Standing Firm Under Fire: Part 1

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Standing Firm Under Fire: Part 1

California Calvary Protests County’s Intrusive Penalties, $3M Fines
A three-part series on how one case offers an eye-opening view of the government and Christian persecution in America

Story by Christmas Beeler
Photos by Josh Larson

Pastor Mike McClure continues to resist Santa Clara County’s ongoing pressure to shut his doors at Calvary Christian Fellowship of San Jose, CA. The church’s amendment to the lawsuit last week (October 6) will allow attorneys to seek the reason behind individual county officials’ persistent pursuit of CCF San Jose despite multiple rulings from the Supreme Court prohibiting the State of California and its counties from shuttering churches or singling them out for punishment.

Follow this series at… Part 2: California Calvary Chapel’s Long Battle Continues. Part 3: Big Tech, the Spirit of Antichrist, and Christian Persecution in America.

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Mike McClure, senior pastor of Calvary Christian Fellowship (CCF) of San Jose, CA, teaches recently at his church. He and his congregation have faced persistent legal pressure and threats from Santa Clara County officials to close or impose strict social distancing requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Moment of Truth

Pastor Mike McClure sat in the courtroom holding his Bible and awaiting his turn to testify. Soon he would explain to the judge why he was keeping his church’s doors open during a statewide lockdown. The global pandemic had caused fear, isolation, anxiety, and depression for hundreds of thousands of people around the world. In Santa Clara County, CA—part of Silicon Valley, home of the technology giants—people had been in quarantine and lockdown for months. The isolation and oppression seemed to cover the land like darkness; people weren’t even allowed to invite anyone over for home Bible studies or Thanksgiving dinner.

But Mike had felt a deep conviction from God to continue ministry at Calvary Christian Fellowship of San Jose. He knew people were suffering. Suicide rates were climbing in Santa Clara—with thousands of calls to the local suicide hotline going unanswered. Mike hated to think of hurting people reaching out for help in their darkest hour, only to be met with silence. He would have gladly spoken to them, offered them the true hope of the Gospel. Yet here he sat in a courtroom, summoned like a criminal, for fulfilling God’s call to spiritually care for people. His critics had said Mike should stick to broadcasting his sermons over the internet and leave his flock to stay at home.

Lord, am I wrong? Mike prayed silently, What do You say? He looked down at his Bible, the source of truth that had led him all his life. Turning to Hebrews, he read:

And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as  is  the manner of some, but exhorting  one another,  and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.  Hebrews 10:24-25

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Many attended services at CCF throughout the year-long COVID-19 lockdown in San Jose—and continue to do so. Pastor Mike felt a deep conviction from God to continue ministry, despite persecution, because he knew Santa Clara County residents were suffering and needed the help that only comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ.

He focused on the words, feeling the Holy Spirit confirm that they were for him right now: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together. What he had already heard from God was confirmed again: Believers were called to assemble, to gather in person. It was God’s way, His command. As is the manner of some—this was interesting, as he had studied the word manner and knew that it meant a human custom or ordinance. So, despite the county’s and state’s indefinite “shelter at home” orders—Christians were not to stop meeting together; rather, they were to keep exhorting one another, so much the more as the Day of Christ’s return approaches.

Mike thanked the Lord for the specific instruction of His holy Word. Looking around the courtroom, he thought of the charges against him—how the county had already tried to take away his church by putting pressure on their mortgage bank. That had caused him some anxiety, as he had witnessed how desperately people needed a place to come and worship. God had brought hundreds of new faces over the past months, people hungry for hope and truth. Week after week, souls were being saved and people getting baptized. He was so thankful that the Lord had brought Advocates for Faith and Freedom to partner with them in the legal battle.

The CCF worship team helps to bring attendees to the throne room of the Lord.

With thousands of dollars in fines accumulating every week, the stakes were getting higher. There was even talk of arresting him. He had warned his congregation that they may even face fines or arrest, yet they continued to come—some bringing extra clothes in case they got arrested. Mike thought of his wife and family. What was God’s perspective on all of this? He sensed God’s leading to read on:

Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise:

“For  yet a little while,
And  He  who is coming will come and will not  tarry.

Now  the  just shall live by faith;
But if  anyone  draws back,
My soul has no pleasure in him.”

But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul. Hebrews 10:35-39

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Mike (left) and Carson Atherly (far right), assistant pastor/young adults, minister to people after a recent service. Since the pandemic, large numbers of people have been saved weekly and are getting baptized.

Confidence. Endurance. Believe. Pastor Mike sensed deep in his spirit that the Lord was calling him to continue to trust Him, not to turn back but to keep living by faith no matter the cost, the threats, the fines, or the pressures of the world. His heavenly calling remained the same: to preach the Gospel and to tend the sheep. With a renewed sense of peace and purpose, he faced the judge and his accusers.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who  can be  against  us?  Romans 8:31

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Jason Zbyszinski (second from left), administrative pastor/facility, enjoys talking and laughing with attendees after a service.

Souls Reborn, Strengthened

Undaunted despite the epic legal battle, last week Pastor Mike testified: “We have baptized over 400 people in the last few months, a lot of new believers. … Every week we have many people come to Christ; they recognize this is what they need because in the world there is no hope or truth. That’s all found in Christ.” In fact, he added, “Some people have received Christ because of the publicity; they heard we were open and came to hear the Good News.”

Many older or conservative Americans in the San Jose area have come to the fellowship to show their support against the prolonged, unfair treatment of the church. Mike noted, “Those are the freedom fighters who show up; they want to come and stand with us. Then they hear the Gospel. … [We’ve also seen] a lot of people who know something is wrong, so they come and hear the truth for the first time, and they are so thankful.” Every time he holds a church service, multiple people in the congregation express their gratitude—some even weeping—for a place to come worship God and hear the Word.

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The stakes for staying open have been high—the church has been fined nearly $2.8 million by Santa Clara County. Mike keenly feels his responsibility as a pastor to keep the doors open; he believes he has that right, both constitutionally and before God.

Mike keenly feels his responsibility as a pastor to keep the doors open, and believes he has the legal right to do so. “Not only do we have the Constitution and Bill of Rights on our side—more importantly, we have an obligation before God to minister to the needs of the people,” he affirmed. “We’re seeing such devastation. A year ago in October, the county had 14,000 missed calls on their suicide hotline. Why not let the church answer those? Why not let us help the hurting? But they don’t want our help,” he concluded. “They want to take away all of our rights.” So the church is fighting back—peaceably and legally—in its amended lawsuit.

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Mike (right) answers questions after a service, something he’s done throughout the COVID-19 lockdown.

Fighting for Their Right to Worship

In the most recent development, Pastor Mike and another San Jose pastor are suing Santa Clara County Attorney James Williams for unlawful retaliation against their churches. Throughout his career, Williams has led or partnered in many court cases against conservative groups on topics such as abortion, LGBT+ issues, illegal immigration, and church services.

CCF San Jose’s 28-page complaint filed September 30 with the Northern District Court of San Jose outlines how the county’s unconstitutional restrictions impede worship services: “Social distancing rules hinder congregants’ ability to pray for one another, lay hands on one another, and partake of holy communion. Several congregants have also expressed to Pastor McClure they felt intimidated by the County enforcement officers’ persistent surveillance of church services. Some congregants even believed the County was going to order the police to arrest them for attending church.”

From a spiritual perspective, Mike has seen his flock grow in their faith under the continued persecution. “The people in our church have counted the cost. They are so glad that they have decided to follow Christ, so glad to have a God who loves them. They have a faith that has replaced their fear,” he said, citing 2 Timothy 1:7, For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. “There was so much fear, yet God has not given us fear but His power, His love, and a sound mind. Every week I see their joy, their soundness of mind. That’s worth everything. For me, if I should get arrested or go to jail, I wouldn’t change a thing because of the people who have been touched.”

calvarysj.org

                  

Follow this series at… Part 2: California Calvary Chapel’s Long Battle Continues. Part 3: Big Tech, the Spirit of Antichrist, and Christian Persecution in America.

                  

 

All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.

© 2021 Calvary Chapel Magazine (CCM). All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.

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