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Pastor's Pen 4/7/2021

Pen

THE PASTOR'S PEN

4/7/21

 

To My Dear Beloved Lakeside Family,

 

The Apostle Paul said that we are not ignorant of Satan’s schemes (2 Cor. 2:11). One of the devil’s schemes is to disrupt church unity, and he will do everything in his power to accomplish this. I am writing you because I see the Evil One attempting to disrupt the unity we enjoy at Lakeside.

As you might recall, back in May of last year I wrote to you as we were on the verge of returning to church after the two month lockdown. At that time I warned you of the potential danger we faced of being divided over wearing masks in church and other issues related to the covid virus. Quoting Costi Hinn, I wrote,

I believe one of the ways that the enemy will seek to divide our ranks within the church is by tempting us to use our opinions against each other. If the Devil has his way, we’ll be throwing stones of accusation from all sides, calling the cautious people “soft,” labeling the optimists of being “reckless.” More than that, the enemy especially loves when we cement ourselves in political corners; adding opinionated fuel to the already tumultuous fire of conflict. (Costi Hinn)

And now, almost a year later, these words by Costi Hinn sound almost prophetic. Mask wearing has indeed become a contentious issue among many people – not only in our society, but also in many churches. Recently, some people in our church have written respectful letters to our elders, encouraging us to make mask wearing an option, rather than a requirement. Others in our congregation have expressed their frustration to our elders that some in our congregation aren't wearing masks in church, as required by the County ordinance. This letter is my attempt to explain the position of the elders on this matter.

Like many in our congregation, the elders of your church have varying opinions concerning the effectiveness of wearing masks in curbing the spread of this virus. However, regardless of our personal views on this matter, the primary issue for us is whether or not we are biblically bound to obey the Pinellas County Commissioners’ mandate to wear masks during a church service.

Some of your elders hold to the view that Christians are always to obey the government (including local government authorities), unless they tell us to violate a clear biblical truth. Therefore, since mask wearing is not mentioned in Scripture, they believe that we must continue to wear masks until the mandate is lifted. However, there are other elders who believe that by requiring local churches to wear masks, the government has overstepped its God-given authority and entered a realm (the local church) God never ordained it to be involved in. Therefore, those who hold to this view believe that since the government has no God-given jurisdiction in the church, that mask wearing should only be an option, rather than a requirement.

I can assure you, that while the elders may disagree on the role of government in relation to its involvement in the local church, they are not disagreeable. There continues to be a spirit of great unity and love among the elders, even as they hold to differing opinions on this matter. I can also assure you that, while fear of getting ill and politics are two of the forces that have driven many in determining whether or not to wear masks, neither of these issues factored into the decision of the elders. Our sole consideration is to honor the Lord by doing what we believe He wants us to do.

At a recent elders’ retreat, after much discussion, we decided to continue the policy of wearing masks in church unless seated in your chair. While I know that some of you will disagree with this decision, I appeal to you not to make this a divisive issue. To do so would be to fall prey to the devil’s desire to disrupt our unity in Christ. Mask wearing comes under the biblical category of a ‘liberty issue’ (an issue not commanded or condemned in Scripture). This being the case, means that we are responsible to respect those who view things differently than we do and to love them enough to not allow these differences to divide us. It was in light of the liberty issues that threatened to divide the Christians at Rome that Paul told them, “Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification” (Rom. 15:2). In other words, no one was to insist on his view being the right view, while being intolerant of others who held to a differing view. The objective is always to please and edify others, rather than hurting them by demanding our own way.

I would also encourage you to be mindful of what you post on social media concerning the issue of mask wearing. Without realizing it, these posts can contribute to division within our church. In all areas of life – including social media – we are responsible to do all we can to edify others, rather than tear down and criticize them over personal disagreements.

In addition, the elders recognize that many in our congregation have decided to no longer wear masks during Sunday services. For some, this has been a decision based on their conscience. Therefore, the elders will be continuing their policy of not enforcing the wearing of masks. The last thing we want to do is to drive a wedge between the leaders and members of the church over masks. We are your shepherds, and not government enforcers.  

Scripture commands us to love one another and to esteem others more important than ourselves (Phil. 2:3). Therefore, my objective in sending this letter is to encourage you to humbly respect the opinions of others concerning the wearing of masks in church. Regardless of how you view this matter, there is nothing more important than demonstrating Christ’s love towards each other, and in doing so, preserve the unity that we have in the Lord.  

Someday the mandate to wear masks in church will be over. And when that time comes, what will be most important is that we weathered this challenging time by not allowing meaningful relationships to be disrupted. In the meantime, I urge you to choose to be humble, respectful of the opinions of others, and to do everything in your power to contribute to the unity of your church. 

In Christ’s love,

Pastor Steve