Mailbag, Marriage

The Mailbag: Masks in church- Do I submit to my husband or my pastor?

 

Help! I feel torn between two biblical commands, and I don’t know what to do. Our church has started meeting together in person again. The leadership has strongly requested that everyone wear masks. E-mails have been sent out about it, there are signs all over the church requesting that people wear masks, etc., and though it has been mentioned a few times that they will not ask anyone to leave if he/she isn’t wearing a mask, it’s pretty obvious the powers that be want everybody wearing masks.

My husband is very anti-mask. Although he is OK with wearing them where required by law, it’s not legally required in churches where we live, and he doesn’t want me to wear a mask in church. He has explained his reasons to me for his position. I think they are wise, valid reasons, and I actually agree with him. In addition to his reasons, I struggle against anxiety attacks and claustrophobia, which masks make worse, and mentally fending off these attacks makes it extremely difficult for me to focus on anything else, like worship or the sermon.

I believe the Bible is clear that I’m to submit to my husband. However, the Bible is also clear that we’re to submit to our pastors/leaders. And what about dying to self and putting the wants/needs of others (such as my fellow church members who are fearful of catching COVID) first? I’m so confused. What should I do?

This is a really great question. It’s so encouraging to me that you want to do the godly thing in this situation.

But before I begin answering your excellent question, unfortunately, in the zeitgeist we live in that’s even affecting Christians, I’ve got to fence this discussion for all of my readers with two parameters:

1. There will be no pro-/anti- mask arguing in the comments section of this article nor on any of my social media platforms, nor will I read or answer any e-mails/private messages arguing your position on masks. Any such e-mails, messages, or comments will be deleted. The way I’ve seen many professing Christians – on both sides of the issue, mind you – comporting themselves online about masks, is, frankly, appalling, and I refuse to lend my platforms to that kind of behavior.

2. This article will deal with the biblical topic of submission in marriage. Every time I address this issue somebody brings up the “But what about abuse?” argument as if the sin and exception of abuse negates the biblical rule of submission. (Very much like when the topic of abortion comes up and people automatically bring out the “But what about rape/incest?” argument.) It doesn’t. Abuse is a sin and a separate issue from submission that must be dealt with in a biblical way. Abuse has nothing to do with biblical submission even though some abusers evilly (and abusively) try to connect the two. At any rate, abuse is not today’s topic. Today’s topic is about a woman in a healthy Christian marriage who wants to obey our Lord’s command to all Christian wives in non-abusive marriages that we are to submit to our husbands. If you’d like me to address the topic of abuse in a future edition of The Mailbag, please send in your question. And if you’re being abused, get somewhere safe immediately, and reach out to your pastor, church, or a good Christian friend for help.

 

Any Christian who studies her Bible has, no doubt, surmised that submission to authority – to God, to our husbands, to our pastors, to our governmental officials, to our employers, and children to their parents – is a big deal to God because He discusses it and instructs us on it so often in Scripture. But how do we juggle our obedience to all of those authorities, especially when obedience to one might conflict with obedience to another?

Well, the first thing we have to recognize is that there’s a hierarchy of authority in our lives. The authorities in our lives are not all on an equal plane. Some of them outrank others.

God outranks everybody. We obey Him regardless of what any mere human might say about it, and regardless of what it might cost us. Peter may have stuck his foot in his mouth a lot, but he hit it right on the nose when he told his “pastor” (the high priest), who was ordering the apostles to disobey God’s command: “We must obey God rather than men.

But what about your dilemma? You want to obey God by obeying both His command to submit to your husband and His command to submit to your pastoral leadership. Neither your husband nor your pastor is asking you to disobey God. But submitting to one would mean not submitting to the other. It’s a Catch-22, right?

Not really, because for a married woman, her husband outranks her pastor in the chain of command of authority in her life. I think we probably all get this, intuitively, but, if it helps, consider the following:

• God established the family long before He established the church. It was the very first structure of authority He set up as a unit, and is the foundation of human society and relationships.

• The assemblage of God’s people – both Old Testament (Israel) and New (the church) – is contingent upon the family in several regards: God is our Father – we are His children, Christ is the bridegroom – the church is the bride, the twelve tribes of Israel were literal family lines and their elders were heads of clans and families, only men from certain family lines could serve as priests and Levites, a pastor must be the husband of one wife and rule his home and children well or he is disqualified from the pastorate, wives are to consult their husbands at home rather than disrupt a worship service with questions, and so on. The family isn’t contingent on the church the way the church is contingent on the family.

• The bond and vow of marriage outranks your less binding relationship to your pastor and church. When you married your husband, you made a vow before God and man to be loyally and faithfully bound to him for the rest of your (or his) natural life. When you consummated your marriage, you entered into a one flesh union with your husband. That’s a much more profound commitment to your husband than the commitment you have to your pastor and church.This is why the act of pursuing a divorce is nearly always a sin, while, comparatively, the act of leaving a particular local church (though you might have sinful reasons for doing so) is not.

• And as far as loving your neighbor or putting others’ wants and needs ahead of your own – your husband is your nearest neighbor. What about loving him? What about dying to self for him? It is far more important, both because of the depth of your commitment to him, and for practical reasons of familial peace under your own roof, that his wants and needs outweigh the wants and needs of Miss Tilly in the third pew.

So, what does this mean for your mask situation? It means you need to submit to your husband. Certainly, a godly husband would be willing to talk with you about his reasons for his decision and discuss your convictions about submitting to your church’s leadership. Perhaps your husband would think it’s a good idea for him (or both of you) to discuss the matter with your pastor. One godly husband might then decide to let you decide for yourself what to do regarding masking at church. Another godly husband might, after prayerfully receiving your input, still decide it is wisest for his family not to wear masks. You respectfully give your input and then back off, praying for him as he makes the decision he believes will most honor God and for which he will have to answer to God. And when he makes that decision, you graciously abide by it.

And my guess would be that if you have a godly, doctrinally sound pastor, he would tell you basically the same thing. I can’t imagine a good pastor telling a wife who’s seeking to obey Scripture that she needs to submit to him over submitting to her husband.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

12 thoughts on “The Mailbag: Masks in church- Do I submit to my husband or my pastor?”

  1. I believe that the state in which you live have established some type of guidance about mask wearing and social distancing. The church should be following those guidelines and in such so should the congregation. Roman 13:1-7 speaks of submitting to governing authorities, since those authorities have been instituted by God.
    Todd Friel has a great video on his “Wretched” radio show that can be watched on YouTube where he explains this.
    So my question is should we not submit to that governing authority as long as they have not asked us to sin in this case? I understand about submitting to my husband, but just wondered in the case should the governing factors of the state be looked at also?
    Thank you for your wonderful website, it is a game changer!

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  2. Thank you for your thoughtful response to this women’s question. I think your paragraph about the husband and his leadership is so important. A godly husband would not put her in that position. HE should be submissive to the desires of the church leadership…but she must submit to him. He is responsible for putting her in that position and as you stated, she only resists him when he asks her to sin against God. Sadly, I think it is bad leadership on his part.

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    1. I declined to share what the husband’s reasons are because all that would have done is start an argument from one side of the mask debate or the other, drawing attention away from the actual point of the article. :0)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Could we say also that submission to a pastor has more to do with church/faith/doctrine issues than one’s personal life?

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  4. I appreciate how you answered and your responses to the questions in the comments. 🙂 Thank you for your example in pointing to scripture and answering in a godly way. Yes, we need to care about our husbands. You’re right. He is our closest neighbor! Great point! Praise the Lord for His truth. God does not want us to be confused on anything 🙂 He gave us His word after all.

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