AUSTIN: Gentlemen, here we are at our Q&A session, and I’m going to provide the Q’s, and Dr. MacArthur will provide the A’s; that much I have figured out. The last two years—let’s start there—the last two years have been a colossal shift for so many, and I wonder if you’ve seen anything like this before. You’ve been at this church 53 years. Is this truly unprecedented, or is it the same thing you’ve been dealing with for decades?
JOHN: No, it is truly unprecedented. And I would even say this: It’s probably been the most energizing, most thrilling, most sanctified fun I’ve had in half a century. I’ve loved every minute of it, every day of it, every week of it—the adventure, the sense of expectation when people came to church and wanted me to help them sort out the world that was changing under their feet, and being able to give biblical answers, and being able to be open and to love people through this thing and take away the fear by just having them show up. And they see me, and I’m not wearing a mask, and the elders aren’t wearing masks, and nobody’s wearing masks, and nobody’s keeping distance, are hugging each other, and everybody’s healthy and happy.
And the Health Department prints that there’s no outbreak of COVID at Grace Church, and this is right in the middle of the beginning of the thing. And they’re fining me every week—a health fine. And then there’s also a fine for contempt of court, and that is a jail sentence for each one and a fine for each one; and they rang that up for over a year every week. And they’re coming after us, but they can’t do anything to stop us meeting. The judge who took our case twelve times, this judge—this gentleman who’s a judge is married to a man, so he’s really not like, a fan of our view of things. But he keeps stopping the county and the state every time because he says, “You can’t litigate the issues on this case until you get past the First Amendment issue; and you haven’t done that.” So they could never litigate it.
Finally we said we want to get this over with, so we want to depose the health officials in LA. We want the top health officials; we’re going to call them in for a legal deposition. 24 hours later they gave us everything we wanted. They couldn’t afford the truth to be known. And in a legal deposition that would have—the jig would have been up.
AUSTIN: And by that time things in our city are still completely chaotic. If you’re from one of the free parts of the world, you may not understand this. I mean, we were locked down forever out here. I mean, we could get to Santa Monica in 15 minutes during the height of this thing because everybody was in their house, and—except on Sundays here, after a brief closure when we were trying to assess, “What is this thing?” And whatever it was, whether it was the bubonic plague or still, whatever it was, we knew we had to have church.
And when I think about you during those days, the MacArthur shrug was a feature, as you just kind of went, “Hey, they can put me in jail.” I remember seeing you say that a number of times, you know. You were ready. You were invigorated by this. This gave you energy. I mean, you’re MacArthur, you’re a fighter, and I wonder, when you think about the last two years and how God prepared you for this time. In fact, I remember you saying, “One of the reasons God kept me alive this long is for this battle,” and I think that that’s right. What did God do to prepare you for it?
JOHN: So I’m trying to prolong this battle so I can stay around for it.
AUSTIN: Look, we’re glad that Voddie didn’t die; we really don’t want you to die.
JOHN: Everything about it was energizing because people were terrified; they were fearful, and this place became a haven. I remember when people started coming back to church on their own, I just said, “If you want to come, come.” We didn’t make an official announcement. People would say to me, “Can we come to church?” Because first few, I guess couple of months, we preached to an empty auditorium. “Come if you want to come.” So they started coming and coming and coming. And there was so much joy and so much exuberance and such a sense of freedom.
And I remember the Sunday when we said, “OK, we’re going to throw it open for everybody and invite children back.” And we put balloons all over the campus, gave every kid a huge lollipop, and we had a thousand elementary kids show up that Sunday. They hadn’t seen other kids; they hadn’t been to school. It was euphoric. And then it just took off from there. And of course, we saw people coming from everywhere, from churches all over the place.
You know, typically here, people come to Grace Church because somebody leads them to Christ, somebody in the church leads them to Christ. Or they come from another church like this, so they’re sort of in our theological world. But we started getting people from all kinds of places who—I mean, we started interviewing people who came to the prayer room or came to join the church, and they were from very alien church environments. And we were trying to reprocess how we’re handling these people because we had no expectations of what they might know that’s compatible with us. So it was an incredible way for the Lord to sift people out of bad and weak churches. And it’s just been an astonishing thing, the giving and the volunteering. You know, there is a waiting list for volunteers for this week’s conference. These people, they love this church, and they show it in their giving. I mean, it’s just staggering how they give and how they support everything.
So I think as the ground underneath everybody was shifting, and nobody knew what the future was, they knew what this was, and they found their stability, their anchor. The truth was here, and we tried our best to navigate everything in a biblical way and give them biblical wisdom to deal with what was going on. And we showed them—we showed them we had zero fear, zero fear.
AUSTIN: And that was your first sermon, even, when things were shut down, was a sermon against anxiety because you know that’s where people’s hearts would go, and you didn’t want them to be afraid of whatever was coming.
JOHN: Well, the worst that could happen is you’re going to go to heaven.
JOHN: Not a bad deal.
AUSTIN: Right. So Mac, how did God build you for this? Is it because of the convictions that you held about the centrality of the church? Are you just wired this way? When you think about how God prepared you for this, are you able to assess that? Are you able to think about how He made you for such a time as this?
JOHN: You know, I don’t know. I don’t know that I can even answer that. I remember playing golf with Steve Jones one time when he was a PGA champ, and he hit a certain kind of shot, and I said, “How did you do that, Steve?” Incredible! Incredible! Around a bunch of eucalyptus trees, bent the ball like 250 yards down over another tree, dropped it on the green six feet from the pin in a tournament. I said, “How did you do that?” He said, “I don’t know.”
So the answer to your question is I have no idea how I got here. But you know, I don’t want to be angry, I don’t want to be cantankerous, I don’t want to be pushy or forceful; but I have seen a lifetime of divine providence. You can’t convince me at my age that God is not in control of everything.
JOHN: And so I just said we’re going to be faithful, and we’re going to be the church, and we’re going to be who we need to be, and I’m going to do what God’s called me to do. And you know, maybe there’s something in my past—
I remember when I was playing football in college, I liked to win. But it dawned on me shortly into my career that I couldn’t control an outcome, all I could control was an effort. And sometimes my effort was hindered by people on the other team, and sometimes it was hindered by the people on my team. But whether it was the people on my team or the people on the other team, I couldn’t control an outcome, but I could control the effort. And so I’ve tried to live my life in the sense that all I can do is give the Lord the best that I have and leave the end result to Him.
So I’m not trying to fix anything, I’m not trying to fight anything; I’m trying to be faithful. And I live, I live in the middle of providence to such a degree that I wake up every morning, and I cannot wait to get my eyes open to see the providence of God unfold again in another day. My whole life is just this incredible—I’m not the reason for Grace Church; I’m not the reason for any of this. It’s what God does in His own power, in His own time, in His own place, bringing things together and people together that no one could ever orchestrate. And that’s been the story of my whole life.
So every day in this COVID thing has been an incredible adventure. I never worried about the trial, I never worried about the contempt of court, because I knew God had a plan, and all He asked out of me was my faithfulness. And when it comes to issues, whether it’s whatever issues are going on—we talked about some of them on the first session—all I can do is be faithful to the truth and proclaim the truth boldly, courageously, because as soon as I stop doing that, I’ve taken myself out of the flow of the providence of God. And faithfulness is what keeps me right where I need to be, to be participating in what God is doing. And that’s where I want to live my life.
AUSTIN: And it’s that increased awareness of providence as you look back over God’s faithfulness in your life, combined with a profound sense of responsibility that you have, to work hard, to be faithful, to act on what you believe. And then I think it’s those deep convictions that have been formed in you even from a young age. We had a conversation recently about your dad; and he was a man of integrity and conviction. And so I really do see all these things unfolding to make you built the way that you are.
JOHN: Well, truth matters to me more than anything else. I wake up every day, and I’m just—all I’m concerned about is to understand the truth, proclaim the truth, live the truth. The truth is everything to me. Nothing else matters to me. The circumstances, the fluctuations, what’s coming at me, what’s being thrown at me—I just want to be faithful to the truth.
And so at the foundation of that is my theology, a theology tested over half a century, from passage to passage to passage to passage to passage to passage; and it stood the test of half a century of intense expositional effort. And so I’m at a point now where my theology so anchors my soul that there’s a kind of stability that I—I mean, I intended to be a stable person as a young man, but it’s nothing like now. There’s a stability that history, the history of God’s providence, has laid down in my heart that just makes every day, no matter what the challenges are, a joyful opportunity to see God unfold His purpose. Not always in large ways; sometimes in very small things that you could never orchestrate. I said in an interview the other day that my favorite place to be is in a situation that has challenges and I don’t know the way out, because then I can just be faithful, and not try to orchestrate things, and let God do what He will do.
AUSTIN: And I think that’s the example that we got to see—is faith in unfolding providence, faith in the courage to face whatever it is, knowing that the Lord is in charge, that we’re going to do everything we can. And it wasn’t that everything was crystal clear initially; it took time. We had elder meetings, like all you men had, where we wrestled with these things and had to work through them, pray through them, and ask the Lord for wisdom. And they had the same questions that your churches had, things like, “Wait a minute, I thought we’re supposed to obey the government.” And I think one of the things that came from out of this is the opportunity to clarify what that obedience entails.
So I brought up a little copy of this fine little book about our friend James. You can hold it and kind of tell the guys about it. But it’s that argument that you were making early on in this time about the spheres of authority, about where the limits of Caesar’s realm are. And our brother James Coates, who can’t be with us because his borders are locked down. We would have had—
JOHN: No, no, he can’t be with us because Joe Biden’s rules won’t let him come in because he’s not vaccinated.
AUSTIN: Yeah. Yeah. I know what you meant by that clap.
JOHN: No, look, look, it’s not confusing to me.
JOHN: This is the best thing that’s ever been written, I think—terse and to the point, on God and government, by James Coates and Nathan Busenitz. But what you have to understand is it’s simple; it’s really simple. Just take the apostle Paul. They told him not to preach. So what did he do? He preached. What did they do? They threw him in jail—end of story. How hard is that?
AUSTIN: It is. And sometimes the angel actually breaks you out of jail.
JOHN: Or sometimes you don’t go to jail, or sometimes the jailer gets converted.
AUSTIN: Right. And when the angel breaks you out, you’re not supposed to stay inside.
JOHN: This is not brain surgery.
JOHN: You just do what you’re commanded to do, and be faithful. When the government tells you to do something God has forbidden you to do, or tells you not to do something God has mandated you to do, that’s not a hard decision.
JOHN: I didn’t understand why people were picking on us, why the guy at 9Marks wrote the kind of a diatribe against what we were doing, like we wanted to kill grandma and all that. I’m sure grandma would have been fine, if she was a believer.
AUSTIN: Take it from grandpa.
JOHN: Yeah, for sure. But it never was that difficult to me. We know the Scripture ordains categories of responsibility. I don’t think a church—I don’t think leadership in a church should tell a father and a mother what to do in raising their children; that’s their sphere. And the government has nothing to say to the church of Jesus Christ; that is clearly proven throughout the entire New Testament. I mean, basically all the apostles died, virtually—died or got exiled—for violating the government. I mean, that’s what they did. So that was never confusing to me.
AUSTIN: Yeah, and that stance is a stance that you made clear. I mean, it was a great treasure when we found that recording of you in, I don’t know, the late ‘70s I think, saying, “If the government ever tries to come shut down Grace Church, we’ll stand against them.” This is decades before any of this happened. You can catch that recording in the MacArthur Center Podcast this season—a little commercial.
So something happened in those days. We’re meeting in violation of all kinds of odd health codes, and the place is packed, packed with our church family, but packed with a lot of visitors that you alluded to. We had people with MAGA flags on the sidewalk. I mean, there was people that were more excited about our not following the laws of the Medes and the Persians than they were about the worship of Jesus Christ. We just had—we had yahoos coming in here, and it was—
AUSTIN: It was wild times.
JOHN: We had hawkers selling stuff on the sidewalk like it was a fair.
AUSTIN: Yeah. One Sunday I pulled in, and there was two ladies walking across the parking lot in mumus, and they were moving towards the building, and they yelled at a security guard, “We saw your pastor on Fox News! We love conservative churches!” They were just excited to be here; they’d never been here before. We had a lot of that kind of thing, and that was an opportunity for us.
JOHN: What did the mumus have to do with it?
AUSTIN: I just . . .
JOHN: I mean, I’m just saying.
AUSTIN: I receive it; it’s a concrete detail; it’s in my mind. So we had a lot of new people, MacArthur.
JOHN: I know.
AUSTIN: And you decided you’re going to go back to the book of Ephesians.
AUSTIN: Talk about that decision.
JOHN: Well, because I didn’t know what these people knew, and it was becoming apparent to us that, first of all, we wanted to know they even knew what salvation was and who Christ was. And it just seemed to me that if we got into Ephesians, we start it at the beginning. We started with that incomparable first chapter, “Blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies, Christ Jesus”—you just—poof!—unfold all the way; that one long sentence from verse 3 to 14, and you go through the glories of the gospel all the way down. You’re touching every element of the gospel, every doctrine on the gospel, and you go down unfolding all that. And the next thing you know, you’re in chapter 2, and you’re nailing the issue of being children of wrath and sin and—“But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love with which He loved us”; then you’re into the gospel of grace—“saved by grace through faith.” And it seemed like everything was there, to start with God, and then to talk about the gospel, and then to talk about the church. And it was important because what Ephesians has to say about the church is built around the unity of the church. It’s unity, unity, unity—chapter 2, chapter 3, chapter 4. And I thought that was really, really important, because the perspective that many people have of Christianity is it’s fractured—a sort of visible reputation.
And so we’ve been talking about the unity of the church for months and months now, and there’s still more wonderful things to come. We’re getting into the issues of sanctification, “Walk in a worthy way consistent with your calling”; and we’re headed toward the armor of the believer, and then we’re going to end up in prayer. Everything that seemed to me we would want to download into the minds of these new people could be accessed by the book of Ephesians.
So that’s why I chose it. And it’s been a slow go in some ways because we’ve—for some reason we’ve had some interruptions along the way, to try to navigate the issues that our people are facing. Helps them understand what’s happening with the government and why we should expect it. We’ve done a lot of wonderful things. Not too many weeks ago we had another law enforcement Sunday, when we wanted to honor the police; and we’ve done that periodically. And we want to take the right side of God’s ordained restraint in culture, and that’s part of it. So we’ve done some things in between. But I think Ephesians is the best place where we could sort of launch, to cover the range of the Christianity in the gospel and the Christian life.
AUSTIN: Yeah, and it does seem to be one of the most insisted upon virtues in the entire New Testament, that desire for unity among God’s people, especially in the local church; and a room like this is full of pastors who know just the problems that come from disunity in their churches. I once heard you say that every problem in our church could be traced back to a failure to love. Talk about the—let’s meditate on unity a little bit more, helping these brothers in the conflicts that they face in their churches pursue that kind of unity.
JOHN: Well, what gets you to unity is love, what gets you to love is humility. And that’s why Paul says in chapter 4, “You need to walk worthy of the calling to which you were called in all humility.” We camped a lot on that. Do you remember that message I did on Ephesians 4:1 on sanctification?
JOHN: We talked about what sanctification is, what it looks like, and humility; and then gentleness—not weakness, but a meekness. So we talked about that. The messages we did on humility and meekness, I think, were very, very important because necessarily you must humble yourself to love another. I mean, you could go back to Philippians. We went to Philippians, and we talk about, “Let this mind be in you which was in Christ—thought it not something to be grasped, to hold on to what He had. Came all the way down to the death, the death on the cross, and let this mind be in you which was in Him.”
So I think preaching humility as the pathway to love, and love the pathway to unity, is just what the New Testament does everywhere. And of course, it’s boosted by Paul’s language: “One Lord, one faith, one baptism”—one, one, one, one, one, one, one. And then he also before that’d gotten into the thing that Jew and Gentile are one; there’s no racial identities; there’s no differences. He’s making the case in chapter 2, in chapter 3, in chapter 4, that the church needs to be united.
At this point, this is the practical—you know, Jesus is praying for the spiritual unity in John 17, but this is the practical unity. But I think it doesn’t happen because you call for it; it happens because the Spirit of God uses the Word of God to humble people. And then I’ve said this—seems like often, answering question, “What is your objective in preaching?” And it’s simply this: “The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience.”
So if you’re faithfully teaching the Word of God, the goal is not dogmatic people, like hard-hearted, theologically stiff people; the goal of our instruction is love. So the exposition of Scripture over a long period of time should produce love and a good conscience because you’re walking in holiness, and your conscience is not accusing you. And when you have a church where people love, where the instruction has produced love—and I think this is what you experienced, when you come here and you interact with the people of Grace Church—half a century of teaching doctrine to people. Hard preaching makes soft people. And that is always the objective and the goal. And loving people can readily reflect the kind of humility that brings about unity.
And so I can’t, I can’t remember the last time we had some kind of big, erupting argument in our church over some issue. Something to be said for years and years and years of the work of the Word in a church, producing a love that doesn’t happen in a short time.
AUSTIN: And what you’ve shown to us, in sitting under the preaching of Ephesians as you travel through it another time, is just how timely these truth about unity are in shaping the worldview of our people so that they can understand what’s wrong with what the world is trying to sell them in the name of unity. And I think that one of the places where this has been really demonstrated in the last years is at the university; that’s a place where you’re trying to instill a worldview in young people, and that’s not the same worldview they’re getting at the other schools. Talk about God’s faithfulness. You’ve talked about it at the church; talk about a little bit in your role as chancellor at the university and what’s happening there.
JOHN: Well look, we desperately have to capture this young generation. There’s got to be a remnant coming out of this messed-up generation of young people. They are so self-centered, so narcissistic, so sexually overexposed, such perversion—we’ve got to get serious about that. And you can’t just throw them to the educational system, because a university may be the most dangerous place. I’d rather put my kid in San Quentin than in a university.
AUSTIN: I love it.
AUSTIN: There’s been times I’ve wanted to put a kid in San Quentin before.
JOHN: Well, the metaphor is I’d rather lock them up there than expose them to the trash and garbage that’s going to corrupt his whole life.
JOHN: And so the Lord raised up The Master’s University to be different. You know, we’re launching a new “Thinking Biblically,” right? You can go to thinkingbiblically.org. Is that it? And we’re launching that. We’re going to try to reach beyond the university. The university is exploding right now. The Lord has been so kind to us. We have so many students trying to come there, we don’t know what to do with them all. So we needed to house them. So the Lord has made it possible for us to buy—how many houses, Abner?
JOHN: Ten houses in the last 60 days, all surrounding the campus, to house the students that are coming. And I think this is a new day. I think parents are now saying, “Look, we have a responsibility as parents; we can’t just turn these kids over to anything.”
AUSTIN: And it’s because the secular ideology is so obvious. It’s so rampant, and it’s so anti-biblical.
JOHN: Well, it’s satanic. It’s just flatly satanic. And universities are dominated not by hard sciences, but they’re dominated by soft sociology. And this is what just shreds people’s sense of convictions and justifies any kind of immoral conduct.
Yeah, so I think this is a time, as I said. The ground is moving, and there’s a sifting going on, even among churches, and this is a time to get serious. I mean, we even decided some months ago that we couldn’t expect all of our Christian families here to send their kids to the public schools. Public schools are dangerous. I mean even in Florida, which is pretty good, there’s a battle to keep teachers from teaching transgender stuff to kids in kindergarten. So we just decided we’ve got to start a school program, a hybrid homeschool-resident deal. And so we’re launching two new elementary schools—one out in Santa Clarita, one here—in the fall because we’ve got to provide that. And the people are so on board, and we have such human resources here, and financial people have stepped in on everything. We’re trying to make a difference as widely and broadly as we can, which is part of the think-biblically approach. We want to help people think biblically. It’s the only safety; it’s the only hope.
AUSTIN: Let’s talk about the—get an update on the church, an update on the university—let’s talk a little bit about what’s happening at the seminary and what you see a—what’s crucial right now in training pastors.
JOHN: Well, nothing has changed there in the sense that we have to preach. We have to preach. And you need to know how to preach. And that’s what The Master’s Seminary exists to do. Obviously we’ll round that off with all kinds of other elements of ministry in terms of what the training involves. But we’re trying to train expositors who handle the Word of God accurately and don’t need to be ashamed.
I think what has changed is there’s less and less options. You could say, a few years ago, maybe ten years ago, a student might apply here and three other places. We don’t see that now. There’s a definitiveness in The Master’s Seminary. People know what we are. If they want that, they know this is where you need to come. There’s just a lot of loose ends in other seminaries, a lot of shifting and moving, and if you’re serious about the exposition of the Word of God in a framework of sound doctrine— And we’re seeing the same thing with even donors, who are saying, “We trust you.” And part of that is half a century.
So all these ministries are being strengthened, increasing in enrollment and support, and we’re just very thankful.
AUSTIN: What have you done, or what has been done to ensure the fidelity of that school here, the seminaries here, on the campus of Grace Church? And when I was in seminary 15 years ago, I had a lot of the same professors you had. You brought them in from—and they were getting older, then. And now most of them have graduated to heaven. So we’ve seen a generational shift in the seminary, founded in ’86, and still bringing in students, but the same priorities as when we began. So what are we doing to ensure that it doesn’t experience what so many schools have experienced? I mean once, Princeton was a conservative theological seminary. So how do we guard against that kind of shift?
JOHN: First of all, as the older faculty left, we replaced them with our own guys. That doesn’t mean that every degree they had was here. Some, that’s the case; some, they went somewhere else and got a PhD. You can take a look at the faculty listing, and you can see the quality of the faculty. But look, I’m a low-risk guy. Even as a pastor for 50 years, we’ve developed our own leadership right out of this church; we just grew them here. And so there’s a cohesive fabric because we all come out of the same environment—doctrinally, theologically, ministry-wise. And that’s really important for the seminary.
When we wrote the book Biblical Doctrine—“the big white whale,” they call it—the big white book on biblical doctrine, our whole faculty signed off on that. I don’t know that you could get a seminary, an entire faculty to sign off on one book on systematic theology. That’s the cohesiveness here. And there’s no virtue in having many views, because many views means more people are wrong. So we’d really like to be right, and it’s helpful if everybody thinks we are, particularly the faculty who are the knowledgeable guys.
So that’s the starting point in a very, very robust and detailed doctrinal statement that has to be signed by everybody every year—there’s no tenure; and a board of directors who hold us to that; and a connection to the university and the seminary are connected to Grace Church and its elders and leaders. That local church connection is very, very important to us.
JOHN: And then, I think alumni have very high expectations. It’s kind of interesting—we were having a discussion last week; I was having it with Dr. Chou. There were some alumni who were concerned about article in the Journal. There was nothing really to be concerned about, but they were thinking maybe there was an overemphasis on a certain thing.
So this is very good. I mean, this is really good, when your alumni contact you and say, “Is this indicating a trend? Are we going this direction?” Or if you have a certain speaker at a doctorate of ministries—and you face that. You’ve got a guy who comes in, and he’s lecturing at that, and somebody says, “Well, he doesn’t believe this or that.” And I think we’ve done this enough years now. We want to draw the very best from God’s leaders and teachers, but there’s a path from which we don’t deviate.
AUSTIN: Who we are is so clearly defined, moving from there is virtually impossible, is how we’ve set it up. And I think that that’s a tribute to what you’ve done in ensuring the place of truth—where you started this conversation—and the priority of right doctrine. And that’s, I think, something that will mark the legacy of MacArthur, is his determined confidence in the truth and dogged pursuit of the truth; and that’s, I think, what we’re seeing in our students that come to enroll in the seminary. They’re guys—they don’t have other options. They want to come here and learn to be expositors because that’s what you model for us.
JOHN: You know, I think I had a systematic theology when I came here in my twenties, but it was taught to me; and that was OK. I mean, it was supported in the way a faculty would support a systematic theology. But it got tested over half a century because I had to—that theology had to hold up in every passage that I took. And you know, the whole New Testament, preaching through that, and then going back and writing commentaries on the entire New Testament, running every single passage through that theology—
I don’t want to be hardnosed about the things I believe, but all I can say is they’ve stood the test of time, and they’ve stood that test for me and for others on our faculty. That’s the best, because I don’t want to assume that I know everything because it’s far from that. But John said, “I write unto you young men because you’ve overcome the wicked one.” That’s a pretty strong statement. And he said, “You’re strong because you know the truth; you know the Word.” That’s really important. And so the more you know the Word, the stronger you become, and all your theology’s always tested by that.
AUSTIN: Our seminary has a thousand, over a thousand graduates that are now involved in pastoral ministry all over the world, and global Christianity—
JOHN: Eighty-eight countries.
AUSTIN: What’s that?
JOHN: Eighty-eight countries.
AUSTIN: Eighty-eight countries. And global Christianity’s obviously reflected by these men’s ministries and their work training pastors in other places through efforts like The Master’s Academy International. Even around campus today, as I walked around, some of the meeting rooms are occupied by guys doing Zoom calls to brothers in other places.
One of the emphases that we have here is certainly on global missions. It’s a big part of our church, our seminary, and where we send our people to, and you’ve seen the fruit of that over the years. Talk a little bit about global missions and how that has developed into what it is today.
JOHN: Well, it really started in earnest in the early ’90s, maybe ’91, when I went to Russia, went to the Soviet Union; it was just breaking up. In fact, I was in Kyiv in the Ukraine when perestroika and glasnost hit. This was the liberation, and I happened to be there when they were building scaffolds in the city square in Kyiv, and they were climbing up the scaffolds with sledgehammers and smashing all the Stalin statues; I watched them hit those iron statues until they fell down. I mean, that was kind of the start of what we’re doing. Yesterday I saw that Irpin was bombed for almost 30 years, and our missionaries taught at a seminary in Irpin. It’s still standing; the bombs didn’t take it out. But we trained 2,000 Ukrainian pastors there who are now leading their congregations. Our missionaries are bunkered underground. For 30 years they taught these men. They’re bunkered down with their church people and with some nonbelievers, sleeping on mats because it’s safe, and trying to find food to feed their own church.
And it’s interesting. I had a conversation with a gentleman from that part of the world this morning who didn’t speak any English. But he said, “I want to tell you some good news. There are more evangelical Christians in Ukraine than any country in Europe.”
JOHN: And many of them are in the diaspora; they’re leaving. And the word has come back to some of these leaders that they feel the Lord is sending them out to take the gospel to Europe.
JOHN: That’s a pretty wonderful perspective on being dispersed.
So that’s where it all started. I preached there, and what happened was when the Soviet Union broke up, there were some leaders who were afraid. They were afraid of what was going to come in, because the church in the Soviet Union had been protected from error because religion was against the law. So you had a true church, but didn’t really have a false church, other than the Orthodox church.
So when everything came up, open, they knew there were going to be false teachers coming in. So some of the leaders, the top leaders of the evangelical baptist—Christian Baptist Union contacted me: Would I come because they had read some—they actually read—books I wrote that were translated into Russian with a pencil and a spiral notebook.
JOHN: And they said, “Would you come and help us build a fence around the church to protect it from false doctrine?” So I went, I don’t know, 10-11 times. They said, “Could you send more guys?” So we do seminars. And then eventually, “Could you come and help teach?” And so we’ve had a seminary in Samara. Thousands of pastors have been through training there. Another one now in Kyiv. And out of that, we started seeing them pop up all over the world. Right now we have 18 of those training centers meeting in 35 cities, and there are 50 other locations in the world asking us to come and train pastors.
We had a luncheon a couple of weeks ago, and the TAMI guys—Mark Tatlock—asked what students would be interested in global work, going to maybe establish a training center somewhere in the world; and 60 guys came to the lunch. So it’s a high priority for us to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. And our objective is always the same: We don’t go unless we’ve been invited by the national church, and we go to help them train pastors.
An illustration of it, that is just amazing to me, is our missionaries went to Indonesia to start a training center for pastors in Indonesia; and they weren’t really sure, I guess, what it was all going to be like. But they weren’t there very long, and they met an association of evangelicals that have 12 seminaries. These are faithful guys, and they have 12 seminaries in Indonesia, and they said, “Would you take over the teaching of expository preaching in all 12 seminaries?” Well, that’s just mindboggling. I mean, you go to Indonesia, and you’re not sure what you’re going to do, and the next thing you know, you’ve got 12 seminaries, and you have a responsibility to train them to do exposition. So they wanted to have a Zoom call. And so I did a Zoom call from here with these 12 seminary presidents and their leadership telling them expository preaching was important.
This is our vision and our mission because this is how you have the greatest impact: train the pastors—right? Train the pastors, and then the pastors train the people. You have strong pastors, you have strong churches, and you have national impact. So this is developing, and it’s now developing—as I said, there’s probably 50 places in the world that are saying, “Can you come and help us train our pastors?”
AUSTIN: And what we’re seeing all over the world, I think, is something that began here with your effort to disciple and train men in this church when there wasn’t the far-reaching, global connectivity that we see now. And I think that’s something important that you can share with these brothers, that they may not have access to 12 seminaries, but they do have men that they’re pouring into in their church. Connect that work in the local church of training men, the priority of training men, really in the early days of your ministry, one of your earliest priorities.
JOHN: Well, I mean I just follow the model of Jesus, who pulled some men in as close as he could and poured His life into them; and I knew we needed to do that here. I mean, I was coming into sort of an Arminian church, Methodist roots, and there was a lot to accomplish. But I started a Saturday Bible study that went for probably eight years, and invited certain guys to come, and threw it open to any men, and I just taught them theology Saturday after Saturday after Saturday; talked about ministry. And I was young, but I was learning with them.
But yeah, I knew that I needed to get the men ahead of the congregation. You can’t—if all you’re doing is training your men at the same pace you’re training your congregation, they’re never ahead. So where do the elders come from? Where are the people that are going to be your teachers and leaders, unless you get them out front? So that investment was critical; and out of that came all kinds of first-generation—that first generation of leaders, who then reproduced themselves in the same fashion.
AUSTIN: You’re still pouring yourself into training guys all these years in, and we’re grateful for that. What keeps you going, MacArthur? How do you have the energy to continue to invest? So many guys would have taken the opportunity to switch to writing books, or finding a place just to rest. But you are relentless, and you keep showing up to work.
JOHN: Well, being a greeter at Walmart has very little appeal to me.
AUSTIN: I would like everyone to just pause for a moment and picture the scene. Little yellow tag with a blue stripe and just a, “Hello, my name is John.”
JOHN: Can I give you a cart?
AUSTIN: I’m not saying you wouldn’t be good at it, but I am saying that you provide for us this example of perseverance.
JOHN: I don’t know. I just know I wake up every day of my life, and I thank the Lord that I can do what I do. You know, I’m glad I’m here, but even more, I’m glad I know I’m here.
AUSTIN: What about preaching? Talk about preaching. How do you still keep motivated to preach? What stirs in your heart? I mean, you’re going back through Ephesians again; you’re still prepping for every Sunday. How do you do it?
JOHN: I am never more happy and more content than when I am in my little study poring over the Word of God and preparing to preach. That is my favorite place to be. I just—I don’t know. I can’t—I can’t imagine not doing that; I can’t imagine doing something else. And writing a book? I mean, I wouldn’t even know how to write a book if you said, “Go sit in a room, and write a book.” I have to preach a book; I have to preach it. And the dynamics of preaching is where I think my brain works best, and maybe the gift enhances that process a little bit, so that what I get out of a sermon, I can turn into a book.
I remember I was at a conference back at Grace Seminary in Winona Lake with Swindoll years and years ago, and I banged on the door of his room in the Friendship Inn—some little motel there—and I said, “Chuck, let’s go to get something to eat.” He said, “Ah, I can’t, I’m writing a book.” I said, “What do you mean, you’re writing a book?” He’s sitting at his desk writing a book. I can’t—I can’t—I don’t know. I said, “I couldn’t write a book”—just sit down and write a book, a whole book? Maybe I’ll try it sometime. By the time I stop preaching, I won’t have the brain to.
AUSTIN: We don’t want you to ever stop preaching, Mac; we want you to keep on preaching. And we’re the beneficiaries of your love for the Word of God, your love for the process of discovery, and ultimately your love for Jesus and His people, that motivates you to continue to serve. So we’re grateful for your persevering example to all of us.
JOHN: Yeah, and I appreciate that. I need to just make a footnote before—I feel like you’re signing me off here.
When I made the comment—and I just want to clarify this—when I made the comment about what was going on in the Ukraine was judgment, I wasn’t making a comment that the nation of the Ukraine needed to be judged. You know, this is reminiscent of Hosea, who says, “Why are You doing this, Lord?” And then particularly, “Why are You letting this destruction come? And why are You using the Chaldeans to do it—because they’re worse?”
All I’m saying is, historically speaking, we live human history watching two things happen: judgment and salvation. And everything that isn’t salvation ends up being judgment. People die and face the Judge.
Look, is Ukraine a nation that needs to be judged more than Russia needs to be judged? You can make an argument that that’s not true. Could you make an argument that Ukraine should be judged but not America? I’m not saying that. I don’t know the purposes of God, but I know we have to live as if judgment is coming, and we have to proclaim the gospel. And that’s all I was trying to say, was we live constantly in the realization that judgment is looming, and God is offering the grace of the gospel, and it’s in that realization that we live out our life and ministry.
AUSTIN: That’s how I understood it. “It’s appointed for a man once to die, and then the judgment.” And so your earlier comments in this Q&A about providence unfolding, that’s simply what is happening anytime a nation moves, right?
JOHN: Yeah, and I made the other side of the point that some of them are saying, “OK, we’re going to go evangelize Europe.” I mean, you don’t know what all God is doing in the middle of all that. People are in the basement of someplace with our missionaries, perhaps coming to Christ—because non-Christians are there because they’re living in the neighborhood, and they need food; and God accomplishes His purpose through these things. But look, God doesn’t withhold judgment because nations don’t deserve it.
AUSTIN: That’s right. And our nation is a perfect example of a great need for the judgment of God. But His patience is evident; He continues to pour out mercy.
JOHN: Yeah, and the leadership in this country is just inviting more judgment.
AUSTIN: So it’s a perfect environment for the preaching of the gospel.
JOHN: Right, and that’s the other reason you don’t shut the church down.
AUSTIN: Yeah. Yeah. Give the men a final—am I allowed to wrap up now, or no?
AUSTIN: OK. I really do think I did a good job on that Q&A; thank you.
JOHN: Thank you, thank you. Thank you for rescuing.
AUSTIN: I know exactly what that meant; I know you do too, John.
JOHN: No, you just rescued me from my eternal reward. By taking credit, you get yours.
AUSTIN: Any way I can help, boss, any way I can help. What I was going to say was give these guys a word of encouragement. They’ve got one more day of the conference; they’re headed back out of pastoral Disneyland, which is The Shepherds’ Conference. No one at their church shines their shoes.
AUSTIN: So give them that—
JOHN: No one at my church shines—well, they shined them this week.
JOHN: Yeah. No, look guys—you know, the message is really simple. You have a high calling; this is a privilege beyond all privileges. Don’t diminish the privilege by having unrealistic expectations about the outcome. Do you understand that? You’re wearing the uniform; we win. You’re wearing the uniform of the Son of God; you’re doing His work. He triumphs; we win. Just do your ministry, and be full of joy and gratitude, and let God’s providence unfold.
AUSTIN: One of the ways that can connect—we’re going to show a video in a moment—but one of the ways that can connect to this fellowship is through a deal we have called The Master’s Fellowship. Do you want to talk about that for a moment, and then we’ll play the video?
JOHN: Well, we just decided—it really came out of the Shepherds’ Conferences. So many guys are disappointed with their denomination or association, and they feel closer to us; or maybe they don’t even have a denomination, and they want to fellowship. Is fellowship a part of this deal this week? I mean, do you guys feel the support of the other guys? I mean, it’s amazing.
I was talking to a guy from Poland up there, who said, “There are more pastors in this conference than there are people in the evangelical church in Poland.” He said, “This is unbelievable.” Well, you’ve got to remember that. Don’t be Elijah: “I, only I am left.” I mean, we’re all together. But you’re not going to be able to appreciate that if you don’t connect.
So The Master’s Fellowship is just a way that we can help you guys connect with each other. It’s not a program; it’s an opportunity. It’s making some connections for fellowship. And I think you can go somewhere and sign up for it. I’m not sure.
AUSTIN: Yeah. You’ll see the video in a second. There’s a link, and there’s a booth outside for The Master’s Fellowship; you can connect with those brothers.
JOHN: And it’s free.
AUSTIN: Yeah, yeah. We’re not trying to get anything from you; we want to be a resource to you.
Mac, will you pray for these brothers? Then we’ll play the video, and then we’ll be—
JOHN: Father, thank You so much for bringing these men together. We just feel such an abounding joy, such gratitude in the midst of the chaos in the world; and yet our hearts are broken over all these people, who are so lost, so fearful, so lonely, so unfulfilled, so dissatisfied, so broken, so loveless, so pained. And Lord, strengthen these men; strengthen their churches. May the gospel go forward in this country in ways we wouldn’t even expect, given the conditions. And be with those believers that are in Ukraine getting pummeled. Use them to bring gospel to those terrified people. And be with those believers who are scattering over Europe, and may they take the mission that You’ve given them, even in their dispersion, as an opportunity and a calling from heaven; and may they use it for Your glory. Use everything for Your glory. We’re weary. We’re like the saints under the altar wondering, “How long, O Lord? How long before You receive the glory You’re due?” And we say with John, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus; come, Lord Jesus.” Amen.
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