It seems we are frequently debating as a community whether masks are effective and whether they should be required in certain circumstances. If you’re tired of the back and forth, that makes two of us! Especially as we try to figure out the right stance for a church made up of people with very different beliefs and opinions on these topics.
As a church, we desire to obey our governing authorities per Romans 13. We also want to provide clear biblical guidance to our church family when it comes to living out our faith in the world.
We have a wide spectrum of views on masks in our church ranging from “no masks ever” to “willing if required” to “it’s a good idea” to “everyone should be forced to wear one.” While this issue has become a political hot button, I want to encourage you to remember how small an issue it is compared to our faith and the fellowship of believers. Keep masks and mandates in the right perspective compared to eternity, salvation, and our spiritual walk.
I do have one request for you: please don’t skim this letter, read the whole thing carefully.
I know this issue is extremely important to many of you, and I understand and respect that. But while you hold to your convictions, please remember that many other brothers and sisters in Christ hold just as deeply to different convictions. I am used to getting strongly-worded responses from both sides on these issues. Sometimes I wish I could share them publicly just so people could see how wonderful followers of Christ can have such opposing views on these things!
Paul urged the church to maintain unity and harmony even when the members disagree. I like the picture of harmony because it consists of different notes that get along with each other despite their differences. We may not all agree, but we can still all respect each other and work hard to maintain peace and unity around our agreement in Christ while we disagree about many other things. The Bible tells us to treat others as better than ourselves. I think that applies to other opinions on masks and mandates too.
This week, the St. Louis County Council voted 4-3 in favor of a Face Covering Order effective January 5, 2022. The mandate orders those 5 and older to wear face coverings in indoor public spaces and recommends them for private spaces with several exceptions. You can read the health order here
The new mandate was met with immediate challenges for legality on a variety of grounds, similar to previous health orders.
For some members of our community, it is a welcome step by our local government to slow the spread of the virus, reduce negative health effects, and relieve pressure on the healthcare system. For others, the order is viewed as illegal and invalid based on the Cole County Judge’s ruling about health orders, the St. Louis County Charter, and/or Missouri statutes.
Therefore, some members of our community will view this order as a valid government order that must be followed. Others will view it as already illegal and not needing to be followed. The lawsuit by the Attorney General may provide clarity in the coming weeks on the legality of the order.
In the meantime, we want you to know that First Free Church is first and foremost a church, not a political organization. When governments contradict clear biblical principles, we will publicly stand against them. We do not believe the nuances of the mask debate violate any biblical principle on either side.
One way to test this is to take the arguments to the extremes. If we were facing a virus that was as contagious as COVID-19 but as deadly as Ebola and the data showed that masks reduced the risk of transmission by 90%, I’ll bet a lot more people would be supportive of mask mandates. No biblical principle would be violated by a mask mandate.
On the other hand, if the council approved an order that all family pets must be destroyed within 10 days, I think many people would choose not to follow the order while its legality was determined. No one would be accused of violating a biblical principle by not following an order they were reasonably convinced was unlawful.
(I know this is an upsetting thought! It is shocking and absurd on purpose to make the point.)
I share these examples to demonstrate why a gracious attitude toward those who disagree is so important. For those who support the mandate, it is easy to pass judgment on people who do not believe it is lawful. But under different circumstances, those in favor of the mask mandate may themselves be willing to disregard a mandate they believe is unlawful. Similarly, those who oppose the mandate could be judgmental toward those in favor, even though under different circumstances, they might support a mask mandate.
As a church, we’re not going to take a side either way. One of our distinctive values is that “Heaven is Big.” That’s another way of saying “we major on the majors and minor on the minors.” When it comes to our doctrine like our Statement of Faith and positions
, we will boldly stand for them regardless of the consequences. But on all the other things, we remain an open and inviting church for a variety of backgrounds and views.
What is the health order’s impact on First Free Church as an organization?
Here is what the health order says: “This Order does not, directly, or indirectly, close, partially close, or place restrictions on the opening of or access to any business organization, church, school, or any other place of public or private gathering or assembly and does not prohibit or otherwise limit attendance at any public or private gatherings. This Order also does not, directly or indirectly, require any business organization, church, school, or owner, operator, or host of a place of public or private gathering or assembly to restrict, limit, or otherwise refuse access to any individual. This Order does not close an entire classification of business organizations, churches, schools, or other places of public or private gathering or assembly. Rather, this Order merely regulates the conduct of certain individuals while in St. Louis County in the event that, and only after, they access an indoor or enclosed public building or space or public transportation vessel, as set forth herein.”
- This order is directed at individuals, not organizations.
- First Free is not being ordered to require masks or enforce any mandate.
- We have offered a masks required section at the back of our auditorium for some time and will not change that area.
- We encourage everyone to make wise and responsible choices based on their own research, conscience, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
- We ask our church family to join us in not judging or criticizing anyone for having a different view on masks or the new mandate and its legality.
I wish we could have more certainty and that the whole community could be united in our approach to resolving this pandemic. But we shouldn’t be surprised by vastly different opinions, strong views, and political tension. These are normal features of our broken world.
What the gospel offers is a chance to rise above the disagreement and unite around our faith in Christ and eternity with God. The gospel compels us to love each other as family even when we disagree, to think and speak the best about others even when we disagree, and to encourage each other to do good in the name of Jesus.
In the confusion of our day, let’s not forget the mission from our Savior.