A Biblical Response to Vaccine Mandates
4 Questions to Consider
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; this is not a reference 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 to be restricted, and in many places, completely stopped. Consider the following:
The assembling of the Lord’s people
24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 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.
A Pastor’s call to shepherd the flock among him
shepherd 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
preach 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
addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,
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.
Making disciples and baptising them
19 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, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The Ordinance of the Lord’s Supper
16 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? 17 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
14 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? 15 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!”
12 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.
Welcoming church members
and 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.
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.
Uplifting a church offering
Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. 2 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 neighbour
I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’
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.
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 has been restricted, made illegal, and in many places, stopped, for the past 18-24 months. So what would we expect of the church of Jesus Christ, and especially from her leaders, in response to such a crisis?
To a large extent we have seen:
· 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.
It should be stated that there might be reasons why the commands of Scripture cannot be obeyed as a result of issues such as persecution against the church, natural disasters, health crises. In any such situation, this has to be the cause of great weeping and lamenting by the church of Jesus Christ. This is what makes this situation one of such concern, and why so many church leaders must reconcile and repent for foolish, even sinful, decision-making and a lack of Biblical leadership and clarity over this period of time.
This article is not about establishing an anti-Covid and anti-government position, it is about clarifying the right Biblical approach. And so if you are a church who says, well, I'm the sort of person that doesn't know about vaccinations. I don't understand this COVID situation. I'm all about preaching the gospel, then what we must understand is that everything that has been restricted over the past two years has resulted in restricting the proclamation of the gospel. Do we feel the severity of this? A pattern and default position has been established now of how churches are dealing with this situation, and if it is not addressed now, 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 be very clear on her response and leadership on this topic Biblically, but the church must also be ready to challenge. The church must also be ready to pastorally support and care for church members and people in the community who are, and will be, so drastically impacted by this medical apartheid. This is an absolutely colossal issue.
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. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 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. 4 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.
In this passage, the Apostle Paul is addressing an issue that was causing a tension between two groups in the early church. There was one group that believed that they should only be eating vegetables. They are described as those who are ‘weak in faith’ (vv. 1;2), and the other group, consists of those who believe anything is permissible to eat. Now Paul identifies the one who has these dietary hang ups (legalistic hang ups) as ‘weak’ in faith because these are hang ups that are not explicitly commanded in Scripture. The focus here is for Christian unity, hence Paul writing 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 in such an area is because the matter of what food is eaten comes down to the conscience. And our key verse is found in 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.
Let us now consider how this passage and topic relates to the church and vaccinations. We will consider four key questions.
1. Is it a sin for Christians not to take a Covid vaccine?
We need to define ‘sin’ on the basis of Scripture, which means breaking God’s law— disobeying what God commands. And the commands of God are not defined or decided by clergy or Religious establishments, they are given to us by Almighty God and revealed in the Word of God. 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 see 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 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. Therefore, there are commands of the Lord, and many of these commands have been restricted or stopped during this Covid crisis. This then becomes a matter of sin. An example of a command from God would be the call to worship God and have no others 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 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 then again, this could be deemed wise counsel, but it is not binding as the law of God. And so the first thing that we must clarify, and Christians have rarely disputed this point; it is not sinful to not take the Covid vaccination. The reason is because this is not a matter of what God has commanded.
2. Do Christians have a moral obligation to take the Covid vaccination?
As a Reformed Baptist Pastor, our church has a Confession of Faith, which is a detailed summary of what we believe the Bible teaches. They have this very helpful paragraph on liberty of conscience in Chapter 21, paragraph 2, which states:
2. God alone is Lord of the conscience, 12 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. 13 So that to believe such doctrines, or obey such commands out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; 14 and the requiring of an implicit faith, an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience and reason also. 15
12. James 4:12; Romans 14:4 13. Acts 4:19, 29; 1 Corinthians 7:23; Matthew 15:9 14. Colossians 2:20, 22-23 15. 1 Corinthians 3:5; 2 Corinthians 1:24
One of the Scripture references they cite is from Romans 14:4, which states,
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.
We have clarified that according to God’s law, of what it means to be a Christian, that a Christian is not sinning by not taking the Covid vaccine. This means that it must come down to the conscience of the individual. Nevertheless, many have argued that we have a moral duty as Christians, as the way to get out of this pandemic, to take this vaccine and because this is how we ‘love our neighbour’. This has also been the argument for mask wearing, lockdowns, and the basis for all too many Christians arguing favourably for these government measures and church limitations and restrictions.
However, this is where this argument is fundamentally, Biblically, wrong; 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 neighbour 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. Thus, our conscience, and the decisions we make as Christians, are not answerable to other Christians, but to our Master, Christ Jesus. 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.
We then have to conclude that one 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 on that. For anyone to then add, oh but you’re really morally obligated to take it, is contradicting the clear teaching of Scripture. If we're talking about a moral obligation, we must clearly explain upon what and whose authority we've already 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? We have already seen very clearly that this is a matter of conscience and the Lord alone is the Lord of the conscience.
3. 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, endless restrictions and measures being adopted, 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 and how churches gather to worship. Therefore, when a public health crisis is announced and 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 have to think more widely than their approach to this Covid situation. We must first recognise that our governments are not coming with a posture of worship and obedience to God’s law. In the UK we have governments that have legalised the murder of the unborn and call it healthcare, they have redefined sexuality and marriage in the name of love, and now, we have governments that are grabbing hold of more power and control 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 challenging and testing falsifiable facts. And where the mainstream media has become an agenda-driven propaganda factory.
The response to such wickedness is clear in verses such as Romans 12:2, 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.
As we look at decisions being made, and laws being passed that are becoming increasingly alarming and tyrannical, especially with vaccine mandates coming in, we are dealing with wicked governments that are now literally seeking to introduce a two tier society with a medical apartheid designed to bind the conscience. Whether you are pro or anti vaccination, this 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—it is not a sin to not get the vaccine. It is also not 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 recognise that governments could enforce the closure of churches and even begin fining and arresting pastors (see Canada as an example), but the church and her leaders must stand in strong and clear opposition to this. Silence 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.
As Christians, Christ has bought us with the price of His life. We are set free from the curse of the law, and from the grip of Satan, death and destruction. We are free from that, and we go to war with that in our sanctification—in our obedience to God. We are free for God. We are free as children of the Living God, now adopted into His family, set free to worship and live for Him. This is why only the Most High God is the Lord of our conscience. Hence why Paul writes in this verse that 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 realise that we are called to stand fast in our liberty. 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 we have rulings that are designed to bind the conscience, and it is why we must speak out against mandates designed to do such a wicked thing. 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. This is why churches that have enforced such restrictive measures which have bound the consciences of their members is a serious thing, and they must repent. For example, to enforce mask wearing on the basis of Romans 13, is to endorse and embody being enslaved to the very thing that we are set free from – enslavement to men and the wickedness of this world. We must refer back to what we see in the Baptist Confession from Scripture which is that God alone is Lord of the conscience. Therefore, if someone feels it is right to go into the church building, and wear a mask because they feel they're doing it in good conscience, then so be it. Conversely, if someone enters into a church building believing that they must not wear a mask to have Christian fellowship, then dare anyone 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 many church leaders who seem unwilling to admit wrongdoing or a catalogue of mistakes that have been made, but this is what must be done, and it should be the outworking of the impact of the Gospel in our lives. This is so crucial at this time because the possibility (and in some cases, reality) of vaccine mandates being stipulated in our churches is an evil that must be rejected. As we have established from Romans 14, some may choose to get vaccinated, and others may not, seeking to reach such conclusions on the basis of their conscience, not as bound by men, but before the Lord. 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 to go to places and do ‘normal things’, if you are taking the vaccination without any regard for what is in this vaccination, or if you’re taking it without any thought of side-effects, then you must examine your heart and consider; has this been, is this, in good conscience before the Lord or in order to be in good standing with a wicked government?
I believe that some professing Christians, many lukewarm Christians, have been willing to use arguments concerning government compliance on the basis of Romans 13, and ‘love your neighbour’ in a manner not driven by a desire for God and Biblical truth, but to ratify the idolatry in our hearts. It seems clear that all too many within the church have been willing to blindly comply with the government because the government is their ultimate hope for their real desires, which is getting back our freedoms and the things we ‘really love’. Therefore, ‘Romans 13’ and ‘love your neighbour’ have been used to give a spiritual argument for 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 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 response to it, has highlighted the ugly reality that Christians have become used to living like atheists in this land for far too long. Sadly, this is not a harsh statement, because we have become so attached to our possessions, comforts and freedoms in this land as though what we have now will last forever. And much of what has been exposed of our church leaders, and of many Christians, is not that this Covid situation has turned many churches into ‘weak churches’ overnight, but exposed much of what 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 what need we have for the Lord to purge the evil from within His bride for the purification of His church!
4. What should be the response of the church to the possibility of vaccine mandates?
The first thing that many churches and her leaders must do is to repent. If your church has spent 18 months defaulting to Zoom when the government have closed you down, if you have been enforcing masks, stopped singing, not doing communion, distancing people with no talking or fellowship; if your church has effectively become a factory of fear in the name of Romans 13, then you must repent. This is partly because you 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 is ‘all about the Gospel’, then fight for the freedom to proclaim it, fight for the freedom we have because of it. Don’t be a coward! Stop reacting and lead your people. Shepherd your flock as God commands, and serve your Lord and Master to the Glory of God! The reason why this must be done with such authority and clarity is because we are not looking to our government and ‘the science’ for the answers. We turn to the Living God and His perfect inspired Word. 1 Timothy 3:15,
if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.
The world does not believe in this truth, they follow the world’s wisdom. However, by the grace of God, the church of Jesus Christ knows the truth. May the church of Jesus Christ 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. Where we're coming in like masked zombies, sitting meters apart, not allowed to speak, and then out another door because the COVID committee have approved it. This is utterly pathetic. 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 of Jesus Christ 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. As Christians, when we gather as the church of Jesus Christ, we are not gathering together as a group of people who think we're the most righteous and the most religious. Romans 3:10, None is righteous, no not one. 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, 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 this perfect God and condemned to death which will lead 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, which is His righteous anger and judgment of sin, is a God of grace and mercy, and He has made the way of salvation. And the way of salvation is Jesus Christ.
This perfect God is One True God in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and the Father sent the Son to this world, literally this perfect God emptied Himself, clothing Himself in human flesh, drinking the native water of this earth, and living a life that was in perfect obedience to God’s law. And He came to this earth and lived a perfect life in order to die a sacrificial death. How did He die a sacrificial death? By being nailed to the cross on Calvary. For the Son of God became our sin-bearer, He bore the sins of all of His people, paying the penalty of sin that we deserve to pay, which meant He faced the divine wrath and judgement of the Living God, He faced the horror of the hell we deserve, laying down His life, shedding His perfect blood; as a sacrifice for sinners. It was on that cross that Jesus Christ conquered sin and death, and so when He was buried in a tomb, the grave had no claim over Him. Then on the third day He rose victorious from the grave, appearing to many, including His Apostles, and then ascended to heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Majesty on High. He is Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, and He reigns and rules over all. And for all who repent of their sins and believe in Jesus Christ as the Lord and Saviour, they will be saved, they will be adopted into the family of God, and live forevermore with this Great God.
This is what the church of Jesus Christ is. A people who have been blood-bought, unworthy, undeserving sinners. There is nothing that makes us worthy or deserving, it is all of grace, God’s unmerited favour, to sinners who come in repentance and saving faith. Thus, the church of Jesus Christ is united by Christ’s blood, and even the vilest of sinner, even the biggest outcast or leper of society, can be saved by the grace of God. It is why the church of Jesus Christ 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, colour, ethnicity, your vaccination status, your views on Covid 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 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, the lies, and the propaganda of our times, we stand on the word of God. It is with that foundation, as Christians, we must loudly clearly and boldly declare no to vaccine passports, and no to the tyranny of this government. And as we establish this, what we are, and what unites us, we must also then think and pray carefully about how we can seek to care for and support one another and how we can love our neighbour by caring for increasing numbers being ravaged by this tyranny. We do so as the church of Jesus Christ, for the salvation of souls, and for the honour and glory of His Name.
Author: Pastor John-William Noble
John-William Noble is Pastor of Grace Baptist Church Aberdeen, director of a Christian publisher called Parrēsia & author of two books. He holds a Bachelor of Divinity degree at the University of Aberdeen and is the secretary of Melville-Knox Christian School Aberdeen. John-William and his wife, Binglin, have three children, Amos, Endian & Abigail.
This article was adapted from Noble’s lecture “The Church, the State, and a Biblical Response to Vaccine Mandates”