May elders require masks?

In this post I showed that elders may not impose masking in worship as an application of the law of love. They may not guilt congregants that way. Although rare, some are bold enough to assert that Jesus would have worn a mask and expects the same of his followers today. Others say something that cashes out no differently. It is without exception unloving not to wear a mask in congregational worship.

Such an extreme position can be an application of deceptions I discuss here, which pertain to clinging to commitments at all cost, either through (i) denial of premises and argumentation or (ii) deflection and denial of the same.

In this post I turn to the question of whether elders may require masking, which is a different question than whether they may impose masking (under the guise of love for others no less). Well, the simple answer is no, they may not. In a strict sense, elders may not “require” anything. Elders may not enforce their demands. To do so is to usurp the authority of God’s word and Christian liberty of conscience, as well as conflate ecclesiastical and civil rule.

Even if one does not understand the ministerial and declarative function of church officers as it relates to the proper administration of God’s precepts and his associated sanctions, she might appreciate that requirement presupposes enforcement for lack of adherence or conformity. What sort of biblical sanction may a church bring to bear upon any who do not heed her moral requirement? None. Elder rule is in the name of Christ. As such, any enforcement, if it is valid enforcement, is Christ’s enforcement and, therefore, must be according to God’s precepts and pronounced in God’s name. Is perpetual not-masking in the face of lording it over the flock an excommunicable offense in the sight of God? May elders declare on the authority of God’s word that a refusal to mask is not just unloving but a demonstration of unbelief, heretical conviction or licentious living? Are masks a telltale of one’s faith and practice? Would contumacy obtain?! Without lawful sanction, so much for lawful “requirement”.

However, if spiritual overseers were to try to enforce masking in worship, they would need the assistance of the state to remove or prevent one from attendance. (It is my understanding that not even bouncers at bars may physically remove an unruly patron, let alone a peaceable unmasked one.) Would Deacons or Elders call the police to physically remove a mother and child who were not breaking the law and peaceably worshipping without masks? If masks may be required, then I guess they must. Obviously there is something intuitively wrong about the trajectory of the premises. Perhaps masks may not be “required” after all.

I am also curious whether in those instances in which state laws on masks do not apply to religious worship, would those states even enforce masks at the elders’ request? I’m certain they shouldn’t, but I’m not sure they wouldn’t. (We might also ask, at the request of parents should the state remove a seventeen year old child from her parents’ home if the child defied house rules by resisting mask wearing in the home? It might come as a surprise to some that there is more latitude for parental enforcement than ecclesiastical enforcement. Children require parental training, having not yet come of age. Whereas the New Testament church is not under the same sort of tutelage. A parent may require his child not to wear ripped jeans to church. The session may not. A parent may exercise corporal discipline, the church may not. Without having reflected adequately on these types of distinctions, how equipped is one to navigate this discussion let alone make recommendations and even requirements in God’s name?)

The question is not whether Christ’s under-shepherds may require masks but whether Christ does.

This is where it is typically pointed out that church leadership invokes many requirements, so why not here? For instance, if you want to worship with us, then you are required to come to worship service at x, y or z time. If you want to serve in nursery, then you are required to pass a background check. The intended analogies are numerous. They’re also fallacious.

Regarding the “requirement” of coming to one of the stated services in order to worship with the congregation, the use of “requirement” is equivocal. It does not have the same meaning in both instances. The term is being employed in two different ways in close proximity. A requirement of coming to a stated worship service in order to worship with the congregation is merely a necessary condition without which the consequent of the if-then proposition cannot logically obtain. Yes, a “requirement” for participating in congregational worship is that one come to congregational worship! It is impossible to worship otherwise. Whereas it is possible to worship without wearing a mask. False analogy. It’s to confuse a synthetic truth with a moral obligation, a logical requirement with a moral one.

With respect to serving in the nursery, we might first observe God neither requires it nor the background check. Without sin one may pass on serving in the nursery ministry; whereas God calls his people to congregational worship. It’s not optional. Whereas a session needn’t have an opinion or policy on background checks (barring state requirement), it is to possess God’s revealed mind on whether congregants attend worship. Accordingly, the proximate source of the requirements for nursery and worship are relevantly different. Rules pertaining to serving in nursery are not ministerial and declarative considerations. They have little consequence relatively speaking. That’s why a requirement for a background check isn’t typically instituted under the pretense of “verily, verily…” or “thus saith the Lord” (though some do get dangerously close to suggesting it does). In a word, there’s no impingement upon liberty of conscience to humanly mandate nursery regulations, which is not the case with mandatory masking in the name of Christ. Unlike worship, one may blow off nursery. But if masks are not required in the name of Christ, then on what basis may masks be required for something God requires us to do, namely worship? (Objectors may insert here another version of the fallacy from the paragraph before this one.)

Even if it were possible, it’s not practical to entertain every “what about” this requirement or that requirement. Many rejoinders might simply disappear given a willingness to heed some basic philosophical principles, such as those discussed here.

Unfortunately, any semblance of rigorous or analytical thought has become increasingly passé, even among the well educated. Analytic-interaction with opposing views is becoming an increasingly foreign practice in the church. Blind practice has in various places replaced thoughtful tradition. Opinion is too often on equal footing with reason. Intellectual laziness in the spiritual realm has aided the drift from the Reformers and Westminster tradition toward anti-intellectual fundamentalism and evangelicalism, which in many respects in its heavy shepherding and man made religious rites resembles the tyranny of sixteenth century Popery. This gives occasion for one to pause and consider that when we do agree, is it merely formal agreement as opposed to agreement in principleopinionated agreement vs. conclusive agreement?

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