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“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..”

From A Biblical Case for the Church’s Duty to Remain Open by John MacArthur –senior pastor of Grace Community Church. As of 2008, the average weekly attendance was 8,258.


Christ is Lord of all. He is the one true  head of the church (Ephesians 1:22; 5:23; Colossians 1:18). He is also King of kings—sovereign over every earthly authority (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14; 19:16). Grace Community Church has always stood immovably on those biblical principles. As His people, we are subject to His will and commands as revealed in Scripture. Therefore we cannot and will not acquiesce to a government-imposed moratorium on our weekly congregational worship or other regular corporate gatherings. Compliance would be disobedience to our Lord’s clear commands.

The right we are appealing to was not created by the Constitution.

While civil government is invested with divine authority to rule the state, neither of those texts (nor any other) grants civic rulers jurisdiction over the church. God has established three institutions within human society: the family, the state, and the church. Each institution has a sphere of authority with jurisdictional limits that must be respected. A father’s authority is limited to his own family. Church leaders’ authority (which is delegated to them by Christ) is limited to church matters. And government is specifically tasked with the oversight and protection of civic peace and well-being within the boundaries of a nation or community. God has not granted civic rulers authority over the doctrine, practice, or polity of the church. The biblical framework limits the authority of each institution to its specific jurisdiction. The church does not have the right to meddle in the affairs of individual families and ignore parental authority. Parents do not have authority to manage civil matters while circumventing government officials. And similarly, government officials have no right to interfere in ecclesiastical matters in a way that undermines or disregards the God-given authority of pastors and elders.

Notice that we are not making a constitutional argument, even though the First Amendment of the United States Constitution expressly affirms this principle in its opening words: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The right we are appealing to was not created by the Constitution. It is one of those unalienable rights granted solely by God, who ordained human government and establishes both the extent and the limitations of the state’s authority (Romans 13:1–7). Our argument therefore is purposely not grounded in the First Amendment; it is based on the same biblical principles that the Amendment itself is founded upon. The exercise of true religion is a divine duty given to men and women created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26–27; Acts 4:18–20; 5:29; cf. Matthew 22:16–22). In other words, freedom of worship is a command of God, not a privilege granted by the state.

An additional point needs to be made in this context. Christ is always faithful and true (Revelation 19:11). Human governments are not so trustworthy. Scripture says, “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). That refers, of course, to Satan. John 12:31 and 16:11 call him “the ruler of this world,” meaning he wields power and influence through this world’s political systems (cf. Luke 4:6; Ephesians 2:2; 6:12). Jesus said of him, “he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). History is full of painful reminders that government power is easily and frequently abused for evil purposes. Politicians may manipulate statistics and the media can cover up or camouflage inconvenient truths. So a discerning church cannot passively or automatically comply if the government orders a shutdown of congregational meetings—even if the reason given is a concern for public health and safety.

The church by definition is an assembly. That is the literal meaning of the Greek word for “church”—ekklesia—the assembly of the called-out ones. A non-assembling assembly is a contradiction in terms. Christians are therefore commanded not to forsake the practice of meeting together (Hebrews 10:25)—and no earthly state has a right to restrict, delimit, or forbid the assembling of believers. We have always supported the underground church in nations where Christian congregational worship is deemed illegal by the state.

When officials restrict church attendance to a certain number, they attempt to impose a restriction that in principle makes it impossible for the saints to gather as the church. When officials prohibit singing in worship services, they attempt to impose a restriction that in principle makes it impossible for the people of God to obey the commands of Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. When officials mandate distancing, they attempt to impose a restriction that in principle makes it impossible to experience the close communion between believers that is commanded in Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, and 1 Thessalonians 5:26. In all those spheres, we must submit to our Lord.

Although we in America may be unaccustomed to government intrusion into the church of our Lord Jesus Christ, this is by no means the first time in church history that Christians have had to deal with government overreach or hostile rulers. As a matter of fact, persecution of the church by government authorities has been the norm, not the exception, throughout church history. “Indeed,” Scripture says, “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Historically, the two main persecutors have always been secular government and false religion. Most of Christianity’s martyrs have died because they refused to obey such authorities. This is, after all, what Christ promised: “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). In the last of the beatitudes, He said, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11–12).

As government policy moves further away from biblical principles, and as legal and political pressures against the church intensify, we must recognize that the Lord may be using these pressures as means of purging to reveal the true church. Succumbing to governmental overreach may cause churches to remain closed indefinitely. How can the true church of Jesus Christ distinguish herself in such a hostile climate? There is only one way: bold allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Even where governments seem sympathetic to the church, Christian leaders have often needed to push back against aggressive state officials. In Calvin’s Geneva, for example, church officials at times needed to fend off attempts by the city council to govern aspects of worship, church polity, and church discipline. The Church of England has never fully reformed, precisely because the British Crown and Parliament have always meddled in church affairs. In 1662, the Puritans were ejected from their pulpits because they refused to bow to government mandates regarding use of the Book of Common Prayer, the wearing of vestments, and other ceremonial aspects of state-regulated worship. The British Monarch still claims to be the supreme governor and titular head of the Anglican Church.

But again: Christ is the one true head of His church, and we intend to honor that vital truth in all our gatherings. For that preeminent reason, we cannot accept and will not bow to the intrusive restrictions government officials now want to impose on our congregation. We offer this response without rancor, and not out of hearts that are combative or rebellious (1 Timothy 2:1–8; 1 Peter 2:13–17), but with a sobering awareness that we must answer to the Lord Jesus for the stewardship He has given to us as shepherds of His precious flock.

To government officials, we respectfully say with the apostles, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge” (Acts 4:19). And our unhesitating reply to that question is the same as the apostles’: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

Our prayer is that every faithful congregation will stand with us in obedience to our Lord as Christians have done through the centuries.

RTWT: Christ, not Caesar, Is Head of the Church

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • ghostsniper July 27, 2020, 11:47 AM

    “The right we are appealing to was not created by the Constitution.”
    ALL rights PRECEDE the constitution.
    If a thing is granted by the gov’t it is NOT a “right” but rather a “privilege”.
    If a gov’t grants a privilege it can take it away, ie., a drivers license.
    Roe vs Wade is not a right but rather a privilege that is granted by the gov’t and can be taken away at any time.
    The only way a right can be separated from it’s owner is through the crime of theft.

  • John Venlet July 27, 2020, 11:51 AM

    The only way a right can be separated from it’s owner is through the crime of theft.

    The only way a right can be separated from its owner is through force, at the point of a gun.

    There, I fixed it for you Ghostsniper.

  • Kevin in PA July 27, 2020, 11:55 AM

    “How can the true church of Jesus Christ distinguish herself in such a hostile climate? There is only one way: bold allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ.”
    Bold allegiance is what Martin “Red” Beckman would call “Salty Christians”.

    Frankly, I believe that true Christians should be withholding tax contributions to state and federal governments until said governments get back in line with the founding principles of America. Starve the beast!
    Many of our would-be overlords in D.C. and the state capitals would have us believe that our rights come from the constitution / government. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our rights are endowed to us by our Creator. The constitution is the structure for the national government and the Bill of Rights is a specific enumeration of things the government must not do. And just because some earthly authority passes unlawful statutes does not mean Christians should obey. In fact, there are an awful lot of laws that are simply un-Godly and should be rejected out of hand.
    Sadly, many corporate, 501(c) churches are only in it for the money. They accept their tax exempt status in exchange for adhering to Caesar’s laws and thereby, as part of the arrangement, avoid saying anything that the state might find objectionable, else they may lose their tax exempt status. This is not holding God as the Supreme Authority, but instead subjugating God’s message to the state.

    With all that is going on, it is my firm belief that American Christians had better stand up, speak out and resist this growing tyranny….before we find ourselves being fed to the lions.

  • Chris July 27, 2020, 12:26 PM

    The beast seemingly has been starving its self lately with shutdowns,lockdowns,and closings.
    No withholding necessary. They’re cutting themselves off. Fix bayonets…

  • sharksauce July 27, 2020, 12:27 PM

    One does not even need to be a believer to understand that man’s words.

  • rabbit tobacco July 27, 2020, 12:28 PM

    We have 2 salvations:
    a heavenly one
    through the
    blood of Christ;
    an earthly one through
    the Word.

  • ghostsniper July 27, 2020, 12:47 PM

    A knife will work John, or a stick, or even a decent threat.
    Regardless, the taking of something that doesn’t belong to you is normally thought of as theft and that is a crime.

  • Punditarian July 27, 2020, 12:47 PM

    In agreement with ghostsniper’s comment, above, the Constitution – including the Bill of Rights – was not adopted in order to give rights to the people, individually or collectively. The purpose of the Constitution was to describe a government that would respect the rights with which the people, individually and collectively, were already endowed by our Creator. Otherwise, I agree with the good Pastor.

  • Jewel July 27, 2020, 2:01 PM

    But churches have received billions in shutdown aid. So who’s grooming who?

  • Stargazer July 27, 2020, 3:56 PM

    My church has not received even one penny from government, ever. And never will.

  • Donal Sensing July 28, 2020, 6:44 AM

    “God has established three institutions within human society: the family, the state, and the church.”
    The Left is working as hard as it can to destroy the family, and have largely succeeded. Now they are working to destroy the Church in its practice, and when that is done its faith will be vanquished as well, for “faith” without practice (works) is dead and is good for nothing except being thrown out and trampled under foot.

    That leaves only the state and God. God cannot be destroyed, but he can be ejected and ignored. Which the Left is already doing. And that leaves only the State, which takes the place of God and commands the institutions of human society to kneel (I use that word deliberately) in obeisance.

    For the State is unforgiving and unjust while God is neither. But God is not mocked.

    God’s greatest punishment>

  • Punditarian July 28, 2020, 7:59 AM

    “There must be a God after all. From Stalin I deserved nothing but gratitude for my faithful service; from God, I deserved the most severe punishment for having violated his commandments thousands of times.” – Genrikh Yagoda

  • Annie Rose July 28, 2020, 8:11 AM

    I confronted a former co-worker who posted on social media an article critical of Californians holding an outdoor worship service, by asking her if she also condemned BLM/ Antifa protestors and their mass gatherings, which she regularly praises. She replied that I must have been triggered in some way. Neither she or any of her commenting friends ever answered my question as to why one gathering is allowed and praised and the other is forbidden and condemned. I no longer will remain silent as our freedoms and rights are trampled on.

  • Fletcher Christian July 28, 2020, 10:58 AM

    How about the right to freedom FROM religion, should one wish it?

    BTW, I mean organised religion. “When the first knave met the first fool, then was born the first priest.”

  • Jewel July 28, 2020, 1:12 PM

    Has your mom being dragging you to church against your will, Fletch? And what’s the meaning of organized and why is that a bad thing only in regards to religion? We are all…wait for it….organisms! Everything seen and unseen. All the chaos around us is perhaps the most organized thing of all. As for fedflooz going to churches, the Catholic Church received over a billion, which is why so many prelates are also bending the knee. Many other large denominations did as well. These wolves have managed to drive much of the faithful away to the Latin Mass where the priests still preach sin, damnation and redemption and the Four Last Things.

  • Fletcher Christian July 28, 2020, 2:46 PM

    Jewel – my mum, no. The people who ran the school I was at for five years, yes – five years of an hour of crushing boredom every Sunday in between continuous bullying which the staff did absolutely nothing about. Words not deeds.

    By “organised” I mean the parasitism that obscures the message. I wonder what, if Christ came back tomorrow, he would make of the Vatican?

  • Jewel July 28, 2020, 4:53 PM

    We shall see quite soon, me thinks.

  • Rev.Bro. Generik Broderick July 28, 2020, 5:25 PM

    One point missed is the concept of tautology. When an Officer is sworn in or an Oath made the Authority that Affirms the ultimate veracity of the ceremony is the representative of the Clergy, of whatever stripe, holding the Book. The Authority of the State rests upon the say-so of the clergy in all matters great and small. The forbidden legal tautology is the State, having been granted Authority by the Clergy turning around and, using that Authority, granting Authority or not to the Clergy.

  • Joan Of Argghh! July 30, 2020, 9:51 AM

    The Catholic Church has received YUGE stacks of money to help its charity works and legal work for immigrants in the U.S. It is basically a political donation on the Church’s part, to lend virtuous stance and righteousness to the government entities that desire immigration of peoples who hate us. A quid pro-quo arrangement between gov’t and church clerics.

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