Questioner: So what’s up with masks?
James: Everyone in their right mind knows it’s a cover up.
Q: Really?! Like a conspiracy?
J: No, I mean they cover up your face.
Q: Oh. HA. HA.
J: I think you mean “Hmph Hmph”
Q: Indeed… so, really: how do you understand the whole mask issue?
J: In my opinion, the “mask issue” has at least four sides.
Q: Which are…?
J: The Peripheral, Biological, Theological, and Tyrannical.
Q: What is the peripheral side of the mask issue?
J: By “peripheral” I mean “on the edge” or “non-central.” The issue of masks is not a fundamental, essential issue.
Q: What would be an essential issue?
J: The Lordship of Christ is an essential issue. If you deny His Lordship, you demonstrate yourself to lack saving faith. However, there are many issues that two Christians may disagree on without doubting one another’s faith in Christ.
Q: You mean like whether you believe Christ will return pre-, a-, or post-mil?
J: Exactly. Beliefs like that are important, but they are not central.
Q: How do you decide what beliefs are central?
J: The Apostle’s Creed is a good place to start. Any doctrine directly and explicitly dealing with the substance of God, Christ, or the gospel is a central belief.
Q: I see. The “mask issue” is peripheral, which means it should not bring someone’s faith into question?
J: That’s exactly what I’m saying. This is not something that churches need to be binding their congregant members’ consciences over. Christians should not be fighting one another over the matter. If your conscience compels you to wear a mask, wear it. If it compels you to abstain, abstain. And whatever you do, don’t start prematurely judging one another over it. If you see someone with a mask on, assume the best about them. You don’t know their situation. Similarly, if you see someone without a mask on, assume the best about them.
Q: Let’s move on… What is the biological side of the mask issue?
J: This involves any of the health factors in wearing a mask. Wearing a mask has physical, anatomical effects, and understanding these effects is important.
Q: What are the biological effects of mask wearing?
J: I am not a medical expert, so I’m not going to answer that question directly. I will say a few general things and let others sort out the details themselves. Before the government response to the virus, “mask science” was quite conflicted, especially pertaining to mass, public requirements. If you want an unbiased opinion on masks, read studies before COVID-19 became an issue. Some of these have been taken down recently, which should only add to the suspicion…
Q: Answer me bluntly: do you think wearing a mask is healthy?
J: If you want me to give a simple answer: No. The only kind of mask use which I believe is beneficial is a temporary, disciplined use of a high-quality medical mask. Aside from that, I think wearing a mask actually does more harm than good.
Q: Is it possible to wear a mask in an effective, helpful way?
J: Of course – I just said so above. The health concerns I have are primarily associated with mass mask mandates, the sudden shift of opinion in popular medical jargon, and the censorship of differing medical opinions on masks.
Q: Fair enough. So the biological side of the mask issue is just the matter of realizing that there are real, tangible effects in mask wearing?
J: Yes, and that people should not assume that masks are a symbol of safety. Do your own research and come to your own conclusions. A website I have found helpful in dealing with masks is https://themodelhealthshow.com.
Q: What is the theological side of the mask issue?
J: By this I mean that mask wearing is not as insignificant as some sources make it out to be. “It’s no big deal to just wear a mask,” seems to be the popular matra, but I strongly disagree.
Q: You think there is more going on than simply strapping a piece of fabric to your face, huh?
Q: Walk me through that a bit. How can wearing a mask be a theological issue?
J: It is a theological issue in at least three ways: concerning the image of God, concerning the sufficiency of Christ’s death, and concerning the worship of local churches.
Q: Yea, you’re going to have to spell that one out…
J: Sure. Let’s talk about the image of God first. I need to make two points before drawing the comparison to masks.
Q: Alright – what’s the first point concerning the image of God?
J: We are created in the image of God, and that means (among other things) that we are relational creatures. We by nature reflect God, like a mirror. Clearly, we are made to know Him. Not just Him, though: we are created to know one another. God looked at Adam and said that it is not good for man to be alone (i.e. without other people). The image of God in us longs to know and be known by other image bearers.
Q: What is the second point concerning the image of God?
J: That relationships emanate and revolve at the face. God knew Moses “face to face” (Deuteronomy 34:10), which means He communicated “clearly, and not in riddles” (Numbers 12:8). Paul equated face to face interaction with rich, relational knowledge: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). To see face to face is to “know fully,” which implies that hiding from the face is to separate, to obscure, to place impediments in the relationship. Throughout the Bible, hiding one’s face from another is considered a sign of a broken relationship. “Hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant away in anger, O you who have been my help. Cast me not off; forsake me not, O God of my salvation!” (Psalm 27:9). Reconciliation of a broken relationship culminates in face to face peace, such as with Jacob and Esau: “Jacob said, ‘No, please, if I have found favor in your sight, then accept my present from my hand. For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me’” (Genesis 33:10).
Q: That is fascinating. And your point about the image of God is…?
J: God created us to see one another’s faces. What would happen if, say, everyone started covering their faces? We’re living that right now. This year, we’ve all put extra barriers between one another, often between family members. That sickening feeling you get sometimes when you look out into a massive crowd of masked Americans? That’s the image of God in you kicking and screaming. That wave of disappointment you experience when you visit a loved one but never actually see below their eyes? That’s the image of God within you longing to know and be known.
Q: So, are you saying that we can’t know anyone at all while we have masks on?
J: No, I’m saying that the mask is a substantial barrier, and so if we use it, we need to be very careful about how much we use it. There are relational side-effects that run far deeper than we care to admit – right down into our very soul.
Q: But loving your neighbor is the second greatest commandment, and isn’t wearing a mask loving your neighbor? You are sacrificing some intimacy for the sake of keeping them safe.
J: If the virus has a high death rate and masks have a high preventative rate, then that argument holds true. But as it stands, neither the virus nor masks are very effective – at least not nearly enough to use that argument.
Q: But if I disagree with your analysis of the situation, can I wear one out of a love for neighbor?
J: Absolutely. Masks, as I said in the beginning, are a peripheral issue, and you can wear one in true Christian love.
Q: That was just the first theological issue pertaining to masks, right?
J: Correct. The second matter is the sufficiency of Christ’s death.
Q: What does the cross have to do with the mask issue?
J: On the cross, Christ suffered the penalty for our sins. My disobedience was credited or imputed to Him, and His obedience is credited or imputed to me. So, remarkably, Jesus took the curses I deserve and I take the blessings He deserved. This is the wonderous, baffling grace of the cross. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Q: It is glorious indeed! And because of what Jesus did on the cross, we can be justified.
J: Exactly! This is called “justification.” We place our faith in Christ, and God responds by declaring us righteous in His sight. Because of Christ’s atoning death, we are set free from the power of sin, which is guilt.
Q: What does that have to do with the mask issue?
J: Think about this: throughout Scripture, we are told that one of the differences between guilt and innocence is that the former likes the darkness and the latter likes the light. The guilty prefer to hide because they don’t want their deeds exposed. This is a pattern established from the beginning, when Adam and Eve hid from God after they sinned.
Q: Ah, I see: you think that masks are something people wear to “hide behind” because they are guilty.
J: No, that’s not quite what I mean. I think masks can be something people wear because they feel guilty, but that doesn’t mean that anyone who wears a mask feels guilty. Basically, I am alarmed at how quickly and happily our society has accepted the perpetual wearing of masks. I suspect that many people find wearing a mask quite freeing. As stated before, it closes you off from other people. The mask keeps intimacy at bay, and if no one can be well acquainted with you, then no one can be well acquainted with your sins. I don’t think this is something people consciously think about, but I suspect it is at work in the background.
Q: What is the answer to that problem?
J: The answer is the gospel. We need to be telling people that there is a way to actually deal with sin. You don’t have to just sweep it under a rug or hide it behind a mask, where it will accumulate and grow. You can put your guilt to death and be rid of it once and for all in Christ.
Q: So, just to be clear: you’re not saying that people who wear masks are unjustified before God?
J: Not at all! I’m saying that some people who wear masks are enjoying the added benefit of hiding guilt.
Q: I guess that leaves one more theological point: the worship of local churches.
J: Yes, that is my final thought about the theological side of the mask issue.
Q: What do masks have to do with the worship of local churches?
J: Paul considered the glorious design of humanity as very relevant to what goes on in a local church service. He explained to the Corinthians, “Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head…. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God” (1 Corinthians 11:4, 7). A head covering is a sign of authority (v.10). God gives the woman long hair as a covering for this purpose in worship (vv.14-15), but the man should not have such a covering in worship because “he is the image and glory of God” (v.7). A man ought not to cover his head in a church assembly because, in that service, he represents and expresses the glory of God in a unique, masculine way. He is coming for a corporate, “face to face” meeting with God, Who he represents to his family, church, and society as a man.
Q: Hmm… I see. Are you about to say that a mask is like a head covering, and so we shouldn’t wear masks in worship?
J: No, I was going to say something like, “Masks are walking a fine line when it comes to head coverings.” But also, worship must be conducted in spirit and truth, and we need to take great precautions against hiding behind a mask when we should be exposing ourselves before the Lord, in His light and truth.
Q: So, when it comes to masks and worship, you recommend…?
J: I recommend what I did with the biological matter: study and make your own decision. I am not saying that it is a sin to worship God with a mask on your face. In fact, let me say that again, except even more clearly: coming to church with a mask on your face is not a sin. It can be a sin, but it is not necessarily a sin.
Q: In conclusion, you believe that wearing a mask is a theological issue when it comes to the image of God, the sufficiency of Christ’s death, and the worship of local churches.
J: That is correct.
Q: Great. Let’s move on to the final side of the mask issue – this is the one that sounds the spiciest. What is the tyrannical side of the mask issue?
J: This final observation has more to do with the context of masks than with the actual act of wearing one. In brief, mask mandates are one of many unconstitutional encroachments of civil magistrates this year.
Q: You mean that our civil leaders do not have the authority to make us wear masks?
J: Yes, that’s what I mean. They do not have authority under God or under the Constitution. Further, masks have become a calling card for lockdown and censorship efforts. The mask, for better or worse, has become a sign of government overreach – a sign of tyranny.
Q: Do you mean that anyone who wears a mask is participating in tyranny?
J: No, that is not at all what I mean. This has nothing to do with a civilian’s decision to wear a mask. This is about whether or not a civil magistrate has the authority to close down businesses, cancel thanksgiving, and put a piece of cloth on your face indefinitely.
Q: But we’re in the middle of a pandemic! Isn’t it the responsibility of the civil magistrate to protect citizens from such a catastrophic event?
J: Perhaps, but where is the catastrophic event? Where are the Spanish Flu-like numbers we were promised? The overall death rate has not even changed. This virus is not a fraction as problematic as politicians and journalists make it out to be – certainly not bad enough to lockdown the country in the name of an emergency. People need to understand that mask mandates from our elected officials are a form of tyrannical overreach.
Q: It’s time to wrap up the conversation, so let’s get to the bottom-line. After explaining what you see to be the four sides of the mask issue, tell me: do you recommend people wear or not wear masks?
J: I recommend neither.
Q: That… is not what I expected you to say.
J: Well then, it’s a good thing we’ve had this conversation.
Q: I have you on record claiming that masks are a tool of tyrants, theologically unhelpful, and often biologically unhealthy – but you’re not going to recommend people wear them or abstain?
J: Absolutely not.
J: I have two reasons.
Q: Ugh, you always have so many points…
J: Well, you always have so many questions.
J: First of all, you also have me on record saying that masks are a peripheral, non-essential issue. Honestly, I think the quarrels over masks are a smoke screen. The real problems in our society and churches are deeper, wilder, and much more urgent. Trying to force people either way on masks seems to me like mowing the lawn while the house is on fire. I think the matter is best left at the family level. Every family needs to make their own decisions. As the head of my own household, I have done my own research and come to my own conclusion about what I believe is best for my family. Every household situation is different. I recommend that the head of each household pray, educate himself, consult with his wife, consider the broader family situation, and make a decision.
Q: I see…
J: Second of all, mask wearing is not as simple as “never wear a mask” and “always wear a mask.” Perhaps a better question would be, “Under what circumstances should I wear a mask?” Someone, out of God-fearing conviction, might conclude, “Under no circumstances should I wear a mask.”
Q: That’s what you have decided, right?
J: No. I have concluded that as a basic rule of thumb, my household does not wear masks. However, there are certain situations in which we do wear masks.
Q: Really?? You wear a mask sometimes?
Q: When? Where? Please explain.
J: I wear a mask when I perceive that an immediate need or responsibility cannot be fulfilled without doing so. For example, if I am in college, then I need to wear a mask to class if it is required, because I am responsible for finishing that degree and mask wearing is a peripheral issue that I can bend on for a short time. Another example: if my job requires me to mail a package, but the Post Office won’t let me in without a mask, then I need to put my mask on briefly to run the package inside.
Q: Would you ever refuse to wear a mask?
J: Oh yea – I do it all the time, and I’ve gotten kicked out of several places! I believe it is important to refuse to wear a mask when I can to do my part in resisting tyranny.
Q: Interesting. So basically, you’re telling me that there are times to push-back against government tyranny, and then there are times to put the mask on so that you can take care of responsibilities?
J: That’s pretty close to what I’m saying. But-
Q: I know, I know – but you are not recommending that other individuals and families do exactly what you are doing. You’ve done your own homework and made a decision, and other families need to make their own decisions.
J: Precisely. Teenagers whose parents require mask wearing should not rebel against their parents by leaving the mask off. Fathers should not exasperate their children with unreasonable guidelines on mask wearing or abstinence. Wives should not nag or bad-mouth their husbands when a decision about masks is made. Families need to remain unified and on their own, well-reasoned, thoroughly prayed course.
Q: Anything else?
J: No, I think that’s it. Thanks