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A Pastor’s Confession: Why the Church Should Speak Up

A biblical/gospel issue regarding the government’s reaction to Covid-19.


Since 2020 we have seen a dramatic change across the world because of the outbreak of Covid-19. While the virus is dangerous for a small percentage of those in high-risk categories, the majority of people are not needing to be hospitalized. I am not out to necessarily make a scientific argument. I am not a medical professional, but it isn’t hard to look at simple facts to know that the Qld Government mandates that started on December 17 are illogical and discriminatory. Not only this, but the effect on the community with the creation of a two-tiered society is bound to cause even more anxiety and mental health issues than what has already been caused by lockdowns. Not to mention the effect on the economy with many small businesses already having to close their doors.

I have been working with a small group of QB pastors (and other pastors & Church leaders), some of whom penned the Ezekiel Declaration. This declaration predicted the terrible effects of vaccine passports (among many other issues) that we are now seeing, and pleaded with the Prime Minister to do something about it. Thankfully, even the Prime Minister himself is now speaking out against the mandates. The Ezekiel Declaration has now been signed by over 3000 church leaders and over 26,000 members and attendees (800+ are QB attendees).

However, nearly every conservative Christian organization has distanced themselves from it, some even trying to discredit it. Many people outside of the church are speaking up for human rights now, including reputable people such as Senator Gerard Rennick. It deeply saddens me that so many Christians and church leaders are not and will not speak against what is happening. I have had quite a few non-Christians tell me that they are shocked by the silence of the church.

While my points here may seem one-sided, that is only because the minority are being sidelined, judged, silenced, and discriminated against. The purpose of this article then is to bring some insights that should remove judgement from both sides and allow for freedom of conscience. My case is as follows.

Coercion against conscience

One of the reasons I am advocating so hard against coercion and oppressive mandates is for the right of free conscience. An individual endeavouring to Glorify God in their bodies (1 Cor 6:19-20), might be doing it out of an awareness that the risks of the vaccine for them personally outweigh the benefits. Also, some are choosing not to have it, because they do not want to participate in, or benefit from the system of coercion that is happening. They find it unconscionable in the most basic definition of that word. For these decisions, they will suffer for the sake of conscience  (See here for a more detailed discussion: We Have Good and Godly Reasons to Decline the Vaccine, So Please Leave Us Alone).

I’m aware of people in our congregation who sincerely believe that the vaccine may not be beneficial/safe for them. And it appears their concerns are justified, there are heart issues caused by the vaccine that is now making it into the mainstream media, especially in the younger generation.

I am not trying to persuade people against the vaccine. People should see their doctor for medical advice on this and decide on conscience. They certainly should not be coerced by the government. People need to have free and informed consent. To be able to weigh up the cost and risk to themselves and their families. What might be beneficial for someone who is in a high-risk category, may be a risk for a healthy young person. At the same time, those who choose to take the vaccine have every right to do so without judgement from those who don’t. The point is that people have the right to freedom of conscience on these matters without coercion or judgment either way.

Given that Covid is evidentially being spread through communities in Australia (e.g. Night club in NSW with only vaccinated individuals), there is no justification to coerce people in the name of helping to stop the spread.

I have heard it said that people who do not get the vaccine are selfish. This is an ignorant and unbiblical statement. It is also spiritual blackmail.

Only God knows the heart and its motives.

If someone genuinely believes that it will not glorify God to inject a vaccine into his temple then that is their God-given right. They should not go against their conscience, or they sin.

“But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23)

"If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them" (James 4:17).

What if a person not wanting to get the vaccine is plain wrong about the facts they are using, and claiming to believe? What if they have bad science? Well, this leads me to my next point.

Do not cause another to stumble. Do not judge.

Rom. 14:1  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 judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 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 Scripture is clear. In matters where an individual believes something is wrong and you don’t agree then do not force them and therefore cause them to stumble. And, do not judge them or their motives because that is God’s place. Good science or bad science, one must gracefully accept decisions made in conscience.

Segregation: The gospel teaches us that we must oppose segregation. We are called by Christ to condemn it, in all its forms. Choosing to not go to the cinema out of love for your neighbour (so that you won’t spread covid) is not segregation. Being forced not to go is. Being told you can go into a café and order a coffee but can’t sit down has no logic and is clearly segregation and discriminatory. If we don’t believe this should happen at Church, then why is it okay to be silent about it happening outside of church? Or do you only care when you are personally affected? Is Jesus just Lord of your heart, Lord of the Church, or is he the Lord of all?

It is a great thing that the church service has not been affected by the mandates. But that does not mean that ‘the Church’ has escaped. The Bible says that if one member suffers then we all suffer (1 Cor. 12:26). So, in fact, these mandates have been imposed on the church. The people of God in the community are being oppressed and discriminated against.

Is Christ, or the State, the Lord of our bodies?

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own.” (1 Cor 6:19)
Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” (Mark 12:17)

God is Lord of our bodies, not Caesar, we have a responsibility to condemn any efforts of Caesar to override his proper boundaries. The early Church did this, and it was this theology that eventually broke slavery and other evil practices. As Justin Martyr argued,

“Religion cannot be imposed by force; the matter must be carried by words rather than by blows, that the will may be affected. Torture and piety are widely different; nor is it possible for truth to be united with violence, or justice with cruelty. Nothing is so much a matter of free will as religion.”

Schaff, P. (1994). History of the Christian Church, Volume 2. MICHIGAN : GRAND RAPIDS. pp. 347-351

Emperor Constantine also issued a decree banning the branding of slaves in 315AD because the slave is also created in the image of God. Justin Martyr argued that we were owned by Jesus, slave and freeman, this helped break the power of men over the bodies of other human beings. This is a biblical argument and the churches legacy. The understanding of the early church was that moral and religious freedom must lead to civil freedom. We cannot let our pagan society seek to again overrule this.

There are some very misinformed Christians who think one must do whatever it takes to ‘not’ challenge the government’s authority. They think that faith is all about Jesus being Lord of your heart and that it is a personal spiritual matter. This is wrong. Jesus is not just Lord of our hearts, but he is Lord of all. Including being Lord of the State.

From day one Christians were enemies of the state. Not because they believed in Jesus. The Romans were pagan and had many gods, so this clearly was not the issue. The issue was that they declared that Jesus is Lord and there is no other name through which you can be saved! A statement that belonged to Caesar. This made them an enemy of the state. What do we see now? The state acting like they are God, a law unto themselves. Breaking our human rights. Jesus is Lord of people’s bodies, not the state.

A misunderstanding of Romans 13 by most of the mainstream church is devastating to Christianity. They read it as submit to any directive unless it stops you from preparing the gospel etc. I was guilty of this right up until I was challenged to look at it again in more detail. For so long I have stayed relatively silent over what has been happening in our society. The reason was that my original understanding of Romans 13 had me convinced that I should not resist the government in this area, otherwise I would be guilty of resisting God himself. This left me in a dilemma because I believed that God was convicting me to speak up. Which left me in turmoil because I could not reconcile my conviction with Romans 13. That was until I was challenged to take a deeper look at the context. I do not pretend to give an exhaustive explanation here, merely a brief overview.

Rom. 13:1 “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”

Seems like it is saying to submit to everything. But keep reading.

“3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”

As you can see, a close reading of Romans 13:3-4 reveals that we don’t have to obey everything. The keyword is ‘good’. They are God’s servant to do you good (acting godly), and to punish what is evil. What about when they take authority over what is God’s? Abortion, definition of gender, marriage, euthanasia. Does the church go along with tyranny as if it is Godly?

The responses I have heard have been that Paul was writing in a time where there was a tyrannical government and he says to submit to the authorities, so case closed. The mistake with this view is that one assumes that Paul is being ‘descriptive’ of his government when he was writing this. When in fact he is being ‘prescriptive’. He clearly prescribes the limits of the authorities in verses 3 and 4, immediately after saying that one should submit. It is clear then that the submission is only within the prescribed areas of authority (to punish evil and to praise what is good).

I have also heard people say that the government is doing good here so we should submit. No, they might have good intentions, but there is nothing good about stepping outside of their prescribed authority. The body is the Lord’s, not the States. 

Most Christians I speak to have said that public segregation and mandates are not okay. Yet I have not met many who are willing to speak up. This does not align with Romans 13 which essentially says that the government must do godly things, therefore when it is not acting godly we cannot go along with it. God expects us to obey the government ‘Only’ when they are fulfilling what is good according to God’s law (which is the context of Romans 13).

Rom. 13:8 “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”

What is loving for one person may not be loving for the other. One may love their neighbour by getting the vaccine with the intention of doing what is best for the community. While another might do what is loving for their immediate family knowing that it would be unloving to them to take a risk with a vaccine and possibly be rendered unable to provide for them. Especially when they are in a low-risk category for covid.

Do not let fear control you. I am not making a stand because I am afraid of losing rights/privileges or a job, I am making a stand because I have a passion for justice, and I want to see Jesus’ authority over his people reinstated.

Our government has so clearly used fear, coaxed people with fear, and pressured people with fear. We are bound by Scripture to command people not to fear, and that includes living in fear of covid and wanting others to get the vaccine on our behalf. No, each person needs to make their mind up on the matter. Get the vaccine if you wish, but don’t do it out of coercion or fear.

We are not to use our fear to pressure others to allow their bodies to be violated to make us feel safer. It is illegal to violate someone’s body, and illegal to coerce someone to be violated. Both Scripture and the law are on our side, and we are bound by these principles to speak up.

Application

With all this said and done, what is the point? What should we do?

  1. Pray for authorities. Pray for the opposes of the gospel. Pray for the lost. Pray for those who are sympathetic but inactive, for to say nothing is as good as agreeing and accepting something.
  2. Stand firm and suffer long. Don’t allow job loss, loss of social status, or even fear of fallout in the Church make you do something that is against what you believe, or cause you to stay silent.
  3. Take responsibility. Use your position given by God and do the right thing. The state has too much control because we haven’t taken responsibility in the past. As noted above, even the Prime Minister is now saying that the state governments have gone too far. Should we as a Church not stand behind our Prime Minister on this? We should not allow the state to take control of things that are not God’s. Are we giving our time, talents, money to organisations that stand against the gospel? State schools that speak out against everything we stand for? Mandates that bring oppression against people who make decisions in good conscience. We need to stop supporting organisations that oppose God and the Gospel.
  4. Speak truth. We need to proclaim the truth of God’s word of God in times like this. Bring application and clarity to a confused and divided congregation.
  5. Resist in kind. Use words against words. Truth against lies. Bonhoeffer resisted in kind. Was he acting in civil disobedience?
  6. Remember that we have an all-powerful God. If we live a Godly life in Jesus, we will face persecution. Trust that obedience to him is worth it.
  7. Live in future hope. Martin Luther never knew what would become of his work. Little did he know that it would be the birth of modern evangelism where we are free to preach the word of God. So don’t sit back. Get involved in speaking the truth, get involved in culture and politics.
  8. Live for the sake of Christ and for the Gospel: The conflict between the state and Christ is really a conflict of where your allegiance lies. Does your allegiance lie with a government that has taken what belongs to God? Or does it belong to the Lord Jesus Christ?

Conclusion

I have heard it said that we should avoid division at all costs, but is teaching truth division? If anything, teaching truth here will remove division and judgement.

One needs to remember that all of the people who lost their jobs in the last month or so because of mandates are not crazy radicals, they are good, decent members of our society, who have contributed greatly in their jobs and communities. They have suffered for making a choice they have the right to make, and which our laws and society have always said they have a right to make.

They are wonderful teachers, nurses, doctors, bus drivers and school cleaners, daycare workers and much, much more. They are mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, people we know, people who have been kind to us, helped heal the sick, taught our children, and contributed to this once great society and have done many other wonderful, good and human things. They are not selfish; they are some of the best kinds of people.

Remember this, remember what has been done to them. Remember them and find ways to be kind and gracious to them in this time of hardship.

"If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them." (James 4:17)

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