Who has thought, “I’m glad the Nazarene General Assembly wasn’t in 2020″? Probably most globally connected Nazarenes watching the cancelations of every large group gathering in 2020. But will 2021 be better? Of course, no one knows the future. I’m fairly certain there are no crystal balls at the Global Ministry Center. But it seems the question should be asked (as it is being asked by the IOC concerning cancelling the already postponed 2020 Olympics in Tokyo) should we cancel or postpone the 30th General Assembly in 2021?
I’m not a prophet or the son of a prophet (to steal a line from Amos), but it’s sensible to presume that by June of 2021, in Indianapolis the worst Covid-19 troubles of 2020 will have passed. But will the virus be completely contained worldwide by June of 2021? What if there is a second wave in the United States in January or February of 2021? What if there is not a vaccine? What if there is a vaccine but it has not been delivered globally to the 160+/- countries that the Church of the Nazarene operates in? Will the U.S. government allow entry into the country from those countries that have had no access to a vaccine? Obtaining a visa into the US was not easy in 2017 before the pandemic (just ask those delegates from the Philippines or Guatemala who did not have their visas approved in 2017). It is reasonable to assume that it will be even harder for international delegates to obtain visas in a post-pandemic, but still weary United States in 2021.
Postponing the General Assembly for a year might not be the worst decision. In the last several General Assemblies resolutions have been proposed to move General Assemblies to a five year cycle. At the 2017 General Assembly, if I remember correctly, all of the General Superintendents (and a few formers GSs) were in support of moving General Assembly to every five years. I believe their endorsement was based on the increasing cost of holding a General Assembly (the actual cost of a General Assembly is held tighter to the vest than nuclear launch codes, but I think it’s a lot). I voted against the resolution because of two big reasons: 1) The world changes so quickly. Waiting five years is too long to address our changing culture and subsequent changing challenges; and 2) General Assembly is like a family reunion. If we are serious about being an internationally connected church, the four-year gathering is essential to those relationships. I think it’s too late to change my vote, but in light of the pandemic I wish I had voted differently.
The question should be reasonably asked can we have a family reunion if half the family is denied entry into the United States? Can we afford a General Assembly in a year when the World Evangelism Fund (WEF) will probably decline because of the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic? It may be time to ask if the 30th General Assembly should take place in 2022.
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.
Karla already has a list of “to do” things once the stay at home order is lifted. Seeing her hair stylist is tops on that list (not me, I like my mullet. The early eighties were good years for me). Second on her list is to go to a favorite restaurant (She’s growing tired of “Karla’s Kitchen”). Third is to have a quiet day at home, sans a certain mullet sporting someone who’s been hanging around a lot these days (she has rediscovered some of my annoying habits). And fourth on her list is to go shopping again minus the mullet man. It’s a good (albeit somewhat prejudiced against mullets) list.
Here is my list of what I am ready to do:
1). Preach to real people— instead of sermonizing to the person behind the camera (Karla). Karla knows all my jokes (see above statement on annoying habits) and I’ve discovered she doesn’t like most of them.
2). See the pastoral staff on a regular basis, instead of watching a little Zoom-created box on my screen. It will be weird not seeing them in ball caps and missing every fourth word due to a bad internet connection.
3). Develop a mask that doesn’t fog up one’s glasses. When I wear a mask, it fogs up my glasses and I can’t see. If I take off my glasses, I can’t see. If I take off my mask and leave my glasses on, I can see all who I might/could infect if I am a “Coronavirus Rob” (a Covid-19, male version of Typhoid Mary). Foggy glasses is a big problem. If I made a non-fogging-up-your-glasses mask, I’d make millions and our church debt would be wiped clean!
4). Start a conspiracy theory about conspiracy theorists. It may might go something like this: An informed unnamed source recently told me that all the conspiracy theorists have been infected with the Stupid-19 Virus. This strand of virus is undetected until the infected person types or speaks—at which time the virus is easily identified. There is no cure for Stupid-19. The CDC recommends socially distancing one’s social media platforms is the best stay-safe practice. There is also a virus strain named Cupid-19. People infected love even those with mullets. I’m secreting hoping…
But on the tip top of my list is from Psalm 122:1, that says:
5). I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” I can’t wait to see my church folks, talk with them, rejoice with them, and worship together once more. Whether than happens with masks or without masks—I just can’t wait to see (even through foggy glasses) my church family
Not too much longer! Hang in there my friends!!