The issue of mask wearing has become a political hot potato not a public health issue. The Detroit Free Press article regarding this is: here
But what about in church? Should people be required to wear masks in church? What if the mask deniers are right? What if wearing a mask is not helping the control of Coronavirus? What if the mask wearers are right and the potential for spreading the virus is magnified by non-mask wearers?
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul faced a similar dilemma from which we can draw parallels to today’s mask vs. non-mask debate. The issue in Corinth wasn’t about masks in a pandemic, but eating or not eating meat sacrificed to idols.
When pagans ate the meat sacrificed to idols, it was an act of worship. The leftover uneaten meat sacrificed to pagan idols at the pagan temple was later sold in the market. In a city like Corinth (which had many pagan temples), sacrificed meat was far cheaper and more available than non-sacrificed meat. So the question was: Should Christians eat meat that was cheaper, albeit sacrificed to a phony-baloney idol?
Sacrificed meat eaters said, “The idols are fake. Jesus is real. The only thing better than a tasty lamb chop is a tasty cheap lamb chop.”
Non-Sacrificed meat eaters said, “I came out of a pagan lifestyle. Before Jesus, I ate sacrificed meat and worshipped idols that I now know are fake. If I were to eat meat sacrificed in honor of a fake god, it would be a terrible reminder of my sinful past.”
Both camps loved Jesus but came to different conclusions moving forward.
Paul was in the “I like a good cheap lamb chop” camp, but he also wanted to be sensitive to the former pagans. He concluded by writing, “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. (1 Corinthians 10:32-33). In other words, Paul told those who were OK eating the once sacrificed lamb chops that cheap meat wasn’t worth alienating the non-eaters of sacrificed meat and could possibly hinder their walk with Jesus.
Like in Paul’s day, the lines in the church are being drawn into two camps: Mask wearers and non-mask wearers. Mask wearers are saying, “I want to keep everyone safe. I don’t want to infect anyone with my germs.” While non-mask wearers are saying, “The Covid-19 shut down is a big brouhaha about nothing. Let’s get on with life.” Both camps want to get back and worship God. Both camps love Jesus but come to very different conclusions in moving forward.
It seems that our options are limited as we open our churches. Which non-Christian do you want to offend? Mask wearers or non-mask wearers?
Let’s say both a mask wearer and non-mask wearing non-Christian started watching on-line services during the quarantine and decided to come check out Jesus for themselves. The non-mask wearer, non-Christian types may come to the church doors and when offered a mask, might say, “No thanks, I’ll be back when I don’t have to wear a mask,” and leave. One the other hand, the mask wearing non-Christian walking into a church filled with non-mask wearing Christians would turn around, never come back and saying, “Those people do not care about their neighbor.”
Mask or no mask our job is to win people to Jesus.
Let’s be sensitive to non-believers coming through our doors from both camps. To my non-mask wearing friends, I would say, “Wearing a mask for an hour in church is worth the inconvenience if an unbelieving mask wearer hears about Jesus.” If we are going to err let’s do it on the side of proclaiming the message that we love our neighbors, protect them and doing everything we can to win them to Jesus. That’s where Paul seemingly lands in the eat sacrificed meat vs. don’t eat sacrificed meat question in 1 Corinthians. He wrote: “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” 1 Corinthians 10:24
In the Great Meat Sacrificed to Idols Debate of the first century and in the mask vs. non-mask debate of 2020, the advice is the same, let’s seek the good of our neighbor.