The point of this article isn’t whether or not the COVID vaccine is safe or effective. I have my own thoughts on that, as well as taking the recommendations of government officials who’ve lied repeatedly, but that’s for another time. What is more concerning is the willingness of professing Christians to dismiss and denigrate the consciences of other Christians with claims that they’re ‘doing whatever they want’, ‘putting others at risk’, and the ever-reliable equating getting the vaccine with loving your neighbor. In some cases, they even take it to the point of accusing other Christians of sinning by violating Romans 13, even if it’s only heavily implied. If you listen to the mainstream Big Eva voices, it’s easy to pick up on a thinly veiled disdain for ‘the unvaccinated’, through their advocacy for vaccine passports and excuse-making for unbelieving governments banning or restricting corporate worship. However, in their misapplication of Romans 13 (It doesn’t say ‘do what the government tells you’, but that’s a discussion for another time), they forget about Romans 14, and the principle that ‘whatever is not from faith is sin’.
Since Romans 14 ends with that statement, I want to walk through Paul’s teaching, and apply it to the vaccine debate.
Paul opens his instruction in verse 1 with an admonition to accept the one who is weak in faith and not quarrel. He then gives an example of one who is weak in faith in verse 2, in this case one who eats only vegetables, and avoids meat. The reason he might do this is because pagan temples in the Roman Empire would sell the meat from their sacrifices to help cover operating costs. For many converts from paganism, this could feel wrong because they associated it with idol worship, while others wouldn’t be bothered by it because the pagan gods aren’t real. It would be easy for the one who eats meat to look down on the vegetarian because ‘he doesn’t have faith, I’m not sure he’s even a Christian’ and the vegetarian could judge the meat-eater because ‘he’s taking part in idolatry, I’m not sure he’s even a Christian’. In verses 3-4, Paul forbids both of these, because God is the master of both the vegetarian and the meat-eater.
He expands this point in verses 5-12, this time adding the observance of Jewish festival days as his example. In verse 5 he adds the crucial qualifier that ‘Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.’ In verses 6-12 he expands on why believers aren’t to judge each other, because we’re following our consciences to please God, and God is the judge of what pleases Him.
In verses 13-23 Paul finishes by explaining that although none of these things is inherently sinful, it is sinful for those who think it is sinful to partake in them, because they are doing what they believe to be wrong. He also teaches that these issues are not definitional of who is a Christian and who is not, thus we should love each other and not get into conflict over them. This obviously doesn’t apply to issues that are definitive of who is or isn’t a believer, meaning you can’t, for example, embrace homosexuality and call it an ‘issue of conscience’. As Paul says in verse 17 ‘for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.’
Now for the fun part, how does this apply to government-mandated COVID vaccines? Well, the first and what should be the most obvious point is that we should not be condemning other believers who are sincerely following their conscience, no matter which side they come down on. This also means we can’t shun them because ‘they’re dumb sheeple, I’m not sure they’re even Christians’, or because ‘they’re putting my health at risk, I’m not sure they’re even Christians’. Vaccination status is not a key point of doctrine, and it shouldn’t be made a test of fellowship, under any guise.
Secondly, since whatever is not of faith is sin, it is a sin to get the COVID vaccine if your conscience tells you not to. Thus, it is a sin to pressure someone whose conscience prohibits them to get the vaccine, because it is pressuring them to sin, even when done under the guise of ‘educating’ them. The requirement is not that they have well-informed objections backed up by statistics and expert testimony. The requirement is that they be firmly convinced in their own mind. If someone believes it’s wrong and can’t quite put their finger on why it’s wrong, that’s not a signal to swoop in with your government-approved statistics and Big Tech-approved experts to data-bomb them into submission. Rather, it’s an opportunity to love your brother in Christ by respecting his conscience. Likewise, if you think getting an experimental vaccine with no long-term safety data is unwise, don’t take issue with other believers whose conscience compels them to take it. If you’re concerned about long-term effects, keep them in your prayers, and don’t make a big deal about it.
Thirdly, the government does not have the authority to make you sin. Even the most ardent vaccine-absolutist Christians will acknowledge this, from what I’ve seen. Remember point two, if your conscience says don’t get the jab, then it’s a sin for you to get it. Thus, if the government demands that you take a vaccine that your conscience says not to, then the government is demanding that you sin. The government does not have the authority to override your conscience. That doesn’t mean they won’t try to do it anyway, it just means that you can’t obey them when they try to force you to sin. However, if/when they punish you for not taking it, you are in fact suffering for Christ, because you are heeding your conscience to not sin against Him. And before you dismiss the possibility that such a thing would happen, just look at Australia. It can happen here.
Fourthly, if we love one another we will take action, even on behalf of those whose conscience differs from ours. If you think the vaccine is dangerous, pray that God will protect your brothers and sisters who took it and be prepared to do what you can to help them if they suffer adverse effects. Gloating that you were right and they were wrong has no place in the church.
If, on the other hand, you think everyone should take the vaccine, pray that God will protect your brothers and sisters for whom it would be a sin to take the vaccine (remember, whatever is not of faith is sin) from reprisal by the government. Also, be prepared to help them if they find themselves unemployed because they refused to sin against their conscience, and, if given the opportunity, stick up for their right to refuse the shot. In that same vein, you shouldn’t favor efforts to punish them through things like vaccine passports or mandatory testing. Just because Evangelical elites are okay with unbelievers imposing ‘costs’ on fellow Christians for seeking to please God, doesn’t mean you should be. It is not your place to judge another believer’s conscience, see Romans 14:4, and it is certainly not the place of unbelievers.
To sum up, believers need to respect each others’ consciences and love each other more than ourselves. If you’re unvaccinated for the sake of conscience, love your fellow believers who did take the shot, and don’t let the government force you to sin by taking the shot yourself. If you’re vaccinated for the sake of conscience, love your fellow believers who refuse to take it, and be ready to help them if and when the government starts persecuting them. Don’t be so concerned about what the world will think of you that you forget to love your fellow believers whose conscience differs from yours.
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