The megachurch in suburban Los Angeles had closed its doors in mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic. It announced plans to re-open in May, but a federal court upheld the state’s ban on indoor services. The church reopened in late July.
On Thursday, the church’s lawyers announced they had filed suit on behalf of the church challenging California’s restrictions on indoor services.
Later on Thursday, Los Angeles County sued MacArthur and his church for continuing to “hold in-person, indoor worship in violation of the State and County public health orders.”
The county said in a statement that it “took this action reluctantly after working with the church for several weeks in hopes of gaining voluntary compliance with the Health Officer Orders, which allow for religious services to be held outdoors in order to slow the spread of a deadly and highly contagious virus.”
The pastor told CNN on Tuesday that no members of his megachurch have contracted the virus. MacArthur also said he doubted the accuracy of California’s coronavirus numbers.
“We open the doors because that’s what we are,” he said. “We’re a church, and we’re going to trust those people to make adult decisions about the reality of their physical and spiritual health.”
Why MacArthur matters
MacArthur’s status has led to some prominent voices supporting his cause.
What Christians who disagree with him say
Evangelicals like JD Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, have encouraged their congregations to form smaller house churches in lieu of the vast, hand-raising Sunday services megachurches are famous for.
Andy Stanley, a megachurch pastor in Atlanta, has said his North Point Community Church would not reopen until 2021.
MacArthur, a renowned Reformed preacher whose piety comes with a healthy dose of pugnacity, had strong words for those pastors.
“They don’t know what a church is,” the pastor said in a message to his congregation, “and they don’t shepherd their people.”
Other Christians argue that church is bigger than a sanctuary on Sunday. A number have recently urged MacArthur to change his mind.
“Right now, members of his church can meet outdoors,” Leeman continued. “There is nothing sacrosanct about the particular and present forms of our congregations.”
Churches obey all kinds of government guidelines, from fire codes to maximum occupancy limits. Surely trying to contain a pandemic falls within that category and is not a new government overreach or attempt to shut down churches, other evangelicals have argued.
“Rev. MacArthur no doubt believes he is taking a courageous stand,” Littlejohn wrote. “I fear that he is rather a confused shepherd, leading countless sheep straight into the line of fire.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated when Grace Community Church closed. It did not take legal action last spring to try to remain open.