First the good news: People are now able to return to our church building. We are permitted to worship with others.
Now the bad news: Restrictions prevent us from returning to normalcy. Bulletins and hymnals are gone. Singing inside the building is restricted to soloists. People must sit 6 feet apart, and those entering our building must wear masks. As before, there is no end in sight for these measures.
We are always looking for creative ways to comply with the Department of Health Guidelines. I have received some wonderful ideas from people in our church. I have been told that other churches are disregarding certain aspects of these instructions. The picture immediately below links to the actual guidelines that are being imposed upon churches in Minnesota.
This week, Governor Walz publicly acknowledged the problem that has been created by these guidelines. The problem hits the hardware store and churches in the same way. People have the freedom to wear masks or not, but all businesses are supposed to require the customer to wear masks. The business is supposed to refuse service to those who do not comply.
The business owner becomes the police officer for a mandate he never chose. His business thrives when he caters to his public and meets them on their terms. The shopper expects him to bend in order to satisfy the customer. His business suffers when he must discriminate against those who will not comply with the state's wishes.
According to the rules, customers are free to comply or not. Some refuse to shop at stores that require masks out of principle (i.e. Menards). The store becomes point of conflict. The business is caught in a dilemma it did not create: Does the business obey the government or does it cater to those who sustain the business?
Business and churches have responded to this in one of three ways: 1) Let us comply and make the best of a bad situation. 2) Let us ignore the guidelines that frustrate our customers and keep from doing our business. 3) We can't work under these conditions. Our store / church remains closed.
I know of a church that I respect who offered a solution. They have two services each Sunday: the first is the compliant service and the second is the non-compliant service. Everyone is required to wear masks for the first, but masks are optional for the second. This appears to be a reasonable, pragmatic solution: let the people choose.
I communicated with this pastor. I asked him how he justifies the non-compliant service. I had hoped that he could give me a sound, Biblical reason for doing so.
Sadly, he did not. He said that the rules issued by the state are only guidelines. They are not the same as law. He views the guidelines as good, well-intended suggestions, but they are not mandates.
Do guidelines issued by bureaucrats have the force of law? Can a business or church be shut down by the local authorities if they refuse to comply? If a person dies from the virus and the business / church can be identified as the source of that transmission, can the family members sue that business / church for operating an unsafe facility? I am not a lawyer, but I believe the answer to all of these questions is "Yes!"
I am not a lawyer, but I am a pastor. I am directed by what the Bible instructs. In the earlier blog, we asked if compliance was Biblical? The answer has not changed.
1 Peter 2:11–17
Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: as free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.
Are bureaucratic guidelines the same as "ordinances" in this passage? If the rules did not come through the legislative process, can we ignore them Biblically?
It is critical that we understand this passage in the context of the author. Peter did not live in a constitutional republic. He did not have elected representatives who wrote laws. The kings were dictators. The governor was not elected by the people. The governors were Roman generals. They commanded troops and forced the will of Rome upon a conquered society. They were ordained to punish those who refused to comply with Rome.
Peter was instructing believers in that day to live as free men. They had liberties in Christ which Rome would never recognize. When Rome disrespected the liberties of the individual, Peter told believers to check their attitudes before they resisted. He would never tell believers to submit when your faith is on the line. But when the matter is an issue of personal disrespect, then we need to adopt the mind of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 6:27-38).
I respect other Christians who differ with me. Medical masks should not be dividing us, but they are. Pastors should not have to police the requirements of the state, but sadly they do.