The Mask Controversy (One Christian's Perspective)
Just a few days ago, I was sitting in a coffee shop wearing a face mask watching two separate things go on at the same time around me. With one eye, I see everyone else who enters this shop wearing a face mask just like me. And with my other eye, I’m watching coverage of the NBA players who boycotted a number of playoff games last week.
If you aren’t aware, last Wednesday, the Milwaukee Bucks decided to remain in the locker room when it was time to hit the floor to face the Orlando Magic in game 5 of their playoff match-up. This was done in protest to the shooting of Jacob Blake, an event that took place that previous Sunday evening in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
These two observations brought one word to my mind, the word – RIGHTS. We are currently hearing a lot about people’s rights. The rights that we should have as Americans – the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as well as the right to choose not to wear a face covering in a free nation like ours.
YOU GOTTA FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHTS
Back in 1986, there were three rappers from Brooklyn who hit the hip hop scene talking about Rhymin’ & Stealin’ and Brass Monkey. Their names were Mike D, AD Rock and MCA – better known as the Beastie Boys. During the height of their popularity, the Beasties had a huge cross-over hit that got a lot of air play on MTV. If I said to you, “You gotta fight, for your right…” …many of you could finish the line…to paaaaarty!
The Beasties at that time, were by no means activists. I mean, I wouldn’t put Fight for Your Right to Party up there on the level with Joan Baez singing We Shall Overcome twenty years earlier. However, the Beastie Boys did tap into something that is undeniably American – that is, fighting for our rights.
Sometimes fighting for our rights is a good and noble thing. The Civil Rights movement of the 60’s led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. immediately jumps to mind. Women’s right to vote also comes to mind. And of course fighting for the rights of the unborn is a very good thing. So there are times in American history when fighting for rights is completely appropriate. And not only appropriate, the fight is good, honorable and needed – especially when injustice and discrimination are taking place.
Make no mistake, I do think we are currently experiencing a racial crisis going on all around us – such that, my last blog post, The Culture – What’s Going On, dealt with race in America.
If you haven’t read it, you can do that by clicking here.
So for this post, let’s address a topic that is also a hot-button issue for us right now – face masks. Everyone’s got an opinion on this, me included. Therefore, I have chosen to title this post: The Mask Controversy – One Christian’s Perspective. I’m just one dude in a sea of masked faces, so I have my thoughts like everyone else, but who really cares what insignificant individuals like me think. Let’s go outside subjective opinions and examine this issue from an objective source – the Word of God.
For those of us who call ourselves Christians, this should be our concern – what does God want? Has He made His will known? If so, where do we find it? The answer is – the Holy Spirit inspired Scriptures. Let’s examine this ancient document in order to understand how we should view the controversial subject of wearing face masks.
Now you might say, “Mike, the Bible doesn’t address face masks, what in the world are you talking about?” Maybe so. It’s true, face masks are not spoke of directly, but I do think there are principles in God’s Word that can help us respond as Christians to the great mask debate of our day.
You might think I am going to appeal to Romans 13 or 1 Peter 2 to make my case. The argument usually goes like this: the authorities that God has placed above us have issued mask mandates and the Christian should submit to those governing authorities whether they are in agreement or not. Of course, the exception being when the government mandates something that goes against a clear command in Scripture. In other words, we obey unless being commanded to sin. This argument has been made before and I think there is merit to it, however that isn’t the direction I want to go with this post. I’d like to approach the discussion from another angle – an angle that we don’t often hear.
Having said that, let’s go to 1 Corinthians chapter 8. You can read it in its context for yourself, but allow me to offer a summary. The Apostle Paul is writing to the people of Corinth about a controversial issue. There were some people at that time who were sacrificing meat to idols, and this presented a problem. The problem was the meat that didn’t get burnt on the altar would wind up being sold in the marketplace. So Christians were in positions of eating meat that had been offered up to an idol. And the debate of their day was – is it right or wrong to eat this meat?
Basically, there were two camps. We could identify the one group of people as mature Christians. They were saying, "Eat up! What's the difference? There is no such thing as other Gods. An idol isn't anything, so it’s no big deal, go ahead and eat it.” Then there was another group that we could refer to as baby Christians. They were the less-mature believers who had just been saved out of idol worship. So for them, they found the whole situation unsettling, because eating this meat represented a practice of false worship to a false God. So to eat the meat themselves, or to even see others eat the meat, became a problem for them.
So Paul introduces a principle in 1 Corinthians 8, and the principle is this: take care that your liberty does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. In other words, Paul is saying, if this food causes someone to stumble, don’t eat it. You may have the freedom to do something, but don't do it if it's going to harm or hurt somebody. Yes, we have liberty in Christ, but our liberty is limited by love for others.
Then to further develop the point, in the next chapter the Apostle Paul uses himself as an example. He makes the case for his own apostleship and the benefits that are associated with being an Apostle. However, he then he goes on to say that he willingly sets aside those rights, even though he’s entitled to them.
He says 1 Corinthians 9:15, “I have used none of these things.” And verse 18 ends with, “I am not making full use of my right in the gospel.” Paul is laying down his rights. And more than that, he not only lays down his rights, he goes on to say that he has become a “slave to all”.
1 Corinthians 9:19-23:
For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.
What’s Paul saying here? He’s saying, I have certain rights that I am entitled to, but I am refusing to insist upon them, instead I lay them aside. Why, Paul? Why are you laying down your rights? His answer: for the sake of the gospel. His love for others and his desire to see them saved compels him. He wants to remove all obstacles that would interfere with his mission, and that mission was to win souls for the Lord Jesus Christ. He says, “We did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 9:12
I love Paul's reasoning here. He says we may have the right to do (or not do) something, but that doesn't mean it's right to do it (or not do it). Our decision should be made with the good of others in mind, not our own personal rights.
In case this isn’t clear, here’s a helpful illustration that I think captures the point of 1 Corinthians 8 and 9 perfectly.
One day, people were gathered for a picnic and there was a young man present who recently converted to Christ from Islam. A woman was passing out sandwiches to the group, and she went to the former Muslim and said, “Would you like a ham sandwich?”
To which he replied, “Do you have any turkey sandwiches left?”
“I'm sorry they're all gone,” she said.
“Then I won't have a sandwich, thanks anyway.”
The woman said, “I understand that you couldn’t eat pork as a Muslim, but now that you're a Christian you're free to eat any food you like.”
He said, “I know I am free to do that, but I'm also free not to eat it. See, I'm trying to be a witness to my family. They're all Muslims living in the Middle East, and I visit them once a year. And I know that when I arrive, the first question my father will ask me is, ‘Have those infidels taught you to eat that filthy hog meat?’
If I say ‘Yes father’, I'll be banished and no longer be able to witness to my family. But if I say, ‘No pork has ever passed my lips’, then I will continue to have a relationship with my family and I can tell them about the joy I have found in Jesus Christ. So I choose not to eat because of my love for my family and my love for Jesus.”
Isn’t that really what Christianity boils down to – loving God and loving others? For the Christian, our desire to see God glorified – when others turn from sin and place their trust in Jesus – should far outweigh our desire to exercise our own personal rights.
LAYING DOWN OUR RIGHTS
This notion is so counter-cultural to our way of life. This dramatically conflicts with the American mentality. We struggle with this.
Often our attitude is, “I have my rights! Don’t you dare take them away from me! Stop telling me to wear a face covering; I have rights, and I will fight tooth and nail for them!”
Exactly one month ago, on July 31st, a man entered a cigar shop in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania without a mask. When he was confronted by the clerk, he became upset. He pulled out a handgun and shot at the clerk. Thankfully, no one was injured. The next day, police came to his home, and he proceeded to open fire on the officers with an AK-47 before he was arrested. Over what? A mask. Now this is an extreme case, but it illustrates the point. Our view is often, “I have my rights and I’m entitled to them!”
However, if that is our attitude all the time about everything, then I think that’s a very slippery slope. That attitude can lead us into becoming a group of spoiled elitists who carry with us the horrible odor of self-entitlement – that might even lead to violence – as we insist on our own personal rights.
Just look at what’s being said in recent months regarding the mask mandate:
"I don’t have symptoms, and I'm not afraid of getting sick, so I’m not wearing a mask."
"The government doesn't have the right to tell me what to do!”
“I can do what I want!"
“Is this not America?”
I follow a very well-known Christian pastor who often uses the derogatory term “face diapers”. And those who wear these “face diapers” are people who have totally capitulated to “Caesar”, and are serving “him” as mind-less devotees completely influenced and controlled by the media’s narrative.
Now, I can just hear the objections: “Mike, you have fallen victim to conditioning, and you don’t even realize it! If you were told to get a microchip implanted in your body, would you do it?” Are you going to take the mark of the beast too?” No, and my response is simple. These are not all the same. Being told to wear a face mask isn’t the same as a chip implant. We must be discerning. I would simply say – this isn’t that.
If it’s all a conspiracy and I’m being naïve, please present some hard data. Do you have objective, verifiable evidence to support your claim? If so, I’ll consider it. If it’s persuasive, then I will buy into the conditioning argument, and begin to construct my very own tin foil hat and put it on. But until then, I’m going to try – as much as it’s up to me – to live at peace with all people. (Romans 12:18)
Another objection: “Well, face masks don’t even work.” I don’t know that. Do they help in any way? Can you definitely say the answer to that is no? There’s all sorts of data out there – and not all of it’s true – it can’t be because it’s contradictory. If anything has marked this whole pandemic for me, it would be the word – confusion. I’m confused on so many fronts. There doesn’t seem to be any consensus in any of this! This is how it’s been since March!
However, that isn’t even the point. This isn’t about knowledge. In fact, that is how Paul begins his treatise on meat sacrificed to idols: “Knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. 1 Corinthians 8:1 There’s something else going on. It’s about preferring others over ourselves. This isn’t about exercising our own personal rights because we’ve reached a particular conclusion – a conclusion, I might add, that is based upon controversial data to say the least.
If someone says, “Wear the mask, it helps.” I’m wearing the stinking mask! Is it really that hard? If wearing a mask allows me the opportunity to remove obstacles that might prevent me from sharing the gospel, give me the mask. If wearing a mask shows love to my friends and fellow Christians, who wear masks themselves, and want to be around other mask-wearing people, let me do that – joyfully! For their sake! That’s love – not insisting on my own way. (1 Corinthians 13)
It’s a stupid mask! Do I like it? No! But life is not all about what I like, and me maximizing my own pleasure all the while avoiding any and all discomfort.
Let me share with you what my pastor wrote in an email to our congregation recently. “While I prefer to not wear a mask, I simply care more about what others prefer than what I prefer. Keeping my preferences under control is not easy and I would be lying if I said that I’m happy with wearing a mask. However, the Christian life is one of dying to self – so in this case I am choosing to die to self.”
Why should we be willing to surrender certain rights?
Because that’s exactly what Christ did.
Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, got up from His throne where He rules and reigns, and willfully set aside the glory of heaven to take on human flesh. He said, “I came not be served, but to serve. And give My life as a ransom for many.” And He did exactly that. Laying down His life on the cross – He ransomed the Church – you and me! Let’s deny ourselves. Let’s take up our cross daily, and follow after Him! Surrendering certain rights – why? We do it all for the sake of the gospel.
Postscript: To those of you who attend a church like mine where masks are mandatory for indoor services – please allow me to offer a gentle admonition to those of you who will only come to church if masks were not mandatory.
Let me just say to you the following: I miss you. I want to see you. The body of Christ misses you and we could really benefit from you sharing your gifts with us. Please don’t let a mask prevent that from happening.
I know…you don’t like the mask. But both our Pastor and I have already agreed with you, so instead of keeping yourself from physically gathering together as the Church, let love – love for God, His Word, and love for others – change your mind on the mask issue.
If you disagree, just know, I won’t let this issue come between us. There’s something much greater that bonds us together, something that a mask can’t take away. So, I respect your position, and you definitely have the right to hold it.
And you even have the right to be wrong…but I still love you ;-)