The following statement concerning the presumption of civil government in giving orders about the Church’s worship is from the Bugenhagen Conference website, and the editors of Christian Culture heartily endorse it and commend it to your reading.
Below are 3 points that several pastors in the Kenosha and Racine area discussed last week after Governor Evers of Wisconsin made another executive order—this time concerning masks. The points below [on the facing page] are being put on the Bugenhagen Conference website and blog for two reasons: first, because the conference is specifically focused on practical/nuts and bolts type issues such as this; and, second, so that folks can discuss and debate them.
We, the undersigned, agree on the three points below, and humbly offer them to the ministerium for further discussion and debate. We are hoping that they will spark further reflection and bring to greater clarity how we as the Church are to move forward during this crisis. We know that we are to proceed in fear and trembling when it comes to matters respecting the governing authorities, yet we are also to be courageous in the face of assault against the Church and protective of the congregations that we have sworn to serve and lead.
Our hope is that further discussion, and perhaps more articles and brotherly debate, will aid our synod and our understanding.
Rev. Joshua P. H. Conradt
Rev. Brian T. Crane
Rev. Jack Gilbert
Rev. Jesse R. Gullion
Rev. Brian D. Liermann
Rev. James A. Roemke
Rev. David P. Ramirez
Rev. Kyle T. Verage
Concerning Civil Government Ordering Masks in Church
1. We cannot in good conscience refuse to allow a Christian to come to church services because he is not wearing a mask. We are not lawless rebels nor deny that civil government indeed has appropriate interest and authority in matters pertaining to public health and safety. However, the authority of the civil government is not absolute. We do not recognize the civil government’s authority to order our churches to require masks. The coronavirus situation is not so severe as to warrant such an intrusion into the affairs of the Church–especially as the intrusion pertains to worship.
2. We cannot categorically nor generally consider it a sin for a Christian to come to church without a mask. (This is not only in reference to recognized exceptional circumstances due to health or other reasons, but against the orders of the civil government.)
a. A Christian may come to a church service without a mask with a clear conscience, recognizing that the government is illegitimately intruding into the Church’s affairs, as explained in the first point.
b. It is inappropriate for Christians to claim or imply that not wearing a mask is necessarily violating the law of love. There are different goods, goals, and circumstances that Christians will need to weigh out in how best to love their neighbor in this, and every other, matter. While the safety of our neighbors in regards to earthly health is an important good, it is not the sole good to be considered. Concerns regarding the normal worship life of the congregation, the spiritual and earthly health that is damaged by the isolation that comes from overzealous safety precautions, and the potential, and seemingly likely, further intrusions by the civil government into the life of the Church are all goods that ought to be considered by Christians. Faithful Christians may come to different conclusions on how best to love their neighbor in this matter depending on their circumstances and how they carefully weigh out various concerns.
3. While we as pastors are most focused upon the life of the Church, the Scriptures have much to say about civil government, marriage and family, and the relationship between the three estates. We cannot definitively say that it is a sin for a Christian citizen not to follow orders concerning masks under present circumstances.
a. There are good reasons for a citizen to think that these orders are an unnecessary, illegitimate, and gross overreach of the civil government’s authority that will intrude upon and harm familial life, including social, economic, and other aspects of earthly life.
b. There are also good reasons to believe in many jurisdictions that these orders are in violation of the clear meaning and intent of the laws of the civil government itself.
Some of the pertinent passages of Scripture in relation to this issue are: Exodus 20 (Ten Commandments); Matthew 22:15-22; Romans 13; Exodus 1:15-22 (Shiphrah and Puah defy Pharaoh); Acts 5 (the Apostles before the council); 1 Samuel 19-30 (the complex relationship and lines of authority between Saul, Jonathan, and David); and 1 Samuel 25 (Nabal and Abigail); Acts 25 (Paul appeals to Caesar).