thing out and figure out what's going to happen." He added, "I can't imagine a scenario in the United States of America where the only group being picked on is the church unless it's a specific local church."
Wow, my readers know how hard it is for me to type these words"Andy Stanley is right. The church from the start has acted like a whining petulant child and has done a disservice to the cause of the Gospel by doing so. Stanley is right. There are plenty of other ways for the church to still gather even if it is not in the seeker friendly building you own. MacArthur's position of public gatherings being needed in this stressful time is just another excuse to open his church up. I am pretty sure their number one concern is surviving these difficult times. Yet look at the reasoning of Andy Stanley. He is concerned about loving his neighbors and neighborhoods. He is concerned about keeping all people safe. He recognizes more problems coming when schools are supposed to reopen. He also seemingly dismisses the trend towards Christian conspiracy theory by correctly stating that not only is the church not being picked on but that is so unlikely in this country. His approach here is measured, caring and dare I say pastoral. He seems concerned not only with his flock but with the witness for Christ to his neighborhood. It is a shame he so heretical when it comes to doctrine because he deserves kudos for obeying the key verses today and behaving like a pastor should behave.
On the one hand, churches are being singled out for unfair treatment, as in Nevada, where casinos can meet at half-capacity but a congregation with a building that seats 2,000 is limited to 50 people in attendance. That's why even the Department of Justice has weighed in on discrimination against churches. On the other hand, Pastor Stanley shares some of the same reasoning I put forth in my COVID-19 book, When the World Stops: Words of Hope, Faith and Wisdom in the Midst of Crisis. As much as possible, we should submit to government authority, and as much as possible, we should demonstrate love for our neighbor. That's why I have urged pastors to pray, take counsel and come to decisions on their own. On the one hand, we cannot respond to a spirit of fear, paralyzing us from taking action. On the other hand, we cannot cultivate a spirit of rebellion that thrives on defiance to the law. In this case, living in different states and making decisions for different reasons, I commend both Pastor MacArthur and Pastor Stanley for acting on their convictions out of love for God and their communities. May the name of Jesus be exalted; may the cause of the gospel be advanced; and may a hurting world be touched.