Some Christians fear that the government is interfering with their freedom. The push for people to be vaccinated and the controls placed on church activities during various lockdown levels is seen by them as the ‘thin end of the wedge’. What else might the government impose upon the Christians of Aotearoa New Zealand?

The argument about the separation of church and state comes into play here. Can one group (the state) interfere with the other (the church)? And vice versa!

We like to say that in New Zealand church and state are separate but clearly they are not. For example:

  • Many churches accept government wage subsidies for their staff during lockdown.
  • Christians delight in getting their government charitable tax rebate back, and the speed at which offerings climb in the last weeks of March is phenomenal!
  • Churches gladly accept local body rates exemptions for their worship and spiritual activities.
  • Many Christian schools begin as independent, but before long integrate so that they can pick up all that government support can offer.

Not much separation in all of that! We gladly accept the good things that the state (both central and local) provide making it much more awkward for us to criticise, without appearing ungrateful, when the state comes up with things we don't like.

Prominent in our debating we must insert those very important bible passages which speak so clearly about our Christian duty to pray for, and obey the government. (Luke 20:25; Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14; Titus 3:1, etc.). It is interesting to note this kind of Christian support for Roman rule was urged upon first century Christians who were already suffering dreadfully under severe state control. In spite of this, Jesus, Paul, and others, maintained that obedience to the state was a very important Christian principle.

If we were being asked to declare “The Government is Lord”, that we would not do. In fact if we were forced to say something like that, most would rather die. But that is not the issue here. The issue is about getting everyone vaccinated to fight this dreadful virus. Isn't that a good and life saving government aim and if it means wearing masks, or not singing for a while, or carrying vaccine passports and even having to show them at the church door, isn't that just a small part of learning to live safely in today's COVID-19 world?

Some churches have proved to be the place where ‘super spreader’ contamination events easily begin. I believe it is our Christian obligation then to make sure that we do not, in any way, spread the bug when we assemble, and that we do everything we can to keep every worshipper safe. That just might mean holding services for both the vaccinated and unvaccinated, or not even meeting at all—except via zoom or the like!

A while ago we all put up with smokers and their smoking. When it was proved that smoking not only damaged the smoker, but also those around them, the government brought in no smoking laws in public places. Christians didn’t get at all upset about state intervention then. What is the difference now? In my view, unvaccinated people are like smokers who can cause incredible damage to themselves but also to others around them.

Unlike those who seem to feel that the government’s push for people to get vaccinated could be the ‘thin end of the wedge’, I for one believe that vaccination is one of the God-given tools to fight this epidemic and I’m thrilled that many churches in New Zealand are working hard at getting their people protected. In Wellington, for example, the Anglicans have come up with a novel scheme. ‘Get One—Give One’ urges their people to get the jab while at the same time asking them to give at least $10 per shot so that people in poorer countries overseas can get their jabs too. That’s the kind of Christianity I identify with!

I’ve recently appreciated the several helpful opinion pieces here on vaccinations and the local church on this Baptist magazine website, with various viewpoints expressed by medical, pastoral and theological people.

In all of this we must be very wise and sensitive to the feelings of those whose views differ from our own. We can easily come across as judgemental and critical even although we try hard not to be. Much ‘agape’ love, on both sides, will go a long way in helping to resolve such difficult situations.

In these times we need to focus very heavily on those Bible verses which speak about doing ‘good to all’, thinking much more about ‘our neighbour more than ourselves’ and ‘honouring the God-given powers’. These are some of the important biblical concepts that turn my supposed ‘rights’ into my God given ‘responsibilities’.

Contributor: Barry Denholm

Barry’s pastoral service spans more than 50 years with leadership roles in more than six Baptist churches around the country, as well as being a Regional Superintendent with the Northern Baptist Association in the 1990s. In his retirement Barry and his wife live in Auckland.

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