Masks in Church: To Wear or Not to Wear?

Well this tedious virus doesn’t seem be abating, and has provided a great deal of useful material for Facebook’s keyboard warriors and immunology experts. The spike in cases seems to be worse, according to the British media, among 'certain communities', 'large multi-generational families', 'tight-knit communities', and 'celebrants of religious festivals'. I can’t imagine who they mean. Still, as an obedient citizen, I cancelled my visit to friends last night and my planned trip to visit family is in jeopardy. Places of worship may remain open, but masks will be required from 8th August. For some, this is a sensible precaution, a necessary price to pay for being allowed to open (though I see no such requirements for pubs and gymnasia); for others, it is an unnecessary intrusion into worship. My own preference is to meet outdoors in our graveyard rather than wear masks, but this won’t make me popular if it rains.

To wear masks:

We are told, firstly, to obey the state, which is appointed by God. This doesn’t just mean the things we like (free health care, compulsory education, prisons packed with criminals) but all its commands (income tax, TV licenses, speed limits). The exception is when it commands things contrary to God’s word. Wearing masks is not forbidden by God’s word.

Secondly, our church, like many, have older worshippers who are defined as being more susceptible to the virus’ power. Furthermore, there will be asthmatics and others, whose health conditions we do not know, for whom wearing a face covering may keep safe. There are some who say masks don’t work, but wearing them would certainly make vulnerable types feel safe. Paul’s ‘weaker brother’ argument of 1 Corinthians 8 might be applied here.

Thirdly, masking is just clothing. Most of our bodies we cover in worship. Personally, I wouldn’t wear shorts or T-shirts to Sunday worship as I do not wish my body to be immodestly exposed. We must not present to weaker brethren copious swathes of flesh lest they be distracted from spiritual purpose. A mask is merely an extension of this, adding an even greater degree of modesty, covering one of our most attractive features. Paul commands the Corinthian women to cover their heads, demonstrating that coverings of sorts are not inherently wrong.

There is the precedent of Moses, fourthly. In Exodus 34, Moses veils his face when he is among the people, but uncovers it when having a private audience with the Lord. One might argue that he removed it for his own devotions, but wore it when he was among God’s people, including perhaps when he led them in daily worship. However, the reasons for wearing face coverings are quite different; Moses wasn’t wearing it to prevent the transmission of illness but because his face was still reflecting the Lord’s brilliant luminosity.

To not wear masks:

Firstly, to erect a barrier between us and the Lord, as well as each other, seems to be at odds with the gospel, in which veils are rent and social barriers removed. To enter a place of worship obscuring our identities and expressions, impedes communication and might retard fellowship. Still, these two factors are not the main ingredients of worship, and they might be removed once the service is complete.

Secondly, it isn’t for the state to regulate our religious lives. The objection is not to masks per se, but the state’s insistence we wear one. Parliament has given up prescribing our payer book and sermon content; Magna Carta sought to separate secular and ecclesiastical jursdiction. That said, no-one objects to those bright red fire extinguishers the state insists we maintain, nor the safeguarding procedures which keep children safe. In other words, we allow some state interference and don’t object: is the mask just another example of this?

Thirdly, the mask is essentially an attempt to keep godless people alive. We whose lives are hid safe with a sovereign God need not fear death and dying; unlike the hopeless people of the world, we cannot die or become ill without our heavenly Father’s consent. Does a mask somehow negate that trust and confidence? No more than a seatbelt, presumably. 

Much as I dislike wearing masks and object to governmental insistence they be donned, I will be formally encouraging people to comply. Had the churches not been allowed to re-open mid-July, I suspect a good many Christians would have met together anyway. Thankfully, we were spared that decision. In return, I’m prepared to tolerate some annoying impositions. That said, as pastor of the church, I am not a police officer and will not be rebuking or expelling those brethren who appear unmasked. Turn up in an all-too revealing bikini, however, and my tongue’s wrath will be felt, for that is more obviously forbidden by the Bible itself.

Titus 3:1 “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work.”


Image by Tumisu from Pixabay