From a good conscience

As you are likely aware, Governor Inslee is once again requiring all people to wear masks within public indoor spaces. This mandate has been met with the usual mix of scorn on one end, praise on the other, and a whole lot of indifference in the middle.

Over the past 18 months, your pastors and elders have regularly discussed, consulted, and prayed about how our church ought to respond to the various requirements placed upon us. We've gathered in a variety of ways in that time—virtually (which isn't really a gathering), outdoors (with masks, distancing, temperature scans, blankets, and pre-filled, disgusting communion juice and wafers!), indoors with masks, indoors with masks and no singing, and most recently, indoors with common sense and courtesy. We've been a masks-required church and a masks-optional church. In response to this mandate, we've decided to become, once again, just a church.

Here's what we mean: we're taking out the organizational piece of this. We know that the church is ultimately a people, not an organization. So we're going to act like a people. And, church—you have been exemplary during this pandemic. You have endured every one of those masking situations described above without grumbling. You've encouraged those who are struggling with decisions made. You've patiently endured with and gently exhorted those who were forsaking our gathering. You've borne the burden of watching others' young children during services. You've adapted and flexed wherever necessary, all in the name of unity together in Christ as his children, his servants, his followers, and his beloved. In other words: we trust you.

The letters of the New Testament, written to churches and elders, consistently call individuals within the church to act based upon their consciences: "The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (see also 1 Corinthians 8, 1 Corinthians 10:23-33, and 1 Peter 3:13-17 for fuller treatments). So with this mandate from our governor, we would counsel you to act in accordance with your conscience—not just when gathering with our church, but in your lives in general. Your conscience might push you to mask up, it might object to masking, or it might be indifferent. Below are a few guiding thoughts from Scripture as you consider where your conscience lies.

On the one hand, the New Testament offers three reasons why simple obedience to governing authorities (regardless of how you feel about them) is good:

  1. In Romans, Paul offers the guiding principle—not promise—that generally doing good results in peace and accordance with rulers.

    "Let everyone submit to the governing authorities, since there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God. So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the one in authority? Do what is good, and you will have its approval. For it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For it is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong. Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath but also because of your conscience" (Romans 13:1-5).

  1. Peter reminds us that our good works—including obedience to laws of the land—bear witness to the glory of God, leading others to glorify him also.

    "Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and exiles to abstain from sinful desires that wage war against the soul. Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that when they slander you as evildoers, they will observe your good works and will glorify God on the day he visits. Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the emperor as the supreme authority or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good. For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. Submit as free people, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but as God’s slaves. Honor everyone. Love the brothers and sisters. Fear God. Honor the emperor" (1 Peter 2:11-17).

  1. In his letter to Titus, Paul reminds Titus that it is good to be kind, gentle, and peaceable in general—and this is rooted in God's very kindness to us in the gospel!

    "Remind them to submit to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to slander no one, to avoid fighting, and to be kind, always showing gentleness to all people. For we too were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved by various passions and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, detesting one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, he saved us... (Titus 3:1-5).

On the other hand, we know that our allegiance ultimately lies with God, and God alone! He is the one who "changes the times and seasons" and "removes kings and establishes kings" (Daniel 2:21). Or as David writes, "The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all" (Psalm 103:19). Peter—already quoted above—also clearly defied the Israelite rulers, saying "We must obey God rather than people" (Acts 5:29).

There will undoubtedly be some in our church who are convicted by these calls to obey rulers, and there will undoubtedly be others who object to part or all of this latest mandate as a matter of conscience and are not convinced that these exhortations from Scripture apply—and that's ok. We would suggest that you seek to root those objections in Scripture (since our primary allegiance is to Jesus, who is himself the Word) and avoid making your masking decisions based on comfort, personal preference, or as a matter of rights (see, for example 1 Corinthians 9:15-27). But more than anything right now, we want to encourage personal freedom of conscience, as Peter wrote, but "not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but as God’s slaves."

Finally, we would remind you "that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing [like masks and vaccines] will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39). Let's remain focused on our goal of seeing that liberating power of the gospel formed in us and advancing in the world.