I’ve felt the tension most of the year. Good friends hold very different views on whether the pandemic exists, how the government should respond, and what churches should do. And they aren’t afraid to share them!
I’m grateful for my friends. I’m also grateful for how they are making me think through various issues related to the church. And I like them a lot.
But here’s my concern: that we are in the process of creating two streams of churches divided over our view of the pandemic — most visibly, around the wearing of masks.
Welcome, Not to Quarrel
When Paul faced the debate in churches between two factions who believed very strongly about their issues, he didn’t hide which side he took. He believed that one side was right and the other wrong. But that’s not the primary issue Paul addressed. Instead, he addressed how the correct side should treat the other: “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions” (Romans 14:1).
Warmly welcome those who are wrong, who differ with you on the issue. The phrase “not to quarrel over opinions” goes deeper than you’d think. It “typically refers not to quarreling but to placing something into its proper category by making judgments about it… and means ‘separation,’ ‘segregation,’ ‘discrimination,’ and ‘differentiation’” (Frank Thielman, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament).
Paul knows that one side is right and the other is wrong, but he doesn’t want to discover that the church has segregated over the issue. In fact, he gives pointed advice to those who are correct on the issue to make room for disagreement (14:5). Refuse to judge (14:10). Don’t force those who are wrong to violate their conscience (14:20).
In fact, the correct group could become incorrect when they stop walking in love with those who believe differently (14:15). Our goal should be to “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (14:19).
If you’re interested, Andy Naselli and J.D. Crowley do a great job of unpacking the lessons of Romans 14, and other related passages, in their book Conscience: What It Is, How to Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ (affiliate link).
It’s fine to hold strong views. My plea isn’t to abandon your views on the pandemic, the government response, or what you think the church should do.
My plea is to make room for those who disagree, even if — especially if — you’re right and they’re wrong.
Welcome them. Refuse to allow factions to develop in your church based on your view of epidemiology or whether we’ve reached the threshold for civil disobedience or not. Refuse to scorn those who disagree with you.
Those who hold different views from you may be wrongheaded. If so, Paul tells you how to respond to them. Welcome them. Refuse to separate from them. Refuse to judge them or to pressure them to violate their consciences. Refuse to settle for a church in which anyone is pressured to leave if they hold a different view on masks or lockdowns.
Do this not because you’re weak, but because you’re like Jesus (15:7), and so that “together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (15:6).