Elders’ Update on Church Services

Updated 7/25/2020

Dear Grace Bible Church Family,

Many of you no doubt have seen the most recent statement from John MacArthur and the elders of Grace Community Church concerning the COVID-19 virus and the church. In light of that statement, we, the elders of Grace Bible Church, felt the need to clarify our position on how we have chosen to handle the COVID-19 dilemma. Remember, the circumstances facing our fellow ministers at Grace Community Church in California are different than those we are facing here in Washington State.

It is important to note that we agree whole-heartedly with the principle that the governing authorities do not have the authority to tell the church what to preach or how to preach it. However, there are times they do have the authority to speak to aspects of our “practice,” i.e., the practical matters of the church as an organization in our society, and in that, we do gladly and thankfully submit and obey on a daily basis. For example, in our building projects we follow the government’s codes and requirements for the safety of those who might have physical limitations. Should the government condemn one of our buildings, we would not defy their orders because they have no authority over the church. The government requests that we report child abuse; to defy such orders because they have no authority over the church would be foolish and potentially harmful to the very people we are charged by God to care for and to shepherd.

And so yes, we agree that the government does not have the authority to govern our ministry in terms of doctrine and even practice for the most part. But there are times when, for the safety and wellbeing of our flock, wisdom dictates that we choose to follow the temporal orders of God’s governing authorities. However, it is important to understand that we do not submit to and obey the governing authorities because of the fear of the law or the force of its sanctions; rather, we submit and obey in this circumstance specifically for the care of our flock.

While we agree that the occurrences of the virus are increasing (as you would expect due to increased testing), it is clear that the death toll is nowhere near where it was predicted to be at this point in time. However, that does not mean the state’s health orders relative to the church are oppressive and that we are being persecuted at present; that time could no doubt come. The current orders for gathering are no different for Muslims, professional musicians, bartenders, athletes, restaurateurs, etc. In fact, the orders for some of these groups are more restrictive than those for the church. We also do not believe the fact that the pandemic fatality rate is not as severe as predicted gives us the grounds to choose not to submit to the current orders put in place for public safety.

It is important to note that the current orders have not prevented us as a church from ministering in any way other than our entire church family not being together in the worship center. Governor Inslee’s orders have not stopped us from preaching the Word of God twice every Sunday; in fact, our potential outreach has increased. The orders have not stopped us from attending our Home Fellowship Group watch parties, nor from attending our all-church Zoom meetings. They have not stopped us from shepherding our people; in fact, it could be said that our shepherding has increased because of the virus. They have not stopped the beginning of a new ministry of prayer and praise for our women, which has started since this pandemic. They have not stopped our edification and encouragement of one another. They have not stopped our preaching, our praying, our outreach, our evangelism, or even our giving. Again, while we long for all of us to be together in person, the orders of the Governor have not prevented us from carrying out the ministry entrusted to us by God.

We continue to pray that this will all come to an end soon and we will be back together worshipping together in person; but until that time, we remind you that we are called to be a submissive people. In the sphere of the church, no government can or will ever hinder our message or our ministry. Understand, were the government to hinder our message or our ministry, such as a prohibition against singing (that Grace Community is facing for example), we would also choose to respectfully disobey that order. Currently, the orders imposed on us, and so many others in our country, make the gathering together in person impractical and potentially divisive, and so we will continue to submit to and obey the government’s orders because that is what we are called to do (Romans 13), and because of the two greatest commandments:

“‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ “This is the great and foremost commandment. “The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

In summation:

Question: Does the state have the authority to govern our doctrine, teaching, or worship, i.e., the spiritual matters of the church?

Answer: No! Absolutely not! In this we stand in solidarity with the Word of God and Grace Community Church.

Question: Does the state have the authority to govern some of the temporal matters the church?

Answer: Yes, we are required by the state, who is ordained by God to set restrictions for the good of the people, to abide by building permits, building codes, fire codes, health and safety codes, occupancy limits, taxes, etc., provided those restrictions do not violate the clear teaching of the Word of God.  

Question: Is it prudent to adhere to the health restrictions for church gatherings?

Answer: We believe that prudence demands that we adhere to the health restrictions for the church at this time.

Grace Bible Church Elders