September 24, 2020
Good afternoon EBC,
First of all, let us express what a privilege it is to shepherd each and every one of you. You are God’s sheep, and He has called us to lead His precious flock, under His guidance. We are humbled by this calling.
As you know, COVID has presented many challenges for 2020 — from illness and death, to changed graduations and vacations, along with everything in between. We have all been affected by this virus in one way or another.
Church life is no exception. It has been difficult to navigate these past six months. We have found ourselves adjusting to the fluctuating state and local health board restrictions/recommendations, making plans only to have them changed because of extenuating circumstances, etc.
What has undergirded us through this time? Our Lord’s sovereignty. We have trusted that this virus is a part of His sovereign will (John 9:3). We have believed that the leaders He has placed over us are a part of His sovereign design (Romans 13:1). We have rested on His goodness — knowing that all things work together for the good of His children (Romans 8:28). And we have rested on His Word — knowing that it is sufficient for times like these (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Which brings us to this letter today, and another issue we must navigate together as a church body. The issue that confronts us is our state’s mask mandate, especially as we move our worship services back indoors.
We understand that opinions vary widely on this issue. Debate rages with great emotion on both sides — from the effectiveness/ineffectiveness of face coverings, to the political camps of our leaders, to the constitutional/unconstitutional nature of the decisions that are being made, to the inconsistencies of government policies, to the uncomfortableness of wearing a mask for an extended period of time, etc., etc. What these debates show is how limited we are as creatures. We all have blind spots. Our knowledge is incomplete. Our wisdom is only partial.
And yet, these debates also show the greatness of our God. Unlike us, He has no blind spots (1 John 3:20), His knowledge is complete (Psalm 139), and His wisdom is infinite (Romans 11:33).
How does this relate to the mask mandate our state has placed upon our church? In this way — the Lord holds us accountable for only one thing: how we respond to His Word. And His Word is clear in regard to this situation: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors. … For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Peter 2:15-16). One commentator puts it so clearly: “Though the Christian’s true citizenship is in heaven, (Phil. 3:20) he still must live as an obedient citizen in this world so that God will be honored and glorified. Rebellious conduct by a Christian brings dishonor on Christ. … Christians are to live in obedience to every institution of civil and social order on earth. This includes obedience to the national government (v. 13, “king”), the state government, the police, and judges. Only when the government tries to force a Christian to do what is against the law of God explicitly stated in Scripture, should he refuse to submit (cf. Acts 4:18–20; 5:28).”
And please do not miss the reason Peter gives for obeying the governing authorities, it was so that we might “silence the ignorance of foolish men.” Not only is our response to the government an obedience issue, it is also an evangelistic issue. As we obey the government, we silence those who seek to find fault with us as believers. Think about it this way, our obedience to our local government opens inroads, otherwise nonexistent, for us to talk about the Gospel. Our obedience lends credence to our testimony, it showcases where our true citizenship lies.
It is the opinion of the EBC elder board that the state’s requirement for masks to be worn during worship services does not rise to the level of sinning “against the law of God explicitly stated in Scripture” for the following reasons:
EBC is not prohibited from gathering to worship corporately.
The crowd restrictions do not limit the number of people EBC can accommodate for worship. We have options should the number of attendees exceed the 225 allowed in the Worship Center and Fireside Room under Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan (i.e., utilizing the Chapel and/or Youth Center; multiple services, etc.)
The government is not dictating how we worship. True, the masks are cumbersome when singing, but unlike in other states, we have not been prohibited from singing, praying, preaching, taking the Lord’s Supper, etc.
The government is not dictating our doctrine, what we teach and believe.
And so, as we move back into the Worship Center this week, our No.1 priority is to live in obedience to God’s Word, which means “submitting” to the authorities God has placed over us.
Masks will be required for all church gatherings and are to be worn for the duration of the service unless you have a medical issue that hinders this. We plan to post signs around the EBC campus reminding the congregation of the mask requirement. And we, as elders, will be more diligent in our enforcement. If you do have a medical issue that precludes mask wearing, we ask that you sit toward the sides/back of the Worship Center.
This is not primarily a health decision. This is not a political decision. This is not a decision made out of fear. This is an obedience-to-God’s-Word decision, a humility decision, and an authority of Scripture decision.
We know that some will disagree with this decision. If that is you, we pray you will ask the following heart-probing questions: Am I going to follow God’s Word, or am I going to allow my feelings or political persuasions to be my guide? Am I going to cherish corporate worship more than my own personal preferences? Am I going to put the needs and concerns of others ahead of myself?
In this difficult time, the elders hope and pray that the congregation will humbly set aside personal preferences and political views in order to: (1) respect the God-ordained authority of governmental leaders (Romans 13:1-2; 1 Peter 2:13-16) and church leaders (Hebrews 13:17), while (2) showing love and concern for other members of our congregation (Philippians 2:3-4).
Is this ideal? No. But we pray that EBC would respond in humility to the Word and love for one another. God’s church is more important than our individual points of view. Our gathering together carries with it a sanctifying influence upon each other (Hebrews 10:24-25). Our unity and love have an evangelistic purpose (John 13:35). May these be compelling enough reasons to gather together, even if we strongly disagree with what our governing authorities and church leaders have decided.
May the Lord bless you and keep you, may He indeed shine His face upon you. And may we gather together for corporate worship to the praise of the glory of our God.