It would be an interesting case study if we were to go back a couple of years and present to church leaders across the western world the extent of the tragedy we have now faced. I do not refer to the outbreak of a global pandemic, but rather, to the fact that so much of what the Church of Jesus Christ is commanded to do, and commanded to be, was restricted, and in many places, completely stopped. Consider the following instructions to the Church:
- The Assembling of the Lord’s People
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
- A Pastor’s Call to Shepherd the Flock Among Him
“[S]hepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly” (1 Peter 5:2).
- The Call to Preach and Apply God’s Word
“[P]reach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).
- The Command to Sing
“[A]ddressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Ephesians 5:19).
- Admonish in Song
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).
- Making Disciples and Baptizing Them
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
- The Ordinance of the Lord’s Supper
“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).
“So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another” (1 Corinthians 11:33).
- Evangelism of the Local Church
“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:14-15)
- Corporate Prayer
“When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying” (Acts 12:12).
- Welcoming Church Members
“[A]nd when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised” (Galatians 2:9).
- Practice of Loving Church Discipline
“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:17).
- Uplifting a Church Offering
“Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come” (1 Corinthians 16:1-12).
- Loving Our Neighbor
“I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Matthew 25:26).
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).
- Showing Hospitality
“Show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9).
The Response of the Church
This is by no means a complete list of what was restricted, and even made illegal in some cases, for the past two years. So, what should we expect of the Church, and especially from her leaders, in response to such a crisis?
To a large extent we have witnessed:
- A church silent and often vocally compliant.
- The new “Zoom church” and government measures being welcomed and embraced.
- Church leaders not leading their congregations upon Biblical truth but reacting to situations and accepting whatever the latest guidelines may be.
This article is not about establishing an anti-vaccine (Covid-19 or other) or anti-government position; it is about clarifying the right biblical approach. If you are a church leader who says, “Well, I’m the sort of person who doesn’t know about vaccinations. I don’t understand this COVID situation. I’m all about preaching the gospel”, then this article is for you. Everything that has been restricted over the past two years has resulted in restricting the proclamation of the gospel. A default position has been established for how many churches are dealing with this situation, and if it is not addressed now, it will become blatant sin against God, and such churches will become more like synagogues of Satan, than the house of God.
Therefore, churches and church leaders, if your church has been basing life and practice on the latest government guidelines, and the undertone has been one of fear about the possibility of spreading a virus, then this must stop. We are at a stage now with the proposal and infiltration of vaccine passport mandates, that not only must the Church and her leadership be very clear on her response from a biblical standpoint, but the Body of Christ must also be ready to face challenges to pastorally support and care for church members and people in the community who are—and will continue to be—so drastically impacted by this medical apartheid.
Liberty of Conscience
One of the important issues that has to be addressed, in relation to this issue, is the matter of liberty of conscience. An important text on this issue is Romans 14:1-4:
“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgement on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgement on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:1-4).
In this passage, the Apostle Paul is addressing an issue that was causing tension between two groups in the early Church. One group believed that they should only be eating vegetables; they are described as those who are “weak in faith” (Romans 14:1, 2). The other group consisted of those who believed that anything is permissible to eat. Paul identifies the one who has these dietary (legalistic) hang-ups as “weak in faith” because these restrictions are not explicitly commanded in Scripture.
The focus of the passage is Christian unity, hence Paul’s statement in verse 3: “The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.” The exhortation that Paul is giving here is for unity amongst differing believers. And the reason why these two groups can have that unity is not because of the food eaten, but because of the conscience on the shared bond in Christ. Our key is verse 4: “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.”
To navigate how this passage relates to the Church and vaccine mandates, let’s consider four key questions.
Is it a Sin for Christians Not to Take a Covid Vaccine?
We need to define sin on the basis of Scripture. Sin means breaking God’s law—disobeying what God commands. The commands of God are not defined or decided by clergy or religious establishments; they are given to us by Almighty God and revealed to us through His Word. Thus, if God commands us to do something, then we must do it. If we do not do it, then it is sin.
As Christians in the New Covenant, we are confident that Christ has fulfilled the law (Matthew 5:17), which means that we are not bound by the ceremonial and judicial laws that the Israelites were commanded to obey. Mankind is still bound by God’s moral law, but we are set free in Christ and set free for Christ. We are not, however, set free to then sin and disobey God. We are set free to live in obedience to God’s commands to display the beauty of His Glory. Many of these life-giving commands have been curtailed during this Covid-19 crisis. This then may become a matter of sin.
An example of a command from God would be the call to worship God and have no other gods. It is a sin not to worship God alone. However, if I said to my church fellowship that they must not enter a pub or nightclub, and/or that they must not drink any alcohol, though this may be wise counsel in many situations, it is not a law of God. Also, if I were to say that everyone should get at least thirty minutes of exercise a day, this could be deemed wise counsel, but it is not binding as the law of God. It is not sinful to not take the Covid vaccination, because this is not a matter of what God has commanded.
Do Christians Have a Moral Obligation to Take a Vaccination?
Our Reformed Baptist church has a Confession of Faith, which is a detailed summary of what we believe, based on what the Bible teaches. It contains this very helpful paragraph on liberty of conscience in Chapter 21, paragraph 2, which states:
“God alone is Lord of the conscience, and has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his word, or not contained in it. So that to believe such doctrines, or obey such commands out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring of an implicit faith, an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience and reason also.”
One of the Scripture references they cite is from Romans 14:4, which states:
“Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”
The choice on whether or not to take the vaccine comes down to the conscience of the individual. Nevertheless, many have argued that we have a moral duty as Christians to take the vaccine, as the way to get out of this pandemic and because this is how we “love our neighbor”. These have also been the arguments for mask-wearing, lockdowns, and the basis for far too many Christians arguing favorably for these government measures and restrictions on churches.
However, this argument is fundamentally and biblically flawed. In Romans 14:4, Paul asks, “Who are you to pass judgement on the servant of another?” What he is stating here is that, as Christians, we do not have the right to judge another man’s conscience. One Christian may believe it is right to take the vaccine. They may believe they are loving their neighbor by doing so, but they do not have the biblical grounds to then state that another Christian has a moral obligation to do the same. This is very clear because this is not an obligation given to us by God. Our consciences, and the subsequent decisions we make as Christians, are not obligations to be enforced on other Christians. Hence, the Confession declaring, “God alone is Lord of the conscience and has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his word, or not contained in it.”
Every Christian is free to stand on his or her conscience about whether to take the vaccine or not, and we are not to judge each other based on that. For anyone to add, “Oh, but you’re really morally obligated to take it,” contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture. If we’re talking about a moral obligation, we must clearly explain upon what and whose authority, as we’ve previously established. It is not a sin not to get vaccinated. So, if someone says we have a moral obligation, we must then ask, “A moral obligation to whom? To the living God, who is silent on the matter?”
What if the Government Commands It?
What do we do, however, if the government commands that you must take the vaccine? This has arguably been the most prevalent argument used by church leaders, often showing an unwillingness to engage with the issues beyond stating the need to comply with the government. This has undoubtedly resulted in the closure of many churches, many more burdened with endless restrictions and measures, and many consciences being bound.
Does the government have authority? Absolutely. However, this is not an absolute authority. It should also be stated that persecution against the Church often begins when the Church communicates that the government’s authority is not absolute. This point has to be stressed because the government does not have any God-given authority to tell fathers and mothers how to raise their children, what we should and should not put into our bodies, and if/when or how churches gather to worship.
Therefore, when a public health crisis is announced and/or unfolds, it is the responsibility of the church and her leaders to respond to the situation, and to think critically. And when it comes to thinking critically about our governments, we must first recognize that our governmental institutions are not coming with a posture of worshipping God, nor feel compelled to obey His law.
In the UK, there are government agencies that have legalized the murder of the unborn and call it healthcare. They have redefined sexuality and marriage in the name of “love”. And now, we have civil entities that are making a power grab in the name of public health and safety. We are also now living in a time where science has been subtly redefined as an ideology that must be accepted, rather than be subject to challenges or fact-finding inquiries.
In Romans 12:2, Paul addresses such wickedness: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Laws are being proposed and passed that are increasingly more alarming and tyrannical—especially with vaccine mandates becoming normative. We are dealing with wicked governments that are now seeking to introduce a two-tier society, with a medical apartheid designed to bind the conscience.
Whether you believe the vaccines to be helpful or not, tyrannical governance must be rejected and condemned. This is the only biblical position that the Church can take here. It is not up for debate. This is because, as we have noted, not getting the vaccine is not a sin. Nor is it a moral obligation because it is a matter of the conscience. And, as Christians, we are not permitted to bind each other’s consciences.
Now we must recognize that there may be consequences to rejecting any conscience-binding laws. Civil authorities could enforce the closure of churches and even begin fining and arresting pastors (Canada is the perfect example of this), but the Church and her leaders must stand in strong and clear opposition to this. Silence or “neutrality” is not an option. This is a matter of Christian liberty, which is a freedom we have in Christ. Hence, 1 Corinthians 7:23, “You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men.”
Christ has bought us with the price of His life and has set us free from the curse of the law, from the grip of Satan, and from death and destruction. We are free as adopted children of the Living God, able to obey, worship, and live for Him. This is why only the Most High God is the Lord of our conscience and why we are not to become bondservants of men. As we think critically about what is taking place before our eyes, the church must wake up and realize that we are called to stand fast in our liberty. We must remember Paul’s words in Galatians 5:1, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”
We cannot and must not endorse, comply or even be silent when presented with rulings designed to bind the conscience. This is why using Romans 13 to argue for government compliance in this situation is literally comparable to using wives submitting to their husbands as a Biblical mandate for a woman continuing to remain in an abusive relationship with her husband. It is absurd. It is a serious matter that churches have enforced such restrictive, conscience-binding measures. And this is something for which they must repent.
For example, to enforce mask wearing on the basis of Romans 13 is to endorse and embody enslavement to the very thing from which we are set free—the opinions of men and the wickedness of this world. Remember that God alone is Lord of the conscience. If someone feels it is right to enter a church building wearing a mask because they believe they’re doing it in good conscience, they are at liberty to do so. Conversely, if someone believes Christian fellowship is hindered by wearing a mask, then no one ought to bind their conscience!
If this has been the approach taken by any church leaders, then they must repent before the Living God. How can church leaders possibly think that they can start fighting vaccine mandates following nearly two years of unwavering government compliance? Such leaders become a walking contradiction to everything that has gone before. This requires much humility of such church leaders, who seem unwilling to admit wrongdoing, but this is what must be done, as the outworking of the impact of the Gospel in our lives.
But let me state a very serious pastoral concern and challenge here. If your reason for taking the vaccination is because you are being bullied or forced by employers or family, or because you think it’s the only way you can get into certain places and do “normal things”, and/or if you are taking the vaccination without any regard for what is in this medication, or if you’re taking it without any thought of side-effects, then you must examine your heart and consider: is this, in good conscience before the Lord or in order to be in good standing with a wicked government or other authority figures?
I believe that some professing Christians, many lukewarm Christians (and/or biblically illiterate people), have been willing to use some of the arguments concerning government compliance based on Romans 13, and “love your neighbor” in a manner not driven by a desire for biblical truth, but to ratify idolatry. All too many within the Church have been willing to blindly comply with the government because, like the Israelites in the time of the Prophets, the government is their ultimate hope for what they truly desire: reclaiming their supposed freedoms and access to the things for which their hearts yearn. This misuse of Scripture has lent a spiritual argument to a sinful desire.
This comparison may be controversial. It certainly is uncomfortable. However, we must all check ourselves here, myself included, and ask: is our desire for God or for ourselves? Is our deepest longing to submit to the government for God’s glory or to satisfy the idolatry in our hearts?
This situation, and the Church’s response to it, has highlighted the ugly reality—that many Christians have become used to living like atheists in this land. We have become so attached to our possessions, comforts, and freedoms, that it is as though what we have now will last forever. What has been exposed is not that the pandemic has weakened many churches overnight, but that a lot was already wrong in the first place. This is why we can strongly argue that what we are facing now is the Lord’s judgment against the Church, and the need for the Lord to purge the evil from within for the sake of purification of His Bride.
How Should the Church Respond to the Possibility of Vaccine Mandates?
The first thing that many churches and church leaders must do is repent. If your church has spent two years defaulting to Zoom or YouTube services because the government has closed you down; if you have been enforcing masks, stopped singing, not doing communion, “social-distancing” people with the result of diminished fellowship; if your church has effectively become a factory of fear in the name of Romans 13, then your church’s leadership must repent. These types of responses to the government’s mandates have established a blueprint of folly that makes it very hard to stand against the tyranny of a vaccine mandate coming into the Church.
If you are a church leader who cares about the gospel, then fight for the freedom to proclaim it! Fight for the freedom we have because of it! We were not given a spirit of fear, so take courage! Shepherd your flock as God commands and serve your Lord and Master to His glory! Such authority and clarity are warranted. We do not look to the government or “the science” for the answers. We turn to the Living God and His perfect, inspired Word. In 1 Timothy 3:15, Paul states:
“[A]nd how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”
The world does not believe in this truth, they follow the world’s wisdom. However, by the grace of God, the Body of Christ (His Church) knows the truth. May the Church stand on this with great clarity and joy. If we stand upon this truth, then how dare we have our churches being filled with a sense of fear? Unfortunately, this is the reality of where many churches are right now.
Are these the churches that are now going to have the courage like lions to take on the government over vaccine mandates? There needs to be a complete change of track here—biblical clarity is needed because we stand upon the word of God. This is the pillar of truth and where the fear of death is no more, where the Christian does declare, “Oh death, where is your victory? Oh grave, where is your sting?” Do we believe this? Do we believe this in our full PPE, as we’re getting the QR codes out, welcoming people in the door? It’s an abomination in the house of God.
And in order to answer the question of how the Church responds to vaccine mandates, we have to be clear about what unites the Church. The Church is not united by our viewpoints on vaccination, so how can it possibly be divided by it? If in any way, churches are trying to segregate people based on mask-wearing or vaccination status—or even worse, contemplating not letting people into their church buildings—then that is an utter outrage.
The very reality of what we are as Christians is based on our unity and togetherness in Jesus Christ, not based on our religion or our righteousness, but His. And this is where we go back to this issue of sin, which is breaking God’s law. We are all law breakers; we have all sinned against God, and our very nature is sinful. This is why Romans 3:23 says that “all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God.” This is why a Righteous and Holy God cannot accept any one of us, because we are wretched and fallen beings. We are guilty before our perfect God and condemned to eternal suffering in Hell.
This is very bad news, and no amount of good works or righteous living can change that, because our very nature is corrupted by sin. This is why the gospel of Jesus Christ is glorious to behold, for this God of wrath is also a God of grace and mercy. He alone has made the way of salvation—Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, who reigns and rules over all. For all who repent of their sins and believe in Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior will be saved, adopted into the family of God, and live forevermore with their heavenly Father.
This is what the Church of Christ is—a people who have been blood-bought—unworthy, undeserving sinners, and yet united by His blood. This is why the Church gathering together to worship the Lord is so absolutely fundamental to the Glory of God and for the growth of her members. And it is why the Church can in no way be separated or segregated by race, color, ethnicity, vaccination status, views on Covid-19, or whether you wear a mask. It is preposterous. It goes against the very reality of what it means to be a Christian who is joined together with members of the local church. Christ unites us; let not man and/or man-made wicked schemes divide us.
Therefore, as we have considered in Romans 14, we must not judge or condemn our brothers and sisters based on matters of conscience. It is also why we cannot let wicked policies and government mandates be a dividing line in the house of God and amongst the people of Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is the head of the Church. And as the Church, we stand not on the ideology of science and the wickedness, lies, and propaganda of our times, but on the Word of God. It is with that foundation, as Christians, that we must loudly, clearly, and boldly declare no to vaccine passports, and no to the tyranny of our respective governments. We must think and pray carefully about how we can seek to care for—and support—one another and how we can love our neighbor. We do so as the Church of Christ, for the salvation of souls, and for the honor and glory of His Name.