People are facing off about masks. Every man and his dog (I saw a dog sporting a mask recently) has an opinion. To wear or not to wear, that is the question? Naturally, every opinion is scientifically validated, they all insist on contradiction to one another.
In the community of faith, this divergence of opinion loses no energy – it may actually gain energy because of our beliefs about freedom, and freedom, rightly, means a lot to us.
Anecdotal evidence to hand is that some people won’t go back to physical church gatherings because people aren’t wearing masks, and equally other people refuse to re-engage with their church community because some people are wearing masks. Churches are splitting over this; it has all the hallmarks of Corinthian divisiveness.
Those that do mask up are likely to be considered the weak, the fearful, maybe the unwitting victims of so-called political oppressiveness. Those that don’t mask up see themselves as bastions of freedom, refusing to be the pawns of so-called scientific dogma, and Government legislation. They are the unafraid, or maybe the just plain careless.
Two thoughts for us to consider:
Firstly, we may find ourselves redefining freedom – which was paradoxically always about freedom from something to be being the slave of another thing, in our case, the servants of Christ.
Freedom isn’t a political agenda in the writings of Paul. Rather, it is the freedom to love and serve, and not having to exercise your freedoms. In the inimitable words of Bob Dylan – “you gotta serve someone.” A truly free person isn’t a captive of their freedom. They are, rather, a captive of love, which makes them a slave.
If freedom is to be defined by not wearing a mask, we have likely, even if inadvertently, judged the person who does wear one. We see them as weak, fearful, and no way are we going to succumb to that old devil. No way, we are making a stand!
Secondly, making a stand is about as far away as you can get from the apostle Paul’s teaching and lifestyle.
His glory was never in his freedoms, but in his imitation of the crucified Christ – who is our example (crucifixion) and not just our benefactor (resurrection). He went to great lengths when writing to the church in Rome to help untangle the issue of the weak and the strong. The weak were fearful, no question, the weak didn’t see the cosmic implications of Christ’s Lordship, no doubt, but the weak were as loved, accepted and celebrated by God the Father as the strong, and it wasn’t demanded of the weak that they change the condition of their, in most cases, cultural heritage. The Lord was their defender. The strong were the ones who had to change. This wasn’t by denying them the truth of their liberty. Not for a minute, and there were occasions when Paul refused to be hindered by the censorial attitude of others trying to rob him of his freedoms.
But Paul’s goal was to conform to the image of Christ crucified, and in so doing he would become all things to all people – to win as many as possible, Christian, Jew and Gentile. Paul became as the weak to win the weak. Gordon Fee has this to say, “The apostle’s actions, which appear (to some) to be inconsistent, have integrity at a much higher level. Whereas he is intransigent on matters that affect the gospel itself, whether theological or behavioural, that same concern for the saving power of the gospel is what causes him to become all things to all people in matters that don’t count.” Masks don’t count.
Which is all a long way of saying that Paul would wear a mask – and – Paul would not wear a mask.
He would be guided according to the need, the conscience, of the community he was with, not his freedom. The mask is nothing – people are everything. If not wearing a mask defines your freedom (your freedom thereby being supposedly supressed) – you guessed it, you are not free.
I hate wearing the flipping things. My glasses constantly fog up. So what? My concern for others is more important than the proclamation of my freedom (if you could call this an expression of freedom) and certainly more important than any temporary nuisance.
Love dictates our actions, not the establishments of our rights, be they personal or political – a sadly forgotten kindness/ethic in our rights-obsessed culture.
Mask up, you’ve been unmasked Lone Ranger.
 Slow Train Coming: Bob Dylan. 1979, Colombia Records.
 Gordon Fee. NICNT, The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Eerdmans, Rev Ed. 2014.