COVID-19 and masks: schism or disagreement

COVID-19 and masks: schism or disagreement

A reader over on Sanityville comments under the link to this post from Warhorn:

Just a thought from the bleachers.

Consider two pastors, committed to reformed worship and are in agreement on 99% of their beliefs. Both agree that we live in a time where the civil magistrate is dangerously corrupt, and currently seeks to devour and destroy the church. It’s a difficult time for everyone.

One pastor draws the line at state-enforced mask-wearing in church. Another draws the line at state bans on singing in church…

Could they openly entertain, discuss, and work out differences (and in the end, even agree to disagree on points) without all the nameless friendly-fire? It sure would be an encouragement to many of us.

Two responses, one from me and another from Joseph.

First, from Tim:

Some of these men denouncing the masks as “statist” and “idolatry” are Reformed church officers we have long worked side by side with and loved, while holding serious disagreements. We have always disagreed with their novel promotion of infant and toddler communion. We have disagreed with them over Federal Vision, doing so for many years before they left it behind. We have disagreed over whether it is proper to use the Pill in its abortifacient forms, whether it is good and proper to limit pregnancy in Christian marriage for the purpose of providing present children a better education, whether non-ordained men of the church should celebrate private communion, whether it is proper to use contemporary instruments in worship, whether the ordination and discipline of pastors should be held by a presbytery or the local church employing those men, and the list could go on…

A number of our disagreements have been quite serious, yet we’ve lived in affection with one another, sometimes arguing publicly, but more often arguing privately about such matters.

Not so with other Reformed men. They have trashed these men, their views, and their character. This has led to us being excoriated by them also, because of our public expressions of respect and affection for men they despise.

We regret this not in the least.

So then, it has long been the case that our Christian fellowship, and theirs, have bent in each other’s direction so that what they do has a pretty strong effect on us and what we do a lesser one on them. This is the reason for my/our condemnation of their railing against civil authorities and schism over face masks.

We refuse to allow them to condemn our pastors and elders, seeking to divide other churches that submit to the civil authorities in the matter of face masks, and we condemn the railing with which they have sought to accomplish this division. It is cultivating disrespect for civil authorities to rail as they have done and it is schismatic to condemn as statist and idolatrous elders and pastors of other Reformed churches one is in fellowship with if they don’t agree to say “no” precisely when and where and how you say “no” to the civil authority.

We have no objection to other Reformed elders around the country who have decided respecfully to say “no” to COVID-19 regulations they deem harmful to their sheep in their state and context. May God be glorified! We will help in any way we can! But let them not enter our congregations and tell our people that we, their elders and pastors, are giving in to statism and commending idolatry if we don’t do precisely what they do.

That is schism. And since they made these accusations and charges very publicly, they must be condemned for doing so also very publicly. We pray it will cause them to change their words and return to loving their fellow elders and pastors in the Reformed church.

Second, from Joseph:

First of all, welcome, and thanks for commenting.

Now, the rhetoric I have seen from reformed men similar to myself is justifying refusal to comply with mask orders anywhere in public, not only in worship. That is a big difference from your hypothetical. But even if the position is as you describe it, there needs to be a discussion of this sort of thing, and there is a lot at stake.

If Christians really shouldn’t comply with public health and safety orders that make worship less convenient, such as sprinkler requirements in the sanctuary, limits to row length, room capacities, and other fire codes that address things statistically far less dangerous than Covid-19–if Christians that comply with such public health and safety laws are in fact obeying man rather than God, then it is necessary to warn God’s people against such man-fearing idolaters.

But we know that Christians should submit to unreasonable masters cheerfully except when they give orders contrary to God’s commands.

If those laws mentioned above are not commands to disobey God, then men who refuse to obey the authorities, advocate that other Christians disobey the authorities, accuse those who do obey of being idolaters, and even tell people to leave their church over the issue… those men need to be warned against. They must stop being divisive. They must stop being disobedient. They must stop railing against authority. The people of God must be warned against their schism and rebellion.

This for their sake and for the sake of their followers and the wider church, in both instances.

Peter and Paul agreed on 99%, too, but Paul resisted Peter to his face and publicly when Peter was allowing the prejudices of the people against face masks… I mean against Gentiles… to cause him to join them in their divisiveness. Why did Paul do this? Don’t you think it caused consternation among the sheep? Because it was a serious danger to the unity and purity of the church. It is the same with plenty of Paul’s writing. Why does it matter if some people say, “Do not handle. Do not taste. Do not touch. Do not wear a mask… or you will be tainted by the liberal muck. You can’t be a Christian and do those things.”? Because they have the appearance of holiness while actually being useless personally and divisive corporately.

The question you need to answer is whether you are convinced that God’s law prohibits wearing a face mask—something I’m sure doctors and nurses and firefighters and cowboys and many others would be surprised to learn. Even in a context where the left is using it as a litmus test to determine who to persecute and who will toe the line, there are no good arguments to claim that putting a mask on is faithless disobedience to God. Can it be done out of faithless fear? Of course. So can going into the temple of the Lord. That does not make it wrong to do so in any universal sense.

Cheerfully wearing a face mask, like most other things, can communicate many things. It will convince some people you are an idiot—just one of the sheeple. It will convince others you are a statist idolater. Let them condemn you for your good behavior, rather than for your rebellion. Some others will be convinced that you are loving. Others that you are an “ally” of the left, and that you believe everything the left has said about masks and Covid-19 (this week). That you trust in horses, chariots and masks rather than the Lord. This is no skin off your back any more than when the enemies of the Israelites assumed they had similar gods and similar trusts when they showed up with similar weapons.

Don’t believe masks are effective? No law requiring them? Don’t wear them. But also don’t sit in judgment on your brother in Christ who does. Consider him your weaker brother and accommodate him. That might even mean wearing a mask for his sake.

Believe in the effectiveness of masks? Wear one if you want. But realize that not all your brothers in Christ do. And if you want them to wear masks around you, appeal to them in gracious love, not condemning them. Don’t join in the condemnation the left is already heaping on your brother in Christ.


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About The Author

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Pastor of Trinity Reformed Church since 1996, Tim and Mary Lee have five children and lots of grandchildren. Tim's books include "Daddy Tried," The Grace of Shame," "Church Reformed," and a new book for elders. Tim spent ten years in the PC(USA) and twenty in the PCA. He's now a member of Evangel Presbytery.

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