SAN FRANCISCO—On July 24, Pastor John MacArthur, a pastor based in Sun Valley, California, announced that the Grace Community Church, of which he is lead pastor, will no longer abide by government orders requiring the limiting or suspension of in-person services.
A statement on the Grace Community Church website titled “Christ, not Caesar, Is Head of the Church” indicated that the church decided that they “cannot and will not acquiesce to a government-imposed moratorium on our weekly congregational worship or other regular corporate gatherings.”
California Governor Gavin Newsom and the California Department of Public Health issued an order on July 13 mandating the indefinite closure of all indoor activities in churches, hair salons, barber shops, restaurants, bars, fitness centers, and other facilities in response to California’s spike in coronavirus cases.
According to a New York Times database, California was averaging close to 8,000 cases a day as of June 12, more than double what it was one month ago prior. According to that database, the state has seen 331,626 cases, the second highest tally in the nation, and more than 7,000 deaths.
The pastors and elders of Grace Community Church stated that they “respectfully inform our civic leaders that they have exceeded their legitimate jurisdiction, and faithfulness to Christ prohibits us from observing the restrictions they want to impose on our corporate worship services.”
Pastor Henry Tam, lead pastor of San Francisco Bible Church, whose assistant pastors interned at Grace Community Church, expressed in a Google Hangout weekly fellowship meeting called “Pray with Pastors” on the Wednesday morning of July 29 that he was concerned. The decision made by the Grace Community Church created a lot of discussion among “independent churches following and looking” to Pastor MacArthur for leadership, Pastor Tam stated. He expressed the need to be mindful and faithful in responding to the situation, whether it be resuming online services or following Grace Church’s decision.
On July 6, a small group protested at San Francisco City Hall against the shutdown of in-door services. CBS 5 San Francisco claimed that multiple churches under the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco violated the health order.
Grocery clerk Patty Rhea argued that churches should have the same rights as essential institutions that have far less strict limitations due to measures aimed at “flattening the curve.”
“I work at a store the same size of a church I regularly attend. We allow 105 people in to the store. For the city to say we (the church) can only allow 12 people in is insulting,” Rhea told CBS 5.
The San Francisco City Attorney’s Office stated that such large gatherings of people indoors place clergy, volunteers, and congregants at heightened risk of transmission of COVID-19.