With the New South Wales state government suggesting that their “roadmap to freedom” will allow for vaccinated-only worship services going forward, the question has been raised, are there any biblical grounds for denying healthy people entry into worship based on their vaccination status?
The issue is currently being hotly debated among church leaders in Australia after the government implied on Thursday that once the state passes the 70 percent double jabbed target, the return to in-person worship will be limited only to church members who have been “fully vaccinated.”
At present, there is no uniform response from church leaders and denominations. Some ministers have resolved to keep their churches closed until all of their members are permitted to return for in-person worship. Others are opting for a bolder stand, saying they will refuse to make any vaccination checks a requirement for entry and vowing to welcome all who wish to enter, vaccinated or otherwise.
But perhaps the most concerning category includes those “ministers” who have said they intend on turning healthy unvaccinated congregants away under the justification that the government’s measures are supposedly “only temporary.”
While this latter group insists their course of action is guided by the biblical principle of “loving your neighbour as yourself,” what these individuals seemingly fail to realize is that implementing vaccination certificates in the church, in effect, places certain members of the congregation under church discipline on an illegitimate and unbiblical, and therefore unloving, basis. Even if it’s done so temporarily.
The reason for this is simple. The only grounds the Bible gives for temporarily denying a professing Christian access to corporate worship and sacraments is when it is carried out as a discipline for unrepentant sin.
According to the Scriptures, to suspend a person from church, even if it’s only for a time, is not an action that should be taken lightly or enacted arbitrarily without sufficient biblical grounds for doing so. In fact, Jesus said it is the final recourse in the four-step disciplinary process within the church (Matt. 18:15-17). It is to be carried out only in response to ongoing and persistent rebellion against God’s laws and commands.
In essence, banning a member from public worship is a small glimpse of the final judgment when Christ “will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matt. 25:31-40). It is the severest course of action the church can take against an individual, either to protect the church from unrepentant sin (Eph. 5:3; 1 Cor. 5:9-13) or as a warning to a wayward professing brother, who risks being forever ostracised from God if he persists in rebellion. It is, for a time, to treat a Christian as though he is not a Christian at all.
In the New Testament, to deny an individual access to worship is to treat them as an unbeliever, alien to the covenant with God (Matt. 18:17). It is to deliver them into the hands of Satan for the destruction of the flesh (1 Cor. 5:5; 1 Tim. 1:20). It is to wield the Great Shepherd’s rod, to either correct the course of wandering sheep, if not strike down their foes (1 Cor. 4:21).
“Oh, but they’re not really excluded,” someone will say. “They can still stream the service online, break their own bread, drink their own grape juice, sprinkle their own water on their heads!” Along with any individual who is currently under church discipline for legitimate reasons. If virtual church is just as authentic as in-person worship, then there is no meaningful method in which the elders can enforce genuine church discipline for persistent rebellion against God.
In the end, to ban healthy believers from public worship for any reason other than unrepentant sin, including those based on whatever arbitrary medical treatments the government deems necessary at any particular time of the day, is to ultimately exchange the gracious staff of the Great Shepherd for the often cruel and unforgiving rod of Caesar.
It is to hand the regulation of worship into the hands of the state, thereby rendering to Caesar the things that are Gods (Matt. 22:21). It is to shut the kingdom in the face of those whom Caesar, not God, deems unfit for entry. It is to implement a door list of unbiblical requirements. It is to act as an indiscriminate enforcing and disciplinary arm of the state against those for whom Christ died.
But if the Great Shepherd is willing to lay down his life for His sheep, to tear down the curtain of division through his flesh, to grant access into the Most Holy Place by His own blood, what terrible things might He do to the wolves and hired hands who come between Him and His flock by closing what He has permanently opened?