Vaccine mandates are a hot topic right now. The president has mandated that businesses with over 100 employees require their employees be vaccinated or risk facing large fines. This has even caught the attention of our local county health board and they are discussing the potential for local vaccination mandates. Are these governmental vaccine mandates biblical? What should Christians think about this? What does faithfulness look like? Let’s dive in.
Are these government vaccine mandates biblical?
No. Getting straight to the point, government enforced vaccine mandates are not biblical. To further address this question, what follows is the theological and biblical framework that has shaped how I have approached this topic.
God has all authority and has delegated authority in the building of civilization
The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus is Lord over all, possessing all authority over heaven and earth. This is broadly taught throughout Scripture, but I make special note of Matthew 11:27, 28:18, Ephesians 1:20-23, Philippians 2:9, Colossians 2:10, and 1 Peter 3:22. All authority of man is delegated authority from God (John 19:11). This starts in the Garden of Eden with the cultural mandate to exercise dominion over the world and fill the earth with image bearers of God (Genesis 1:26-28). Ultimately, this means that we are to create a culture that glorifies God.
Within God’s architectural design for humanity, he established different spheres in which we live our lives, each governed by various relationships of delegated authority. This doctrine is sometimes referred to as “Sphere Sovereignty,” a term often credited to Dutch theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper. These spheres consist of but are not limited to the state, the Church, the family, work, and self. The state, (by which I mean civic government), has a God-delegated authority to govern and establish laws that punish evil while rewarding good (1 Peter 2:13-14). This concept is often referred to as the state wielding the sword. The Church has God-delegated authority in theology, faith, and ecclesiology (Matthew 16:19). The husband is head of both the wife and the household, and he possesses God-delegated authority within his family (Ephesians 5:23). A boss has God-delegated authority over workers (Ephesians 6:9). And each person is directly accountable before God for every single aspect of their life (Romans 14:12).
Authority gone awry
One of the ways that an authority can become unjust is to reach for additional authority outside of its’ God-given sphere. For example, when the state tells the Church how to worship, it is acting unjustly. If the Church were to convene an army, it would also be acting unjustly as it would be usurping a role that God gave to the state.
Martin Luther explored this concept in his writing on the doctrine of vocation. His intention was to communicate to ordinary German laymen that their vocations were no less holy than those of the monks; even the man who changes diapers, he does it to the glory of God. He said it's a permissible thing for a soldier to execute a criminal, as his vocation as a representative of the state is the means by which God brings justice for evil. It would be wrong for a soldier to execute someone outside of his role as a soldier and equally wrong for a baker to do so, as he is functioning outside of his vocation and is not in the authoritative position to execute justice. This is how a soldier can have a clean heart before God and glorify God with his vocation.
"...when the state tells the Church how to worship, it is acting unjustly. If the Church were to convene an army, it would also be acting unjustly..."
The family is the sphere that God entrusted with child rearing. The state may have a role in protecting families from evildoers, (this accounts for why domestic abuse is and should be a criminal act), but it would be wrong for the state to attempt to exert its authority over matters of family governance. This is currently happening as we speak in France where homeschooling was recently completely banned. Just because a government establishes law does not mean that the law is just.
With very limited exceptions made for biblical quarantine laws, (which place restrictions upon the sick, never the healthy), the spheres of self and family are where health decisions should be made. It would be wise to make those decisions with the input of doctors and medicine, but it is unjust for a doctor to force medication, vaccinations or other practices on individuals or households. Ultimately, God entrusts the care of the home to the head of the home.
Is the government vaccine mandate sinful?
Yes. It is sinful for the state to force or mandate citizens into medical procedures like vaccinations. It is sinful because it is unjust. It is unjust because it is outside the scope of the state’s delegated authority to judge what is evil and reward what is good. The state is trying to use its authority to force businesses and employers to implement mandatory vaccinations on workers. Their coercion threatens a hefty financial penalty for those who will not comply. Rather than using the sword to punish what is evil, they are wielding it to punish those who are not vaccinated.
"Rather than using the sword to punish what is evil, they are wielding it to punish those who are not vaccinated."
Is it sinful for a business to implement this mandate?
Yes. If a mandate is unjust, enforcing it is also unjust. There are lawful reasons for an employer to fire an employee, but simply accepting a coercive edict from the state, (don’t forget that in the United States, we’re responding to mandates, not laws), is not one of them.
The principles of Ephesians 6:5-9 must come in to play [emphasis mine]:
“Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.”
"There are lawful reasons for an employer to fire an employee, but simply accepting a coercive edict from the state, (don’t forget that in the United States, we’re responding to mandates, not laws), is not one of them."
As well as Colossians 4:1:
“Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.”
In our circumstances, the consequences of enforcing an unjust mandate are dire. For employees, this could amount to no pay, no mortgage, no food on the table. Additionally, depending on the industry they work in, if a mandate is broadly accepted by many employers, the employee may not be able to get rehired in their industry, (especially if it is the medical industry), and might have to relocate or find an entirely new vocation. At the end of the day, when an employer submits to unjust laws, they become responsible for the unjust results.
"At the end of the day, when an employer submits to unjust laws, they become responsible for the unjust results."
Christian employees are to work hard and seek the good of their employer while working unto Christ. Christian employers are to do the same and scripture also prohibits them from threatening their employees. They are to be mindful of Christ's authority over them and therefore treat staff justly and fairly.
Practical pastoral concerns
A concern that I have for Christian business owners is that by implementing an unjust vaccine mandate, they may end up unjustly firing, and thereby sinning against, their Christian brothers or sisters. This has the potential to wreak havoc in local churches. For example, say a business owner fires an employee who attends the same church. The employee would be justified in responding to their employer through the recourse provided in Matthew 18 for settling disputes amongst the Church. Ultimately, this could result in the dispute being adjudicated by the elders of the church in a process of formal church discipline. Additionally, if the employee loses their income, they may need to ask for financial assistance from their church, which is thoroughly ironic if the employer is an otherwise faithful Christian who regularly tithes. The whole thing gets messy quickly and is very much in opposition to Psalm 133 which tells us it is good for brothers to dwell together in unity.
Is it sinful for someone to work for a company that is requiring vaccinations?
Not necessarily. The responsibility to be fair and just is placed upon employers in Ephesians 6. In fact, it could be wise to stay in a company that is complying, particularly because God may appoint Christians into positions to oversee exemptions. I do believe there is a place and time for what has been called "righteous deception." Where there is injustice, bringing a type of deception to maintain justice and restore shalom may be biblically permissible. This was the case when Moses was spared when the Hebrew midwives deceived Pharaoh after letting the babies live (Exodus 1:15-19). Rahab also employed righteous deception by lying about the presence of the Hebrew spies when the Israelites conquered Jericho (Joshua 2:1-7, James 2:25). In a modern context, Christians exercised righteous deception when they helped slaves escape via the underground railroad, and also when they provided fake papers to save Jewish lives under the Nazi regime. Today, righteous deception might take the form of an HR representative approving exemptions allowing employees to keep their jobs, thus ensuring their livelihood.
Is it sinful to get vaccinated under the mandate?
It depends. One can get vaccinated by faith, entrusting their health to God. One can also not be vaccinated and entrust their health to God (Romans 14:23). For a wonderful read on the topic, I refer you to Vaccine Mandates and the Christian's Liberty of Conscience: From 2021 to 1721 and Back Again, from Founders Ministry, particularly the section titled “John Newton and Liberty of Conscience.”
"If your conscience is bound, don’t sin by violating it. If your conscience permits you to get the vaccine you are free to do so."
It is permissible to be vaccinated and yet, if your conscience is bound by God’s Word that it is wrong to do so, (as is the case for many of the congregants of my church), you risk sinning against God if you violate your conscience. To be clear, I believe this is a matter of Christian liberty, not one that ought to divide the Church. As Paul admonishes the Romans, “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5). If your conscience is bound, don’t sin by violating it. If your conscience permits you to get the vaccine you are free to do so.
Moving forward in faith and love
In conclusion, I do not believe that it is biblical to submit to the civic government in the enforcement of vaccine mandates because I believe they are acting unjustly. Within this injustice, I believe the biggest question for Christians is how to respond faithfully. This will involve being wise as serpents and gentle as doves (Matthew 10:16). Christian faithfulness may look like God appointing Christians within workplaces as protection for other workers to shield their employment. Faithfulness may also involve Christians helping each other financially when jobs are lost.
In all things, James instructs us to call upon God for wisdom (James 1:5). This is certainly a time when we ought to ask God for divine wisdom that we might discern what it looks like to be faithful both as we labor as unto the Lord in our jobs and seek to extend love to our brothers and sisters within the Church. May God once again show his faithfulness to us and hear our prayers.