June 25, 2020
Dear GCC Family,
We have just witnessed another change in how our county is handling the Wuflu epidemic. On Tuesday, June 23rd, THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF PINELLAS COUNTY passed an emergency order “MANDATING THAT INDIVIDUALS WEAR A FACE COVERING IN PUBLIC INDOOR PLACES.” Up until this order, face masks were recommended, but not required. This necessarily affects each of us.
According to this order, anyone going into any “PUBLIC INDOOR PLACE” must use some sort of protective face covering. Their definition of what constitutes a protective face covering comes straight from the CDC guidelines, “A material that securely covers the nose and mouth and remains affixed in place without the use of one’s hands.”
While we have different opinions in our congregation about the (in)effectiveness of masks, this order applies to all of us. However, there are 15 listed categories of exception. Perhaps the most important exception is letter ‘m’ which states: “These requirements do not apply if following these requirements would be detrimental to health, safety, or security. If this exception is being asserted for health reasons, the person asserting this exception is not required to carry or produce documentation verifying the health condition or to specifically identify the health condition to the business, an operator, or law enforcement.”
Here is where we might be tempted to fudge the truth. For me personally, not only do I find the order contradicting in its exceptions, but I also see this order from the county board [see footnotes] as 1) an attempt to deceitfully stem the fear and panic, and 2) an attempt to control people. And while I find this to be an abuse of power (though generally sincere), because this order is vacant of any moral virtue and does not demand that I sin against God, I cannot in good conscience disobey it or falsely claim an exception to it when I enter a public indoor place.
However, there is a very specific exception to this: Worship. While the overall battle over facemasks is a relatively small, but emotional issue in the public venue, this is a tremendous issue relating to the church. I have argued in the past that civil government is in no way qualified to give guidance regarding worship. In fact, the lawfulness of civil government is largely determined by its defense and protection of the Church. Therefore, this is a hill worth fighting for. Should the government be allowed to dictate acceptable worship practices on this issue, then they will take another step, and another. Our founding fathers understood this and therefore they restricted the civil government from any legislation regarding religion. We know this as the first amendment. And while the first amendment guarantees five freedoms – speech, press, petition, assembly and religion – it is the freedom of religion that establishes the other four since religion alone guides the conscience. If we compromise freedom of religion, there will be no other hill on which to fight for our other freedoms.
Am I saying that you should not wear a mask at church? No, I am NOT saying that. The decision to wear a mask or not to wear a mask in worship is a decision that the leaders and officers of the local church alone should address.
At our session meeting this morning I shared the language that I have been using to give council to people. “A person should take precaution according to their risk …. And if you are sick, stay home.” As a congregation, we have people in all stages of the spectrum, from essentially no risk to extreme risk. This language seems to best address the variety of situations that we have. Those who are in the higher risk categories must be free to wear a mask, and those who are in the lower risk categories must be free not to wear a mask. Each according to their conscience.
Additionally, we want to continue to stress that people should minimize any and all touching, and to be conscience of social distancing while seated in the sanctuary. Hand sanitizer is available in the foyer and should be used both when entering and leaving.
Our highest calling in this life is worship. John 4 describes what God desires in His people, that they will worship Him. It is an amazing privilege that we have enjoyed in America since our founding. We should cherish it and make the most of it. There is no greater means of grace than what transpires in weekly corporate worship. I know this is not the common view of worship, not even in the PCA as demonstrated by one survey that found about 95% of the churches had closed.
Tragically, I believe one of the revelations to come out this Wuflu epidemic is the sad condition of the American church. How many scenes have we watched on TV where someone in an extreme situation is about to be separated from a beloved, and they do everything they can to stay with them? If Jesus Christ is the love of our life, then why are we not doing everything we can to gather together in His presence and for His worship?
This is where I have to express my gratitude to the Lord for our congregation. Our worship is precious. It is highly valued. And I am grateful that we have a church where people are free to wear or not wear masks. God has been good to us, far better than we deserve. Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Let us continue to strive for submission to God’s Word and let us build our faith and our practice on Scripture alone. There is no other foundation that can uphold us in these troubling times – all other ground is sinking sand.
Your pastor and fellow worshipper,