“We have even heard it asserted that those who. lived before the coming of Christ do not belong to the church of God! We never know what we shall hear next, and perhaps it is a mercy that these absurdities are revealed one at a time, in order that we may be able to endure their stupidity without dying of amazement.”
Jesus told us that we are in the last days and Paul remains us that Satan is on the prowl and will try anything to disrupt God’s plans. I’m thankful for the confidence that comes from knowing that Jesus has already won and that our God is sovereign. As Christians we must not be coopted for political means by any political party. Jesus in Lord, and we seek the growth of His Kingdom until it comes in fullness at His glorious return. We are grateful when Caesar supports Christians and our freedoms but he is not lord. Nevertheless we are all called to submit to Caesar’s authority as long as he doesn’t interfere with God’s commands.
We long to meet again in person in the gathered assembly of believers, and we miss the Lord’s Supper, yet loving our neighbors is an essential command too. May God give each local church and her Elders wisdom as they seek God’s glory while also seeking the good of the cities and communities in which we live. May we be lamp-stands burning brightly as we hold fast to the faithful testimony of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Note from Erik: I’m thankful for the wisdom and leadership exhibited by the Grace Community Church Elders during the past several months. They and Pastor John have set an excellent example through this trying time. May God be glorified and his fame increased during this time until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:13)
“We were elated yesterday morning when President Trump declared churches to be essential, asked us to open this very Sunday, and promised to fight any state government that tried to stand in the way. As I’ve said many times, the Bible would have us submit to the governing authorities, and in the United States, there is no higher human executive authority than the president, who was speaking on a matter of federal and constitutional interest, specifically the First Amendment.
With that said, at our last elder meeting, we talked about how this situation was changing not just day-by-day, but even hour-by-hour, and that sadly turned out to be true here. Late Friday night, the Ninth Circuit, which is generally known as the most left-wing and anti-biblical circuit court in the nation, ruled 2-1 in favor of California Governor Newsom’s statewide stay-at-home order, rejecting an emergency motion to allow for religious services to proceed.
To say that we strenuously disagree with this decision would be an understatement. All credible data show that this coronavirus is far less dangerous than initially projected, even while the economic, mental, and spiritual toll of an extended lockdown order is far more dangerous. Meanwhile, although the initial response arguably might have been somewhat even-handed, as the situation has developed, religious organizations have increasingly been unfairly treated, even targeted.
For a state like California to decide that abortion providers, marijuana dispensaries, and liquor stores are “essential” while churches are forced to the back of the line via a seemingly endless series of moving goalposts and ever more restrictive hoops to jump through, is the very essence of upside-down Romans 1immorality. We stand against it plainly, and moving forward, we are striving to pursue every biblical and legal means to oppose it.
Even so, for now, the Ninth Circuit decision is sadly the law of the land in California, and we gladly submit to the sovereign purposes of God.
Separate and apart from the legal questions raised above, our worship services are not to be times of media circus and frenzy, particularly when we gather around the Lord’s Table. To prevent that from occurring, the elders of Grace Community Church desire to delay our reopening and leave it in the hands of God.
We covet your prayers even as we pray for you. We will continue to meet with live stream at 10:30 AM and 6:00 PM, which obviously the Lord has blessed.”
-The Elders of Grace Community Church, SunValley, CA.
“I’m not speaking on behalf of any particular church in anything vaguely resembling an official capacity. And it’s not the only possible response to the idea that churches are “essential.” I’m not even necessarily sure it’s the best response. But it’s definitely one possible way of looking at it:
Thank you for your kind gesture, Mr. President, but we respectfully decline your generous offer of special treatment. Although we agree that worship is an “essential” part of human life, we do not wish to receive privileges that are being denied to our friends who own restaurants, gyms, and other public service venues. We’re not really sure why it would be safe for us to reopen but not safe for them. If prevailing wisdom is not in favor of a general reopening of public gatherings, then we would prefer to do our part and stay closed. We believe God wants us to seek to the good of our city, and not only ourselves.
We’re also concerned that making houses of worship exempt from public quarantine discriminates against our neighbors who don’t practice faith. We would prefer they not see us given permission to violate safety guidelines that continue to cost them their livelihood. We don’t want them to hate us, and more importantly we don’t want to deserve that hate. If it’s unjust that we can’t meet, then we want justice for all, not only for us.
If you would like to declare us “essential” because we are non-profit charities that help the poor, then we would prefer to see soup kitchens, food pantries, and other relief centers reopened first. On average, they do more good than we do with a crowded room, and if they can’t open we shouldn’t either.
Finally, we would prefer not to be the rope in a game of tug-of-war between politicians. There are people who will have to decide whether the President should overrule a governor, or what the process is for the public to review the effectiveness of their own elected officials. Individual passions aside, we as churches can’t have a position on that. We can only respectfully decline to be used as ammunition in a battle between Federal and State powers. We’d really be more comfortable in a secular system where the government no longer uses us for propaganda purposes.
Thank you for taking the time to consider us, and for the compliment of calling us “essential.” Best of wishes in November. . This is idea talk.
“By looking to Christ, we find our lasting identity and everlasting security. We are no longer insecure, for we enjoy ‘perfect safety in Christ.’ Christ is our life (Colossians 3:4). The ‘evils’ and ‘misery’ we so long faced have met their match in our Savior. He has disarmed unrighteousness and made a mockery of pride.
These theological truths mean everything to us. We cannot be happy by looking to ourselves. We must look to Christ. We may struggle to feel settled and confident at time, but God is our father and Christ our ‘strong rock,’ the giver of ‘undisturbed tranquility’ in a place where nothing is stable.”
-Owen Strachan, Always in God’s Hands: Day by Day in the Company of Jonathan Edwards, 125.
“The Saints receive by Christ the most quiet and sure rest and peace. By his redemption they obtain or will obtain the most perfect rest and sweet repose of mind.
They may lay themselves down and sleep and awake, the Lord sustaining of them. They may dwell quietly and without fear of evil. They may set their hearts at rest, and may enjoy undisturbed quietness without having anything to fear.
And that with good reason, for by Jesus Christ they enjoy the most perfect safety. They are thoroughly secured from all evil. He that is in Christ, he has the almighty God to be his defense. He is secured from all those evils and that misery he was exposed to while in a natural condition….
From the top of the highest mountain of God he may behold the dreadful work that storms make amongst miserable mankind below and himself be out of their reach, enjoying the most undisturbed tranquility in Jesus Christ, his strong rock.”
-Jonathan Edwards, in a sermon from 1730 as quoted by Owen Strachan in Always in God’s Hands, 125.
“So many Christians are taught to seek experiences which will deliver them from the tension of living in the period of the overlapping of the ages. They want in this age a higher life, or a deeper life, or a victorious life, or a second blessing, or a baptism of the Spirit that would in effect take them out of the contradiction, sorrow, and trial of this age.
The only way however, for a true Christian to escape the battle with sin and the experience of sorrow in this age is to depart this age. He must either die and go to heaven or enter at Christ’s return into the age to come.
The teaching that promises the cessation of conflict and trial in this life is no friend to the Christian. This biblical structure warns us that in this age there is no blessing not followed by trial, no joy not followed by sorrow, and no final victory over remaining sin.
Christians must beware of the mountain-top syndrome. There is no remaining always on the mountain top in this age. We must always rejoice with trembling. When Christians stop seeking an experience that the Bible never promises them in this life, they will be prepared properly to enjoy the blessings God gives them in this life and not look for something in these blessings that they will never find. They will also be prepared to face the reality of the Christian life squarely, fight the good fight of faith, finish their course, and run in such a way as to win.
This framework also explains much about the future of the church. We must not look for a golden age before Christ’s return. This is a denial of the character of this age. But we must not be “pessimillenialists” either and see nothing but apostasy for the visible church. This is also a denial of the overlapping of the ages.
The church is enlivened by the powerful realities of the age to come that have already broken into the world with the first advent of Christ. Those who tell people that they should not “polish brass” on the sinking ship of the church are tragically mistaken. Those who teach that this dispensation of the church (like every other dispensation) must surely end in failure and apostasy are wrong. They weaken the hands of true Christians in their God-ordained labor to build the church of Christ.
Both the gloomy pessimists and the starry-eyed optimists have imbalanced views of the future prospects of the church. The biblical viewpoint understands the overlapping of the ages and balaces these contrasting viewpoints in a realistic optimism.”
“Words can have the capacity to make your life feel like it’s worth living and words have the capacity to make your life utterly unbearable. Much will depend on who is saying it and who they are to us, but words carry phenomenal power. And that shouldn’t surprise us. We live in a universe created by speech; God spoke reality into being. We are made as creatures in his image who have that same capacity to speak words that can be creative but also our words can be frightening destructive.”
-Sam Allberry, from a sermon preached at Cedarville University in September 2018.
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.”