I got a confession to make: I hate the masks. I absolutely hate them.
Now, I wear them when I have to. And fortunately, for most of the past several months, that has only been in medical facilities. My place of employment dropped the mask requirement in April as did most of the stores that I visit. In any case, I was never convinced that they did much good anyway.
I got another confession to make: I didn’t like the idea of getting the vaccine either. In my mind its development was rushed, and I didn’t think there was anything it could do for me that natural immunity couldn’t. And since I had the Rona in April of 2020, I had that immunity. Even though I did eventually get the shot for the peace of mind of several of my family members, I stand by those opinions.
Despite my hatred for these two things, I have never begrudged anyone the freedom to embrace them. They are welcome to receive and celebrate the vaccine and they are welcome to wear masks whenever they want
So why am I bringing these things up? To pat myself on the back? No. Not this time. Besides, you’ve all certainly heard similar feelings from friends and family that you have. Probably there are more than a few of you who share these sentiments yourselves. So my thoughts in this regard are nothing special or noteworthy.
I bring this up because I have been seeing a disturbing trend in many churches. Like society at large, many in the church are staking out positions on masks and vaccines. They are entrenching themselves in those positions and then exchanging fire with those on the other side.
On the one hand, there are some who preach that getting vaccines and wearing masks represent adherence to the scriptures.
One line of reasoning that I’ve read several times is that by wearing masks and getting the vaccine we fulfill Christ’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves. This command is most famously found in the Gospel of Matthew 22:39 but is found in several other passages as well (eight passages in total, actually). This command is usually found coupled with the command to love God with everything you have. These two commands are regarded as being the most important in the Bible because in them, all others are encapsulated.
The rationalization here is that getting the vaccine can help prevent you from getting Covid. Thus, you won’t become a vehicle for transmission and those around you (i.e. your neighbors) will be the beneficiaries. If you do somehow get it, then the mask prevents you from spreading it to others. So, if you love your neighbor and want to keep them safe, get the shot, wear a mask.
On the flip side, there are Christians that have taken up the anti-vaxer cause and stand resolutely against wearing masks. In this group you will find (sigh) conspiracy theorists. They have seen nothing but a steady stream of lies issue forth from our elected officials and are not prepared to stake their health on the say so of these same people.
But at the same time there are some who have advanced the argument that getting the vaccine is somehow lacking a faith in God. After all, God is our keeper and provider and protector and if we take the step of getting vaccinated, we somehow take that away from Him.
Admittedly, I have a bit of a harder time understanding this argument than I do that of the vaccine proponents who think that it is how you can love your neighbor. But this argument is out there nonetheless, and it is accompanied by a myriad of horror stories.
In recent days I’ve read stories of preachers who demanded that church members who have received the vaccine need to repent of sin. I’ve read stories of churches that have fired their Pastor for getting the vaccine. I’ve read stories of churches that have split over the issue.
To be fair, I’ve read just as many horror stories on the other side as well. Stories of bullying, belittling, and dehumanizing of those opposed to vaccines and masks.
There is a story set during the Civil War of a man who lived in Kentucky. As many might already know, Kentucky was considered a border state that could have gone either way when the war started. While it eventually would decide to stick with the Union, there were many who’s sympathies lied with the south. The man in our story, seeing this, decided he didn’t want to take one side over the other because in either case he would end up fighting his friends and family. So, he ended up wearing a blue jacket and grey pants as a way to show his neutrality.
What happened to this man? He ended up getting shot in the chest by southern troops and shot in the leg by northern troops.
I am going to run the risk that this man did by not taking a stand. The argument of whether or not to take the shot and whether or not to wear a mask is not one that should have a bearing on our Christianity.
In both cases, the arguments offered can be turned on their heads. For instance, getting the vaccine does not necessarily equate a lack of faith in God. Rather, it could be an acknowledgement that God has many ways of taking care of us, including giving us vaccines through the hard work and intelligence of medical professionals.
On the other side, loving your neighbor as yourself may mean you need to refrain from bullying them and dehumanizing them and engaging in name calling because they don’t see things the same way you do. It may mean respecting their decision, even if you disagree with it.
In the end, this debate over the vaccines seeping into our churches amounts to a giant distraction. Yes, a distraction. Believe it or not, vaccines and masks are not a central theme of the Bible. The main themes of the Bible are the creation, the fall, and the redemption of the human race.
It discusses how we were each created in God’s image. How, through sin, we are fallen from that original created condition. And how, through a lengthy plan that spanned many generations, we are redeemed to God through the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.
This is the Gospel of God and it is most succinctly found 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. “For what I received I pass on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures.”
This particular passage was written by the Apostle Paul and there is something very important to notice about it. This is what it says is of first importance. That is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is His death, burial, and resurrection for our benefit. This is the first and most important message that the Church can bring to the world. When the Church engages in brow beating and verbal warfare about whether or not we should wear a mask or get the vaccine, what is it not doing? It is not engaging in spreading the message that is, according to Paul, the most important one it can bring.
There are many Bible scholars who read these two short verses and conclude that this is, in fact, the earliest known Christian Creed. This is important because the apostle Paul ministered and wrote in the 50’s-60’s AD. This is twenty to thirty years after the crucifixion of Christ. A common criticism of Christianity is that the New Testament narratives of Christ are unreliable because they were written decades after his death. Therefore, any claims of his divinity are unreliable. Therefore, any claims about his death and resurrection are unreliable.
Paul’s letters, however, go a long way to closing that gap and rendering those criticisms moot since his writing is even earlier than the four gospels and his writing attests to the same message. However, they do not go all the way. There is still a gap.
These verses, being an early creed, helps to close the gap even more, almost completely in fact. According to Paul, this creed did not originate with him, but predated his time of writing. Thus, the book of 1 Corinthians which is about two decades removed from the time of Christ, contains a quote that is even closer. And that quote is a direct attestation that the original message of Christianity is the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. This is, and always has been, the Church’s number one message.
Any message that distracts from this is a direct slap in the face to Christ and the Great Commission. It can be a well-intentioned message like “mask up and get the shot for every one’s benefit.” Or it can be a message of opposing perceived tyranny and having faith in God to take care of you.
Each of these can be fine messages when used in the right context. Neither of them will have the power to save the individual soul, regardless of context. That power lies only in the pure Gospel of Christ. And the church in America today is on a merry-go-round of distraction from that message. The battle over masks and vaccines, when it comes from the pulpit and divides the Church, is only the latest example of that.
You can follow Tom on Twitter @SearlTom.
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