Friday, August 20, 2021 Update
As you have all likely heard, beginning at 5pm tonight (August 20), New Hanover County has issued an Order of Abatement which requires face coverings in all indoor public places in the county. The reason for the mandate is due to the recent spike in COVID cases in the county and the strain on the healthcare system.
As with previous mandates, the mandate exempts a number of categories of people, including “those with a medical or behavioral condition or disability, including difficulty breathing,” children under age 5, and “anyone participating in worship, religious, spiritual gatherings, funeral ceremonies, wedding ceremonies, and other activities constituting the exercise of First Amendment rights.”
We want to let you know how the pastoral team is thinking about how we gather together with this new mandate in place.
The Short Version
Due to the spike in COVID cases in New Hanover County, we are temporarily updating our mask policy from Permitted, Not Required to Recommended, Not Required for all group gatherings. We feel this position accounts for both the seriousness of the infectious nature of the virus but invites you to gather with the body in a way you feel best reflects love of neighbor, wisdom, and conscience, and now – in accordance with the provisions of the current order. We will also try our best on Sundays in our small auditorium to leave seats open for those who wish to distance physically from others during the Gathering. We will continue to audio and video record the sermons and upload them to our website on Mondays.
By leaving room for you to make these decisions, we believe that you will consider first the weaknesses, fears, and struggles of your fellow brothers, sisters, and neighbors – in faith, with wisdom, and in love.
Please see your Missional Community pastor if you have any questions.
The Long Version
As we pastors have tried to convey repeatedly over the last 17 months, the current cultural crisis is an extremely difficult one to navigate, whether you are a president, governor, mayor, manager, doctor, pastor, employee, or individual. Most people will agree that COVID is indeed a health crisis (whether it has personally affected you adversely or not), and that we must learn how to live with it in a way that honors God and His Word.
This has proven to be difficult, however. There is no shortage of articles, journals, newscasts, and social media posts that definitively take the “right position” on what is best for the world, and, whether we realize it or not, these sources have shaped our own individual positions on the crisis at hand. We have come to a place in our world where everyone has become a judge – the last and final word of the best course of action that their neighbors should take when they step into a public place. Just try to engage in a conversation with someone you are inclined to disagree with, and you’ll quickly find that your data source enters into battle with their data source, and may the best man win.
Our concern, though, is that the church of Jesus Christ seems increasingly more inclined to listen to their favorite sources as the final word on what is good and right, but the Scriptures are relegated to the bottom of the list of these sources. When the Scriptures are consulted, they become a sword with which to wage the battle for one’s opinion, pointing to this verse or that verse to substantiate their position. But when the Bible is used merely as another data source – an extra told-you-so in one’s arsenal and not received as the very words of life directly from God’s mouth, it does not give life, and most certainly divides rather than unites.
Now, data is important, especially with such a still very new crisis like COVID-19. It is important to be educated on the virus and make decisions for our families based on the information we have in accordance with God’s word. But the moment our data becomes a weapon, we are no longer acting in love, and once again, Satan becomes the lone victor.
The point is: as the church of Jesus Christ, we must navigate this crisis with the knowledge we have, with a clear conscience, putting the love of Jesus first, others second, and ourselves last, in accordance with the freedom we have in Him and with our Bibles open. With this said, as your pastors we are thinking about several categories as we pray and lead Grace City through this crisis, and that have helped us to arrive at a “Recommended, Not Required” face covering policy.
First, know that every big decision your pastors make is done with great care.
When God called us to plant Grace City Church, it was one that originated in the mind of God and was given to us, not the other way around. We have been appointed by God for this work, so we speak and lead in a way that pleases God first, not man, because at the end of the day, God is testing our hearts (1 Thes. 2:4) and is the ultimate judge of our actions (1 Cor 4:3-4). For this reason, we take leading this church very seriously. When we make decisions (and big ones especially), we do so only after much praying, Scripture referencing, information consulting, and considering the effect of our decisions on various individuals under our care. So often we go back-and-forth, discussing, pausing to ask God for wisdom, changing our minds, and then changing them again – long before we ever speak a public word.
But yet, we will not please everyone. We respect that you may strongly disagree with us. You might be tempted to be upset at us. But please know, dear family, we answer to God. We who teach will face a stricter judgment than those who do not (Jam. 3:1). So we must finally be sober, prayerful, and lead with confidence, because we so deeply long to please our Father, King, and Lord first and above all else.
Second, this isn’t going away, but we cannot be ruled by fear.
This is a difficult reality to embrace, but like many viruses (e.g. influenza, common cold), the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 will be on the earth, perhaps until Christ returns. It is now a part of our world. For this reason, we as Christians need to decide how we are going to live with it, making informed decisions wisely and with love of neighbor in mind. Similarly, the government, who God calls to be a servant for our good (Rom. 13:4), has the responsibility of protecting the populace through legal means (like mask mandates).
Now, here’s the thing: adhering to government mandates is generally to the Christian’s benefit, and there is scriptural precedence for doing so, but it may not always be. Consider the following. Over the past year, masks were mandated nationwide. In winter 2020, COVID-19 cases in the US were sky high while masks were being worn by everyone. Then the vaccine became widely available in the spring this year (2021), and by May infection rates were down and mask mandates were dropped. We continued to gather as a body in accordance with wisdom and love. Now it is summertime, cases are up again, vaccine rates are increasing, and mask mandates are being reinstated.
We realize that the government is doing what it can to protect the well-being of society with the information it has. Yet what will those do who choose not (for whatever personal reason) to get the vaccine if the government mandates the vaccine? What will the church do if the government restricts all gatherings, regardless of religious liberties? Now, we don’t want to be foolish. If people are getting sick, we’ll stop meeting in person for a week or two. It may be a very good idea to put a mask on or go and get vaccinated. But if the commands of Scripture (e.g. gather together frequently, Heb. 10:25, etc.) clash with the commands of the government, as we are seeing in Canada, what will we do then? Will we listen to Caesar over Christ?
We submit that the decision to wear a mask or get a vaccine cannot be based solely on government regulations, although these should be seriously considered. As a church, we must have our ear on the government and our eyes on the Scriptures. We believe you can make your decisions out of love, wisely with the knowledge you have, and not out of sinful fear. Fear can be a good thing if it leads us to wise choices (e.g. we refrain from running into traffic out of a good fear of injury), but our choices should always be grounded in faith in the God who is sovereign over our lives. Faith must be the deciding factor in every choice we make (Rom. 14:23), but one that is clothed in love for others (see Rom. 14:1-23).
Family, we can trust God with our future. Persecutions are coming, because Jesus and Paul said they would (Matt 10:25; 2 Tim 3:12). And we want to prepare you for it. But we have to ask the question: what or who do I fear more? This virus? Loss of freedoms? Today’s news? The government? Or God? Jesus said to His disciples in Matthew 10:28-31,
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
Do we know our value in Christ, brothers and sisters? Do we realize how safe we are? We may indeed get sick from COVID-19, and some of us could even die from it, because not a one of us are promised tomorrow. We need to use wisdom and take precautions where we can! But because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, death’s stinger has been cut off (1 Cor 15:55). This life is only the beginning of our eternity. COVID-19 isn’t going away and persecutions are coming, but we can trust the One who declares the end from the beginning (Is 46:10), no matter what new cultural crisis comes our way.
Finally, consider the data, history, and experience – then make a decision, and let love win the day.
This is all very new still. And these new variants are serious. This week, we spoke to one of our members who is a medical professional at the hospital who told us that all the beds are filled because of COVID-19 cases. They are short-staffed and tired. And the new variants seem to be more aggressive than what they’ve seen previously. (Keep praying for the doctors and nurses of GCC!)
But, life must go on. We all have jobs to do and families to provide for. So if we’re going to encourage anything, it is this: please consider the facts you have, your experience with COVID-19, and how this virus has behaved since it bombed the world in early 2020. Then make a decision out of love for your fellow man, and yourself second. Is this not what Jesus did when He came to the earth to save the likes of us? And He calls us to do the same, because it is enough that every disciple be like his teacher. Then let us keep gathering for worship and fellowship, just as we have been for the past year.
Practically, this means that every time we gather, we ought to consider the people we’re going to be with. They have probably been listening to the same news sources as you have. And they may not have the faith you have. They are what Paul calls “weak in faith” (Rom. 14:1), and they may be mask wearers or they may refuse to wear a mask. But regardless of their position, we are commanded not to pass judgment on them (Rom. 14:13), but instead to “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Rom. 14:19) and to keep our faith between ourselves and God (Rom 14:22).
This may mean wearing a mask during our Sunday gatherings for a while.
This may mean wearing a mask around a pregnant woman (we are told that pregnant women are very high-risk against these new COVID variants) or around older saints (also higher risk).
It may mean asking the question: “Would you prefer I put a mask on if I am going to sit next to you?”
It may mean refusing to engage in the sharing of our opinions about COVID.
It may mean not asking if someone is vaccinated.
It may mean carrying a mask to someone’s house, and asking if they prefer we put it on before we enter.
It may mean coming anyway, wearing a mask, and enjoying the much-needed fellowship of the local church.
But whatever we do, let’s be flexible and situational, just as Jesus is. We can do this because our identity is in Jesus, not in our opinions.
If you have made it this far, thank you for reading. As with any policy updates, please know that these can change if need be. We pastors are human and finite, and we want to be flexible and situational as well, especially as we learn new information about this virus. But by leaving room for you to make these decisions, we believe that you will consider first the weaknesses, fears, and struggles of your fellow brothers, sisters, and neighbors – in faith and love, and in the hope that Jesus is restoring the Kingdom to Himself and is coming again soon to make all things right.
If you have any questions at all, again, please see your Missional Community pastor. We would love to sit with you and work through what concerns you may have after reading through this update. Lastly, we would like to ask that you continue to pray for us. We don’t have all the answers (as we’ve already stated), and we deeply need Jesus to guide us, especially as the tides of culture keep changing.
Thank you, dear family. It is a true joy to be your pastors as we continue the task of overseeing you, as we have been appointed by God.
With you in faith,
Aaron, Joshua, and Jim
Saturday, May 15, 2021 Update
Over the past year, we as a church have sought to do our best to follow local and federal recommendations to reduce the spread of COVID among the members and visitors of Grace City Church. Despite the fact that NC churches have been exempt from COVID-related Executive Order mandates, in our gatherings we have exercised wisdom from these recommendations out of love and concern for one another. Though some of us indeed contracted COVID, we rejoice that God has been merciful to our body!
As you have likely heard, effective Friday, May 14, 2021, due to the fact that over half of North Carolinians have been immunized and COVID rates have dropped dramatically in the state, the NC Governor lifted the capacity and social distancing requirements on businesses, and lifted the indoor Face Covering requirement on most businesses (see Exec Order 209). This is a big step for our state, and we (with you) are so thankful that we as a culture are heading toward herd immunity and emerging on the other side of this thing.
We do, however, recognize that this pandemic continues to be a political one. People have strong feelings about mask wearing and vaccinations. So we want to exhort the body in several ways as we look forward:
Firstly, lets continue to exercise wisdom and love in our interpretation and practice of local recommendations. We need to recognize that it may take a while for some of us to feel comfortable without a mask (and there could be legitimate reasons why a person may choose to wear one). By grace, let us be charitable toward those fellow saints with whom we disagree, and refrain from sinful judgment or debates over these matters. In the words of one pastor, “Only Satan wins if we’re self-righteous towards one another and divisive.” This is well said.
Secondly, even though the pastors have at times have asked GCC to practice certain precautions when we gather (like wear a mask), we believe the best course of action going forward is simply to ask that you make wise and loving decisions in your practice of personal freedoms in both large or small group gatherings. Whether you choose to wear a mask or not, please do so with the realization that you may be worshipping alongside people who disagree with you. So do so in love.
Lastly, while we rejoice in this good news, let’s also remember that over a half million Americans have died from COVID. Countless families continue to mourn the losses they’ve had to endure. So let’s continue to pray for restoration and healing for our neighbors. Let’s also continue to pray that normal faculties would be regained by our members who have lingering COVID symptoms.
As always, if you have questions about this update, please contact the pastoral team.
3233 Burnt Mill Drive, Suite 1
Wilmington, NC 28403
(in the Saltbox Church building)
3600 South College Rd
Suite E, PMB 154
Wilmington, NC 28412