Pastor John MacArthur on Sunday, Aug. 16, defied the mandate of the California Court of Appeal by holding an indoor worship service — further escalating a nationally watched fight over COVID-19 restrictions.
MacArthur, a prominent Calvinist preacher and author, has led his Southern California megachurch to defy public health orders of the city, county and state intended to curb the spread of coronavirus. He and the church’s elders have claimed the church is being persecuted by the government and will not bow to their illegitimate authority over the church.
On Saturday, Aug. 15, a trial court judge ruled that the church could hold indoor services while litigation against the church played out. Los Angeles County had threatened to enforce $1,000-per-day fines and possible imprisonment against MacArthur and other church leaders. On Aug. 13, the church filed suit against the city, county and state, and the county promptly filed countersuit.
By the end of the day Aug. 15, however, the California Court of Appeal issued an emergency order overruling the trial court judge. The brief ruling from three judges on the Court of Appeal said Grace Community Church could hold outdoor services but could not hold indoor services while the litigation is ongoing.
“At this very preliminary stage in this litigation, the County has demonstrated a likelihood that it will prevail on the merits of enforcing its July 18, 2020, Health Order,” the appeals court wrote in a four-page opinion issued late Aug. 15, just hours before Grace Community Church was scheduled to hold its fourth week of indoor worship gathering thousands of worshipers under one roof and in an adjacent outdoor tent.
Even a court order did not stop MacArthur from leading his church in indoor worship, however. The service, which was livestreamed beginning at 10:30 a.m. Pacific Time, featured live instrumentalists and a live children’s choir singing from the choir loft.
As MacArthur began the service, he received a rousing ovation from the congregation before saying a word. “We’re having church,” he said to another round of applause and cheers.
“It’s hard to figure out what the city is trying to do with us and to us,” he told the congregation. “But they don’t want us to do what we are doing right now. … We’re not meeting because we want to be rebellious. We’re meeting because this is what our Lord commanded us to do.”
After explaining the volley of court rulings of the prior day, MacArthur commended those gathered in the sanctuary: “You’re here; you’re not distancing, and you’re not wearing masks. And it’s also good news that you’re not outside. The Lord knew you needed to be inside and unmasked.”
MacArthur said of government officials: “They’re not willing to work with us; they just want to dumb us down. But we’re here to bring honor to the Lord.”
Meanwhile, deaths from COVID-19 in Los Angeles County surpassed 5,000 — half of all coronavirus deaths reported in the state. And 576 new deaths from COVID-19 were reported in the county in the two weeks leading to Sunday’s service.