The matter of vaccinations within Christian circles has certainly been a divisive one, and it, along with the matter of how a church should operate during such times, has brought often more heat than light.
However, I don’t want to necessarily talk about the vaccinations at all. Be jabbed or don’t be jabbed, that choice is utterly up to you. I think it is something that all people need to grapple with, read well and discerningly, and come to their own conclusion as guided by their conscience.
What I do want to speak about, though, is the growing tendency of those in Christian ministry to attempt to bind their congregations on this subject. This could be from both sides, but I am increasingly seeing it from people who are pro-vaccination telling their congregation to get vaccinated. This, I believe, is grievous and the Ministers who do this are speaking well beyond their authority.
You see, as a Christian leader, my authority starts and ends with the very things that Scripture, by either explicit text or right and proper inference, teaches. Whilst there are certainly opinions and thoughts that I have on a wide range of matters outside of Scripture–some, if not many, I believe to be Scripturally-informed–I recognise that they’re exactly that, opinion. My thoughts as to the best fiscal and education policies that governments should adopt or the most efficient type of transport to get from A to B, and so forth, are well beyond the scope of Scripture. Recognizing this, and that other good Christians may come to vastly different conclusions on these subjects is where both liberty and charity comes into the equation. Yes, we may attempt to persuade each other eloquently using both reason and argument, but we may never, never, impose.
This is the central issue here. Ministers are delegated authority from Christ in order to, we read in Ephesians 4:11-13, train “the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.” Arguably, to elaborate on what this entails, this is the mandate fundamentally given to leaders, including ministers, to help facilitate the general charge given to the church in Matthew 28:16-20: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 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 everything I have commanded you.” Thus, ministers are called to preach, teach and govern the church well, in order to help train and equip Christians to do the work of this general ministry so that the body of Christ will be built (“Go forth and make disciples of all nations…”), and be built in a way that will allow it to grow in knowledge and maturity (“…teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.”). Any teaching or imposition on matters beyond this is in excess of this authority and is, quite frankly, an overstep.
Now, this is not to say that ministers can not necessarily air their opinion on this subject, like on other topics, but, and I cannot emphasize this enough, it should never be in a way where there is an imposition on someone to heed and obey. This is a critical misutilization of their position as they are speaking on matters outside the area to which they’ve been granted authority to speak. Indeed, one could quite well argue that such ministers, well-meaning or not, are using their platform, a platform solely granted by Christ, to impose their own personal views. This cannot and should never be accepted by Christians — no matter how much they may agree with the specific position being articulated.
Consequently, leaders must be mindful that when they do advance a particular opinion, whether, by direct imposition, exhortation, strong suggestion, or in other ways, they are binding their people to follow them. However, this is something we must be careful not to do. We cannot bind people’s consciences when it is not within our authority to do so. Where Scripture is silent, so must we be in this area. Otherwise, we can easily end up being like Israel’s religious leaders in Jesus’ day, who, in Matthew 23:4, we are told “tie up heavy loads that are hard to carry and put them on people’s shoulders.” Anyone who knows the Intertestamental period, and the Pharisee movement during that time, would recognise that many of the Pharisees didn’t simply speak beyond the Torah to intentionally add a heavy yoke upon the people — rather, they had the laudable notion of trying to help their people to not succumb to sin.
There is also another point of consideration: leaders who do, whether intentionally or not, impose or speak beyond their legitimate authority share any blame that may arise from individuals adhering to their exhortations. While leaders may believe they are doing the right thing, they will need to be prepared for the justified backlash should anything happen. Regarding the vaccination, this will include any short or long-term effects that may arise as a result of getting vaccinated, if they were guided to do so by their minister. Deferring to scientists in attempts to bind the conscience of your congregants does not mitigate or withdraw blame, no more than deferring your people to a tax specialist who provides instructions on how people can structure their finances, only for them to do so and eventually lose their savings. This is not to deny the credibility of scientists at all, but rather to acknowledge that there is both an element of risk and uncertainty involved in all these things — and I think it neither wise nor prudent to exhort on a matter to which I am not, specifically, called to speak on.
Personally, I am not anti-vaccination. If, and when, I get the vaccination, it will likely be the Pfizer one. However, I am also fully aware of the process that vaccinations go through — and generally the much longer period of testing that is typically involved. These vaccinations have not gone through the same careful longitudinal research which is the norm when it comes to general vaccine development. Yet, at the same time, I understand why this has happened due to the current situation that most of the world has been plunged into. But as a result of this, I personally think that there hasn’t been sufficient research of short-term, and certainly not long-term, effects to a point where I am comfortable. This is why short-term effects, thus far, have only been determined after they’ve arisen in a sufficient cross-section of patients — such as the blood-clotting with the AstraZeneca, or the heart inflammation with Pfizer.
However, this is my own personal thought, it’s my own opinion. Do with it as you will, but do not mistake this as an imposition. If you’re for or against vaccinations, that is fine, there is liberty there. Be jabbed or don’t be jabbed. All I can say is do as you feel is best as guided by your conscience (as it is held captive to the Word of God).
P.S. I realize that people who feel strongly on either side may be reading this and vehemently disagree with my thoughts. That is fine, you too, are entitled to your opinion.