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Is It Too Much to Mask (or Vaccinate)?

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IS IT TOO MUCH TO MASK[1] (or Vaccinate)?

Unless you have been living under a rock, we live in a divided country. Sadly, those divisions have extended into Bible-teaching churches. We have chosen to take sides within the body of Christ on political topics of the day. We cannot ignore that one of the main divisions has been over Covid19.  As such, there seem to be two main camps within our country and the church. The question is: how do we think critically to arrive at biblical responses to Covid19 and other questions facing the church?

Early in the Covid19 response, Alachua County, where Grace Bible Church is located, chose to mandate masks and social distancing in all public places. That directive created a binary reaction in the public square. Most people landed clearly on one side or the other in this debate – there wasn’t much middle ground. Many believed masking and social distancing guidelines were needed nationwide to protect the vulnerable and to save lives. Others considered them a severe overreach of governmental authority while pointing to the statistics saying the seriousness of the virus was overblown.

This debate raged on social media. The rhetoric escalated and found its way into the church creating too much division among the brethren. Our churches were forced to make difficult choices regarding masking and social distancing. Yet, many of our brethren faced much more complex questions. The governor of California shut down indoor church services for most of the state. At the time, there were only a few churches that chose to stand against California’s mandates. In many instances, they stood alone. In Canada, the government jailed pastors for publicly gathering against public health orders.

Thankfully, Florida’s governor took a different approach - we were able to gather, albeit with restrictions on the number of attendees. Alachua County ordered us to wear masks and keep our distance – at the time; it was a small price to pay to be allowed to meet as a church. Considering the troubles faced by our brethren, we were thankful we could gather without these draconian measures.  

GBC is in North Central Florida. For much of 2020, many experts considered our state the epicenter of the Covid19 outbreak. Thankfully, during that time and the first part of 2021, our community was insulated from the worst of the epidemic. But that has changed in recent weeks. case numbers and hospitalizations have risen sharply.

The media has blamed this rise on the unvaccinated population. This rhetoric has added another layer of potential division within the body of Christ. In some regions, such as New York, government officials plan to require public gathering places to require patrons to show proof of vaccination. Effectively, this could force two classes of individuals, divided by their vaccination status.

In Gainesville, the county commission has voted to mandate vaccinations for employees. They have also recommended the use of masks and social distancing indoors.

Before I say anything further, we must ask you to continue to pray for those impacted by the outbreak, especially those who have lost family and friends. We must also pray for the medical community – they go into the battle against this virus every day. As we debate the issues, we must not lose sight of people suffering from this potentially deadly disease. This thought brings us back to the subject of masks, social distancing, and vaccinations.

As Christians, how should we view these guidelines, especially in the church? We must ask the question, “Is it too much to mask” (or vaccinate?)  Does the Scripture give us guidance to answer these questions? Thought we will not find the idea of face coverings for medical reasons in scripture, nor will we see the concept of vaccinations,[2] but scripture does speak to contagious diseases.

In Moses’ time, leprosy was an acute concern for Israel and other nations. This disease was passed along through physical contact with an infected person. Moses taught the priests how to identify this type of skin disease in Leviticus 13 and 14. Pinpointing whether the condition was contagious at a given time was a large part of the identification process. God gave these instructions to protect against spread of the infection. These procedures helped God’s people avoid the outbreaks that plagued other nations. These measures highlighted God’s desire for purity, holiness, and cleanliness among His people.

I believe the principles we find in Leviticus should be applied within the body of Christ regarding Covid19 recommendations. Here are seven biblical principles we should apply to our modern context:

  1. We must recognize love for God and love for neighbor.

As I read Leviticus 13 and 14, I am struck that the Lord’s heart is to restore the infectious to fellowship. God instructed the priests to check each infected person every seven days for the purpose of restoration.  These folks were considered unclean and unable to be in fellowship. I am reminded of the story in the New Testament of the woman who had been ceremonially unclean for twelve years due to a flow of blood. She had been shunned by everyone including her family, and she would not have been allowed in the temple or the synagogue (Luke 8:43). The Lord’s heart is for these folks to be declared clean and restored. This should be our heart for those infected with Covid19. We must ensure they feel loved and part of the fellowship when they infected. We must find ways to enable contact while they are sick and pray for full restoration to fellowship as soon as possible.

We shouldn’t miss the other side of this as well. The potentially infected should have recognized they could be contagious and willingly present themselves before the priests to be checked. If infected. they were to subject themselves to quarantine for the good of the general population. In our current situation, we should be willing to do what it takes to ensure others stay healthy. We must quarantine when we suspect that we are sick. We should also willingly mask when there is high potential for community spread (Rom 14:19). These actions indicate an abiding love for our neighbor.

  1. We must recognize God’s heart is for the purity, holiness, and cleanliness of His people.

While we are not Israel, we are a people set apart for the Lord’s possession; therefore, we should take the fight against such disease seriously. For millenia, the church has led the way in establishing medical practices and hospitals to care for the sick.

In one example of the typical Christian response to disease, in 1527, Martin Luther chose to stay in Wittenberg even as a plague threatened. He did not apply his convictions to others, yet he decided to stay and care for the sick. He understood that separation and quarantining are not contrary to God’s word (Leviticus 13, 14). Yet, he said, “If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely.” This story is very typical of the historical Christian response to disease. As children of God, we are responsible for being at the forefront of the fight against infectious diseases.

  1. We should recognize the Levitical requirements called for the priests to make judgment calls (Lev. 13:1-4).

The Lord gave objective ways to judge whether leprosy was infectious, but we should realize the priest had to apply the Lord’s words to real-life situations, which are rarely cut and dried. We may better understand infectious diseases in our modern-day, but we should admit there is much we don’t know. So, we must make judgment calls about the best ways to prevent their spread.

In the past, we didn’t know much at all about the way viruses worked. Modern science has helped us understand them and the mechanics for transmission. We know viral diseases are only infectious for a certain time period. We better understand when to quarantine, and realize we can effectively fight against the spread of infection by quarantining the contagious. Even still, there is the risk of transmission by someone not showing symptoms.

For the most part, though we have understood the risk of contracting a disease, we often go about our business without much concern. We encourage folks with symptoms of known infectious disease to quarantine when appropriate, but we accept the risk of spread when outward signs don’t indicate infectiousness. We recognize God has given us a robust immune system that gets stronger when exposed to pathogens. All in all, we have been okay with a combination of good judgment, natural immunity, and medical knowledge to make personal decisions about infectious diseases. This strategy proved highly effective during the latter half of the 20th century as death rates from such diseases plummeted.

All of this has seemingly changed with Covid19. We have become fearful people, filled with anxiety that we may catch a cold.  In truth, I believe Covid19 is the perfect vehicle to subjugate fearful people.

  1. We should recognize open-ended Mask and Social Distancing requirements are not loving.

In the fight against Covid19, many experts are highly concerned with asymptomatic spread.  Therefore, these experts have called for a blanket application of social distancing and masking. Throughout most of 2020, mask and social distancing mandates were prevalent. Many people are calling for them again as the Delta Variant spreads.

   

Mass application of these requirements for those not showing symptoms presents a unique challenge for the Christian. In the Levitical procedures, we find our Lord’s heart was to restore His people to unhindered fellowship and contact. The process led to declaring the infected person to be clean, fit to return to the general population. There was no provision for declaring a person infectious before showing symptoms. As such, we should follow the same principles.

We should diligently quarantine those who have symptoms, and use masks and social distancing when community spread reaches certain thresholds. I believe that this would be a common sense approach which would help us fight Covid19 and would help resolve the reluctance of some to follow the guidelines.

  1. We should recognize there may be a time to mask up.

There is much debate over the effectiveness of masks among the experts. Christians are left to try to decipher whether masks help reduce spread. Most experts seem to agree that face coverings can reduce the risk of transmission. As believers, we should acknowledge that it may be appropriate to wear masks at times, but this should be limited to when community spread threatens the stability of the community. Community spread can be measured by studying the data and establishing thresholds for case numbers and hospitalizations within a local area. As Christians, we must do our best to understand the science and make appropriate decisions regardless of the current political climate.

  1. We should recognize God wants us to worship and work; therefore, long-term lockdowns are contrary to His will for us.

In Leviticus 13 and 14, God called Moses to separate those who were contagious. He did not separate the healthy from the healthy. He knew the Israelites had to work and worship to flourish.

There may be rare situations where lockdowns are appropriate such as spreading infectious diseases, natural disasters, or bombs dropping in our parks. But these must be short-term responses to specific threats. God wants His people to gather for worship (Acts 2:42; Heb 10:24-25) and move around for work (Gen 2:15). Any government that routinely restricts its citizens  without valid reasons is evil and has overstepped its God-given purposes (Rom 13:1-7). Some may argue Covid19  is a good reason to limit people’s freedom. But we must weigh this against the damage inflicted when citizens cannot support their families financially or worship freely. We should also consider man’s penchant for tyranny. In our case, the two weeks to supposedly  flatten the curve became something completely different. We should recognize the value of freedom and peacefully speak out when the government restricts freedom without legitimate cause.     

  1. We should recognize it is unloving (and ugly) when Christians treat one another (and others) as having the potential to infect them with disease when there are no visible reasons to believe that is the case.

I remember an article shared on social media which described the backwardness of anyone who doesn’t assume that every person is infectious. The article derided backward Floridians who wore masks in a way that exposed their noses for all to see. The author even compared improper mask-wearing to using a condom without full coverage. This attitude unlovingly views others as unclean with no possibility of restoration other than to remain separate in perpetuity.

As Christians, we must recognize that God wants us to have physical contact with others. He wants us to be affectionate with one another (2 Cor 13:12), share meals and have fellowship (Acts 2:42). He also wants us to gather for unhindered worship (Heb 10:24-25). We must never bow down to pressure to treat others as a pariah. Even those who are sick and infectious deserve our love. Think about it, the gravely ill people who die alone without family at their bedside may  be the greatest tragedy of Covid19.

CONCLUSION:

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “This is our new normal.” Many have accepted that masks, lockdowns, and social distancing are part of this new normal. Some governments will expect us to produce proof of vaccinations to do anything nonessential. The majority seem to accept that we can’t shake hands or hug someone for fear they may give us Covid19. As Christians, we cannot take any of these things as being normal.

We must fight against the tendency toward fear. We must be strong and courageous (Joshua 1:6; 1 Cor 16:13), remembering our God is sovereign. In the words of R.C. Sproul, there are no rogue molecules (or viruses)! We must combat the tendency to believe the world’s lies by acknowleding the truth of God’s promises in His word (Eph 6:10-17).  

Lastly, we must pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints (Eph 6:18).

 

Blessings,

Pastor Phillips

 

[1] This was the title of an advertising campaign in Alachua County where GBC is located.

[2] This article focuses on masks and social distancing. I plan to address vaccinations in a later post.