If you hope for a discussion of the pros and cons of vaccination, claims or counter-claims for the latest scientific data, alternate cures or even the wildest conspiracy theories—you will be disappointed. This discussion paper raises questions and issues relating to God’s mission and church—and, our participation.
A dilemma of our freedoms
In countries where we have the privilege of making a choice—to be vaccinated or not—our freedom to choose is now creating a dilemma. Without medication or viable health systems, many in the world do not have choices. In epidemics and pandemics they simply die. But we have our rights, and the freedom to choose.
Moving towards 70-80% double vaccinated
As Australia’s more populous states move towards 70-80% double vaccination levels of adults, it seems that the double vaccinated may be given more freedoms—to travel, conduct business, go to restaurants, sporting venues and religious venues like mosques, temples and church buildings.
At the present time there are restrictions on attending worship services in church buildings in Victoria, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. Church buildings were closed in some areas of Australia during the polio epidemic in the 1950s, and even today most recognise the need for this public health regulation.
Today, most church buildings across the most populous states of Australia are closed. Bible studies and worship events have been made available on internet platforms, and this has been appreciated by some—but, many are now Zoomed out!
With e-giving, tithes have continued to come into denominational offices, but local and mission offerings are way down. The sale of Bible Study Guides, and distribution numbers for internal communication papers and missionary magazines, have dropped drastically. Most Christian book shops have closed or operate at very limited capacity. Each of these is changing your church—the viability of entities and perhaps employment—and there is no end in sight.
A dilemma ahead—for church and mission
What will it mean when those able to show a vaccination card indicating they have been double-vaccinated are able to attend churches? What might be some implications from our freedoms of choice?
Those who have chosen not to vaccinate, will still have those freedoms protected—but they may not be able to go to church buildings. On the other hand, those who have chosen to be double vaccinated may be able to gather in church buildings.
And, even if church attendance is not regulated on the basis of vaccination certificates, those who have been vaccinated—as well as those at risk and those in employment categories that require vaccination, such as some health professionals, etc—will not want to be in church gatherings where the risks of infection are high and mingling with those who choose not to be vaccinated.
This dilemma raises a range of questions:
• When do we as individual Christians put aside our freedoms and consider the greater community health and good?
• It is not a matter of judging others, but how do we respond so as “not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in (our) brother’s (or sister’s) way” (Romans 14:13 NIV)?
• What could it mean if some churches became “safe places” for those who want the freedom not to be vaccinated—while others become the gathering places for the vaccinated?
• How could the idea of a network of households of faith provide unity across this diversity of choice and freedoms?
• And could options at this foundational level of church—the “two or three” gathered in Jesus’ name (Matthew 18:20)—provide a positive choice when inviting our friends, family and contacts to worship with us in church? At this level we know our friends and their convictions and choices, and we would not need to be checking their vaccination cards before entry.
With pubs, sporting venues and more businesses likely to open on the same basis as churches, we must not be distracted by the idea that we are facing religious persecution. And even if we were, we are inspired by the New Testament believers. When scattered, they saw it as an opportunity for mission—sharing and preaching the Word and gospel wherever they went (Acts 8:1-4).
When sent home—or with dilemmas arising from our freedoms to vaccinate or not vaccinate—what are our opportunities for church and mission?
See Your Church Has Changed, Signs Publishing, 2021 — www.following-Jesus.com