Masking Truth

I’ve had fruitful discussions with various teaching elders and pastors from various churches. There seems to be a common thread that runs throughout. If I may summarize, here is how I assess the current landscape. The context is the state is not enforcing masks in churches but the overseers are doing so.

1. In our discussions it is established up front that not wearing a mask when masks are being “required” is not a censurable offense. (Whew!) Without exception, at the outset of these discussions it is hoped that the church would never make it a matter of policy to sanction a member for not masking in worship.

2. There is general agreement that a requirement implies some sort of sanction that may be imposed if the requirement in question is ignored or habitually ignored. 

3. If we establish that we may not (and should not) exercise “the keys of the kingdom” for not masking, then to imply that we are “requiring” masks during worship is factually not truthful. Elders aren’t typically willing to declare one outside the fellowship of the church for non-compliance to masking.

4. Not all non-truths are lies. I don’t believe sessions are lying to their congregations. I’m unaware of elders in this regard intentionally speaking non-truth. 

5. However, in the face of having undergone this mental exercise, which shows that current practices of requiring masks for worship is irreconcilable with a commitment to the intuitively sensible principles found in points 1 and 2 (1. we oughtn’t censure non-maskers and 2. requirements presuppose sanction), such informed sessions are now under moral obligation to inform its members that they are no longer “requiring” masks for worship. 

6. If sessions maintain the sensibility of 1 and 2 yet decide not to drop the “requirement” of masking for worship, then a session would now become culpable of willfully promulgating to its sheep the falsehood contemplated in 3. Sessions would be doing so with premeditated intention.

There has been various responses to this line of reasoning. Three pertinent responses are listed below.

Censure is under good regulation

A. After considering the irreconcilable premises of (i) requiring masks of congregants and (ii) a session not being permitted to sanction non-conformity to masking, it has been posited by some that perhaps we should, even must, exercise the keys of the kingdom after all in cases of non-compliance. To remain consistent, some actually maintain it’s absolute sin not to mask and that love requires masking.

Regarding (A), I think what we are seeing by such a response is an unwavering pre-commitment to masks that is driving some to question, if not abandon, what was initially an intuitive and sensible position – that not to mask does not constitute behavior worthy of ecclesiastical censure. The commitment to masks, in the end, simply trumps the common sense instinct that we oughtn’t censure for masks. The commitment to a masking preference coupled with the pressure for logical consistency leads some to make masking an intrinsic moral requirement. Terrifying. (I guess dead men do bleed.)

Having been part of the courts of the church in my seventeen years as a ruling elder, I am confident that no session (or elder) would dare declare one outside the church for a principled reason not to mask in perpetuity. Therefore, I must interpret the reversal of common biblical sense not to censure as a mere attempt to remain at least logically consistent in order to salvage a pre-commitment to masking. But no elder I know would actually vote in such a case to turn one over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh so that the soul might be reclaimed. That would be preposterous, even under the guise of contumacy. It’s at most a theoretical bluff with no practical teeth.

Going along, if we still wish to maintain it is censurable sin not to mask, then we must argue from Scripture that God requires masks as part of the moral law, or that God has empowered the elders to enact this religious ritewhich may be elevated to a test of true faith and practice if resisted.

The church is requiring masks

B. This one caught me by surprise. It was said that a church is in fact “requiring” masks if its Deacons have been instructed and trained to ask non-conformists to leave the sanctuary for not masking. (I hadn’t heard that before, but it’s easily addressed.)

Regarding (B), to ask a non-conforming congregant to leave the sanctuary for not masking is not the same thing as requiring her to wear a mask. We’ve only pushed the question back one step. The question has merely shifted from:

(i) Do we enforce the requirement to mask?


(ii) Is session prepared to enforce a Deacon’s “request” of a congregant to leave the sanctuary for not masking.

At the very least, by definition a Deacon’s request is not a requirement. Moreover, there is no relevant distinction between a Deacon’s request and the policy requirement he seeks to enforce. If session is not prepared to sanction one who does not acquiesce to a Deacon’s request, then it’s not true that session is requiring masks.

Censure by analogy example

C. Some reason that we require many things that if defied would disrupt the peace and unity of the church. For instance, someone without approval approaching the platform and playing banjo during the worship service. Such an outburst could be met with censure and if done often enough, severe censure. So, why not apply this principle to not masking?

Regarding (C), the relevant distinction should be obvious. Scripture commands worship to be conducted in decency and order. Such an outburst would undermine the responsibility of session to ensure an intended form of worship. It would also impinge upon the liberty of others to worship according to the principles of Scripture as set forth by session with respect to a particularly intended form. Whereas a unmasked worshipper does not alter the intended form of worship nor undermine the session’s responsibility to conduct worship as they deem proper according to the Word. Masks don’t pertain to worship element, circumstance or form.

Either deceive, censure or lift the impression of requiring masks

In the final analyses, after having been made aware of the logic that seemingly unearths the inconsistency of requiring masks, (now brace yourself), “requiring masks” cashes out for a session as intentionally employing a manipulative phrase that is actually deceptive. In other words, if a session now knowingly may not require masks because it believes it may not censure for not wearing masks, then to try to effect the practice of wearing masks in that enlightened context becomes a manipulative tactic that would intentionally put forth a falsehood in order to control behavior with implicit threat of sanction, which is a deception. 

Now, of course, one might argue that a decision not to mask may be met with not just ecclesiastical censure but a restraining order against attending public worship without a mask. That would at least relieve the tension of deception but at the expense of spiritual tyranny. One may not be removed from church or excommunicated for peaceably worshipping God without a mask (when the state isn’t requiring it), especially when there can be pure motive of expression for such sacrifice of praise.

Of course there are elders and sessions that believe that masks may not be mandated.

Understanding makes one more culpable than unintended ignorance. Ignorance can be bliss, but truth must never be masked.

3 thoughts on “Masking Truth

  1. That must have been a difficult series of conversations! I hope it bears much fruit. By the way, I’ve been listening to Bahnsen’s lectures on apologetics. Pure Gold. The best so far (only one left in the series), however, has been his lecture, Critique of Natural Theology. Discerning the difference between what all men know to be true because God has revealed it to them and what all men are willing to concede knowledge of due to their suppression of the truth is so fundamental. Natural theology dismisses the Biblical claims that men innately know the Triune God while ignoring the Biblical claims regarding the corruption of man’s reasoning due to his rebellion against that knowledge.


    1. “Discerning the difference between what all men know to be true because God has revealed it to them and what all men are willing to concede knowledge of due to their suppression of the truth is so fundamental.”

      Hey Brother!

      I am sure I agree with Bahnsen and you, but I wish he had nuanced the IE epistemological distinction more. Reymond did a bit with respect to some concepts in his Justification of Knowledge, but not formally. Van Til and Clark never did, though they lived past the early sixties and Gettier so should have. Van Til would speak of man knowing and not knowing, which gets at the heart of IE. I had come up with IE distinctions in my epistemology before having heard of it. I was working through conceptual necessity vs ontological necessity. Around that time I sat near Bill Edgar at an ordination. I made a statement about knowing man is created in God’s image, to which he replied, how do you know? Perhaps the best question I’ve ever been asked.

      Special revelation is the justification for all knowledge. However, Bahnsen and Van Til seemed to use “revelation” a bit more indiscriminately than I would’ve liked. Clark was a strict internalist who might’ve benefited from Plantinga. Van Til and Bahnsen are both I and E depending upon the object of knowledge. (Fesko has clearly confused Van Til’s epistemology with a Clarkian theory of knowledge.)

      Regarding what I placed in quotes, from an externalist perspective all men know God. But to “concede” that knowledge would require having come in contact with Scripture. Men have true knowledge of God; they are justified in believing in God because God has revealed himself to all men (in conscience and through the things that are made). However, to truthfully admit that we do know God requires a spoken word that reveals to us that we in fact do know God. There are two objects of knowledge in play, the knowledge of God and the knowledge of our knowledge of God. All men have the first knowledge by nature but not the second. To “concede” our knowledge of God requires the second type of knowledge, the source of which is special revelation. In short, we can only justify our knowledge of God by pointing to Scripture, which informs we do know God.

      “Natural theology dismisses the Biblical claims that men innately know the Triune God while ignoring the Biblical claims regarding the corruption of man’s reasoning due to his rebellion against that knowledge.”

      Yes, I think there’s an implicit denial of man’s knowledge of God; yet such philosophers can and often do appreciate that all men do know God. They appeal to “common notions” for instance. Their philosophical approach isn’t theologically informed. Or rather, it’s theologically informed by poor theology. Their philosophy suffers accordingly. It’s as though they think the problem with professing atheists is purely intellectual, and all they need is a bit more convincing, i.e. more arguments. Of course that approach seems to deny that the issue is purely moral. It also suggests that man isn’t culpable, which would imply that God’s judgement is not just. Lastly, it can suggest that proof is possible apart from God’s existence. Those are implications of which we need to be conscious. James Anderson seems good with any argument as long as it’s sound. I can agree with qualification. He also appreciates that God makes predication possible. He’s not hyper about pointing that out at every turn, which I go along with too. That said, I have very little use for non transcendental arguments, other than to show why I don’t use them.😀 It’s more a matter of what I think is best as opposed to what I think I may employ without absolute sin. My philosophy of approach:

      We need to take seriously not just Romans 1 but the extent of the fall.

      I want to get back to blogging on these things but other matters have been more pressing. Yes, the conversations have been interesting and a blessing. I’m encouraged.

      Thanks for stopping by!


  2. Ron, pardon me for not responding sooner. I’ve been busy with work. Thanks for the clarification of the IE distinctions. I have heard of them before but I haven’t done the leg work in the literature to be very familiar with each perspective. As you say, there seems to be an intuitive distinction one can make between having knowledge and having knowledge of one’s knowledge.

    If you want a jumping off point for blogging about presuppositional apologetics again, you could start by dissecting this very poorly conducted debate between pastor Douglas Wilson and professor Ben Burgis:

    Thanks again for the thorough reply!


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