As the debate on whether the church should defy the government by allowing the unvaccinated to participate in worship rages on, my initial instinct was to agree with those who were willing to disobey. I’ve read countless arguments for and against. I’ve debated with some senior ministers and friends and the more I do, the more I believe that my instinct is correct.
You see I keep having this nagging, uncomfortable feeling that the church, if it agrees with the government on this issue, is not standing with God and what He truly wants. Maybe it has something to do with the old Christian saying, ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ I’m not an un-vaccinator, I have had my two shots, but should we stop the unvaccinated from entering our church buildings to participate in worship?
I was born and brought up as one of four missionary children in Tanzania. I still remember to this day the lepers in the streets and my parents bending down, talking with them, and then giving them something, usually money. The church there in Morogoro did not stop the sick from entering and was open to all. Maybe this is also what’s making me feel so uncomfortable about preventing people from entering the church to worship.
On one side of the debate, there are those who believe only God has the authority to say who is and is not allowed to worship within the church. The only true Biblical reason to ask someone not to come is when you “expel the immoral brother” (1 Cor. 5). On the other side, there are those who believe that allowing the unvaccinated to worship is contrary to the word of God, as He has instructed everyone to obey those in authority. Furthermore, they say, we’re not loving our neighbour as we should as the unvaccinated could pose a health risk to others.
The argument, surely though, must be: Which side honours God’s name? Could they both honour Him? Or do they both dishonour Him?
The easiest way forward for the church is to side with the government, be one with them on the issue, and thus have fewer ‘political’ ramifications. But, is this the correct decision? Will this bring honour to God’s name? Sadly, and ultimately, I think not. While we might, like the Pharisees, obey the letter of the law, we will not be obeying the spirit of God’s law. Christ came to the despised, the leper, the Samaritan, and the tax collector, which is, in one way or another, all of us.
David, when fleeing Saul, ate of the consecrated bread at Nob. Similarly, Jesus’s disciples picked heads of grain on the sabbath and went against the governance of the law. So, what was Jesus’ response to the accusations of the Pharisees for this “disobedience”?
“If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent’” (Matt. 12.7).
Those who will be most affected by the mandate preventing the unvaccinated from participating in worship will likely be the poor and needy, the ethnic groups who, for reasons of communication, do not truly understand the medical reasons for vaccination, along with the modern-day ‘lepers’, namely, those who wilfully decide they don’t want to be vaccinated for reasons of conscience. At a time when Australia is recording a massive increase in anxiety and suicide, surely the church, historically anyway, has always been looked upon by unbelievers as a place of refuge.
On all grounds, this is a relatively simple, Biblical argument. The church should not stop the unvaccinated from entering into worship. Using the churches own reasoning, to side with the government, we historically would never have sent missionaries to the four corners of the world because either, it was too dangerous for them, or the missionaries would have been too dangerous to the community groups they were sent to.
So, are we to be like the Pharisees who judged Jesus’ disciples for not obeying the law of the land and be unmerciful towards the ‘unwanted’ who do not have Vaccination Passports? If we are, then surely we are bringing reproach on God’s name, for in the eyes of some non-believers and church members, we are identifying God with this unmerciful act and making Him look uncaring and judgemental, as one with the Pharisees.
The cost of including the unvaccinated will definitely have ramifications, but at least our church will not lose its ‘soul’, but remain joined with the merciful heart of our Father and ultimately honour the only name that is the proper object of man’s worship, Jesus, Lord of all.