I am the “weaker Brother.”
In the current discussions and debates regarding Corona Virus issues, something has struck me regarding the situation that is somewhat removed from the political and conscience/sin aspects, that I haven’t seen teased out much elsewhere. And yes, while I am using the language of Romans 8 and 1 Corinthians 10-13, I am using it differently.
In the Scriptural cases cited above – the issue was Christians who understood that eating meat, drinking wine, not strict sabbath keeping and eating meat offered to idols had no impact on their personal consciences. It wasn’t a sin before God – either done publicly or privately. These are called “stronger.” Their consciences had been re-informed and re-shaped by teaching that helped them see a new relationship to things under the New Covenant.
Then there were “weaker ones.” One’s whose consciences – for whatever reason, left them unable to enter into the same behaviors, without it impacting their sense of fidelity to God.
So the question was, how could these two groups live in harmony within the local assembly? Without separating.
Our current situation holds some similarities with the above, and some differences. The chief difference being that some choose to not fellowship within a local assembly over the issue of masking. They may (and I know some do in fact) have concerns over what wearing the mask “means” in terms of visibility in the greater society. I do not want to ignore nor minimize that conviction. But I’m certain no one thinks wearing masks period – under any circumstances is a sin – like some would with eating meat offered to idols. It is not wearing masks per se which is at the core – but what, such action in our current climate “says” politically, socially, etc. At least as I understand most of the arguments I’ve heard thus far.
So, let me shift the conversation slightly in terms of my own experience.
A few years ago, I was asked to go to the hospital to visit someone gravely ill. They had undergone a bone marrow transplant. In the course of that treatment they had to have their entire immune system destroyed for all intents and purposes. At least that’s how it was explained to me. Before I went in, I was told I needed to wear a mask. It wasn’t a law. It was voluntary. But, if I wanted to see him and pray with him, that was what I needed to do. He was truly a weaker brother in this sense – he was weaker physiologically.
And so am I. I am – in this same way too – a weaker brother. And I am not alone. And we, would love it if you stronger ones would be willing to draw near too, given our weaknesses.
All of us are hit every day with conflicting expert (and non-expert) opinions, differently interpreted statistics, research, recommendations, etc., etc., ad infinitum ad nauseum. Our State’s recommendations and requirements aside. And it leaves people like myself in this odd place.
I am considered “high risk” by most accounting. Over 65. Asthmatic. With a compromised immune system. As are any number of others among us to varying degrees. Young and old alike. And so I find myself in the uncomfortable position of asking you to accommodate me. And others like me.
I don’t know how infectious you may or may not be. Maybe you’re as sterile a computer chip clean room. Then again, I don’t know who you have or haven’t been exposed to. And the “I don’t know” factor looms large to me. It looms very large to some among us who are even more susceptible to viruses and other illnesses than I. But the unknowns are real. And I really would rather not get sick if I can avoid it. Let alone be the unwitting agent of anyone else getting sick. I don’t know. So I am taking precautions. More than I need to? Maybe. But I prefer to be safe. I am NOT doing it to make any kind of political or sociological statement. I’m trying my best to keep myself and others – safe.
Do I ‘think” I’m a carrier? No. Do I think you are? I don’t know. And my “thinking” either way doesn’t determine what’s real. Will masking us both guarantee my or anyone else’s health? Don’t know. But I am concerned. For me, and for others like me. Going to see my friend in the hospital, I put on the mask, because if I didn’t I couldn’t see him. I couldn’t pray with him. I couldn’t minister the word to him and encourage him. Was I sick? No. Not to my knowledge. Did I have anything I might pass on to him? Again, not to my knowledge. But I didn’t want to take the chance – for his sake. And so that we could be together. That was the bottom line.
Would you be willing to do that for me? For any others in a similar place? For those who are not as confident as you that there is nothing to be concerned about? Is 2 minutes while coming in and going out too much to ask? Practicing safe distancing while here, regardless of what you do elsewhere? Am I asking too much of you in order to be with you in the Church context?
I am asking you – will you be willing to let me be the weaker brother, and take the precautions recommended – so that we can be together? So that we can worship together. Pray together. Sing together, and fellowship together in the local assembly context? Or am I asking too much of you, so that we can?
Will anyone passing by assign to you vast and damaging political or sociological motives so as to somehow ruin your reputation or injure the cause of Christ? You’ll have to determine that. I can’t. But once again, I am asking. For my sake. So that we can be together. Indulge my weaker state – however real or imagined it might be, until this is over.
I don’t know. Maybe it is too much for you. And I do have to leave that to you. Maybe a political or sociological statement takes precedence here. I cannot make that call for you. You’ll have to decide.
As most of you know, one of the heartaches I have had here at our Church for a very long time is our lack of handicap accessibility. But we’ve done what we could when and where could. We have a chair lift. It’s all we can do. We’ll be making room in the auditorium to make it easier for a wheelchair. When we had a gal here with severe lung disease, we asked folks to hold off on colognes and perfumes so she could be with us. We had an audio loop from some with hearing impairment. And when we started talking with folks about food allergies and such, we did our best to find communion elements which the greatest number among us could utilize safely. And we’re still working out how to make our gathering more family friendly for those with little ones given the questions that still loom. I suppose I have a right to gluten. My hearing’s fine. And so far, I can navigate the stairs without too much trouble. But who cares? I don’t need a chair lift. But some do. I don’t use a wheelchair either, but so that one among us can – we need to do what we can. So that they can be with us. And I’d like to be with you.
I leave it with you. That is my plea. And like Paul was hesitant to exercise his authority when pleading with Philemon (Phil. 14), so we as the leadership here have not appealed to Hebrews 13:17 – as we might. For it is we who are asking you to do something we believe is best for the group as a whole. Not because we serve the State. But because we bear responsibility for all of you. And I must leave the working out of your responsibilities with you.
I’ve stated my case. I’ll say no more – but to say I miss you. And I hope and pray we can be together sooner rather than later.
Well done Reid! Your “weaker brother” plea, while leaving it in the context of the individual soul liberty found in the passages you cited (I know you meant Rom. 14 instead of Rom. 8, and perhaps 1 Cor. 8 coupled with 10-13 ) may be the very approach, the “nudge,” that some need. The tone of your article should help those confronted by the “…conflicting expert (and non-expert) opinions, differently interpreted statistics, research, recommendations, etc….” to consider the issue from a different vantage point. Your experience with the bone marrow transplant patient is on target. I have attempted to get others to understand how “My mask protects you, your mask protects me.” (PA Dept of Health) In doing so I remind them that if they go into surgery every medical professional in that operating room will be masked, not for their own protection, but for the patient’s.
if I was as wise as you are diplomatic….you (and many others) would be reading my posts
Just got to see your kind comment Jack. Bless you.
Thanks as always brother.