9Marks Misses the Mark: Dever vs MacArthur

Every article, podcast, sermon, and blog are written for a reason. The author is attempting to do something with that short moment in time that they have your attention. They are calling you to some sort of action even if that action is restricted to how you think. Recently, John MacArthur announced that his church will return to traditional gatherings. The elders at GCC reached the decision that the short suspension of church attendance due to COVID-19 had run its course. Despite the state’s orders to remain closed, Grace will has decided to resume traditional worship services. The blog was an announcement and very likely an encouragement to others to do the same. Typically, Christians support one another during times like these. But not Mark Dever’s 9Marks. Despite all that John MacArthur has done over the years for the body of Christ, and despite the obvious hostility growing in our government toward Christianity, Dever unleashed his own bulldog to go after GCC and essentially, siding with a government that despises Christian values. Odd? Indeed!

Jonathan Leeman at 9Marks released an article criticizing MacArthur’s move. Leeman’s goal appears at the very beginning of the article: “Before your church follows John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church and begins to gather in defiance of governmental orders this Sunday, hold on! Stop and think with me for a moment.” Leeman wants to minimize any sort of “opposition movement” on the part of churches to defy orders from the government. Leeman’s article is like a man who kisses his wife one minute, telling her how wonderful she is only to then turn around and beat her because dinner was late. Initially, he tells us that this is a Romans 14 issue. But then he sets in on why MacArthur is wrong. Disingenuous platitudes from men who claim to be God’s men couldn’t be more unbecoming. Leeman offers four objections to the GCC decision.

Leeman’s first suggestion other than continue meeting in a tent is that MacArthur’s church could just essentially break apart into multiple churches. Leeman is actually suggesting that the elders might just consider eliminating GTY ministries? To be honest, I find this suggestion beyond reasonable consideration. Do we really dismantle ministries as essential to the body of Christ as Grace To You? Such a suggestion is hard to take seriously. Leeman has obviously not considered the significance of GCC and the role it places in GTY ministries. You see, GTY ministries along with The Masters’ University revolve around the church and that is exactly how it should be. Leeman is part of the SBC elite and is on the inner circle of the political machine of that confused and poorly led organization.

Second, Leeman says, Christians have a long history of working hard to accommodate government restrictions. This is true. And it must always be the Church that decides which restrictions are reasonable and which ones are not. That is the whole point of the constitution that congress will pass no laws restricting the free exercise of religion. The authority for ecclesiastical matters is the local elders of the church faithfully applying the sacred text, not the state. Leeman seems to miss that point. If Leeman really believed that GCC has the right to make this decision based on conscience, he wouldn’t be writing to convince others that its wrong or misguided. The truth is that GCC and many other churches have attempted to accommodate the government even though they have never been obligated to do so in the way they have. Leeman uses analogies from WWII and communist China, neither of which apply to our current situation. These are called “false analogies” and you should dismiss them for what they are: faulty logic.

Leeman’s third objection is radically subjective. Maybe, Leeman says, COVID isn’t the right issue for civil disobedience after all. With the LGBTQ issues coming hard and fast, there will be plenty of chances for the church to disobey government mandates. That’s like saying that we should wait until the enemy has us completely surrounded before we fire a shot. By then, it will be too late. At best, Leeman’s objection is naïve and at worse, it is reckless and irresponsible. Compromising on issues that are considered small and then standing on issues that are big is a very bad strategy. The government always starts taking small liberties away and then progresses to the bigger ones. And once it has momentum on its side, it’s nearly impossible to reverse course. Moreover, I don’t think suspending church gatherings for a year or longer is a small matter. It might be to someone like Leeman, but it isn’t to most of us who hold a high view of traditional worship.

Leeman admits that his fourth objection is wonky. And I have to say that I finally found something we agree on. Leeman argues that even the authority of parents is limited in areas of discipline to protect from abuse. He goes on to say that the church obeys restrictions on building codes and fire codes and that all these things restrict worship in some way. But do they restrict worship in any kind of material or substantive way? No, they do not. The family is the final authority over their children. This means dad is the one who will be responsible for the decisions about which activities the family will engage in and which ones it won’t, not the state. I am responsible for my own personal health and safety in regards to things like COVID. The government is responsible for policing the criminals. And if you evaluate the job their doing, they are getting a big fat F on that front.

Leeman says, “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.” I searched for articles condemning the civil disobedience taking place since the George Floyd incident and could not find anything. Has Leeman and Dever spoken out against the protests and the riots and the violence? Have they condemned Black Lives Matter? Have they cursed Antifa as they should for its godlessness? I can’t see much, if any, criticism and godly counsel coming from these quarters over the past three months. But let someone like John MacArthur and his men decide to return to traditional worship and somehow, it merits a public criticism. It seems to me that the same double-standard that exists in the world exists in the churches.

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