Pastor Doug Wilson on COVID-19: an in-depth critique

Pastor Doug Wilson on COVID-19: an in-depth critique

What follows is a list of articles and comments from Pastor Doug Wilson about Coronavirus between March 1 and August 31, 2020. Interspersed is commentary by Josh Congrove, an elder from Trinity Reformed Church. In a similar vein, we’ve collected Pastor Sumpter’s writings on this topic here. These posts are long, so we have also provided a summary of their arguments (as of 09/01/2020) and the errors they contain. Our own writings are gathered here

Contagion, Cooties, and COVID-19

March 16, 2020

I have seen a few troubling comments online where Christian leaders are saying that the civil government doesn’t have the right to cancel meetings of the church. They certainly don’t have the the right to do that if their objection is that you are preaching the crown rights of King Jesus. In such a case, continue to meet. But if the fire chief told all the good Christians to get out now because the roof of the sanctuary was on fire, this is something he has the right and obligation to do. And the elders should not tell the parishioners to stay put until the elders had voted on it.

Let us grant that we live in a time when the state is an overweening tyrant, and requires all kinds of things it ought not to be requiring. That should be said up front, and I agree that there are all sorts of circumstances where Christians and Christian churches need to defy our jitney jehovahs, and amen to all of it. But following the mandates of the civil authority on quarantines and the closing of public meetings and such during a time of epidemic is not one of them.

So to be clear, if the governor of Idaho shuts down all public meetings because of COVID-19, churches included, then Christ Church would comply. Even if it happened to be the wrong decision, or a decision with which I differed, we would still happily comply. This is one of things that is well within their realm of jurisdiction. It is their call to make. This is their job.

There are so many areas where the church should be resisting statism, it would be shame to waste our powder on any issue where the state is acting well within its rights.

—Probably the best statement Pastor Wilson has ever made in this. #HonoringTheMagistrate

There is a difference between those who say that a true plague in modern times is an impossibility, and those who say it is a very real possibility but we do not yet know if one has in fact begun. If it does happen, this does not refute those who maintained that it could happen.

—One of only three places where Moscow says “we don’t know” or “I don’t know.” As you can see, though, it’s not an admission about what Moscow doesn’t know; it’s a hypothetical.

Three Reasons Why the White House Must Refuse to Panic

March 22, 2020

Let us use a neutral term for it, and say that we are in the middle of a great “stir” over the COVID-19 virus, and this means that there is a great deal of heated discussion online about all of it. When certain voices, like mine for instance, urge everyone to rediscover the virtues of calm in the face of peril, one of the common jabs or taunts in return is the one that says that you, Wilson, have no degrees in epidemiology , and so maybe you ought to pipe down and show enough humility to be willing to listen to the experts. Why are you, a laymen in these things, willing to opine, conclude, venture, suggest, or bloviate about anything? Hmmm?

So the epidemiologists can tell us what is likely to happen if everyone with coronavirus coughs on three people, and if those three people cough on three others. But the epidemiologists CANNOT tell us what the economic ramifications will be if every last American goes down into their basements for three weeks. They don’t have a clue.

—Pastor Wilson proceeds to acknowledge the objection he has no expertise to offer on immunology or epidemiology, then goes into a long discussion about how disciplines overlap. Fine and good. His point about immunologists not being experts in economics is fine. But he never gets around to explaining why his judgment on whether the pandemic itself, medically, is a “big deal” should be trusted—and this bodes ill for the coming months and posts. #NoExpertise

Expertise in one area does not automatically transfer to expertise in other areas. Just because someone is a star second basemen for the Yankees does not mean that he knows how to identify the best value in aftershave lotions. He might, but we don’t know.

—One of only three instances where Moscow even obliquely says “I don’t know” or “we don’t know”. As you can see, it’s not comforting, being in the midst of a hypothetical.

In Which I Consider the Propriety of Tying a Bandanna Around My Head and Coming Off the Top Ropes

March 25, 2020

Yesterday I heard the very insightful comment that the coronavirus is the flu with a brilliant marketing team. So this virus is a virus out of the way. It is not ordinary. It is extraordinary.

—Pastor Wilson compares it to the flu, but also acknowledges it’s a least a bit worse. #FluComparison

We Have Revised Our Estimates Somewhat Downwards

March 27, 2020

Introduction: Pastor Wilson headlines the post with a meme saying “This Jeffrey Epstein coverup has gotten way out of hand”.

—This is typical of Pastor Wilson’s use of humor in his rhetoric to make a point while retaining plausible deniability about the point he’s making. Does he really think the federal government’s (let alone the states’) reaction amounts to a coverup? #Conspiracy

So if you live here in here in Moscow, I would urge you to go here and sign this petition, which is self-explanatory. Their response to this will indicate clearly whether they are willing to be civic leaders, or whether panic or power or both has gone to their heads.

—Signing a petition is one thing. It’s another thing to take their response to it and frame it as the diagnosis of whether they are “willing” (implied: legitimate) to be civic leaders is another. Maybe they disagree, maybe they’re wrong, without it meaning that “panic or power” has gone to their heads. #RailingAgainstTheMagistrate

Like the Merchants of Babylon

March 31, 2020

The first thing to say is that it is not a coherent response to argue that we cannot know what God is up to with the coronavirus, and then turn around and assume in the nature of our response that we have some idea of what it means. Either we know or we don’t know. And if we don’t know, then we don’t know if lament is the appropriate response. There is an assumed meaning in lament, and you can’t have that meaning if you don’t have any meaning. Jews who had a promise of a return from exile, and a sense of their own vocation as a people, could lament their absence from Jerusalem. But the merchants of Babylon could not lament in this sense — all they can do is wail over their losses (Rev. 18:19).

—The clearest instance where Moscow says “I don’t know” or “we don’t know”.

Scriptural Quarantine

April 1, 2020

But also since that time, I have heard that selections from that post of mine have been circulating online in defense of the massive lock downs that have been occurring, and so I thought I needed to say something more. Notice that above I referred to “wrong decisions or decisions with which I differed,” and I did comply with them, happily. But there really is a distinction between an erroneous decision, or a decision with the usual governmental muddle mixed in with it, and a decision that amounts to an abuse of the quarantining authority.

—Pastor Wilson beginning to develop his argument of why quarantine orders are abuse of authority. #QuarantineNotions

Romans 13 and the COVID virus

April 8, 2020

We have already had our right to assemble taken away because of the pandemic, which is a right recognized by the First Amendment. Suppose the authorities said that spreading false information about the virus was every bit as dangerous as people meeting in large numbers, and so free speech was therefore to be abridged in the interests of public safety. No touting the benefits of hydroxychloroquine, you. And they decided also to nix that part of the First Amendment that recognized your right to redress your grievances to the government. Do you simply go along with this foolishness?

Those who allow their governors to simply abrogate their rights, plainly outlined in the text of the Constitution, are themselves rebels. They are rebelling against lawful authority by submitting to unlawful authority. I am not saying that this is a place where Romans 13 “does not apply.” Rather, I am saying that it applies in spades, and that the precious and overly-compliant are defying it.

—Pastor Wilson moves further in developing his doctrine. But note: he says the “right to assemble” was taken away? But is this true? There were limits of size set on gatherings, to be sure—is that a removal of the right to assemble? Second, note that he conflates individual rebellion with the doctrine of the lesser magistrate (which he mentioned above in the post). But they’re not the same. #RailingAgainstTheMagistrate

What we have been doing at Christ Church thus far, as a church, is to comply with the orders of our governor and our mayor. We will continue to do this until it becomes obvious to us that the orders are an abuse of their legitimate authority to quarantine. We do not challenge that authority of theirs to quarantine, and we have not relinquished our authority as elders to call a meeting of the church. These two positions are currently in tension, but because we are good citizens and not scofflaws, we have resolved that tension by deferring. But there is a point where such orders would be tantamount to commanding water to flow uphill. As such these would be orders that would be unscriptural and therefore immoral, unconstitutional and therefore illegal, and nonsensical and therefore lame.

—#HonoringTheMagistrate

This Shambling and Shameful and Shambolic Shamdemic

April 13, 2020

In any given situation, before we ascertained what is happening, we are to obey the authorities that God has placed over us. After we know they are wrong-headed or misguided, we should continue to obey. But once we know the whole thing is a grotesque and illegal power grab, we are to draw a firm biblical and constitutional line and begin the necessary task of civil resistance and disobedience.

You might say, and I guess some of you have said, that individuals and lesser magistrates don’t have the privilege of second-guessing those who are responsible to make such decisions. To which I reply, ever? Suppose the magistrates told everybody to turn in their guns so that they could be “sanitized by trained professionals, and then they will be returned to you promptly.” Research has apparently shown that this new and deadly virus clings in a most dangerous way to metallic gun surfaces, especially in red states with their drier climates. I dare say that resistance to that transparent move would be a whole lot more robust than our current resistance now is.

Insist on a debate. Insist on a fiery debate. Insist on a review of what was done, and by whom. Insist on accountability for all decisions, and have that be an accountability with sharp teeth. Ask politicians running for office a very simple question. If a second wave of COVID comes back around in the fall, will you do the same thing over again? And if they say yes, then you must bring out your very best baleful stare.

—#RailingAgainstTheMagistrate

One of Our Bees is Missing

April 20, 2020

So we ought not to kid ourselves. Here in Idaho, the state of “extreme emergency” that was declared as the justification for all of this hoo hah is the same state of affairs that would justify a declaration of martial law. Mark that. You all have just witnessed the very same legal threshold that could be used to declare martial law. Shall I say that again? On ramshackle evidence this flimsy, this rickety, this wobbly, this slapdash, and this rinkydink, the governor could have put soldiers on every street corner.

Early on in this pandemic, falsely so-called…

—#NoExpertise

Understanding Panic Porn in the Aftermath

April 27, 2020

Second, if you live in a place where everybody is wearing masks, and you are going to go ride the subway, it is not fear to take a mask along and wear it because you are taking public opinion into account. You are wanting to be a good neighbor, and so you wear the mask under those circumstances even though you think you don’t need to. You are not worried about the virus, but you don’t want to spend your morning provoking angry stares.

—Pastor Wilson’s point here as it stands is good, but it points out a problem with his current argument. If it’s honorable to wear a mask to be a good neighbor to those around you, why is it not honorable to do so under a civil magistrate’s order, or under a church session’s order? If one has obligations to be at peace with (presumably unbelieving) neighbors, why not all the more so with those God has placed over you, in the state, and especially against the church? Now, let’s grant the (dubious) contention that one has a “conscience issue” against wearing a mask. OK, fine. But if your love of neighbor can trump your conscience on the subway, why not in the house of God, of all places? #Masks

And what our leaders and rulers and thought-mongers don’t want to hear right now is the message that they mishandled this thing from stem to stern. They did it all wrong, from soup to nuts. In addition to this, they are still in power, and they have every incentive in the world to refuse to admit that they were wrong, and that they destroyed the livelihoods of millions of people for no other reason than that they panicked.

—These are sweeping claims that are unprovable. I mean, what are “our leaders”? Trump? The CDC? The governors? Of which states? County officials? And, they did it all wrong? Pastor Wilson’s rhetoric is so bombastic as to be unhelpful for any purpose other than rallying readers to rebel against a tyrant of their own imagination. #Conspiracy #RailingAgainstTheMagistrate

Masking the Masquerade

May 4, 2020

Let us begin by acknowledging several things. When millions of people are doing something, it is not possible to winnow the meaning of that particular thing down to just one meaning. I am speaking here of the meaning of masks. During the time of COVID, there are multiple reasons for wearing a mask. There are also multiple reasons for not doing so. And on either side, those individual reasons can be reasonable or not.

—Good point, as far as it goes. Why does Moscow move from this to later calling mask wearing a confession of statism? #Masks

But all of us are still citizens who have a Tuesday to get through, and you are going to go to the grocery store with a mask or without one. This means you have a decision to make. And where you have a decision to make, I would encourage you to not cooperate with any messaging that says “we narrowly averted a second Black Death through our heroic lock downs.”

As the risks decrease here in Idaho, where they were never that high to begin with, and we can also see a sharp uptick in the wearing of masks, my conclusion is that it is all part of a push, after the fact, to justify all the things done to us in the name of public safety.

—Pastor Wilson beginning to explain his conspiracy theory about masks… #Conspiracy #Masks

All Divvied Up

May 6, 2020

JUST SAY NO

And so here is the bottom line, that admittedly requires further development. When a Christian citizen disregards an ungodly and unconstitutional law, he is not doing something wrong, “however excusable.” He is actually exercising one of his central obligations as a Christian citizen. He is fulfilling his duty. He is being a responsible citizen in much the same way as when he goes and votes.

Notice that I said “disregards,” not “disobeys.” If I am walking down the street, and somebody’s little yippy dog runs out and barks at me the whole length of his yard, and I move on out of earshot, I am disregarding him, not disobeying him.

—Pastor Wilson making his point on why disobeying “unlawful” orders is a duty of the Christian. But despite his distinction between disregarding and disobeying, hard to see how this is a valid distinction or what it looks like re: masks. #RailingAgainstTheMagistrate #Masks

Not Very Much Feck At All

May 18, 2020

What have we learned in the COVID panic? Or, closer to the point, what have some of us learned, and what should the rest of us be learning shortly?

We have learned that the establishment is bankrupt. We have seen that the scientific establishment is bankrupt. The public health system is bankrupt. The media is bankrupt. The educational system is bankrupt. Our politicians are bankrupt. The end result is that the general public has been fed the most shameless lies, and (thus far) are still largely willing to have it so.

There was a time, early on, when the lies had at least a veneer of plausibility, but now, the whole mendacious scam is out in the open, naked and covered with goose bumps. The falsehoods are now so apparent that we are in a position to countthe goose bumps.

The stupidity has grown to epic proportions, and I believe that as time goes on, we will discover that we are just now beginning to catch a glimpse of merely the half of it.

—#Conspiracy

The Floyd Riots as a Clear Summons for Four More Years of Trump

June 8, 2020

Some might balk at the idea of including the so-called pandemic as a political operation, but that is what it was and is. Not only so, but the fact that it was a political operation can be plainly seen in the attitudes of our public health officials to the protests and rioting of the third wave. What is more apolitical than a virus, right? You might be forgiven for thinking that way, you naive little yap, but the governors and all their officials are NOT apolitical. And they all gave the game away when they all, with a straight face, waved through the massive protests over the Floyd death, but continued to restrict churches from meeting.

—In other places, especially earlier on, Pastor Wilson made clear he accepted the reality of the virus. Now he says it’s a political operation.  #Conspiracy

7 Reasons For Unmasking the Masks

July 8, 2020

As The Federalist notes, the turning point was June 4. At that time, it was made manifest to all careful observers, not to mention more than a few casual observers, that the lock downs and restrictions were political. They were simply a form of partisan crowd control. This realization extends to the masking mandates, which are being driven by the same political agenda. This whole thing was high hypocrisy. It was hypocrisy on stilts. Consequently, our conclusion ought to be no more lock downs, no more restrictions, no more masks. The people dictating these things to us are not sincere. They are not telling us the truth.

—More impossibly huge statements. “The people dictating those things”—again, who are they, exactly? Because there’s a patchwork of laws and regulations around the country, differing by state, county, etc. Isn’t that a triumph of federalism? So how can we reduce everything to “the people”, “the rulers”, etc.? #Conspiracy #RailingAgainstTheMagistrate

The politicos who feel like they are running this show think that they have the authority to just issue decrees, diktats, and dumber-than-dirt efforts at manipulating us. They do not have this authority. They are wrong on the facts, and they are wrong on the process.

Such illegal orders may be disregarded, and they should be disregarded. Where people comply, it should be out of necessity, and not because there is any Romans 13 basis for it. When you give a mugger your wallet, you are responding to coercion. You are not granting any moral authority to him. It is the same here. These orders are transparently hypocritical, unconstitutional, illegal, and immoral.

—Completely irresponsible statements by Pastor Wilson here. No distinguishing of good rulers, bad rulers, varying levels of emergency, etc. Just blowhard-ish rhetoric. #RailingAgainstTheMagistrate

But when the orders are based on a series of trumped up lies and manipulated data, transparently bogus, and we are told, on the basis of these manifest untruths, that we may not meet to worship God, our response must be that of meeting and worshiping God. On top of this, we need to worship God as free men, women, and children. Nobody can be told they must come into the throne room of God wearing a secular burka. No free Christian should obey an order from the civil magistrate to put on their servility badge as he or she offers the worship of a free Christian.

And so what should Christian worship look like? It must not look like they are trying to make it look. No singing? Are you kidding? Cover your face to interrupt the Spirit-wrought transformation from glory to glory? Why in Heaven’s name would we do that? Why on earth would we comply? You know, I don’t think we should be listening to you guys.

—Except of course Pastor Wilson’s argument assumes that the mask is a symbol of servility. He hasn’t established this, nor can he, of course, because he’s already admitted in prior posts that masks have no one fixed meaning. As to his novel interpretation of 2 Cor. 3:18, it’s supported by the thinnest of contexts. The Apostle isn’t talking about physical masks at all, of course—he’s not talking about anything physical, really. He’s using the example of Moses to argue metaphorically about the superiority of the new covenant over the old. Pastor Wilson says covering one’s face interrupts “the Spirit-wrought transformation from glory to glory”—seriously? Surely Pastor Wilson doesn’t want to argue that the power of the Spirit is impeded by a random piece of fabric? Assuming not, it’s silly for Pastor Wilson to argue thus. It’s rhetorically effective, but again, substantially empty. #Irrational Arguments #Masks

Mostly Mail on Masks…

July 14, 2020

Lindsey, everything rides on whether the masks actually protect anybody, including your neighbor. If they don’t, then the issue is whether you should make sure to look like you are loving your neighbor. The fact that we live in a hypocritical generation can be seen in the fact that appearances suffice for all.

—Pastor Wilson admitting that his argument depends upon the facts about masks’ effectiveness—which then requires we believe him as an expert… #NoExpertise

Katherine, a father and husband does have the authority to make a decision for his household on an issue like masking up when you go off into the outside world. And so I would suggest that you make one appeal to him. Tell him that you would really rather not, and that if he decides against you, that you will cheerfully comply. And then leave it to him. The reason the governor or mayor cannot do this to the general population is that the “existing authority” includes the entire body of the law, including all the constitutional protections, and the people’s right to jealously guard their individual rights. The governor cannot just announce one day that habeas corpus is a dead Latin phrase that doesn’t mean anything anymore.

—Pastor Wilson responding to a woman who doesn’t want to follow her husband’s masking decision, out of conscience. The question his answer raises, though, is why this doesn’t apply to members under their elders? Why does a member, when push comes to shove, have a valid reason to leave the church, when clearly the woman may not leave her husband? Obviously, the two arrangements are not the same, as Pastor Wilson would point out, but there’s nonetheless enough parallel to raise the question. If, as Pastor Wilson says, authority is the issue when making a decision for the household, cannot elders make a decision for their household out of authority? #ChurchAuthority #Masks

Caroline, no, I believe that I was not taking 2 Cor. 3:18 out of context. There is a difference between legitimate exegesis of a passage and legitimate applicationof a passage. Paul was not talking about masks to ward off disease in that passage, which is an exegetical question. But I use the passage to show that God intends for us to worship Him open-faced, which applies elsewhere.

—Pastor Wilson explaining his usage of 2 Cor. 3:18 (see above). But the problem is he skirts the real objection: it’s not that he’s wrong to apply the verse, but that he’s inventively wrong in his application that “God intends for us to worship Him open-faced.” That’s not at all implied by the verse, and Pastor Wilson is begging his own question here with this ad hoc interpretation. #IrrationalArguments #Masks

Discredited Down to the Ground

July 20, 2020

And here is where the parable convicts us. Because we didn’t kick when we should have, when Roe was first handed down, we are now finding that we can’t kick over the “trifles.” We didn’t throw down at the first enormity, which is precisely why we are having such trouble with the last straw. Because we did not move straight to civil disobedience when the glaring immorality of the Court was made manifest in the evil and high-handed Roe decision, we have now been maneuvered into a position where we must defy our ostensible lords and handlers over . . . these stupid masks.

Say the bubonic plague has broken out all over again, and the CDC recommended a pocket full of posey. There are no scientific studies that show that it might help in any way, and there are actually some that indicate the opposite, but there are hordes of pastors telling you that you need to love your neighbor by catering to their superstition, flattering their panic, and praising their servility. And so that they can see that you love them, you need to hang a satchel of posey around your neck, where all can smell you just exuding the love.

“But does posey actually do anybody any good?” you ask. “Just shut up and look like you love your neighbor,” the reply comes. “And devil take the hindmost.”

—Pastor Wilson here explains why he’s willing to choose masks as a hill to die on. But his argument assumes  (1) that masks are of the same fabric as the other, more glaring evils from the civil magistrate, and (2) that masks are beyond the authority of the magistrate to require. Neither of which he’s proven. More distressing, his hypothetical scenario shifts to “pastors” when he’s just been fomenting rebellion against the magistrate, so that now the reader’s anger is turned toward the pastors. Pastor Wilson doesn’t say explicitly that the pastors should be defied, of course, but because his rhetoric has seamlessly turned toward them, many readers will put them in the same construction as the magistrates. #RailingAgainstTheMagistrate #Masks #ChurchAuthority

A Land Where Nobody Smiles

July 27, 2020

Everything Is Connected

There are all kinds of conspiracies running right now, but none of them have a seat in the master control room. Some of them are not near any controls whatever. Others have partial control of this piece or that one.

But everything is still connected. Everything is still part of a larger sustained narrative. God is doing something really important to the United States right now, and the devil is trying to do something important. There are any number of bit players, sideshow clowns, juggling unicyclists, and bearded ladies, but if you back up far enough you will see that it is all just one circus.

This is all of a piece. Masking orders trying to turn small town America into a place where nobody smiles…

—So again, here (and in the sentences after the ellipsis), Pastor Wilson puts masking in the same fabric as rioting, arson, Joe Biden, and so on. But worse than that, because he’s already brought in the devil into the picture, masking is now seen as but one other play in the devil’s purposes. Small wonder that readers coming across this feel free to foment rebellion against their elders—after all, those elders may be doing the devil’s work, right? Pastor Wilson would never say so directly, but again, at some point he’s responsible for certain inferences. #Masks #RailingAgainstTheMagistrate #ChurchAuthority

Masking and Masks: A Hypothetical Interview

Monday, August 3, 2020

When I walk by someone on the street who is wearing a mask, I have no idea why he is doing so. He might need to do it to keep his job. He might have a serious underlying health condition that he is concerned about. He might be wearing a mask because he needed something in the shop he just came out of, and they wouldn’t serve him without a mask. By the same token, when he walks by me, he has no idea why I am not wearing one. It could be that I am concerned that an amateur wearing of masks increases the chances of spreading infection. It could be that I am deaf, and the mandate exempts me specifically. It could be that I am concerned about constitutional liberty. It could be that I have one in my pocket that I forgot to put on. He has no idea. Consequently, he and I should cut one another some slack.

—#Masks

Next Letters

August 4, 2020

MR, I certainly don’t think it would have been wrong to bow out.

—This response by Pastor Wilson is in the context of a deacon in a Reformed church asking about communion. The church had until recently required elders serving communion to wear masks and gloves. Recently, they rescinded this requirement. The commenter, though, is asking if it would have been acceptable for him to not only not take part in serving communion, but not to take communion at all. And Pastor Wilson says it would not have been wrong. However, in a later response to a letter, he retracts part of that:

 “John, we may have had a misunderstanding somewhere. I thought I was answering his question about bowing out of helping to serve communion–not bowing out of receiving it.”

So that helps somewhat. Nonetheless, Pastor Wilson still made little effort in his comments to the first questioner to preserve the unity of the Table in that church, and instead mostly confirmed this man in (at the least) his fears and weak conscience, and (at the most) his rebellion. How is this not schismatic? #ChurchAuthority #Masks #IrrationalArguments

Littlejohn, MacArthur, and the Binding of Conscience

August 10, 2020

How many untruths do they get to tell us before we have the right to disregard everything they say? Littlejohn thinks that that number is north of the fibs they have told thus far, and I think of the number as way south.

—This is an escalation of statements Pastor Wilson has made elsewhere, and it is irresponsible rhetorically. Why? Because, he floats in a rhetorical question the idea that we may “disregard everything the magistrates say”, then drops it, without clarification of what he means. Add to that his immediately following statement about the number being “way south” of the lies the magistrates have told thus far, and at the very least we’re given no reason not to assume that the magistrates’ conduct has entitled them to being obeyed in nothing. #RailingAgainstTheMagistrate

So running in the background of all Littlejohn’s analysis is his simple acceptance of the reality of the pandemic as a true pandemic. He does not think of it, as I do, as a severe flu season, buried under a tsunami of government-induced panic. He wants the government to mitigate the infectious disease.

—Pastor Wilson is increasingly comfortable labeling COVID as a severe flu season, with little of his earlier qualifications. #FluComparison

But there is a real problem with this. Binding the conscience is an act of authority. It can only occur when someone under authority is required by an authority to act contrary to what that person believes to be right. Binding the conscience doesn’t happen unless there is actual binding. As in, you know, making someone wear a mask.

Consequently, if the civil magistrate requires that everyone wear a mask, then this is binding the conscience. If the elders of a church require all the parishioners to wear a mask in order to come to worship, this is also binding the conscience. But when it comes to matters of faith or worship, the Christian conscience is supposed to be “free from the doctrines and commandments of men” (WCF 20.2). And to “believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands” is to violate true liberty of conscience. This only happens when somebody is making somebody else do something.

—This has already been well dealt with by a Warhorn post, so I won’t comment further. #ChurchAuthority #Masks

Binding the conscience only happens when someone makes something mandatory, and when someone else helps them to police the requirement. Your governor might be doing that, and your elders might be helping him.

—I would note that Pastor Wilson’s logic doesn’t fit the pattern we see in the NT among the Pharisees. They had bound the conscience on a number of matters without necessarily having “someone else help them to police the requirement.”

If a church determined that a person wearing a mask could not come, that would be binding the conscience. If a church determined that a person not wearing a mask would be turned away at the door, that too is binding the conscience.

—Probably Pastor Wilson’s clearest schismatic condemnation of churches who take a different view than his own. #ChurchAuthority #Masks

And Now For Some Words of Encouragement

August 17, 2020

Pastors who knew that the global reaction to the virus was overdone, but who had their congregations mask up anyway due to their misunderstanding of Rom. 13, albeit conscientiously held, need to understand that there has been a massive infusion of fear into their congregations regardless. The weekly wearing of masks will have had a far greater impact on the congregation’s theology than the reasoning of the session’s position paper that less than half of the people read. And it will have been a destructive impact.

Lex orandi lex credendi. The law of prayer is the law of faith. Masks are a confession, and saying that they are not part of the liturgy doesn’t make it so.

Pastors who gave way to the panic entirely may well see their churches close, and good riddance.

—Pastor Wilson giving his opinion on the effect of mandatory masking on congregations may be fine, but he doesn’t leave it there. He then offers that “masks are a confession”, without establishing this, of course (as he’s done all along). And then the worst statement, where he offers “good riddance” to churches closing. Now, here, undoubtedly he’d say he had in mind a church where their “giving way to the panic” revealed a corrupt church to begin with. But of course the problem is that he’s never precisely defined what “giving way to the panic” is. And without that, there’s more than enough reason for a reader to think that “giving way” is (1) requiring masks, or (2) requiring masks in singing, or (3) not agreeing with Pastor Wilson on when to hold in-person services, and so on. The point is that Pastor Wilson becomes the arbiter of what “giving way to panic” means. I’m sure he’d deny this is the case, but when he constantly condemns panic, offers examples of what panic is, states there’s no reason for panic, and so on, how is anyone to know what churches he has in mind when he says “good riddance”? #ChurchAuthority #Masks

You Keep Having Things to Say

August 18, 2020

Lindsey, if the church is otherwise healthy, and the leaders are otherwise good men, I would try to work with them. This does not mean masking up in worship, but doing things like asking them for their blessing for you to worship at home, including the Lord’s Supper. Ask them to be specific on their end game–when will this state of affairs be over, and what will be the criteria they will use? All very respectful, and so on. But if this is the last straw, the most recent in a series of compromises that disturb you, then begin looking for another church home.

—Pastor Wilson’s answer when asked what to do if one attends a church where elders require masking. And indeed, “working with them” is all well and good, but note the language: “otherwise good”. In other words, holding a view and making a decision on masking that differs from Pastor Wilson places the leaders on that issue into the category of “bad”, and the church into the category (again, on that issue) of “unhealthy”. And this language is repeated elsewhere: godly elders are “otherwise godly” if they disagree with Moscow’s pronouncements on masks. This is not damning with faint praise, it’s damning disguised as generosity.

How would true generosity look in this exchange? Something like this, “If the church is healthy, and the leaders are good men who have spoken to you the word of God, work with them. Explain to them your reasons for not wishing to wear a mask in worship, respectfully, of course. But if a compromise can’t be reached, then you should be prepared to submit to them, as their views on masks are not a first-tier issue worthy of leaving a church. You (and I) may believe their judgment is wrong. But it’s their judgment to make, as the fathers of that household, and their privilege to be wrong.”   #Masks #ChurchAuthority

But I am afraid that it is a sin to require people to mask up for worship, especially if the standards of the church are more stringent than what the civil government requires. And it is the requirement of the elders that causes the problem. When someone masks up at Christ Church, we don’t confront them for that “sin.” If they were still doing it a year from now, we would address it in counseling. But we wouldn’t try to fix it with a rule.

—Again, Pastor Wilson is very clear here. Accuses church sessions who submit to the magistrate’s order, or who have a different view of the need for masks, as being in sin. #Masks #ChurchAuthority

Warhorn, Moscow, and Binding Consciences

August 19, 2020

Now I do not know whether any of these parishioners who are in sympathy with our arguments have behaved disrespectfully toward their elders. I do know that is a possibility, but I have no idea whether or not it is so.

—The Warhorn article here has already dealt with this.

The difference of opinion we have is not over whether to wear a mask, with some saying yes, and others saying no, but with each agreeing that wearing the mask is a minor inconvenience. We don’t just have a difference on whether to wear a mask. We differ on the nature of this mask wearing in worship. For some, it is a minor inconvenience, just like when you go to CostCo, only you are going to worship. But for others, including me, it is an affront to the conscience, at a visceral level.

—I think Pastor Wilson’s last sentence really does explain a lot. So many of the arguments he and Pastor Sumpter raise are, when you boil away all the logical coverings, emotional and irrational arguments. I think it basically comes down to something “visceral”, as he says. But if so, does not Christian love, maturity, officership require that if we are going to make judgments upon others, that we at least be able to argue it rationally and from Scripture? And second, recall how many times Pastor Wilson has mentioned his fear of imposing weaker brother’s views (i.e., masking) upon others. Well, then, how is Pastor Wilson’s imposition of his own visceral judgment upon others not actually imposing of the weaker brother’s conscience (i.e., his own) upon the stronger? It cuts both ways. #Masks #IrrationalArguments #ChurchAuthority

I can understand Christians reading our stuff in order to clarify thinking and to hunt down arguments. But I don’t believe that what we have been producing is responsible for the existence of the visceral reaction in the conscience that numerous believers have had. And I believe the turmoil exists because of a head-on collision between that reaction in the conscience and a mandate from the elders.

—Pastor Wilson placing responsibility on “reaction in the conscience” rather than on Moscow’s rhetoric.

On issues like this one, idolatry lurks in the motives and intentions, and so I would be wary of saying that “Murphy is an idolater.” I can’t see his heart. But when idolatry appears in such situations, it would be in the mandating, not in the masking.

—Comment by Pastor Wilson in response to a question by Pastor Lucas Weeks. Pastor Weeks had tried to get a clear answer as to whether mask mandates by churches were idolatry or not. #Masks #ChurchAuthority

Yet Another Epistolary Event

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

But this thing with masks was not on anyone’s radar

For elders to simply assume that requiring it is within their authority, without debate and discussion, particularly when it becomes obvious that some of your best people have a profound problem with it, I believe to be unwise. But if the elders who make this mistake have been otherwise godly elders, I believe that members should forebear with them, just as they wished the elders had done with them.

—Note the assumptions in the argument that Pastor Wilson himself makes: that elders are “assuming” requiring masks to be in their authority, that they are implementing rules “without debate and discussion”, even though they know some of their “best people have a profound problem with it.” But why make such assumptions? Surely Pastor Wilson, we might imagine, has ample debate and discussion in his own elders board? Why would he assume other boards did not have the same? If they come down on the question differently than he, is their debate then no debate? And how is it that by disagreeing with Pastor Wilson’s analysis on a tertiary or quaternary issue (whether mask requirements fall in the purview of elders’ authority) they’re fairly charged with ungodliness? But that’s what precisely what “otherwise godly” means: that elders who disagree on this are not being godly.

Of course, Pastor Wilson would say that all this was in the construct of a hypothetical. Only, it’s not. The original question was very much non-hypothetical, and Pastor Wilson has been addressing specific masking situations for three months now. If the threat of mask mandates is real enough to demand three months’ worth of posts, and if the mask is indeed a sacrament, and binding of consciences is going on everywhere, then perhaps a reader can be excused for thinking that Pastor Wilson means what he says here. In any case, how many readers, not being part of their elders’ hard-fought discussions, will read this and follow Pastor Wilson’s prescription for assuming the worst about their elders, fomenting schism against them? #ChurchAuthority #Masks

In Which Idaho Starts to Revert to Factory Settings

August 26, 2020

All of this, absolutely all of it, is about the election in November. From the so-called Russian collusion to the BLM riots, from the teeny-virus-waiting-to-ambush-you-five-miles-out-on-the-bike-path-so-you’d-better-wear-a-mask-out-there, to the massive lock downs, all of this is about getting their people in untrammeled power, people who have no compunction about demanding you surrender your freedoms, your cash, and your brains.

—More of the same irresponsible generalizations from Pastor Wilson. It’s all a ruse, all about the election. One wonders: will readers next hear that the virus was dreamed up in a Chinese lab by the Deep State so that they could implement masking mandates, divide the church, and ensure Trump’s defeat? Because that’s how wise the enemies of God are, really.  #Conspiracy #Masks #IrrationalArguments

Respectable leaders defend rioters. Respectable leaders want to lock us in the basement until they have come up with a mandatory vaccine. Respectable leaders ban churches and celebrate BLM marches. Respectable leaders lie their heads off. Respectable leaders want us to believe that the coronavirus and climate change are parts of the same problem.

And they are the same problem, but only provided you realize that respectable leaders are the problem.

—The thesis that President Trump is helpful because he’s not respectable has merit, and Pastor Wilson’s made it effectively before. But it doesn’t follow that all leaders who are respectable can be brushed aside with sweeping accusations as to their moral character, intentions, and actions. Nor does it follow that those leaders who are respectful have no merit or authority to those under them. At the least, this is wildly irresponsible rhetoric, at most, it’s breathtaking effrontery by Pastor Wilson. #RailingAgainstThe Magistrate #Conspiracy

The Obverse Image of God

August 31, 2020

The image of God is something we bear or carry in the face. God’s redemption through Christ is secured for us through His vicarious sacrifice on the cross, and its transformative impact is mediated to us through the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). We are being transformed from one degree of glory to another as we worship God with unveiled face (2 Cor. 3:18). Salvation is face-to-face, by design.

—Once again, Pastor Wilson makes arguments that sound authoritative but in fact have no support from Scripture or church history. There’s been much debate about where precisely the image of God is to be located in man. The majority Augustinian/Reformed answer is that it principally is seated in the soul, but that the body participates as well. What’s never been claimed is that it’s something we carry principally “in the face”.

Of course, you might object, Pastor Wilson didn’t say principally; but if this was not his meaning, to what purpose is his statement? If he simply means that the face has some participation in the image of God, then all well and good—but then we might as well note that we bear the image of God in the arms—so maybe we should’t wear long-sleeved shirts. Or in the legs—khaki shorts mandated for everyone now by Moscow! Or in the “uncomely parts” (1 Cor. 12:23)—shall we continue?

Simply put, to localize the image of God in the face is an opinion that’s novel, at the least; and, at the most, in opposition to the full teaching of Scripture, the Fathers, and the Reformed Confessions and Catechisms (e.g., Westminster and Heidelberg).

According to the third commandment, if we are not to bear the name of God in vain — having the name of Christian as we do — it is equally important that we not bear the image of God in vain either. When it comes to worship, we must not mar our own faces, we must not cover our faces, and we must not look on the faces of any others with contempt. We want to look others in the face so that we might see Christ there (2 Cor. 5:16).

—The first sentence sounds wonderful, until you break it down and see that the rhetoric is slippery and the conclusion in no way follows from the premise. Leaving aside proof of the contentions about “equally important” and so on, by what logic does wearing a mask cause someone to bear the image of God “in vain”? Is the image of God futile or worthless that is communicated by the eyes? By the head? By the voice? By the hands that are strengthened to carry out God’s purposes? The trajectory here is absurd, of course, but no more so than restricting God’s image so much that a “random covering of cloth” can be said to make it empty.

Then, too, why should we restrict this argument to “when it comes to worship”? If the image of God is made vain by the mask in worship, is it not made vain in other contexts as well? And then, should we not also say that we’re robbing our friends and neighbors of the image of God in us when we go the store, barber, etc.? And why would Pastor Wilson be willing to wear a mask to get a haircut (as he noted), and thus be willing to rob his barber of the image of God? The fact is, such precious and ad hoc specificity on the image of God is special pleading, and can’t hold up under the least of scrutiny.


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About The Author

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Josh Congrove is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church. He holds the PhD in Classics (Indiana University) and recently wrote a bio of St. Augustine (soon to be released). He loves language, rare conifers, his wife, and their four children—not in that order.

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