In God’s providence we are still being confronted with COVID panic, or we are being confronted again, or we are being confronted somehow with heretofore unprecedented measures. (Didn’t it seem like the box labeled UNPRECEDENTED was already dumped out?) We have been told to stay home, we’ve been told to mask up, we have been told to vax up, and now we’re supposed to re-mask up. We’ve been told if we stayed home for 15 days we could get back to normal (which I think was more than 500 days ago). We were told that if we wore masks we could get back to (a new) normal. We were told that if we got vaccinated we wouldn’t have to wear masks. We were told that if a certain percentage of the population got vaccinated we could be done with all restrictions. And now, a number of our church members are being threatened that if they don’t get vaccinated then they can’t keep their job. It’s also being teased that if we all don’t get vaccinated none of us might be able to travel or shop in stores or eat in restaurants. Just this past week in Washington state, government employees were given an ultimatum for vaccinations, as well as health-care workers, and all school employees, whether public or private schools. It is surprising, and it would be just silly if it weren’t for how many people are taking it seriously.
So I preached a sermon about how our Christian faith collides with these medical mandates. If you’d prefer to listen or watch, you could go to our church website. But I’m posting a good portion of my notes here as well because I want to be on the record for the sake of the Lord’s servants.
What this post will not be is a set of reminders about your Constitutional rights as a United States citizen or citizen of Washington State. It will not be scientific or medical stats or stories (though that is available and I’d be happy to share what I’ve read and listened to). It will not be about the necessary questions regarding the believability of our public officials or media outlets, about their changing of the goalposts or flip-flopping messaging without corresponding evidence. It will not promote an alternative fear to the virus, a “conservative” fear about tyranny, even though we appear to be in MiniTyrant Season. Instead I want to remind us of what we know in summary form and to affirm our church’s support for your decisions made by faith.
So what I’m writing here is not a legal defense, nor will this help you seek a medical exemption. If pleading sanity was an option, I’m sure many of us would try.
A couple qualifications about terms. I will be speaking about religious exemptions, especially for those who wonder about the legitimacy of claiming that status or who desire to seek such an exemption from your employers regarding “forced” vaccinations via threat of termination or retaliation.
But even as I give the first point below, what we believe is not a footnote, a digression, an incidental allowance for ourselves as some sort of crazies. Seeking an “exemption” is what it has come to, but those who are acting in the place of God have the first problem. Playing savior of others is a hard job, and there will be no exemptions from judgment before God for such arrogance on their part. You may not even want to play along with the pride of men, or be put on their list like some sort of beggar. So be it.
But if a religious exemption is offered to you, and you believe it a God-honoring course of action, then here are some things to consider.
The Faith of Christians
There are three things that are part of our faith, truths we believe in this religious “sect” of ours called Christianity, that apply to your appeal for a religious exemption from mandatory vaccination. They are broad truths that are relevant to any “forced” medical procedure, and, ironically, these are the truths that established the principle of religious exemptions in the first place.
These truths are true whether or not your request is accepted. These truths are true even if we are persecuted for believing them.
1. God’s Sovereignty
Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth (Psalm 124:8). He is God, Creator of all, and He “does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). His Son is the King of kings and Lord of lords, risen from the dead. There is none like Him.
As stated in our church’s longer What We Believe document, Section 3.2:
We believe that God upholds and governs all things – from galaxies to subatomic particles, from the forces of nature to the movements of nations, from evil to good, and from the public plans of politicians to the secret acts of solitary persons – all in accord with His eternal, all-wise purposes to glorify Himself
Which means that we believe that God is sovereign over sickness and health, that He works through miracles and medicine. It means we also believe that every authority on earth throughout history has been established by Him.
For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. (Romans 13:1, see also John 19:11)
We believe in God’s existence and power and authority, which already makes us weirdos to those busy trying to suppress their knowledge of God (according to Romans 1:18, 21). We are living in different worlds.
Part of the reason for our religious exemption is that we think there is a God over science, not that science is god. We think there is a God over the President and CDC and Governor and County Health District. In our current circumstances, these authorities are not just “doing the best they can” against a virus, they are acting without any reference to God at all. We object to their conceit, and to their entire lack of context “under God,” because of our faith.
As Christians we also are comforted by this truth of God’s sovereignty. He is God and Father. He clothes us, feeds us, cares for us (Matthew 6:26). He knows what we need before we do (Matthew 6:32). He knows that the Gentiles panic about getting their little greedy hearts less anxious. Because God is sovereign we are secure.
2. Limited Government
Though that phrase isn’t in Scripture, it is a truth found in Scripture. Limited government is a religious principle, and a particularly Christian idea, not based on political conservatism or libertarianism.
God sets up kings, and He removes them, at will. God also says what government must do, and what they must not do (Romans 13:3-4; 1 Peter 2:14). He also reveals that sinful men, in their power-hungry pride, will often abuse their positions (Ecclesiastes 8:9).
While He is in control of evil men, He prohibits us from obeying men rather than God (Acts 5:29). God has commanded us to submit to earthly authorities, but not absolutely everything that they mandate.
Plus, it turns out, our system of government in the United States is “the people,” as asserted in our Federal Constitution, which was established to limit the authority of our representatives in government. The Founders got that principle from knowing that the State wasn’t God.
God gave authority to rulers “to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1 Peter 2:14). He commands that we pay “taxes to whom taxes are owed…honor to whom honor is owed” (Romans 13:6-7). This does not mean that we will never be on the government’s bad side, it means that when the government acts badly we may suffer for doing good (1 Peter 2:15; 4:19).
But again, this means the government does not have absolute authority. The State may make a “law” that theft is legal, and that will cause the people to groan (as in Proverbs 29:2), but it is wrong. The State may mandate a medical treatment, but it is wrong. Of course the State can use its force, but that is abuse of authority. We object because of our faith.
3. Liberty of Conscience
Scripture does not use this exact phrase, but the truth is there. It has been recognized in political and church history (see a good example of this going back to 1721). Because each man answers to God, we are not even allowed to speak evil against one another, let alone bind them to a moral good we’ve defined/declared outside of God’s Word.
There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:12, see also Romans 14:4)
Your body does not belong to any Governor, but to God, and it is not the Governor’s prerogative to make you safe from every illness, from all cancers (or climate). You are responsible to God as a steward to consider what is best for your body. What great opportunities God has given us for learning and for seeking counsel with those who have done more medical “practice.” But a public professional cannot dictate your conscience before the Lord. We object to such “force” because of our faith.
The following passages from Scripture have their own contexts, none of which concern vaccinations specifically, but each passage does have broader application in principle.
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19–20)
You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. (1 Corinthians 7:23)
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1–2)
whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. (Romans 14:23)
Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. (1 Peter 2:16)
Though many governors have taken up our own Christian language of “loving our neighbors,” they do not get to define that. For what it’s worth, neither do other Christians (pastors, ethicists, bloggers) seeking to make Christians feel moral guilt for not submitting to certain medical treatments, like vaccines. (Here is a bad example of such an attempt, with a good response here.)
Additionally, there are specific questions of conscience related to the current vaccines for COVID-19. All of the currently available vaccines depend on cells from an aborted baby for their production, or they have been tested on such cell lines (here’s my source for that claim). At the same time, I thought this was a helpful article working through distinctions between production of and testing with cell lines by Randy Alcorn. Christians believe in the dignity and sanctity of life from conception to death. Certainly all of this is relevant to our choices, and our consciences.
The Abuse of Force
And so the use of “force” through threats of termination, discrimination and retaliation, are sinful abuses of authority. Can the State, and employers, promote, encourage, and provide help? Of course. Does the Bible authorize the State to quarantine persons with certain sorts of contagious illness? The Bible gives examples of that. But the Bible does not give State, or “masters”/employers, the authority to force any medical procedure on any person (or eat specific food, or only drive on Tuesdays, etc., for the “good” of your neighbor (Romans 14)).
What you must do is not go against your conscience before God.
For more see The Warrenton Declaration on Medical Mandates, Biblical Ethics, & Authority, most of which I could sign, and then also this statement by the CREC, a Communion which includes many of the kinds of churches we are like.
I am not saying that you must not get vaccinated. I am saying that you must make that choice, by faith, with wisdom through research and counsel.
Our church elders agree that we are not the boss of your medical choices, and we agree that elected representatives or appointed officials or public health officials or business employers are not the boss of your medical choices.
We are available to talk with you, to give you counsel, to give you support if applying for religious exemption including writing a letter on your behalf, to give you support in finding other employment. We labor for your progress and joy in faith (Philippians 1:25). These days, living by faith may bring you into collision with those who would try to force you to go against your conscience.
Today has its own trouble, who knows about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34). Who knows what opportunities we will have to live by faith and call on the Lord. In our struggle against sin we have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood (Hebrews 12:4), and we are not to grow weary or fainthearted (Hebrews 12:3). As a congregation we are not really running lean yet, but we are running together, and that will continue to be important in whatever days the Lord gives us.
Again, if you’ve considered the risks and have been vaccinated by faith, if you’ve been vaccinated because you willingly chose to make a sacrifice by faith, then you have our support. But what you must do is trust God, thank God, and be ready to give Him an account.