I have always respected the biblical expertise of John MacArthur. I have also always spoken against his false beliefs of Calvinism and cessationism. I just never thought his allowance of that serious leaven into his theology would lead to this. We are in the middle of a pandemic that has killed 150,000 Americans, while infecting over four million others. Many who survive are never the same. Boston Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez for example survived and is now being evaluated for a heart infection. From the perspective of the church there is only one biblical stance that has multiple reasons. One could simply rely upon the biblical command to obey authorities, but we could also look at the entire canon of scripture to see a God who always demands we take care of each other and the least in society. The only arguments against these are carnal in nature and based outside of scripture. We live in a mega church culture where we mistakenly think that church must only be our hour and a half on Sunday. Most of the false teachers simply need their tithes again so they leverage the bible and the constitution to make dubious arguments that place the Christian as a victim instead of being part of the community solution. This is not just about that hour and half. It is about how many people those thousands then go and infect after the service. As the church, it is breathtaking that we seemingly do not care. I can understand why charlatans like Rodney Howard Browne sides against the bible. I just did not see MacArthur coming. Let us reason together through his tortured defense.
"Christ is Lord of all. He is the one true head of the church (Ephesians 1:22; 5:23; Colossians 1:18). He is also King of kings--sovereign over every earthly authority (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14; 19:16). Grace Community Church has always stood immovably on those biblical principles. As His people, we are subject to His will and commands as revealed in Scripture. Therefore we cannot and will not acquiesce to a government-imposed moratorium on our weekly congregational worship or other regular corporate gatherings. Compliance would be disobedience to our Lord's clear commands." - John MacArthur
I expected better from someone as versed as John MacArthur. The opening here are statements of fact that are irrelevant to this discussion. No one is arguing if Christ is the head of the church or not. Citing multiple scriptures for backup of such an immaterial point only serves to provide a patina of piety indicating the true justification is probably going to fall way short. Likewise, Jesus is the King of Kings, sovereign over all earthly authority including the Governor of California. When we combine this fact with the proper understanding of God's permissive will, we can conclude that the order is in fact from God Himself, if not at minimum allowed by Him. God does not need John MacArthur to defend Him in this or any other scenario. Johnny Mac has laid the gauntlet down now that his belief is that compliance with the Executive Order would equal disobedience to Scripture. That is the threshold he must now meet.
"Some will think such a firm statement is inexorably in conflict with the command to be subject to governing authorities laid out in Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2. Scripture does mandate careful, conscientious obedience to all governing authority, including kings, governors, employers, and their agents (in Peter's words, "not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable" [1 Peter 2:18]). Insofar as government authorities do not attempt to assert ecclesiastical authority or issue orders that forbid our obedience to God's law, their authority is to be obeyed whether we agree with their rulings or not. In other words, Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 still bind the consciences of individual Christians. We are to obey our civil authorities as powers that God Himself has ordained. However, while civil government is invested with divine authority to rule the state, neither of those texts (nor any other) grants civic rulers jurisdiction over the church. God has established three institutions within human society: the family, the state, and the church. Each institution has a sphere of authority with jurisdictional limits that must be respected. A father's authority is limited to his own family. Church leaders' authority (which is delegated to them by Christ) is limited to church matters. And government is specifically tasked with the oversight and protection of civic peace and well-being within the boundaries of a nation or community. God has not granted civic rulers authority over the doctrine, practice, or polity of the church. The biblical framework limits the authority of each institution to its specific jurisdiction. The church does not have the right to meddle in the affairs of individual families and ignore parental authority. Parents do not have authority to manage civil matters while circumventing government officials. And similarly, government officials have no right to interfere in ecclesiastical matters in a way that undermines or disregards the God-given authority of pastors and elders." - John MacArthur
MacArthur is so well known for his ability to exposit the word of God that many will fail to ask the needed questions here. He correctly asserts the importance of ruling authorities and is wise to lead with these objections because most would start there to object. He claims beyond scripture that if the state seeks ecclesiastical authority or forbids the obedience to God's law then these verses are to be ignored. So let us grant him these arguments because the state is certainly is not trying to run the church or direct churchgoers to violate God's word. Mac has set the bar pretty high here. We need to be reminded here that his teaching on family, church and state are his opinion, not scripture. He sets it up this way to delineate that the people in charge of the state are not in charge of the church. While true on matters of ecclesiology, it is decidedly untrue on matters of the state. In this dense discussion, let us not lose sight of the fact that we are talking about the state deciding on matters of public health, period. That is not a matter of doctrine, practice or polity. In fact, it has nothing to do with the church being a church. The Executive order bans ALL gatherings. MacArthur is off to quite a weak start here.
"When any one of the three institutions exceeds the bounds of its jurisdiction it is the duty of the other institutions to curtail that overreach. Therefore, 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, which is the church. His rule is mediated to local churches through those pastors and elders who teach His Word (Matthew 16:18-19; 2 Timothy 3:16-4:2)." - John MacArthur
Whoa Johnny, not so fast. First of all, this tripart argument he is clinging to is simply not biblical. He made it up. Sure, it sounds acceptable but do not confuse it with what God has said. Secondly, the broad assertion he makes is ridiculous. To MacArthur, the REASON seems to not matter. I agree if the state nilly-willy decides that churches cannot sing anymore that would be absurd and unacceptable. Is MacArthur really arguing that the state can never have a good enough reason to cap attendance? Never have the right to temporarily limit gatherings? Never? You see the problem with his tripart argument is he acts as if there is no blurring between the three institutions but there are all the time. If a pastor suspected a father of beating his children is Mac really arguing that he has no role as a pastor to intervene? If a congregant sees the doctrine of a church slipping he or she is required to question the leadership about it. We are sheep before the Lord, not before man. So if the state in pursuit of reversing a pandemic decides that public gatherings are petri dishes for the spread of the virus and therefore must be halted they have every right and responsibility to include churches.