The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in worldwide restrictions on freedoms that were unknown in the period proceeding its onset. As the virus encroached upon an unprepared world, the standard measures of travel restrictions, testing, and lockdowns became the strategies de jour in order to “slow,” and then eventually, “stop the spread.”
The world is, now, coming to grips with the reality that the spread cannot be stopped, and the virus will reach every corner of the globe. Governments are presently looking at how to end lockdowns while addressing public health concerns over the continual spread of COVID-19. The development of COVID-19 Vaccines has been viewed by many as a way of return to normal life.
Out of this arose the idea of vaccine passports, to ensure that people using shared services or spaces are vaccinated and do not transmit COVID-19 to others. Many well-intentioned Christians desiring a return to some semblance of normalcy, coupled with a mind to public health have latched on to Vaccine Passports as a viable option for the church to reopen with.
This article is not designed to address the various vaccine passport schemes proposed the world over. Nor is it going to argue that a Vaccine Passport system is inherently wrong. This article will focus on the Christian Church, and its relation to any proposed vaccine passport system that would restrict, inhibit, or cause undue burden to the church’s mission of preaching the Gospel of Christ.
Therefore, this article will examine whether there should be a vaccination requirement to attend public worship, or if any form of segregation is acceptable between vaccinated and unvaccinated in a church setting. To do this, we will examine what the Bible has to say on this subject in five points: 1. The Bible on Public Health; 2. The Example of the Scriptures; 3. The Great Commission and Free Offer of the Gospel; 4. The Nature of the Church; and 5. The Vitality of Worship.
1. The Bible on Public Health
The Bible is not a medical textbook. It does not provide answers as to how to treat disease, nor does it provide exact answers in stopping disease. Where the Bible does speak clearly is on preserving life and this is under the purview of the 6th Commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Kill” (Exodus 20:13). This commandment is given to remind us that we must love our neighbor and preserve life. Therefore, we should readily admit that all public health measures should have this intent in mind.
Public health measures are never to make anyone feel like a second-class citizen nor exclude them from anything unnecessarily. Rather, the preservation of life is the main and only principle. When public health measures depart from this guiding principle, they depart from the 6th Commandment.
Bearing this initial principle in mind, in the book of Leviticus there are several examples of what could be called “public health measures”. These measures are to do with uncleanness of leprosy. It must be admitted that the exact nature of Scriptural leprosy is unknown. How the Israelites of old dealt with it and as with uncleanness can teach moral principles. Particularly of interest is Leviticus 13. In this chapter, we find examples of when a priest would “quarantine” someone with leprosy. In verses 1-3, we find that the priest must first examine the suspected sore and, following a clear guideline, must determine and declare itself it is leprous or if it does not match the criteria the person may be isolated and examined again in seven days (Leviticus 13:4-8). If during this process the sore is healed the person would be declared clean, if not, isolation would continue.
This proves rather conclusively that, in the Scriptures, quarantine is a measure utilized for those who are symptomatic. That is to say, those who had symptoms of leprosy were quarantined. Once quarantined they were separated from the camp of Israel or, put simply, excluded from the gathering and encampment of God’s people.
Leviticus provides another helpful example when it relates to exposure to “any unclean thing”. If one came into contact with something unclean, then one also became unclean (Leviticus 5:2). There was a procedure for cleansing, but to be unclean, again, meant one could not approach God in worship, and one was for a time (at least until cleansing) cut off from the people of God. It is important here to remember that Leviticus pertains to the people of God encamped in the wilderness, and therefore to the whole of the church at that time. Thus, one who had been knowingly exposed to disease may be quarantined or separated from the congregation of Israel. From these two examples, there are several conclusions that can be drawn.
The first conclusion is that those who are symptomatic of leprosy are excluded. In relation to the church of today, it may simply be said that those who are sick should absent themselves from the worship of God. In relation to COVID, those that are symptomatic should not attend worship.
The second conclusion is that those who have had known exposure to a disease, or “unclean thing” should also absent themselves from the worship of God. That is to say, if one has been exposed to a serious ailment (COVID-19) and is aware of it they should not attend worship (at least until time has passed to determine if they have the disease or if they have tested negative). The upshot of this is that symptoms or exposure warrant quarantine and separation but nothing less than those two factors.
This leads to another conclusion. If one has not been knowingly exposed nor has symptoms of disease, there is no grounds to exclude them from the worship of the local church or to segregate them in any way. Vaccine Passports violate the teaching of the Scriptures here because they require the church to treat those that have no symptoms nor exposure to COVID-19 as those deserving of some sort of quarantine or segregation from the rest of the congregation.
The notion that one must be able to prove vaccination to attend worship or be treated differently (separate seating, masking, social distancing, etc.) is absent from the Scriptures and only symptoms or exposure can be deduced as grounds for any sort of separation or segregation.
2. The Example of the Scriptures
Throughout the Scriptures, there are many examples of those that are sick being ministered to. We have the example of Naaman the leper in 2 Kings 5 coming to Elisha. Interestingly, it is not the prophet’s unwillingness to heal him that puts in doubt his being cured! It is rather Naaman’s own pride in refusing to accept the Lord’s appointed means by the mouth of His prophet (2 Kings 5:11-12).
It is also worth noting that Naaman was a Gentile, which means that he was outside the visible church at that time but was not prevented from coming to the prophet and seeking aid. The Lord Jesus during His earthly ministry healed eleven lepers (Mark 1:40-45, Matthew 8:1-4, Luke 5:12-16, Luke 17:1-19). These accounts are particularly important because lepers were ceremonially unclean (Leviticus 13) but Christ Himself touched a leper in Mark 1:41 in order to heal him. Christ unlike other men cannot contract uncleanness because unlike other men He is the God-Man.
These accounts are mentioned to demonstrate that Christ and the Prophets were willing to have dealings with one of the most undesirable classes of people in Biblical times – lepers. This same principle of ministry to the outcast also is found in the Zacchaeus story in Luke 19. Zacchaeus was a Publican (Tax Collector) and Jewish. Zacchaeus being Jewish and a tax collector meant to many that he compromised his Jewish identity to be a shill for Caesar, and yet Christ himself said that salvation was come to Zacchaeus’ house for Christ had come to seek and save that which was lost (or cast out) (Luke 19:9-10).
The Lord Jesus was often accused of fellowshipping with publicans and sinners (Mark 2:13-17), Christ was willing to work among them to affect change, that is, to bring them to repentance and save them. But what does this have to do with Vaccine Passports?
Vaccination Passports if implemented will segregate the people of God. There will be two classes of people: the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. The unvaccinated will be treated, it is feared by many, as second-class citizens. Yet, the Lord Jesus during His earthly ministry was willing to work among those deemed “Second Class Citizens.”
Many of His converts came from this category (I Cor. 1:26-31). To deny access to worship for those that are unvaccinated flies in the face of the example and ministry of Christ. Further, Christ was willing to go among those that had ailments and were outcasts. Likewise, the church of Christ ought to follow His example and not in any way segregate the unvaccinated or prejudice them. To deny them access to Gospel Ordinances or burden them with unwieldy regulation or restrictions is to be profoundly un-Christlike. It is to swallow whole the leaven of the Pharisees (Matt. 16:6)
3. The Great Commission and Free Offer of the Gospel
In Matthew 28:16-20 the “Great Commission” is recorded, and it is there that we find that the Gospel is to go to the ends of the earth. Christ used similar language in Acts 1:8, where he told His disciples that the Gospel was to go from Jerusalem to Judea, to Samaria, to the ends of the earth. The idea both in Matthew 28 and Acts 1 is best summarized in Mark 16:15, where Christ makes it plain that the Gospel is to be preached to every creature.
The Free Offer of the Gospel is a doctrine derived from places in Scripture like Mark 16:15 (See also Isaiah 55:1-3, Matthew 11:28-29, Acts 17:30) which makes it plain that the Gospel is to be preached INDISCRIMINATELY to every creature, that is to say, every person, -man, woman, or child.
The idea of the Gospel being preached to all means the church has no right to exclude anyone based on vaccination status from Gospel ordinances. The only case that can be made for exclusion is due to symptoms or exposure. Further, to separate or restrict access to the preaching of the Gospel due to vaccination status flies in the face of the indiscriminate nature of the Great Commission and the Doctrine of the Free Offer of the Gospel.
The Gospel is truly free, to believe it one must simply receive Christ, not Christ and a vaccine. Not Christ and certain restrictions. The Gospel must be preached to all, and there must not be the exclusion or unwarranted discrimination against a certain class of hearers who happen to not be vaccinated.
4. The Nature of the Church
The Church in the New Testament is termed the “ecclesia.” This word essentially means those that have been called out. The idea is that those who are called out by the Gospel to faith in Christ constitute the Church. Throughout the Scriptures, we get an idea that this “called out” group is a society.
For example, there is clear teaching of citizenship as an analogy to church membership: the analogy of citizenship is found in Psalm 46, 48, 87, Matthew 21:43, Philippians 3:20, Hebrews 12, and Revelation 21. Thus, the church or body of believers is likened to citizens in a nation. There is also the analogy of the Church as a family: Luke 8:31, Gal 3:26, and Ephesians 5:25-28. Just as a nation is a society made up of individuals bound together by a common interest, the church is a society bound together by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
This separate society has its own head and that is the Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:18). In this society, it is His teaching that rules (Matthew 28:20). It follows that the church as a society is distinct from the nation because she has her own head and her own law, Christ and His Word.
In James 2:1-7, there is found a great example of the church not segregating or prejudicing because of one’s social status. James gives a firm warning to the church about how they are to treat those that attend public worship. In the passage, James warns them not to be partial toward those who come in with the appearance of great wealth while snubbing those that appear poor by seating each class of person in different places (James 2:1-4).
Rather, James called the church not to be respecters of persons but rather to treat all that would attend with charity and fairness. For, as James aptly stated in verse 5: “Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?”
Certainly, no church wants to admit that they treat the rich differently than the poor, but how easy could it be to show partiality with Vaccine Passports? Those who have not been vaccinated would be treated as less than those that have received the jab. It is a rather sad day when the church begins to show partiality on the grounds of a vaccine despite the clear light of Scripture on this subject, which plainly teaches there is to be no partiality shown in the church.
For example, the church would be appalled at any sort of racial/ethnic prejudice or segregation but now in some quarters, segregation that Christ has not established, is being lauded as a solution for a return to normalcy. If there is no Jew nor Greek in the church, why should the vaccinated and unvaccinated be segregated?
Further, if the church is its own unique society with Christ as its sole head what authority does any government have to put a division in who meets with it and how meeting is conducted? The conclusion one must draw is twofold: 1. The church of Christ is not to be divided or segregated on the basis of any earthly standard, and 2. The Government has no authority to regulate a society that is only to be regulated by Christ and those He has appointed under Him (Elders). To exclude or treat differently those at are unvaccinated violates the plain teaching of James 2, and divides the church of Christ in a manner that Christ has not taught (Matthew 28:20).
5. The Glory of Worship
Psalm 84 captures the vitality of worship for the church. In verse 2, we find the Psalmist longing for the Worship of God. In fact, it may be said that the focal point of the Christian’s week should be the public worship of God. Man does not merely have a right to worship or simply even a duty. Rather, all of humanity was created for the worship of God. Man has no greater duty or privilege than to worship his Creator.
This theme of man created to worship is expressed clearly throughout the Psalms in places like Psalm 100, 150, and even in the lesser-known Psalm the aforementioned chapter 84. The vitality and primacy which the Scriptures place on man’s duty and privilege of worshiping God should give us pause.
When it comes to worship, since man was created for it, why then should it been seen as reasonable to allow an earthly government the ability to regulate who can attend and or fully participate in worship. The point is worship is not a right or privilege which can be arbitrarily opened or closed nor can it be needlessly regulated. Rather, the Worship of the true God is essential to who man is, and no man has the right to deny any man his privilege and duty of worship.
The question arises though, who can regulate the worship of God? The answer is that ONLY God Himself can. We are taught in John 4:23-24 that God must be worshipped in “Spirit and in Truth”. The root of God’s regulating His own worship lies in the Second Commandment “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God…” (Exodus 20:4-5).
The Second Commandment makes it plain that it is God who regulates and controls His worship. This teaching is reinforced by the example of Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10, where they offer strange fire to the Lord and were judged for their innovations in God’s Worship (Lev. 10:1-2). This example clearly demonstrates that only God can regulate worship, and mere men have no part in this. God’s Worship is totally His, He has instituted it, He Regulates, and He receives it as pleasing in His sight.
This has practical implications when it comes to vaccinations. For example, it is a violation of the end for which God has created man to bar Him from Worship. The church is told that all men are to worship. Regulating worship is solely the Lord’s prerogative, therefore, to insist that one should have a vaccination to attend worship, or be excluded from certain ordinances (i.e., the Sacraments) is to dishonor God and His order of His Worship.
Given that the Worship of God is what man was created to do, and God is the sole governor of His Worship, and Worship can be offered to none other (Exodus 20:3), then the Church must not allow Vaccination Passports to interfere with the worship of God. Namely, vaccination status may not keep one from attendance nor may it be used to keep one from full participation.
Though many will argue that Vaccination Passports are a good idea, they encroach upon man’s highest duty and privilege, as well as his right to worship. Given this is the case, the church cannot deny people access to ordinances or deny full participation in a society where a Vaccination Passport system has been set up.
Vaccination Passports may seem to be anything from a good idea to something that must be done in order to secure a return to pre-pandemic life. Yet, for the church these policies, if they regulate church attendance or practice, encroach upon her independence, and may force her to deny her head- Christ.
It is clearly demonstrable that only those that have symptoms or have been exposed to COVID may be excluded from the Worship of God. Further, to segregate out or deny admittance to worship to any who are unvaccinated goes against the example of Christ and His prophets of ministering even amongst the outcast.
It is a practical denial of the Great Commission and the Free Offer of the Gospel, because the unvaccinated might not be able to attend public worship or will be unduly burdened so as to discourage attendance.
Vaccine Passports stand in opposition to the idea that the Church is an entity separate from the world, with Christ as her only head. Where there is to be no division in Christ, a Vaccination Passport system will introduce one.
A Vaccination Passport system will violate man’s duty and privilege to worship God as well as God’s regulation of His own worship. For Christians to support Vaccination Passports is to set aside the entire Spiritual government of Christ over His church.
Lastly, it must be remembered what Christ Himself says about His people, those that He accounts as precious: “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6).