Of Masks And The Weaker Brothers

Introduction

One of the stranger controversies to emerge in the broader Christian community and within congregations in the course of the Covid-19 pandemic has been over masks, whether the state has the authority to require citizens to wear masks, whether the church as institution should submit to that rule, whether the church’s submission to that rule is an infringement upon Christian liberty, and whether the rule itself is effective.

The whole matter has been made needlessly complicated by the paternalism of the federal and state government, who, being caught short of PPE (personal protective equipment, such as N95 masks) for medical personnel, declared, through the Surgeon General of the United States and other authorities, that masks were of no value in preventing the spread of viruses and that Americans should not try to buy them nor should they wear them.1 The media echoed this message endlessly. Then, once the authorities began to secure enough PPE, the messaging changed 180 degrees, emphasizing the value and even the necessity of wearing masks with as much vehemence as before they had rejecting the wearing of masks by the public. This is confusing and creates understandable mistrust of the media, were it possible for the public to mistrust the media even more than it does, of public officials, and health regulations.

Nevertheless, public health authorities and private businesses across the USA have imposed regulations requiring the public, typically while indoors, to wear masks to prevent or slow the spread of Covid-19. How should congregations respond? This is not a merely theoretical question since three pastors have reported to me that their congregations are divided over this matter.

The Weaker Brethren

The Apostle Paul faced a similar issue in Corinth, in the mid-AD 50s. This was a cosmopolitan port city and the congregation there seems to have been composed of both Gentile converts and Jewish converts. These groups had different experiences and histories with meat offered to pagan gods. We take it for granted that food is secular, i.e., that it is not religious or it has not ordinarily been set aside  for religious use (with the exception of Kosher and Hallal food) before we buy it. Things were not quite that way in the Greco-Roman world. Paganism was the state-religion and it was pervasive. The pagans had claimed every square inch for the gods and they dedicated the food to them. In other words, there was no ordinary, secular food.

Everyone in the Corinthian congregation all would have been familiar with the practice of making offerings to the gods. The Jewish converts probably had avoided meat offered to idols as unclean. Almost certainly, some Gentile converts in the congregation had personal experience, as former pagans of participating in pagan religious meals involving meat offered to idols. Clearly, for some in the congregation, the idea of eating that meat now, as a Christian was complicated. What was the Christian to do? Is it permitted to eat food that had been offered to idols? If so, when and if not, when? For some, to see a brother buying or eating meat that had been offered to idols threatened to lead them back into paganism. This was such a serious problem that the Apostle Paul spent three chapters in 1 Corinthians (chapters 8–10) discussing it and helping the Corinthian congregation navigate the problem.

We know that he addressed food offered to idols because he begins chapter 8 by saying, “Now concerning food offered to idols…”. After that the passage becomes more difficult. Some, he seems to say, had knowledge, i.e., they understood that the idols do not actually exist and thus when the pagans made an offering to such non-existent gods, they were offering them to nothing. Paul agrees with this doctrinal point. He says so.

“Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

This true doctrine, this knowledge, however, must be wielded carefully and with love. Knowledge, which is beneficial in itself, can “puff up” but “love builds up.” Those who are known and loved by God ought to be marked with love for one another.

To further complicate the matter, not everyone in the congregation has reached the same understanding yet. Because of their past, when they ate  such food, they thought of it as “really offered to an idol” and because their conscience was “weak” (that was Paul’s language) their conscience was defiled. In itself, Paul said, food is nothing. It neither commends us to God nor leads us away from God. With two exceptions, Paul taught that it is a matter of Christian liberty whether we eat or not. The first exception is when eating such food would lead a brother to stumble, to leave the faith and go back to paganism. The second exception, which he outlined in chapter 10, is when we are invited to a meal with pagans and they declare that it is really a sacred (not secular or common) meal. At that point the Christian is not free. He must thank his hosts for their hospitality and politely decline to participate. We are united to Christ. We have a a sacred meal, the Lord’s Supper.

His chief concern was how the Corinthians treated one another over the matter. Paul says, “take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” The stronger brother is not free to exercise his freedom in such a way as to “destroy” his brother “for whom Christ died.” The stronger brother is not free to sin against his brother and to “wound” his conscience and thereby “sin against Christ.” If the choice is between exercising Christian liberty thereby making a brother stumble or restrict his liberty, thereby preserving his brother, Paul says: “I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.”

The whole of chapter 9 is a discourse on how we ought to restrict our liberty for the sake of the brothers. Paul gives himself as a prime example. He is an apostle. He had seen the risen Christ. The Old Testament law (and the general equity thereof) testify to his right to require the Corinthians to support him. He had the freedom and the right to demand that the Corinthians support him financially but, for their sakes, he did not exercise that right. Instead, he worked for a living as a tentmaker and supported himself. This was extraordinary. The other apostles did not do this. As he says, “Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?” “Nevertheless,” he explains, “we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.” This is his guiding principle in the church. What advances the gospel? This is why he says, in chapter 10,

‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For ’the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.’

Christians should not be unduly scrupulous. This is the mature Christian position but we are to exercise our freedom always while loving our brothers and forsaking our rights for the sake of our bothers and sisters in Christ.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

The Corinthian controversy over food offered to idols is a helpful analogy in the mask controversy.

A Mask Is Nothing

For the sake of discussion, let us say that the ordinary masks worn by most Americans (as distinct from the N95 masks, personally fitted and worn by trained medical professionals) are utterly ineffective agains the spread of Coronavirus and are nothing but a salve, a sop to make worried Americans feel better. In other words, let us say that, like the strong Christians in Corinth, the anti-maskers are right on the substance of the issue, that like the pagan gods, a mask is nothing.

In light of that truth, should the anti-maskers say to their worried brothers and sisters in the congregation, who perhaps have friends, relatives, or co-workers who have died from Covid, or who have vulnerable people in their house: “Man up! Stop being such a sissy! Masks are utterly ineffective. Trust God. Get over your unreasoning fear!”? Granted the analogy between masks and the gods and between maskers and the weaker brothers in Corinth, we know what the answer is. No.

Just as the stronger, carnivorous Corinthian Christian was, in the absence of the weaker brothers, free to eat meat offered to idols but restricted in his freedom in the presence of those who are genuinely struggling (not over-scrupulous busy-bodies) so too the anti-masker, the stronger brother, owes it to his weaker brothers and sisters to forgo the exercise of his liberty for the sake of his weaker brothers.

Paul might have insisted on being paid by the Corinthians but he did not. He earned his own way because they were not spiritually mature enough to support him and it would have harmed them spiritually to do so. So it is with masks. We always put our weaker brothers and sisters ahead of our own liberties just as Christ did. As Paul says, these are people for whom Christ died. This is how we are to regard them. The stronger are not free to lord it over the weaker.

Leave The Church Out Of The Culture War

We are certainly in the midst of a culture war. We are in the midst of the third sexual revolution since the beginning of the twentieth century. Late Modernity has rejected all fixed norms (except the axiom that there are no fixed norms), nature, the distinction between gender and sex, and the God who instituted those norms. Radicals rampage in the streets with impunity, setting public facilities on fire and attacking and killing law-enforcement officers. Obviously the current President is a lightning rod and whatever he touches becomes electrified politically and culturally. Thus, sadly, the argument over whether to meet indoors, in defiance of public health orders (see below) or whether to mask or unmask have become battles in the culture war.

This is not a plea for Christians to disengage with the culture (see the resources below). Rather, it is a plea for Christians on both sides to stop trying to use the visible church as a lever in the culture war. The visible church, the institutional church, is not a soldier in the culture war for the right or the left. It is Christ’s embassy to the world, whose ministers and ambassadors are charged with three essential functions:

  1. Preach the gospel purely;
  2. Administer the sacraments (holy baptism and the holy supper) purely;
  3. Administer church discipline faithfully.

The Reformed churches confess that these are the “marks of the true church” (Belgic Confession, art. 29). We do not confess a position about masks and viruses. This means that Christians are free to take different positions on the question. Christians are free to form groups and to advocate for any social position within the bounds of the moral law. They are not, however, entitled to draft the visible church into their army. They are not free to revile those in the church that disagree with them nor they free to split the church over such questions.

It is the spirit of the culture war rather than the Spirit of Christ that splits churches over the question of masking. That the mask controversy might split congregations, who are united to the same Lord, by the same Holy Spirit, the same faith, the same God and Father, who have the same baptism, and who come to the same communion table is nothing less than tragic and entirely avoidable.

Whether the anti-maskers or the maskers are materially correct is beside the point. What matters is how we treat one another.

Love one another as Christ loved the church. Anti- maskers should wear a mask during services or while indoors, in church, for the sake of their brothers and sisters and those weaker brothers and sisters should be grateful that their stronger brothers and sisters love them as Paul loved the Corinthian church and as Christ loved himself and gave himself for his bride.

RESOURCES

  1. How To Subscribe To Heidelmedia
  2. Between Conscience And Defiance: Questions For Grace Community Church
  3. The Church And The Virus: Is This An Acts 5:29 Moment?
  4. Coronavirus, Civil Liberties, And Crisis
  5. Heidelcast 152: Calls On Church History, Theocracy, Biblical Languages, Final Salvation Through Works, Jesus’ Faith, And Civil Disobedience
  6. Heidelcast 151: Christ, Culture, And Covid-19
  7. What God Is Telling Us Through The Corona Virus
  8. Keith Mathison: Covid, Christians, and the Civil Magistrate
  9. New Resources Pages On Common Grace And The Sacred/Secular Distinction
  10. Resources On The Social Gospel And Social Justice

NOTES

1. I am personally ambivalent about masks. I am happy to wear them for the sake of my brothers and sisters, in submission to the civil magistrate, and in the hope that they may do some good. My goal here is simply to ascertain and preserve the truth about what happened between mid-March, 2020 and mid-April, 2020. Here is the evidence for my claim that the federal authorities intentionally dissembled regarding masks.

. “…U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said on “Fox & Friends” Tuesday that “the data doesn’t show” that wearing masks in public will help people during the coronavirus pandemic.”

“…“What the World Health Organization [WHO] and the CDC [The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] have reaffirmed in the last few days is that they do not recommend the general public wear masks.”

“On an individual level, there was a study in 2015 looking at medical students and medical students wearing surgical masks touch their face on average 23 times,” Adams explained. “We know a major way that you can get respiratory diseases like coronavirus is by touching a surface and then touching your face so wearing a mask improperly can actually increase your risk of getting disease.” Source: Talia Kaplan, “Surgeon general: Data doesn’t back up wearing masks in public amid coronavirus pandemic,” FoxNews.com March 31,2020. See also USA Today.

Of course, today we hear nothing from the same authorities about the dangers of face touching or overconfidence in masks etc. We need not speculate, however, as to whether the federal authorities lied. Dr Fauci admitted it on June 17, 2020:

This is no slight to health care workers. On the ground, health care workers across the globe and in the USA have worked tirelessly to save lives, even at the expense of their own health. I am deeply grateful for all they have done and continue to do. We pray regularly for everyone on the front lines, cops—the number of line of duty deaths (LODD) is up 50% over last year and it’s due to Covid—medics, nurses, docs, prison/jail staff—a high percentage of law-enforcement LODDs this year comes from deputies/guards working in prisons and jails.

80 comments

  1. Dr. Scott Clark-
    Could you address those within the church that are anti-mask because they literally feel sick wearing the mask with limited oxygen? Could you also address those who are anti-mask because they are fearful the science claiming they are more likely to get sick wearing a mask is true? Should these anti-mask folks be viewed as the weaker brother?

    Also, at what point does legitimate fear and using wisdom (common sense measures) turn into a sinful fear of worry and anxiety?

    • Phil,

      Those who cannot or who will not wear masks, like those who are particularly vulnerable, should probably not be in public places including church. If someone has an actual medical condition preventing them from wearing a mask, they are likely in the vulnerable population, aren’t they? In which case, they should be extreme careful.

      As to your question about legitimate fear fear and sinful anxiety is just the question.

      If one accepts the analogy with the Corinthian church, then we ought to bear with one another.

  2. I do not think Dr. Fauci lied. That is a serious charge. They wanted masks to be available to the medical community, of which my daughter is a part. I bought a mask from a friend who makes them to use until surgical masks were available. My wife is a scientist and I trust her judgment. She won’t go out of the house and doesn’t want me to go out without a mask, which I do when I go out. I don’t consider myself a weaker brother for wearing a mask. I want to keep my health.

    • Richard,

      I did not accuse Dr Fauci of lying. I do believe that the administration lied. I do not know how else to interpret what Dr Fauci says (in the video linked in the post. Did you watch it?) in light of what the Surgeon General (and others) said a month earlier. Dr Fauci admits, in the interview, that the advice not to wear masks had nothing to do with our health. It had to do with PPE shortages but that is not what they said–or at least it was not the major note.

  3. Dr. Clark,
    I appreciate you and have a high regard for your teaching. Typically I agree with you on almost everything you write on the Heidelblog, but not this. The state I live in does not mandate mask wearing, so our church has left it up to the conscience of each individual to decide. Our leadership has done a phenomenal job in these difficult days. We have mask people and non mask people gathering together to worship every Sunday AM/PM and Wednesday night since May. Thankfully we’ve had minimal cases of Covid, those who did get it likely outside of the church walls. None have spread it. Those individuals I spoke with that do not wear a mask have said,
    1. Mask don’t work so why wear them
    2. I’m have medical reasons like asthma so I don’t wear a mask
    3. Others shared they are fearful because they believe they are breathing in their own Co2 and the dangers it gives
    4. Others are concerned that it lowers there oxygen levels so much that they get headaches and feel weak
    So this begs the question, who is the weaker bother or sister? They are fearful as well.
    Can we really mandate our brothers and sisters to wear a mask to jeopardize their health or conscience?

    This article from Aquila Report is another biblical perspective I would encourage everyone e to read, I’m grateful for what Pastor Otten wrote.
    Quote here..

    “Churches should respect individual liberty by not regulating or restricting worship. Churches should neither forbid nor require masks. They should not forbid elderly people from attending service. They should not be paternalistic. They should treat people like responsible adults and trust them to make wise decisions. And through their preaching they should encourage members to do the same: to respect the decisions of others, whether to wear a mask or not, so that we might worship together in love and unity.”
    Full article:

    https://www.theaquilareport.com/why-i-oppose-mask-mandates/

    • Tina,

      Are mask wearers weaker brothers?

      My post assumes some sort of mask mandate from the state. Absent that the question is whether not wearing a mask causes a weaker brother to stumble.

    • I believe that the individual conscience needs to be taken seriously, so mask wearers and non mask wearers can be weak and fearful. Who decides who is more weak than the other?

    • By analogy, the mask wearer “knows,” like the stronger brother knows that the pagan gods aren’t real. In this case, the stronger Christian knows, that is, he is confident that masks are of no value in preventing the spread of the disease. In Corinth, the weaker Christian fears the old pagan gods. He can be tempted to go back to them.

      Given the analogy, the stronger Christian is supposed to give up his right not to wear a mask, in church, in favor of the needs of his weaker brother.

    • I appreciate your response, Dr. Clark. It is very difficult for me to come to your conclusion since not every non mask wearer has a firm belief that the mask is useless against the virus. Some think the virus is not a death sentence like first believed many live through it. Like I shared, there are some who cannot wear it because they are fearful of the health consequences wearing a mask. Experience headaches, oxygen level dropping, hard to breathe because of asthma or fearing breathing in your own CO2.
      I love my brothers and sisters who feel like they need to wear a mask and those who feel like the cannot wear a mask. It is a matter of conscience.
      It would be wrong for me to say one is being more loving than the other.

    • Tina,

      This is the argument of the stronger brother: the gods are not real. He cannot understand why the weaker brother cannot see that.

      Paul concedes the truth of the stronger brother’s case but he requires him to love his weaker brother by not exercising his freedom at the cost of the conscience of his weaker brother.

      As I said to another commenter, those who cannot wear masks for health reasons are probably at higher risk from the virus. Like vulnerable people they should be cautious.

      Is it worth splitting a congregation to insist on one’s right not to wear a mask?

  4. At Calvary URC and Corem Deo URC we have taken a position of notifying the government’s position. But as to how we treat one another we practice a mutual tolerance and respect. Feeling compelled to show love for one another. Unlike the culture surrounding us we show forth a better way, a way that our Lord commands for the sake of our testimony to the world but is also fitting to our unity in Christ.

  5. There may indeed not be any significant statistical evidence that wearing masks does any good in COVID-19, and it wan’t lying to say that. Which does not, however, mean that it doesn’t do any good, just that there aren’t enough statistics to demonstrate that it does; and no one suggested during the original SARS outbreak of 2002-2004 that masks were useless. The viruses are similar.

  6. Thanks Dr Clark for your thoughts.

    Every day for 4 months I go to sleep wondering about the unity of the church, how deeply we have been co-opted into the culture wars, and how they appears to a watching world. As a pastor I am deeply concerned with our unity.

    I am also concerned that in our culture war position we are missing Gospel opportunity.

    Now some comments on your post:

    1. I agree that 1 Cor 8, and Rom 14 are analogous, but I see no issue of conscience in the position someone takes on masks. It is not a sin or no sin issue. Even so, in matters where we differ and that difference shows up in relationship, we defer to those most vulnerable. I think the argument about conscience is inapplicable. The argument about love is. This is about relationship not personal practice. If I must wear a mask to serve my brother, then I will do so.

    2. The idea of people assembling with a mix of wearers or non-wearers is incoherent. If masks are designed to keep me from spreading illness by what comes out of my mouth, then being in a room with 50/50 wearers and non-wearers is by definition a subjective risk to the wearer.

    3. In our google age, everyone thinks they are an expert. We derive our expert opinions from our news source. I find that I can trace people’s opinions about the nature and danger of this virus back to who they listen to. That seems to me to make it politicized. This goes to your point about bringing the culture wars into the church.

    4. I have sources of information outside of the news: close friends who are in medical care of Covid patients or involved in virology. They are hands on with the disease and its effects. They assure me this is a bad dude of a virus. They are deeply puzzled by why masks have become an issue.

    5. My question has been: How do I live to love and serve God and others, rather than live to prove my point or keep myself alive?

    I know those are rambling a bit. Thanks for your good work.

    • Mark,

      The culture wars have become pervasive, on both sides. The left must politicize everything—everything is reduced to a power dynamic—and the counter is to politicize everything the other way or to turn to conspiracy theories. In this case, the suspicion that many harbor is that this is all just a ruse to ruin the economy and to cause chaos and misery to lead to Trump’s ouster in January.

      It’s very difficult to separate the question of the virus and the proper response from our obligation to love one another.

      I dearly hope that we don’t allow the cultural war to split our churches. I’ve lost friends on both sides. It’s grievous.

  7. I am one of those who works in a state prison where masks are mandated for all staff and inmates outside of their cells. We have many inmates with respiratory issues, yet wearing a mask hasn’t harmed them any more than they already were. When the mandate came down, the outcry was enormous, but now that we’re four months into mask-wearing, nobody gives it a second thought. With a staff and inmate population of almost 1,000, not a single one has been diagnosed by medical with complications due to mask wearing – no CO2 issues, no increase in asthmatic responses, nothing.

    The base issue, I believe, is selfishness, which has no place within the body of Christ. To not want to wear a mask is selfish. By wearing a mask you are not protecting yourself, you are protecting others. How is mask wearing, then, not the loving thing to do? If we as believers want to leave it to the sake of individual conscience, then if even one person in the congregation fears for their health without masks, everyone in the congregation should wear one. That is love for a brother in action. That this is even a debate in the Church goes to show, I believe, just how deeply rooted the spirit of individualism has become within the body of Christ.

    • Steve, you are making mask wearing a moral issue. Are you telling your brothers and sisters they are in sin because we are not wearing a mask? We are loving one another in our church, whether we have a mask on or not. We are still serving one another, visiting each other, if one request us to wear a mask while visiting, many do. Its amazing to see the love displayed when we understand it is a matter of conscience. If our state mandates mask then this will be the time for us to prayerfully consider make changes. It it is unfair for you to characterize everyone as being selfish, when we are all not in the same circumstances. I truly believe it is a matter of conscience in our situation. Much love and grace to you brother.

  8. Quote: “For the sake of discussion, let us say that the ordinary masks worn by most Americans (as distinct from the N95 masks, personally fitted and worn by trained medical professionals) are utterly ineffective agains the spread of Coronavirus and are nothing but a salve, a sop to make worried Americans feel better”

    This is very likely incorrect. As has been noted by people who actually do possess knowledge, the virus will often be transmitted via the various droplets emitted by our mouth and nose. It’s not the only form of transmission of course, but in a public place where people are in close proximity, it would be a sensible measure. These ordinary masks are not meant to block out the infinitesimally tiny virus in and of itself, but rather one of the means of transport of the virus.

    • Rob,

      You missed the point. “…for the sake of discussion.”

      I’m not arguing what masks do or don’t do but starting with the view held by a number of Christians.

      What is medically true is disputed.

    • It’s like starting a discussion of the Second Amendment saying “For sake of discussion, let us say that guns kill people.” Any conclusions from that premise will be suspect.

      There’s not really much medical dispute that face coverings reduce virus spread. If you don’t believe that, or aren’t sure what medical spokesperson to believe, you can look at Europe, where masks were/are required (along with other requirements). The current COVID death rate in most European countries is a few people per day.

    • Don,

      I assume that you’ve read 1 Cor 8-10 carefully in preparation of your response.

      Am I to conclude that you think that the Apostle Paul should have said to the weaker brethren, “look, you’re entirely wrong on the issues. The gods aren’t real. They never were real. Get over it!”?

    • I have read Exodus 20:13, which, as you know, instructs us to “prevent injury to [our neighbor] as much as we can.” This is where my overriding concern lies.

      Face coverings _might_ not prevent the spread of the virus, but they very probably do (if worn correctly). To act as if they do not, is in my view dangerous to ourselves and our neighbors.

  9. Dr Clark
    I get the feeling that not all read your article carefully. I did not see you take a position for or against mask-wearing. The question posed was when or when are we not suffering persecution? I see the issue much more clearly now and I thank you for your perspective

  10. Mr Clark,
    I don’t think this is the correct passage to use to bring clarity on this issue within the church. By assuming that mask wearers are the ‘weaker’ Christian you are increasing the division you are seeking to rectify. My wife is a strong believer whom also has an immune deficiency. Her highly educated physician advises a mask for her and anyone around. Unless God himself has told you otherwise then you are not the ‘stronger’ Christian. A better verse would be “Love your neighbor as yourself “ and “If someone asks you to go one mile, go two”

    • Ed,

      “Let us say, for the sake of discussion…”.

      You’re attaching a moral quality to “stronger” and “weaker” that neither Paul nor I did. The stronger in Corinth were not better and weaker were not worse morally.

      The stronger knew that the gods are not just as the anti-maskers “know” that a mask is of no value.

      There are those who are legitimately afraid, the vulnerable, and those who are fearful because of the uncertainty of the situation.

      As others have noted, I’m not taking a position on masks medically and certainly not judging those who favor masks nor those who need to wear them for safety. That latter group, whom I described in the essay, seems analogous to the Corinthian weaker brethren. They are troubled in their conscience. Some are unwilling to worship or unable because of the difference of opinion.

      This difference, as on Corinth, threatens to split some congregations. The analogy holds there. It also holds as to the resolution of the crisis: namely, that the “stronger“ should love their “weaker“ brothers and sisters by not exercising their liberty. They should put their brothers and sisters ahead of themselves. On that I am sure we agree.

      I think “love your neighbor” certainly applies. Going the extra mile does—though I think the context there is of pagans imposing burdens on Christians. We need not pick between them.

  11. While Covid-19 is ‘highly contagious,’ it is not ‘highly dangerous.’ Over 99% of people in generally good health who get it do okay. Folks who are immune-compromised from a variety of conditions can contract many contagions and infections that are potentially detrimental or fatal. This has been the case for many millions of people over several generations suffering from leading causes of death, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, respiratory diseases and so forth. Yet for a virus that harms less than 1% who get it (and not everyone gets it), governments mandate masks, lockdowns, shutdowns & restricted operations of schools & businesses resulting in exponentially more harm (mentally & materially) to countless millions of people than Covid-19 will ever touch much less harm?

    • Richard,

      You are certainly entitled to your medical opinion but that is beside the point here, is it not? isn’t the question how we may and ought to love one another?

      after all, on the merits, Paul did say that the “stronger“ were correct but he did not permit them to exercise their liberty at the cost of the “weaker.”

    • >> “Over 99% of people in generally good health who get it do okay. ”

      Depending on what “do okay” means, this is untrue. While about 50% are unaware they have the disease, they’re not truly asymptomatic. Surveys have shown that even the “asymptomatic” do in fact have some of the symptoms, only dismiss them as they’re mild.

      The other 50% vary from having a few days of illness to two months + worth of agonizing pain, lethargy and the like, and of course 1~4% die from the complications.

      >> “Folks who are immune-compromised from a variety of conditions can contract many contagions and infections that are potentially detrimental or fatal.”

      This is turning out to not be the case. Seemingly healthy 40-60 year olds are coming down with life threatening complications and long-term illness. I personally know of several people who, though completely healthy with no pre-exisiting conditions, got extremely sick, some hospitalized and others still dealing with lingering effects 90+ days after getting ill. It seems that the more robust your immune system is, the more likely you are to come down with advanced complications. It’s the immune system that is causing the systemic cascade which is why advanced symptoms are responding to steroids.

      >> “Yet for a virus that harms less than 1% who get it…”

      Again, this number is way off. It KILLS 1%+ of those who get sick. We don’t really know how many it truly “harms” as of yet.

      >> ” governments mandate masks, lockdowns, shutdowns & restricted operations of schools & businesses resulting in exponentially more harm…”

      While I disagree with the claim of exponential increased harm, it’s none*the-less why universal masking is so important. It will reduce the need for “shutdowns” and get us back on track to normality once we’re able to combat the virus with a vaccine.

      Masks reduce viral expression in exhalation.

    • Thank you, Micah, for telling it like it is. COVID-19 suppresses production of one of the interferons by the immune system, and the immune system sort of realises it’s not there, so it goes into overdrive, producing loads of everything, except the interferon it cannot produce. So that’s why some people with strong immune systems get into trouble
      (One fairly new, very hopeful treatment, which seems in one trial to have cut down the number of patients requiring ventilation by 79%, is giving them this interferon by inhaler, which then tells the immune system the interferon is there, so said immune system doesn’t have to go into overdrive).

  12. Dr. Clark,

    Thank you for your continued writing on this. I am still developing my own understanding of the Two Kingdoms Doctrine so this provides some very helpful distinctions.

  13. Dr. Clark,
    One reality is clear, our Father’s Spirit uses controversy to uncover and lay bare the thoughts and attitudes of my heart and mind regarding how I consider others. These particular dividing circumstances (the China virus, the rampant riots, culture wars) expose me, uncovering ‘my fallen way’ which does not consider His purpose for me with others. And the sin of self-importance, that I was blind to, is now in my face. Your thesis and our interactions with you help me see my sins clearly regarding others. Sin divides my affections and separates me from the purpose He called me to live and die for. I am blessed; I enjoy the freedom of approaching our Father to confess and repent so that He might guide me to use controversies effectively. I desire to abide in the unity of the Spirit in order to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the power of God for the salvation of all who believe. I need to keep this patient, quiet and gentle focus in every relational controversy.

  14. “ Whether the anti-maskers or the maskers are materially correct is beside the point. What matters is how we treat one another.

    Love one another as Christ loved the church. Maskers should wear during services or while indoors, in church, for the sake of their brothers and sisters and those weaker brothers and sisters should be grateful that their stronger brothers and sisters love them as Paul loved the Corinthian church and as Christ loved himself and gave himself for his bride.”

    Excellent article but am confused by the second paragraph I quoted here. Is it supposed to say “anti maskers” in that paragraph ?

  15. Hopefully this ends the disgusting habit of people showing up at church who thinks it’s perfectly fine to cough and hack and sneeze onto others.

    A good portion of my horrible colds and a few spells of pneumonia/bronchitis through the years were likely started by this type of swine on two legs.

    Enough already.

  16. Ed, why have you promoted Dr Clark to Mr? It’s not like he’s a UK surgeon or an Oxford don so brilliant that he walked into a College Fellowship/University Lectureship without having had to do a doctorate first (Perhaps he could have done that, but a call to the ministry got in the way?).

    • Having heard this argument repeatedly, I felt it necessary to address the central issue at hand in Corinth that is being ignored. Christian liberty addresses religious practice, not matters of common life. Those in Corinth were concerned about whether it is ‘lawful’ to eat or not; this was a matter of ‘legalistic’ religion, which, much like the Jews and circumcision or dietary restrictions, they sought a righteousness by way of ‘religious practice.’ Christian liberty and the context of 1 Corinthians deals with the matter of whether the partaking of flesh sacrificed to idols and whether that is an affront to our Christian faith, which as Calvin says, “A Christian man, therefore, is not polluted, who, without reverence for the idol, eats of things offered to idols.” Mask wearing has nothing to do with religious practice, the pollution of the soul, and what is lawful or not in accordance with Christian faith. Therefore, to apply 1 Corinthians 8 to the issue of mask wearing is a non-sequitur, since the two concepts and issues are not related. Equating mask wearing to eating flesh offered to idols is like comparing how I serve the Lord’s supper to wearing seat belts; they do not correlate and the argument is specious, as can be shown by the confusion in the comments regarding, ‘who is the weaker brother, the one with a mask, or the one without?’ Until mask wearing is equated with a means to righteousness this correlation between mask wearing and eating flesh offered to idols is a wrong use of God’s word.

    • Kevin I’m sure Ed will be grateful to you for answering my question on his behalf (My question should have appeared several conversations earlier, but the system put it in the wrong place), but I cannot work out how your answer explains Ed’s promotion of Dr Clark to Mr (Maybe the system put YOUR reply in the wrong place too!).

    • Anthony, as it happens ‘Mr’ would be more appropriate. I checked Debrett’s ‘Good Form’ on this point many years ago and it would appear that the use of ‘Dr’ as an academic title is properly restricted to holders of the Higher Doctorates of the Faculties, eg, DD, DLitt, DSc, etc. The Doctorate in Philosophy (PhD, or in Scott’s and my case, DPhil) does not confer this courtesy. My employer insists on the pupils using it in school, but I do not use it in private life.

    • Allan, I never knew that!!! But then I didn’t know that Debrett had done anything other than Peerages.
      Well, I did an internet search, and it seems Debrett have done an about turn on that one – https://www.debretts.com/expertise/forms-of-address/professions/. When they did it, I don’t know, but when you looked up “Good Form” (Are you sure it wasn’t “Correct Form”?), it might already have been way out of date. I was an undergrad in the 60s and I never heard PhDs being addressed as Mr or Mrs/Miss. My Director of Studies, Dr Maurice Hill even told me he was offered a DSc by the Uni and turned it down because he didn’t think it worth the bother(=expense?).

    • At the risk of boring everyone and irritating the management, I might add that I have been told (more recently) that the degree of PhD was invented for postgraduates coming to the UK to study for 3 years, so wouldn’t be in the UK for long enough to get a faculty doctorate. If this is so, imagine Werther Junge coming from Tübingen to get a doctorate. He gets his PhD, goes home, publishes seminal work (Junge, Werther et al, J. Admin. Aff. Vol 30, etc) which gets him a Nobel Prize. So he comes back here to give a lecture, and Herr Professor Doktor Werner Junge has to be introduced to the university audience as plain Mr Werther Junge – The phrase “Lead Balloon” comes to mind!
      Somehow, I think the dictates of Debrett’s WhateverItIs Form might, for all practical purposes, have gone by the board rather early !

    • At risk of boring everyone and irritating the management, I might add that I have been told (more recently) that the degree of PhD was invented for postgraduates coming to the UK to study for 3 years, so wouldn’t be in the UK for long enough to get a faculty doctorate. If this is so, imagine Werther Junge coming from Heidelblerg to get a doctorate. He gets his PhD, goes home, publishes seminal work (Junge, Werther et al, J. Admin. Aff. Vol 30, etc) which gets him a Nobel Prize. So he comes back here to give a lecture, and Herr Professor Doktor Werner Junge from Heidelblerg has to be introduced to the university audience as plain Mr Werther Junge – The phrase “Lead Balloon” might come to mind!
      Somehow, I think the dictates of Debrett’s WhateverItIs Form might, for all practical purposes, have gone by the board rather early !

    • Dear Anthony,

      Thank you for correcting me on the title of the book, and it would seem that Debrett has modernised its view since the print copy I consulted in the ’90s. As far as the history of the degree in the UK is concerned, I cannot claim to be an authority, but my impression is that it came from Germany via the US. Elizabeth Leedham-Green in her ‘Concise History of the University of Cambridge’ (p.195) says:

      ‘It was among the pure scientists, probably, conscious as they were of their international standing, that the need was most strongly felt for some more telling inducement for overseas researchers to come to Cambridge than the right to take a tripos after two years, or the award of a BA for a dissertation. Despite some stiff-necked opposition from those that scorned, or perhaps feared, comparison with German and American universities, the Ph.D. degree, to be awarded on a dissertation after three years’ residence, was introduced in 1919.’

      As far as the senior English university is concerned, John Betjeman, with characteristic disdain, refers to the D.Phil. as the ‘recently created (1917) Doctorate of Philosophy’ (An Oxford University Chest, 1938, p.17)

      Certainly, as recently as the 1950s and 60s, the normal career progression for Arts subjects in Oxford and Cambridge was to proceed from the Schools or Tripos to a short-term Prize Fellowship, and from this, if successful research were published, to an Official Fellowship or a Lecturership in another university. Even in the 60s, it was not uncommon for people to start a PhD/DPhil and then give up, or settle for an M.Litt or M. Phil, when they received an appointment somewhere. Few of my teachers in Glasgow had doctoral degrees, and most of them had passed through Oxford or Cambridge, often having taken a degree in Scotland first. When I was in Oxford, the examination statutes were still placing D.Phils with no first degree from Oxford further down the order of precedence than MAs with no doctorate and it is only in the last twenty years that we have been eligible to vote for the Chancellor or Professor of Poetry. The one aspect in which Oxford was less snobbish than Cambridge was that one was permitted to wear the dress of a non-Oxford degree on formal occasions — in Cambridge, graduate students who did not have Cambridge degrees were obliged to wear a ‘BA Status’ gown without a hood.

  17. Mask Wearing and Christian Liberty

    Having heard this argument repeatedly, I felt it necessary to address the central issue at hand in Corinth that is being ignored. Christian liberty addresses religious practice, not matters of common life. Those in Corinth were concerned about whether it is ‘lawful’ to eat or not; this was a matter of ‘legalistic’ religion, which, much like the Jews and circumcision or dietary restrictions, they sought a righteousness by way of ‘religious practice.’ Christian liberty and the context of 1 Corinthians deals with the matter of whether the partaking of flesh sacrificed to idols and whether that is an affront to our Christian faith, which as Calvin says, “A Christian man, therefore, is not polluted, who, without reverence for the idol, eats of things offered to idols.” Mask wearing has nothing to do with religious practice, the pollution of the soul, and what is lawful or not in accordance with Christian faith. Therefore, to apply 1 Corinthians 8 to the issue of mask wearing is a non-sequitur, since the two concepts and issues are not related. Equating mask wearing to eating flesh offered to idols is like comparing how I serve the Lord’s supper to wearing seat belts; they do not correlate and the argument is specious, as can be shown by the confusion in the comments regarding, ‘who is the weaker brother, the one with a mask, or the one without?’ Until mask wearing is equated with a means to righteousness this correlation between mask wearing and eating flesh offered to idols is a wrong use of God’s word.

    • FWIW Kevin, arguably it’s an application by analogy.

      If you have knowledge, you don’t go out of your way to irritate the lesser informed brother. In this case, the only masks that really do anything are N95s properly fitted, but that’s not what the requirements are or what the general public believes.

      That’s not to mention that the about face on masks being unnecessary/necessary was hardly the first or only one in this little farce.

      The first honor goes to the computer models that predicted millions of deaths even with social distancing measures etc. by people that were less than computer or epidemiology experts.

      Then there was the free rein given to the new secular religion of anti (white) racism – the only kind of racism there is – to worship freely by rioting, looting and burning with abandon. This disorderly orgy was followed by the two public funerals w.o. masks, distancing etc. attended by our elite. The first for the sainted Geo. Floyd, who die being restrained by a cop with almost four times the lethal dose of fentanyl (self administered) in his system and the second, for black communist Congressman John Lewis. IOW there are different rules for the lower and upper class vs. the rest of us.

      Which might leave us to further remark.
      One, just how many overturned cars on fire in the parking lot are necessary for a church to be in compliance?
      Two, maybe we were on board with masks to begin with, but after emptying the prisons instead of giving the prisoners masks, maybe we aren’t still there.

      In short Theo. Dalrymple comment in his interview by Jamie Glazov at FrontPage 8/31/05 might seem quite applicable to the mask hysteria surrounding the panic pannedemic piggybacking on the corona virus. :

      Political correctness is communist propaganda writ small. In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, nor to inform,but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is to co-operate with evil, and in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to (emph. added).

  18. Sorry, I was new to leaving a comment; it was not in reply to any specific comment, just in general to the article itself. Kevim

    • The system is indeed a minefield. Making sure this reply is directly to you was comparatively simple: click the reply button within the grey window.
      There seems to be generally one reply button inside every grey window, directly followiing the first post in that window. When you click that, the window for your reply will appear just below the top post. However, when you have posted, your post will appear after the last post within that window.
      On the other hand, you can click the reply button that appears at the bottom of the main screen, when your post will start its own grey window following everything else, so it can either be a reply to the very last comment (as the system seems to tell us sometimes), or to Dr Clark’s original Post. In general, if there is any ambiguity as to whom you are replying, it’s worth resolving the ambiguity within your reply.
      Even when I know all this, the system can sometimes find ways of surprising me, as happened with my reply to Ed, that should have gone in his window.

  19. to all, What commandment are the maskers accusing the non maskers of breaking? And what commandment are the non maskers accusing the maskers of breaking?

    • And who then is the one loving their neighbor…the one wearing a mask, or the one not wearing a mask? One says, “Wear it,”for by wearing it you protect me, and I by wearing it, you,” and the one not wearing it says, “Why are you so fearful? Do you not know that God in His providence is sovereign over the affairs of this life? Do you not believe that He has set the number of your days from before the foundations of the world? Why are you so afraid?

      If you are too afraid to live with normal precautions, perhaps you should never venture outside your home! You are far more at risk getting in your car every day to drive than you ever will be of contracting this virus. With but .4% of the population having died from this virus, and of those having died predominantly being those with preexisting conditions and over the age of 75, you are more at ‘risk’ driving to church or catching the flu than contracting this virus.

      How far will we go to protect this life? We can take reasonable steps for the care of this life, but this is unreasonable; the fear, the shuttering, the masking. If only we took care of our eternal souls the way we do this body and this life! If only we saw ‘Christians’ who were as zealous about glorifying God and enjoying Him forever, as they are about protecting and tending to this decaying flesh!

      But I hear you say, “Foolishness cannot be the answer; we must be careful, we wear seat belts don’t we?” The old illustration about God sending a helicopter is quickly retold by these cautionables. So, how far will we take this fearful, extreme, overly cautious living? Is this life so valuable that we must take every measure necessary to guard it?

      I say, do you not know that by wearing a mask you encourage faithlessness? Is life so precious that you will guard it at all costs? How far will we go? Yes, yes, a simple mask is only reasonable, a small step, but is that enough? First seat belts, now masks, in some places sugary sodas, and soon gluten, ozone threatening products and vehicles, straws…what is enough? While flying back from the East Coast I saw a mom with two kids in hazmat suits on the plane! How far is to far? Have we forgotten that we are merely passing through, pilgrim’s in a foreign land?

      For those that shout, “Wear a mask if you’re a Christian! Where is your love for your brother!” I say, where is your faith? It is as if those in Daniel’s day went around saying, “Just eat the king’s food! You put us all in jeopardy when you don’t! You do not love your brother! You are selfish!”

      It’s bad enough that the world has with such ease shuttered our churches, demonstrating to us all how little we value the gathering of the saints, the effectual preaching of the word, and the vitality of the sacraments to faith. How sad that most Christians are too afraid to venture beyond their front door for worship, but have no trouble tending to the duties of this life. I have encountered Christians at grocery stores, restaurants, and even hardware stores (one member of the church I serve, which, by the way, never shut for a day, who is too afraid to come to worship, even with a mask, I met in a parking lot of a hardware store, where they were returning a flower! Priorities!), but most will not gather to give glory to our Lord. When did the sabbath ever come with addendum to God’s worship? Only gather to worship Him if it is safe, absolutely safe. Professing Christians will drag themselves to work, will go shopping, despite sickness or threat, but will with ease skip worship for tiredness, plans, common activities, or work.

      I cringed the first time a friend mentioned their church was closing for this madness; I was stunned (but should not have been) that the church would, without immediate threat, without even giving it a second though, so easily forego what should be the most precious part of our lives, Corporate worship! When did serving God and honoring Him become non-essential? Could you imagine the Levites calling in to temple, saying, “I cannot put out the bread or tend to the lamp or incense,” there is a virus going around, or, I have a cold, or, I have something being delivered today, or, I was up late last night, or, I just don’t feel like it, or, I have a problem I need to deal with.”

      I heard a survey that over half of those that have stayed home have not picked up the word or viewed an online service. Sadly, those who have ventured to hear recorded messages have little discernment. Shepherd must shepherd the sheep!

      Finally, for the issue of the ‘analogy’ of loving your brother, or the analogy of Christian liberty, remember those that once made the analogy that our bodies are the temple of the Lord and smoking is a sin against the temple of the Lord? Legalism always likes to draw improper analogies from scripture that never were the intent of the author and our God.

      Perhaps it is time we in Christ stopped calling ourselves Canaanites and living in accordance with their fears and estimations of life’s importance. When did Abraham ever call himself a Canaanite? It was he that assessed his life near its end with these words, “God caused me to wander.” Take off the silly masks unless you are infected. Get out of your homes and get to worship. Stop playing the world’s games. Stop living in fear of living.

    • Kevin,

      Thank you!

      You made is the case of the stronger brother thereby illustrating my point.

      Paul says that it doesn’t matter that the stronger brother is right on the question of the gods or meat offered to them.

    • Yes indeed Kevin, jump off the Temple Pinnacle, or more accurately, push your 50-60 year old immunogically over-reacting brother off it – God will give His angels charge of you and your brother.
      What? Your brother doesn’t want you to do it? Where is his faith? You’d better show him how good yours is, even if you cost him his life (in this world only, of course!)

  20. Yeah Daniel! How dare you refuse to eat the king’s board and put us all in jeopardy, every Hebrew captive in the king’s palace, push those young, innocent captives over-reacting brethren off it – God will give His angels charge of you and your brother. Poor Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah! Poor Melzar, he was just a eunuch doing his job!
    What? Your brother doesn’t want you to do it? Where is his faith? Daniel! You had better show him how good yours is, even if you cost him his life (in this world only, of course!)

    • Yes, the magistrate is asking me to sin by directing me to wear a mask in the present situation. How? He does so by impugning my conscience, by asking me to capitulate to that action that I believe a direct evidence of distrust in God, which weighs heavy upon the heart, as an act of fear; it is a violation of the first commandment. Further, if I see the imposition of masking as encouraging an irrational fear, as that driven by hysteria and godlessness, as that which has imperiled countless lives with undue fear and terror, then the second table of the law is violated.

      Getting back to the main question at hand though, my point is that those brethren that are accusing another of not loving one another because he does or does not wear a mask, is the one violating the law of God, which I believe is your point Dr. Scott.

      And for those demanding I put on a mask to support a weaker brother, they are also violating the command of love as they apply it. For Paul says,

      “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant?”

      Let not him that wears a mask despise him that does not wear a mask.

    • Yes, the magistrate is asking me to sin by directing me to wear a mask in the present situation. How? He does so by impugning my conscience, by asking me to capitulate to that action that I believe a direct evidence of distrust in God, which weighs heavy upon the heart, as an act of fear; it is a violation of the first commandment. Further, if I see the imposition of masking as encouraging an irrational fear, as that driven by hysteria and godlessness, as that which has imperiled countless lives with undue fear and terror, then the second table of the law is violated.

      Kevin,

      Do you wash your hands after using the toilet? Why that’s rank unbelief! Do you take prescribed antibiotics? Where is your faith man?

      Christians disagree over the efficacy of masks. There are competing studies on both sides.

      The stronger brothers were materially right on the issue (re the gods) but Paul required them to love their weaker brothers anyway.

      This isn’t that difficult.

    • Yjsnk you so much, Dr Clark, for putting that question. I’d still like to point out to Kevin that I wrote IMMUNOLOGICALLY over-reacting brother, not emotionally over-reacting. As Micah Burke pointed out above, these people are at risk of severe complications, sometimes fatal.
      There are other flaws in Kevin’s comparison: Daniel was able to arrange with Melzar a ten day trial of the new diet, at the end of which it was proved that the proposed diet would not do any harm. You remove masks for a 10 day trial, the result could be that you then display your erudition with a quote from Homer.

    • RSC,

      Arguably, lying by wearing masks that really don’t do what they are supposed to?

      Apart from that while Paul was ready to waive his liberty for the sake of the weaker brother, I always understood that the church as church may never do so. For instance, while it may be acceptable to serve wine and perhaps juice for those who object to wine for the Lord’s Supper, the church may never only serve juice.

      Two, PPE is what it is. It is supposed to protect the wearer. IOW if someone wears a mask (and is vaccinated), that others don’t shouldn’t be a problem or threat objectively – though perhaps again subjectively, weaker brethren might think so.

      Thanks.

    • Bob,

      People are going to disagree over masks, just as the Corinthians (and perhaps we in the not too distant future) disagreed over meat offered to idols. That’s the point.

      The issue is how we treat one another when we disagree.

    • We don’t believe home-made and similar masks are supposed to protect the wearer. Neither do we believe that they can be assumed to give that much protection to others; but what we should accept is that they delay the droplets sufficiently to reduce the social distance we need to keep to give a particular given level of safety to others, especially when we’re not with them for that long. They don’t do it, but they go some way, and are, therefore, worth wearing. They don’t give safety but they do reduce risk.

    • Anthony,
      The immunological challenged or weaker brothers are always with us. But that does not mean that we quarantine, isolate and lock down the healthy, subject the economy to a controlled demolition (no, sixth commandment violation there, right?) and violate the first commandment by agreeing with the civil magistrate that the worship of God is non essential. Rather I think the latter is commanded and at this stage of this so called crisis, we need to realize it and act accordingly.

      Likewise those who are ill or are susceptible should take precautions or stay home, but life must go on and will go on. As Gavin Beers, FCoSC pastor put it in a NCFIC web conference, the sixth commandment does not trump the first and second commandment. And those who don’t wear seat belts really don’t effect others or prevent them from wearing seat belts. Rather they are free to do so. While the church accepts the weaker brother, it cannot demand that everyone else do as the weaker brother.

      FTM in the church I am at now, we could meet outside and keep everybody “happy” if that’s what it took, in that some do and some don’t wear masks to worship. People certainly congregate and fellowship afterwards outside without any problems and (anti) social distancing. But thankfully so far, the difference in response by members to what was sold to us as the second coming of the black plague, isn’t a problem. True, YMMV.

      But above and beyond best practices and policies, masks or no masks and second causes or solutions, when it comes to something like L.Cat. 105 on the sins forbidden by the first commandment and “insensibleness under judgements”, I think we are all the weaker brother. And that’s neither a good place for the church of Jesus Christ nor where she is supposed to be.

    • Bob,

      Seat belts are worn in cars. Masks are worn in public. The analogy doesn’t really work.

      It isn’t the plague and there has been a panic with lots of attendant social, economic, emotional damage but it is a serious virus for some and it cannot be predicted with absolute certainty who has it or what the medical consequences can be. That uncertainty begs indulgence, e.g., masks & distancing as common-sense measures to try to mitigate the risk as we gather.

      The argument that “we are all weaker brothers” more or less vitiates Paul’s argument in 1 Cor 8–10 doesn’t it?

    • Bob S., I accept your analogy with seat belts (though you might prefer to turn around and reject it in view of what I am about to say!). If you don’t wear a seat belt, you put yourself at an avoidable risk of death, and this is self-murder; which, as pointed out by Bunyan and others before him, is as forbidden by the sixth commandment as is the murder of others.
      Similarly refusal to wear a mask or to social distance is murder of your neighbour.

  21. Thank you, Dr Clark, so much for that.
    Kevin I should also point out that as pointed out by Micah above, a brother’s immunological over-reaction renders him genuinely at risk of dying from any COVID1-19 he may catch, whereas the over-reaction in your analogy is purely emotional. Also, Daniel proposed a 10-day trial period, which Melzar could terminate at any time without any consequences, whereas the consequences of a trial period without masks could leave you exhaling a quote from Homer (vto‘).

  22. Kevin, Melzar speaking: I agreed to let the four of them to do it for a trial period of 10 days, which trial I could easily have terminated if there were any ill effects, but it was evident that they thrived on it, so we could make the arrangement permanent. The overall risk was negligible. Contrast that with what you want to do, leaving off the masks when you might just be, unbeknown to you, incubating the virus, and about to show symptoms, which in your case, turn out not to be fatal. Even if you do it for only 10 days, that’s long enough to infect someone more vulnerable. When that happens all you can do is display your erudition by quoting Homer

    (i.e., saying “D’oh”).

  23. At my church, our elders have made the same argument as Dr. Clark, and they have pleaded with the congregation to wear masks out of love for their neighbor. Despite their pleading, only 2 families have complied. The rest have refused; they think it’s a hoax. Meanwhile, my family is feeling completely abandoned by our church family due to their refusal to wear masks (which is the law in our state, by the way). Why is it that we feel safer going to the grocery store than in our own church? We haven’t been to church in 5 months (we watch it virtually) but it’s not the same. We are heartbroken how politics has invaded our congregation. I never would have expected our church to act like this; they are usually amazing. But I fear we are failing a test right now. Any advice for us? We want to handle this in a way that honors Christ, but we can’t participate in good conscience. We just don’t see a way back. We have shared our concerns with the elders; their only response was “we respect your decision.”

    • Dear Katherine,

      I’m sorry to read this. I have read several reports now from pastors whose congregations are split over this very thing. It’s grievous.

      One possible solution that I’ve seen is to hold two services, one for those who need/want to wear masks and another for those who don’t/won’t.

      Another option is to appeal formally to the elders (consistory or session) for relief. If that fails, in a Presbyterian/Reformed church you would have the option of appealing to a broader/higher body such as a Presbytery or Classis, i.e., a regional gathering of elders and ministers.

      Some sort of accommodation would seem to be ideal.

      If the church is permitting people to violate state law or a public health order, it seems to be reasonable to ask the leadership why they are permitting it. Are there other state laws that they ignore and if so, on what grounds? I understand acting on conscience (Acts 5:29) but I don’t understand willful disobedience of the magistrate, which seems contrary to the clear teaching of God’s Word.

      Is there another like-minded congregation that is observing the state law with which you can worship if the leadership cannot or will not accommodate the mask-wearing families?

    • Thank you for taking the time to reply to me. I am grateful for your suggestions and for your kind empathy.

  24. Perhaps they did. But, who are the “weaker” ones? If the argument is based on one’s own “opinion” (“I am strong, but you are weak”). Perhaps the “weaker” ones think they are the “strong” ones, and conversely. There appears to me to be no hard fast rule here, and that “love for one another” could go both ways. The maskers can love the anti-maskers, and conversely. The point being, “avoid” arguing about it, mind your own business, and don’t make this an issue one way or the other. I am fishing here, brother. Do not read any argument for argument’s sake or even the slightest of hostility in my words. I mean no harm.

    • Samuel,

      Did you read the article?

      On analogy, the anti-maskers “know” that the masks don’t really do anything just as the stronger brothers knew that the gods were nothing. Paul concedes their view. It’s true the gods are nothing but that’s not the point. The point is that the stronger one’s needed to bear with the weaker one’s who were stumbling over the gods, whose consciences are troubled by seeing the stronger ones eating meat offered to idols.

      So, pro-maskers are troubled in conscience by the anti-maskers’ apparent callousness or disregard for health & safety. They are stumbling. They are afraid. They are weaker. The need the help of the anti-maskers. They need the anti-maskers to condescend, if you will, to their weakness, to mask up even though the the mask is “nothing” just as the gods were nothing.

      This isn’t theory. I’ve had emails from just such people. There are comments on this thread from just such people.

  25. Thanks for the reply. The straining of the “weaker” “stronger” in attempts to “apply” it to everything from chocolate, alcohol consumption, mowing the yard on Sundays (Shabbat), and now to “masks” seems to me, IMO, to be not really taking the context of what Paul was dealing with between Greek religions/practices and Jewish concerns. The admonition of love is certainly there, as well as judging one another (that works both ways, by the way, concerning this issue of masks – that I have a “reckless disregard and callousness for human life” – all based on the “appearance” of whether or not I have surgical garb over my face. Somehow, this does not enter into the seriousness of eating things “sacrificed to idols” – something that one could make an extremely good case for, or for “certain days” as special (like, say, Sunday) – again, something someone can make a really good case for. Paul, in the final analysis, lets the “conscience” be the guide on the matter – that whatever is not of “faith” is sin (the idea of my conscience and actions following without conviction). The other day someone asked me “where’s your mask?” and I said, “at home”. “Aren’t you concerned?” “Well, yes, but I am not infected, and you have a mask on, which is fine with me.” We continued to enjoy a conversation without any issue of one judging the other.

    • Samuel,

      You haven’t addressed the point of analogy. The weaker brethren in Corinth were genuinely concerned about the gods. They thought that the gods were real and were tempted to go back. That’s the point of analogy. There are those who are genuinely scared of Covid-19, who are afraid to attend public worship where there are unmasked people.

      You say that you don’t have it. How do you know? When were you last tested? You might have it and be asympotmatic. You might be spreading it to others. That’s the concern of the masker, the weaker brother in the analogy.

      Your lack of concern for the weaker brother is a cause for his stumbling, his inability to attend worship.

      You’re the stronger brother. Like him, you know that the gods (i.e., the mask stopping the virus isn’t real). Paul wasn’t concerned, at that point, with the material question of the gods but how we love one another.

      He required the stronger brother to mask up, even though he was right about the issue. Love required him not to eat meat as love requires us to mask up for the sake of our brothers and sisters who are struggling with fear of the virus.

  26. Greetings, Dr. Clark:

    On this subject, I have read the post, comments, all other HB covid-related ones (I think!), and listened to many of the HC podcasts touching on the issue. With great respect and appreciation, thank you.

    I’m hoping you could comment to the analogy, adding a second variation of the ‘weaker’ brother? If it over complicates the post and you’d prefer to not, I’ll understand that as well.

    This new brother, one who by their reasoning maintain that for them to wear a mask, under any government mandate, would be for their conscience to actively participate in:

    1. A lie (by government, the media et al; being a precursor to mandated vaccines, micro chips)

    2. Idolatry of the State (believe the mandates unlawful; my face belongs to God not the State)

    3. Ungodly fear (believing covid-19 risk real, but greatly overblown)

    4. Advancement of tyranny (believing we have lost many freedoms, and this is positioning for greater reduction of civil liberties)

    Staying within the analogy, this new brother maintains their sincerity and we are not disseminating their reasoning, but we see they ardently express a deep conviction on the above.

    In the new brother’s case, they say they cannot WEAR the mask.
    The first weaker brother, cannot DROP the mask.

    Both parties, say: an issue of conscience concerned for the gods.
    Both, to the analogy: a weak brother.

    For the strong, assess the weaker of the two and support accordingly?
    Under what conditions could they assemble?

    I have not been able to work out how to process Romans 14 brotherly love with this third-brother factor. And so I ask for your help to work this out.

    My primary interest is from the perspective of the analogy’s original weaker brother.

    One path I’ve considered: the first weaker brother, seeing the firmness of the third brother’s views and as being many degrees weaker than themselves, might in good conscience prefer the third brother by abstaining from weekly assembly and maintain some semblance of church worship and connection via livestream (along with the odd call from the assembly, concerned for backsliding – due to no attendance). I could spin up a whole novel (pun!) but will end on that.

    Thank you.

    • Mike,

      Comments below:

      n this subject, I have read the post, comments, all other HB covid-related ones (I think!), and listened to many of the HC podcasts touching on the issue. With great respect and appreciation, thank you.

      I’m hoping you could comment to the analogy, adding a second variation of the ‘weaker’ brother? If it over complicates the post and you’d prefer to not, I’ll understand that as well.

      This new brother, one who by their reasoning maintain that for them to wear a mask, under any government mandate, would be for their conscience to actively participate in:

      This reply has been made by others.

      1. A lie (by government, the media et al; being a precursor to mandated vaccines, micro chips)

      2. Idolatry of the State (believe the mandates unlawful; my face belongs to God not the State)

      Mike,

      People who believe in wacky conspiracy theories may indeed be the weaker brother but, quite honestly, they may also be in need of counseling. I mean this.

      As to your face, well, the state frequently regulates what you can do with your face: you may not threaten violence, you may not use your mouth to conspire to commit a crime, and you may not use your mouth to shout fire in a crowded theater.

      People were jailed in 1918 for refusing to wear masks. We’re having the same argument now. The anti-Christ didn’t come in 1918, did he?

      3. Ungodly fear (believing covid-19 risk real, but greatly overblown)

      You’re entitled to your view of the virus. You’re not entitled to impose that view (now you seem to be taking the place of the stronger brother) on your brothers and sisters who are fearful of catching the virus or spreading it to others.

      4. Advancement of tyranny (believing we have lost many freedoms, and this is positioning for greater reduction of civil liberties)

      Masks have little to do with liberty. Not being able to meet, that’s arguably an infringement of our constitutional liberties but taking health precautions is entirely consisting with exercisIng our liberties. In that respect, the argument over masks seems like a distraction from the real civil/constitutional issue.

      Staying within the analogy, this new brother maintains their sincerity and we are not disseminating their reasoning, but we see they ardently express a deep conviction on the above.

      In the new brother’s case, they say they cannot WEAR the mask.
      The first weaker brother, cannot DROP the mask.

      Both parties, say: an issue of conscience concerned for the gods.
      Both, to the analogy: a weak brother.

      For the strong, assess the weaker of the two and support accordingly?
      Under what conditions could they assemble?

      I have not been able to work out how to process Romans 14 brotherly love with this third-brother factor. And so I ask for your help to work this out.

      My primary interest is from the perspective of the analogy’s original weaker brother.

      One path I’ve considered: the first weaker brother, seeing the firmness of the third brother’s views and as being many degrees weaker than themselves, might in good conscience prefer the third brother by abstaining from weekly assembly and maintain some semblance of church worship and connection via livestream (along with the odd call from the assembly, concerned for backsliding – due to no attendance). I could spin up a whole novel (pun!) but will end on that.

      If one truly feels aggrieved as the weaker brother, we must find a way to accommodate him as far as we are able. One solution that I’ve seen is to hold services for those who want to be masked and to hold a second service for those who will not be masked. What we must seek to do is find a way to maintain the unity of the faith and to love one another.

  27. “What we must seek to do is find a way to maintain the unity of the faith and to love one another.”

    My wholehearted agreement on all fronts, comes with deep appreciation for your quick reply, as I continue to test my heart and thinking on the questions.

    The proposed solution seems an excellent alternative! For those circumstances that can support it. Presupposing (as it must) that mindset the Lord wants among His people and to characterize the gospel ministry, would likely solve any Gordian Knot I might present. In it’s absence? Tough deal…

    For the mind fully entangled in the full 4 (and more), your first observation may be the most relevant. Even if only a reminder to the one, to regularly commit the other to the Lord’s mercy and look for direct brotherly access.

    I can relate a great deal to Katherine’s Aug 15th and 16th comments. At risk of writing that novel I’m reluctant to write, I’ll pass on suggesting more potential complications but emphasize again, deep appreciation.

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