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 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, 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.
On 12 May, the Sunday Times published an article on Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) that led to public outrage concerning claims such as “children as young as nine years old will learn about masturbation when new life orientation textbooks are rolled out next year.”
In response, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) released a statement to calm the uproar, distancing itself from the Sunday Times article and calling it “misleading” and “a complete misrepresentation of the work the department is doing”.
Subsequently, CFJ Executive Director and Legal Counsel Ryan Smit met with the DBE on more than one occasion in order to confirm what will be taught to children in the new life skills/life orientation curriculum (LO/LS curriculum), and also where the controversial content originates from. Another important question asked of DBE was whether parents would be able to opt their children out of parts, or the whole, of the new LO/LS curriculum should they not agree with its content.
In the blog and video below, Ryan discusses the action CFJ has taken and what it has learnt, the processes followed and the information gaps that still persist, as well as the actual evidence of the effectiveness of CSE (spoiler: a proper interrogation of the evidence provided by UNESCO, the originator and promoter of CSE, indicates that CSE in school settings has shown little success and may be detrimental, doing more harm than good!).
You can learn more about CSE and the work CFJ is doing in three quick and easy ways:
Cause for Justice (CFJ) is a non-profit human rights and public interest organisation. It is comprised of legal experts who proactively identify and take on causes to ensure a just and flourishing society. These causes align with CFJ’s five core values, namely: (1) the responsible exercise of constitutional freedoms, (2) protecting and promoting human dignity (inherent worth), (3) protecting the vulnerable in society (social justice), (4) ensuring accountable government action and (5) protecting the family against destructive outside (and inside) forces. To this end, CFJ participates in law and policy-making processes in Parliament and government structures, and also acts in court cases to promote and protect laws in keeping with its core values.
We are excited to announce that one of our affiliates, Empowered21, is inviting you to Jerusalem2020, a global gathering of Spirit-empowered Believers, during the week of Pentecost 2020 (31 May – 3 June 2020).
Come experience the Holy Land and celebrate what the Holy Spirit is doing around the world. Experience a life-changing Pentecost in Jerusalem as we unite in prayer and worship, hear from leading voices around the world and discover where the global Church is headed in the future.
Connect with what God is doing around the world, see your faith come to life in the land of the Bible and encounter the Holy Spirit in a fresh and powerful way.
The four-day event will be held at Pais Arena in Jerusalem, with praise and worship celebrations led by Planetshakers and Gateway Worship, powerful times of prayer and fellowship with the global Body of Believers, and the opportunity to hear from inspiring speakers such as Dr. Heidi Baker, Jentezen Franklin, Russell Evans, Sammy Rodriguez, Claudio Freidzon, Billy Wilson, Todd White, and many more.
AFRIque will give Shofar members the opportunity to travel together as a group.
Rick Rusaw is an author and regular international speaker at both church and business conferences, including previous Convergence conferences.
For Rick the two great commands of Jesus – to love God with all of our beings and love our neighbours as ourselves – are at the very heart of what Christianity is all about. Under his leadership LifeBridge Church in Colorado, where he has served as lead pastor since 1991, has made a lasting impact on the surrounding communities through serving and caring for those in need.
His strong outward-focus has motivated many other churches around the world to also become more externally focused. His knowledge and experience as a businessman place him in a unique position to help Christians make a difference for the Kingdom of God in the workplace.
Dr. Corné Bekker is an international speaker on Christian spirituality and leadership and regularly speaks at churches, conferences and seminars worldwide. He also specialises in Biblical interpretation (exegesis) and teaches powerfully on the Gospel, solidly grounding it in the books of the New Testament. Shofar has a longstanding relationship with him as a Convergence speaker and Bible School presenter.
Corné received his formal education at the University of Johannesburg (formerly known as RAU) and worked at the Rhema Bible College in Johannesburg as the Assistant Dean before he moved to the United States, where he now presides over the School of Divinity at Regent University as dean and is associate professor at the Regent University School of Global Leadership & Entrepreneurship.
Author and pastor Tom Smith co-founded Claypot Church in Johannesburg and Rhythm of Life, a ministry that partners with individuals, churches and organisations to develop growth, discipleship, balance and fullness of life.
He has a heart for inter-cultural and inter-ethnic reconciliation through the power of living out the Gospel, especially within the context of South Africa’s painful past. For Tom, Christian spirituality is living out the Gospel of Jesus Christ by truly seeing and loving those around us.
He consults for South African churches in the areas of spiritual formation and missional spirituality. His book Raw Spirituality motivates many churches, ministries and individuals to have an outward focus in ministry which is rooted in spiritual intimacy with Jesus.
Heinrich Titus has been involved in the ministry for over 20 years. He is the senior pastor of Shofar Somerset West, former chairperson of Kibwe Kids (a foster care organisation) and serves on the Apostolic Team as Shofar’s international leader.
Heinrich has a heart for the marginalised, the weak, and the downtrodden of society. He pursues social justice and is actively involved in providing foster care to orphans in surrounding communities.
He is a pastor’s son, carrying with him the legacy that God has given to his family to be a voice of hope and grace to the world. We know Heinrich as a humble servant who loves the presence of God, who always gives glory to God and never takes glory for himself; someone who truly loves and cares for all people from all social backgrounds. We are excited to hear from him at Convergence this year.
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.