As you know, there have been many discussions lately about masks and mask policies. These municipal and state policy discussions have been working their way into the life of our congregation. At church, I’ve fielded several phone calls lately about masks. People in my neighborhood are comparing their church’s mask policy with their neighbor’s church’s mask policy at the mailbox. Since that’s the case, I thought I would write a few words about why Good Shepherd has the mask policy that it has.
Our current policy is that “while we encourage masks, we also trust the individual member of the congregation to follow their own Christian conscience about masks.” Additionally, we “ask people as they enter, exit and commune to maintain a reasonable distance.” Our policy falls within the Directed Health Measures from the various government entities.
It’s a tough policy to talk about with people, but more important to me is what it is doing to our congregation. I have heard some say, “Shouldn’t we mandate masks to love our neighbor?” Others say, “How could you let people wear a mask in this fake pandemic?” I’ve heard, “I won’t come back to church until you mandate masks” and I’ve heard those who say, “I won’t come back to church if you mandate masks.” In other words, the theology of masks has suddenly become the single most important doctrine within the Christian church! We now talk about it more than women’s ordination and closed communion! The elevation of the doctrine of mask wearing over the doctrine of Christ holds the potential to divide our congregation. To cause Christian to turn against Christian.
As a pastor, I cannot say to an individual, “You may not come to church without a mask.” There is no place in Scripture that speaks in such a way. It places a non-biblical barrier between some individuals and God’s Word. No one has ever said, “The first step to being Christian is ‘wear a mask.’” What would God say to us if we drove someone from the faith merely because they refused to wear a mask? Is that a good exchange, allowing a soul to spend eternity in hell because of a naked face?
It breaks my pastor’s heart to hear that some would abandon the hearing of God’s Word, not over a theological error, or false doctrine, but instead over mask wearing! Would you really stop hearing God’s Word preached and taught because you had to suffer a few hours of mask wearing each week? Would you say, “My face being naked and free of a mask is more important than receiving the forgiveness earned by the God who took on flesh and died for my sin”? Would you separate yourself from God’s Word over something so small as wearing a mask?
Thus, Good Shepherd’s current policy is that each individual family is free to decide how to handle the issue of masks. It isn’t the church’s job to determine if masks work or don’t work. We have no authority to enforce the mandates of the land beyond saying, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution,” even as we must “obey God rather than men.” We exist only to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments.
Yes, the Gospel. That’s what church is for! The Gospel teaches that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. He died for the ones wearing masks. He died for those with naked faces. He died for the uncertain ones caught in-between. He died for all of us, and that is truly the most important thing. That’s why we exist!
He called us to be Christians, He washed us in baptismal waters, He feeds us with His body and blood, He sends His Holy Spirit to us in the Word of God. “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness (wearing a mask or not), but according to His own mercy.” (Titus 3:5) You will be saved because of Christ’s love for you, not because you either wear or don’t wear a mask. And this salvation, earned by the blood and death of Christ is IN FACT the most important doctrine of the church. It’s what binds us together.
His deadly serious work of mercy for us sets us free to actually love our neighbors. How? By respecting the Christian conscience of each family of the church, without gossiping about them behind their back, or in the halls of the church. We respect the conscience of those who wear masks, and are glad that Christ has died for their sins. We respect the conscience of those who go without masks, knowing that Christ has died for them too! We support the members of our congregation when they need Christian love, no matter where they fall on the issue. We stop avoiding speaking to those who differ from us on this issue, stop gossiping about them behind their backs in self-justifying ways. We refuse to judge them directly to their face, as if we know better than they! To stop foolishly (and without God’s input) declaring them to be “un-Christian” due to their mask stance. To stop watching during services to see who is, and who isn’t, but instead to watch so we may hear God’s Word.
We are free to respect the Christian consciences of our fellow church members, and that is how we actually can serve our neighbor in this pandemic situation. Some will wear masks, and some will have bare faces. Some will wear a mask in the door and take it off in the pew. In all cases, we rejoice that God has called them all. We’ll be church together, as we kneel and receive Christ’s body and blood. Praise God!
At the same time, if you are sick, respect the Christian conscience of your fellow Christians, and act appropriately to keep your neighbor safe. This too is Christian love. When you feel better, return to God’s house to receive His gifts again!
All of us are here for the same reason – Christ has saved us from sin, and granted us eternal life. That Good News binds us all together as the body of Christ. As the body of Christ, we have need for each other – especially in these difficult and trying times. “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
If you have questions about this issue, please talk to one of your pastors about our church policy at any time.