San Jose Church Takes a Stand

San Jose Church Takes a Stand
San Jose Church Takes a Stand

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San Jose Calvary Chapel Takes a Stand

Story by Christmas Beeler

Although the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday overruled California’s ban on church services and in-home Bible studies, hundreds of churches there still face restrictions of 25% attendance caps. In fact, one county tried unsuccessfully to keep their 1,000+ churches closed.

“Our freedom of worship is at stake, and to lose that most important right means we will lose the First Amendment—and all our other rights will then fall like dominoes,” said Pastor Mike McClure of Calvary Christian Fellowship (CCF) in San Jose, CA. Pastor Mike is among numerous pastors nationwide fighting for the right to minister to God’s people in their houses of worship.

Churches in his state have seen a fierce battle over the past year. In California, Governor Gavin Newsom’s July order prohibited all indoor religious gatherings, even in private homes. Churches and religious groups fought this blanket denial of their religious rights—including Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena and South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista which filed cases with the Supreme Court. In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court on Friday ruled that California churches may now meet, allowing attendance caps to start at 25% capacity and not removing singing bans. Many churches celebrated by reopening Sunday.

Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, Santa Clara County health officials quickly ordered the county’s 1,000+ churches to keep their doors closed—including Pastor Mike McClure’s church, which has repeatedly come under fire for holding services. Monday night, a U.S. district court judge temporarily blocked Santa Clara’s ban on indoor worship services. In response, the county issued a statement that indoor worship services could resume at 20% of normal capacity. Whether Santa Clara County has the right to enforce a stricter cap than the rest of the state remains to be seen. Officials there had fined CCF San Jose and other churches up to $5,000 per service, totaling $2 million for CCF. Even churches who have met outdoors have been fined, contended Mike. He stated, “Either we open the doors and have church and obey God, or we close the doors.” No matter what the cost, he said, “It’s more important that a person’s soul be saved than anything else.”

Though the legal tug of war continues, God is working in the midst, drawing those desperate for hope and answers to Christ. At CCF San Jose, Pastor Mike said, “In the last two months, we have had over 100 baptisms.”

Mike recounted, “People ask me why I’m doing this. First of all, I’m a pastor. That’s my calling from God. As a shepherd, you don’t abandon your sheep for months on end. Second, it’s commanded in Scripture.” He cited Hebrews 10:25, which says, 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. “Lastly, because of the blessings that come from it. We are seeing a revival,” Mike reported of his Calvary. “We are seeing between 5-25 people give their hearts to Christ every week.”

Souls Hungry for Hope

Despite statewide lockdowns, Pastor Mike felt led by the Lord to resume church services last spring for the community reeling from isolation, fear, and uncertainty. Local news reports identified considerable increases in suicide-hotline calls, domestic violence arrests, and other signs of pandemic distress. When the doors opened at Calvary, hundreds came—from Mike’s congregation, area churches, the unchurched community, and neighboring counties.

“I can’t tell you how many people have told me they would not have survived without church. People are looking for hope,” Mike said, “and we have the source of hope—Jesus Christ. We have the answer to what the world needs, the antidote for all the problems: the salvation that Christ gives us. We are the light of the world because we have His love and grace.”

Mike recounted the Apostle Paul’s words: But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24).

“That’s what the world needs right now—the Gospel of grace. The world is so ready for it, hoping every day that there is some answer to life’s problems, and Christ is the answer. Many, many have come to Christ over these months. And from other churches who are open here in California, I’m hearing the same things—people weeping, expressing gratitude, responding to the Gospel,” Mike related.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. 1 Peter 1:3

Battles in Court

On January 28, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Peter Kirwan had found Pastor Mike and Youth Pastor Carson Atherley in contempt of court. The judge had suspended personal fees—about $30,000 apiece—provided a Social Distancing Plan would be submitted to the county by Feb. 19 and the church comply in the future.

Since May, CCF San Jose has been holding church services for up to 600 people in a building that seats approximately 2,000. “We are determining this week what our full capacity is so that we can comply with the 25% attendance cap in good faith,” Mike said Monday, hopeful that county officials will be reasonable. He would like to cooperate with the county while also obeying the Lord’s directive to preach the Gospel and care for the flock.

In the January hearing, Mike told Judge Kirwan, “The Church is salt and light. We shine forth the Gospel. At the same time, we are here to hold the county accountable. Not only do I have a constitutional right, but I also have a responsibility before God.”

From the human perspective, Mike admitted, “It doesn’t look good for us—$2 million in fines, and the county has already threatened to take our property. We don’t know what’s going to happen. But we are praying and trusting the Lord. We are trying to get the case into state or federal court.” On a positive note, Mike said, the judge in January declared that he had no interest in jailing either of the Calvary pastors. “We told the judge that we and churches all across the country are praying that God would give him wisdom.”

Resisting a Strategic Attack

During this prolonged spiritual battle, Mike has observed multiple tactics of the enemy. Speaking of his own court case, Mike added, “I think the strategy of our spiritual enemy at this point is just to wear us down.” He cited Daniel 7:25, in which a wicked ruler “shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws” (KJV).

Speaking of the Church in general, Mike noted, “The enemy wants to divide us, as in the Book of Nehemiah, in order to stop God’s work. In that account, we see several strategies: to wear out Nehemiah with constant interruption; to bring ‘friendly’ distraction by saying, ‘Come away and meet with us;’ threatening to tell the king that the Hebrews weren’t going to pay tribute; temptations to pride; fear; to hide in the Temple. It was just constant attacks; and so the enemy tries to wear us down. But we must not stop the work. I know we can grow weary in well doing, but we must not stop. We are not to isolate ourselves but to stay in fellowship.”

And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith. Galatians 6:9,10

Fear and division are old strategies. “All of these mandates are tyranny masquerading as safety. We can fall into that and become fearful. The enemy tries to divide us, to turn us against other churches. But I won’t speak out against other churches. That’s what was done in Nazi Germany to the churches that didn’t comply. But if all the churches had continued to preach the Gospel in Germany, I wonder if Hitler would have had any power.”

Pastors: Watch over the Flock

In these uncertain times, Pastor Mike believes in Christ’s imminent return. “Persecution of the Church has already begun,” Mike observed. “We are to preach the whole counsel of Scripture. We need to prepare people for what is coming—not just what is going to happen to us as pastors, but to the people in our churches.”

Since the U.S. Constitution protects the freedom of religion in our country, Mike said, “The Church should be encouraged to stand right now. I encourage every church to open up because if you don’t open up now, you may never open again.” He added, “If we don’t hold our government officials accountable, no one will.”

Just as many Americans are ignorant about the founding principles of religious freedom, many Christians are ignorant of God’s Word. “People don’t know their Bibles, so they don’t know what to do. They can’t discern God’s voice. But Calvary Chapel has done that so well. God used Pastor Chuck to prepare us for such a time as this—to simply teach the Word, so that we know the Word and can discern His voice.”

[Jesus] said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved … And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.” John 21:17

“That’s what Jesus asked Peter to do, to feed His sheep and tend His lambs. That’s what we pastors are to do as shepherds,” Mike explained. “We can’t shepherd through Zoom. That’s merely teaching. Pastoring is tending, leading, helping the sheep—meeting their needs, going to where they are, and helping them with whatever they are going through.”

To that end, he said, “We need to continue to meet daily, weekly—otherwise, people are going to get lost and go astray like sheep. If the Lord is not your Shepherd, then your shepherd is going to be the media—most of which is going to mislead you.”

For the past year, many pastors have had to make tough decisions about obeying government and considering the good of the Church. Asked how to find the balance, Pastor Mike advised, “You can’t violate your conscience or go against God’s Word. If the government or anyone is trying to get you to go against those two things, that’s how you’ll know.”

He added, “As pastors, more than ever we need to be in prayer, seeking the Lord, and stepping out in faith. Fear is contagious—but so is courage and faith. I’m so encouraged by other pastors who are standing up for the Gospel. I thank God for the Calvary Chapel family of believers.”

The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD shall be safe. Proverbs 29:25

Mike added, “Heaven and hell, life and death—that’s what is at stake here. Everyone will stand before God, and our job is to preach the Gospel and share the Good News. We need to be obedient to God and trust Him with the outcome.”

 

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

© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. 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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