How John MacArthur Inspired a Church Gathering in Ibadan
By: Deji Yesufu
In our world today, we talk about the “new normal”. It is a reference to how COVID-19 has changed the way and manner we do things today. What is almost certain is that because of this pandemic, things will never be the same again in our world. One of the few institutions in the world that has been most affected by the pandemic has been the Christian Church. There have been varied responses to the pandemic among Christians. Some are of the opinion that Christians should continue to observe the lockdown instituted by various governments and thus continue to shut the doors of churches. Other congregations have been bolder; they have simply continued church in spite of the pandemic.
In the USA, the responses to the pandemic have been varied. Pastor John MacArthur, minister at Grace Community Church, Los-Angeles, California, and his Church appear to have taken a middle line to the issue. When the pandemic started and most people were not sure what it was all about, Grace Community Church, observed the lockdown advised by the government. In fact going by Pastor MacArthur’s words, they observed this lockdown for twenty weeks. Afterwards, the church took the decision to open up and to encourage people to return to church. In fact, before doing this quite a number of parishioners had begun to return to church.
Perhaps observing all these, the Governor of California, Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, made the pronunciation that churches were still to remain closed. And where they may need to open, the people were to observe various guidelines which included not singing and not using wind instrument – so that the Coronavirus does not spread among people. In response to that directive, Pastor MacArthur wrote a blog article stating that the church he pastors would obey God rather than Caesar. He then declared, in a clear case of civil disobedience, that Grace Community Church shall be opening henceforth and there would be no restriction in people’s bid to worship God on the church campus.
I shared this article on my social media outlets and sent it to friends on my WhatsApp list. A friend, Olawale Ojo, read this article and his response was that he agreed wholeheartedly with the pastor’s position. Brother Wale and I attend the Chapel of the Resurrection, University of Ibadan. Although Oyo State, for which Ibadan is the capital, had observed lockdown for worship centers for a few weeks, the ban had been lifted over a month ago. Yet, the Chapel had still not opened. Understandably the University Chapel has quite a number of persons who are elderly and for health reasons there has been a lot of reluctance to gather again. Olawale Ojo and I have worked together in an outreach effort to University of Ibadan students in the past one year. Unfortunately, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, we have had to call off those efforts for the past five months. In our outreach to the students, we would gather together in a rented hall and have Bible Studies. Brother Wale explained to me that if the Chapel would not open, we could begin to have our own gatherings. To match his words with action, he opened his home to us to hold a Sunday worship service yesterday.
There is the position that some have taken that the matter of churches opening in these times of the Coronavirus is one that should be left to the judgement of individual elders of each church. I agree with this position absolutely. God alone knows the health condition of people in each church gathering and it will be tantamount to presumption to impose one’s position on all churches and conclude that those churches that do not take this position have sinned against God. But…
There is also the crucial matter of trying times revealing the nature of the faith of many. Many churches in most parts of the world have enjoyed considerable period of peace such that we know about nothing of what it means to be a Christian in times of trouble or war. When we read in scriptures that trying times will come on the church and the faith of many will fail in the end time, very few of us would have imagined that what would try our faith would be a germ or a virus. And with the threat that we may contract Coronavirus and die, many of us do not think that commands like “…do not neglect meeting together…” (Hebrew 10:25) is worth obeying anymore. Perhaps if I remind us that these times are trying times, like times of war, we would realize that the way we respond to the times is somewhat a reflection of our faith and that self-preservation is not anything different from those whom the Lord warned against saving their lives and in the process losing it (Matthew 16:15).
During the Second World War, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was senior pastor at the Westminster Chapel, London. The natural thing that the good doctor and his congregation should have done in those days when the war was hottest was to shut down the doors of the church and head home, until it pleased God to defeat the enemies of the British people and restore peace. Not the medically trained Welsh doctor – who at this time had renounced medical practice to pursue a lifetime in Christian ministry. Lloyd-Jones, many years after the war, explained that as he communed with God in those days of war, the Lord gave him a certain conviction that not a single bomb will fall on the meeting place where the people gathered for fellowship. With firm faith in God’s witness to his heart, the doctor continued to meet. One day, a bomb was dropped close by and it hit a building next to the church. The building of the Westminster Chapel was rocked to its foundation and glasses were shattered but the building itself was not affected. Lloyd-Jones and his parishioners met throughout the war, trusting God to keep them safe from the violence of the time. God kept that congregation through the war and their building was preserved throughout.
Coronavirus is a violence unleashed on the nations of the earth and God is not unaware of it. At the same time, God’s commands his people to meet on the day that Christ rose from the dead – Sunday or the Lord’s Day. I would conjecture that internet Zoom meeting are not included in these options. Christians must reconcile the realities of the times that show us clearly the violence of a germ killing men and a firm faith in God that the Almighty has determined the number that shall perish with this pandemic; and even if Christians were to be numbered in these, they are still a people with eternal hope in God. We are still pilgrims on the earth; heaven remains our home. And while we are not fatalist, opening ourselves to careless deaths; we are also certain that if death comes on the path of obeying God, we will be all too pleased to go home to be with the Lord. Again, the test of the times is essentially a test of our faith in God.
My pastoral training at the Institute of Pastoral and Theological Training, Egbe, Kogi State, has essentially ended with the submitting of my final thesis a few weeks back. One of the courses that I enjoyed the most in our live classes was when my teacher, Pastor Nick Kennicot, taught us “order of service” under Biblical Ecclesiology. Pastor Nick told us that from the “call to worship” to the “benediction”, God’s people must regard themselves as before the face of God (coram deo). Thus in a reverential submission to God, we cannot do anything in a Sunday morning worship service that is not expressly commanded in scriptures. Reformed folks call this the regulative principle of worship.
It was a delight to have four adults and two children observe this kind of worship at Bro. Olawale’s home in Sango, Ibadan, Oyo State yesterday. I suspect greatly that our worship this last Sunday is the first strictly reformed Christian worship ever in the city of Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria. We thank the Lord Jesus Christ for making this gathering possible. We also wish to thank Pastor John MacArthur and the Grace Community Church, Los Angeles, for challenging our faith and inspiring our gathering. We trust God that we would continue to meet like this every Sunday until the lockdown on our church is called off. Afterwards, the Lord who guided us on this path will show us the path to take next.
Soli Deo Gloria.
[…] bold stand for the truth, and his encouraging Christians to return to physical gathering, that led to our beginning to meet. That gathering is today a church plant in the city of Ibadan, Nigeria. MacArthur’s preaching has […]