Pastoral Letter for July 2, 2020
We will be gathering for the fourth time this Sunday, July 5th, at Harper Park Middle School. We will gather for worship at 10:30 am, and will still be operating under Phase 1 of our updated Plan for resuming in-person worship (which you can find here: https://www.csmedia1.com/potomachills.org/plan-to-resume-worship-2020.pdf).
As before, we will have all the safety precautions in place (masks, hand sanitizer, social distancing are all required, and separate doors for entrance and exit).
So, most of this letter is about wearing masks. This has sadly become one of the more controversial issues of our day (and in our church), as evidenced by several people commenting or complaining to me about having to wear masks at church, several others wearing the masks improperly or not at all, and someone even asking me to change the rule. One, I don’t have the authority to change the rule (that would be the Governor of Virginia); Two, it’s a requirement for meeting in a public building in Virginia, which we have agreed to as part of our contract with LCPS; and Third, I think it would be a poor witness, not just to the community, but to each other.
I say all of that despite my own intense dislike for wearing a mask (and yes, I know I get to take it off when I preach). I have a small collection of masks and haven’t found one yet that doesn’t fog up my glasses (which drives me nuts). For the most part, I don’t wear them outside, in my office, in my home, or in my car. But I do wear one everywhere else, and unless you have a medical condition prohibiting you from wearing one, I hope you will too … especially at church.
Why? Primarily because I can come up with several Biblical reasons for doing so and no Biblical reasons for not doing so. Again, I know that there are social and scientific arguments both for and against wearing masks (please don’t send me any more articles!). I’m also aware that we have no social consensus on the issue, and like you, I’m tired of all the arguments that have made little progress in persuading the general public as to why we should or shouldn’t wear masks in public. So, what do we do? And where do we turn?
As in most issues, we turn to the Scriptures, which are, as the Westminster Confession says, “given by inspiration of God to be the rule of faith and life” (WCF 1.2) and “The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God” (WCF 1.4).
So how does the Scripture apply in this issue of wearing masks? Well, as much as I dislike wearing masks, sympathize with some skepticism about them, and cringe at mean-spirited attempts to shame people into wearing them, my Christian faith leads me to wear one when I’m in indoor public places. When I look at Scripture, I don’t see a mandate about masks, per se, but I see an invitation — to do at least four things.
- To Love Your Neighbor (Matthew 22:39) For Christians called to love our neighbors as ourselves, wearing a mask in public — particularly indoor spaces where social distance cannot be guaranteed — seems like a relatively easy way to practice neighbor love. Even if it’s annoying to wear one, and even if you aren’t convinced by the science behind it, why not wear one anyway? Given the enduring uncertainty about the way COVID-19 spreads, shouldn’t we err on the side of more protective measures rather than less, for the sake of the neighbor we might — even if it’s a slim chance — unknowingly infect?
- To Respect Authorities (Romans 13:1-7) It seems clear from Romans 13 (among other passages, such as Titus 3:1 or 1 Peter 2:13–14) that Christians ought to respect the governments to which they are subject, as long as submission to those governments doesn’t contradict our submission to the lordship of Christ and His ultimate authority. When it comes to mask-wearing for Christians, then, if our state is mandating masks in certain circumstances (like religious services), shouldn’t you obey those directives? Likewise, if our church has agreed to comply with the “mandatory masks” policy for physical gatherings: go ahead and wear that mask happily — embracing the opportunity to practice Hebrews 13:17.
- To Honor the Weak in Our Midst (Romans 14) In Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 and 10, the Apostle Paul argues that in matters of freedom, it’s important that “stronger” Christians don’t flaunt their freedom in ways that become stumbling blocks to the weak. When a mask-wearing “weaker” brother enters a church gathering full of mask-free “stronger” brothers, the mask-wearer naturally feels pressure to remove it — but that’s exactly the sort of wounding of the weak conscience Paul says is a “sin against Christ” (1 Cor. 8:12).
- To Use Freedom for the Sake of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 9:19-23) Scripture sometimes calls us to give up these freedoms for the sake of the gospel. Paul, for example, seems happy to give up his freedom for the sake of loving others (1 Cor. 8:13). “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them,” he writes (1 Cor. 9:19). “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (1 Cor. 9:22–23). There is such power in this posture. Few things are more beautiful to witness than someone giving up their rights and freedom for the sake of another.
Eventually, we’re all going to get through this pandemic and when this is all behind us, one thing (among many) that will matter is how well we loved and treated each other. And how others (both inside and outside of the church) saw that in action.
On another note, we will be restarting Nursery this week with safety precautions in place.
- The Nursery age range will be extended to include ages (0-3) instead of (0-2)
- Volunteers in the nursery will be wearing masks.
- Parents are welcome to utilize the lobby if and when necessary, but proper social distancing and mask wearing will still be required in the lobby. Otherwise, parents should take their kids outside. (We simply don't have any other rooms reserved at this point.)
- Parents are to pick their children up from the nursery during the closing song and immediately depart the building (where you can socialize outside).
We’ll see how it goes, and then we’ll plan on restarting Children’s Church, hopefully in a few weeks, but that will depend on how and when the state guidelines change.
So there will be no Children’s Church or Sunday School this Sunday. However, even though our Children’s Ministry won’t be fully up and running yet, we love to see your kids. Having our covenant children in worship is a good thing.
I’ll be away this week, but I’ll be praying for you! And hope to see you soon!
Dr. David V. Silvernail, Jr., Senior Pastor
Potomac Hills Presbyterian Church