As a leadership team, we continue to receive questions and concerns regarding our decision to obey Governor Bullock’s mask mandate. We have sought to answer these questions through a number of means, ranging from personal conversations, to email messages, and even statements from the pulpit. At this time, in order to strive to be faithful in our leadership, we thought it was best to consolidate our response in a single blog post answering most of the relevant questions that we have been answering again and again.
In general, the thoughts below reflect the conversations that we have had as elders over the past three or four months. Individual elders may have a slightly different take on an issue, but by and large, these words are intended to represent the elders of Grace Bible Church in relation to the mask mandate.
First, it may be helpful if I state a few things that I think many of us agree on. I think it would be accurate to say that most (if not all) of our elders, including myself, would agree with sentiments that are regularly shared in one platform or another:
- “The virus has not been as widespread or deadly as was predicted.”
- “The data behind the supposed effectiveness of masks is rather questionable.”
- “Through the course of this pandemic, the government has changed its positions on masks.”
- “The masks have become a symbol of fear.”
Many of us also could find agreement in that by submitting to Governor Bullock’s mandate that attendees of places of worship wear masks, we (GBC) are lending some support to the Governor, his liberal agenda, and the agenda of the increasingly radicalized democratic party.
Many of us in leadership share these and other similar concerns. But, the question remains – How are we, as a church, to respond to the mask mandate?
Does the Mandate Apply to GBC?
According to the wording of the mandate, Bullock has specifically asked that businesses, government offices, and other indoor spaces make sure that employees, customers, and members wear a face covering. So, noting the given exceptions and provisions contained in the mandate, if GBC does NOT “make sure” or require face coverings, we would be disobeying the mandate. (I think most will be in agreement with this point.)
So, the question again is…. Should we, as GBC, submit to the leadership of the Montana State Governor or not?
Although there are other passages that we could turn to, in my mind at least, 1 Peter 2:13-14 is the most helpful.
“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.” (1 Pet 2:13–14)
According to this passage, does the Governor’s mandate fit within “every human institution”? Yes. I can’t see a faithful way to make the office of the Governor somehow not a human institution. He is an authority authorized by our state, nation, and constitution to give leadership.
The Mandate is Not Constitutional
Some have argued that we (Christians) should only submit to the Constitution and nothing else. But the Constitution empowers other bodies of leadership. As an example, in the State of Montana, the law requires that those riding in an automobile wear a seatbelt. As a Christian, based on texts like 1 Peter 2, I believe it is right (God-pleasing) to submit to this law and to wear a seatbelt, even though it is not technically in the Constitution.
The Mandate is Not Codified Law
Some have additionally argued that we should only submit to codified law, and not executive orders from the governor. I don’t think this argument is legitimate either. If a police officer orders me to “Get out of the car!” and I do not comply, I may face legal charges although the police officer’s order to me is not codified law. Furthermore, based on 1 Peter 2:13-14 (see above), we are called to submit to “every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him [i.e., a governor sent by the king].” The ultimate authority in our country is the Constitution. The Constitution empowers state governors. Therefore, for Christians living in the United States of America, the Apostle Peter under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit calls us to submit to state governors – in our case, Governor Bullock. In other words, we as elders cannot find any biblical justification for concluding that our Montana governor’s mask mandate does not fall within the jurisdiction of 1 Peter 2:13-14. (Please excuse the double negative!)
Is There a Limit to Our Submission to the Government?
As elders, we would also acknowledge that there is an appropriate time to disobey the governing authorities (e.g., Acts 5:29b, “We must obey God rather than men.”). The biblical principle is this: as Christians, we submit to every human governing institution until that institution orders us to sin, and sin by first-hand commission. In other words, when the government asks us to commit sin, we refuse and disobey the governing authorities.
It is a Sin For Me to Wear a Mask Because it is Supporting a Corrupt, Unloving Agenda
I added the clarifying phrase regarding sinning “by first-hand commission” because some have argued as follows: It is a sin to hurt another person (a failure to love, which is a biblical command). Wearing a mask is supporting a corrupt agenda. The corrupt agenda will inevitably hurt people. Therefore, for me to wear a mask, it is a sin.
But, even Jesus Himself submitted to governing authorities that were corrupt. He paid the temple tax in Matthew 17:24-27, despite the entire temple system having a godless corrupt agenda. Jesus Himself cleaned out the temple twice. Yet, Jesus still submitted and paid the tax lending support (financial) to the temple system. So we, as GBC elders, have argued that even if wearing a mask is supporting the corrupt liberal agenda, it still does not remove from us the biblical requirement to submit to every governing authority. As elders, we have concluded that our obedience and compliance does NOT require us or our congregation to sin. And, in fact, we believe it is the most God-honoring option.
Therefore, according to the Scriptures and our commitment to surrendering to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, we feel that the God-honoring choice is to submit. We are submitting in this particular scenario.
The Slippery Slope
Some have argued that if we submit here that we will inevitably submit to future directives that will most assuredly come. This is a form of the “slippery slope argument.” I do not believe this argument works because we have a clear termination point to our submission to the government (i.e., when the government commands us to sin). There may be future directives in which compliance would be a sin. I believe we, as elders, are all prepared to disobey governing authorities when the appropriate time comes.
Isn’t This a Conscience Issue?
The short answer is “no.” A conscience issue is a debatable ethical difference of opinion or choice that lacks clear biblical support for either side of the issue. For example, whether to enroll your child in a public school, private school, or educate at home, is a conscience issue. However, the Christian’s responsibility to pay taxes is not a conscience issue. Jesus clearly stated His response to a question about Caesar’s poll tax, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Mark 12:17). One may attempt to skirt paying taxes by stating that to pay taxes would be to sin against their conscience. But, Christ would reject this logic – as He would if Christians attempted to use the conscience-issue argument with every clear command in Scripture. If a person believes that a particular issue is a conscience issue but, in reality in light of the biblical evidence, it is not a conscience issue, then that person’s conscience must be informed by Scripture. I believe that there may be some in our congregation that are convinced that it is a sin for them to wear a mask, but this is because their conscience has not been informed by the relevant biblical passages. Upon understanding and believing the relevant passages, they would become aware that it is not a sin. And, thus, they could wear a mask with a biblically-informed faith-filled conscience.
To recap the above last two paragraphs, not every issue is a conscience issue. If we make every issue a conscience issue, we will undermine every command in Scripture to the point that we could not expect holistic obedience to any one of them.
What About John MacArthur?
On this point, I would like to begin by saying, “I love John MacArthur.” I love his ministry, his example, his theology, his books, etc., etc. But despite all this, and despite the fact that I hope to receive a degree from his seminary in the near future, John MacArthur is just a man. He is not the Protestant pope. Just because he has made a decision in relation to their state-issued directives, we are not required to make the same decision. We are called to submit to the Lord Jesus Christ’s directive which is clearly given in the Word of God.
The government of California ordered all churches in California to not gather in groups of 100 or more. With a church of over 5,000 in attendance, this directive made church gatherings impossible for GCC. Scripture calls Christians to gather as a church and “not forsake our assembling together” (Heb 10:24-25). Therefore, it is a sin not to gather and obedience to the government would require disobedience to God. This is the right time to disobey! We applaud MacArthur and GCC at this point!
The government of California ordered there to be no singing in California churches. Scripture calls churches to sing (Col 3:16; Eph 5:18-19). Therefore, to not sing would be a sin. Again, obedience to the government would require disobedience to God. This is the right time to disobey! We also applaud MacArthur and GCC at this point!
The government of California has ordered that those who do attend church wear masks and to practice social distancing. There is no biblical prohibition against wearing masks or standing 6 feet apart. There is a biblical warrant to submit to governing authorities (as discussed above). Therefore, as I play armchair quarterback from Montana, I wish that MacArthur and the GCC elders were requiring masks and practicing social distancing. I don’t believe there is biblical justification for disobedience at this point. But, I love John MacArthur and I’ll continue to trust the Spirit’s leading in his own heart to do what is best for his own church along with the other elders. This leads me to my final point in this overly long blog post…
Submitting to Your Elders
Imagine for a moment that there is biblical justification for refusing to submit to Governor Bullock’s mask mandate. Even if I, and Pastor Bryan, and all the other GBC elders were somehow wrong about our position on masks, you would still have a reason to put on a face-covering before entering the church building on Sunday mornings.
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:17)
This is one of those verses that as an elder you don’t want to bring out, except about once in a decade. In a similar vein, wives are called to submit their husbands (Eph 5:22). But in my less than a decade of marriage experience, I’ve found that it doesn’t work very well to say, “Honey, you need to submit!” Things don’t usually go well with that approach. I feel similar in quoting Hebrews 13:17.
The truth is, church, we, as your elders, love you and are doing our best to faithfully lead our church. We want to honor the Lord Jesus Christ by faithfully adhering to His Word. We want to serve in such a way that leads to you and your family’s spiritual flourishing. So even if you disagree with all of the above, please trust our hearts and joyfully come along with us.
None of us like the masks. We look forward to a change. But, I would say that the masks have not disrupted my family’s fellowship on Sunday mornings. This past Sunday I had about 25 people in my Sunday School class. Everyone wore masks and the time carried on almost as normal. In the worship gathering, we sing with masks on. Some people slip their nose out to get more oxygen, or roll their masks up from the bottom – perfectly acceptable practices. Several in the body are wearing face shields or similar, but slightly strange, face-covering devices! (Feel free to be creative!)
The masks may be an unnecessary limitation placed on us by our governing authorities, but we can continue to worship and fellowship as a church. And for this we are thankful. As 1 Timothy 3:15 states, the church is the “pillar and support of the truth!” By God’s grace, this is what we have been as a church for many decades. And, by God’s grace, this is what we continue to plan to be!