Over the past ten months or so our nation has experienced tremendous turmoil. The chaos of the virus, including mandates, widely varying medical opinion, and lockdowns, along with sickness and death. We have been pushed to the breaking point. Sadly, it has affected and infected brethren, that is, the chaos and stress have wreaked havoc among God’s people.
What do we do?
This article makes the following assumptions in the assertion that there are two biblical paths (a third option appears at the end): (1) the differing views on mandates (masks orders, lockdowns, curfews, etc.), health concerns (wearing or not wearing a mask, social distancing or not, etc.) are matters of opinion or personal judgment and (2) those personal judgments are strongly held with a determination to stick to them.
So, what does the Bible teach us with regard to strongly held judgments that differ from other brethren?
One option is to go our separate ways. Paul and Barnabas had a strong difference in judgment and ended up separating over the issue (Acts 15:36-41). Just to review: Barnabas insisted on taking John Mark and Paul insisted that he not go with them to preach the gospel. We are not given the reasons, though many infer Barnabas’ family relations to John Mark informed his judgment while John Mark’s turning back after Cyprus was Paul’s objection. Whatever the reasons, Paul and Barnabas strongly disagreed with each determined to hold his ground.
The solution to the problem was for Paul to take another (Silas) and go his way, while Barnabas and Mark went their way. In the end, Paul and Barnabas were fine with each other; they considered one another faithful in the Lord (cf. 1 Cor. 9:6). Paul and Mark were fine with each other as well (Col. 4:10). Brethren have generally viewed this as strictly a matter of judgment with no sin involved.
So, one solution for our present situation is to decide to go our separate ways, continue to hold each other as faithful to the Lord, and potentially have closer working relationships in the future. Of course, this means congregations breaking up with potentially smaller works. Smaller works will affect the contribution and any ability to support a preacher and other labors of the local church. For this reason, our view is this is a last resort.
A second option is to live with our differences. Romans 14 addresses times when brethren have strong convictions that differ, but are in the area of opinion or personal judgment. Here the Spirit says to accept one another without wrangling over our differences (Rom. 14:1-13). An application to our present situation is that those who do not wear masks not to condemn those who do and those who wear them not to judge those who do not.
In contradiction of this, the argument has been made, “If you love me, you will wear a mask. After all, Paul said he would never eat meat if it offended a brother. So, you should be willing to wear a mask for me.” First, let us understand that “offend” in the context of what Paul was discussing in 1 Corinthians 8 means to cause to sin. I do not know of any brother who is making the claim that non-mask wearers are causing mask wearers to sin.
Next, to say, “if you love me, you will…” is essentially saying, “you don’t love me, if you do not do what I want.” Not a healthy attitude in any relationship. It is emotional blackmail.
Further, if the argument “if you love me, you will…” is valid in this issue, is it valid in the following?
- If you love me, you will make your wife/daughter wear a head covering at services.
- If you love me, you will not let your wife/daughter speak out in Bible class.
- If you love me, you will wear a suit and tie to all services (or a dress for women).
There are brethren with deeply-held convictions on these issues. Their conscience compels them to wear a head covering (or have their wives/daughters do so), women to be silent in Bible class, or always wear their “Sunday-best” to every service (every night of a gospel meeting, mid-week services, and any other time the saints assemble).
Some see it as a health concern, so others should wear a mask and socially distance for the sake of their health (those concerned about catching the virus). If that is the policy right now, will it be the policy going forward? So, if the “powers that be” tell us we are in imminent danger from the virus for the next two years (as Bill Gates has recently stated), will we have a mask-policy for services for the next two years? Also, what will we now do with Christians who are undergoing medical treatment for cancer or some other condition that weakens their immune system (or who have auto-immune issues/diseases)? How do we handle elderly members who have serious concerns every flu season (I know of some who do not attend services during local outbreaks of the flu to help ensure they do not catch it)? Are we to mandate a permanent mask policy?
Another claim is that you should strive to live peaceably. True, we should (Rom. 12:18). We are not doing this if we are trying to force our opinion on others. It is the exact opposite.
An observation: the pressure is coming from those who want everyone to wear masks. I do not know of any brother who does not wear a mask that is pushing for others to take theirs off.
The third option is to condemn one another and divide. To bite and devour each other (Gal. 5:15). We can do that. Satan will be pleased. God will be grieved. The Kingdom will be diminished. Souls will be damned.
God help us.
To read more observations about the virus, mandates, etc., click here.