FOR the last few weeks church-goers have begun to meet again for public worship. I have not joined them. The church I am a member of has implemented all government guidance on meetings lock, stock and barrel: no coming within two metres of each other, no singing and the compulsory wearing of face masks as well as the banning of small children. After discussing this with others, it seems that amongst my evangelical circles that I am considered the odd one out for being opposed to this. They ask, What is the problem with just putting on the mask? Here is my answer.
Is a mask an effective way of preventing the transmission of Covid-19, therefore reducing serious illness and fatalities? No, clearly not. The government repeatedly stated that healthy people should not wear one, right until they told us to wear them for no medical reason. Some studies even suggest they may increase risk. If they are not a way of reducing risk, what are they? A symbol.
They are a symbol of irrationality – we wear them despite knowing they are useless.
They are a symbol of fear – fear of death, fear of others’ opinions and fear of angering the government.
They are a symbol of compliance – I will do whatever the state tells me to do.
Given this, it is simply incongruous to attend Christian worship in one.
I am created a rational being in the image of God.
I am not to fear death (Jesus Christ has conquered it), I am not to fear man (the Lord is greater), I am not to fear the government (it is God I must ultimately give account to). I am not to be a compliant coward (God has called me to serve him).
Given this, how Christians cannot see the irony of wearing a mask to attend public worship I do not know.
Now at this point, some will say that as Christians we are called to obey the earthly authorities. Romans 13:1 is the classic text on the matter: ‘Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God’ (ESV). What is often missed by those relying on this verse is that the authorities never have unbounded authority. In this country that is true because their powers are limited by law; but it is true in all countries because God has placed limits on their legitimate authority. Hence the numerous examples of godly disobedience to civil authorities in the bible and down through Christian history. The classic Protestant writing on this is Vindiciae contra tyrannos, (Defences of liberty against tyrants) by an anonymous Huguenot and published in 1579. Among the many excellent points the writer makes are that when a tyrant seeks to lead people away from true worship, it is the duty of people to oppose him. That opposition should be proportionate to the means employed by the authority. A proportionate response in our situation would be to ignore the rules about masks and if any authority opposes this to take them to court.
There is of course a wider question raised by the recent government intrusion into the church’s worship. Where is the West going? Are we moving further towards tolerance and the freedom of religion? Or is government interference and pressure on churches likely going to increase? Are current restrictions a high-water mark which will never be surpassed or the beginning of a ratcheting up? The men of the Israelite tribe of Issachar were commended because they knew the times they lived in and what they ought to do (1 Chronicles 12:32). Is now a time to comply, or resist?