We have now been meeting indoors together at the YMCA for three months. During that time, it has become obvious that the virus has become prevalent in our area, with more than a few in our church having become sick, and all of us knowing people who have been sick or even died.
I (Sam) can speak with some experience since Chelsea and I contracted COVID-19 over the holidays. The symptoms are stronger than the respiratory flu, in my experience. The loss of taste around the holidays was a real bummer. My brother, who is healthy and young, went to the ER with hives and breathing problems due to complications with COVID-19. It’s interesting how the symptoms of the virus are so varied. COVID-19 is no joke.
As your pastors, we continue to have conversations about our approach to this pandemic, and to listen to the various perspectives of those in our church. We believe it is time for an update.
When we put our plan to meet at the YMCA in motion, the elders asked that everyone not exempt from the Health Order to mask up and distance. We explained why this is our request, saying,
We have read the opinions of Christians who are not taking COVID precautions, and we are not convinced there’s a sound biblical argument for defiance of the mask mandate. The KCC elders believe following the Ohio Department of Health Mask Order is an application of submission to governing authorities (Romans 13:1-6), love for others (Mark 12:31; 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10), and an attempt to live a quiet humble life that doesn’t demand our rights but looks to the interests of others before ourselves (1 Thessalonians 4:12-13; Philippians 2:1-11). Wearing masks also helps others feel more comfortable and safe. On top of that, we are guests at the YMCA. When we go to someone else’s house, we follow their rules, and the YMCA is seeking to follow the state’s order.
What About Conflicting Science on Masks?
We’re all aware that there are sharp disagreements about masks in our culture. Sadly, those disagreements have seeped into the church. No one is saying that masks are magically protecting the virus from spreading at all, but an argument can be made that if masks are worn over the mouth and nose they help restrain respiratory droplets that could be infected with the virus. And it is indisputably true that people can have COVID-19 without knowing it, and pass it on to others without knowing it (that’s how Chelsea and I [Sam] got it).
What About Freedom of Conscience on Masks?
We want to acknowledge a tension that we feel in asking our church to wear a mask when we gather. Not everyone has the same conscience that masking is something that the church should be doing. We know we are putting those who would rather not mask up for various reasons in a dilemma. We see that. We want to maintain freedom of conscience on masks, even as we are consciously trying to inform and shape your conscience by asking you to wear a mask. We believe that freedom of the conscience is an important biblical principle, and is maintained by asking, but not demanding or policing masks.
In all sincerity, we want everyone to feel welcomed and loved in our church gatherings. That means you, whether or not you wear a mask.
Why Do We Continue to Ask You to Mask?
There are three main motivations. You’re not going to find a Bible verse telling you to wear a mask. But we do believe that biblical principles applied to this complex situation should compel us to wear a mask when the church gathers.
1. To Love the Most Vulnerable
Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:10). Our congregation is made up of some people who are immunocompromised, elderly, and at high risk for serious complications, and even death, if they get COVID-19. This puts them into two categories: 1) not attending our gatherings at all, or 2) feeling increasingly unsafe because they are high risk and see many others not wearing masks. We would like for everyone to be able to worship together with us. We would like to see God glorified with those who are strong displaying his love and willingness to sacrifice for those who are weak. We have all seen the political arguments over these health orders. We all have our opinions and concerns. But love for our neighbor should be greater in the hearts of Christians than any political stance.
2. To Not Demand Our Rights But Look to the Interests of Others
Jesus faced multiple opportunities to take his “right” as the Son of God to promote his own agenda and preferences, yet His example was always to look to honor his Father in Heaven and to look to the interests of others (Philippians 2). Let us have the mindset of Christ, where we look with eagerness to lay down our rights so that we may care for others. We also need to be careful not to judge in our hearts others who are acting in a way that we don’t agree with.
3. To Humbly Submit to our Governing Authorities as a Public Witness
As Christians, we are called to be subject, for the Lord’s sake, to every human institution (1 Peter 2:13, Romans 13:1-7), unless it requires us to violate God’s word (Acts 5:29). There are times to defy the government, and we believe this is not one of them. While we have heard various opinions, we have seen no biblical argument that suggests complying with this health order is in any way requiring us to sin. We recognize that some may still choose to interpret the law differently. But no matter the legal interpretation, for the Christian, love is a far more powerful motivation (1 John 4:7-11, 5:1-3).
Sam has spoken directly with the Defiance Health Department, and it is their clear expectation that we would all wear masks throughout the time we gather for worship, including while seated, while singing and while listening to the sermon. The Ohio Governor has issued a state-wide mask mandate that is still in effect.
Church disagreements are an opportunity to learn to love one another more deeply. We are in the midst of a disagreement. So let’s learn to love one another.
Sacrifice Sunday – February 7, 2021
To that end, we are declaring February 7 as a Sacrifice Sunday. While we continue to request masks throughout our gatherings every Sunday, Sacrifice Sundays will be a particular time to focus to share the sacrificial love of Christ with those who are most vulnerable, so that they can come to our worship gathering, take communion, and experience the love of their church family as we worship together. Of course, this does not guarantee that the most vulnerable will attend Sacrifice Sunday, but it’s a loving attempt nonetheless.
Sacrifice Sunday will be a time for those who are strong to sacrifice for those who are weak, to put others’ interests above our own interests and, in humility, to count others more significant than ourselves. (Philippians 2:3-4) It will be a time for us to use the freedom we have been called to as an opportunity to serve one another in love. (Galatians 5:13)
It is our request that people not exempted under the Health Order who attend Sacrifice Sunday on February 7 would put aside our own preferences and joyfully wear a mask throughout the entire service – including while seated, while singing, and while listening to the sermon – as a sacrifice of love for the most vulnerable. We will consider doing Sacrifice Sunday again on a monthly basis
Let’s Not Lose Sight of the Big Picture
Let’s remember that this mask thing is temporary. We don’t know how temporary it will be but for now, we are taking it a month or two at a time and reassessing. Let’s not be anxious about “tomorrow” and worry about what government mandates could come next. Let’s respond to the problems of today with prayer and thoughtful, biblical, moral reasoning.
We all look forward to the day when the mask mandate will be in the past, and COVID-19 is less of a concern. Let’s not lose the big picture. God is in sovereign control. His kingdom is still advancing. We are in a minor trial at the moment. So we encourage you to respond to this current trial and frustration as an opportunity to learn from the Lord, have our character shaped, and grow in our love for one another.
If you want to discuss the content of this post with any one of us as leaders in the church, we welcome discussion and differing viewpoints. We are doing our imperfect best. Please pray for us and join us in seeking to welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God (Romans 15:7).
Written collaboratively, with love in Christ,
-The KCC Pastors