First of all, let me say that in the paragraphs that follow, my main concern really isn’t about the masks per se. It’s more about the critical process of thinking through things biblically and discerning what Christian love looks like in times of discord. Personally, I don’t know of anyone who actually enjoys wearing a mask. I miss seeing smiles, hearing people speak with unmuffled voices and enjoying the richness of full facial expressions. Preaching to people wearing masks is like speaking to a group of faceless eyes made worse with sunglasses. (No offence intended, of course, you’re simply doing what you’ve been told.) Like many of you, I’ve seen and read the varied opinions on both sides of the great divide as to the effectiveness of masks to mitigate the disease. The internet is loaded with contrary medical opinions. Masks will often determine whether a person does or doesn’t attend worship—on both sides. Then, there are those who leave one church for another church with the preferred mask policy…suggesting that the commitment to the local church is only mask-deep. It all comes down to the mask—to wear, or not to wear.

So, here’s how I’ve processed this with the Scripture. First, I have to go back to what the Bible does and doesn’t say. There is nowhere in Scripture that prescribes or prohibits the wearing of masks. Compare that to…say…singing in worship. Singing is commanded repeatedly in the worship gathering of God’s people. So…we sing. When the Persian government prohibited prayer in the days of the prophet Daniel, Daniel still got down on his knees and prayed (Dan 6:10) in violation of state orders. Why? Because the Bible commands prayers be offered to God. This is the first step—to differentiate between biblical and non-biblical directives. Where there is no explicit prescription or prohibition, then Romans 13:1-2 comes into play—we submit as best as possible to the authorities over us regardless of our personal beliefs on the matter. So…I wear the mask that I don’t really want to wear.

Second, I have to consider the principle of love. Paul was no stranger to differences of opinion in the church—eating meat offered to idols, kosher versus non-kosher and keeping/not keeping the Jewish ritual calendar (Rom 14). For some people in Paul’s day, the issue was black and white. For others (like Paul), there was freedom in Christ (Rom 14:14). At the end of the day, Paul taught the principle of deferring to one another in love (Rom 14:15). For example, if I believe that I’m free to eat any kind of meat—like pork—and I invite a Jewish family over for dinner, I will intentionally choose a menu that is sensitive to the Jewish conscience. Translating this to our day, if I believe that masks are ineffective, yet I’m invited to a house where the family is extremely sensitive to the spread of COVID, then I will wear a mask or whatever I need to honor their conscientious beliefs on the matter. It’s an expression of humble love that considers the interests of others above my own (Phil 2:2).

Mind you, on the flip side, I don’t believe one person’s convictions on these debatable matters should be leveraged to coerce conformity to his/her view. That too, would be a violation of the others-focus that defines Christian love. Regardless of where one finds themselves on the great mask-divide, consideration for the interest of the other person is paramount.

Third, the New Testament passionately contends for the unity of the church family (e.g. the first thing that Paul addresses in the troubled church in Corinth was not their faulty view of the resurrection, but their divisions—see 1 Corinthians 1:10-11). In the words of Paul, we must be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3). This commitment to practice Christian unity is actualized in the local church family (as it was for the church in Corinth). A failure to commit to the local church family because of a mask, is a failure to commit to the unity of the church family…straight and simple.

Above all, we must remember that we are to love one another as Christ loved us. We, the church, are a diverse group—some would even say a motley crew—lovingly embraced by a gracious and patient God. If this is how God loves us, then let us strive to love one another in the same manner…regardless of our personal convictions about the wearing of masks. May God strengthen our resolve to love in these conflicted times.

(Originally posted 2020)

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