A man and his family went to church recently. This man and his family are healthy people, and believed that they do not need to wear masks. I’m writing this in July 2020 as coronavirus cases in the USA just exceeded 4 million, and many states are requiring the wearing of masks in public places like church worship gatherings. In the lobby a welcome team member approached them asking if they would be interested in wearing masks, and they declined. The next day, the man was scrolling through his social media feed, when a post caught his attention. A woman in his church wrote that she was disappointed to see people in worship not wearing masks, and thus she would no longer be attending worship. So the man decided to debate with the woman, commenting on her post, and they got into a heated argument online.
What should Christians do about situations like this? In this five-part series on Acts 21 (starting here), we’ve watched Paul navigate the complex cultural situation of the early church in Jerusalem. What do we learn from Paul?
We Christians need to practice love, humility, self-sacrifice, etc. It is interesting that Paul submits himself to a Jewish purification rite (Acts 20:20-26) in obedience to the Christian leaders, and in an attempt to avoid controversy. Paul was clearly free to live out his faith in Jesus differently, as he did in Gentile areas he visited, but because he was in Jerusalem, he submits. This definitely connects to his teaching in 1 Cor 8-10 and Romans 14-15, where he teaches that love should be our guide for handling differences of opinion in the church.
What I love about Paul is that he obeys the church leaders’ wishes for him to go through the purification right. In other words, Paul is saying, “Though I don’t have to do this, though I am free in Christ, I am going to submit myself to your wishes because I love the church, because I want to pursue unity.” Do you see that? This is the biblical principle of making sure that our freedom is ruled by love. It should not be the other way around.
Where this gets very difficult is the situation of what others have called the Professional Weaker Brother or Sister. The Professional Weaker Person is legalistic. They have made rules that they believe are right, and if everyone else doesn’t follow them, the Professional Weaker Person declares those other people are outside the fold. The Professional Weaker Brother is the person who says things like, “I can’t fellowship with you if you don’t agree with my perspective.” Or “Christians agree with me.” They are very similar to the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. Devoid of love. And we know how strongly Jesus confronted them and pointed out their error and hypocrisy.
Professional Weaker People are absolutely welcome in the church, but their perspective is wrong and will not be tolerated. Instead we should practice selfless love for one another, even as we disagree about a great many things. Let your freedom be ruled by love.