Your website is so beneficial and I appreciate very much the Biblical-backed answers to the questions that you answer and all of the other resources on your website.
That being said, your recent answer to the person asking if masks must be worn in services was disappointing. I don’t understand the view from a Christian standpoint that we wouldn’t be doing something as simple as wearing a face mask and social distancing during this pandemic to slow the spread. The article you referenced was from July 2020. So much more information has been provided since that time and it is almost universally agreed that mask-wearing is helpful. It seems that the idea that the government is somehow “attacking” Christianity by instituting these basic safety measures is unfortunately rhetoric that I believe hurts the church more than simple compliance. The movie theaters are basically closed, most schools are virtual, many restaurants have been closed for a period of time, and virtually no concerts or other entertainment activities are happening. All of these activities have in common the same thing: A crowd of people gathered together in an indoor space where the transmission risk is high. You believe that the mandates are for show, but respectfully that is your opinion, not shared by many others. Is our love for one another so shallow that wearing a face mask for a period of time and social distancing is too much of a burden to bear? Is it really that big of an imposition? If you knew that some of your brothers and sisters in Christ will not participate any longer because of their concerns, are the mandates really that harsh and hard to comply with? How does it impede worship? All acts of worship can still be completed wearing the mask and social distancing. For communion, a packet is available for each person when they enter the auditorium with both bread and juice included. You only need to move your mask aside for a moment to partake.
Paul was willing to give up his salvation for his Jewish brothers: “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” (Romans 9:3) Is it too much to ask for us to do these simple acts of mutual care? Unfortunately, it can’t be solved by each person deciding for themselves. The risk is higher when one person is unmasked and the other is masked. The double barrier adds protection. Even if you don’t believe this, it is not a great burden to comply until the pandemic is under control.
I haven’t even addressed the issue of it being illegal which was the questioner’s main concern. How do you explain to your children that your Christian sisters and brothers don’t have to comply with the law, but you do? How do you excuse your fellow Christians for breaking the law for something so easy to comply with. Let’s say I decide that the speed limit on the road I drive on is a ridiculous speed and I can safely go much faster. If I break that law for my own convenience would you sanction that? After all, I reasoned that the officials who set that speed limit were really just trying to make money on people speeding so I don’t have to comply. It’s outlandish, but that’s the road we are going down.
Please understand that this e-mail is not a criticism, but hopefully provides the alternate viewpoint of other faithful Christians.
Please don't take this wrongly. I enjoy reasoned discussions. Of course, your note is a criticism of my prior answer. That isn't a bad thing. But let's go back to what was actually said in "Must masks be worn to services?"
I admit that I purposely placed the answer at the end. The second to the last paragraph states that we comply with government rules, but where we think rules are wrong, we work to get the government rules changed while complying with the current rules to the minimum level required. It is only when the government passes a rule that violates a law of God that we ignore the government. This then is the answer to the men who decided to ignore the rules passed by their governing authorities. They may have reasons to think the rules are wrong, but since they don't violate a rule of God, they must work to get the rules changed while minimally complying with the current rules.
Notice that you didn't get that far. You assumed what my answer would be and you spent a good portion of your note criticizing a position that I did not take.
Now, what the answer did draw out of people, such as yourself, is a prevalent acceptance of what is being stated without examining the evidence. I pointed out a study that showed that cloth masks are essentially ineffective in stopping the spread of viral diseases. Your response was that "it is almost universally agreed that mask-wearing is helpful." That isn't a study. That isn't evidence. It is only a perception that you hold. I would like to see the studies since July 2020 that prove that cloth masks are effective in slowing the spread of a virus. I haven't found any. I can state that it doesn't pass the "smell test" of what I know regarding the transmission of diseases. Cloth isn't a barrier to viruses since the viruses are far smaller than the weave in cloth. But I didn't offer my opinion, I cited a study that stated they weren't effective.
You also claim that the spread of the virus is higher if one person wears a mask but another doesn't. May I again ask for a citation of a study proving this point? Belief is not based on feelings. It is what you conclude from the evidence, and there has been a large lack of evidence this past year. But there has been a lot of emotion-driven responses.
I know that much of the news media and the government tell people that wearing a mask is an act of love, but I also know that when people are involved in propaganda the thing to do is make the falsehood appear to be the morally correct thing to do. But these are all assertions. What is missing is hard evidence, such as controlled studies. Instead, rules were enacted because they made the politicians appear to be doing something. Such is commonly done every time something bad happens. Few stop to ask if the rules will actually be effective in stopping the bad events from reoccurring. "At least we're doing something" is the usual response. However, how can you claim that mask-wearing is an act of love when you haven't first proven that mask-wearing actually does something?
What really bothers me is that I've seen a large number of brethren canceling services or not attending services out of fear of either catching a virus or spreading a virus. It is unfortunate that we live in a world where diseases exist. Life is filled with risks but you can't live in fear of risks. God stated in the Bible nearly 60 times "do not fear." From the time this pandemic was noticed I figured I would either catch it or if the vaccine was finished first I would take the vaccine. But in the meantime, I continued my life and my service to God. While the survivability of this disease is over 99.7% there is a chance I might die from it -- but then, I'm not afraid of dying. It just means going home sooner.
"The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed" (Deuteronomy 31:8).
I'm truly sorry if my email came off as critical. I was really trying to offer an alternate view of mask-wearing and why some Christians have a different viewpoint. I did read your entire answer several times before I wrote my email. Your beginning premise was that the government is purposefully spreading false information and that there are no studies that back up mask-wearing. I don't believe that is true, but it really doesn't impact the issue either way. The core issue the questioner had is that certain men of the congregation decided that wearing a mask is optional in direct conflict with the government mandate. The mask-wearing is a mandatory edict by the government in their location, yet they are telling fellow worshippers that it is optional. Thereby causing them to stumble. I have always been taught that if someone is doing something against God's word you have an obligation to go to that fellow Christian and talk to them (Matthew 15:18). The questioner has done that but is being ignored. I think he is frustrated that his fellow Christians can't see the harm they may be doing to others by taking this stance against the mandate. I also think he is disappointed that there would be no issue if his fellow Christians would just comply as a loving gesture to their fellow members. As noted in my previous email, all the acts of worship can be accomplished by wearing a mask and social distancing, so it isn't something that goes against the Word of God. Although I see your answer couched between your opinion that the mandates are only for show and the following paragraph where you imply that it is each person's own reasoning that rules, I missed that you were telling him to counsel his brothers that they need to comply but should do the minimal amount possible? Please let me know if I'm interpreting that incorrectly.
It's unfortunate that you have such a low opinion of our government. I know many Christians who work in government roles and they take their position very seriously and some even sought out a government position so that they could help people. I'm not saying there are not users and abusers in the government, but there are also many people who have noble ambitions. I may have misled on the example I used about ignoring a speed limit. I believe speed limits are put in place to keep people safe. My example was only to show that sometimes flawed reasoning can make us question laws that are actually put into place for our own good.
I also believe that God has blessed us richly even with the pandemic still raging. Churches may be canceling services, but so many more are putting into place streaming services and other options for those that are unable to attend. I believe this may be a way for people who are shut-ins (even when there isn't a pandemic) to feel more a part of the church. Or even when you are sick and don't want to spread your germs to other congregants, it will be so wonderful to be able to still receive the encouragement and blessing of viewing the service. I respect your view that you will continue to do your normal life because the risk is low for you, but for many with underlying medical conditions, the risk is much higher and deadly. Yes, we will all die one day, but we should still follow safety measures to keep us as safe as possible (such as wearing your seatbelt when you drive). I'm glad you are willing to take the vaccine when available. I know that some that mistrust the government think the vaccine is also part of the conspiracy and won't get it even when offered for free.
I should have included some links to studies that support mask-wearing. This one supports mask-wearing and encourages high compliance (both parties wearing masks) for increased protection and containment. The first part is an excerpt from the study, but there is much more data if you go to the link.
Reducing disease spread requires two things: limiting contacts of infected individuals via physical distancing and other measures and reducing the transmission probability per contact. The preponderance of evidence indicates that mask-wearing reduces transmissibility per contact by reducing transmission of infected respiratory particles in both laboratory and clinical contexts. Public mask-wearing is most effective at reducing the spread of the virus when compliance is high. Given the current shortages of medical masks, we recommend the adoption of public cloth mask-wearing, as an effective form of source control, in conjunction with existing hygiene, distancing, and contact tracing strategies. Because many respiratory particles become smaller due to evaporation, we recommend increasing focus on a previously overlooked aspect of mask usage: mask-wearing by infectious people (“source control”) with benefits at the population level, rather than only mask-wearing by susceptible people, such as health care workers, with focus on individual outcomes. We recommend that public officials and governments strongly encourage the use of widespread face masks in public, including the use of appropriate regulation.
Here is a link to another article with references to studies embedded:
Here is an additional link that answers questions about how mask-wearing helps everyone:
Solomon wrote, "If you see oppression of the poor and denial of justice and righteousness in the province, do not be shocked at the sight; for one official watches over another official, and there are higher officials over them" (Ecclesiastes 5:8). Governments are composed of people and since the world is filled with corrupt people, governments will not operate any better than the people who compose it. I agree that there are many good people serving in governments, but that doesn't imply that governments as a whole are generally good. "Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good" (Ecclesiastes 9:18).
In answering the questions that come in, I try to limit myself to answering the person. This gets a bit more difficult when the person is complaining about a third-party. Technically this is gossip because I don't have any information from the third-party. As I pointed out twice now, I agree that a decision to go against a government's rules when they don't affect a Christian's service to God is wrong. What I don't know is what the actual rules are for the region where the writer lives. I know the writer believes that mask-wearing is mandatory at all times, but I also know places where mask-wearing is required in more limited situations. For all I know, the men of the congregation examined the rules and decided that less restrictive compliance than the writer believes is all that is needed.
Perhaps a possible scenario will help. I don't know if this is the case in this particular region or not, but I can see this happening. The men at the congregation could have met and decided that it is not the role of a congregation to enforce civil laws. Therefore, while they will individually comply with what the government said, they let it be known that the congregation as a whole will not bar someone from attending services if they don't have a mask or if someone can't wear a mask for some reason. I can see some taking that as going against the government's rules.
Therefore, I chose to lead off with a consideration that the writer's belief that wearing clothes masks will stop the spread of a virus is not based on facts but an acceptance of what has been popularly promoted. In other words, to solve this conflict both sides need to be understanding of each other's views. Since I'm only talking to one side, I dealt with showing the writer what the other side probably sees.
As I mentioned, the order of the answer was purposeful because I realize that too many people are making unsupportable assumptions.
I do thank you for the references. May I show you what I meant before? The question is whether cloth masks as being popularly promoted are shown to be significantly effective in slowing the spread of the virus.
An evidence review of face masks against COVID-19 is not a study. It is actually an examination of other studies to try and draw a conclusion. It states several studies show a significant reduction in transmission, which is surprising when other studies find cloth masks to be ineffective. Then I noticed several disclaimers scattered in the review:
- "... there is no RCT for the impact of masks on community transmission of any respiratory infection in a pandemic." (RCT means "randomized controlled trial," the gold-standard for properly conducted medical studies.)
- "The study did not look at the relative risk of different types of mask."
- "None of the studies looked at the relative risks of different types of mask."
- "None of the studies looked specifically at cloth masks."
In other words, the authors don't have any studies to prove that cloth masks work, so they tried to draw conclusions from other studies but these studies did not distinguish between medical-grade masks, such as N-95, and cloth masks. Therefore, the conclusions drawn by these authors can't be reasonably applied to cloth masks.
Still Confused About Masks? Here’s the Science Behind How Face Masks Prevent Coronavirus is an article and not a study and wasn't presented in a reviewed journal (its facts were not checked by people in the field). It lists anecdotal stories, which might be true or might be explained by other factors. It cites studies dealing with surgical masks (not cloth masks). Checking the more likely studies that this article cited, I found that the writer didn't reflect the information well. For example in Community Use Of Face Masks And COVID-19: Evidence From A Natural Experiment Of State Mandates In The US, I found "However, there is no direct evidence thus far on the magnitude of such effects, especially at a population level." Yet, the author of the article gave specific numbers for the effects of mask-wearing. Therefore, this article can't be used as evidence.
5 Questions: Stanford scientists on COVID-19 mask guidelines is an article based on interviews of scientists at one university. It does not claim that cloth masks work. Instead, it talks about making surgical-grade masks at home. "Our studies show that, if constructed properly with high-quality materials, a homemade cloth mask can function as well as or better than a surgical mask. Based on our studies, the WHO now recommends a cloth mask of at least three layers of different materials. The outermost layer should be made of a fabric that is at least somewhat water resistant. That can be a fabric that is a combination of cotton and polyester, nylon or rayon. The middle layer should either be a polypropylene — a spunbond material used in some reusable grocery bags, mattress covers and craft projects — or three-ply disposable facial tissues like Kleenex. Finally, the innermost layer should be a wicking material to draw moisture away from the face. One hundred percent soft cotton works well here." I'm positive 99% of the masks being worn are not made like this.
This is why I pointed out that rules for wearing masks are just for show. The rules are not based on studies. There is no evidence that cloth masks work. If they did, why is are government people now talking about wearing two masks?
Are there people not attending church services? Most definitely. Is it the congregation's fault? Most likely not. I've noticed that the same people who won't attend services do go out shopping and eat at restaurants. For these people, it doesn't matter how well the congregation complies with standards, the ones not attending will find some reason to stay away.
This reply is much too long, but I need to address the use of Romans 14 and I Corinthians 9. Romans 14 is dealing with religious beliefs and practices. Some didn't eat meat because they held the view that this is what God required of them. Some did eat meat because they believed God allowed it. Some held certain days as holy and others did not. Paul's point what that neither group was to impose their beliefs on the other, including not creating situations where one group would violate their beliefs. In I Corinthians 9, Paul talked about how he adapted to local customs in order to preach the Gospel to as many people as possible. However, he emphasized that he never broke the rules of God while accommodating local customs. Mask-wearing isn't about religiously held beliefs; thus, Romans 14 doesn't apply.
It comes down to the same point I originally made. The governments have issued rules to wear masks in certain areas. As long as these rules do not interfere with serving God, Christians are expected to comply with the rules. Thus, I wear a mask when and where my locality requires it. I know the rules are just for show and that they make no difference, but it doesn't matter. If someone walks into a store without a mask, I'm not going to say anything. His non-compliance doesn't affect me. For the same reason, the congregation where I preach has the local rules posted, but we are not going to bar someone from attending if they don't have a mask. It is not our duty to enforce civil laws, only to personally comply with them.
People are not attending church services in many places. It is not because of local laws (though there are places that are attempting to bar Christians from assembling for worship). It is not because other people are not complying with rules. They could still personally comply. Most people state that they are not attending out of fear of contracting a disease or spreading it to others (though as I noted, these same people still go to stores and restaurants). Fear cannot run a Christian's life. Do what you personally can do to comply and enjoy life. When a Christian allows fear to stop him from serving God, the fault lies within himself.
"On that day, when evening came, He said to them, "Let us go over to the other side." Leaving the crowd, they took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him. And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, "Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?"
And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Hush, be still." And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. And He said to them, "Why are you afraid? How is it that you have no faith?" " (Mark 4:35-40).