Cutting through COVID-19 confusion
When it comes to COVID-19, it’s easy to feel uncertain,…
I am tired of facemasks. I hate the way they fog my glasses. I hate how they make it harder to breathe, to speak, to listen. But the thing I hate most is what they are doing to the church.
Churches have divided over wearing masks. It may not be an “official” split, but masks have exposed a divided spirit. Churches now offer “masked” and “non-masked” worship. Christians have moved church membership because the leadership strongly encouraged masks. Some Christians have even stayed home from worship to protest against wearing masks.
I get the arguments and I share the frustrations. But I do not understand how we allowed masks to eclipse the meaning of the cross.
We have taken to social media with arguments over the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of masks. We have argued that mandates are an infringement of constitutional rights and an overreach of government. We have collected “likes” to support our resistance to tyranny as we build an army of freedom-loving saints.
All of this over a piece of cloth that many people believe protects their health and the health of our neighbors.
I get the arguments, and I share the frustrations. But I do not understand how we allowed masks to eclipse the meaning of the cross.
We have let a simple piece of cloth determine when we worship, where we worship, with whom we worship and even if we worship at all. We have let this piece of cloth stand between us and our sisters and brothers’ perception of love and concern for them. And we have done it all under the banner of “personal freedom.”
This is not the first time silly arguments have divided the church. Today it is masks. In first-century Rome and Corinth it was meat.
It sounds crazy now, but members within each of these churches divided over eating meat sacrificed to an idol. On one side of the church you had young Christians who left their pagan past and genuinely struggled with eating meat from an idolatrous setting. It felt to them as if eating it validated the idolatry. On the other side of the church were Christians with definitive evidence supporting their “right” to eat idolatrous meat: “no idol in the world really exists” and “there is no God but one” (1 Corinthians 8:4).
The fight was on.
I suspect they had separate worship times for the meat-eating Christians and the non-meat-eating Christians. And if you happened to move into a community with only one church of the opposing position, you stood on principle and worshiped at home, alone.
The problem is the meat controversy missed the meaning of the cross. At the heart of that message is the story of Jesus, who gave up his place in heaven to take on the form of a servant and die on a cross so that we could be saved (Philippians 2). Imagine that: Jesus gave up what was rightfully his, for our sake.
The solution to the meat dispute was for the story of Jesus to become so real as to be lived out in everyday, practical ways.
Sure, Paul believed idols were worthless and that there was nothing wrong with eating the meat. But Paul was more concerned about his brothers and sisters than he was about the rightness of his argument. He was unwilling to let meat determine if, when and with whom he worshipped: “if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall” (1 Corinthians 8:13).
I get it. Scientists disagree. Politicians are inconsistent and hypocritical. The virus continues to spread. But are we willing to use our influence and credibility to fight against something that many people believe is keeping them safe? Are we willing to divide the church over it?
Related: Cutting through COVID-19 confusion
Our story is better than that. The Kingdom is much bigger than that. To borrow the language of Paul, “the Kingdom of God is not food, and drink, (or masks, JLB), but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).
Perhaps that annoying, glass-fogging and (potentially) life-saving little cloth gives us an opportunity to demonstrate the story of Jesus for a world in desperate need of his grace.
Perhaps that annoying, glass-fogging, and (potentially) lifesaving little cloth gives us an opportunity to demonstrate the story of Jesus for a world in desperate need of his grace.
I do not like wearing it, but I will wear it for my brothers, sisters and neighbors who feel safer and protected because of it. I will wear it to show the community that their health and protection matter to me.
I hope one day soon masks will no longer be part of the church’s conversation. When and if that day comes, I hope the church has enough credibility left to show the world what it truly means to “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).
JEREMIE BELLER has served as Congregational Minister for the Wilshire Church of Christ in Oklahoma City since 2002. He also serves as an Adjunct Professor of Communication for Oklahoma Christian University.
Subscribe today to receive more inspiring articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox twice a month.
Your donation helps us not only keep our quality of journalism high, but helps us continue to reach more people in the Churches of Christ community.