Well, it’s finally here. My church reopens in just under a week. May 31 will be our first time to reopen for worship since the initial physical distancing orders were put in place by state officials about ten weeks ago. Since that time I have watched with bewilderment as well-meaning people polarized over wearing masks. “To wear a mask or to not wear a mask, that is the question.” There is a cacophony of voices sharing their sentiments about the viability or absurdity of wearing masks. Some insist this whole COVID-19 thing is a hoax, a move by the government to grab our freedom. Others blame it on China who they say released the virus on purpose. And still others blame the president or one of the two major political parties. People have posted passionate rantings on Facebook about their right not to wear a mask. Others have taken a different position and plan to wear a mask. I’m in that latter group. When the church reopens next Sunday, you’ll find me wearing a mask. Here’s why.
- I will relinquish my “rights” in order to serve others. Theologians have labeled Philippians 2:5-8 as “the great kenosis” passage. It is a Greek word that describes the self-emptying of Jesus in order to live among us on His way to the cross. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Jesus chose to serve us by humbling himself. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, he wanted the mind of Christ to reign in their hearts. Laying aside my preferences, rights, and position for the sake of someone else means that I have matured to the point of placing the other person’s needs before my own. It is one way that I mimic my Lord. He served us first, died, and calls us to serve others today. I must decrease and He must increase.
- Jesus has called me to love my neighbor. Jesus boiled the law and prophets down to just two verses. Two. We are told to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. We are then told to love our neighbors. I choose to wear a mask as a visible sign of my love for the members of my church family. My mask may hide my face and my smile, but it communicates volumes. My mask says, “I love you enough to inconvenience myself for one hour.” It says, “I don’t want to accidentally transmit a virus to you.” You may not see my entire face, but my mask will say it all. I love you.
- There are vulnerable people in my congregation. There are some wonderful senior adult members of my congregation. They have wisdom, life experience, and are just great to be around. They are the “Builder” generation who sacrificed so much and built many of the churches we’ll worship in next weekend. I could not forgive myself if I did not do everything I can to provide as safe a place for them to worship as possible. I do not want to attend one of their funerals, and I certainly don’t want to preside over one. There are also people who have underlying health issues who are more vulnerable to catching COVID-19. For the sake of these more vulnerable people, I’ll wear a mask.
- It’s just temporary. It’s not like this is going to be “the new normal” (I sure hope not!). I may wear a mask for a month. Maybe two. It could be three. Who knows? But in the grand scheme of life, what is a few months?? Nothing at all. Just an hour a week. It’s a small price to pay, and it’s not forever.
- Because my governor says so. Scripture tells us to submit to our authorities. Romans 13:1-5 says, “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. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.” Remember that first-century Christians who first read this had Emperor Nero to deal with, and he wasn’t the most pro-Christian leader the world has ever seen. Quite the opposite. Whether or not you believe our government has done a good job or a bad job managing COVID-19, our calling as believers is to submit to our authorities. If my state’s governor says he and his team of experts highly recommend wearing masks (and they do), then I will. If my governor asks me to live by certain guidelines he and his team have put in place for houses of worship, so be it. If the CDC strongly encourages wearing masks in public, then I can do that. I will submit to my authorities so long as they do not ask me to do something that is opposed to Scripture. So far my state’s governor has not done this. Neither has the CDC. I also want to be a good witness, not one known for rebelling against my state and national leaders.
- The virus is real and it is dangerous. You must acknowledge that COVID-19 is not going away any time soon. Some predict it will make a comeback in the cooler weather of fall and winter. We’ll see. It’s true that people are dying from it daily. And yes, the majority of people do recover, but that doesn’t mean it is not harmful and/or deadly. Young adults, children, older adults, and everyone in between are susceptible.
- If I’m wrong, there’s no harm. If you’re wrong, people will get sick and possibly die. If I have misread everything and I’m wrong in my belief that wearing a mask is helpful to you, then there’s no damage. I’ll be hot, slightly uncomfortable, but you won’t die, and I won’t transmit anything to you. But if you are wrong and choose not to wear a mask, you may pass COVID-19 along to me, or to a senior adult, or to a child. Then what? They may recover, but they may not.
- The Bible commands us to obey our pastors. People who have ranted and raved against their pastor’s decision to either (1) require masks be worn or (2) strongly encourage congregants to wear masks should rethink their position. Adrian Rogers once said that church works best when “pastors lead and feed, and the people follow and swallow.” He was describing the shepherding role that all pastors have. What we are seeing in our churches is open rebellion to pastors. This is the “issue behind the issue.” It’s not truly about wearing masks or not wearing masks. It’s about submission to authority. If a pastor and his team of fellow pastors decides masks are required or are to be strongly encouraged, the only biblical response on the part of members is “yes.” The division in our churches over wearing masks really comes down to people’s rebelliousness towards authority. Period. Finito.
Next Sunday I choose to wear a mask as a way to serve, as a way to love, and as a way to do my part to protect the most vulnerable people in our congregation. It is my way to place the needs of others above my own. Am I looking forward to wearing a mask? No. Will it be hot and uncomfortable? Yes – for about an hour. I’m convinced I can persevere.
Wearing a mask is not a sign that a person has no faith. Nor is it a sign that a person is fearful (yes, members of my congregation have leveled those accusations at me on Facebook this past weekend). It certainly is neither! As I had to remind one female member of my church, wearing a mask is about loving the other person. It’s about leading and pastoring the church. It is about being a good shepherd (the last time I checked, shepherds love and protect their sheep). That’s all that is happening here. I am not afraid of COVID-19, nor do I lack faith. Quite the opposite.
No matter what you decide to do as your church reopens, next Sunday you’ll find me wearing a mask. I hope you’ll consider wearing one, too. For the sake of others.