Last Sunday, we shared our decision to now make masks optional at our Sunday morning services. If you missed it, be sure to watch here. But in summary, throughout these months, we’ve tried to ask ourselves four questions as we’ve developed guidelines for our church gatherings:
- What does it mean to be safe?
- What does it mean to be subject to the government?
- What does it mean to care for the convictions of our brothers and sisters in the church?
- What does it mean to be the church?
Of course, the answers to those questions have never been absolutely clear, and any policy we implement will not answer each question with complete satisfaction. Nevertheless, we do believe that wrestling through those four questions together has given us some helpful guidance. Up until now, our answers have led us to require masks on Sunday mornings. We’ve felt that masks would provide needed safety, they would allow us to maintain a clear conscience before the governing authorities, they would protect the consciences of many of our church members, and they would not excessively hinder the expression of the church community. However, in recent weeks, the answers to those questions have, in our minds, changed. By most measures, we are now living in a safer environment, especially to those most vulnerable. With the CDC’s announcement, there are not the same government restrictions. We believe that we can accommodate well for varying convictions, given that most have had the opportunity to be vaccinated if so desired, and that we will be providing a fully masked area in the gym. We will also be maintaining spacing of every other row. And finally, we believe that leaving the decision up to the individual most benefits the overall health of the church. Regulating consciences at this point would probably not be most helpful for church unity.
For these reasons, we believe we can move forward in faith and make masks optional. However, we certainly recognize that this new phase presents an opportunity for division. The unity of the church has been tested throughout this past year, and that testing is by no means over. And yet, just as we’ve been encouraged by your efforts to maintain unity this past year, we are confident that this will be another opportunity to strengthen our love and commitment to each other. That said, we’d love to offer several encouragements as we move forward.
Ask yourself those four questions. While we as a church do not feel that it is appropriate to police consciences, we do feel it appropriate to encourage all of you to still prayerfully examine your own conscience. I would encourage you to open-handedly take those four questions into a prayerful time with God and see where you arrive. After all, you may still feel the need to follow the government’s recommendations. You may feel the need to maintain a special sensitivity around certain people. Regardless, make sure you are acting thoughtfully and in faith.
Be fully convinced in your own mind. Romans 14 is such a powerful and important piece of wisdom. The entire chapter is about loving each other in the midst of differing convictions about disputable matters. I would encourage all of you to read and reread that chapter this week. Verse 5 speaks about being fully convinced in your own mind regarding the convictions you have. This doesn’t mean arrogant insensitivity, but it does mean confident resolve. In our current case, please do not feel pressured to proceed against your own conscience. It will be very easy to simply fall in line with what seems to be the majority opinion, and then wrongly burden your own conscience. Whatever conclusion you come to, walk in it confidently.
Be careful and gracious in your speech. It will be very easy to make off-handed comments that unnecessarily create defensiveness. Sometimes, it’s appropriate simply to keep your thoughts to yourself. Romans 14:22 is key here: “The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves.” Walk in confidence in your own conviction, but be careful not to belittle someone else’s conviction.
Now, although we recognize the opportunity for division as we move forward, we’re not fearful. Actually, we’re very confident in this church. Over the last year, we have seen such amazing graciousness in an incredibly difficult time, and we’re expecting to see the same in this next chapter. Thank you so much for making this year a uniting time in so many ways. We’re thankful for your willingness to strive for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3).