After I wrote this blog, and before it was posted, President Joe Biden set forth several mandates regarding vaccines. Without a doubt, the content of this blog is relevant for helping Christians think well about vaccines and masks.
There Is Nothing New Under The Sun
Throughout history, humanity has known how to divide itself. Classes are created to segregate one group of people from another. We have caste systems that have existed since the 1500s. I am old enough to remember the Rwandan genocide. In 1994 and over 100 days, about 800,000 people were slaughtered in Rwanda by ethnic Hutu extremists. The Hutu’s were mainly targeting members of the minority Tutsi community. The class system in Rwanda was tribal.
India is well known for its caste system. From top to bottom, the priests are on top (Bhramin), followed by the warriors (Kashatryia), then the merchants and landlords (Vaisya), and last are the commoners and peasants (Sudra). You are born into a caste, and you cannot leave the caste.
People are divided into classes by economics, race, ethnic background, country, and religion. At present, in America, a new class is emerging. A new division is being created. The division is between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the division was between the masked and the unmasked. However, masks have now become a sideshow to vaccines. There is a large contingent of pro-vaxers who are passionate about every single person receiving a vaccine. They believe the vaccine saves lives, and I am inclined to believe that they are saving lives, especially for the elderly and people with pre-existing health issues. The anti-vax folks want to be left alone and might have questions about the efficacy and safety of the COVID vaccines. Each side has its reasons, and each side is now digging the trench for a long battle.
Dare To Be Different
My aim isn’t to stir the pot. Oh, I have opinions on masks and vaccines. I have strong opinions. My close friends and family are not naive to my position. But my main concern is that the cultural conversation lacks civility and charity. Further, I am concerned that the lack of civility and charity has made its way into the church. My hope is that the church would rise above the emerging class system and remain united even amid varying opinions. The following are several thoughts about staying united while disagreeing with brothers and sisters in Christ.
United By Christ
Christians need to remember we are united to each other because we are united in Christ. Do yourself a favor and read all of Ephesians chapter one. The theological reality of our unity is far superior to an opinion on masks and vaccines. Perhaps it’s time for the church to memorize all of Psalm 133.
1 Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!
2 It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
3 It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,
– Psalm 133:1–3
God delights to see his church – the bride of Christ – united. You would be naive to think Israel didn’t witness cultural conversations attempting to divide God’s people during the reign of King David. The same for the apostle Paul in the 1st century. Perhaps the outstanding number of passages on unity in the Bible exists because the devil would love nothing more than to see disunity in the church.
I am not suggesting you keep your opinions to yourself. Instead, I hope opinions can be framed with Christian unity. Perhaps a hyper-focus on Christian unity can temper the passion and rhetoric between the vaxers and anti-vaxers.
Everyone Is Using Scripture
Can we also acknowledge that Christians on both sides of the debate are using Scripture? Why is this? There is no chapter and verse about masks and vaccines. Therefore we look to Christian principles. The vaxers say loving your neighbor is wearing a mask and getting vaxed (Mark 12:31). The argument from love. The anti-vaxers have questions about the effectiveness of masks but also feel like the data does not support the mandates. The argument from love does not hold water for anti-vaxers. It should be noted that both sides rush to data points to support their argument.
What about putting a foreign substance into the body? Both sides can use the same text. Here is 1 Corinthians 6:19.
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
If the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, then it needs to be treated well. The pro-vax camp is resolved that a COVID vax is an example of treating the body well. And the Anti-vax group takes the opposite position. So who is right? You can answer the question for yourself by doing your research. Ask the hard questions and make a competent decision.
We also have to discuss the importance of a person’s conscience. For example, there might be an appeal to conscience if Holy Scripture does not clearly express right or wrong. I believe Christians must be careful to envoke conscience to make an opinion. The argument from conscience has become a junk draw where everything seems to fit into it. However, Holy Scripture does address how a Christian is to navigate its conscience. In Romans 14, Paul addresses potential divisions because of eating regulations and festivals. The struggle between the two sides was a matter of conscience. And then we read in verse 5.
The principles in play are twofold. First, you need to be thoroughly convinced about your decision. Second, you must not pass judgment on your brother, who holds an opposing view. Several verses later, Paul makes an emphatic point.
Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God;
– Romans 14:10
May the fact that all of us will stand before the judgment seat of God put into perspective the judgments we place upon other people, especially in the household of faith (Galatians 6:10).
The Christian Response
In response to the cultural debate, two characteristics can help Christians wade through the noise.
Let’s be charitable to one another. Do you want to exemplify true Christian love to one another? Then, let’s go to the all too memorable but always forgotten love chapter.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
– 1 Corinthians 13:4–7
Huh. Weird. It’s like God knows how to settle a debate. Love does not insist on its own way. However, it does say in verse six that love rejoices in the truth. So what is the truth about vaccines and masks? Well, that is the debate. So until the debate is settled (which I am skeptical of because of the politicking), let’s be charitable to one another. May we not be like the world and let us love well.
It seems we all could use a dose of humility, myself included. I have had my unholy moments of pride that required repentance during the pandemic. Here is my favorite passages on humility. It’s a favorite because our call to humility is connected to Christ.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
– Philippians 2:3-8
Imagine if the church exercised humility by putting the needs of others before the self, just like Christ put us before Himself by dying on a cross in our place. The humility of Christ should put into perspective the debate on vaccines and masks. So, may we not be divided but remain united by Jesus. The world can have its class system, but may it not be the case in the church.
Shawn Powers is the lead pastor of Redemption Hill Church. You can follow him on Twitter at shawn_DSM
Updates on 12/20/2021