The Bible speaks directly and clearly to many of the matters we have to consider as faithful believers. When it does, right and wrong are clear and decision-making is straightforward. But what about when it doesn’t? How do we approach issues like whether to wear masks when some people think it's important and others don't, or when the government gives orders that affect how we conduct corporate worship? How do we make faithful decisions when there is no clear chapter and verse for the topic at hand? That’s the question we (and leaders at other churches like ours) have wrestled with as we seek to lead God’s people in the unprecedented complexity that COVID has brought our way.
As with other of these “wisdom issues”, we’ve turned to scriptural principles, seeking prayerfully to apply them consistently, objectively, and humbly. We are mindful that we are laboring not only for “correctness”, but as much as possible, we labor for grace toward others who might not agree, and unity for our entire body. We want God to be glorified in this matter no less than any other. Grounded in those purposes, and with that goal, we are guided by principles that include:
- Obedience to God (John 14:23)
- Love of neighbor (Matthew 22:39)
- Faithfulness to our local church family and submission to her leaders (I Corinthians 12:21-26; Hebrews 13:17)
- Respect for and obedience to the governing authorities (Romans 13:1-7; Titus 3:1)
- Honoring the weak (Romans 14)
- Witness to the world (Philippians 2:15)
- Unity of our body and witness to the world (John 17: 20-23)
With all that in mind, we turn to COVID and how to answer the many questions that it has brought to the forefront.
The following is a list of frequently asked questions and comments which we have received along with responses to these questions and comments. We hope that you will find this helpful and clear. Please contact an elder or staff member with additional questions or comments.
1. Why are masks required at all services?
The reason that we unanimously agreed to require masks at all services is because scripture commands us to obey the governing authorities unless doing so would violate a command of God.
Our Lord Jesus said that the Father gave Pilate authority over himself (Jesus).
“So Pilate said to him, ‘You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?’ Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.’” - John 19:10-11
Paul tells the Roman believers to be subject to the Roman authorities because they are from God, and also tells Titus to remind believers to obey the government. He makes clear that honoring and being subject to governing authorities includes obeying them.
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” - Romans 13:1
“Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work” - Titus 3:1
Peter also tells believers that it is God’s will for them to be subject to governing authorities at all levels, and that we are to do this for the Lord’s sake.
“Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” - 1 Peter 2:13-17
Obedience to governing authorities is not an isolated teaching in scripture; however, scripture also contains several occurrences of justified civil disobedience.
Consider the following examples:
- The midwives disobeyed the king of Egypt’s command to kill male children because it violated God’s command not to kill.
“But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live.” - Exodus 1:17
- Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego refused to worship the golden image (Daniel 3:18) because it violated God’s command to worship no other God.
- Peter and John disobeyed the Jewish leaders’ command not to speak of Jesus because it violated Jesus’s great commission (Matt 28:18-20).
“But Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge’”. - Acts 4:19
So when is civil disobedience OK? We are called to obey governing authorities unless doing so requires disobeying a command of God. Since wearing a mask does not require us to disobey a command of God, we are called to obey the governing authorities’ mandate to wear a mask when we gather publicly.
2. I can't worship when wearing a mask.
All of us can understand this statement and relate to it to some extent. Most of us find wearing a mask to be uncomfortable and distracting and to hinder our concentration at times. However, there really is a lot to consider about this statement with regard to what this says about our understanding of the nature of true worship.
First, true worship isn’t something that we only do on Sunday morning. True worship is perhaps best defined by Romans 12:1-2:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
True worship occurs throughout the week as we, in response to God’s incredible mercy, voluntarily self-sacrifice our time and energy to Him for the spiritual good of others. It occurs when we are renewed in our thinking through His Word so that we can then have spiritual truths to share with someone else. It occurs when we walk through times of testing by recognizing and praising God for His good and acceptable and perfect will in our lives.
True worship then continues on Sunday morning as we gather as parts of a body to praise God together through song, prayer, listening to and obeying His Word, and encouraging and building up one another with spiritual truths through fellowship. In fact, true worship can even occur on Sunday morning as we gladly endure the inconvenience of a mask “for the Lord's sake” (1 Peter 2:13).
One picture of true worship in scripture is seen when Paul and Silas are in the Philippian jail:
“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” - Acts 16:25
In spite of the squalor of the Philippian jail and the chains around their ankles, they worshipped God in spirit and in truth while the other prisoners listened. And the result was that the gospel was adorned.
Can true worship be prevented by a requirement to wear a mask? No. In fact, the requirement to wear a mask may even be a blessing from God to cause us to evaluate how we worship. Perhaps God has orchestrated the wearing of masks to produce in us a more true form of worship to Himself. We are called to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). May we seek to rejoice and give thanks even while wearing a mask, and that in doing so, may our worship be purified and bring greater pleasure to our Father.
3. When does the state have a right to exercise its ordained authority in a way that impacts the church?
There are many ways that the government’s exercise of authority can impact individual Christians and/or the church, and in order to determine the appropriateness of its right to exercise its ordained authority, we need to make a distinction between (1) mandates that clearly go against God’s commands and (2) mandates that fall under “gray areas” or “disputable matters.”
What if there is a conflict between human laws and God’s commands? For a Christian, the only choice is to follow God’s commands. If human laws command us to do something God forbids or forbids us from doing something God commands, we are to follow God’s law; otherwise, we are sinning.
Generally, we find it easy to obey the government when what they mandate lines up with our personal value system. But if and when we disagree with the government, does that give us license to rebel and disobey? Obeying the authorities can be very difficult in situations when we are being asked to do something that we think is wrong. And this is where we need to honestly ask ourselves: “Is there a scriptural basis for why I think what the government is asking me to do is sinful?” The reason we need to have a biblical basis is because it is quite possible, and very tempting, to take our personal preferences, our value systems, and even our mistrust of government, and elevate “what we want” to the level of God’s law. When that happens, we can sinfully give ourselves license to rebel against the government.
Christians should be careful when invoking "a violation of conscience" as a license for civil disobedience when we simply disagree with the authorities, or if we’re inconvenienced. Or if by obeying we suffer. Consider Jesus’ earthly parents: when the edict came out for them to travel to comply with the census mandated by the Roman government, they complied. And they were more than just inconvenienced; there was physical and financial suffering resulting from their obedience.
To be clear, except in situations where the authorities’ mandate clearly causes us to sin (according to how God’s word defines "sin"), we are to follow the law of the land as far as possible without betraying the Lord Jesus Christ who is the one who commands us to be submissive. Keep in mind that when we defy the authorities, we are defying the One who gave them authority over us. But when we obey the authorities, we are being models of obedience and submission to our Lord. Just before Peter issued his call for believers to obey the government, he wrote this.
“Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” – 1 Peter 2:12
4. I think wearing a mask is promoting a lie and causing fear; therefore, I don't think wearing a mask is loving my neighbor.
The effectiveness of wearing a mask to prevent COVID spread is a medical question, and debating the medical effectiveness is not our place or intention. The governing authorities, in consultation with medical groups, have given an order that does not contradict scripture or prevent our ability to obey God’s commands. The leadership of CCC is called to provide spiritual guidance and direction, and in that role, we believe it is appropriate to follow the order of the governing authorities in this matter. An important way to love your neighbor in this situation is to maintain the unity of the body, encourage each other toward faith and obedience, and remind each other that God has called us to exercise wisdom, but to be anxious for nothing.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” - Philippians 4:6-7
5. I think it is physically unhealthy for me to wear a mask.
If you have a medical condition whereby wearing a mask presents a health issue, please speak to an elder or pastoral staff. We recognize that wearing a mask can pose a medical risk for some people with diagnosed health conditions, and as such we would welcome the opportunity to discuss this with you. Others have done so, and we are grateful. It is not appropriate for us to identify those people who are not wearing a mask for health reasons; however, please be aware that they exist and do not assume that someone not wearing a mask is being rebellious. Let us be gracious to one another.
6. I think wearing masks in church is starting down a slippery slope of government intrusion into the affairs of the church and is a threat to our freedom of religion.
We are called to obey God over government when the two are in conflict, not when we think it could be heading that way. There is nothing in contradiction to scripture about the current order.
7. I’m more comfortable singing and listening without a mask. What if I want to sing and gather with another church that doesn’t require a mask?
We all understand that wearing a mask can be uncomfortable, but consider that the purest examples of worship in scripture were seldom comfortable (see #2).
Also consider that you are part of the body of Christ at CCC and have made a commitment to the CCC body, including regular attendance (Heb 10:24, 25). Committing to another local body by active attendance in lieu of attending CCC amounts to joining that other local body, and to effectively leaving the covenant relationship with CCC. If you are considering attending elsewhere instead of CCC, please discuss your concerns with leadership first. Leaving this body to worship at a different church will be understood to be a departure from this body and your covenant with it.
8. How do we respond when we perceive our personal conscience is violated?
This question is especially important in disputable matters where there are no clear instructions from scripture. It is true that scripture says that if we act against our consciences, we are guilty of sin. (Romans 14:23: “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin”). And this is not necessarily because we have acted in a manner that God has explicitly stated to be sinful (either by commission or omission), but rather because we have acted in a manner that, according to our personal scruples, we believe to be evil. Therefore, it is especially important that we strive to have our consciences be rightly informed by the Word of God. And where there is a gray area, we have to ask the question “What informs and shapes our conscience?” Is it our study of scripture? Love of neighbor? Politics? Personal preferences?
Answering this question could be excruciatingly difficult from a personal as well as a theological standpoint, but we can glean some direction from scripture as follows:
- Ask God for a humble spirit, recognizing that our hearts are deceitful and could lead us astray and so we need His wisdom (Proverbs 25:9 - “He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.”; Jeremiah 17:9 - “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”)
- Avail yourself of the many ways or means God has provided for us to have informed consciences, such as Bible study, prayer, and the counsel of other believers, as well as considering how history has treated these various issues, all the while asking God for wisdom (James 1:5 - “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him").
- Recognize that as consciences differ in disputable matters, we must continue to act in love towards our brothers and sisters in the Lord (1 Peter 4:8 - “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins”). And as we are tempted to harshly judge others, keep in mind that people on both sides of an issue will be judged by the Lord (James 4:12 - “There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?”).
- If and when we act on our conscience, particularly as we relate to others, consider how it affects our witness to our church family as well as to those outside (John 13:35 - “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
9. How do you respond to church leadership at times of theological disagreement?
Having a theological disagreement is not wrong and can be helpful, but how we handle a disagreement is important. Church leaders are not inerrant but then neither are members, so humility is needed by everyone. Consider Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 4:1-3:
"I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you 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."
Let us all be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit when discussing theological issues.
That said, consider how Priscilla and Aquila approached Apollos in Acts 18:24-26 when they disagreed with him:
"Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately."
There are several things that we can learn from Priscilla and Aquila in this account:
1. Do not be silent
We are called to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15). Priscilla and Aquila were not silent over this theological difference. In this case, it was critical because the purity of the gospel was at stake since Apollos “knew only the baptism of John”. Many theological discussions may be over gray areas and therefore be much less important; however, discussion of these gray areas can also be helpful as long as they are done humbly without causing a break in fellowship, even if they end by “agreeing to disagree”. Respect the other person’s view of scripture and attempt to learn from them.
2. Speak in private initially
Priscilla and Aquila went to Apollos in private. You may approach a church leader initially via an email, text, or in person. Done with a humble spirit, this type of communication is welcomed by church leaders and results in greater unity and a healthier church.
3. Center the conversation around scripture
It appears that Priscilla and Aquilas’ conversation with Apollos was scripture-centric. It is easy to be influenced by our culture as well as prominent or prestigious figures and organizations; however, we should always look to scripture and try to filter out our own political and cultural views. Ask yourself what the whole of scripture says about a theological issue and allow this to guide your conversation.
Finally, remember that we should never leave a church or break fellowship because of a disagreement over a gray area. Consider how much Jesus desires unity in our body by meditating on John 17:20-23. Maintaining unity even when we disagree over a gray area is actually a positive testimony to the world.