Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Dr. Albert Mohler kicked off a new season of the Briefing by accusing his friend, Dr. John MacArthur of Grace Community Church of “malpractice” by choosing to open up five months into the pandemic and not staying shut down for an indeterminable time.
Mohler opened the program discussing issues surrounding churches being constrained during the pandemic, and in particular, a bad supreme court ruling in Calvary Chapel vs. Sisolak, with Steve Sisolak, being the governor of Nevada.
The governor of Nevada had handed down an edict in the midst of COVID-19 that limits the total attendance in any church service to 50. Now, that’s to be contrasted with the fact that major businesses, including businesses that draw thousands of people such as the casino industry, the larger gambling enterprise in Nevada, are allowed to go up to 50% of capacity.
By any definition, you are looking at a targeted, non-neutral abrogation of this church’s religious liberty. They’re being singled out. This is not a generally applicable law. The whole point is you can go to the casino but you can’t go to church, at least under the same circumstances.
Mohler discusses why the liberal supreme court judges voting 5-4 to uphold it is such a bad ruling, and in particular lauds the dissent from the conservative judges, commenting favorably on Justice Kavaunaghs’ pithy observation “There is no world in which the Constitution permits Nevada to favor Caesar’s Palace over Calvary Chapel.” The decision, he says, is pretty much straight trash.
Now, as I began, I said that I’m turning to this story, first of all, precisely because it is a case—a tragic case—of malpractice by the United States Supreme Court. “Malpractice” is a word that I chose very carefully. It means it is a violation of the practice that is to be expected as the responsibility of an entity.
Following the same vein, Mohler sets his sights on MacArthur, describing Grace Church as calling for and practicing civil disobedience after Governor Gavin Newsom made it largely impossible for congregations of any size to meet indoors, a decision neither he nor those knuckleheads at IX Marks agree with.
I believe that in the main, Christian churches and Christian leaders should respect all temporary, neutral, and generally applicable guidelines that are handed down by appropriate government and health officials in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Commenting that Grace Church is not following this sound practice, Mohler says they ought to, as it is not loving their neighbor to do otherwise. He points out that while churches ought to gather and worship, there is no specific and particular reference to how the church must worship (use of choirs) or how frequently they must gather (as long as first day of week, not necessarily every week) or where they must gather (indoors or outdoors.)
As a result, Mohler says:
We need to demonstrate courage and commitment, and we need to pray for discernment. We need, at this point, to call out the malpractice of the United States Supreme Court and do our very utmost to avoid any malpractice of our own.
While Mohler may consider what Grace and other churches are doing as malpractice, he diagnoses all problems while offering no solutions. He says that we ought to respect temporary guidelines, but we are entering our 6th month of lockdown. How long must a church sit on their hands? Half a year is a long type of temporary. When precisely does the temporarily turn into the intolerable? One year in? Two?
Secondly, Mohler gives us no indication of what the line would be where the church may then defy the state. Instead they would have us stop meeting on account of “love” when love is precisely the reason we must meet. There can be no more loving thing we can do for any society than to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ within the congregation, particularly to the unsaved who may darken our doorstep.
The church meeting together is not an act of malpractice, but rather it is an act of mercy.