Circumstances are now to the point in the state of California, and three counties in particular, where we can say that the government is now persecuting the Church. This presents itself as counties going after three specific congregations, but when you look at the details you see a broader pattern in play.
These efforts will fail.
Three previous posts discuss this issue.
A few updates to previous posts before getting to the main discussion.
The County of Los Angeles has unilaterally canceled the lease on land which provides something in the range of 40% or 50% of parking capacity for Grace Community Church. Oh, the lease has been in place for 45 years.
North Valley Baptist Church is now facing $52,000 in fines for the heinous offense of worshiping indoors. Keep in mind this is the church which was visited by spies from the county. It certainly appears that Santa Clara is acting like the Stasi back in about old days of East Germany. The pastor declared “We Are Not Closing down This Church” – California Pastor Warns Officials.
Also, additional Churches Defy California Guv’s Restrictions on Multiple Worship Gatherings including:
- Harvest Rock Church, Pasadena
- River of Life Church, Oroville
- Destiny Christian Church, Rockland
- South Bay United Pentecostal, Chula Vista
The article also provides the biblical explanation for standing up to unbiblical government rules.
These efforts will ultimately fail.
There may be short-term successes for the government.
There may be intermediate-term successes.
These efforts will fail.
Standing up for constitutional rights in court.
Los Angeles County doesn’t realize they have taken on a church that will not back down. I will make an easy guess that Grace Community Church will put whatever effort in time and dollars that it takes to stand up in court even if it involves going to state appeal court, then federal appeal, then US Supreme Court.
As an illustration, GCC prevailed in a case that made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The ruling, in favor of GCC, established that a local congregation is not liable for providing biblical counseling. See Nally v. Grace Community Church (1988).
I perceive GCC will boldly stand up to unbiblical government actions.
Based on my businessman’s knowledge of law in the U.S., actions which adversely impact a religious organization because they are a religious organization will not stand. I’ll guess the county and state actions will ultimately not survive judicial scrutiny.
One thing accomplished by these governmental actions is that any other church which chooses religious freedom over bending the knee to Caesar is the realization that the government may come after you.
Scatter the church.
It must be fairly obvious that removing 40% or 50% of GCC’s parking is an effort to severely hurt the church on a long term basis, perhaps even shut it down.
LA city has already cut off electricity and water to businesses that opened up without permission. What are the odds that the county will do that with GCC if the church continues to stand up?
Perhaps the goal is ultimately to shut down GCC and North Valley Baptist Church.
If that is the goal, or if that is the ultimate impact, it will not work out as intended. Closing one church would scatter the leadership and congregants.
In the book of Acts, we read that the religious leaders started a persecution of the church which chased most believers out of Jerusalem. This did not quite have the intended effect.
Acts 8:1-4 in the NIV says:
“On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.”
The religious leaders wanted to shut down the church. They apparently succeeded.
The entertaining, unintended consequence is those followers who scattered all over the countryside shared the good news about Christ as they fled Jerusalem. Instead of silencing the church, more people in more places heard the good news of Christ.
The frightened believers who fled Jerusalem boldly proclaimed the good news as they fled.
Please work through a little thought experiment with me.
GCC has a very high profile teacher/preacher as its visible leader. He is only one of the people in leadership who are capable of effectively teaching and preaching.
A glance at the church’s website shows there are 13 pastors. I will make an exquisitely easy guess that every one of those pastors could easily start and lead a decent size congregation on their own. Back out the senior pastor and include the pastor of administration leaves 12 additional pastors which could lead a congregation.
Another glance at the website shows there are 41 elders. It looks like all of the pastors are also elders, so that means there are additional 28 elders who are not pastors.
Based on my distant knowledge of GCC, I will make an easy guess that every one of those non-pastor elders has an high level of biblical knowledge. Since they are all in charge a ministry area they are all are gifted enough with sufficient bible knowledge and sufficient leadership ability so they could start their own church and in very short order be effectively teaching and preaching to their own congregation.
Where does this thought experiment take me?
I’ll make a wild guess that if the goal of LA county is to shut down GCC and if they succeed in that effort, there could in a very short period of time be 41 local congregations started and quickly thriving (pastor MacArthur, 12 additional pastors, 28 additional elders).
Instead of 1 congregation, there could be 41.
It would be a tragedy for that corporate entity to be closed down, but that would still not be a victory because it would be replaced by 40 or more new, thriving, evangelical churches each of which could be led by a strong leader and preacher. That doesn’t even count the large number of small group leaders who could scatter and effectively “preach the word wherever they went.”
There are more historical examples of churches thriving under persecution beyond what we read in the book of Acts. I won’t go into what we know of how the church thrived during persecution from the Empire of Rome. Neither will we dive into specifics in the book of Revelation.
We merely need to look at how the church went underground during the repression from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (the bad old Evil Empire) or in the People’s Republic of China over the last several decades.
Repression in Nazi Germany was severe but it did not destroy the church either.
During those times of severe repression the church went underground and survived. While we are nowhere near that point in the United States, should we ever get there those efforts will ultimately fail as well.
Painful days ahead but these efforts will fail.
It would appear, or at least there are strong hints in the air, that the rules for freedom of religious expression in the U.S. are being rewritten.
Whether they are being dialed back slightly, curtailed substantially, or under wholesale onslaught is unclear.
Whatever the case may be, there will be a painful transition as the Body of Christ, meaning the worldwide fellowship of all believers, adjusts to the new realities.
Ultimately, these efforts will fail because the governments are not taking on just a local corporate entity.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus and his disciples were discussing the stories circulating about Jesus. People were speculating about this wandering rabbi who teaches all these amazing and strange things. Who is he?, people wondered.
Matthew 16:15-18 (NIV) says:
” ‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’
“Simon Peter answered, ‘you are the Christ, the son of the living God.’
“Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. …’ “
There is a play on words here, because Peter means rock. The rock to build the church is Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ. My dear Roman Catholic brothers and sisters would add another layer of meaning to that sentence, but that is not the point of this discussion.
Paraphrased that last sentence means:
On the truth that Jesus is the Christ, meaning the promised Messiah, Jesus will build His church and the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church, which is the world-wide, universal body of Christ.
There may be substantial pain in our future.
Whether it happens in the short term, intermediate-term, or long-term does not matter – this effort to suppress religious freedom will fail.