“The End of Evangelicalism” is a series devoted to slippery slope style arguments pertaining to the social justice movement in evangelicalism. Each post features a ‘thin edge of the wedge’ line of thinking from seemingly sensible social justice measures that might nevertheless effectively end some major element of the evangelical faith. So while many of these posts will seem foolish on the surface, the idea is to think slightly further along the curve of critical theories in order to locate one’s ‘woke breaking point.’
By now, you’re probably aware of Pastor John MacArthur and the Elders at Grace Community Church (GCC) stirring up much of the evangelical world over meeting for church even though California Governor Gavin Newsom said something like, “Hey…wait…they can’t do that!” Just in case you missed it, here’s the original announcement. Jonathan Leeman, Editorial Director for 9Marks and an elder at Cheverly Baptist Church in Maryland, wrote a response here. Conservative Resurgence Voices authors wrote on the controversy here and here. Meanwhile, here’s an update from MacArthur on what GCC is doing on Sunday mornings. It might also be helpful to hear Phil Johnson’s comments on Cross Politic here. And GCC just announced here that they have legal counsel on retainer. Or, you can just skim the Federalist article summarizing everything here.
Leeman argued against MacArthur et al. based, in part, on state-established regulations:
Likewise, churches should observe state-established fire codes, building codes, zoning restrictions, historical-preservation-society codes (if you’re on Capitol Hill), and more, all of which impinge on and limit our gatherings. Yet most of us have not stopped and said, “This is hindering our worship” or “This is the state exercising authority over church practice.” Rather, we understand the state is doing its job even there. We understand that we are not ancient Israel. And though in one sense all space is sacred for a Christian because all space is under Christ’s lordship, in another sense no space is sacred, at least in a Temple-like way; and the government’s authority also extends everywhere inside its borders.
All that to say, it’s not immediately evident to me that a government’s original orders back in March and now again in July are, in MacArthur’s words, “an illegitimate intrusion of state authority into ecclesiastical matters.” One could argue they are doing their job by seeking to maintain peace, order, and the preservation of life, as hundreds of people gather, potentially infect one another, and then scatter into the wider community.
In an earlier post, I noted that of course one could argue that the government is doing their job to “maintain peace, order, and the preservation of life.” But one suspects that is almost always how a totalitarian government does argue for overstepping its God-ordained boundaries. We’ve seen such language used to disparage movements against government sanctioned racism in the United States of America, and we will no doubt see it used to disparage Christian worship that contradicts government sanctioned secularism. But now I want to take the argument in a different direction.