Grace Community Church lead pastor John MacArthur recently sat down to talk with The Daily Wire about his legal battle with Los Angeles officials, the media’s Covid fearmongering, and the response of most Christian churches to the virus — and the chances are none of them are going to like what he had to say.
To be honest, I found myself struggling to pay much attention to the old school praise and worship ensemble on the stage. While the band clearly had practiced hard to perform with excellence for that Sunday service, the truly captivating spectacle was in the pews.
The rows and rows of pews of Grace Community Church in Los Angeles that Sunday morning were packed with people — unmasked people, thousands of them — all there to hear an 81-year-old pastor offer his emphatically not “seeker friendly” biblical teaching.
If I had looked closely enough, perhaps I could have spotted the government auditors who had been attending the services for weeks to chronicle the church’s mounting Covid-19 health order infractions. While most of the rest of the country is now mostly open, Los Angeles is still in strict “lockdown” mode, including forbidding full in-door church assemblies — the type Grace has been defiantly hosting since August.
When Pastor John MacArthur finally took the stage, the most striking thing about him was that his demeanor was unchanged from two days earlier, when we’d met at the Daily Wire offices. There on the stage was the same man; no aura of special status or sense of self-importance. Rather, standing in front of the 7,000 congregants was a man who has spent decades delivering the same message in the same mode, warning of the consequences of rejecting God’s truth — and in many ways predicting the converging crises of which he was quite publicly now in the center.
MacArthur’s an even busier man these days than usual, adding regular appearances on Fox News and the courtroom to his already jam-packed schedule, so when we sat down on Friday we quickly got to the subject that’s been dominating the headlines for months. When I asked him if America is in the throes of the biggest media-pushed false narrative in the country’s history, MacArthur said without hesitation, “Oh yeah.”
“We all heard the same thing: give us two weeks and we’ll stop the hospitals from being overrun. But that never happened,” he said. “I think that’s why people keep coming to Grace Church — because they just don’t believe the narrative.”
While he said he had understood historically something as seismic as this clampdown on individual freedom was possible, the swiftness and magnitude caught him off-guard.
“There was never even an attempt to do something like this before,” he said of the liberty-restricting and economy-crushing lockdowns. “There was never even a short-term act like this, let alone going on for six, seven months.”
“We all saw coming the ability of powerful people to control us in ways that had never been possible before. We’re dealing now with a whole pile of unintended consequences,” he said, citing the power of the internet in promoting fear. “The decision that Fauci made, they made a decision in a complete vacuum. They made a decision to do one thing and never considered the massive implications that would go all over the place, that were far worse than them doing that one thing. And they’re still beating that drum, and people are still acquiescing.”
“What we saw was the most graphic illustration in history of the fact you don’t need an army to conquer a nation, you just need fear — and it doesn’t have to be a real fear, and it can be completely deceptive,” he observed. “You have all these generations of people who gave their lives in war to get freedom for generations that they wouldn’t even know. They were sacrificing their lives for future generations. Now people will give up every freedom if you’ll protect them from a virus that won’t kill them.”
While the virus, of course, can be deadly, MacArthur said, the chance of dying of it — particularly for those under 65 without any co-morbidities — is a fraction of a percent. In a recent Sunday service, he even went so far as to declare “there is no pandemic.” As evidence, he cited the CDC report that of the 200,000 people who have died in connection to the virus, “for 6% of the deaths, COVID-19 was the only cause mentioned.”
When I asked him if his critics among the Lockdown Left would declare that he was selling false hope if he were to get infected and die, the pastor shrugged off such a claim.
“For me, to die is gain,” he replied, quoting the apostle Paul in the Book of Philippians. “That is not even a relevant thought to me. Far better to depart and be with Christ… The Lord’s in complete charge of my life. When it’s over, it’s over, and it’s up to him.”
While MacArthur dismissed cynical attempts to undermine the larger message about the freedom of religion, he said that he does not want to be “irresponsible” in his approach to coronavirus. “The good news is I haven’t pronounced that I can heal people,” he joked. But he also made a point of noting that no one has died of COVID-19 from going to his fully reopened church.
At its core, the pastor suggested, his battle with the county is about the battle for truth — about whether we live in a society that embraces it or rejects it. “Once truth breaks down, everything is lost, and all you can do is fight — all you can do is fight with the truth for the truth,” he said.
Teaching the truth is the mission of the church, but too many churches are failing to carry out that mission, he said.
So how did it come to this — MacArthur against the world, a modern-day Athanasius at odds not just with the state but other church leaders?
In late July, MacArthur announced that he was reopening the doors of Grace Community Church in defiance of Los Angeles County’s ongoing restrictions imposed on houses of worship. Within days, the county issued a cease and desist letter threatening $1,000 daily fines and even imprisonment if MacArthur failed to comply with the county mandate. In response, the church filed a lawsuit against the county asking for a declaration and judgment that the health order is unconstitutional, both on face and as applied.
MacArthur’s team maintains that they simply cannot comply with an unconstitutional order. The county, on the other hand, says that the church’s legal arguments, based on the First Amendment, are a mere “sideshow” and have demanded exorbitant fees and possibly jail time. On Sept. 24, the L.A. Superior Court ruled in MacArthur’s favor, agreeing that he is entitled to a full trial before the county can seek contempt against him.
The pastor made clear during our talk that he is not defying state orders lightly. The mission of his life, as it is for all believers, he said, is to spread the Gospel to the best of his ability and to responsibly carry out the ministry he’s been given during this brief stint on earth. And he certainly won’t fail to carry out his ministry for a law that flies in the face of the First Amendment.
For those who study the Bible, he said, much of this looks familiar. “Of course, as a Christian, we see in Scripture prophecy of the world eventually becoming global,” said MacArthur, pointing to the Book of Revelation. “One world government, one world economy, one world ruler. That is more possible now than it has ever been in human history, and you can see just how it lays out.”
But while he could see that there was “a prophetic picture that would unfold at some point,” he did not see “this level of capability of that being a reality.”
“The ramping up of the incessant media generating fear — and still doing it. It’s what P.T. Barnum said, ‘There’s a sucker born every minute,’” said the preacher. “People can be deceived … How do you explain Nazi Germany? How do you explain Christian people in Christian Germany massacring millions and millions of people almost unconscionably? It’s amazing the power that can be exerted over people if you have enough fear or if you get them in enough depressed situations.”
The true crisis behind the crisis, he suggested, is that ours is now an era of lies. “Lying is so ubiquitous and everybody knows that everybody is lying,” he said. “Of course, Satan’s the author of lies, so this is his world. He is the ultimate force behind it all, supernaturally.”
So what are we to do in a “world of lies”? There is but one recourse, MacArthur told me. “Once truth breaks down, everything is lost — and all you can do is fight,” he said. “All you can do is fight with the truth for the truth.”
And this is where the solemn biblical scholar offered a glimmer of hope. What he has seen in his church in the middle of a valley dominated by leftist politicians and activists is a thirst for the truth, particularly among young people.
Grace has seen about 100 new members a month for years, he said, and 90% are 30 and under. He’d thought that his congregation would get older as he aged and as his church consistently rejected the “seeker-friendly” approach. But the opposite has been true.
“Conservative millennials are truth-seekers — that’s what marks them, that’s their conservative character. They want the truth,” he explained. “They don’t want to be lied to. They have values. They have morals. They have convictions. … Liberal millennials just want to burn, tear down, destroy what exists. The separation is massive.”
When it comes to churches, he believes this year has been a “sifting time,” when “the weak” will fall away.
“There are churches that have been irrelevant, but it wasn’t obvious until crisis came and they don’t have any answers. You can’t make daisy chains when people are terrified — not so much terrified by the virus, but terrified that they’re losing the world they’ve always known; that the future is totally out of their hands and it’s not going to be good because people are lying to them. If people want anything, they want the truth.”
“One out of five churches are predicted to never come back,” he said. “That’s not all bad. Maybe they were getting away with sentimentalism and superficiality because there was no reason to fear things, to feel like you’ve lost everything.”
“I’ve watched guys who have commanded the Christian internet — nobody listens to them,” he continued. “Because they’re woke, and if they’re woke, they won’t say a word. If they bought into being woke, if they bought into CRT [Critical Race Theory], if they bought into ‘systemic racism,’ if they bought into social justice, they can’t make a peep. Because they’ll be alienated. They picked sides, and from my standpoint, as a truth-seeker, they picked the wrong side.”
Some of his friends from other ministries will not speak to him anymore because he’s spoken out against the social justice and CRT agenda, said the pastor. “This is very positive: What’s coming out of this is stop with the nonsense and give me the truth.”
That’s why Grace is seeing more than 2 million sermon downloads a month, he asserted. “There’s only one common reality: they want to hear the truth.”
“And Christians need not fear offending people — indeed, they should embrace it when it comes to the gospel,” he advised. “There is built-in offense to the truth, and I don’t think we need to sneak up on them. We need to be up-front.” Speaking the “offensive truth” presents a “stark comparison” to the falsehoods people are hearing. They need to be “knocked off the comfort level of just buying into the narrative.”
That is, after all, what Jesus did, he noted. “Jesus said you hate me because I tell you you’re sinful. That’s why you hate me… That’s the most jarring thing you can say to people: You’re sinful, you need a Savior, you’re going to perish, you’re going to be judged, you’re going to eternal punishment. There’s no more jarring reality than that. In fact, it’s so jarring that the pragmatic megachurch will never say it.”
This, the pastor argued, is no time for pragmatic, self-help sophistry. It’s a time for a fearless, tireless commitment to countering the lies of the world with redemptive truth.
“We have the responsibility of proclaiming the most jarring message that’s ever been proclaimed — and it not only cost Jesus his life, it cost all the Apostles their lives, as well, and all the other Christians in the early church who were being slaughtered and martyred,” he said. “It wasn’t that they were offensive people. It was that they were traveling around telling everybody that there was only one redeemer, and it was Jesus Christ, and if you didn’t put your trust in him, you were going to hell.”
People will come to churches that preach that message unashamedly, said MacArthur. They will come because of this “strong desire to find out is the Gospel true — and what else is true.”