A San Jose, Calif., church on Sunday defied a court order prohibiting it from gathering indoors, with its pastor saying he and his congregation have a biblical command to “do what God’s called” them to do.
Under the current health restrictions in Santa Clara County, houses of worship are limited to 100 individuals or 25 percent of capacity, whichever is fewer, provided face coverings are worn and social distancing is followed. Singing is not allowed.
The county requested and a judge granted last week an injunction preventing Calvary Chapel San Jose from holding services in defiance of the restrictions.
Calvary Church, though, held services anyway on Sunday.
“The reason you're here today is because you know that the Scripture says not to forsake the gathering together of the saints,” the church’s pastor, Mike McClure, said Sunday, referencing Hebrews 10:25.
McClure said his “heart is to obey the rulers” but added to applause, “We're to obey the powers that be – the law of the land – until they tell us to disobey God's Word. ... I have to do what God’s called me to do.”
Santa Clara County Counsel member James Williams told the San Francisco Chronicle that the county “fully supports the right to worship, and the health orders create a pathway for religious institutions to do so in a safer manner that helps protect the community’s wellbeing during a pandemic.”
The county had sued the church, saying in a court filing that “large indoor gatherings substantially increase the risk of further community spread of COVID-19, including hospitalizations and death.”
McClure, during Sunday’s sermon, referenced churches throughout the world that disobey their governments to worship.
“We look at underground churches in China that gather illegally. In other countries around the world today ... they gather illegally,” he said. “And we admire them. We're thankful for them. And today, we need to understand that this country was founded upon these freedoms, these very principles, the very core in America is our right to worship. That's what we're here for. And we have to fight and stand for that.”
One week earlier, McClure had said the lockdowns had led to a rise in suicides and depression, and that the church was needed by the community.
“The church cares about the whole body,” he said Nov. 1. “… I don't want to break the law, but ... I'm called to preach the gospel.”
A survey by LifeWay Research in July showed that 76 percent of churches that were meeting were practicing social distancing by closing off seats.
Photo courtesy: ©Calvary San Jose Church Screenshot
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.