Would Jesus Wear a Mask?
It seems that the most notable debate in the church today is not about salvation or sanctification but masks. One side says we must always obey the government. The other side says the other side is no better than the German church in World War II, and we should resist mask mandates.
I wish that the church approached the issues of salvation and sanctification with the same fervor. Can you imagine the effect on our neighborhoods if we focused our passionate feelings about masks toward the unsaved and those not growing in their Christ-likeness?
One side quotes Romans 13:1–2. “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” By doing so we are free from the fear of punishment (13:3–4), our consciences are clear (13:5), and workers [i.e., government officials] are worthy of their wages (13:6; cf. 1 Tim 5:18).
But if you find yourself on this side of the argument, do you always drive the speed limit? Do you come to a complete stop at a stop sign? Do you signal a lane change even when there is no one on the road? Do you report income from a garage sale?
The other side quotes Acts 4:19–20. When the ruling Jewish authorities demanded that they stop preaching Jesus, Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” This side also quotes Acts 5:29. “We must obey God rather than human beings!” and argues that biblically-mandated worship is impossible with masks.
But do you obey God all the time? Do you gossip? Do you talk about people who are not present? Do you give generously to your church (2 Cor 8:7) since workers are deserving of their wages? Do you detest what is evil and cling to what is good (Rom 12:9)?
Why do so many people speak in absolutes, when so many brothers and sisters hold the opposite position? Where is the grace?
I have spoken with enough pastors to know that mask mandates are tearing churches apart. People are leaving the church. Pastors are leaving their church.
I think the basic principle is clear: obey your governing rulers, even if that ruler is Nero, as in Paul’s day. But when the government tells you to do something that is contrary to God’s laws, then we cannot obey the government. God outweighs Nero. But are mask mandates contrary to God’s laws — I’m still looking for that verse — or are they a violation of my personal freedom?
I was reading Romans 14 the other day, and if you allow me the freedom to change the text a little, you’ll see what I am getting at. The words in italics are mine, not Paul’s. The difficulty of this passage is determining which theological position is “weak” and which is “strong,” so I will paraphrase the passage two different ways.
Paul starts with his general principle. “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. “ And then he continues:
“One person’s faith requires them to wear masks, but another, whose faith is weak, does not wear masks. The one who wears a mask must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not wear a mask must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.”
Now to switch the weak and strong:
“One person’s faith requires them not to wear masks, but another, whose faith is weak, wears masks. The one who does not wear a mask must not treat with contempt the one who does wear a mask, and the one who does not wear a mask must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.”
And Paul continues:
“Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. None of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. Each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.”
And to put a final note of solemnity behind all this, I was reading in 1 Cor 8:12 this morning about the same topic of “weak” and “strong”:
“When you sin against them [i.e., your brothers and sisters] in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.”
Before you start guessing what I believe about masks, be assured that you cannot tell from what I am saying. Please don’t shoot the messenger. But I am convinced that the COVID pandemic has given Christians the greatest platform we have had in years to show our neighbors that we are different and that our hope is not in this world but in Christ.
And I am convinced that when we split churches, we have failed.