“We cannot and will not acquiesce to a government-imposed moratorium on our weekly congregational worship or other regular corporate gatherings,” conservative pastor John MacArthur and his elders have told his Grace Community Church in California. “Compliance [to COVID-19 rules that limit churches] would be disobedience to our Lord’s clear commands.”
MacArthur has a strong following among “reformed” conservative Christians around the world. His statement cites the Bible to say because Jesus is the king of kings he is “sovereign over every earthly authority (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14; 19:16)”.
California is one of the worst-hit states in the US COVID crisis. It has just reported its “highest number of coronavirus deaths, with 159 in a single day, according to data from the California Department of Public Health,” CNN notes.
Reaction from other conservative churches with similar theology has been swift – and few agree with MacArthur.
“Before your church follows John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church and begins to gather in defiance of governmental orders this Sunday, hold on!” writes Jonathan Leeman, the Editorial Director of 9Marks, a conservative Baptist group. While agreeing that Jesus is Lord over governments, he adds “civil disobedience may not be the only legitimate or moral course of action at this moment.”
He cites the decision of Southern Baptist president J. D. Greear to separate his 12,000 member church into home groups . Alternatively, churches can meet in fields (as Washington DC’s Capitol Hill Baptist is doing or outdoors.) This would be legal in California.
Leeman’s response is significant, as he is the author of a recent book, One Assembly. In it, he argues strongly that Christians should meet together together as a church – and he is against multi-site churches.
In Australia, there appears to be little or no appetite to go against the various Public Health Orders in each state. Our largest churches such as Hillsong are meeting online, and church leaders have committed their networks to understand and follow the rules, seeking advice from Health Authorities where something is unclear.
An example of this is law professor Neil Foster’s careful analysis of the NSW Public health orders.
In Queensland, a useful COVID safe plan gave early guidance about how a church can do a COVID Business plan (which is now a requirement in other states).
Sydney Anglican’s Archbishop Glenn Davies (among many other church leaders) has emphasised that working with the Government to combat the virus is acting for a common good.
“The recent outbreak in the Maronite Catholic Church in Harris Park has rightly created a greater degree of caution for the Government, so it is extremely important that our COVID safety plans are well executed when resuming physical church services,” Davies said.
“We still have a long way to go with this new way of living under the shadow of coronavirus. We possibly have a long way to go with changing restrictions to our way of life, as Victoria is currently experiencing,” the Archbishop said.
As far as Eternity is aware, this is how Australian Christians are responding. We are not taking the MacArthur approach.