Isn’t it reckless and unloving to our community for us to gather in person during this pandemic? What if a Veritas gathering is viewed negatively in our community?
As elders, our responsibility is to lead the church as under-shepherds of Jesus Christ, the “chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:1-4). Our spiritual stewardship from God is to “keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account” (Hebrews 13:17). As a church, our motive is to provide ministry environments that best facilitate caring for the souls of God’s people. Although the physical health of our church and greater community is a factor in our decision making process, we will prioritize people’s spiritual and relational health. We are continuing to take precautions in consideration of the health risks (such as limited capacity, changing the way we do communion, extra cleaning, and an online service option for those at greater risk) and will continue to assess the current local threat of COVID-19 through cases, morbidity rate, and hospitalizations.
As we look at the ministry of Jesus, we see that he moved courageously toward lepers, the highly contagious outcasts and untouchables of his time. “Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man…” (Luke 5:12-13). We also see the description of the early church in the great plague of 251, where Cyprian urged Christians “not to pray from a safe distance for people who were desperately ill…[but] to nurse sick people and touch them. He reminded them that they could act in this mortally dangerous way because their faith in Christ, which gave them hope for everlasting life [and] healed their fear of death.” (The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, p 111).
Ultimately, our allegiance is to the Lord and the end goal of our mission is to glorify him. We love our city and desire that all people in it would come to know Jesus; nevertheless, our obedience to God outweighs a possible negative perception from others in our city.
Doesn’t Paul’s instruction to obey government authorities (Romans 13) compel us to require masks?
In this unique moment we’re getting mixed signals from the federal, state, regional, and local authorities. In Governor Kim Reynold’s most recent proclamation (8/27/20), though still not mandating masks, she said, “I strongly encourage all Iowans two or older to wear a mask or other face covering when in public settings, especially in circumstances when it is not possible to remain six feet away from others outside their household, unless it is unsafe to do so because of health or disability.”
This will lead some to conclude that masks should be worn, while others may conclude they have freedom in this. Our elders have concluded this is not a clear “right or wrong” issue; therefore, we want to leave room for people to follow their conscience. We are not willing to turn people away from church over convictions of mask wearing, nor do we desire for our focus to be on the enforcement of these mandates in our gatherings.
While seeking to maintain a submissive posture through this, we are grateful that many authorities have recognized religious organizations' constitutional right to gather peaceably. Let’s continue to pray for wisdom for our government leaders, who are in such a difficult leadership position. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
Regardless of the state laws, shouldn’t our command to “love one another” compel us to wear masks?
Immediately after Paul’s teaching on obeying governing authorities (Romans 13:1-7) and our obligation to love our neighbor (Romans 13:8-10), he acknowledges there will still be “disputable matters” among God’s people. In Romans 14:1-15:6 and 1 Corinthians 8-9, we are given specific instructions on how to navigate these issues. In Romans 14:10, after explaining that there are many complex motives and factors that go into people’s choices, he concludes, “But you, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God… So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.”
Other churches and fellow believers within Veritas will make different decisions on this. Based on Romans 14, it may not be sin to wear or not wear a mask, but it is a sin to stand in the place of God to judge them. Not everyone who wears a mask is doing so out of fear, and not everyone who doesn’t wear a mask is doing so out of selfishness. Our desire is to “pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another” and to “not tear down God’s work” because of the mask issue (Romans 14:19-20). We will respect each other, assume the best of one another, and maintain unity in that which our unity is founded, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and the shared belief that He is the hope of the world.