Blog Posts

This blog is a place for the leadership at Center City Church to present material to the church. The posts will include a variety of topics in order to address current world topics and theological discussions. Thank you for reading!

On Wearing Masks

The church of Rome had a major division brewing. Some in the church felt the freedom to eat meat that had previously been laid on the altar of an idol. Others felt as though the purchase and consumption of meats offered to idols secondarily participated in the idolatrous worship. Well-meaning, Jesus-loving Christians differed on the best path for living out their faith in their cultural context. At the end of the section in which Paul addresses the issue he says, “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding” (Romans 14:19).

 

The cultural context in which we live has dramatically changed in the past 4 months. The changes continue this week with the updated public health order to wear masks anytime we go out of the house. Since we’ve reopened as a church, we’ve included in our safe practices document, the requirement of wearing a mask. In practice, however, we’ve been pretty loose in asking people to comply. We’ve left that up to individuals. It’s time that we strengthen the requirement for wearing a mask on Sundays. The differences between Romans 14 and our situation abound, but the same, potential danger for division awaits us if we’re not careful. In requiring each person attending on Sundays to wear a mask, I want to give you three reasons that wearing a mask on Sunday pursues peace and mutual upbuilding in the church.

 

Reason #1: It pursues peace by submitting to our governing authorities: Whether you fully support the governor’s order or whether you adamantly oppose the order, we are, as Christians, called to submit to our governing authorities (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17). We have been given such a wonderful provision for outdoor gatherings and do not want to provoke any responses that could jeopardize that opportunity. This is an area where we can put into practice Sunday’s message about prizing fellowship over personal freedoms. We all have differing thoughts on how to walk through the pandemic, but may our gospel unity be greater than our preferential differences. Wearing a mask seems like a personal freedom that we should willingly surrender for the sake of fellowship.

 

Reason #2: It’s upbuilding for our guests to see our actions match our words: On our website we include a page of safe practices that we’re following as a church. One of those safe practices listed is that we will ‘wear masks before, during, and after church.’ We hope that people will visit our site, see our page, and attend church. When they attend, we want our practice to match our words. A mark of great hospitality is matching expectations with reality.

 

Reasons #3: It pursues peace and mutual upbuilding within our congregation: The effects of COVID are starting to hit closer to home for people in our congregation. It seems like during the first spike of cases, I knew very few people who had COVID or knew of very few people who even knew someone who had COVID. That’s no longer the case. We’re starting to hear of friends and family of our congregation who have been hit hard by the virus. We want to protect church members who are at higher risk and would like to come to church on Sundays. We want to protect church members who return home to care for elderly family members. We also have many church members watching online determining whether or not it’s safe to return. By wearing our masks on Sunday, we communicate that we’re serious about their safety and long for their return when they’re ready. We’d hate to be the ones standing in the way of a fellow church member’s return to church.

 

Mid-quarantine, I thought, “I’ll do whatever we have to do to re-gather.” I did not anticipate that including setting up tents and wearing a mask when we sing. The frustrations of how we gather are certainly there, but I constantly remind myself of the privilege we have of being able to assemble. Let us not lose sight of the gift God has provided for meeting together. If we’re not careful as a church our differences in response to the pandemic could create division in the church. We could easily fall in the categories of the mask wearers and the non-mask wearers. By complying with our local laws, we have the opportunity practice godly submission to the authority which God has ordained over us, as well as pursue a gathering that mutually builds our congregation by the grace of God. 

Honest Conversations about Race

We’ve had more “adult” conversations with our kids in the year 2020 than previous years combined. The year began benign enough, but by March we were discussing pandemics, viruses, religious liberty, and quarantine. Looking back, these conversations were light in comparison to some of the conversations following George Floyd’s death while in police custody. If there’s one principle we’ve tried to uphold in our discussions with our kids, it’s been age-appropriate honesty. We want to serve as a buffer for our kids from the harsh realities of this world, while also not concealing, covering up, or shying away from difficult conversations with our kids. They don’t need every detail, but they do need to learn to engage in the conversations of race. I’d like share four honest conversations we’ve had with our kids about race and the events of George Floyd’s death with the hopes that it aids in conversations with your kids (Disclaimer: These topics need to be tailored to fit the uniqueness of your children as related to their age, race, and background).

  • Honest conversations about our historical oppression of minority races. One of the first questions that our kids asked is ‘why do black and white people not like each other?’. Jen and I grew up in the south and attended churches made up of predominately white, middle to upper class people. Our kids have grown up in New Mexico in a church with far more diversity than any church Jen and I ever attended growing up. They’re also not as aware of the history in our country that fuels the fires of distrust. We’ve honestly talked about slavery and the way that white people in our country owned black people in order to build the country we live in today. We discussed how it’s wrong to own another human being, even if you’re kind to them. We’ve also been honest about the church’s role in supporting, condoning, and practicing slavery and segregation. Much to its shame, the church has not been the predominate voice calling for equality. And yes, we certainly believe that “all lives matter”, but we’ve tried to impart to our kids that because of our country’s history, it’s good for us to affirm to our black brothers and sisters that their lives matter.
  • Honest conversations about respecting authority. Second, we’ve had honest conversations about people in authority, especially police officers. We want to raise our kids to respect people in authority, to respect police officers, mayors, governors, and presidents. 1 Peter 2:13-17 calls us to respect and submit to people in authority whether we agree or disagree. Let’s not forget Peter was calling the Christians to submit to emperors who were violently persecuting Christians. We’ve communicated with our children when we disagree with our president or our governor or with the actions of a police officer, but not to the point where they develop an unhealthy disrespect towards authority in general. One of the ways we try to instill respect for authority is by helping our kids to engage in conversations with people in authority. We will talk to a police officer or a fireman in uniform about his or her job. We once talked to a forensic analyst who was doing some work in our neighborhood. She let the kids ask all sorts of questions about her job and even let them dust for fingerprints. We have many men and women in our church who have served admirably in their public positions of authority. I’m sure many of them would willing engage with your kids about their jobs and responsibilities. On the other hand, we try to be equally as honest that with positions of power comes a temptation to abuse that power—using a position of authority to harm another individual. It’s our belief that that’s what we witnessed with Derek Chauvin’s arrest of George Floyd. A police officer, a person in power, used unnecessary force leading to the death of an individual in a powerless position. We desire for our kids to develop a strong sense of justice, a clear understanding of right and wrong, and a willingness to speak up against people abuse power for wrong. But we want to do so in a way that aligns their voice with a respect for the those whom God has placed in authority over us. 
  • Honest conversations about different experiences for people of different races. Third, we have honest conversations about the different experiences for people of different races. We realize that we and our kids have a perspective that is shaped by our color and our upbringing. We attempt to convey to our kids that not everyone has the same perspective or experience in our country. Some kids have come to America having first lived in other countries. In doing so, they learn a new language, new customs, and new culture. We encourage them to befriend kids whose skin color is different and learn about their experiences in America. One conversation that comes up regularly is about skin color and crayons. Our kids instinctively began calling the peach color crayon the skin color crayon. It’s the color they identify as skin color because that’s their skin color. We’ve taught them that peach is only one of many possible skin colors in the crayon box. There are different shades of brown, black, and white. We’ve used the crayon box to talk honestly about how other kids might identify with different colors that more closely match their skin. So, we no longer have a skin color crayon in the crayon box, only peach and tan and brown and black, to name a few.
  • Honest conversations about the gospel’s power to reconcile racial division. Finally, we have honest conversations about the gospel’s power to reconcile racial division. We talk about how no one has had to teach us to dislike people of different color. Instead, our hearts naturally and deceptively encourage us to like what’s similar to us and dislike what’s different or unknown. We have systemic racism because we have systemic sin. It was certainly a problem in the early church, as many of the early conflicts revolved around prejudices between Jews and Gentiles. Peter, a leader in the church and recipient of a God-given vision for racial inclusion displayed remaining prejudice in his heart by getting up from his seat at the Gentile table to eat with Jews. Paul boldly confronted his sin with the gospel admonishing him that a man is not declared right before God by his nationality, but by faith in Christ. It’s that gospel of savlation by faith that surgically removes sin’s remaining prejudice in our hearts and frees us from sin’s prejudicial power. It’s also our faith in Christ that sets the vision for a community of people from ‘every tribe, every nation, every tongue, and every people’ (Rev 5) joining together in worship of King Jesus.

 

I pray that as conversations continue to arise in your home and with your kids that you pursue honest, age-appropriate conversations with your kids. Don’t shy away from our country’s history of oppression of blacks and the church’s endorsing involvement. Teach your kids to show respect for leaders, even the ones with whom we disagree. Help your kids walk in the shoes of kids with different skin color or nationalities. And most importantly, connect our sin and our salvation back to the powerful, redeeming work of Jesus’s death on the cross and his victorious resurrection.