I have been thrown back again into the pages of Romans chapter 14 this week following a pro-life friend announcing to the world that there is no biblical reason to not have the COVID-19 jab and that, given the (perceived) absence of any biblical guidance to the contrary, it must simply be the question of ‘personal conviction’ that umpires this decision.
I’m writing today because I am fed up, sick and tired of the casualness of fellow brothers treating issues of infinite importance with blasé – even mocking – attitudes that betray the more radical examine in the Church that is required at this time.
It’s not even the decision to accept the COVID-19 vaccine that bothers me the most (although it does very much bother me); it’s the casual handling of the issue that causes me most grief.
No, I’m not merely thinking about myself – why would I in the context of abortion? Front and centre of my mind is the confused and contradictory chaos of the corporate Christian witness of the Body of Christ on the earth.
Indeed, I find that one of the most distressing aspects of being a Christian in this anti-Jesus world is the perpetual reducing of infinitely important issues, by the Church, into merely matters of “personal conviction”.
The inevitable result of impasse upon impasse – continually “agreeing to disagree” – should grieve us all, as should the message that these impasses project to the watching world: “we can’t really know for sure, so what does it matter – what are we to do?”
Was this the joy set before Him (a muddled, contradictory, confused dog’s dinner of a Bride)? Will this be the splintered witness of the prepared Bride when He returns?
No, I do not think that it will.
Toes to the Fire
I think we should hold our brother’s toes over the fire when it comes to this specific ‘conviction’ about COVID vaccines (and others of comparable importance) and not be worried that we are necessarily standing in judgment over them. (See 1 Corinthians 6:1-6, 11:19).
The suggestion that the Bible is silent about issues of this magnitude is absurd while appealing to various “pro-life” churches as further justification for taking the vaccine is extremely flimsy…if not hypocritical.
What do I mean?
One of the most painful aspects of the Body of Christ is the profound hypocrisy of some who, one moment, call the lukewarm landscape of the Church to a higher standard and then, the next, appeal to them as the bastion of the faith to support our own personal agendas!
Christian Concern, who I respect very much generally, do this big-time: one moment they call-out Justin Welby as being a heretic complicit with politicised evil, (which he is), and then, the next, when it suits them in their mistaken plight against church closures, leverage his name as being some kind of faithful defender of the Bible!
One week Welby’s mug is in their “most wanted” column, the next week he’s a special VIP thumbnail; one week he is a ravenous wolf, the next week he is a darling shepherd.
Similarly, when brothers seemingly acknowledge that the Lord is radically shaking the tolerated denominational spectrum, (and hence our current understandings of what constitutes the Church – our ecclesiology), but then appeal to the institution as their defence in times of uncertainty and crisis, it is shallow, it is inconsistent and it is hypocritical.
Romans 14 – Walking in Love?
So what of the text?
Well, overall, I see an emphasis on each one being “fully convinced in his own mind” (v5) and that “whatever is not from faith is sin” (v23). Also, according to verse 1, I would be considered ‘weak in my faith’ compared with a brother who has no qualms at all with taking a COVID-19 vaccine.
But isn’t there more from Romans 14 that is directly relevant to our current dilemma today and that should be forming our best practice and our prophetic conviction?
Paul’s primary concern is the importance of Christian family not despising or judging one another (vv3,10). This is infinitely important and it is certainly a challenge to be able to have robust disagreement (assessing the basis and the consequences and the ramifications of our personal convictions) while ensuring this pillar of our Spirit-filled community remains intact.
However, apart from the fact that I can’t see any rational or remotely persuasive explanation that reconciles a “pro-life, zero-tolerance” position with the willing acceptance of a vaccine that has been propagated via a murdered baby’s cell line, there is another aspect of things from this chapter that concerns me.
Following Paul’s emphasis of not judging our brothers, more than half of the chapter (vv13-23) focuses on the equally important issue of our potentially causing another brother or sister to stumble.
The context provided by Paul is obviously concerning certain foods to be eaten, or not, and certain days of the week to be revered, or not. But the focus of the crescendo of the chapter is one of an enduring principle for all of our corporate living: do not cause another to stumble.
Am I causing my brother to stumble by not taking the COVID-19 vaccine? I don’t think that I am. This would be like saying that by making a decision to not eat pork and prawns today (and I do eat bacon etc!) I am somehow leading my pork-and-prawn-eating brother astray! Does that make any sense?
The “weaker” decision to abstain from certain foods and days was not seen by Paul as the problem in grieving the Christian community.
What was? Precisely the opposite! Paul spends more time admonishing the unloving exercise of the “stronger” in faith than he did caution against being judgmental to the “weaker”.
Paul admonishes the church in Rome, including himself, by writing,
“Let us…rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother…for if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.” .(Romans 14: 13,15)
The ESV note on this is also very helpful,
The strong should not cause sorrow to the weak by what they eat but rather should refrain for the sake of the weak. They must beware lest they destroy the faith of a brother or sister. If the strong do not act in love, the goodness of the gospel may be wrongly identified as evil for their lack of love, for the weak contradicts Christ’s love. God’s kingdom centres on the gifts of righteousness, peace and joy granted by the Holy Spirit, so that bodily appetites* become secondary. *e.g. the desire to travel to “further the gospel”
Friends of the Bridegroom
It seems to me that what was most grieving about my friend’s recent decision to take the COVID-19 vaccine was not so much the actual decision that was at odds with mine – his personal conviction vs. mine – but rather the manner in which he communicated his decision to the world: just put your hand on your heart, pray a prayer, the Bible doesn’t deal with this, hope for the best and keep it between you and God for when we each stand before Jesus (Romans 14: 10).
My answer to this is that the Bible does deal with this because it deals with everything. Should we have sex before marriage? Well, the Bible doesn’t specifically say not to, does it? Is my pastoral wisdom for the Church to just pray about it and come to a personal sense of ‘peace’?
I’ll let these two questions be entirely rhetorical.
Just because the COVID-19 vaccine is probably not the mark of the beast (Revelation 13) does not mean that it’s not directly linked to the demonic tilling of the land that will assuredly lead to that one day not too far from now.
The Church are being prepared for the glorious and awful Parousia. This grief between friends, I think, is a major part of such a preparation.
p.s. Though I disagree with them, I love my friend very much and ask for grace. I hold no grudge or offence but, rather, with them, I think, I long for faithfulness to explode in the Church and for historic clarity to emerge amidst the destruction of denomination, regardless of how unpopular & misunderstood that may be. Please forgive me if/where I’ve gone wrong.