John MacArthur’s California church gathered Sunday morning for worship in spite of a last-minute court order that upheld government restrictions on indoor worship due to the pandemic.
“We're not meeting ... because we want to be rebellious. We're meeting because our Lord has commanded us to come together and worship Him,” MacArthur, the pastor of Grace Community Church in Los Angeles County, said at the beginning of Sunday's worship service.
Under current rules in Los Angeles County, churches are limited to outdoor gatherings, provided they social distance.
The service capped a busy legal weekend that initially saw the congregation win in court before Los Angeles County appealed to an appellate court.
On Friday, California Superior Court Judge James Chalfant ruled the church could meet indoors but ordered the congregation to social distance and to wear masks. MacArthur on Friday said he was “very grateful” that the judge vindicated “our desire to stay open and serve our people.”
But on Saturday, Los Angeles County filed an appeal with the California Court of Appeals, which late in the day blocked the judge’s ruling and upheld the county’s right to “enforce the Health Order’s ban on ‘indoor religious activity.’” The county had “demonstrated a likelihood” it would win the lawsuit, the appeals court said in its unanimous 3-0 decision, citing two rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court this year denying emergency injunctions against government restrictions on churches. The appeals court ordered Grace Community to respond to the county’s petition by Aug. 25. The trial court has a hearing scheduled for Sept. 4.
“It's actually hard to figure out exactly what the city is trying to do with us and to us but we know they don't want us to do exactly what we're doing right now,” MacArthur said. “And we're not meeting ... because we want to be rebellious. We're meeting because our Lord has commanded us to come together and worship Him.”
He referenced the Friday court order that asked the church to social distance and wear masks.
“We will do what is reasonable. That was not enough for the city,” MacArthur said. “So they went to the appellate court at the last minute on Saturday late and had that order removed.
“So, the good news is, you're here, you're not distancing, and you're not wearing masks,” he said to laughter.
MacArthur also noted the warm weather. The high in Los Angeles Sunday was around 90.
“It’s very hot out there. So the Lord knew you needed to be inside and unmasked,” he said.
County officials, he said, “don't want us to meet.”
“That's obvious,” MacArthur said. “They’re not willing to work with us. They just want to shut us down. But we're here to bring honor to the Lord. They’re not our enemy. We understand that the Bible tells us to pray for our leaders for their salvation. We need to be faithful to do that.”
Jenna Ellis, one of the church’s attorneys, wrote on Twitter Sunday, “@GraceComChurch is doing exactly what they have for 63 years -- holding church. They have tried to be reasonable and work with LA County, but the County would not accept anything short of shutting down the Church entirely.”
.@GraceComChurch is doing exactly what they have for 63 years—holding church. They have tried to be reasonable and work with LA County, but the County would not accept anything short of shutting down the Church entirely.https://t.co/fDkbSWoRYb— Jenna Ellis (@JennaEllisEsq) August 16, 2020
A survey by LifeWay Research showed that more than 70 percent of Protestant churches nationwide met in July. Three-fourths (76 percent) of those churches practiced social distancing.
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.