Dear church family,
The recent Illinois Executive Order 2021-20 (effective August 30, 2021) has caused our elders to prayerfully review New Castle Bible Church’s strategy for how to best pursue God’s glory while navigating COVID protocols and sensitivities together. After much prayer and counsel together, we have decided to continue our ministry as we are for now (understanding this could always change in the future as needed) without adding any new restrictions or safety requirements for anyone who voluntarily chooses to participate in any of our church’s onsite ministries.
In regard to the wearing of masks and vaccines, every person who participates in any of New Castle Bible Church’s ministries is personally responsible to follow his/her own conscience (Romans 14:23) and neither despise nor argue with any who practice differently (Romans 14:1-5, 10-13, 19).
To ensure greater understanding behind this decision, we offer the following explanations:
Submission. We affirm the Scripture’s teaching for God’s people to submit to authorities, even those who may be ungodly and unwise (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17), until they ask us to disobey God (Acts 5:29). Therefore, we must each carefully consider God’s command concerning this Executive Order. A love for personal autonomy, or a preference for small government, or a contempt for mask-wearing would all be sinful reasons to not comply. As elders, we encourage everyone to uphold our biblical responsibility in honoring our government officials, praying for them (1 Timothy 2:1-6; Titus 3:1). Even when we disagree with government, we must remember they have been appointed by God and therefore we must never speak evil against them (Acts 23:5; Romans 13:1-2).
We believe that our Governor’s allowance for the “free exercise of religion” in his Executive Order 2021-03 (effective January 19, 2021) gives New Castle Bible Church the freedom to humbly proceed with our ministry as we are without being sinfully insubordinate. We are thankful for the Governor’s exemption and pray that this freedom will continue to be given to local churches such as ours. Therefore, we want to encourage our church family to continue to joyfully obey Hebrews 10:24-25.
While physical safety is currently the highest value for government, the church’s controlling value is to glorify God and enjoy Him together. Our mission requires gatherings, relationships, and reaching out. And while wearing a mask or getting vaccinated can often be a godly expression of love for others, we believe that explicitly requiring such compliance for every person who voluntarily chooses to participate in our ministries would be a spiritual hindrance and harm to our ministry. To make physical safety, or risk-aversion, a ruling value in our church family would be to sin. We want to be careful to not sinfully acquiesce our God-given values for worldly values. So, our leaders are presently united in the belief that the requirement of mask-wearing would spiritually hinder our mission together at New Castle Bible Church and should not be mandated at this time.
Integrity. We do not believe it is helpful to give the appearance of compliance, requiring or encouraging masks, while we continue our ministry in ways contrary to other government guidelines (i.e., large indoor gatherings, handshaking, singing, extended times of close contact, etc.). Participating in any local church ministry will always involve some level of health risk so we encourage every individual to assess these risks and voluntarily make their own judgments about how they believe God desires for them to participate in biblical community.
Witness. We affirm the Scripture’s teaching for Christians to live honorably and wisely before our unbelieving neighbors (Matthew 5:13-16; Colossians 4:5-6; 1 Peter 2:11-12). By the power of God’s Spirit within us, we labor to be known in our communities for our good works and sacrificial love for the lost (Matthew 22:39; Ephesians 2:10; Titus 2:7, 14; 3:14). We believe our witness for Jesus is strongest when our message is clearest. After all, our love for others is fueled by our understanding of God’s gospel message (1 John 4:7-21, especially v. 19). Therefore, the primary message of New Castle Bible Church is our crucified and resurrected Savior (1 Corinthians 2:2). Our hope is anchored in our future life more than this present one (Hebrews 13:14). We desire to help others believe that knowing Jesus is worth more than anything this world can offer (Philippians 3:7-11). We are unashamed of Jesus and His life-giving message of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone by God’s grace alone for the glory of God alone (Romans 1:18).
We wish to be careful not to shift our church’s message away from faith toward personal safety. Our loving witness requires that we keep our message focused on the sinfulness of sin and the supremacy of Jesus and His finished work more than on any values from this world (Colossians 3:1-4; 1 John 2:15-17). Loving our communities must never mean that we adopt the values of our communities (John 15:19, 17:15; James 1:27); rather, we sacrificially lay down our lives for their eternal good – generously serving them with humility and mercy and prayerfully proclaiming the good news of salvation in Christ alone.
We also wish to make clear that our failure to “require” masks or any other safety precaution is not intended to be a judgment against their potential merit or benefit. While the science of some of these precautions is still debated, there are many possible scenarios where the most loving expression will necessarily include wearing a face-covering. Frequently Christians may find themselves in places of business or education or healthcare where wearing a mask wisely communicates good conduct, love for others, and Christlikeness. Physical safety, just like financial security, is not an inherently evil value; it just must never become ultimate for God’s people.
Therefore, we ask that our conclusion be kept as small as it is intended to be. We do not wish for our decision to be a political statement (1 Corinthians 5:12) nor for our decision to be interpreted as an encouragement for Christians to always reject mask-wearing or other safety guidelines. We desire to be crystal clear that we are not discouraging people from wearing face-coverings to church gatherings or getting vaccinated whenever they believe it is best to do so. We are not intending to be judgmental or critical of any local church who lands differently than us on this issue. We are simply concluding that our church leadership will best honor God if we do not mandate any church-wide health or safety requirements upon every person who voluntarily chooses to assume their own risk for attending any of our public ministries. We instead encourage each person to make the best decision for their own conscience before God and for the sake of their witness in the world. Use good judgment, be sensitive of others, and keep praying for God to be glorified in our hearts and lives together!
If you have any questions or concerns about how New Castle Bible Church is continuing to glorify God by growing deeper and reaching farther together in this unique season of ministry, please do not hesitate to contact any of us at any time. It is our joy and privilege to pray for you and serve you in Christ.
Humbly your appointed shepherds,
The New Castle Bible Church Elders
Hebrews 13:18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things.