Church of the unmasked

I had an epiphany moment the other day when I discovered there were folk who would not attend their regular church because of the requirement to wear a mask etc., and realised I was not alone.

It got me thinking if and why church is important and how to address the issue of a growing number of Christians who like me won’t attend church (or are uncomfortable when they do) because of the requirement to wear a mask and number of other things they must or must not do, all in the interest of “safety for all”, which folk like me is a load of old tosh. As for my own position, other than loosely following the rules in public places, like wearing a mask, I have come to a view that not only these do no good but the restrictions have resulted in a net harm. I am saddened so many are dumbed down on and refuse to question the matter (including them who should know better), but note a growing tide of resistance.

Before I get onto my subject, I need to say what church is and what it is not. Church on one hand is a building or an institution, but, on the other, the Church according to the Bible comprises true followers of Jesus from every nation, language and walks of life etc., who typically gather locally in churches. You can belong to a church but not to the Church. The fact there are many denominations and differences within denominations is a result of a long, convoluted history. It creates a challenge when it comes to deciding which church to associate with, with some believers opting for none.

As a young Christian, I was taken with a booklet titled: “Journey into Life” which tells us why we need to become a Christian, how to become one and what next when we do. I seem to recall an emphasis on three things: prayer, Bible study and fellowship. With the latter, this involved joining a church, presumably one that believes the Bible (many don’t sadly). But how to decide – I am not sure anyone has satisfactorily answered that question and some have given up on church altogether because of disillusionment – and not just because they have backslidden. I can only recount my own experience. I joined the same church that led me to the Lord. While far from perfect, it still had a lot going for it. When in my twenties and thirties, I moved away to study, travel and work, belonging to different churches and meeting a variety of Christians. When I came back to live in the area I grew up, I looked for a new church to settle in but without success. I ended up where I began, including re-joining the church of my youth. I stayed there for some 25 years before settling where I am now some seven years ago as being the best on offer for the needs of me and my family. I have to add, while my town has some 100 churches, few I felt inclined to join for a variety of reasons I will reserve for another occasion. I have enjoyed the fellowship and teaching and have been able to contribute to the church I did join. And that is where I am now, although Corona lockdown has changed things somewhat, because of the restrictions.

One amusing anecdote that I think relates is back in my early Christian days the Charismatic Movement came to town and this caused ripples in churches. Those who had been zapped (Baptised in the Holy Spirit – presuming you believe this as a post conversion experience) often felt out on a limb because their new experience of the Holy Spirit was not always looked on kindly – the more traditional the church the less sympathetic it seemed. The question then was often raised whether to stay or go and join another church or start your own, typically meeting in homes. These often later became new churches, sometimes meeting in hired halls. The irony is history repeats – some of these new expression churches are now at the forefront of accepting government guidelines / directives.  

Which brings me back to my epiphany moment – realising the dilemma I found myself in is shared by others. While I do not regard myself as a prophet, I relate more to the prophetic, even though it is something many churches tend to dismiss. By capitulating to what I believe is an evil agenda one is denying the prophetic which needs to speak truth to power and while submitting to secular authorities as the Bible teaches us, we need to obey God rather than man and not accept the yoke of slavery in exchange for being left alone. What we have been seeing is a country in the grip of fear, discouragement and misinformation, now offered a vaccine that harms, in return for the promise of some sort of normality if taken. As for friends who feel discomfort wearing a mask etc. to join in worship, I sense they have the same dilemma my zapped friends had all those years back. While I don’t join live worship under the current mandate, I have not felt led to leave my church and still enjoy fellowship, albeit recognising the tensions, and find ways to contribute to the life of the church helped by the advent of social media. And, speaking personally, it has given rise to new, unexpected opportunities for service, e.g. to the homeless, and for my writing projects.

I also have found opportunities to fellowship with likeminded folk, in a variety of set-ups and across the globe, recognising the true Church is universal and is not confined to one or other local, formally constituted expression of it. Where that leads us, I cannot say. We are now over 16 months into not normal because of the official response to Covid, that many churches went along with, and who can tell when normal comes back and what form it takes. I have no doubt God has used this difficult time to refine His people and He has great things in store, including a Great Awakening and spiritual revival, and for the Church who are so one that people will know Jesus is the real deal and who will be that glorious bride when He returns to Planet Earth. Meanwhile, let us fellowship when we can with who we can in whatever way we can and remember He has called us to holiness, to love one another and to serve others.

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