As in every area of our lives, when it comes to wearing masks, we want to ensure we are thinking biblically, not politically, pragmatically, or selfishly. With that in mind, here are three biblical reasons why we think it is right to require masks of those who attend Cityview’s services.
1. Submission to Authority. Governor Pritzker mandated masks in public places on May 1, following the advice of medical authorities. The Bible is quite clear that Christians should submit to authority unless that authority requires them to act sinfully. Peter commands his readers, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority” (1 Peter 2:13a). He goes on to explain how important our submission is to our public witness, which is the whole focus of this section of the letter (see verse 12): “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor” (verses 15-17). By doing good in submitting to authority, we silence those who accuse the church of being divisive and unruly. And although we are free in Christ, we do not use that freedom as an excuse to do whatever we want; rather, we live in submission to God, which includes submission to authority.
Paul makes the same point with characteristic forcefulness: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves” (Romans 13:1-2). To refuse submission to authority is to rebel against God, and will bring the judgment that such rebellion requires.
It is important for us to remember that neither Peter nor Paul say anything about the competence or character of the governing officials. Unless the authority commands disobedience to God (see Acts 4:19), a very high threshold, we submit—even if we disagree with the commands. (To submit only when you agree isn’t really submission, after all!) Just to illustrate this point, keep in mind that both Peter and Paul wrote these commands while living under the reign of Nero, one of the most immoral tyrants ever to rule Rome (or anywhere, for that matter), and the one who would ultimately martyr both apostles! Whatever we may think of the authority, we submit in obedience to God.
2. Valuing Others. In a famous passage, Paul explains that our attitude toward others should be the same as Christ’s: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). The point is simple: What I want to do doesn’t matter nearly so much as what would express love for others. While I may prefer to act one way, I defer for the sake of those around me.
This is especially important because wearing a mask benefits those around us, not ourselves. If a mask protected its wearer primarily, we could leave it up to the discretion of each individual. However, masks are most effective—by a significant margin—when everyone is wearing one. Choosing not to wear a mask puts those around you at greater risk. To take a hard stance against wearing masks, then, involves putting one’s own interests above the interests of others, which Paul expressly forbids—and which is the antithesis of all that Jesus taught and lived. In humility, we seek to follow in his footsteps, valuing others above ourselves and our preferences.
3. Protecting Life. As Christians, we recognize that God has created humanity in his own image (Genesis 1:27), so that every life is precious and worthy of protection. This is why we’ve worked tirelessly on behalf of the pro-life movement. Here is another opportunity. There is significant, even overwhelming consensus among the medical community, once you move beyond viral social media posts and those looking to get on cable news. (This is an important reminder for us more generally, too. Anytime a person stands to profit—gaining either fame or fortune—from a contrary opinion, we would do well to examine that claim more carefully. The heart is deceitful above all things, as we know [Jeremiah 17:9], and the lure of power and possessions is great.) The overwhelming consensus is that masks, especially when worn by everyone present, do diminish the risk of transmission. They’re not perfect, but they are effective.
If wearing masks reduces the risk of transmitting a potentially fatal disease, Christians committed to the sanctity of life should have no issue with taking that step. Indeed, the sixth commandment (“Do not murder”), as the Westminster Shorter Catechism reminds, “requires all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life, and the life of others.” During a time of plague, Martin Luther wrote, “I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence.” We can display that same godly conduct today by wearing masks in order not to risk infecting or being infected, and so causing death as a result of our negligence. We have nothing to lose, short of some personal comfort, and potentially so much to gain (protecting life), by taking this simple step.
A final word is in order. Some would claim that wearing masks is akin to living in fear. Taking proper precautions has nothing to do with living fearfully, however, and everything to do with living wisely. When you buckle your seatbelt before driving, for example, you’re not choosing from a place of fear, but from a wise and thoughtful understanding of the laws of inertia and the realities of living in a world where accidents happen. It is not fear but wisdom that prevents us from reckless choices that endanger our own or others’ lives.