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

How Royalty Changes the Abortion Debate

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3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 4 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? 5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. 6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, 7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, 8 the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. 9 O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
— Psalm 8:3–9 —

The “royals,” Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, are in the news again, making a splash about “de-throning” themselves, or at least trying to take a less prominent role among British royalty. That news, coupled with this month’s anniversary of Roe v. Wade—the Supreme Court decision that opened the door to abortion on demand and led to more than 61 million unborn babies being killed in the womb—made me think of an article I wrote a few years ago.

When The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) revamped their website, this post was lost. So I’m posting it again. The argument still stands and we should consider the damaging effects of “de-throning” the image of God and treating babies as less than royal. By contrast, when we recognize that babies—unborn, born, and grown—as the image of God are “royal” by nature, it has massive implications for how we consider abortion in our day.  Let’s consider. Continue reading

The Garden of Eden: A Biblical-Theological Framework

gardenGod’s people dwelling in God’s place under God’s rule: This tripartite division, outlined by Graeme Goldsworthy in his book According to Plan, well articulates the relationship of Adam and Eve to God in the Garden. Yet, often when Christians read the creation account in Genesis 1–2 they miss the royal and priestly themes in those two chapters. In fact, in teaching this section of Scripture, I have often had veteran saints question the validity of calling Adam a royal priest and the garden of Eden a royal sanctuary.

So, in what follows, I hope to provide a brief summary of the biblical evidence for seeing the first image-bearers (imago Dei) as royal priests commissioned by God to have priestly dominion over the earth—a commission later restored in type to Israel (see Exodus 19:5–6), fulfilled in Christ (see, e.g., Hebrews 5), and shared with all those who are in Christ (see 1 Peter 2:5, 9–10). In these sections, we will focus on the temple and by extension to the purpose and work of mankind in that original garden-sanctuary. (Much of this research stems from my dissertation, which considered in depth the details of the priesthood in Scripture).

Gardens in the Bible

The Garden in Eden

Easily missed by a casual reading of Genesis 2, the “Garden of Eden” (2:15; 3:23, 24; cf. Ezek 36:35; Joel 2:3) is actually the “Garden in Eden” (2:8; cf. 2:10)—meaning that the Garden is a subsection of the land of Eden itself. Confirming this, John Walton writes, “Technically speaking, Genesis 2:10 indicates that the garden should be understood as adjoining Eden because the water flows from Eden and waters the garden.”[1]  Further support for this view, that the garden is in Eden, is the fact that the man was created outside the Garden (2:7) and then brought to work the garden (2:8).

The Garden of God

Genesis 2 is the account of the Garden of God (cf. Isa 51:3; Ezek 28:13; 31:9), and the man Adam who is placed in the Garden as a servant of the Lord. Describing the literary framework of Genesis 2:8ff, Peter Gentry states, “Genesis 2:8–17 portrays the first man as a kind of priest in the garden sanctuary. In terms of literary structure, 2:8a describes the creation of the garden and 2:8b the placing of the man there. In what follows, 2:9–15 elaborates on 2:8a [the place] and 2:16–17 elaborates on 2:8b [the priest].”[2] Thus, in light of Moses later writing, we should see this Garden as a sacred sanctuary, the place where God walked in the presence of his people (cf. Leviticus 26:12). Continue reading

On the Transgender Movement in Public Schools: Video and Written Resources

malefemaleThe Prince William County School Board is set to vote again on Proposal 060, the measure postponed last fall. This policy change would add sexual orientation and gender identity language to the non-discrimination policy of the public schools. Since last fall churches in our county have sought to speak with grace and truth in the public square.

Such speaking is not often easy, because it is often perceived that opposition to transgender policies is unloving towards those struggling with gender dysphoria. Yet, the most unloving thing we can do is permit falsehood to reign and children to be deceived by the messaging of the transgender movement. (See there agenda here).

In what follows, you can find a number of video resources about the transgender movement. Below that are written resources that can also be read and disseminated. Continue reading

The Biblical Story of Priestly Glory

priesthoodOn Monday, I made the case that we should understand the imago dei in priestly terms. To develop that idea a bit, let me show how the biblical story line can be understood through the lens of the priesthood, as well.

Creation

In creation Adam was made to be a royal priest. Genesis 2:15 says, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Or it could be translated “to serve it and guard it.” In other words, the man in the Garden was more than a prehistoric gardener. He was a royal priest. And we know he was a priest because the language used in Genesis 2:15 is used repeatedly of priests in Numbers 3. Moses, the author of both books, is making the point that Adam was stationed in the Garden as a priest—to serve the Lord by cultivating the Garden (even expanding its borders) and to guard the Garden from unclean intruders (a key work of the priest and one he failed to do in Genesis 3). In short, redemptive history begins with a priest in the Garden, one whose righteous appearance and holy vocation was breathtaking, as Ezekiel 28:12–14 describes,

You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle; and crafted in gold were your settings and your engravings. On the day that you were created they were prepared. You were an anointed guardian cherub [A better translation is the NET: “I placed you there with an anointed guardian cherub]; I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire you walked.

Sadly, this glorious beginning did not last long. Continue reading

The Priestly Aspect of the Imago Dei

priestIn The Christian FaithMichael Horton suggests four aspects of the Imago Dei, what it means to be made in God’s image. He enumerates them as

  1. Sonship/Royal Dominion
  2. Representation
  3. Glory
  4. Prophetic Witness

For each there is solid biblical evidence. Genesis 1:26–31; Psalm 8; and Hebrews 2:5–9 all testify to humanity’s royal sonship. Likewise, the whole creation narrative (Genesis 1–2) invites us to see man and woman as God’s creatures representing him on the earth. First Corinthians 11:7 speaks of mankind as the “glory of God.” Horton rightly distinguishes, “The Son and the Spirit are the uncreated Glory of God . . . human beings are the created reflectors of divine majesty” (401). They are, in other words, God’s “created glory,” which in time will be inhabited by the “uncreated glory” of God in the person of Jesus Christ. And last, as creatures made by the Word of God, in covenant relation with him, every human is a prophetic witness. In the fall, this prophetic witness is distorted. Humans are now ensnared to an innumerable cadre of idols (see Rom 1:18–32), but the formal purpose remains—to be made in the image of God is to be a prophetic witness.

Horton’s articulation is compelling, biblical, and beautiful. But it seems, in my estimation, to stress royal and prophetic tasks without giving equal attention to the priestly nature of humanity. To be fair, Horton refers to humanity’s priestly vocation under the headings of “representation” and “glory.” But because these are supporting the vocational idea of representation and the abstract idea of glory, we miss a key idea—the imago dei is by definition a priestly office. Or better, the imago dei is a royal priest who bears witness to the God of creation. Let’s consider. Continue reading

The Image of God and Public Theology

Earlier this week, I considered the personal effect of meditating on and living in the truth of being made in God’s image. Today, I want to show how the image Dei should inform our public theology and social ethics. In a sentence, the image of God should inform the way we look at the world, because only when we keep the image of God at the forefront of our mind will we rightly be able to glorify God in all of life.  Here are five ways the image of God should inform our ethics—four specific, one generic. Continue reading

Re-Imaging Our Personal Identity

A friend of mine once quipped that when we tell people we are ‘fine,’ we are really saying in code that we are Freaked Out, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotional (F. I. N. E.). I think he has a point, as ‘fine’ is so often used to cover up deep-seated insecurities and hurt.

Sad as it may be, this is the human condition. We are masters of making fig-leaf coverings. We have lost our original covering of righteousness, and deep down we all know that something is not quite right.

On biblical terms: We are made to bear the image of God’s glory, but in our sin we have fallen short. Therefore, we need restoration to be who God made us to be. In other words, we need to be remade in the image of God. Praise be to God that this is what the gospel of Jesus Christ accomplishes. Consider just a few verses. Continue reading

The Image of God: A Covenantal Proposal

Yesterday, I cited Marc Cortez‘s survey of Genesis 1:26-28 and what the image of God means. In his book, Theological Anthropology: A Guide for the Perplexed he lists structural, functional, relational, and multi-faceted as four ways that the imago Dei has been explained. Yet, he also exposes the fact that there are weaknesses in each position, and thus he contributes his own proposal which is a covenantal version of the multi-faceted view. Continue reading