As it is being reported that the number of COVID cases are again on the rise and concerns over the Delta variant and others grow, the ongoing debate about vaccination appears to be escalating as well. Sometimes it can get downright nasty, especially when we see the statements made by some prominent leaders and celebrities or our friends on Facebook. I have even seen people be accused of failing to love their neighbor or of blindly following the government and not being able to think for themselves because they came to a different conclusion when it comes down to the shot. Some of this has unfortunately come from the lips or fingers of professing believers as well. But the one thing that appears to be lacking in this current debate is charity and respect for each another.
The last time I checked, there was no command anywhere in Scripture pertaining to whether or not someone should get vaccinated against COVID. Sure, some have attempted to apply the sixth commandment pertaining to the preserving of life and the general command to love one's neighbor in order to persuade others to adopt their position on this. However, the reasons underlying the decisions of those on both sides of this debate very well may be in their understanding that the course of action that they have chosen is the best way to preserve life and to love their neighbor. From what I have seen as this debate takes place in the church, both sides appeal to Scripture to support their view.
(And perhaps it should be mentioned here in passing that the vaccine clearly IS NOT the mark of the beast referred to in Revelation 13:16-18. For one thing, that is connected to the worship of the beast and served as a way of expressing the beast's ownership of those who belong to him. Those who belong to Jesus will be sealed or marked as belonging to Him in contrast to the ones who do not and receive the mark of the beast (7:1-8; 14:1). Furthermore, IF it is a literal seal or marking, we are told that it will be on one's forehead or right hand. Not their arm. It very well could be symbolic anyway pointing to the truth of ownership.)
There is a danger if someone claims that God has said that you either must get the vaccine or should not get the vaccine. Whenever we make a command that God Himself has not given and then require it of others in addition to those which God has given, we head down the road of Pharisaical legalism. After all, that is exactly what the Pharisees themselves did. They came up with their own rules and laws and demanded everyone to obey them along with the ones laid out in Scripture. (We see this for instance in Mark 7 with the hand washing ritual that the Pharisees had developed which Jesus did not require His disciples to follow. The reason Jesus did not bind His disciples to it was because it was a "tradition of man" and not a "teaching of God.")
Since there is no clear command of Scripture as to whether or not one should get vaccinated against COVID, I think this means that the decision is a matter of conscience. In Romans 14, Paul talks about how it is possible for two believers to come away with two different beliefs and practices in a place which Scripture does not explicitly address. He uses the example of someone who believes that he can eat anything and someone else who thinks that meat is off-limits, possibly due to what happened to the meat before it came to the market place (v. 2). Someone may set aside and celebrate certain special days while another in the church deems all days equally important (v. 5). The believer who believes himself to be free to eat whatever is placed before him is not to look down on the other nor judge them as being in the wrong in this matter (vv. 3-4). The main thing, he says, is that each one should be fully convinced in his own mind (v. 5) and that he or she is doing it to and for the Lord, to honor and bring glory to Him (vv. 6-8). And if one is convinced in their conscience that eating meat would be unclean for them and they believe that they are best honoring the Lord by abstaining from it, Paul even states that it is unclean for them in that case and that they should not go against their conscience in the matter (v. 14).
Applying this to the COVID vaccine situation, if you have taken the time to research the vaccines, weigh out the risks (and there are risks involved if you decide to take it or if you decide not to take it), evaluate your decision with the teachings and wisdom of Scripture, and, in light of all that, in good conscience believe that you should get the vaccine, then you should get it. On the other hand, if you have done all that and believe that you should not get vaccinated, then you should not do so. Ultimately, you should not go against your conscience. And, as Christians, we are to love and respect those whose consciences may wind up in a different place than ours rather than condemn them and seek to impose our conscience decision on them. While the world may seek to guilt and coerce people to make a certain decision regarding these vaccines, let's give each other in the church the liberty of acting according to their conscience in this matter as we all strive to honor Christ with our life whom we will give an account for this decision as well as many others (v. 12).
Love in Christ,
P.S. Interestingly, this is not the only time in history that the church has experienced such a debate pertaining to vaccination. A good friend of mine from seminary, Benjamin Purves, provides a nice and very helpful history lesson of the debate that took place back in 1721 over the smallpox vaccine in this blogpost. The letter that he shares from John Newton advocating liberty of conscience for those on both sides of the fence is worth the read itself!