Pastors John MacArthur and Andy Stanley, who are both influential Christian leaders, presented dueling advice on how churches should respond to government restrictions amid the pandemic this week, with MacArthur urging pastors to open because the supposed need for indefinite lockdowns is a “lie,” while Stanley recommended cooperation.
Both MacArthur, who leads Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, and Stanley, who leads North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, shared their thoughts on the controversial issue during a Q Session discussion with moderator and Q Ideas founder Gabe Lyons on Wednesday.
MacArthur, who's been locked in an ongoing public dispute with Los Angeles County over his decision to hold indoor Sunday morning worship services for his thousands of members, argued that while it's “crystal clear that God has ordained government,” he will no longer aid and abet the “lie” of the ongoing lockdowns in response to COVID-19.
“Being a pastor means you’re a truth teller. That means you’re truth teller when it comes to the Bible. That means you protect your people from deception that comes from the world. That’s part of being a shepherd. You don’t want to aid and abet the lie. This is a lie and you can’t necessarily say that everybody that’s involved in it has an ulterior motive but the lie is dominating and you need to be a truth teller and you need to do your homework,” MacArthur told Lyons.
“I would say to pastors, ‘have church, open up, have church.’ You don’t have to fear someone’s going to die. You don’t have to fear you’re going to get sick, because they’re not going to be able to trace this back. I haven’t seen anything like that anywhere,” he continued.
“Health mandates and governors orders are not law. I don’t think you have to fear that. You need to open the church because this, of all times, when people fear is where they need to come. I don’t think you have to give a clinical explanation, I think you have to welcome them and not make them follow protocol that you know is pointless,” he said.
More than 6 million cases of the new coronavirus have been confirmed in the United States along with 187,000 deaths as of Friday evening, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Despite the numbers, however, MacArthur argued that he doesn’t believe that COVID-19 is the threat public health officials claimed it would be.
“In the beginning, we heard millions are going to die. Well, anybody with any common sense is going to say, 'We don’t want to be responsible for millions of people dying.' So we did livestream and we went on doing that for four weeks until we were trying to figure out the realities,” he said.
“And then just in kind of a personal transition people started coming to church. They knew we were doing livestream, they knew the auditorium was empty. They just started coming in and more every week, every week, every week, and they did that because every week it became more clear that millions were not going to die. And at that point, I finally said, 'We need to be here,'” MacArthur said, explaining how he decided to restart corporate worship services.
“We hear the other day that there is one death per 100,000 people from COVID in California at this present time, so the narrative doesn’t work. They can’t sell us this lie anymore that makes you shut down the church. We've had about 7,000 people in church the last couple of weeks. We don’t know of anybody sick. We’ve never had anybody in the hospital with COVID,” he said.
When asked by Lyons why weekly worship services are essential, MacArthur said the gatherings are necessary for Christians to stimulate each other to “love and good works.”
“I think corporate worship is the stimulating of one another, love and good works as we come together. Even the early church came together. They didn’t have their own buildings so they went to the temple collectively. All of them who were there. There were thousands of them there,” he explained.
“There were 3,000 of them there on the day of Pentecost. A couple of chapters later there are at least 20,000 believers roaring into the temple to worship the Lord. I think corporate testimony is profound, But beyond that, how do you stimulate one another to love and good works if you’re isolated from each other? We come together for the purpose of corporate worship."
Stanley, whose megachurch suspended Sunday morning worship services for the rest of the year, “based on what’s happening in the Atlanta area and the areas where our churches are located around Atlanta,” said their decision was based on loving their neighbors.
“This was just our way of loving our neighbors and loving our neighborhoods, trying to keep our neighborhoods safe as we get closer to school reopening,” he said.
He explained that reopening schools in the area had become “very complicated” and his church didn’t want to present “another potential super spreader environment” in that conversation.
“The schools are having a difficult enough time opening and staying open. Even the university systems, as you know. So it just seemed like the wisest thing to do as it related to the community and as we wait this thing out and figure out what’s going to happen,” he said.
Stanley noted that North Point is still doing weddings, funerals and small groups along with other innovative gatherings.
He said that he wouldn’t support general civil disobedience among churches against government restrictions because he thinks it’s unnecessary and churches aren’t being overly burdened because they can gather in other ways.
“In light of what’s happening now, there is no reason to push back because I think every evidence is our state and local and federal government is trying to figure out a really [big] problem,” he said.
“[Nobody] is trying to shut down the church in America unless we think there is a link between SEC football, the NFL, the NBA and everything else that’s been shut down. And I can’t speak to what’s going on in California. I’m like everybody else; I just read the news,” he said.
“I can’t imagine a scenario in the United States of America where the only group being picked on is the Church unless it’s a specific local church. But every local church has to operate within certain guidelines given by the government. Have you ever tried to get a land disturbance permit?
“There’s all kinds of fire codes, building codes. It’s OK for the government to speak into when we meet, noise ordinances, it goes on and on and on, so none of that is new. In most cases, those codes and restrictions are good for the community and the local church once you finally get your building built. So I just don’t think what’s happening in our country is onerous,” Stanley said.