John MacArthur is one of the most famous names in Evangelicalism today, in large part because of how distinct he has been from many other Big Eva leaders. One of the most recent contributions to this reputation is that fact that he was the most high profile instance of a church defying both lockdown orders and mask mandates in 2020. Since then he has endured a lengthy legal battle of which he recently emerged victoriously. In the past week, Grace Community Church and John MacArthur have dropped a manifesto on how the church should live with COVID titled, “Facing COVID-19 Without Fear.”
We are convinced that governmental encroachment on basic human freedoms constitutes a more intimidating threat to individuals, a greater impediment to the work of the church, and a larger calamity for all of society than any pestilence or other natural disaster. These are difficult times, calling for a thoughtful, biblical, and wise response from church leaders and their congregations.
Already, GCC is off to the right start, asserting that personal liberty, lack thereof, is a more pressing concern to the long term health of society.
Intense disagreements have swirled among evangelicals since March 2020 regarding how the church should respond to government-mandated COVID restrictions. The clash of opinions only compounds the bewilderment of Christians already confused by conflicting media reports. It has generated a firestorm of contention on social media. And it has caused unexpected division in churches. Oddly, some of the same evangelical leaders who insisted the church must shut down on orders from the state also published essays affirming the duty and priority of congregational worship. No wonder churchgoers are confused.
John MacArthur criticizes much of Big Eva for their duplicitous stance on church gathering.
In today’s troubled world, perpetual fear has been made to seem normal, even noble. Life itself has become all about avoiding risk. But to cultivate that kind of fear, especially at the government’s behest, poses a grave danger to the long-term spiritual health and ministry of the church. If young people are taught that the preservation of their own lives is more important than corporate worship and evangelism, who will go to the mission field?
Christianity does not flourish, and our collective testimony loses all credibility, when the church cowers in fear. Christians should enjoy liberty from the fear of death, hope in the midst of tribulation, and joy and gladness in all circumstances.
The dark cloud of melancholy and anxiety that COVID has brought over the world signifies an extraordinary opportunity for the church—but only if congregations can resist adopting the frame of mind that currently dominates our culture.
This raised the question about the longevity of the church and its commitment to missions. A poor response to missions that the church has collectively had has thus placed an slothful and online emphasis on local evangelism.
Masking has nevertheless become the most visible and universal symbol of the COVID era. It is also the primary instrument for virtue signaling among those most fearful of the COVID virus. In some circles, masks serve as a kind of secular substitute for religious vestments. They have become the chief symbol of popular culture’s sanctimonious devotion to a secularist credo.
Here we get the closest to John MacArthur calling Branch Covidianism a false competing religion, but he stops a short crediting secularism. MacArthur concludes:
Faithful churches must assemble even if they have to go underground to do it. That’s how churches in the first three centuries survived and flourished despite intense opposition from Caesar. It’s how the church in Eastern Europe overcame communist persecution in the twentieth century. It’s how many churches in China and elsewhere meet even today.
When COVID has run its course (if it ever does) other crises are already lined up for government officials to exploit, claiming “emergency powers” to assert more and more regulatory authority over the church. Fears over climate change, the campaign to normalize sexual perversions, imaginative applications of “social justice,” and a host of other major ideological shifts have speedily and dramatically changed the climate of virtually every Western democracy already. Some of the people who now wield power for making public policy believe the gospel and its truths are a form of “hate speech.” Churches in this part of the world have already lost much of our civic freedom.
MacArthur realizes that this playbook will be run again on a different issue, most obviously climate change. Therefore the church must be prepared to operate underground and in increasingly hostile environments. This has been highly apparent since March 2020, however, most church leaders did not act and have not since acted accordingly.