Moses Wore a Mask (and Other Reflections on COVID-19)
When the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions began over a year ago, our church Session carefully searched the Bible and developed a position which we have continued to practice in our State of California. We published our church presentation in article form for reformation21, “Submit to the Government Serving God to Save Lives”, to assist other ecclesiastical governors humbly and creatively adapting to God’s providence with an exegetical guide through Romans 13:1-10 (which we deem to be the Scripture of greatest relevance for orderly direction).
During our adjustments with worship through various stages of State restrictions, we at times faced angst and pressure from within and without (as have other Christian leadership); we were thus compelled to consider criticisms and give further answers along the way. As the situation is settling down in most states, even in our own that yet still requires masks in some indoor settings which apparently still impacts Church worship, it seems an appropriate time to look over the year and share our observations and considerations with myriad resources for other church leaders seeking to address inquiries or objections—these include links to articles mainly by pastors and seminary professors as well as a collection of many relevant commentary excerpts on Romans 13:1-10.
Namely, the requirement to wear masks has been vehemently objected to and some have told us we are sinning for necessitating worshippers to abide by our leadership in following this temporary government regulation. Besides an appeal to Philippians 2:3-8 about a willingness to deny personal rights for unified preservation, we cite 2 Corinthians 3:13: … Moses … put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished.
We do not overlook the following verse or its immediate context spiritually applying a specific and different situation in Exodus 34:29-35 to the New Testament Gospel administration; still, this verse and its Old Testament reference relate far more directly to discussions about temporary mask wearing for the benefit of others than more incidental passages with protests focusing on the potential violation of God’s worship or individual liberties. Though done voluntarily by Moses, Scripture does not disdain mask wearing as a personal infringement; instead, his meek, pastorally intuitive use of a face covering in an unusual situation to aid God’s people in remaining under the ministry of His Word serves as a reasonable Scriptural example for church leadership to emulate and expect. And though not during formal worship, Moses wore his face covering while publicly teaching and preaching God’s commandments in the assembly. The point of comparison is this: Moses wore a mask on behalf of his people and it did not curtail his communal ministry to them but rather ensured it—there is no divine command against or contempt for doing such when necessity requires.
Pastor Martyn McGeown writes:
… Does the civil authority require the wearing of facemasks in public buildings, and in Christian schools, and in churches? We wear them. No commandment of God forbids the wearing of facemasks. Does the civil authority require that we sit six feet apart when in public places? We do so, without grumbling (Phil. 2:14), because, although we do not like it and even question the wisdom of doing it, we recognize their authority over us. Does the civil authority require that there be no more than a certain number of people in any public gathering, including ecclesiastical gatherings? We comply, not because we fear the virus—perhaps we think the virus is less dangerous than reported; perhaps we think that the government is overreaching its authority; perhaps we think that the government’s response is exaggerated—but because “the powers that be are ordained of God” (Rom. 13:1). And if the consistory, seeking to comply with such orders, requires such inconveniences of us, we obey them in the Lord (Heb. 13:17). Moreover, we must exemplify this attitude of obedience before our children. We require obedience from them to all our lawful commands. They ought to see us obeying the authorities over us.
Our concern regarding much theological rhetoric against mask wearing and other government regulations during the pandemic is that Romans 13, if mentioned at all, is barely examined. Some Scriptures are more clear and direct than others on various topics, and Romans 13 ought to be the primary place of discussion on how Christians and the Church are to respond to the civil government while the main import of the text should not be overshadowed by potentially implied exceptions. A careful study of Romans 13:1-10 and the civil magistrates’ normative legitimacy and right to be respected and obeyed should govern thinking through difficult practical details and other important Scriptures such as Acts 5:29 and Hebrews 10:25. Just as Arminians avoid dealing with Romans 9 speaking directly to their objections with God’s sovereignty in salvation, so too many seem to steer clear of deliberate and detailed interaction with Romans 13 in its historic context and how it logically relates to the matter of government restrictions for public safety in all assemblies that overlap with worship, instead often deferring to unnecessary applications of theocratic Old Testament judicial case laws or prophecies.
The magistrates enforce general assembly common sense regulations also on churches in other areas with no alarm or complaint. While proclaiming the government’s authority stops at the door of the Church sounds piously profound, it is frankly overly simplistic, naive, and inconsistent. Professor Jason Van Vliet writes:
… to be precise, the government is regulating in the sphere of “building capacity with a view to public health and safety,” not worship in general.
… If a church auditorium has been approved for a capacity of 300 in the fire code, and a congregation regularly puts 350 people in the building Sunday after Sunday, the fire department, with the backing of the state, may say: “Something has to change here with your worship services because you cannot pack 350 in the building every Sunday; it’s not safe.” That is not a case of a confusion of sphere sovereignty, or the state telling the church how to worship. It is the state exercising its God-given jurisdiction.
Equivocation also is involved with some comparisons to other kinds of buildings or gatherings. And whatever variability has occurred of more legitimate concern within other truly similar public assembly contexts, this does not remove our responsibility to be the better citizens and better witness nor allow us to ignore all the government has done to try and be consistent.
Our church has even enjoyed advantages to bowing to God’s providence and commands regarding civil magistrates in Romans 13. We are operating in Southern California where restrictions have been among the strictest and we were able to worship comfortably outside entirely for most of the winter months. We continue to open and close our services outside to accommodate singing and we are getting noticed within a densely populated neighborhood of apartments and homes with cars and pedestrians passing by constantly (several stopping to observe the invocation, opening and closing psalms and prayers, and benediction). Indoors, we have kept our windows open for fresh air circulation and the preaching of the Gospel extends to the apartment complex swimming pool on the other side of the fence. It is a wonderful opportunity to “open air preach” in a context where no one can complain. Contrary to some expressed concerns, we have not been refused to associate let alone assemble. Further, we have had visitors (some obviously unchurched) always donning masks as their clear expectation. And because we have long taught and expected Sabbath worship attendance (both morning and evening) and disciplined when neglected in normal situations, there was no drop off when we returned to the building after a webcast-only period; further, we only began webcasting due to the pandemic and now it serves our sometimes homebound saints along with offering a greater reach of service across the nation and around the world.
Further, it is vital to not gloss over Paul’s context in Romans 13. The Roman Empire of the time of his writing was not a democratic nor a pleasant government for Christians, and it had all kinds of atrocities. The social situation was not better than our own, yet Paul said it had a God-given responsibility to protect all its citizens by rule and rules which should receive humble submission.
To show we are not novel or leaving the faith and precedent of our Reformed and Puritan fathers, see: reformedbooksonline.com/on-spreading-diseases-and-plagues/. In particular we highlight the following from this source:
On the Civil Magistrate’s Just Authority for Restraining the Congregating of Citizens, even the Church, & Quarantining, etc., with Sufficient Natural Warrant, according to God’s Moral Law
On Civil Concerns.
Proof that the Magistrate may Quarantine Citizens upon Sufficient Natural Circumstances
It is a breaking of the moral 6th Commandment (‘Thou shalt not murder’) to harm or unduly put our neighbor in risk of bodily harm. (WLC #99.6-8; 2 Sam. 23:17; 1 Chron. 11:19)
It is morally wrong to use liberty in indifferent things if it results in the harm of our neighbor. (Rom. 14:15,19-20; 1 Cor. 10:31)
All positive civil laws, ordinances, rights and constitutions under any given natural circumstances are to be grounded on, and reflect God’s Moral Law. (Rom. 13:3-4)
It is a breaking of moral law, and hence sinful, if exercising one’s liberty for travel or assembly results in the harm of others. Thus, a person has no unqualified, moral right to free travel and assembly, and consequently, no absolute, civil right to such.
The civil magistrate by Nature (and by the teaching of God’s Word, Rom. 13:3-4) is to uphold natural and moral law.
As persons are first bound to obey God’s natural and moral law, if the Magistrate materially upholds God’s moral law, though he be ignorant of such and it be not his conscious intention, yet subjects are bound thereby.
The light of Nature teaches (as well as Scripture, Rom. 13:4) that civil magistracy is to seek the good, preservation and defense of the commonwealth.
Hence, to an extraordinary evil, it is sinful if the magistrate does not exercise (when it is in his capability to do so) an extraordinary amount of power so as to fulfill God’s Moral Law (rather than to leave it undone) to the subjects of the commonwealth (the stronger serving the weaker), and this in order that life and civil liberties for the common good might be more fully enjoyed in the long-term (rather than the commonwealth perishing or receiving undue harm in the short-term).
Therefore magistrates may, in accordance with God’s Moral Law (whether this is their conscious motive or not), exercise civil authority unto varied degrees of quarantining its citizens and limiting their travel and assembling in a time of a severe spreading disease unto the good of the commonwealth, with sufficient natural warrant.
Probably the most quoted and more germane Scripture against presently submitting to just, though awkward, civil requirements in public worship is Acts 5:29. But the regard to fear and obey God and not man is just as much our concern, because Romans 13 says if we flout the government in areas over which they do have divine jurisdiction (in this case by sphere sovereignty overlap) we would be directly defying God’s authority. We are not bowing to government but to God and His revealed authority in civil life. Further, in Acts 5, the apostles were not running from magisterial authorities but from religious leaders forbidding them to preach the Gospel. Our government has never restricted our message. Romans 13:2-4 teaches that disobeying just civil laws is very much in danger of actually not fearing God but rather the political pressure of our fellow brethren and ministers however well intentioned.
Dr. Scott Clark writes:
Some congregations now find themselves compelled to follow the Apostles by saying, “We must obey God rather than men.” Are they right? Do the parallels hold?
The Jewish authorities sought to silence the Christians … it does not appear that Christians are being targeted because of their religion. The Apostles were targeted because of their religion.
The restrictions imposed by the Jewish authorities were not temporary nor were they issued in view of a grave danger to public health. Our secular authorities have justified their restrictions not on a religious basis but on the basis of public health …
In addition, there are exceptions to general rules elsewhere in Scripture with worship. For instance, the Sabbath should be a time of rest from works and yet we may of necessary mercy care for our animals and heal people. And in Numbers 9:6-13, for those who providentially couldn’t keep the Passover at the appointed time, God provided a reasonable non-normative alternative. The first four commandments regarding worship are the norm—but when an outbreak of a disease threatens the existence of the worshippers, the sixth commandment may be given precedent for a time with proactive, creative accommodations to maintain the first four as much as possible while protecting their lives until the general rule can be resumed.
The government has told us we need to delay or alter our worship in physical proximity until things improve and we can all again be reasonably safe. We we will obey God in Romans 13 rather than contemporary men whose impressive ecclesiastical positions and extremely strong and influential rhetorical peer pressure yet, by our humble assessment, misapply or pass over Scriptures, lack logical charity, unfairly expect perfection of civil leaders for deference, and unnecessarily condemn church leadership like ours.
We understand some skepticism of doctors and scientists. But we ask all to patiently consider that for a long time a doctor in the 1800s appealed to others to wash their hands after working with cadavers, especially with disinfectant, before delivering babies to try and bring down the death rate of laboring mothers, believing there must be something like invisible germs that were killing so many women and hand washing could help minimize their spread. Ridiculed for some time until he was later proven correct, his persevering insight is why disease and death have been under much more control in hospitals. (See npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/01/12/375663920/the-doctor-who-championed-hand-washing-and-saved-women-s-lives). There is a reason we teach our children to wash their hands before eating and to cover their noses and mouths and turn their heads away from others and the table when coughing or sneezing.
While Christ said plagues would come, He did not tell us we must give ourselves to dying to them. If a bridge broke before us on our only way to church we would not insist on driving our family across it. We’d wait for a new bridge to be built and return the next available Lord’s Day. Wisdom and prudence (not paranoia) must follow God’s prescriptive will as we trust His inscrutably decreed providence and defer to His authority in all. While Paul said it was personally better for him to go to heaven with Jesus, he also understood preserving his life on earth was his responsibility as best for the rest in Philippi.
Romans 13 starts with the concept of submitting, which does not mean agreeing but subjecting one’s will and views to the authority of another who has the right to overrule and expect obedience—just as we are called to share Christ’s mind and follow His example in Philippians 2.
While some have suggested that charity is being used as a cloak for compliance, so could self-righteous indignation be improperly disguising a lack of both. Let us not mask the issue to excuse ourselves from reasonably preserving our people as did Moses.
Grant Van Leuven has been feeding the flock at the Puritan Reformed Presbyterian Church in San Diego, CA, since 2010. He also serves the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals as community engagement coordinator as well as assistant editor for MeetthePuritans.org. He and his wife, Fernanda, have six covenant children: Rachel, Olivia, Abraham, Isaac, Gabriel, and Gideon. He earned his M.Div. at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA.
"Coronavirus and the Church: Compliant, or Uncreative?" by Terry Johnson
 We do not repeat much of that article’s arguments here and refer readers to it in the link above for whatever may seem to be overlooked in this follow-up “part two” to our previous work.
 John Calvin and David VanDrunen both offer Jeremiah 27 and 29 as the most related Old Testament equivalents to Romans 13. David VanDrunen, citing Romans 13:1-7 (along with Matt. 22:16-21; 1 Tim. 2:1-2; Titus 3:1; and 1 Peter 2:13-17), writes: “Although they may come to power by different routes … God is the ultimate source of their legitimacy … Since God has ordained civil magistrates for such propitious ends, Christians ought to submit to them, honor them, pay taxes … and pray for them …” David VanDrunen, Politics after Christendom: Political Theology in a Fractured World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2020), 26. Further, he adds, “While these texts directly affirm political legitimacy, Acts does so indirectly through its account of the early church. Here the apostles implicitly acknowledge the legitimate authority of civil officials and the legal structures in which they operate. Paul had frequent confrontations with the powers of his day, and though they sometimes treated him roughly, he never challenged their office or the governing laws.” He cites Acts 16:37-39; 18:14-16; 19:35-41; 22:25-29; 23:16-35; 24:10-21; 25:11; 26:2-23; 27:42-43. VanDrunen, 26. While VanDrunen disagrees with the extent of John Calvin’s directions to obey tyrannical civil governments in his Institutes (Book 4:25-32), and explores various reasons for civil resistance as legitimate (see his chapter, “Authority and Resistance”, pp. 319-356), yet in a personal conversation with this author seeking his thoughts on Romans 13, Samuel Rutherford’s Lex Rex, and the present temporary requirement to wear masks including in worship during the pandemic, he agreed such is not a violation of Scriptural relations with civil and ecclesiastical authorities and rather is only a circumstantial rule in the midst of overlapping spheres. Further, he points out in his book that Romans 13:1-7 is the most detailed text concerning government where God states it has “authorized … protectionist efforts …” Ibid, 345. Whatever disagreement there is about government restrictions during COVID19, it certainly has in general the authority and responsibility to protect the lives of all its citizens (including Christians). And while giving detailed considerations to appropriate situations for civil resistance, VanDrunen yet qualifies, “ … there may be prudential reasons for obeying in some situations … Christians, furthermore, have a distinctive calling to endure unjust treatment in circumstances in which there is no way out (e.g., 1 Peter 2:19-25; cf. 1 Cor. 7:21) … A law might be unjust because one aspect of it is unjust, yet it forms a part of a larger complex of just provisions that accomplish good things. No body of human law will be perfect. Thus it may well be the better part of wisdom and neighborly love to bear with some injustice for the sake of a greater good (without giving up on lawful means to remedy the injustice). Therefore, although an unjust law does not obligate per se, taking into account all relevant moral considerations may indicate that tolerating it is the best course of action.” Ibid, 352, 356.
 Here are a few articles that we found affirming. We believe they answer anything we have not toward many other opposing presentations we have consulted. We list them here in no particular order:
- Martyn McGeown, “John MacArthur and the battle of indoor worship in California”
- Jason Van Vliet, “Children of God and Covid 19: A Resource for Christians Navigating a Global Pandemic Some Scriptural and Confessional Insights.”
- Ian Clary, “Obeying Rulers with the Reformed Tradition: A collected series of quotes to illustrate the Reformed notion of obedience to the civil magistrate.”
- Keith Mathison, “Covid, Christians, & the Civil Magistrate”
- Scott Clark, “Between Conscience And Defiance: Questions For Grace Community Church”
- Scott Clark, “Of Masks And The Weaker Brothers”
- Scott Clark, “The Church And The Virus: Is This An Acts 5:29 Moment?”
- Jonathan Leeman, “A Time for Civil Disobedience? A Response to Grace Community Church’s Elders”
- David French, “A D.C. Church Shows How to Fight for Religious Freedom”
- Simonetta Carr, “Francis James Grimké – Through a Pandemic and Social Unrest”
 Martyn McGeown, “John MacArthur and the Battle of Indoor Worship in California”, 97 no. 5 The Standard Bearer (December, 2020): 105-106. Noting his last poignant words quoted, we are especially compelled to say that Christians ought to have a far greater concern with teaching our children by example how to live a peaceful, orderly, respectful, deferential, submissive life under divinely appointed positions of authority in family, church, and state as a much more predominant theme and command for the New Testament Church (let alone the Old Testament saints), such as 1 Tim. 2:1-3.
 VanDrunen, who very much is making the case for a place for civil resistance, yet acknowledges: “The text indicates that it is a travesty when civil officials perpetrate injustice, but it says nothing to indicate that disobedience, resistance, or revolution is justified in such circumstances. If Romans 13 leaves a place for resistance, it is not because the text itself says so … Paul simply does not address whether there are exceptions to his general teaching in Romans 13:1-7 … It is entirely plausible that there are exceptions … Romans 13:1-7 could very well be the kind of text that gives a broad exhortation without mentioning exceptions that do exist. Thus we need to inquire whether other biblical texts provide helpful perspective.” Ibid, 350-351. Also, the Westminster Confession of Faith 1:9 instructs the proper “analogy of faith” hermeneutic: “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.” For instance, Ephesians 5 speaks in great detail about the married relations and responsibilities of husband and wife and thus it rightly takes prominence in guiding a study on Biblical marriage.
 Jason Van Vliet, “Children of God and COVID-19: A Resource for Christians Navigating a Global Pandemic Some Scriptural and Confessional Insights,” January 19, 2021. See https://www.christianstudylibrary.org/article/children-god-and-covid%E2%80%9319#/
 See IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA, Case 3:20-cv-00865-BAS-AHG Document 57 Filed 08/31/20 PageID.3436:
“To date, in California 679,099 individuals have been infected with COVID-19 and 12,407 have died. Grabarsky Decl. Ex. 46. While Plaintiffs are apparently unfazed by these deaths, see Renewed Mot. at 1 (noting that California had reported “only . . . 7,227 deaths” as of mid-July) (emphasis added), these numbers are enormous, far greater than the number of people killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks and those who lost their lives in Hurricane Katrina. Indeed, under Plaintiffs’ own annualized calculations, id. at 1-3, COVID-19 is now the third highest overall cause of death in both California and San Diego County, behind only cancer and heart disease. Id. at 1-3. (9)”
“ … it is now the deadliest infectious disease …” (9-10)
“California has not prohibited singing and chanting solely in indoor worship services. To the contrary, indoor singing and chanting are prohibited in secular activities such as political protests and at schools. Grabarsky Decl. Ex. 14, Plaintiffs assertion that Chief Justice Roberts was “silent as to [houses of worship’s] similarity to factories,” Renewed Mot. at 14 n.8, is belied by his rejection of Plaintiffs’ argument as to their similarity in their briefings before the Court, see, e.g., Grabarsky Decl. Ex. 6 at 24, 29. State Defs.’ Opp’n to Renewed TRO (3:20-cv-00865-BAS-AHG) transmission at factories is less than the risk at worship services. Decl. ¶¶ 69-71; Watt Decl. ¶¶ 104-05. In short, Plaintiffs fail to rebut the State’s evaluation of the relative risk of worship services and thus to show that State imposes greater restrictions on in-person worship services than on comparably risky secular activities. See Rutherford at 6; id. Ex. 15, at 12. Restaurants are also not allowed to provide live musical or other performances, id., Ex. 16, at 3, and other secular gatherings likely to feature group singing and chanting such as concerts, sporting events, and theatrical performances continue to be banned entirely.” (22-23)
“ … the State has enforced those restrictions against protestors: when the NAACP requested a permit for a rally “to protest the death of George Floyd,” the California Highway Patrol denied the permit because organizers could not ensure that the event would comply with CDPH’s directives on public protests. Decl. of Cpt. Douglas Lyons ISO State Defs.’ Opp’n ¶¶ 5-6; see also Givens, Hrg. Tr. 10-12 (Grabarsky Decl. Ex. 5). Numerous other permits for gatherings in violation of the COVID-19- related restrictions have also been denied. Lyons Decl. ¶ 7; see also id. ¶ 15. And CHP has arrested participants in recent protests who violated the law. Id. ¶ 13.
Where the State refrained from arresting protestors for violating then-imposed restrictions on outdoor gatherings, it did so for good—and non-discriminatory— reasons. First, arresting protestors for violating gathering restrictions would be counterproductive from a public health perspective because such arrests “could entail significant person-to-person physical contact and the collective detention of large groups of individuals.” PCG-SP Venture, 2020 WL 4344631 at *11. Second, arresting masses of protestors “presents serious public safety concerns that overcome otherwise valid considerations of public health.” (26)
“Recognizing that States have broad authority to respond to public health emergencies, the Supreme Court held in Jacobson that “a community has the right to protect itself against an epidemic of disease which threatens the safety of its members.” 197 U.S. at 27 (quotation marks omitted). …And because States often must take swift and decisive action during a health emergency, constitutional rights may be reasonably restricted “as the safety of the general public may demand.” Id. at 29; see also Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, 166-67 (1944) (“The right to practice religion freely does not include liberty to expose the community . . . to communicable disease.”).” (29-30)
 Similar to earlier pandemics in our nation’s history, the government did not use face mask rules to rule our lives or worship gatherings on going: it was temporary as things got under control just as it is improving presently. Van Vliet shares how God did an amazing witness through His ancient Church adjusting to a pandemic with creative corporate worship: “Although plagues and pandemics vary in scope and severity, even significantly, our God has always preserved his church through them. We can be confident he will do so this time as well. Between 1576 and 1578, during the plague of Milan, fifteen percent of that city’s population died. At the peak of the infection curve, the city closed all “non- essential shops” and put into effect a “general quarantine,” which also meant that public worship services were not permitted. Sound familiar? The archbishop, a certain Carlo Borromeo, co-operated with local officials and organized the publication of booklets containing penitential Bible passages, prayers, and songs. These were then distributed, free of charge, to the citizens. At set times, when the church bell rang, everyone was to come to the doors and windows of their homes. Together the city recited prayers and sang songs. The cobbled streets of Milan, rather than the marbled nave of its cathedral, resounded with congregational singing. Can you imagine? … No doubt, in spite of the deadly plague, it must have been quite an experience: listening to, yes, participating with, all the citizens of Milan singing praises to God … At the end of the sixteenth century, Milan did not have gospel preaching livestreamed into the living room of every quarantined household. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, we do. It will never be the same as attending a worship service in person; neither should we begin to regard virtual worship as some kind of comfortable, new norm. Nevertheless, as his children, who do not deserve any of his generous gifts, we ought to thank our Father in heaven that preaching of the holy gospel has continued. ‘The Word of God is not bound!’ (2 Tim 2:9).” Ibid, 10.
 Paul’s rejoicing in persecution and trials for how they have actually furthered the Gospel reach comes to mind.
 Westminster Confession of Faith 21:8 reads: “This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest, all the day, from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations; but also are taken up, the whole time, in the public and private exercises of His worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.” [Emphasis, GVL.] See Matthew 12:1-13.
 We do however ask that doctors quoted with variant positions should be qualified by training and employment in directly related fields such as epidemiology and the study of biostatistics and public health for their counsel to warrant serious consideration.
 There is nothing about this that violates the Ninth Commandment.