(The Information & Edification Series – Batch 4)
To be vaccinated or to not be vaccinated? To eat meat or not to eat meat? To drink grape juice in the Communion Service or to drink alcohol? To consider one day as more important than other days or to think of all days as equal?
These are all questions that as Christians, we have asked and more. In light of the covid pandemic, the vaccine issue is another one that we are now asking.
Sadly, all of the questions above and other questions like them, have led to much debate, dispute and furore among believers, differences of opinion not being handled maturely, biblically and so resulting in unnecessary division.
If something is clearly stated in the scriptures, then there is no room for debate. It is to be obeyed. However, on some issues, the scriptures are silent or what may be stated may be open to differences in interpretation, even among genuine believers that are all indwelled by the Spirit of Christ.
The Lord, being all-knowing, knew that these differences in opinion would arise and he could have chosen to make some issues clearer so that we would know beyond a shadow of a doubt, what was the correct thing to do or the best thing to do. Yet, in his wisdom, he did not. Instead, he has made provision in his Word for us to apply his principles of wisdom in dealing with such situations.
Given that being vaccinated or not being vaccinated or eating meat or not eating meat or using wine for the Breaking of Bread service or grape juice or esteeming one day above another or seeing all days as equal, does not save or unsave anyone, given that the scriptures are silent on which option is better and therefore, good Christian people will have different views on these subjects, we are not to take these issues and create trouble, drama, tension, argument and division in the body of Christ, due to the position we hold and believe to be correct.
When dealing with issues like these that are not clear-cut, I believe that the Lord has given us the answer on how they should be treated and on how we should conduct ourselves, in his Word. In particular, Romans 14 in its entirety, gives us all the guidance we need. I will therefore quote what it states here and then, extract the principles that are clear, which we can apply to the vaccine debate, the meat debate, the wine debate and any other similar debate, where the Word of God has not told us specifically what we should do.
Romans 14 states:
- “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.
- One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.
- But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.
- I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth ANY THING to be unclean, to him it is unclean. But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.
- Let not then your good be evil spoken of: For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men. Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.
- For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence. It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor ANY THING whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.
- Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”
What are the wise principles emerging from this scripture which can help us when we disagree on issues, such as the ones stated above?
Well, in my opinion, first of all, the scripture acknowledges THE NORMALITY OF GENUINE BELIEVERS HAVING DIFFERENCES OF OPINIONS ON MATTERS. This ought not to be on doctrinal matters or the fundamentals of the faith or on any issue clearly specified in the scriptures but when it comes to certain issues not clearly specified or where it is not sinful if something is done or not done, the scripture acknowledges that people within the body of Christ may hold different positions.
This does not necessarily mean that one holding to one position is more spiritual than the other or that God is more pleased with one than with the other. Remember, doing or not doing these things listed above, does not make one a Christian or remove one from being a Christian and deciding to do or not do it is not right or wrong. We therefore ought not to argue about it as if it is and therefore, judge our brothers and sisters who take a different position.
Secondly, the scripture acknowledges that, although we are all in the body of Christ, WE ARE AT DIFFERENT LEVELS OF FAITH. All Christians have faith, it being a precursor to salvation but some have weak faith. It should be our desire for all Christians to have strong faith but until we all reach there, we are to conduct ourselves in a certain way around each other.
Sometimes, a Christian may think that something is wrong (when God’s Word has not said it is) because his faith is weak. We are to discern this and not try to beat that sister or brother over the head with a metaphorical club, until he or she sees things the way that we see it. No. The Bible tells us that we are to receive that brother or sister, meaning embrace him or her still, in love, despite the difference of opinion which is at times motivated by him or her having weak faith.
Thirdly, although we are to receive the one that is weak in the faith, WE OUGHT NOT TO DO SO UNTO DOUBTFUL DISPUTATIONS. In other words, the Lord does not want any of us creating discord, dispute, drama and division over these issues. He wants us to have peace among us and issues that are not specified in the scripture as right or wrong are not issues worth fighting over. Verse 19 therefore states, “Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another)“.
In other words, the Word of God is stating that these are not issues that give us licence to create discord and dispute. Having a difference in opinion on a matter that is not stated in God’s Word to be right or wrong, is not a reason to create drama, contention, argument and division among God’s people. This is wrong.
Choosing to eat meat or not eat meat is not right or wrong. It is therefore wrong to try to guilt people into not eating it or eating it. It is clear that God has said that we can eat all meats, as he has declared that every creature is good and to be received with thanksgiving, for it is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer (1 Timothy 4:4-5). If a brother is weak in the faith though and so, regards meat as not good for him to eat and abstains from it, that is perfectly fine. He would be wrong though to try to create a doctrine to tell people not to eat meat and to lie and state (because it opposes what God already said), that meat or some types of meat are not good and so should not be consumed by anyone.
If he is convinced of himself that eating meat is wrong (due to his weak faith), we are still to receive him but avoid useless, purposeless and contentious debate. Similarly, the one who eats meat ought not to create disputes trying to get those who don’t eat meat, to eat it. Whether we eat meat or decide not to eat it, does not determine if we will go to heaven or not and whether we eat or don’t eat, it gains no points with God.
The same holds true with this vaccine issue. Some Christians don’t feel right about taking it and so they don’t and that is their prerogative, while others are at peace about it and so take it. Those who took it ought not to look down at those who didn’t and those who didn’t take it, ought not to frown at those who did. For, God is the judge and each person is accountable to him and should therefore be convinced in his own mind as to what he will or will not do.
The scriptures are silent on this issue of vaccination and yes, in this pandemic, we can see where the world is headed, as has been prophesied in the Word. That is, it becomes easier to see, through this pandemic, how things will be one day where people are commanded to take the mark of the beast and people having to decide whether to take it (and be damned) or not.
However, it is CLEAR, if one properly examines the scriptures, that the vaccine is NOT the mark of the beast. Not because the situation seems similar to what will take place in the future, does it mean that the vaccines should be avoided. If, however, a Christian feels this way, then that is okay. He is however, not to make how he feels into some kind of doctrine to preach from the pulpit or on the streets, trying to guilt those who took it to make people feel that they are committing a sin if they take it.
I’ve mentioned three of the main principles to be derived from Romans 14 above but in a nutshell, below is a summary of some of what I’ve gleaned from Romans 14, which to me are words of pure wisdom, sufficient to deal with any similar situation.
PRINCIPLES TO NOTE FROM ROMANS 14
1. We ought to expect DIFFERENCES IN OPINION on some matters not clearly specified or spelt out in the scriptures (14:2,5).
2. We ought to REALIZE THAT WE ARE AT DIFFERENT LEVELS OF FAITH within the body of Christ and be prepared to make allowances for those who have weak faith (14:1).
3. We ought not to MAKE INTO A DOCTRINE SOMETHING THAT THE WORD OF GOD HAS NOT GIVEN TO US AS A DOCTRINE. We ought not to CREATE STIRS, CONTENTION, DISPUTE, ARGUMENT, DISCORD, DIVISION AND STRIFE over issues that are not right or wrong, either way. Instead, we are to pursue the things that promote peace (14:1;15,19).
4. We ought not to HATE or LOOK DOWN CONDESCENDINGLY at a brother or sister that holds a differing view to the one we hold on these matters (14:3).
5. We ought not to JUDGE our brothers and sisters because they hold a different view and therefore ought not to conclude that they are not saved, not very spiritual, not in favour with God, not pleasing God, being disobedient to the idea that we have of what is right or as them having no faith (14:3-4,10-13).
6. On issues not specified as right or wrong in the Word or where God has okayed it but due to our level of faith, we find issue with it, God expects us to WORK IT OUT IN OUR OWN MIND and based on what we are convinced of, to act in accordance with our conscience. In other words, if we are not dealing with truth which is objective but the issue is open to differences of opinion because the Word of God is silent or God has said that something is okay but due to our level of faith, we still have an issue with it, then it is a matter for personal, subjective opinion and nobody but our own conscience, after prayerfully seeking God on the issue, can direct us as to what to do or not to do (14:5,14).
7. If God has okayed something but due to our level of faith, we still have a problem with it, then we ought not to do it. IF WE THINK SOMETHING IS SIN, although it of itself is not sin, given that we believe it to be, THEN WE OUGHT NOT TO PERSONALLY DO IT because if we do, then we sin because it goes against our own conscience (14:5, 14, 20, 22,23).
8. THE STANDARD AND FOCUS SHOULD ALWAYS BE ABOUT PLEASING GOD, not necessarily pleasing man. Whatever we do therefore, he must be our focus, as he is our judge, not man. If we are at peace on an issue that the scripture is silent on therefore and we take a position on the matter that another Christian has not, this does not disqualify us from fellowship with the Lord or make us any less or more favoured. We are at peace in our conscience before God on the issue and the Lord is satisfied with that (14:6-9).
9. Irrespective of what position we take on such issues, we must BE CONSIDERATE OF OTHERS, how they feel and what they believe. Even if we know that God has okayed something, so that it is perfectly permissible for us to do it, we must not be selfish and inconsiderate of other believers who, maybe because of weak faith, hold another view (14:13, 15-16, 21:15:1-3). This is in keeping with 1 Thessalonians 5:14 which states, “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be PATIENT toward all men.”
In conclusion, the scripture lets us know that if we do not handle these differences maturely, in love and with the right spirit, we can end up SINNING against God because of the position or opinion that we hold and the things we do as a result. We can end up creating DISPUTE, JUDGING one another, HATING and condemning one another and over issues that are not necessarily right or wrong.
This defeats the whole purpose of the vocation wherewith we have been called and while we think we are doing God a service, we are doing him a great disservice. The Word of God reminds us and in so doing, puts things into beautiful perspective in terms of what is really important:
- “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but RIGHTEOUSNESS, and PEACE, and JOY in the Holy Ghost. For he that in THESE THINGS serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men. Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another. For meat, destroy not the work of God…” (14:17-20)
It follows that we must therefore be careful. When it comes to issues such as those raised above, where there is no clear-cut answer and the Lord has not given us a clear direction as to what is right or wrong in that circumstance or he has said that something is okay but some believers still have an issue with it because of their level of faith, we must be careful what we do, how we treat with the issue, the conclusions we arrive at, how we regard others and how we conduct ourselves.
When these issues arise and we realize that we have a different view to other believers, we should remind ourselves of these principles as given in Romans 14 and in other portions of the Bible. Not because we hold to a position and believe it to be right, does it mean that we must create division in the Church and force others to adopt our position or see things the way we see it.
By all means, whatever God’s Word has stated is right we must hold on to it for dear life, never let go and never stop telling others about it because it is truth. Truth must never be silenced but declared. However, if the Word of God is silent about an issue or lets us know that either position is okay to take and God will not hold our decision against us, then such an issue does not give us permission to create argument and discord. It does not give us permission to try to beat others into submission to our view or to insist that everyone sees things our way.
At the end of the day, it is not about us and the Church does not belong to us.
Whatever view you may hold, given that it is not an issue that God has specified or implied through principles given in his Word that it is right or wrong, your conscience has to be your guide. Having made a decision for yourself and being persuaded in your own mind, then “…follow after the things which make for peace and the things wherewith one may edify another” (14:19).
On the issue of vaccination, some will say but this scripture in Romans 14 says nothing about vaccines. That is true. However, the wise principles in Romans 14 are applicable to a wide range of issues, including the issue of vaccination, as it deals with how we are to conduct ourselves on issues that the Word of God has not given us guidance on.
For example, verse 22-23 which addressed the issue of meat, can also be found to be applicable to the issue of vaccination. Some say that by FAITH, they are trusting that God has provided vaccines and allowed scientific breakthrough to help us overcome the virus and have therefore decided to take it, whereas others say that by FAITH, they sense that something is afoot and since secular governments cannot be trusted, that they have decided to trust God to keep them safe and not to take the vaccine.
Either way, here is what the Word of God (which referred to meat but which, in my view is generally applicable in similar situations) says:
- “Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” (Romans 14:22-23)
On the general applicability of Romans 14 to different situations other than just meat, the scripture states, “I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is NOTHING unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth ANY THING to be unclean, to him it is unclean.” On treating with others who may share a different view on an issue such as these to us, consideration is key. For, the scripture also states, “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor ANY THING whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak…”
The question should therefore not be, whether it is wrong or right to vaccinate or not vaccinate, to eat meat or not to eat meat, to drink wine at Communion or to drink grape juice or to regard one day as the most important day or all days as equal. The question, which is two-dimensional, should be, how do we conduct ourselves in the body of Christ on these issues when we are convinced in our own mind on an issue but other fellow believers take another position? In particular:
- (a) How do we ensure that we stay within the parameters of God’s Word so that we do not disobey it in any regard; AND
- (b) How do we avoid personally doing anything against our own conscience or what we believe to be wrong (which would be sin), while demonstrating consideration for other believers who hold a different view to us on an unclear issue and who also have the obligation of not acting against their own consciences or acting without faith (which would also be sin)?
The answer to this is clear in Romans 14.
(Written on 24th January, 2022)