John MacArthur on churches reopening despite government suggestions and policy:
“Yeah, let me make very clear this question because it keeps coming up. If the government told us not to meet because Christianity was against the law, if the government told us not to meet because we would be punished, fined for our religion and our religious convictions, we would have no option but to meet anyway. And that takes you to the fifth chapter of Acts where the leaders of Israel said to the apostles, “Stop preaching.” And Peter’s response was very simple. He said, “You judge whether we obey God or men,” then he went right out and preached.
If the government tells us to stop worshiping, stop preaching, stop communicating the gospel, we don’t stop. We obey God rather than men. We don’t start a revolution about that; the apostles didn’t do that. If they put us in jail, we go to jail and we have a jail ministry. Like the apostle Paul said, “My being in jail has fallen out to the furtherance of the gospel.” So we don’t rebel, we don’t protest. You don’t ever see Christians doing that in the book of Acts. If they were persecuted, they were faithful to proclaim the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ even if it took them to jail; and that’s been the pattern of true Christianity through all the centuries.
But this is not that. Might become that in the future. Might be overtones of that with some politicians. But this is the government saying, “Please do this for the protection of this society.” This is for greater societal good, that’s their objective. This is not the persecution of Christianity. This is saying, “Behave this way so that people don’t become ill and die.”
Now you may not think that you’re going to have that impact on somebody, you’re not going to be the one that becomes a carrier and causes something to be passed on to somebody else down the road and somebody dies. You may think that’s going to be you. But you cannot defy the government. And I don’t think pastors should do this. You cannot defy the government and say, “We’re going to meet anyway because God has commanded us to meet, no matter what damage we do to people’s lives.”
I mean, what should mark Christians is mercy, compassion, love, kindness, sacrifice. How are you doing that if you flaunt the fact that you’re going to meet; and essentially you’re saying, “We disregard the public safety issue.” You don’t really want to say that. That does not help the gospel cause.
What helps the gospel cause is to say, “Of course, we don’t want to be the cause of anyone’s sadness, anyone’s sorrow, anyone’s sickness, and certainly anyone’s death. So we will gladly comply. This is consistent with what Scripture says, that we are to live quiet and peaceable lives in the society in which we live. We don’t rebel, we don’t do protests, we don’t fight the government, we don’t harass and harangue, we don’t march, we don’t get in parades, we don’t stop traffic; we lead quiet and peaceable lives, and we pray for those in authority over us, and we submit ourselves to them.
In Romans chapter 13, Paul says, “You submit yourself to the government, the powers that be.” But Peter adds to that, “You submit yourself to the governor and the king,” whoever that personal authority is. I’ve heard people say, “Well, this isn’t constitutional.” That’s irrelevant. That is completely irrelevant. When you’re told by an authority to do something and it’s for the greater good of the society physically, that’s what you do because that’s what Christians would do. We are not rebels and we’re not defiant, and we don’t flaunt our freedom at the expense of someone else’s health.
How do we back out of that to communicate the love of Christ? Look, Jesus came and basically banished disease from Israel. He was a healer. The last thing the church of Jesus Christ would want to be is a group of people that lived in defiance and made somebody sick, caused somebody’s death. So you restrain yourself from that.
Again, the issue is so clear that even going back to Richard Baxter back in 1600s, Richard Baxter has a great section in one of his books where he says, “If the magistrate,” as he calls it, “asks you to refrain from meeting because of a pestilence, you do not meet. On the other hand, if the magistrate tries to force you not to meet because of persecution of Christianity, you meet anyway.” I think that’s the dividing line.”