Is the COVID Vaccine a Form of Government Control?
To understand why some Christians fear the vaccine as a form of government control, we have to realize that in the age of COVID, government and churches have been increasingly clashing.
My name is Curtis Chang, and welcome to Redeeming Babel where our mission is to provide Biblical thinking in a confusing world. In this video, I want to address the question, “Is the COVID vaccine a form of government control.” I hope to show that while Christians have legitimate complaints about government controls in the pandemic, if we focus on that fear, we are missing Jesus’ teaching on what is most necessary.
Analyzing the Fear
To understand why Christians especially fear the vaccine as a form of government control, we have to realize that in the age of COVID, government and churches have been increasingly clashing. The conflict centers on the question, “What is necessary?”
Early in the pandemic, local governments proclaimed that it was necessary for churches to close their in person meetings.
Even when churches were allowed to meet, public health agencies insisted that it was necessary for people to wear masks and maintain social distancing.
All these ways that the government defined what was necessary for churches was experienced by those churches as a form of control. So, some churches defied the government. These churches insisted on remaining open, often rejected masks, and resisted obeying social distancing guidelines.
Now, the government is proclaiming that the vaccine is necessary.
Here it is important to emphasize that while the Biden Administration believes the vaccine is necessary for everyone, it is making the vaccine program completely voluntary. Local governments will certainly follow the federal government on this. So at the most obvious level, the vaccine is not a form of government control because the government is not making it mandatory, like it did with the earlier pandemic regulations.
However, given the history of the conflict, some churches are primed to hear any definition of “what is necessary” coming from the government as yet another form of control. Indeed, many of the same churches that rebelled against the earlier restrictions are now calling on their members to similarly reject this latest government’s message about the vaccine being necessary.
How then are we supposed to think Biblically about this confusing situation? I want to suggest that both sides are distorting the Biblical definition of what is necessary. I believe that the distortions are especially distracting us from focusing on Jesus’ surprising definition of what is truly necessary for Christians. Jesus’ definition of necessity—not this conflict between churches and government—should be what most shapes our thinking on the vaccine.
The government distortion of what is necessary
But let’s start first with how some government agencies have distorted the concept of what is “necessary.”
In the pandemic, local governments have exercised control by deeming which organizations are truly necessary and “essential” and which are not. The necessary and essential organizations are allowed much more leeway to remain open and operate with less restrictions. Tension has arisen because there has been a tendency for local governments to deem churches as “non-essential” or “not necessary,” especially in comparison with other types of organizations.
The most problematic example of how local governments have distorted what is “necessary” is found in Nevada, where the state allowed casinos to remain open while denying that same right to churches. In this case, the state of Nevada clearly deemed it was more necessary for people to gamble together than to worship together. The case reached the Supreme Court where the church actually lost the case 5-4.
I believe Christians are fully justified in appropriately challenging how secular governments distort understandings of “necessity.” In the Biblical worldview, churches are far more necessary to the well being of human beings than casinos are.
At the minimum, governments should at least adhere to basic fairness and treat them equally. If casinos can open and operate under certain guidelines, then churches should be allowed to open and operate under those same guidelines.
Churches can and should challenge such secular distortions of the meaning of “necessity.” I believe Scripture calls churches to challenge authorities primarily via prayer and persuasion, resorting to legal action only when there is no other recourse. There are examples of churches, like Capitol Hill Baptist in Washington D.C., that have engaged in this kind of challenge while faithfully following Biblical principles.
The church’s overreaction and distortion
Unfortunately, too many churches have overreacted to government distortions with their own distortions of Biblical truth.
There have been case after case of churches going beyond appropriately challenging secular health authorities via prayer and persuasion, and even going beyond legal action. Instead, numerous churches have defied public health regulations outright by meeting in large numbers, not wearing masks, and not maintaining social distance.
Some church leaders have justified these defiances by appealing to Acts 4 where Peter and John continue preaching even though Jewish authorities order them to stop. Now, it seems to me that using this passage in this way is a distortion of the Bible. Acts 4 is emphasizing the act of communicating about Jesus. None of the government regulations prevent this act. The rules might make it a little more challenging, but not at all impossible.
Even if one wants to stretch Acts 4 to make it say that it is not necessary to obey public health rules, Acts 4 is only one story. It is always dangerous to pick one story in the Bible, and blow that up into a general principle, especially when other Bible passages are more clearly stating a different principle.
Regarding whether it is necessary to obey governments, the passage that is most clearly stating the Biblical principle is Paul’s words in Romans 13:1, where he declares with crystal clarity:
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”
Remember that this is Paul speaking: Paul, the apostle who was beaten and imprisoned by the very governing authorities that he’s insisting that we all must still obey. Paul had to wear iron chains, and he said it was still necessary to obey the government. We Christians today have to wear cloth masks…and we’re complaining that this is somehow intolerable?
Jesus’ definition of “necessary”
Beside ignoring the clear Biblical command to obey the governing authorities, there is a bigger problem with how Christians are focusing on the issue of government control.
Go back to the essence of the governments vs churches conflict. In this conflict, the Christian voice is reduced to defining what is necessary as “what is necessary for me.” The Christian is shouting to the world: it is not necessary for me to close down. It is not necessary for me to wear masks, to maintain social distance. Now that same Christian voice is claiming it is not necessary for me to get vaccinated. The Christian voice has reduced what is necessary to “what is necessary for me.”
Here is the most important truth about Jesus for Christians to consider as we contemplate the vaccine. Jesus transforms the definition of what is necessary. In Jesus, what is truly necessary is not what is necessary for me, but rather what is necessary for others.
Let me repeat: in Jesus, “what is necessary” is “what is necessary for others.”
Philippians 2:4-7 describes this transformation beautifully.
“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
As God, Jesus had the right to avoid taking on the human condition. It was not necessary for Jesus to do so. But he did not “count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Instead, he emptied himself of that personal right, and chose the form of a servant. On the cross, he became a servant of the entire world.
The servant is mentally focused on what is necessary for others. This requires shifting from focusing on what is necessary for me or what is my right. To have “the mind of Christ” is to focus on what is necessary to serve others.
So with the vaccine, as Christians seeking the mind of Christ, our primary question should be: “What is necessary for others?”
Here is the answer: it is necessary for others in the world that we Christians take the vaccine. It is necessary for Christians to take the vaccine to serve the world. COVID-19 is a highly contagious virus, and experts believe that a high percentage of people in the world must take the vaccine in order to prevent this contagious virus from continuing to circulate. This is what is called “herd immunity.” The percentage required for herd immunity has been estimated to range from 60 to 80%, with the latest estimates pushing it towards the higher end. Given our numbers in the US and in many parts of the world, what Christians decide will determine whether the world achieves herd immunity and whether the vaccine succeeds in bringing the pandemic to an end.
This means that if enough Christians reject the vaccine because it is their right to do so, because they don’t think it is necessary for them, then this will allow the virus to still circulate and replicate in the world.
And there’s an additional danger that goes along with a prolonged pandemic. The longer the virus circulates and spreads, the more opportunity it has to mutate. We’re already seeing that happen. Given more chances to mutate, the virus is more likely to evolve into a form that gets around the vaccines. At the time of this recording, that hasn’t happened yet, and isn’t probably going to happen for a while, which is why vaccines are a good idea for everyone NOW. But people who reject the vaccine—because they don’t think it is necessary for themselves—will be increasing the chances that this mutation could happen and ruin its long term efficacy for everyone else.
If you are someone who believes “the vaccine is not necessary for me,” you have a special opportunity. Your opportunity is to take the vaccine not as something necessary for yourself, but as necessary for others, for the world.
Would you be willing to consider taking the vaccine as an act of servanthood? The virus has caused suffering for all of us. Ending the suffering will similarly require all of us serving each other, the way Jesus served us: laying down our rights, looking to the interests of others. Let’s all do what is truly necessary.