August 3, 2020 — Double-Double, Toil, and Trouble: How Grace Community Church Does Lockdown
To a proper Californian, yes, the title is in reference to the famous Double-Double burger of In and Out Burger, that Western bastion of fast food lore. And yes, it could also be in reference to that Scottish play as well. So, congratulate yourself on your obscure knowledge. Inserting a little humor during these many months under stay-at-home orders and economic decline has become a must.
To the subject at hand…Grace Community Church of Sun Valley, CA, for those that may not be familiar, is a rather large church in the San Fernando Valley. Sun Valley, and this is very important to remember, is under the city jurisdiction of Los Angeles and Eric Garcetti is the mayor. The pastor-teacher for the past 51 years is John MacArthur, who was also the President of the Master’s College and Seminary, though I believe that he no longer holds that title in reference to the college (ref. accreditation probation), but maintains his position where the Seminary is concerned. And then, to our villain, Gavin Newsom.
So, it’s MacArthur v. Ceasar (Newsom/Garcetti) and the Los Angeles Department of Public Health, and this past week has been eventful, to say the least. MacArthur (really, Phil Johnson) and the elders penned the “Obey God, Not Man” statement which was a fine, if not awkward attempt at interpreting and rejecting their First Amendment rights, and a biblical treatise on religious liberty peppering in many verses, many of which…did not apply, but look good on the page when I printed it out. It would have been better if they had commissioned Jenna Ellis to write it, but they did their best. We cannot all have a legal background.
The Sunday following this statement, the Sanctuary on Roscoe Blvd. was packed with “mask-less” people, singing, listening, and taking part in history. I’d reckon over 5,000 people. A little slice of normalcy regained on a hot Sunday morning. A little pep in the old man’s steps as he was able to speak to the congregation he knew and loved. Ok, not know and love because…I can assure you he doesn’t know you and that’s how he likes it. So, let’s dispel a few rumors, shall we?
- Steeple House was shut down because of John’s statement. No, the coffee shop was “shut down” because it did not have the proper permit to operate, nor did it have any hot water for sanitation, but because it happened “during COVID” it must have something to do with the church’s stance. Probably, and probably not.
- The $1–2 million PPP loan which the church did not “request” or “receive” was sent back. In the latest church update, John MacArthur states in the 14-minute video that the money was returned that incredulously he explains that the “government put them on a list”. Saying that unreceived and unrequested money was sent back is not proof. The SBA data establishes that the money was requested and approved on June 17, 2020. Unfortunately, there are two problems here…if the money was returned to the bank, “MUFG Union Bank”, then that makes good sense and I hope that to be the case. If it wasn’t returned, then that lie undercuts your entire message. Serving mammon and Caesar while the “faithful” are none the wiser is, unfortunately, all in a day’s work for those you lampooned in your book, “Charismatic Chaos”, which still sits on my bookshelf and not for a place which has been the last stop for expository preaching and verse-for-verse instruction. (Not even Jesus preached that way, but I digress).
- Phil Johnson stated that power was going to be shut off to the church. No. Not yet. Not today or on the day it was tweeted. The problem is this…that tweet was a deliberate misrepresentation of the situation here in California used to garner support and empathy towards Grace’s cause. Every conservative retweeted and tweeted support, love, and prayers for “that little church in California” that was being persecuted by the State for “having church”. Later, when pressed for clarification, Johnson offered an April 1st LA Times article which mentioned that “nonessential” businesses that did not comply with the shelter-in-place order would first be educated and then ultimately, fined or at the most, their utilities would be shut off. In no way did that article mention “the church” (Grace Community Church) or ANY church for that matter, but Johnson used it as his source material. Considering that Grace Community Church campus would not have been considered “essential”, they chose to continue their daily operations sans any safety precautions or masks or social distancing through March, April, May, June, July, and August I’m sure. During those months, not ONCE did they receive a visit from LADPH as old man Garcetti warned in the LA Times article.
- No, Franklin Graham (that’s a name you don’t hear too often anymore, praise God), John is not going to get arrested. Considering that no one, not Phil Johnson or John MacArthur, or the “Pastor-of-the-Day” is aware of the day-to-day operations of the church, I have no idea how anyone could have spread that rumor, but I did read it in three different articles. All it does is alarm those in and out of California that they may be next if they “stand for Christ”. I’m not saying that day isn’t coming, but it’s not today. We are called to think on things that are “true”, the things that are imminent, not the things that are possible, but improbable. Graham, sir, I have friends, dear friends, lifelong friends closer than family who still attend this church and I have to undo the damage that rumors like this cause.
You would think that in times of pandemic, economic decline, and tremendous financial uncertainty, churches would be shoring up reserves to help the less fortunate, offer aid to their congregants and otherwise be a light to the community around them. Is that not the Great Commission? Is that not what would you would think a church of any size would do? Right now, and for the past three weeks, there has been a tent large enough for a three-ring circus (the irony) in the parking lot at Grace. At least twice a week, there are food trucks — In-and-Out, Stonefire Grill, Chick-Fil-A to name a few. If you’re ever here during a Shepherd’s Conference, you know what I mean. I can’t fathom the cost. A few months ago, they acquired those same tents to host several thousand people for the MacArthur’s anniversary, but as Providence interceded, it rained.
As we end the day, the statement has been “signed” by over 25,000 people, Grace refuses to comply with the LADPH as they simply wanted employee information (they were present on Sunday, and no shutdowns, but their suggestions were met with indignation sans righteousness), the costs of the tents and food tolls at over $24,000+/week (Protestants love burgers), more television spots for John, no posting of the recent Chapel message where John stated that the “coronavirus doesn’t kill you”, “masks don’t work” and that “Socialists are taking everything away”.
Meanwhile, NBA Hero and future Hall-of-Famer Isaac of the Orlando Magic in five minutes displayed more grace, more courage, and more godliness as he told the reporter and in essence the world that he is supported by the “Gospel of Jesus Christ” as he stood in prayer, while the rest of his teammates kneeled during the National Anthem.
Somewhere there is a church, small churches, and house churches, who truly stand not only for Christ, His Word, and their country but who have always gathered without fanfare, living peaceably with their local government upright in integrity.