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Christians and the Covid-19 vaccine debate

Christians and the Covid-19 vaccine debate

Are we puffed up with knowledge, or do we build up with love?

By Andries van der Merwe, Amo O’Kennedy, Phillip Boshoff, and Heinrich Titus

 

The controversy surrounding Covid-19 vaccines has turned families and friends against each other, and social media into a battlefield. You are either for or against the vaccines, with very little grace for disagreement.

Both sides of the debate have sources and research they deem credible showing how effective or ineffective, safe or unsafe the vaccines are. The ethical discussion around fetal cells used in the vaccines’ development also warrants Christian scrutiny.

Pastors and church members, what should a Christian response to the debate look like?

Well, at the moment it seems less like healthy, reasoned debate, and more like a mud-throwing competition. It’s unclear who will win, but one thing is certain: We will all end up with mud on our faces if we continue like this.

 

What would Jesus have done in this situation?

Shofar’s leaders are not medical professionals and therefore cannot speak with authority on medical matters, but we can address the vaccine debate from a Biblical standpoint.

Firstly, we do not believe there is any clear directive in the Bible that prohibits the taking of a vaccine. However, we acknowledge that there are moral and ethical questions to be answered around the development and testing of some of the vaccines currently available.

Secondly, we believe that it is not only important to address whether Christians should take the vaccine or not, but also the way that we handle ourselves in these discussions and debates.

 

An issue of conscience

The Apostle Paul faced a similar issue regarding the eating of meat offered to idols.

Because of the practice of offering meat to idols, some Christians did not eat meat at all. But the more significant issue Paul had to address was that those who did not eat meat condemned those who did eat meat, thus causing division in the church.

1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14 are very helpful portions of Scripture to study in our current context.

In 1 Corinthians 8:1-3, Paul starts by addressing the heart of the conflict between the two groups. He says, “Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge’. This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God” (ESV).

Paul is saying our disagreements should be characterised not merely by knowledge, but the high value of Christian living: love.

He then addresses the theological concern in v 4-8, summarised in v 8: “Food will not bring us close to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do” (NRSV).

In v 9-13, Paul then makes it a conscience issue, as opposed to a theological issue. He states that, regardless of your position on the issue, you should be very sensitive to the conscience of your fellow Christian, because “wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ” (v 13).

In Romans 14 he follows the same line of argument:

“Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them” (Romans 14:1-3 NIV).

Jesus, too, was confronted by this contentious issue of the day.

“‘Are you so dull?’ [Jesus] asked. ‘Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body’” (Mark 7:18,19 NIV).

Jesus makes it an issue of the heart. Can the vaccine defile your heart? As with Paul, we can argue that it is not a doctrinal issue for Jesus, but an issue of conscience.

In the same passage, Jesus adds: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come” (Mark 7:21,22 NIV). He then lists sins that come from “within”, including “slander”.

Jesus warns us not to allow contentious issues to trap us in slandering those with different positions.

We therefore do not believe taking or not taking a Covid-19 vaccine is a doctrinal issue, but rather a conscience issue.

For some, however, the ethical nature of vaccine development is a matter of conscience.

 

The link between vaccine development and abortion

We believe in the sanctity of life and that life begins at conception. Thus, we are against abortion. Is there a link between the vaccines and abortion? In the early 1970s[1] a researcher by the name of Frank Graham working in the Netherlands took cells from the kidney of an aborted baby and was able to successfully “immortalise” these cells, meaning they are able to divide indefinitely in a lab environment, thereby creating the cell-line known as HEK293. None of the original fetal cells are still in existence today (they would be about 50 years old), but due to the perpetual nature of the cell line it is widely used in all manner of medical research.

A similar fetal cell line, named PER.C6, was developed from cells taken from the eye of a baby aborted in 1985[2], also in the Netherlands. PER.C6 is owned by Janssen (a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson) and is used exclusively for vaccine development.

Pfizer and Moderna used HEK293 cells to test their vaccines, while Johnson & Johnson used PER.C6 in the development stage of their vaccine. No abortions were performed in either the development or testing of the vaccines, with the link limited to the varied use of the above cell lines.

We therefore respect those who because of their conscience do not want to take the vaccine, as well as those whose conscience does not accuse them for taking the vaccine. Still, we do not believe that taking or not taking the vaccine is clearly disobedient to Scripture.

Let us encourage all our people to do everything with faith in God (and not from fear), and treat each other with love and respect. There is a tremendous opportunity for the Body of Christ to showcase the strength of the family of believers, especially when confronted with potentially divisive issues.

Now, more than ever, let us be known for our love and not whether we are for or against the vaccines.

These words from a contemporary of Martin Luther during the religious wars that ravaged Europe can serve as a good guideline for us, even now: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” Or, to put it plainly, let’s not contribute to the mud fight, but make every effort to help clean up the mess.

 

[1] The exact date is unclear.

[2] The abortion took place in 1985 after which the research cells were frozen. They were subsequently thawed in 1995 for the generation of the PER.C6 cells.

 

 

 

On Race and Redemption – Part 1

On Race and Redemption – Part 1

On Race and Redemption

Part 1: Facing racial prejudice in church, on campus, and in my own heart

Written by Heinrich Titus

13 Jul 2020 | 7 min read

The Church has a window of opportunity to engage in the current conversations about racial prejudice – conversations that are both difficult and so necessary. Ps Heinrich Titus joins the discussion with snapshots from his own journey as a person of colour in South Africa.

 

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the deaths of people such as Collins Khosa and George Floyd – both Black men, both in their forties and both unarmed – sparked outrage that spilled over into peaceful as well as violent protests across the globe. Reasonable and seemingly unreasonable demands for change surged and impacted almost every industry. Politics, sports, entertainment, expressions of church and recently, in South Africa, the marketing of hair products, have all felt the cascading effect of the conversation around race, identity, privilege, responsibility, forgiveness, and justice.

As a Christ-follower, who happens to be a person of colour and in his forties, the initial events have taken me on an emotional journey back to, amongst others, my first few months at the University of Stellenbosch in 1994. I first posted these thoughts on Facebook, shortly after the aforementioned deaths, and now feel compelled to add more context in the hope that it will clarify what limited space on a Facebook page prevented me from doing a few months ago. 

  • My journey at Stellenbosch was certainly not limited to, nor defined by, my challenging experiences as a person of colour at an overwhelmingly White institution. It was simply part of a bigger story God was writing. Life-long friendships were formed, spiritual foundations were laid, and the seeds of destiny were ignited. Not for one moment do I regret that God’s Providence led me there. 
  • The poems I share come from the heart and pen of a 19-year old struggling to make sense of life. I am not the same person I was then and I hope this goes without saying. I am not the same internally-conflicted young person who bottled up his anger regarding the injustices of his time and who almost gave up on the Church. Christ has healed my heart and He has done so through His Word, His Spirit, and His Church. 
  • I believe there are many other confused and hurting 19-year olds out there, from all cultural backgrounds, who need safe places to share their journeys within an atmosphere of hope. Who knows, there might even be a confused and hurting 69-year old who needs the same grace extended to them. 

For much of the early part of my time at Stellenbosch, I felt like an intruder, an outsider – someone who came up against invisible, yet powerful walls. I studied history and literature. This, coupled with my family's own experiences of prejudice and discrimination over many generations, set in motion an intense (albeit often unseen) spiritual and emotional roller-coaster journey of anger; disbelief; resentment; introspection; more anger; tough conversations with friends and even tougher conversations with God; loss of some of those friendships; disillusionment with Church; even more anger; acknowledgement of my own human depravity and prejudices; new and lasting friendships; a Cross-centred understanding of forgiveness and justice; renewed love for the Church, and an ongoing process of healing.

This poem, with its spelling errors and all, reflects the inner wrestle of the 19-year old me. It's raw and unfiltered. I'm thankful for God’s grace that covered me then and covers me still. I am thankful for how these walls were broken down and for how His love silenced that internal rage. I believe His love can still do the same for the rage that is threatening to engulf large portions of the world.

 

 

I am equally thankful that I have begun to understand that not all walls are divisive; there are valuable, legitimate walls that give identity, clarity, and protection.

The danger of unchecked revolution, often fuelled by secular media reports and political agendas, is that it sets in motion fires that indiscriminately burn down the good with the bad. Man’s anger can never accomplish God’s purposes. The fires of repentance, forgiveness, and mutual honour have to burn brightly in the hearts of God’s people so that the walls of fear, mistrust, and prejudice can be burnt to the ground, while preserving the good.

These walls are sometimes visible and easy to confront, dismantle, and replace. Often though, especially within a politically-correct environment that is focused on plastering over the cracks, and sadly especially within Church, they can be subtle and therefore much more deeply entrenched and difficult to dislodge and replace. I am encouraged by the many courageous men and women within our own church family who are actively pursuing cross-cultural discipleship relationships. The world is burning and the time for spectating has come to an end.

 

As Kingdom-minded people, we need to remind ourselves that we are, per definition, builders, and should therefore be passionate, but measured in our engagement with the issues of our day. Let’s not just uproot, but plant as well. Let’s not just pull down, but build as well.

 

If we want to live meaningful lives, then strong walls – in the context of healthy boundaries – are important.

Walls/boundaries bring definition.

I am not the colour of my skin. I am not my culture. I am not my gender. I am not merely a product of my socio-economic background. I am inestimably more: I am a child of God. Everything else has to submit to that reality, even my cultural loyalties and traditions. I owe my allegiance first and foremost to the King and His Kingdom and not to my culture.

But, in the same breath, I am also a South African and a person of colour, deliberately predestined by God as such. I therefore joyfully embrace and celebrate those aspects of my culture that align with Kingdom values and I deliberately reject those that don't.

To deny that the colour of my skin has had a profound impact upon the formative experiences of my life would be to live with spiritual and cultural dissonance. A great deal of my healing has come from acknowledging that these experiences have influenced, and sometimes even challenged, much of my spirituality – my perspective on God; His love and justice; His people; my purpose in His Kingdom; my ability to break free from destructive generational cycles and instead leave a legacy for my children. All of this, on one level or another, cannot be divorced from the impact of my cultural experiences and background. They don't have to define how I view God, but my ignorance or denial of their influence can stunt my growth and healing.

Walls/boundaries give clarity to who I am and who I am not.

They provide clear markers as to what I value and what I do not value, irrespective of outside influences: As for me and my house, we will choose to serve the Lord. As for me and my house, we will endeavour to equally value both the CEO and the petrol attendant, and treat all older people – from the janitor at school to the elders in our congregation – with the same respect when addressing them. We will do our best to give all people the benefit of the doubt and believe them to be innocent until proven guilty, especially when it comes to cultural perceptions.

Walls/boundaries protect.

I will not spend my time brooding on things outside my control, such as what people think of me. I will stay away from toxic people and media. I will teach my kids to be proud of their surname (to respectfully correct others when they mispronounce it) and to appreciate their colourful heritage, whilst at the same time never accepting or conforming to people's stereotypes of what they think a person of colour should, or should not be.

These are a few of the walls I try to put in place and constantly evaluate, strengthen, and protect in the midst of the volatile multi-cultural landscape in which I live, a landscape still undeniably scarred by the past and often further scarred by the present.

I certainly don't always get it right, but in the midst of much uncertainty and strong winds of change, they help create safe spaces for my own soul and the souls of my loved ones.

It is my prayer that the conversations we will have during this window of opportunity will help us all to rebuild and strengthen the walls of identity, clarity, and protection, as well as give us the courage to tackle the walls of fear and mistrust within our own hearts, families, and churches.

In the next blog post I will share how walls of fear and mistrust manifested in my own life, and how God used people around me to chip away at those walls.

My prayer is that my story will point the way, however imperfectly, to the One who loves each life equally, offers forgiveness to each one freely, and promises justice to each one eternally.

 

Much love,

Ps Heinrich

Heinrich Titus

Pastor Heinrich Titus is the global leader of Shofar Christian Church and serves as head pastor at Shofar Somerset West.

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Transforming Communities

Transforming Communities

We as the church of Jesus Christ want to see the Kingdom of God come here on earth, just as it is in heaven. The Gospel transforms lives. It is through the proclamation of the Gospel that people can receive salvation from God and become part of His Kingdom. It is our mandate as the church, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to establish God’s reign here on earth.

The Gospel not only transforms the life of the individual, but it also has the power to transform our communities, so that society as a whole can reflect the Kingdom of God. God never intended for us as Christians to separate our religious life from our vocation. Conducting our businesses and daily work in a godly manner, looking after the needs of the poor in our communities and developing our communities are as important to God as evangelising the unsaved. God’s mandate to the church is therefore all-encompassing. He is calling us to be the change in our society – to be the salt of the earth.

It is therefore not a matter of whether we should or should not engage in transforming our communities. Our purpose here on earth is to establish the Kingdom of God in all spheres of human life, and that includes the influence we have on the fabric of society. The question is rather: how do we move from just doing good to actually solving problems? What can we do differently so that we can see lasting change in our communities? How can we, as the Church of Jesus, be truly externally focused?

Rick Rusaw, one of the speakers at Convergence this year, will be presenting our first Short Course on Transforming Communities. He will be sharing his vast knowledge and experience on how we as the church can have a positive and lasting impact on our communities by being externally focused.

The course will be held at Shofar Durbanville on 9-10 September. You can also register to stream this course online if you are unable to attend the course at Shofar Durbanville.

Beauty for Ashes

Beauty for Ashes

Beauty for Ashes

Sermon Article 26/05/2019

Reading from John 8:2-12 (NIV)

I want you to envision this story as if it were happening right in front of you.
Smell the Jerusalem air, the dust and the robes. Are you there?
There is a group of people, “the mob”, and they are confronting Jesus with this woman caught in the very act of adultery. This is probably the most humiliating thing that has ever happened in this woman’s life. Can you feel her shame? If you were in Jesus’s sandals what would you have done, compromise or condemn? For me this is one of the most beautiful passages found in scripture. After boldly challenging the sin and hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees Jesus declares over this woman “…then neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more”. Jesus is giving her the power to live a life free from the bondage of sin.

I don’t know what’s going on in your life at the moment, I don’t know how much death you have tasted neither do I know what seeds the enemy has sown into your life. I want to share with you the story of a couple in our church, lovely people, husband, wife, four children, involved in ministry and happily married, or so they thought. Before I continue, I feel it’s important that I highlight two things. Firstly, we who stand before as pastors and as church leaders every week, but our lives are not the standard, the scriptures and the life of Jesus hold the standard. If you live for the standard of your leaders then you are going to be often disappointed. Secondly we are not here to climb some church ladder, there is a lot of opportunities for you to be fruitful and impact the world around you that are not within the church. I believe that we go out of this place and that we are the church wherever we go. The highest calling is not necessarily to be a church leader, the highest calling is to be obedient to whatever God has called you to do, whatever that may be. We aspire to be obedient for “…to obey is better than sacrifice.” 1 Samuel 15:22.

This couple had been in the ministry for years as worship pastors, they had left full time ministry and started their own business and were very successful at what they did. Not so long ago they were on their way to celebrate their 10 year wedding anniversary with a weekend away. The wife noticed her husband had been uncomfortable in the car on their way to the airport since the beginning of the trip. After asking her husband several times what was wrong he eventually told her the truth about how he felt ashamed, for he knew what her worst fear was and that fear had come true. For a long time she feared that her husband would have an affair, and right there and then he broke the news to her and said, “I have been having an affair with a younger woman for one year. I am so sorry”. He started to cry and so did she - she was heartbroken.

They boarded the plane and as they sat, she prayed to the Lord. “Jesus if you can rise from the grave and defeat death in 3 days, then I can be healed from this in 3 days. Sunday when we get back I want to be healed”, she prayed. Over the next few days, the couple had many conversations about what went wrong and why it had gone wrong. They cried together, they prayed together and on Sunday when they came back home she returned with her prayer answered and her heart healed.  While on their way home the wife wrote a letter to the younger woman whom her husband had been having an affair with. “What you and my husband have done does not define me and it does not define you. You do not have the power to destroy our marriage nor will you ever touch my husband again, I forgive you, we forgive you… and I want to see you on Monday”, she wrote.
On Monday this woman came to see the both of them, husband and wife. As she walked through the door the wife began to minister to her, she declared over her, “this is not who you are and you are worth more than this”. The wife sat her down, took a toy princess crown from her little daughter’s play area, placed it on the young woman’s head, anointed her, then began to pray over her. The young woman broke down in tears as all the guilt and shame that had burdened her for so long was brought into the light.

Sin is something we cannot manage, the only thing we can do with sin is to kill it. James 1:15 says “sin… gives birth to death”. Weeks later when I sat down with this couple and asked the husband how he felt during the time he was having an affair with this young woman he told me, “Gielie, it was the worst time of my life, I felt trapped, my life felt purposeless, it was filled with death, I didn’t hear God’s voice and I felt so far from God”.
That is the consequence of sin and we cannot manage it. The enemy sowed a destructive seed in this man’s heart long before he began to have an affair. Maybe the enemy has sown a seed in your heart, maybe a seed of doubt, a seed of anger or a seed of unforgiveness.

God has called us to be holy and “…without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). If we do not kill the sin, we cannot see God and we cannot experience His presence. We cannot live double lives and think we will enjoy His presence, His goodness or His mercy. One of the seeds the enemy sowed in my heart over a few years was a kind of performance approach to our church in Potchefstroom. The enemy would whisper to me “yes, maybe this can be the biggest church” and I began to be driven by success and performance. At the time God spoke to me, “Gielie, I don’t want you to run on adrenaline, I want you to be led by the anointing of the Holy Spirit”. I replied, “Yes Lord! I want to lay down all this performance, I want You and You alone.”

1 John 1:7 says that “if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.”
If we walk in holiness we will experience intimacy in two places. Firstly, we will restore our intimacy with God and secondly, we will grow in fellowship with one another.
At the moment, we are experiencing such an amazing time of refreshing and growth in our church, and this has been largely fuelled by many people humbly confessing their sin and shame to one another. We’ve seen many bring the things that have kept them in bondage for so long into the victorious light. What is keeping you in bondage? What do you need to bring into the victorious light?

It’s a decision we all need to make. You see Jesus sees everything, all the sin, all the guilt and all the shame. Yet he wants to have fellowship with us, He wants to have a relationship with us, and that begins with us walking in the light of His truth. It may hurt at first but that’s what the truth does, it hurts us then it sets us free. David wrote, “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere…” God’s presence is worth fighting for, and we fight for it by bringing all that stands between us and God into the light. Jesus died for your shame. Jesus died to give you a new identity that would redefine you. Today choose to walk in the light by clothing yourself in His truth. 

Vote your values, hope in God: A Christian worldview for human government

Vote your values, hope in God: A Christian worldview for human government

by Hennie Swart & Phillip Boshoff

It’s our duty, especially in a democracy, to not only submit to governing authorities, but to participate in them by voting and public discourse, and to hold those who govern us accountable.

4 MIN READ

On Wednesday 8 May South Africans will cast their vote in the national elections. Christians should approach this decision with faith and boldness, not fear.

From the very beginning of creation, God intended for human beings created in His image to rule the earth on His behalf. In Genesis 1:27-28 He addresses both Adam and Eve (“them”), showing He never desired individual rulership. Even in Revelation, Jesus is not King alone – His Bride will rule with Him.

Biblically, any human government must ultimately be subject to heavenly government. Rulers must fear the Lord and represent Him in serving their subjects. When that doesn’t happen, God brings judgment. He does not look kindly upon governments that abuse their rights and shirk their duties.

God said to the mighty Emperor of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, that he would “…be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will” (Daniel 4:32).

This is a challenging Scripture. With all the political scandals and reports of mismanagement, do we really think God rules the kingdoms of men? But this passage (and others) clearly shows that that is true.

God appoints and removes kings. When Saul abused his power as king, He rejected him as king over Israel (1 Samuel 16:1). He then sent Samuel to anoint David, “for I have provided for Myself a king”.

The ideal human ruler is chosen and anointed by God – someone who can represent Him because they have His Spirit inside of them. God, not the king, remains the highest government.

But even David’s rule was not perfect. He was a type, a foreshadowing, of the ideal king, fulfilled only in Jesus – God as King in the form of Man, the only incorruptible One who could accurately represent God on earth after man fell into sin.

And once again, we see Jesus delegating His rule to His followers. In the New Testament Jesus said to His disciples: “and I assign to you, as My Father assigned to Me, a kingdom…” (Luke 22:29).

God has not abandoned His original plan for humans to rule the earth, and He has made provision for that to happen through Jesus’ return. But until then, we have a Biblical responsibility to be involved in human government.

Christians’ role in government: Salt and light

God appoints human government, but He is not pleased with wicked human government. Beware of quoting Romans 13:1 out of context, saying: “God appoints all human government, so don’t complain.” It’s our duty, especially in a democracy, to not only submit to governing authorities, but to participate in them by voting and public discourse, and to hold those who govern us accountable.

The church should not just react against upsetting policies. If God calls us to be salt and light in society, we must be salt and light in government as well. We should be there when the laws are being written, engaging constructively. Like Daniel, Joseph and Esther, we shouldn’t be afraid to engage in a secular space. It’s very hard to be a shining light when you’re removed from the darkness.

Practically, we can’t all govern together at the same time, but we can appoint people to represent us and God, to have a Christian voice at the highest level of policy-making.

Because of South Africa’s history and diversity, we have proportional representation in government. Therefore there is no such thing as “dividing the vote” by voting for smaller parties. You can vote for someone who shares your values to represent you. If that party gets enough votes, they can have a voice in every discussion, every debate, every point put forward.

We will be accountable for our vote

On Judgment Day, will we be held accountable for the choices of the people we chose to represent us? If politicians and parties keep to their official, published public policy – and we knew what that public policy was and voted for them – the answer is yes. If we empower someone to make decisions on our behalf, we are responsible for those decisions.

You will have very few opportunities to demonstrate your devotion for Christ as clearly as at an election.

When voting, consider this:

Are you voting out of fear or faith?

What do you think are the key issues on God’s heart for our country?

Will the people you vote for really be able to represent you? Are you completely comfortable with all the policies of the party you vote for?

Will the party you vote for have the right values and the competence for service delivery?

Pray and hope in God

Like the Israelites who were living under Babylonian rule, we should work and pray for the welfare of our city (Jeremiah 29:7). Vote for Christian parties, but also pray for the Christians in the different parties to stand up. Pray as Jesus prayed: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10 NKJV). No political party is irredeemable, and no one is perfect.

Ultimately we look to God, not man. “The LORD is our judge; the LORD is our lawgiver; the LORD is our king; He will save us” (Isaiah 33:22).

Even if the ACDP came into power, that would by no means solve all our problems. All human governments will be disappointments, except for One: The Son of David. When He finally rules, human government will be perfect government. Until then, we must vote our values, but hope in God.

Listen to Hennie Swart’s sermon here.

Listen to Phillip Boshoff’s sermon here.