A Theology of Face Masks

Pastor G.A.(Jerry) Minor

Riverside Baptist Church, Albuquerque, NM

To mask, or not to mask, that is the question. It appears that during this season of the COVID-19 Coronavirus, there are few things as contentious as the face mask. And no wonder, for there has been considerable confusion surrounding this subject.

Early on, Americans were encouraged to not wear face masks, being told that they would not prevent the spread of the virus, and that the precious N-95 masks were needed by medical workers and others on the front lines fighting this virus. Now, our government leaders are recommending, and even requiring, that all people wear masks or face coverings when in contact with others outside of their family circle.

Compounding the confusion, you can find “experts” who say that masks are worthless, and “experts” who say that masks are essential in slowing the spread. You can feed your confirmation bias, one way or another, by picking and choosing the “experts” to your liking. As a result, there has been confusion, there has been contention, and there has been outright nastiness on this issue, even among Christians.

So, do face masks or other coverings stop or slow the transmission of the virus? I don’t know. Are face masks or other coverings useless? I don’t know. And it isn’t my intention to prove or promote either viewpoint here. Instead, I want us, as Bible believing Christians, to trust in the truth of the Bible, God’s Word, as we address this issue.

It really is very simple for the one who believes in God’s Word, based on just a couple of texts. That is because the two important issues are first, submission to governing authorities, and second, love for neighbor.

Romans 13 is the key text when dealing with submission to government authority. In fact, Romans 13 is also the key text when it comes to our love for neighbor.

Have our governing authorities mandated the wearing of face masks or other coverings? If so, then we are to comply, end of discussion. Romans 13:1 reads: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”(ESV) Later in the chapter, the Apostle Paul told the Roman church that they were to pay taxes, and those taxes went to the Roman Emperor who eventually had Paul executed. I may be wrong, but I don’t think that any of my readers are living under government authorities as wicked as Caesar.

 Just because you think that a government official is wicked, or ignorant, or stupid doesn’t give you a pass from obeying this biblical mandate. It would be one thing if that governing official told you that you need to quit worshiping Christ and begin worshiping a heathen image, but that is not the case here, far from it.

Yes, we might think that our liberties are being infringed, or that it just isn’t right, or that we don’t see any good reason to obey, but none of these give us a way out of obeying. As Christians, we are often called to sacrifice our rights for the good of others, and that leads us to our second point, love of our neighbor.

In Romans 13:8 we read: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” (ESV) Do we really love our neighbor? Do we love them enough to give up some of our freedom? At the same time, Paul also tells us in 1 Corinthians 8 that we have an obligation to forego some of our rights in order to support our “weaker brother”.

What does it mean to love others and fulfill the law? It means that we will do no harm to our neighbor (vs. 9), and more than that, we will love them like our self (v. 10).

Are you absolutely 100% certain that you are correct in your assertion that face masks don’t work? If not, then you ought to care enough for your neighbor to wear one for their sake. Even if you are 100% certain, and even if medical science eventually confirms this, what about the fear that your neighbor may have now? Is it loving for you to disregard their feelings, even if you think that they are just being “weak”?

No, while we might not like it, as long as our authorities require it, and as long as our “weak” neighbor needs it, we should put on the face covering, sacrifice a little bit of our freedom, and go on with our lives without complaint or grumbling. To do otherwise puts us on thin ice when it comes to being obedient to the authority ordained by God as well as showing love to our neighbor.