COVID and the Church

There is no shortage of opinions about how to respond to COVID-19. The debate that encapsulates just how polarizing this issue can be is the one surrounding the use of masks. Basically, there are two camps. Some think that all should be mandated to wear masks in an effort to halt the spread of the virus. Others think that the wearing of masks should be left to the individual because the virus will make its way through the population anyway. This article will not definitively solve this issue for you. The purpose of this article is to protect the unity of the church. COVID-19 will be a distant memory one day, and Christians will find themselves worshiping with that person with whom they disagree with so vehemently today. 

Amazingly, though positions on masks may be different, the sins by their proponents are often the same. First,Christians have not been careful to preserve the truth. It is asserted that those who do not wear masks are not loving their neighbors, or that those who are wearing masks are being fearful. These claims may be true, but most likely they are not. Each position is argued citing scientific studies to reinforce the position. Appeals are made to doctors, scientists, and government policies to bolster the preferred perspective. And none of those things make it clear that the motivation of our fellow man is lack of love or sinful fear. Rather than making statements that are likely not true, it is the joyful duty of the Christian to restrict his statements to things that are known to be true.

Consider the claim is that those not wearing masks are not loving their neighbors. The presence or absence of risk is not an indicator of the presence or absence of love. Our lives are filled with risk. I heard the other day of a 39 year-old mother who fell out of a golf cart while carrying a her baby. In an effort to protect the child, she did not brace herself and died as a result of her fall. Was it unloving of the driver to allow the woman to get into the cart knowing there is risk involved? Certainly not. To assert risk equals lack of love is simply not true and demonizes a Christian brother or sister with perfectly loving intentions. To equate the introduction of risk with lack of love is neither fair nor accurate. And we are charged as Christians to promote the truth in the ninth commandment (Exodus 20:16). 

The claim that those who wear masks are fearful. It is one thing to decide not to wear a mask. It is quite another to assert that those wearing a mask are motivated by fear. There are many reasons people may decide to wear a mask in response to COVID. It is not different than other areas of life. People watch their diet and exercise to promote good health. They wear seatbelts when driving. Smoke detectors are installed in homes. None of these are necessarily acts of fear. They are most often just attempts to be prudent. To assert wearing a mask equals fear is simply not true. And we are charged as Christians to promote the truth in the ninth commandment (Exodus 20:16).

Second, Christians have (again) proved themselves prone to pride. In the lack of charity on display between people, also believers, it is clear people have an unhealthy opinion of their own conclusions. The vast majority of folks are far from qualified to make a definitive statement of the benefits or draw-backs of wearing a mask. 99+% of people are just trying to make the best decision they can with their limited understanding. In Ephesians 4:2, Paul urges the Ephesian church to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” People are not “sheeple” if they wear a mask. They are not simple-minded dolts if they do not.

After COVID is over (and that will happen), churches everywhere will return to regular corporate worship. My plea today is that the church behave in such a way as to make that return easy, and free from bitterness and party-spirit. There is an oft-quoted phrase from church history that can and should be applied to the current situation: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” Masks are not the indicator of orthodoxy. Be charitable to your fellow-Christian. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32).

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