by Christian Mancini (20/11/20)

John MacArthur and forty other elders of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, a church with more than six thousand members, have published a statement to communicate their intent to no longer follow the rules of the state, saying that “in response to the recent state order, requiring churches in California to limit or suspend indefinitely all meetings, we , pastors and elders of Grace Community Church, respectfully inform our civic leaders that they have overcome their legitimate jurisdiction, and our loyalty to Christ forbids us to observe the restrictions they want to impose on our worship services”, having already stated that “conformity would be disobedience to the clear commands of our Lord”.

This attitude is the result of a series of misinterpretations of the Bible, which lead believers to think that the government of the world is in the devil’s hands, just as MacArthur himself comments in Matthew 4:8-9, in the edition of the Bible reporting his notes (The MacArthur Study Bible), where it is written: “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’”. McArthur comments: “Satan is the ‘prince of this world’ (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) and ‘the god of this world’ (2 Cor 4:4, ESV). All the earth lies in his power (1 John 5:19)”. But at the end of the same Gospel, Matthew’s one, Jesus says: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Mat 28:18), so one of the two is a liar. As Christians, it would seem obvious to agree with Jesus, knowing that Satan is defined also as the “father of lies” (John 8:44). It is instead surprising that many of those who call themselves followers of Jesus then believe in the dominion of Satan, implicitly considering Jesus as a weak and a liar. It is true that the devil is the “prince of this world” (John 12:31), but he is not the ‘King’. It is true that he goes around like a roaring lion” (1 Pet 5:8), but he is not the TRUE lion, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, the King of Kings (Rev 5:5; 19:16).

It is important to notice that the words of the devil are not only in conflict with Jesus’ following words, but also with all that is written in the Old Testament. In the same episode recounted in Luke 4:5-6, the devil says to Jesus: “I will give you all their authority and splendour; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to”, with this last expression which is precisely the opposite of what the whole book of Daniel says. In fact, it describes the succession of empires as an expression of a certain plan of God (Dan 2,7,8), recounting the episode in which even the great emperor Nebuchadnezzar was forced to kneel before the Most High, recognizing that he “is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes”, an expression repeated over and over again (Dan 4). Who do we believe then, Jesus or the devil?

The difficulty of seeing here and now the power of Jesus lies in the fact that he exercises it to pursue his specific goals, to extend it in a complete way afterwards. Looking at the examples in the Bible, the various kingdoms, even those led by the most wicked authorities, they have always been used by God to achieve a goal he wanted. For example, Egypt was under God’s control both when it welcomed the people of Israel and when it persecuted them. God let the new pharaoh persecute Israel for a certain period time, because it was functional to get it out of that country, so that it became a mature people, able to carry on history in the Promised Land. Therefore, Egypt was used by God as an incubator to grow his people from about seventy people to more than 600 thousands (Exodus 1-14). The Babylonian empire, on the other hand, was used by God to judge Israel and other peoples. And with a view to the long term, the deportation of the Jews was functional to spread the Word of Yahweh and the synagogues in many territories. As also the book of Daniel (Dan 1:2) makes it immediately clear, Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple of God not because he was stronger than God, but because God himself wanted it.

Today Jesus’ stated purpose is not to put pastors to govern the nations, but to evangelize all peoples, a task that he entrusted to us linking it closely to the fact of him having all authority and power, introducing it with a therefore: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. THEREFORE go and make disciples of all nations” (Mat 28:18-19). In the Acts of the Apostles, in fact, we see Jesus manifesting his sovereignty by breaking down every barrier to the spread of the message of the Gospel. For example, with the episode of Herod, who is judged and “eaten by worms” (Acts 12:20-23) for killing the apostle James and having taken pride, God shows that he never ceased to exercise his lordship over the world.

So, the devil tries to hinder the work of God, but according to the will and the patience of God, within the limits of the freedom that God gives him. His influence on this world will certainly reach a maximum, but God remains sovereign, and the authorities are ministers of God, not of the devil (Rom 13:1-6). Also because it will be precisely the great space that the world will give to the devil that will prepare the conditions for Jesus’ return, that is, to achieve a goal of God.

MacArthur’s motivation to disobey appears to be the overcoming by the state leaders of their “legitimate jurisdiction”. If we look carefully, however, no specific laws have been made against the church, but measures have been taken for the whole society. That is, they have not banned Christian meetings, but gatherings of all kinds. Peter disobeyed the authorities when they wanted to compel him no longer to preach in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:19-20). Daniel and his friends set out to serve the emperor in all things, refusing only to make a gesture of idolatry, that is, to bow down before the golden statue (Dan 3:12-30). To publicly disobey is an extreme gesture of great importance and must be reserved only to the essential matters of faith, which are not affected by the anti-covid-19 provisions.

In conclusion, what MacArthur calls choices led by faithfulness “to the clear commands of our Lord”, being based on a wrong interpretation of the Word of God, actually lead to catastrophe.

Read also “Jesus’ lordship”, by Fernando De Angelis.