Imagine you lived in Australia in 1942 when Darwin was being bombed by the Japanese and 3 midget submarines came into Sydney Harbour sinking a ferry and killing 21 people. Inside your local church, you have young men hearing the call to defend the country and going off to war. Some returned home with limbs missing while others never returned at all. In your congregation some Christians refused conscription out of good conscience before God they could not fight. They believed that the bible forbids them to take up arms.
Can you imagine the tension and division it would have created inside local churches? What would be the pastor's role in that situation? I suggest one issue would be to help brothers and sisters think through the principles of living in a church where the saints held different views.
I think it's the same for us when it comes to living in a church where members hold different views on vaccination. The purpose of this paper is not to give direction on vaccination. I am not a doctor nor am I not a scientist, I am a pastor called to disciple the church of God. To that end, let me share how we can live in a church with different views on vaccination to God's glory.
Firstly, I recognize this is a very delicate and emotional issue. For a start, we are all feeling the impact of an extended lockdown. It messes with our heads and hearts. That pressure is felt by some more than others, especially if we are isolated with little support or if we suffer from acute depression or anxiety.
Importantly, some have lost loved ones here and overseas to COVID 19. One person at church lost six friends in South Africa another has lost ten people in India. COVID has profoundly and personally impacted some people at church.
Still, others have their own quota of health issues and are feeling physically vulnerable and acutely compromised concerned for either themselves or members of their family. All of which means we must speak on this issue with extra care and sensitivity.
Interestingly, last Monday we had a discussion at staff meeting and it became evident that we did not share the same views on vaccination. It was a good and gracious discussion with a number checking on each other to see if they spoke with grace. This made me realise we need to think hard about how we live together with different views on vaccination.
Here are a few principles to keep in mind and I'm sure you can think of others.
1. The two great commandments are to love God and love others.
Whatever you decide with the vaccination seek a conclusion that loves not just yourself, but your family, and the wider community. Remember it's not about you! We are to have the mind of Christ who considered others better than himself (Phil 2:5-11) and in particular those who are vulnerable. The God of the bible has his constant eye on the orphan, the poor and the widow. Paul warned us that without love we are nothing (1Cor13:1-2). Whatever your view on vaccines adopt an ‘other person-centred approach’ with a special eye to the powerless.
2. Turn your panic into prayer.
God is no less on his throne now than before or after COVID 19. Jesus told his disciples, that if we have a Father in heaven who knows our needs before we ask, and truly cares for us, then we need to trust him and not be like the pagans who panic about the basic needs of life. The repeated rebuke by Jesus to his disciples was ‘why are you so afraid?’ Before a watching world, including social media, we have a great opportunity to stand apart in refusing to live in fear because our God will never leave us or forsake us. While we can't stop feeling anxious, we are called to turn it into prayer (Phil 4:6) and let God's peace guard our troubled hearts. I assure you it will be more helpful for your troubled soul than constant exposure to a never-ending stream of COVID information.
3. Be informed and be thankful.
We are made in God's image to push back on the effects of the fall. This means we must thank God for the work of scientists who are doing what God calls imager bearers to do; to understand and rule over this virus. Nevertheless, use your God-given mind to assess the research available wisely. Be discerning who to trust and be open and non-defensive to hearing other people's views. Watch how much time you spend reading on this issue and becoming an expert compared to the time you spend reading God's word, and fellowshipping online with the saints. Ask yourself the question, “are you more excited about sharing your view on vaccines than about sharing Christ?”
4. Be humble and know that no one is infallible.
Even the best of research is not perfect. If you are suspicious about the ‘other’ position then learn to be a little suspicious about your own as well.
5. We can't avoid risk.
We live after the fall and outside the garden of Eden. We must never think that we can avoid risk in a broken world. We are all forced to assess what is calculated risk. However, there is no risk in following Christ who will raise our body from the dead as surely as our Lord was raised on the third day.
6. Don’t pressure other people toward your view.
Have the conversation if the other person gives you permission but don’t have it if they don’t want to. That includes members of your family. It’s exactly the same with evangelism which has to do with eternal issues. Ask permission to speak and share information, don’t dump it and definitely do not demand that people accept your view. If someone does send you material on vaccination, you are free to read it or ignore it, but you are not free to be rude about it. If we are called to speak with ‘gentleness and respect’ to false teachers (2 Tim 2:25), how much more should we be gracious with those who have different views on vaccination in person or on social media.
Be careful to not be cynical and sarcastic about people who hold different views. You don’t have to apologise for holding your view but never forget you share the same creator with fellow image-bearers you disagree with you. How much more, in the church where you share the same Father in heaven who sent his Son to die for both of you.
You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. ~ Romans 14:10 (NIV)
Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. ~ Romans 14:19 (NIV)
7. Have a biblical view of government.
We each have different default attitudes to government. Some are more suspicious of authorities, and for good reason. Let us not forget that “The rulers of this age crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor 2:8). On three occasions, Roman magistrates had Paul beaten with rods (2 Cor 11:25; Acts 16:22). Our federal government-led us into unjust wars such as Vietnam and approved pro-abortion legislation in NSW. It's not in “Gladys we trust” but in “God we trust.”
Others have a more positive view of government. They know that the kind of freedom, order and wealth we have in Australia has never been matched at any other time in the history of the world. No doubt, each view is shaped by experiences in this country and our country of origin. As a result, some are more inclined to believe government-approved research on vaccines, while others are more sceptical.
Nevertheless, let us be very clear about what the Bible requires. We are explicitly called to honour (1Peter 2:17), pray (1 Timothy 2:1-2) and submit to all governing authorities (Romans 13:2-3). And all for one reason, and it's not because they are necessarily doing a great job. It's because “The authorities that exist have been established by God.” (Rom 13:1) If the apostle Paul can say that about the Roman Emperor who was vicious and brutal we have even less reason to reject God's teaching. Unless the government causes us to explicitly violate our loyalty to Christ, then we regularly pray, openly respect and ‘willingly’ submit to them even if we think they are inconsistent, ineffective or just plain wrong in their response to Covid19.
Suffice to say that any attempt to engage or promote civil disobedience, because we are inconvenienced, grieves the Spirit of God. This doesn’t mean we can't protest and communicate our convictions, as long as it is done lawfully and respectfully.
8. Strive to maintain the unity of the church
“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace…” ~ Ephesians 4:3 (NIV)
Finally, take heed of the warning not to divide the church of Christ. ~ 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (NIV)
Let the world see how MBM is a profound mystery with men and women, young and old, from many cultures and classes with different views on politics and vaccines but who dearly love each other united by Christ's precious blood and sealed by his Holy Spirit.