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Paul, whom I believe wrote the New Testament Epistle to the Hebrews, advised us Christians … “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.”
Today begins the Jewish Feast of Unleavened Bread, more commonly known as Passover. For Christians, today is observed as Good Friday, a less conspicuous counterpart to Resurrection Sunday which follows. However, while Christians don’t celebrate Passover, the chief festival of the Old Covenant is rich with symbolism of Christ. Why else would Paul, “A Hebrew of Hebrews” (Phil. 3:5), proclaim, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7)?To understand the significance of Passover for Christians, let’s look back to Exodus 12, where God ordained the first Passover. In nine plagues, God has devastated Egypt, displaying his power over the Pharoah and all the nation’s idols, but the Israelites were still in slavery. God had promised that a tenth and final plague would kill every firstborn in Egypt and compel Pharoah to finally let them go. To prepare for the tenth plague and the exodus, God gave the people instructions to observe the Feast of Passover—a strange setting for a feast. They were to “eat it in haste” (Ex. 12:11), ready to begin their journey at any moment. They were to eat unleavened bread, and even purge all leaven out of their houses (Ex. 12:15). And they were to kill a yearling lamb to eat and sprinkle its blood on their doorframes (Ex 12:6-8).The command to sprinkle a lamb’s blood may initially seem strange, but it was not without a purpose. God explained, “The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt” (Ex. 12:13). When God’s angel saw the blood, he literally passed over those Israelite houses, sparing them from judgment. They were to stay inside all night (Ex. 12:22), so that the blood-marked doorway would stand literally between them and death. It was an act of obedience and faith; they stained their doors not because the blood had magical properties, but because God had commanded it. They had to believe God’s word that he would pass over houses sprinkled with blood.Significantly, the sign of the blood was for the people of Israel, not for God. God knows everything, including the hearts who trust in him. He needs no physical symbols to guide him. No, this sign visibly represented for the people the distinction God was making between those who believed and obeyed him, and those who did not. The form of this sign was the blood of a sacrificial lamb.The blood also served to teach the people of Israel that God did not spare them because of their inherent goodness. Abraham had asked God, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” (Gen. 18:23). The answer to the rhetorical question is, of course not, because “God is a righteous judge” (Ps. 7:11). If the Israelites were righteous, they would not have needed blood to protect them from God’s judgment.In fact, “none is righteous, no not one” (Rom. 3:10). We, too, are guilty of sin against a holy God. We, like the Israelites, need forgiveness, and “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22). So, like them, we need the blood of another to stand between us and God’s just wrath. The Bible teaches clearly and repeatedly (because we are naturally inclined to deny) that we are helpless to atone for our own sins.But there is good news! “God will provide for himself the lamb,” said Abraham (Gen. 22:8)—and God provided a lamb, both for Abraham (Gen. 22:13-14) and for us. God sent John the Baptist to testify to his Lamb. When John saw Jesus, he proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:29).The inspired writers of the Bible leave no doubt concerning how Jesus is like the Passover lamb. Just as the blood of a lamb “without blemish” (Ex. 12:5) stood between the Israelites and death, so Christians are “ransomed… with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Pet. 1:18-19). Jesus was crucified on “the day of Preparation of the Passover” (Jn. 19:14), the very day the Passover lamb was killed. Even Jesus’ silence before his accusers (Mat 26:63, 27:14) fulfilled the type of the Passover lamb, as Isaiah prophesied, “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth” (Isa. 53:7). This is the passage the Ethiopian eunuch was studying when the Holy Spirit providentially guided Philip to his chariot, where we read, “Beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35). Jesus’ meekness, his perfection, and even the day of his death prove that he really is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”Jesus fulfilled the type of the Passover lamb in his death (Mat. 5:17), but, before he died, he transformed the Passover into something new. At his last supper with his disciples, which was a Passover meal (Lk. 22:15), Jesus “took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me’” (1 Cor. 11:23-25). Just as the Passover served as a perpetual memorial of God delivering his people from Egypt (Ex. 12:14,17), so the Lord’s Supper is a perpetual remembrance for Christians of Jesus Christ delivering us from sin.Thus, for Christians, the Lord’s Supper has replaced the Passover; the substance has replaced the symbol; the reality has replaced the shadow (Heb. 10:1). Jesus did away with the yearly calendar of sacrifices when he “offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins” (Heb. 10:12). Through God’s deliverance, the people of Israel left their bondage in Egypt and sojourned in the wilderness on their way to the promised land of rest. Through’s Christ’s deliverance, the people of God now leave their bondage to sin (Rom 6:18) and live in the world as sojourners (1 Pet. 2:11) until they reach God’s promised, final rest (Heb. 4:6-10).This is our hope: to see our precious Lord Jesus with uncorrupted eyes, and to rejoice in his glorious presence for all eternity. There he is in heaven, “a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain” (Rev. 5:6). Although a Lamb, he is also “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David,” who “has conquered” (Rev. 5:5). Our hope in him is sure, without any tinge of wavering. He will be victorious over all his enemies. As Paul reminds us, “If God is for us, who can be against us” (Rom. 8:31)?How does seeing Christ in Passover apply to a Christian’s daily life? You may remember that one feature of the Passover meal was removing leaven from the house and eating unleavened bread. The reason Moses gives for this instruction is the urgency of their exodus, “because they were thrust out of Egypt and could not wait” (Ex. 12:39). To this reason Paul adds another, lasting one:Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (1 Cor. 5:7-8).In the passage’s context, Paul is rebuking the Corinthian church for tolerating incestual adultery in the church and not expelling the unrepentant sinner. Now that we are bought with the blood of Christ, we belong to him and ought to be holy as he is holy. The “old leaven” is our old sinful passions and habits, which can work through all our life, spoiling our witness. Throwing out the old leaven represents making a clean break with our old nature and living to God alone. Quoting from the Levitical law, Paul exhorts the Corinthian congregation to “purge the evil person from among you” (1 Cor. 5:13). And purge the evil from your heart, too.Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again. Christ rose from the dead as the “firstfruits” (1 Cor. 15:20), God’s guarantee that those who trust in him will also rise when Christ returns and live with him forever. Because that is certain, we must all consider this question: is there anything in your life that you would be ashamed to do in the presence of a holy God? Now is the time to repent. Those who harden their hearts (like Pharoah) will mourn when Christ returns. Those who repent now will rejoice when Christ returns. Risen Lord Jesus, come quickly!
I Thessalonians 4: 3-8INTRODUCTION:Paul reveals in this passage that God's will for us is that we be sanctified.Â The word sanctified means to be set apart for a holy use.Â When God saved us, it was his will that our bodies be set apart as a temple in which His Holy Spirit would reside.Â Paul tells us in I Corinthians 3: 16, "Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you."Â Just like God's presence dwelt in the Holy of Holies in the Old Testament, so His Spirit dwells in the heart of the believer today.Â Our body is to be set apart for His purpose.Â It is to be holy, clean and dedicated to Him.Â To live a life to where we open our heart to sin is to resist the leading of the Spirit.Â His desire is to lead us to live a life of righteousness and holiness.Â When we resist His leadership, we end up quenching and grieving the Holy Spirit.Â That will then deprive us of the joy that only the Holy Spirit can give.Â It will also end up depriving us of the power that only he can give.Â Â Sanctification therefore calls for us to live a holy and pure life.Â The sanctified life is a life that resists and overcomes temptation.Â Because we have an Adamic nature bent toward sin, temptation is an ongoing, inward struggle that we never fight a final battle with.Â But, if we don't fight these daily battles with temptation, sin can eventually overcome us and leave us addicted to habits and overcome with strongholds.Â The sin that overcomes and becomes a stronghold doesn't have to be a scandalous sin-- it can be a respectable sin.Â There are many who have been overtaken with pride, greed, sins of the tongue and sinful attitudes.Â Â However, Paul uses this passage to deal with scandalous sin-- sexual immorality.Â Let's understand something.Â Believers can commit such sin or Paul wouldn't have given us this warning.Â He says, don't act like the Gentiles v. 5.Â Also remember, David, a man after God's own heart committed adultery.Â If he could fall, let us not think that we are above falling.Â Believers can be tempted by the pleasures of sin as much as an unbeliever.Â Â Â WHY SEXUAL IMMORALITY IS WRONGÂ Sexual immorality is wrong because it violates God's purpose for the family.Â One of the reasons God ordained the family is because of the need for human companionship.Â God saw man in the garden of Eden and He said that it was not good that man should be alone.Â Because of man's need of a companion,Â a mate, God made the woman for the man.Â God then brought the woman to the man and gave her away to the man.Â God also ordained that the man and woman become one flesh.Â Certainly, this is an allusion to the sexual aspect of marriage.Â In the marriage relationship, sex was to be used to express love, oneness and intimacy.Â It was also intended to bring mutual pleasure to each partner.Â Sex was also to be used to bring forth children as a result of a loving relationship between a husband and wife.Â This is why Hebrews 13: 4 says, "Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled."Â To have sex outside marriage undermines God's purpose for marriage, which by the way, is one man for one woman until death do us part.Â Â Sexual sin is wrong because it is a sin against others.Â In verse six, Paul states that sexual immorality defrauds.Â First, sexual immorality is a sin against our mate.Â It destroys the trust in our mate that is needed for a healthy marriage to survive.Â I realize that the offended party may be asked to forgive and that that forgiveness may be readily given.Â But, there is a difference between forgiving and having trust restored.Â It could take years for a broken trust to be restored.Â Sexual immorality also destroys the self esteem of the innocent party.Â Many an innocent victim of an unfaithful partner is left asking a question that shouldn't be asked, "What was it about me that fell short in satisfying my mate?"Â Satan likes it when the innocent party blames themselves for the sin committed by an unfaithful partner.Â Sexual immorality also defrauds our mate by giving something to someone else that should only belong to our mate.Â The Bible teaches that the husband's body belongs to the wife and the wife's body belongs to the husband.Â Sexual immorality takes something precious away from our spouse and gives it to someone who is underserving.Â Â Sexual immorality is also a sin against the other guilty party.Â It is a sin against the one who's body has been used for selfish gratification.Â Let's face it.Â Most immoral relationships have nothing to do with love-- only for selfish physical gratification.Â It is a time when two people simply use one another.Â Sexual immorality is also a sin against the guilty party's mate.Â That person has been defrauded just as much as the offender's mate.Â This is why Proverbs 6: 30-35 states that there is no restitution that an adulterer can pay that will undo the sin and satisfied the offended parties.Â Sexual immorality is also a sin against our own bodies.Â I Corinthians 6: 18, "Every sin that a man does is outside his body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body."Â GOD HIMSELF WILL DEAL WITH ONE WHO COMMITS SEXUAL IMMORALITY V. 6Â God will deal with such because this sin is a rejection of His commands and as such is a rejection of His Person.Â Notice how God deals with a sexually immoral person.Â A sexually immoral person will receive dishonor and a reproach that will never be wiped away-- Proverbs 6: 33.Â This was certainly true of King David.Â We remember him as a man after God's own heart.Â But aside from his fight with Goliath, what we remember most about David was his affair with Bathsheba.Â David's dishonor has never been wiped away or forgotten.Â Even in our day, people don't remember the good that Jimmy Swaggart or Jim Bakker did.Â They remember the immoral behavior.Â That same thing can even be said of politicians.Â Presidents Kennedy and Clinton both left tarnished legacies because of their womanizing.Â A sexually immoral person will receive dishonor and a reproach that will never be wiped away.A sexually immoral person can be judged by disease and death.Â No one ever has to worry about a Sexually Transmitted Disease if they follow God's plan.Â Abstinence before married and faithfulness to our marriage partner take care of the problem of disease.Â Disease and death follow the immoral.Â Â CONCLUSION:Â How do we avoid sexual immorality?Â First, realize that all of us can be tempted.Â Even a man after God's own heart fell.Â Second, avoid things which might tempt us.Â TV and radio promote immoral lifestyles.Â Be careful what you allow inside your thought process.Â As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.Â Also, avoid pornography.Â Jesus said if we look at a woman to lust after her we have committed adultery.Â Pornography will fill the mind with such images that sexual immorality is seen to be normal.Â Pornography will destroy a marriage.Â It is also addictive.Â To aid in this battleÂ www.xxxchurch.comÂ has some accountability software that should be on every man's computer.Â This is free software, so no one has an excuse as to not be accountable.Â Finally, to avoid sexual immorality, stay in love with your spouse.Â Don't allow a moment of pleasure to bring you a lifetime of guilt, shame and reproach.
by Phil Johnson Note (31 Aug 2021):I wrote this post last year to answer some evangelical critics who insisted that our church could easily follow all government-mandated shutdown protocols without sacrificing our freedoms or compromising our worship. Almost as soon as I posted it, the attorneys handling the church's court case asked us to refrain from discussing the case onlineâ€”to make sure the legal argument they were making did not get clouded by a social-media debate. So I removed the post. Now that the legal case has been settled, here is that information. Internal links will take you to documentation that proves what an impossible burden the government-mandated restrictions imposed on the church. (This is kind of long. Pack a lunch.) For the past eight weeks or longer, Sunday morning worship services at Grace Community Church have been open to anyone who wants to attend. John MacArthur and the elders made that fact as public as possible in a statement they issued on July 24, saying they would continue to have normal worship services despite a July 13 edict from the California Governor ordering churches to close again after a brief respite from the original quarantine.Â Â Â Â Â The most common question sent to me about the elders' position is, "Why not just avoid conflict with the government by downsizing your congregation, meeting outdoors, and following the simple masks-and-social-distancing guidelines?" For those who have ears to hear, the elders' statement itself gives a carefully reasoned answer to that question.Â Â Â Â Â I've explained how and why my own thinking changed on the relative weight of Romans 13:2 vs. Acts 5:29 as those texts apply to the church's current circumstances. I've also answered a number of honest questions about the elders' statement here on the blog. But there is a small group of ill-tempered cyberhecklers who endlessly Tweet and retweet variations of the same protestation: "Why not just comply with the government's guidelines? You could easily do that if you were willing to have your worship services outdoors with masks and social distancing." For readers who still aren't sure of our answers to that question, this blogpost is a compendium of my replies. Â Â few splenetic people (the kind who put the "Twit" in Twitter) have been relentlessly posting shrill criticisms of Grace Church's decision to stay open for congregational worship in spite of the California Governor's edicts ordering church doors closed. All the criticisms we get echo the same basic claimsâ€”namely, that the shutdown hasn't resulted in any actual "persecution" of churches, just inconvenience; that the Governor's orders don't really "target" churches, because they apply to sporting events and concerts as well; and that Grace Church would be perfectly free to meet and worship as a congregation if the elders would simply enforce the experts' guidelines for social distancing and keep everyone outdoors. Some typical examples: Here's a guy, for example, who Tweets, "The Church is free 2 meet in California. Not restricted. Truth matters." That Tweet was accompanied by more than 75 additional Tweets from the same Twitter account in 48 hours' time, all sharply critical of Grace Church's elders' decision. Another person likewise insists that "churches are free to meet in California, provided they comply with social distancing rules re: masking and not singing. . . Those are facts." There is also a persistent stream of people who want to dispute whether there's any element of persecution in the constraints California officials have placed on worship. More noisome foes of the elders' position have gone even further, challenging the fundamental integrity of John MacArthur and the elders, or imputing evil motives to them for wanting the church to meet. Some of our critics have seized the opportunity to vent accusations of greed, racism, prideâ€”or whatever nasty bitterness they might have stored up in their hearts. I'm not surprised that we would get criticism. But I am somewhat surprised that the most angry, ill-tempered, accusatoryâ€”even imprecatoryâ€” remarks have come from within the evangelical community. Some preliminary comments So before I deal with the central question, let me clarify some facts the critics tend to misconstrue. First, the elders' statement gave a clear and simple reason why the church is continuing to meetâ€”namely, that the State has no legitimate authority to determine what churches teach or how they worship. The document's key sentence is italicized for emphasis on page 1: "God has not granted civic rulers authority over the doctrine, practice, or polity of the church." Christ is the Lord of the church, and he mediates his rule in the church through duly qualified elders. Open-ended executive orders from State officials dictating how, when, or whether the church can meet for worship overstep the bounds of Caesar's authority. That is the whole argument we are making. It doesn't hinge on the question of whether the government's restrictions qualify as "persecution" or not. Our protest is not because we think there's something sacrosanct about the church building. We have not refused to hold services outdoors. We erected the largest tent available in the church parking lot, and it has been filled with worshipers every Sunday morning. Our refusal to limit attendance is not driven by any of the crass motives some pathologically cynical critics have ascribed to Grace's elders. Second, the elders of Grace Church would not flippantly or injudiciously defy a legitimate government-imposed quarantine if it were clear that a deadly pestilence posed a real and present threat to life and well-being in our community. By "legitimate," I mean a quarantine with 1) a well-defined, quantifiable objective; 2) trustworthy monitoring and honest reporting from qualified health officials; and 3) well-considered restrictions that are impartially enforced in every public gathering. In other words, every event that draws a crowd, including political protests, would have to be treated even-handedly. Not one of those conditions is being met in the current shutdown.The stated goal when the quarantine was announced in March was "15 days to flatten the curve." It quickly morphed into a months-long stay-at-home order. Here in California, that phase, in turn, became an "indefinite" lockdown that now threatens to keep schools, businesses, and churches closed through the Fall season and beyond. Given the early cancellation of the Rose Parade on New Year's Day, there's little doubt our political overlords have every intention of not allowing life to return to normal for the remainder of the calendar yearâ€”if ever.The "science" behind the predictions that started the pandemic panic turned out to be false and absurdly fluid. The model that originally motivated so many world leaders to shut down their economies and put their people under quarantine was grossly wrong in virtually every prediction it made. Most experts admit that the data being reported on the spread of the virus even now is untrustworthy. The majority of them signed a letter in support of the "Black Lives Matter" mass protests, saying "we do not condemn these gatherings as risky for COVID-19 transmission." The nation's top infectious disease expert has admitted to lying to the American public about the effectiveness of masks. California's top public health official quit this week because the computer system used to gather statistics was hopelessly faulty. There is no rational reason to trust the fear-mongering spin that politicians and the media continue to put on coronavirus statistics.When large crowds of angry protestors are permitted free reign to gather in the streets and spawn riotous behavior (often with support and encouragement from the same government officials who say they intend to keep lockdown restrictions in place indefinitely), that's not a legitimate quarantine.Third, for context, remember that the State of California and others have consistently categorized churches as non-essential while keeping liquor stores, marijuana dispensaries, casinos, and abortion clinics open for business as usual. Perhaps no institution is more vital during a time of fear and uncertainty than a church where the gospel is preached. We wouldn't necessarily expect an increasingly secular government to recognize or celebrate that fact, but we do expect American officials to safeguard our unalienable, God-given rights to freedom of worship and assembly. They are sworn to uphold the U. S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The fact that they have not done so is perhaps the most telling sign that religious liberty in the United States is indeed being threatened. Fourth, I might also mention the fact that hardened felons are being released from prison lest they risk being infected with COVID-19. Recidivism in the wake of that experiment has already exacted a costly toll. It is also well known that political demonstrations have been held in various places around Southern California every day since June, and no legal pressure has been put on participants to abide by social-distancing guidelines. In fact, some of the same experts and officials who insist severe restrictions are absolutely necessary for the rest of us have winked at or encouraged the protests. Meanwhile, pastors holding regular worship services are routinely hectored by public officials and threatened with legal action. Back to the original question: Here's my reply to those who wonder why we don't simply accept the restrictions and alter our worship services accordingly in order to comply as much as possible with the quarantine restrictions. The list that follows is taken from official guidelines that have been issued for places of worship in California. You'll find those documents linked below. (If you can't find where a specific bullet point can be documented, email me or comment below, and I'll give you specifics. I didn't want to clutter this list with references.) So here is a short list of just some of the things that our Governor's edict and the State of California's current guidelines would require of us: All "indoor operations" must close and remain closed indefinitely.Congregants must pre-register in order to come on campus. They are not permitted on campus at all except during scheduled events.Attendees must be screened for symptoms and have their temperature taken as they come onto campus.Everyone at all times must remain at least 6 feet away from anyone else who is not a household member. (That applies to the tent, the parking lot, restrooms, and the open areas of our campus.)Maximum occupancy of the tent is therefore determined by how many people can stand or sit inside the tent with a six-foot radius around each family group, with extra space allocated for aisles. We have the largest available tent that will fit in our parking lot. (The tent is 20,000 sq. ft.) At most, it can hold 350-400 people with social distancing. That's not even a tenth of our congregation.Attendees must therefore be counted as they come onto campus, and once the maximum occupancy of the tent is reached (400 people), anyone else who comes must be turned away.Every other parking space must be closed in order to maintain social distancing even in the parking lots.There must be marked, designated pathways from the parking lots to the tent. Staff members must be positioned along those pathways to remind people to maintain social distancing and stay masked at all times.Everyone who attends must wear a mask at all times, and anyone who comes within six feet of a maskless non-household member should self-quarantine for two weeks.Children are required to stay with their parents at all times and not intrude on the six-foot radius of non-household members. "Children should remain in the care of those in their household unit and not interact with children of other parties at any time while visiting facilities. [The church must] close play areas and discontinue activities and services for children where physical distancing of at least six feet cannot be maintained."Restrooms must be guarded by a monitorâ€”a staff member tasked with making sure the six-foot rule isn't violated and that everyone who enters stays masked. (If those standards are strictly followed, most of our restrooms will accommodate only one person at a time.)Tape must be laid out on the ground outside the restroom to indicate where people in the queue should stand in order to maintain social distancing.Congregants should be encouraged to use the restroom during the service to minimize the rush before and after the service.Hand sanitizer must be provided at places around the campus. (We do that already.) In addition, all surfaces in high traffic areas must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected throughout the day. That includes "lobbies, halls, chapels, meeting rooms, offices, libraries, and study areas and areas of ingress and egress including stairways, stairwells, handrails, and elevator controls. . . . [also] doorknobs, toilets, handwashing facilities, pulpits and podiums, donation boxes or plates, altars, and pews and seating areas."Hymnbooks, seat cushions, offering plates, communion trays, and any other shared items are not to be used at all.If there is more than one service, disposable seat covers must be provided and changed between services.Signs must be posted at all entrances reminding people to wear masks, maintain social distancing, and go home if they are sick. Additional signs must be posted around the campus forbidding hugs and handshakes. And still more signs must be placed in the restrooms reminding people to wash their hands frequently and with soapâ€”for at least 20 seconds each time.A list of all rules governing behavior for attendees must be posted on social media so that people can be informed of these restrictions before they come for worship.Church services must be "shortened to limit time spent at the site." (The guidelines aren't specific about the amount of time that must be shaved from our services.)The entire campus must be closed to the public when the service ends.If three people from the church test positive for COVID-19, church staff must report that to the Department of Health. The State will then send a representative to come and give us additional instructions on how to respond. To that guy who Tweeted that churches in California are "free 2 meet . . . Not Restricted"â€”and then had the chutzpah to add, "Truth matters," my answer is that I don't believe truth really matters very much at all to someone who is as militantly determined as he is to perpetuate that false narrative. To that guy who Tweeted that churches in California are "free 2 meet . . . Not Restricted"â€”and then had the chutzpah to add, "Truth matters," my answer is that I don't believe truth really matters very much at all to someone who is as militantly determined as he is to perpetuate that false narrative. To those who have had questions of conscience regarding the position our church has taken, I hope this information is helpful. Professing Christians who bow to tyranny under these circumstances are setting a bad precedent. It will be very hard for them to justify the position the Apostles took in Acts 5:29 when they finally realize that is what they need to do. And finally, for anyone seeking my sources, here are some of the documents issued by various government agencies listing restrictions for places of worship in California: From the California Department of Public Health, Health and Human Services Agency: "Statewide Public Health Officer Order," July 13, 2020. This was Governor Newsom's edict renewing and tightening the restrictions of his stay-at-home order after Californians had enjoyed a few days' respite from the original quarantine."COVID-19 INDUSTRY GUIDANCE: Places of Worship and Providers of Religious Services and Cultural Ceremonies"â€”from the California Department of Public Health.COVID-19 FAQâ€”from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health."Protocol for Places of Worship: Appendix F"â€”from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. No end to these draconian restrictions is anywhere in sight. The Governor says, "These closures shall remain in effect until I determine it is appropriate to modify the order." We answer: "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge" (Acts 4:19). God's Word says, "Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" (Hebrews 10:24-25). "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).
by Phil Johnsonot this question today in more than one Tweet (regarding the Grace Church elders' statement "Christ, Not Caesar, Is Head of the Church"), so I'll answer it here:Thanks for the question. I'll answer candidly. Speaking for myself alone, I'll acknowledge that yes, my thinking on the question of the COVID-19 quarantine and Romans 13 has changed somewhator at least been refined, illuminated, qualified, and enriched. I've been forced by circumstances to rethink and amplify my answers carefully because of the government's relentless attempts to keep churches closed despite the fact that months have passed without the apocalyptic quotas of death and disease that were originally predicted. My original concern about the virus was clearly overblown. At the time, I needed to be cautious, because we could not possibly know how serious the threat really was. My concern now is for people whose need for fellowship and pastoral care is going unmet. I do have firsthand knowledge of how critical this emergency is.In the weeks since March several things happened that affect my perspective. For one thing, the California Governor's edicts have become increasingly onerous.He has told churches they should not have congregational singing.He wants to limit church attendance to 100 (even in a massive 3,000-seat auditorium).He says churches are "nonessential" while insisting that marijuana dispensaries, liquor stores, and casinos are vital businesses that must be kept open.Although he briefly showed signs of backing off the policy of church closures, he then immediately doubled down to try to force the mandatory re-closure of all places of worship "indefinitely" (even though there's no evidence churches have been hotspots for passing the virus).Meanwhile, government officials have not only permitted but actively encouraged mass demonstrations (including riots) for political causes.With all of that going on, I was forced to rethink my position on Romans 13. The elders of our church also realized the need for us to answer in greater detail the question of who has the authority to govern the doctrine, worship, and polity of the church. The elders' statement that was affirmed on July 23 and made public the following day is the result. It's a clarification and qualification of everything we have previously said about the duty imposed on us by Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2. Without denying that duty, we're endeavoring to explain biblically why those passages don't call for blind, automatic acquiescence to government overreach into church business.It is of course still the case that in a real and impending health crisis, the elders and pastors of a church may wisely decide to follow the recommendations of health officials with regard to protecting against dangerous contagions. That's precisely what we did at the start of the quarantine. Circumstances have changed, however, and we have adapted (and explained) our response accordingly.An observant person who has been following me might have noticed subtle shifts in my position since the quarantine began. I knew from the start that things might change if politicians began to use the health crisis in an opportunistic way. When explaining our position on Romans 13 several weeks ago, I wrote this: How long until the government-ordered quarantine is undeniably excessive, or we conclude that it's targeted persecution against our worship and therefore an illegal attempt to make us disobey Hebrews 10:25? That time may come, and when it does, we may have to implement the principle of Acts 5:29. The question of whether we have already passed that point is another subjective issueÂ .Â .Â .Â .But now I don't see it as altogether "subjective." In our congregation, by every metric I can conceive of, the amount of hardship, suffering, death, and disaster inflicted by the quarantine far exceeds whatever grief has been caused by the virus. It is timeâ€”past timeâ€”to get the church back together.I hope that's helpful. Again, thanks for raising the question. You'll find John MacArthur's reply to your question has been added at the bottom of the statement at the Grace to You blog.
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