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The Courageous Example of John MacArthur

It’s been impossible for me to miss the controversy that’s been brewing in Southern California between Governor Gavin Newsom and Sun Valley’s Grace Community Church as led by their pastor-teacher, John MacArthur.

As a former member of Grace (and custodian), and graduate of The Master’s Seminary, it’s been interesting for me to consider his recent refusal to comply with the governor’s unconstitutional (and therefore, illegal) order against gatherings in places of worship. His boldness and courage are a stark contrast to the myriad of evangelical leaders who kneeled at the feet of the social justice mob just a couple short months prior and are criticizing him for taking a stand on the lordship of Jesus over human government.

This entire situation has me curiously pondering: What is it that makes a “John MacArthur?” What keeps him from the mad rush to find the middle ground on every issue? What has caused him to take stand after stand over the past fifty years yet remain unmoved because “the Bible says so?” I remember him saying once that he’s never once cared about what people are going to think about him—how’s that even possible?

Examples in the Past

As I consider these questions, I am reminded of church history class and the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (1978). A beloved college professor of mine made us memorize paragraphs from that statement.  After he died in 2002, his wife gave me his audiocassettes of that council.  The names on those tapes are a “who’s who” of the glory days of 20th-century evangelicalism—men like J.I. Packer, Norman Geisler, Gleason Archer, Edwin Yamauchi, John Gerstner, R.C. Sproul, James Montgomery Boice, Francis Shaeffer, and almost 300 others.  Many of the signatories were giants in the church of their day.

As one of those who signed it, John MacArthur (at that time, a 39-year-old pastor) is in their rarified air. He is one of the last men standing of a fading generation who knew the truth, loved the truth, defended the truth, and were not at all afraid to contend for it either.

His life has made me wonder: Who is alive today that will take his place in evangelicalism? At over 80 years old, who will fill the leadership vacuum when he’s taken to heaven? Where are the leaders who are ready and happy to take the social media mob head-on, both inside and outside of the church, and refuse to back down? They do not exist, as far as I know. He is the last of a dying breed I’m sure many are happy to see go, but I’m terrified to lose. Far too many of our 21st century evangelical leaders are better at being politicians or motivational speakers than they are at being warriors, and this is at a cultural moment when we have a desperate need for warriors.

This, again, causes me to ask, why? I think it’s because those men grew up in an era before relativism had the cultural dominance it does now. They lived in a world where right was right, wrong was wrong, the truth was the truth, lies were lies, and sin was sin. These faithful men saw it on the horizon and warned Christians against its potential to undermine every single thing evangelicals believe.

Emptiness in the Present

That is not our world at all.  Evil is good; good is evil (Isa 5:20). Nothing is right or wrong except what our politically correct masters tell us is. The intent of an author is impossible to determine. Power is oppressive. Feelings determine our decisions. Truth is not objective; it is merely a personal or societal construct. Lies and hypocrisy are useful tools that help advance one’s agenda. The ends justify the means. In the church, we baptized the fear of man (also known as co-dependency or peer-pressure) and turned it into a ministry philosophy, assuming that, “If the non-Christian world likes us—thinks we’re helpful, cool and relevant—they’ll like Jesus too.”

Everything leftover is considered “gray area,” as if non-essential doctrines for salvation mean “unimportant” for the faithfulness and courage of a church leader. Where conviction was once found, we now found deflecting or straw-man sentiments like:

  • “There are good people on all sides.”
  • “They may be in error but they are such a nice person.”
  • “I want to be known by what I am for, not against.”
  • “It must be nice to have all the answers.”
  • “My truth is my truth. Your truth is your truth.”
  • “The Pharisees were good at pointing things out too.”

This is the cultural air that I’ve breathed since I was born.  Most adults my age (43) and younger consider relativism “just the way it is.”  As Allan Bloom once said, denying it is like trying to convince people that 2 + 2 isn’t 4 (which was embarrassingly attempted recently).

Emasculation in the Future

In a culture where relativism reigns, a culture without reality, without truth, without right and wrong answers, pastors will have a hard time going beyond, “Well, there are 4 views on that.”  Without doing the hard work of determining which views best match the Bible through exegesis and logical argumentation, pastors simply do not have the tools to do what MacArthur’s doing now. Instead, they’ve become convinced that the only stand they should take is not taking a stand (unless it’s a stand the culture approves of) and standing against anyone who does. So, I predict we’ll see more and more Christian leaders cave to the culture, call it heroic, get affirmation from their cheering section for being relevant or shrewd or loving or reasonable, all while assuring their deadened consciences that they’ll take a stand when it “really matters.”

No, they won’t! This is wishful thinking at best and self-delusion at worst for one overwhelming reason: John MacArthur can do what he’s doing because he has convictions, but relativism makes convictions impossible. In a world where there is no truth, there’s nothing to take a stand on. Oh, people will have convictions—don’t get me wrong—but instead of coming from the truth (John 17:17), they will come uncritically from their upbringing, a hierarchy they trust, heroes they admire, or the cultural overlords who are all too ready to choose their convictions for them.

Without convictions that are well thought out and deeply rooted in the bedrock of Scripture, pastors cannot have courage. We’ll never have the bravery we’re seeing in John MacArthur. Truth leads to convictions and convictions produce courage. Without convictions, the church will continue to be led by “men without chests” (C.S. Lewis) who genuflect before the mob, who won’t have the fortitude needed to stand in these dark days, but who will feign courage by passionately criticizing nobody but those who have it. Wavering and weak, many will seek to insulate themselves from ever being a target of the world’s hatred, something Jesus told His followers to expect and embrace (John 15:18-20). In Christ’s mind, it seems that we have a choice to make: we can be faithful or popular.  All of us, sooner or later, will be forced to choose and we can only choose one!

In the end, you may not agree with John MacArthur, but he doesn’t care, and neither should you. What you should be asking about John MacArthur is not, “Do I agree with what he’s doing?” Instead ask, “Will I have his courage when it’s my turn to stand?” Courage is the lesson young pastors (and a ton of older ones) should be learning from John MacArthur right now. Thank God for him.

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Jon Benzinger (@jonbenz) is the Lead Pastor at Redeemer Bible Church in Gilbert, Arizona (@rbcgilbert). He has a passion for teaching God’s word and has been doing so in both the local church and academia for nearly twenty years. He lives with his wife and three children in Queen Creek, Arizona.

Navigating Different COVID-19 Convictions

If there is one word to describe how we must navigate re-gathering amid COVID-19, it’s this: grace. 

A friend of mine who happens to be the Vice President of a prominent seminary and no stranger to the challenges in leadership recently tweeted words that accurately predict the current (and coming) landscape in homes, families, and friendships.

Charles Smith wrote: “Prediction: one of the most challenging aspects of the #COVID19 recovery will be disagreements over acceptable post-COVID social norms between friends and family. Hurt feelings will abound if we’re not careful. Extend lots of grace. Everyone is different.”

He couldn’t be more right. This reality is especially going to hit hard for pastors — starting with the dynamic between staff and leadership teams.

I believe one of the ways that the enemy will seek to divide our ranks within the church is by tempting us to use our opinions against each other. If the Devil has his way, we’ll be throwing stones of accusation from all sides, calling the cautious people “soft,” labeling the optimists of being “reckless.” More than that, the enemy especially loves when we cement ourselves in political corners; adding opinionated fuel to the already tumultuous fire of conflict.

Things can get ugly — very quickly.

This is a new frontier of ministry for an entire generation of leaders. We must recognize the challenges and begin to determine how we will face COVID recovery before it erodes valuable relationships.

Navigating our varying COVID convictions is a non-negotiable for any leader who desires not only a physically healthy organization, but an emotionally healthy one too.

We’re Going to Be Different

The pastoral staff I am a part of is one example of taking differing approaches to COVID quarantine and ministry, and that’s okay. Our different approaches have even become helpful because we can diversify our ministry efforts like different members of the body should (1 Corinthians 12:12). Further, we are sharpened in our ability to love one another regardless of unique circumstances. One of our pastors has vulnerable family members and works exclusively from home. One had a baby during the crisis and needed others to carry the added load while he went on paternity leave. Another can serve more openly in the community right now, while another endured unexpected back surgery and is mostly bound to bed during recovery time. It takes a great deal of sensitivity and understanding to navigate how each member of our team is approaching the scenario. It will continue to require such understanding as we approach re-gathering with friends, family, and our church. The reality is, we are all a unique blend of experiences, vulnerabilities, preferences, tendencies, and talents.

Perhaps you relate to one or more aspects of the following COVID-19 profiles:

Cautious: Those who primarily work from home, follow every aspect of CDC regulations, and prefer to stay conservative about their re-gathering plan.

Confident: Those who don’t wear a mask, spend greater amounts of time with people outside their home and don’t mind tight proximity, obey the law but don’t necessarily worry much about going the extra-mile with precautions, lean towards re-gathering now regardless of the news, and some think this crisis may be blown way out of proportion.

“Cauti-dent”: Those who find themselves doing and feeling a little bit of everything in both the cautious and the confident profile.

There are certainly a few more profiles that could be added here, including those who have strong opinions about churches holding services online instead of gathering physically, obedience to government instructions, and conspiracy theories about numerous aspects of the crisis, but those views do not necessarily help us navigate re-gathering.

It’s Okay to Be Different

The temptation is to look at these profiles and let your opinion dominate your perspective.

For highly confident optimists, others are much too conservative. Perhaps, some would even accuse others of living by fear and not faith — which can be true of all of us at times.

For cautious types, confident optimists may be too relaxed as the “what ifs” begin to creep into their minds. They think, what do we gain by re-gathering so quickly? Isn’t it better to be safe than sorry?

As the spiral of opinion leads you downward, you must formulate a game plan that takes you upward. It’s okay to be different! To have a healthy family, a healthy team, and a healthy church there must room for different opinions and experiences. These differences often stretch us and help us grow together and learn from each other. We need to respect one another and realize that everyoneis navigating a new frontier.

A healthy relational ecosystem allows for “different,” and even leverages it to help us make decisions.

Attitude Determines Altitude​

You may have a healthy culture in your church, organization, or family. Conversely, you may be seeing tension rising and anticipate this issue being a major challenge. Whatever the case, your attitude is going to determine your altitude. In other words, whether or not you lead yourself and others above the fray and towards a higher perspective depends on attitude.

Here are 4 attitudes for COVID-19 re-gathering that will strengthen your ability to navigate differing views and approaches:

1. Optimistic people are a blessing to my life. It keeps me hopeful about the future and enables me to embrace uncertainty as opportunity.

2. Cautious people are a blessing to my life. It keeps me sensitive to the needs and concerns of others and enables me to make prudent decisions.

3. Different gifts and approaches make us all more effective. Pride demands that everyone do things the way we demand. Read 1 Corinthians 12 and celebrate different gifts.

4. People matter more than my opinion. Being in healthy relationships with people is a privilege that requires me to love others above myself. When I am highly opinionated, I can needlessly hurt others.

Choose Love

In the end, these attitudes prepare our hearts and minds to do one thing above all else: choose love. Preserving valuable relationships and developing healthy teams, churches, and families is more important than winning arguments, or being (more) right.

Look, when this crisis begins to wind down, there will be plenty of people who got some things right, and plenty of people who got some things wrong. There will be those who blew things out of proportion, and those who didn’t take things as seriously as they should’ve. Some will take longer to come back to the office, others will rush in (or are already there).

What will it matter if we re-gathering only to end up “socially distant” again not because of a virus, but because of our inability to love others who approach COVID-19 differently than we do?

Choose love.

***This article was originally published by “For the Church” here.