As a Pastor, I have stayed fairly quiet in regards to engaging the COVID-19 situation. I never want to lose sight of the main thing which is the life-changing message of the gospel. I want to be known as one who proclaims Jesus above all else. I also understand that so much contradicting info has flooded our newsfeeds in the past months along with an unlimited supply of strongly-stated opinions in the infamous “comments” section. We are leery and skeptical to accept anything said at face value. We hear the arguments pitting lives and livelihood against one another. We read differing perspectives of the “curves” of this disease and it jerks us around more than the motion-sickness inducing back roads of my hometown in the mountains of Southeast Kentucky. One study declares masks are the answer while citing the very institutions that deny any effectiveness of masks. And we won’t even try to touch the political narrative in which all sides try to claim as advantageous for their party.
These factors have cautioned me to keep a distance for the discussion. However, COVID-19 does not seem to be going away any time soon. Even more so, a plethora of opinions regarding everything the pandemic entails seem to be snowballing into destructive boulder of division on a collision course with our nation. In this timely moment the church and its members has the opportunity to exalt the gospel and further the kingdom if we respond correctly. So what is that correct, biblical response? Here are three mindsets/attitudes for us as Christians to consider.
Humility is one of those mindsets that we never fully attain. The moment we feel we have achieved humility is the very moment we have to start pursuing it all over again. But just because we will never fully grasp it in this life does not mean we are not called to pursue it and walk in it daily. Humility is the mindset set of Christ (see Phil. 2:5-8). It is the heartbeat behind all of the “one another” commands given to believers as they are called to “love one another”, “serve one another”, “bear one another’s burden”, etc. Humility is simply, as another pastor stated, thinking of yourself less (See Phil. 2:3-4). It is moving yourself and your ideas, opinions, and rights down the priority list in order that you might move others ideas, opinion, and rights up. It is listening to others views and concerns more than speaking your own. It is seeking to show grace as God has poured out grace on us. Humility is foregoing a freedom so that you do not cause a brother to stumble. It does not despise or pass judgement. Some believe they need to follow the mandates to the letter, while others believe they are Un-American if they do. Humility is the one not despising the other, and the other not passing judgement on the one. (See Romans 14). How could we think of ourselves less and love one another more?
As new and unknown as this virus is, the plaque of selfishness and pride is not so. It has been around since the fall of man, and yet for some reason it still finds a way to sink its claws into our attitudes. Also unlike this virus, there is a known treatment against the disease of selfishness and pride. Paul speaks of it in Romans 12 when he says in verse 10, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” Though this is very similar to first mindset of humility, sacrifice takes it a step further. If humility is thinking of one’s self less, sacrifice is actively denying oneself. Sacrifice is at the core of Christ-like love. This is why Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13, ESV). To sacrifice one’s life is the ultimate display of love. This includes all of life: Our belongings, our opinions, even our rights. The world seeks to outdo one another in seeking honor. As people argue and claim their rights over others, the church must seek to show honor by possibly denying ourselves of temporal rights for the sake of the kingdom. This will only truly be done in the greatest of ways if sacrificial love is rooted in our hearts. As Paul says, “Although I am free from all and not anyone’s slave, I have made myself a slave to everyone, in order to win more people… Now I do all this because of the gospel, so that I may share in the blessings” (1 Cor. 9:19, 23).
As followers of Jesus, this world is not our home. Our citizenship is not of this world. We are but strangers passing through who have been given the privilege of living in a country that affords us great freedoms. Nonetheless, as amazing as this country is, my greatest allegiance is not to any kingdom or authority on this earth. I am indebted to and a bondservant of the one who died for my sins and rose again giving me new life, eternal life. I seek to obey my Lord’s commands. Those commands include submitting to the governing authorities whom he has placed (A government under the reign of Nero who would come to be known as one of the cruelest emperors for Christians; see Romans 13:1-2). It includes rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s (with Caesar representing a tax that many viewed unfair by government that was corrupt and unjust, denying rights to Jewish listeners; See Luke 20:21-26). There absolutely will come a time when we will be told to ignore or defy a command from God. And when that day comes, I pray for the strength of Daniel in Babylon and Paul before the Roman Empire. But for many of us that day has not yet come. The day the government says I cannot proclaim the gospel is the day our church members may have to start visiting their teaching pastor in prison. But that is not what they are asking. I still have to freedom to proclaim the gospel, even if it is through a humid mask; and proclaim the eternal gospel is what we must do.
This is not easy for anyone. Ask a high school classmate of my who recently got the news that her daughter tested positive and is asking for prayer daily as she begins to show symptoms, ever so mild, if it is easy. Talk with the fellow pastor in our state whose church received national media coverage after opening in-person services just to shut back down after a wave of the virus touched over 20 members and staff. The threat of the virus is a sobering reality. I personally don’t care for wearing a mask. Our state (AL) today became the most recent of a growing list of states implementing a state-wide mask mandate, though churches are not affected too much as religious worship is exempt from the mandate. Within minutes social media was flooded with disdain and outrage. Not everyone planning to wear a mask is a sheep and a follower ready to “hop on the first boxcar to a safer place.” Not everyone opposed to wearing mask is science-hating Neanderthal who selfishly wants to kill off the elderly. I have reached out to personal friends who have a much greater medical understanding that have said, all politics aside strictly from a medical perspective, masks can actually be effective if everyone would wear one. But a broken government potentially practicing overreach destroys all credibility.
Tensions are high as we are stubborn and come with our own preconceptions. Political inconsistency and hypocrisy through fuel on the fire. To think independently and hold an unpopular opinion is to step out on a limb and then turn to hand the saw to the mob. Even in writing this article, the risk of being ridiculed and ostracized looms in the back of my mind. Nonetheless, I fear the church is missing the bigger picture. In an article published by The Gospel Coalition, senior editor Brett McCracken appeals: “For Christians… it’s important to rise above the political partisanship and think through what our faith would call us to with regard to wearing or not wearing masks. What if our view on masks were shaped more by our Christian identity than our American political identity?” McCracken states in another article, “the church has an opportunity to model love that places the interests of others above the self.” The church, however, can only seize the opportunity if we allow our Christian identity to rise above all other allegiances. Then our actions and attitudes begin to be shaped by the very heart of Jesus. Love God and love your neighbor. That is our mandate. Our neighbor is not our nemesis. They are a soul created in the image of God who is deserves our humble, sacrificial love that leads to eternity.