Who says there is no assault on religious freedom?
Can the State tell churches who can attend worship services? This is NOT a rhetorical question. It is very real. Already we have various governments heading down this path, demanding that churches ban any and all people who have not got the jab. I recently wrote about how the NSW government is going down this very path: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2021/09/08/the-covid-untouchables/
So how is the Christian to think about all this? The wrong way to consider this matter is to run with unbiblical cliches and sloppy thinking. There is plenty of this out there, so let me look at some of these. You can already hear this mindless response from some: ‘Oh, but if you really love people, you will keep them uncontaminated from the Covid spreaders.’
That is a foolish remark for several reasons. First of all, getting the vaxx does NOT stop you from getting Covid or from spreading it. But for the Christian, more is at stake here. One can just imagine how this practice might have worked out two millennia ago: Do we really believe Jesus would have demanded that sick people stay away from him and others?
Just the opposite: Jesus deliberately went to the sick, the outcasts, the untouchables, the lepers, and so on. He healed them. He did not socially distance himself from the sick, nor did he wear a mask – if that had been an option back then. See more on this here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2020/07/17/would-jesus-wear-a-face-mask/
Another related reason some believers will drag up to defend these things is that it is important to keep our churches a safe environment. As already mentioned, being vaccinated guarantees nothing in this regard, and it flies in the face of everything Jesus and the New Testament stand for.
We are told in Galatians 3:28 this: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” And guess what? There is no vaxxed and unvaxxed as well. It is ludicrous to think that it is somehow the loving and Christlike thing to do to deny people the fundamental right to worship the Living God – all because it might not be “safe”.
How is this religious segregation and discrimination something God would approve of? How is it any different than telling Blacks they cannot come into churches to worship the Lord? The church has always fought against such unjust and unfair discrimination and bigotry.
A third rather useless claim some Christians make is that we can just do Zoom church forever. ‘Church is not just a building’ they will glibly claim. Yes, the church is more than a building. But Christians are commanded to meet together (Hebrews 10:25). And that involves far more than sitting behind some computer screen or iPad.
Yes, for a very limited period things like Zoom church might be acceptable, but we have now had churches closed down or greatly restricted for much of the past 18 months. And as laws go through banning people from attending church without a yellow star sewn onto their clothing – I mean, without their vaccine passport – then that is all many folks will be left with.
But the New Testament idea of church is NOT about folks staying apart from one another perpetually. It is all about fellowship, body life, and close communion. Indeed, it is about taking communion together, hugging one another, supporting one another, and so on. And it also involves laying on hands and praying for others – including for their healing.
Just this morning I read again from Ezekiel 34. It speaks about the shepherds of Israel. Verses 2-4 says this:
This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost.
That bit about strengthening the weak, healing the sick, and binding up the injured certainly stood out. It is pretty hard to do most of that hiding behind a smart phone or laptop. Yes we can encourage one another via a phone call or a Skype meeting, but the intended way of doing church is for people to come together and corporately worship the One True God.
The newly drafted Moses Statement puts it this way:
God, who has all authority and gives limited authority to people, calls all people to worship. Worshipping God is the most important activity and privilege of human existence (Genesis 2:1-3, Exodus 20:1-11, 1 Peter 2:4-10, Revelation 7:9-12). God calls everyone everywhere to worship (Psalm 96). If we are going to keep God’s command to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength,” He calls us to physically gather together to worship and warns us not to stop (Psalm 100, Hebrews 10:25). If we are going to love our neighbour as ourselves, we must place great value on their ability to gather for worship, as this is our neighbour’s greatest privilege and duty.
While God calls everyone everywhere to worship, He gives Christ’s church a clear and direct command to gather to worship Him. The public worship of God is essential to the church’s life. Local churches obey this command by physically gathering together. The Biblical word for “church” (occurring 111 times in the New Testament) literally means “assembly” and requires a physical meeting. Therefore, virtual meeting is not a substitute. https://caldronpool.com/mosesstatement/
I have written up this important document before, and it is well worth reading, signing, and sharing with others: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2021/09/05/are-you-with-moses-or-pharaoh/
Thankfully many other Christian watchmen are warning the church about these matters. Let me recommend a few terrific articles that have recently appeared on the issues of how Christians should think about vaxx passports in general and vaxx passports for churches in particular.
One is found on the always useful website Caldron Pool. It is called: “Five Reasons the Church Should Oppose A Vaccine Passport System”. The author’s closing words are these:
Vaccine Passports stand in opposition to the idea that the Church is an entity separate from the world, with Christ as her only head. Where there is to be no division in Christ, a Vaccination Passport system will introduce one. A Vaccination Passport system will violate man’s duty and privilege to worship God as well as God’s regulation of His own worship. For Christians to support Vaccination Passports is to set aside the entire Spiritual government of Christ over His church.
Lastly, it must be remembered what Christ Himself says about His people, those that He accounts as precious: “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). https://caldronpool.com/five-reasons-the-church-should-oppose-a-vaccine-passport-system/
And the ever reliable Kurt Mahlburg has two pieces on this over at The Daily Declaration. The most recent one is this: “The Case for Vaccine Passports is Feeble and Fading”. https://blog.canberradeclaration.org.au/2021/09/07/against-vaccine-passports/
And an earlier piece of his, “5 Reasons Why Vaccine Passports are an Ethical Disaster” is found here: https://blog.canberradeclaration.org.au/2021/09/02/5-reasons-why-vaccine-passports-are-an-ethical-disaster/
If we cannot make a stand for religious freedom and the right to worship God, then we are in a very bad place indeed. As Kurt writes in his more recent article:
Through his life and teachings, Jesus made it clear that we are to give up our rights for the benefit of others. Theoretically, this could be applied to freely deciding to get vaccinated. But it certainly doesn’t work for vaccine mandates: Jesus didn’t teach us to demand that others give up their rights for us—which is precisely what proponents of vaccine passports are arguing….
Freedoms are a safeguard, not a luxury. Human liberties protect the weak by restraining the powerful. It is the defence of freedom that has long prevented tyrants from terrorising ordinary people. The worst abuses of history were only made possible when fundamental freedoms were cast aside.
If you shrug off freedoms in the name of ‘loving your neighbour’, know that the neighbours you have chosen to love are the world’s powerful. And it is the powerless who will eventually pay the price. Instead, be like Jesus and sacrifice your popularity to defend the freedoms of others.
By all means, get vaccinated if you will. But don’t force others to: that is a demand we should not make.