When you look at the person in the seat next to you at church—or online while viewing a worship service—do you see one who for whom Christ died; or, do you see one who is either living up to or failing in your personal expectations?
If we have discovered anything about Christians during this pandemic, it is that so many are ready to divide with other believers on the basis of their opinions over face coverings. The better part of ministers I have spoken to are exhausted–not simply from trying to lead a congregation through the challenges and logistics of when and how to gather for worship, but from dealing with the explosive personalities and opinions of many members over convictions about whether or not other members should have to wear a face covering to worship. Laying aside legitimate questions related to the government (since in most States religious organizations are rightly exempted from any face covering mandates), it will be beneficial to consider this subject in light of the Scriptural teaching about individual liberty of conscience among the members of the same body of believers.
On the one side are those who are adamantly opposed to wearing face coverings for a whole host of reasons–not least of which is the fact that they believe that those who disagree with them are sinfully seeking to bind their consciences to something God has not bound them. On the other side are those who insist that no one should have a problem wearing a face covering, and that it is actually unloving not to wear a coverings for the safety and well-being of your neighbors. Both sides believe that they are right in their assertion. In most cases, neither side is sincerely seeking to understand the rationale behind the arguments made by those on the opposite side. This is the impasse at which we find ourselves at present.
Debates related to liberty of conscience in the fellowship of believers has long plagued the church. In matters related to liberty of conscience in what believers eat or drink there is no argument about where the Lord Jesus and His apostles stood. Jesus brought the strongest condemnation against the religious leaders of Israel for binding the consciences of others with man made rules and regulations (Matt. 15:1–9). On numerous occasions, the Apostle Paul refuted the erroneous insistence among members of the body that they had to abstain from eating or drinking certain foods and drinks. Jesus and Paul stood firmly in support of the biblical principle that believers are free from the doctrines and commandments of men. The Westminster Confession of Faith could not make it any clearer, when it states,
“God alone is Lord of the conscience, (Jam 4:12; Rom 14:4); and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in any thing, contrary to His Word; or beside it, if matters of faith, or worship, (Act 4:19; Act 5:29; 1Co 7:23; Mat 23:8-10; 2Co 1:24; Mat 15:9). So that, to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands, out of conscience is to betray true liberty of conscience, (Co 2:20, 22-23; Gal 1:10; Gal 2:4-5; Gal 5:1): and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also, (Rom 10:17; Rom 14:23; Isa 8:20; Act 17:11; Jhn 4:22; Hos 5:11; Rev 13:12, 16-17; Jer 8:9).”