Imagine two churches, Church A and Church B. The provincial mask mandate lifts and both churches need to navigate the change.
In Church A, everyone comes to the church unmasked except for a minority. The masked people feel excluded and alienated, and underneath any conversations they manage to have with others is the feeling that they are being cowardly and silly. The unmasked think that the masked aren’t trusting God and are harming community.
In Church B, everyone comes to the church masked except for a minority. The unmasked people feel excluded and alienated, and underneath any conversations they manage to have with others is the feeling that they are being unloving and selfish. The masked think that the unmasked aren’t loving neighbour and are harming community.
By God’s grace, my prayer is that we would turn out to be neither of these two churches. We will both trust God and love neighbour. There will be those among us who are celebrating that the mask mandate is lifting, and we can have joy with them regardless of our own feelings. There will be those who are wary of the mandate lifting, and we can respond with compassion and understanding regardless of our own feelings. We can do this by God’s power!
Our situation is rather like what was happening in Romans 14. Many Christians were saying “we must dispense with the Jewish holy days! We are free from them!” Others were saying “we should honour Christ with the Sabbath!” The church quarrelling over disputable matters, matters of wisdom and conscience. Here’s how Paul responds:
One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. – Romans 14:5-6
See the phrase “each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind?” Notice that our Holy-Spirit informed conscience is the deciding factor in certain disputable issues. That was certainly the case with the issue of whether or not to observe the Sabbath or whether or not to eat meat from the market (which could have been used as an offering to idols). So long as each person intends to fully honour God with their choice, then the choice is theirs. People should not be compelled to violate their conscience in these disputable areas.
Granted, there is some difficulty agreeing on which matters are disputable and which ones are not. But we can surely agree that neither masking or not masking is itself sin. If the person genuinely believes that their choice honours God, then they do it for the Lord, and we can celebrate that together. We need to be gracious towards one another in their choice, even if you happen to believe their choice comes from a place of weak faith. After all, that’s Paul’s earlier point:
Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. – Romans 14:1
The issue of whether or not to mask might be the most disputable of disputable matters. So let’s not quarrel over it! As the mask mandate eventually lifts, let’s intend to always be gracious, as Christ is towards us, and as Christ commands us to be towards each other. And by the way, that means being gracious towards those who have no intention of being gracious themselves! This is tough, but this is our calling as those who love as Christ loves.