A Theology of the Face: How Endless Mask-Wearing Hides the Image of God and Hinders the Church

Christian themed stained glass, Freeport, Grand Bahama, Bahamas

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,
are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
– 2 Corinthians 3:18 –

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
– 2 Corinthians 4:6 –

We are in the season of that ancient of holidays, the one where humans put on masks and pretend to be lions, ghouls, super heroes, and villains. This year, however, Halloween’s game of dress up has become ubiquitous. It has been going on ever since “social distancing” became 2020’s favorite neologism. And there is no end in sight. Masks, it seems, are here to stay long past Halloween, and it is worth asking—to what effect?

What are the consequences of wearing masks? And what are the consequences of not wearing masks? The latter question is easy to answer; just read the regular updates on the CDC website or visit your local grocery store. State regulations, governors’ orders, and local business practices have converged to declare with legal force—no mask, no service.

Following this line of thinking many churches have pursued the same approach. With good intentions, especially in the early stages of COVID-19, many sought to love their neighbor by wearing a mask. Yet, as masking as become the new normal, I want to ask: What are the not-so-hidden consequences of hiding the face for months on end? And what are the consequences for churches who are called to live distinct from the world and who are to proclaim the glory of God in the face of Christ?

While medical experts continue to debate the efficacy of preventing COVID-19 with a cloth mask and doctors demonstrate the inefficiencies of various masks, I want to approach this subject theologically. Opinions continue to change about masks, but with the exception of a few articles (e.g., They Don’t Own Your Face You Know), I have seen little consideration for the theological impact covering the face has on humanity and the church who gathers to worship God.

With that in mind, I want to answer a few questions: What does Scripture say about the face? What impact does hiding the face on a regular basis have on humanity, the glory of God, and the gathering of God’s people? In particular, can we worship God face-to-face with masks constantly on? And if so, what implications do that have on the church?

As we will see from Scripture, the veiling of the face, with no certain change forthcoming, distorts our ability to embrace the knowledge of God, and hinders the community of faith created to reflect the image of Christ. More than that, masking as a normative practice in worship services runs into multiple New Testament commands. In other words, the commands of God are strained, if not violated, by making mask-wearing the normative practice.

What follows is not the only line of argument we need to consider when making decisions about gathering God’s people in these days and wearing or not wearing masks. Loving our neighbor (Romans 12), obeying civil magistrates (Romans 13), and considering weaker brethren and not violating conscience (Romans 14) must all play a part in our decisions. Yet, we must not forget that Romans 12–14 follows an expansive description of the gospel (Romans 1–11), and is followed by Paul’s description of the gospel ministry.

Thus, setting Romans 12–14 in context, it is my contention that in recent application of Romans 12, 13, and 14 for mask-wearing without end, we are picking up habits of heart and face that may interfere with the clearest declaration of God’s mercies (Rom 12:1) in the gospel (Romans 1–11 and 15). In that vein, I offer this God-centered argument, that seeing and showing the face matters. And I ask Christians to consider the impact of endless masking on the spiritual health of image bearers and Christ’s Church.

Continue reading

Voting is a Strategy, Not a Sacrament Nor a Sign of Superior Virtue

hands with vote pins

The heart of man plans his way,
but the Lord establishes his steps.
— Proverbs 16:9 —

So yesterday, one of my heroes, the pastor-theologian and prolific author, John Piper, posted a compelling argument for why he cannot vote for Trump or Biden. His words are worth reading, and they are worth responding to.

For as much as I agree that the morality of our leaders are of national importance and that the realities of Christ and his kingdom outstrip all earthly elections, I also believe Piper’s estimation of voting is mistaken. And so instead of addressing the sum of his argument, I want to highlight one point—namely, that voting is a strategy, not a sacrament, nor the tell-all signal of our eternal hope. Continue reading

Oppression and Slavery Under God’s Sovereignty: Five (dis)Comforting Truths from Psalm 105

Maybe you have had an experience like this: While walking or driving somewhere, you suddenly realize that the beauty of the scenery around you is littered with complex moral issues. If you visit Mount Vernon or Monticello, you are struck by the beauty of both presidential homes. Yet, in learning the history, you are also confronted with the fact that both plantations depended on slave labor. Likewise, if you celebrate the Civil Rights victories of the 1960s, you must consider that many of the programs implemented to help blacks during that era have done more harm than good.

Something similar occurs in Psalm 105, only the findings there are not based upon fallible interpretations of history. In Psalm 105, we have the inspired and inerrant Word of God. And strikingly in these 45 verses, we find multiple, morally-complex statements. Some of these issues concern oppression (v. 14), others talk of slavery (v. 17), but in every case, God is praised for his sovereign actions in history.

Indeed, for all the beautiful comfort that Psalm 105 brings, for it is a Psalm that speaks of God’s faithfulness in leading his people from Abraham to Moses, it also introduces many complexities in God’s sovereignty over the nations. Yet, instead of impugning God with error or wrong-doing, a rightful understanding of Psalm 105 actually helps us to know who God is, how he works in the world, and how we can better understand our own morally-complicated history. To that end, let’s look at Psalm 105 and its discomforting truths which in time lead to a greater confidence in God.

1. God can and does stop oppression.

While the history of our fallen world knows no period when or where oppression has been absent, it is clear from Scripture that when God intends to prevent oppression and overturn slavery, he can. In Psalm 105, the Psalmist reflects on God’s care for Abraham, when the patriarch and his children had no land to call their own (vv. 12–15). As they sojourned among warring nations (see Genesis 14), Psalm 105:14 says that God “allowed no one to oppress them; he rebuked kings on their account, saying, ‘Touch not my anointed ones, do my prophets no harm!'”  Continue reading

Social Justice 101: 12 Scriptures, 7 Proposals, and 3 Appreciations from *What is the Mission of the Church?*

nathan-lemon-FBiKcUw_sQw-unsplashIn What is the Mission of the Church?Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert provide two chapters on social justice. The first examines twelve passages often used to support social justice with biblical texts. The second chapter synthesizes their exegetical findings. Under seven “proposals” they offer a helpful introduction to the topic of justice, so often labeled “social justice.”

In what follows, I will share their twelve Scriptures and seven points. Then I will offer three words of appreciation and application from What is the Mission of the Church?

Twelve Scriptures Related to Social Justice

Continue reading

From Personal Righteousness to Public Justice (pt. 2): Five More Truths from Psalm 101

cloud05Yesterday, I began to walk through Psalm 101, observing the ways that verses 1–4 teach us about personal righteousness. Today, we will return to that psalm in order to see what verses 5–8 tell us about public justice. As I defined it in my sermon on Psalm 101, public justice can be defined as actions that promote the well-being of others, based upon the righteousness of God. 

The two words “promote” and “based upon” are where the action is in this definition. As I explained yesterday, personal righteousness is necessary for justice to endure, thus explaining how I understand the relationship between God’s righteousness and justice. Today, I will explain what it means to promote the well-being of others. As Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert (The Mission of the Church) note, there are times when the word justice, and “social justice” especially, are unhelpful. One reason is that acts of charity might be better described in terms of compassion and loving opportunities for service rather than justice and moral responsibilities to correct the world’s problems.

I agree. Yet, when defined appropriately—in terms of impartial processes and not equivalent outcomes—I do believe it is possible to speak of justice in terms of promoting the well-being of others, in the sense that justice protects the vulnerable, assists the needy, and looks for ways to improve opportunities for others to enjoy God’s blessings—especially eternal blessings.

In what follows, I will attempt to show what public justice looks like, as we consider five truths from Psalm 101. But first let me summarize all that we have discovered about God’s justice in Psalms 97–101. Continue reading

From Personal Righteousness to Public Justice (pt. 1): Five Truths from Psalm 101

cloud05On Sunday, with the assistance of one of our elders, I finished a five-part series on justice from Psalms 97–101. So far, I’ve included additional notes on each sermon, minus the one I didn’t preach (Psalm 100). You can find those notes here, here, and here. In what follows, I want to share ten more truths about justice from Psalm 101—five today and five tommorow.

While each Psalm (97–100) has contributed to our understanding of justice, this psalm above all the others gives us instruction for pursuing personal righteousness and public justice. In fact, that is how the psalm breaks down. In verses 1–4, the king pledges himself to personal righteousness. Then in verses 5–8, he pledges himself to spread such righteousness through the land by way of exercising his rule to establish justice.

In these eight verses, we find a wealth of wisdom about seeking God’s kingdom and his righteousness. Let’s consider these in turn and what it means for us to be righteous seekers of justice. Continue reading

A Biblical Case for the Church’s Duty to Remain Open

man raising his left hand

Photo by Luis Quintero on Pexels.com

But Peter and John answered them,
“Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God,
you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
— Acts 4:19–20 —

But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.
— Acts 5:29 —

Since March of this year, the church in America has faced a host of challenges related to COVID-19, gathering, and government. While health concerns legitimately initiated the emergency closure of churches, reopening them has too often been dictated by governors making up and then remaking requirements. Such pronouncements have not only impacted churches gathering, they have raised concerns about the very nature of the church. What does it mean to gather? Can we do church online? For how long? Et cetera!

While Americans have enjoyed unusual freedom to gather and worship in our country, this is not the first time churches have faced the (1) task of articulating their greater commitment to God in order to worship, and (2) in accepting the consequences of those actions. To that point, John MacArthur and the staff at Grace Community Church have written an article explaining why now is the time to obey God and not man—when man commands the church not to meet.

Their God-honoring, Word-saturated, church-protecting words are worth considering. You can find the whole article here, but let me highlight one point that has been of greatest concern to me during the Coronavirus pandemic. Here’s what they say:

Continue reading

Justice and Justification: Five More Truths about Justice

cloud05On Sunday, I explained from Psalm 98 how God justifies sinners and demonstrates that he is both just and justifier (Rom. 3:26). From that message, let me synthesize five more truths about justice. These build upon three truths about justice from Psalm 97, and they continue to assist our understanding of justice as the Bible presents it.

What Psalm 98 Teaches Us about Justice

Because salvation means different things to different people, it is always important to define salvation from the Bible itself. In Psalm 98, therefore, we need to see how salvation is presented. And importantly, we will see that salvation comes from God’s justifying justice.

In other words, salvation is not simply the victorious defeat of God’s enemies for his people, nor is it the dismissal of guilt from his people without a legal solution, nor is it the liberation of oppressed people regardless of their sin. Rather, as we learn from Psalm 98, salvation is grounded in the events of redemptive history which turn on the exodus. In fact, we can find at least five truths about justice in Psalm 98. Continue reading

A Tragic Irony: What Blacks Lives Matter Means for the Family

Perhaps you have seen this Speak for Yourself  video about the NBA’s decision to paint “Black Lives Matter” on the basketball courts in Orlando. I saw this video last week, as it was sent to me by a handful of family and friends. It’s worth watching, especially the first section with Marcellus Wiley. Here’s the core of what he had to say (You can find a transcript of Wiley’s whole statement here):

I don’t know how many people really look into the mission statement of Black Lives Matter, but I did. And when you look into it, there’s a couple of things that jump out to me. And I’m a black man who has been black and my life has mattered since 1974. And this organization was founded in 2013 and I’m proud of you but I’ve been fighting this fight for me and for others a lot longer.

Two things: My family structure is so vitally important to me. Not only the one I grew up in but the one I am trying to create right now. Being a father and a husband, that’s my mission in life right now. How do I reconcile that with this, the mission statement that says, “We dismantle the patriarchal practice. We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement.”

When I know statistics, when I know my reality, forget statistics, I knew this before I even went to Columbia and saw these same statistics that I’m going to read to you right now.

Children from single-parent homes versus two-parent homes. The children from the single-parent homes — this was in 1995 I was reading this — five times more likely to commit suicide. Six times more likely to be in poverty. Nine times more likely to drop out of high school. Ten times more likely to abuse chemical substances. Fourteen times more likely to commit rape, 20 times more likely to end up in prison, and 32 times more likely to run away from home.

I knew that. You know why I knew it? Because a lot of my friends didn’t have family structures that were nuclear like mine, and they found themselves outside of their dreams and goals and aspirations. So when I see that as a mission statement for Black Lives Matter, it makes me scratch my head.

The irony in this statement is thick. Not only does it bring to the forefront the difference between affirming the statement, “black lives matter,” and rejecting the organization Black Lives Matter, a distinction Albert Mohler has helpfully noted. But Wiley’s point also gets at one of the chief aims of the organization, which is to “disrupt” the family and “dismantle” the place of fathers leading in their homes. In this concern, along with others, Black Lives Matter sets forth objectives which have proven devastating to families in and out of the black community. Continue reading

How Autonomous Individualism Leads to Societal Anarchy: Or, What Herman Bavinck Has to Say about Critical Race Theory

tower“Autonomy becomes a principle that undermines every authority and all law.” 
— Herman Bavinck —

Solomon teaches us that there is nothing new under the sun. The sins and struggles of one generation morph and change in the next, but because the root cause of sin and struggle remains the same, human misery is never novel. Indeed, as Ecclesiastes 7:29 tells us, “God made man upright, but he has sought many schemes.” Yet, such schemes are only variations on a handful of themes.

For this reason, God’s completed canon (the Bible) is more than sufficient to supply us with wisdom for today. And often, Christian sages from other centuries—those saturated by God’s Word—are better able to address modern maladies than contemporary writers. An example of this is Herman Bavinck, a Dutch pastor, theologian, and ethicist. In his recently translated book, Christian WorldviewBavinck addresses some of the most difficult issues confronting us today.Christian Worldview_1

In three chapters on epistemology, ontology, and ethics, Bavinck confronts the materialism of his day. In response, he provides a thorough-going Reformed view of the world. As anyone familiar with his Reformed Dogmatics knows, his argument style rarely devolves into mere proof-texting. Rather, he shows vast knowledge of philosophy and science and argues his points by dismantling the incoherence of their views. Indeed, by focusing on the philosophers of his day, Bavinck provides an enduring argument against all who deny the wisdom and authority of God. And we do well to learn from him. Continue reading