If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself.
You must take up your cross each day and follow me.
If you want to save your life, you will destroy it.
But if you give up your life for me, you will save it.
– Jesus (Luke 9:23–24 CEV)
Grace and peace in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Where we find ourselves
We are in the midst of a pandemic, a disease which is likely to be with us for quite some time. Most probably we will need to accept it as part of the warp and weft of life. Just like the many other maladies that afflict us, we will come to understand how to ‘live with COVID’.
For now, we are responding as best we can. Most people are following the instructions provided by the authorities, grateful to receive their help. Others are not so happy, seeing the restrictions as an imposition on their rights and the thin edge of the controlling wedge. A growing number of people are simply tired, especially in places where there are extended lockdowns. Home schooling, restricted socialising, limited worship opportunities – when will it all end? Our hearts go out to everyone who is weary, worried or suffering.
Our elected Australian and New Zealand governments – with some exceptions – seem committed to relaxing COVID-related restrictions and opening up borders when we reach agreed vaccination thresholds.
It’s a time of mixed feelings. One emotion is relief – vaccines are an answer to prayer, giving us a means of protecting lives and ending mass lockdowns. But another emotion is apprehension. Relaxing restrictions and opening up will be confronting for the many of us who have lived within a largely COVID-free ‘bubble’ since the pandemic began. We are apprehensive about living with COVID, even if on a smaller scale than some other places. How much smaller our toll of disease and death will be will depend directly on how many of us are vaccinated.
Strategically, governments and health authorities want to open up in such a way that they avoid overwhelming health-care systems with more critically ill people than they can effectively care for. Hospitals can acquire more ventilators without much difficulty, but they cannot so easily multiply the specialty staff trained to care for ventilated patients or beds for the seriously ill.
To maximise the number of people with vaccine protection, governments and health services are doing their utmost to make vaccines easier to access, include the young in their distribution, and, increasingly, provide older people with a choice of vaccines.
I respect people’s right to make their own choice, and I recognise that a few people cannot receive the vaccine for quite specific medical reasons. In general, though, I do encourage church members who are eligible to take advantage of the vaccines on offer.
The national Australian church leaders I speak with see the hand of God at work in the unprecedented cooperation that resulted in not just one but several vaccines. It is an answer to prayer. Australians and New Zealanders are blessed in comparison with many other countries. We have some of the world’s safest and most effective vaccines available to us. What’s more, they are free.
Yes, there are ethical questions about the vaccines to be considered. I encourage Christians to look into the evidence which overall shows that we can, in good conscience, accept the vaccines currently on offer through our governments. The personal, family, community and employment/business benefits greatly outweigh the remote risk of serious complications. If you are not sure about vaccine safety or some other aspect of them, you could check out COVID-19 Vaccines—Is it true? The site contains links to factsheets answering common questions about COVID-19 vaccines in English and 63 other languages spoken in Australian immigrant groups.
In Australia a debate has developed about requiring proof of vaccination to attend certain venues, including church worship. Some propose a vaccine ‘passport’ or ‘certificate’ as a means of enabling people who have been partly or fully vaccinated against COVID to undertake specified activities (such as catch a bus or a plane) or go to certain places (such as pubs, clubs, restaurants, theatres, churches and sporting events). People without evidence of vaccination would be unable to do so. The idea is to reduce the spread of COVID. An implied benefit is to motivate people to get vaccinated if they want to get back to normal life. A large part of the population appears to consider this approach ethically justified as long as it is temporary. The strongest push is in NSW and Victoria, both of which include this approach in their ‘roadmaps out of lockdown’. The reasoning runs: ‘The responsible thing to do is to look after yourself, your family, and your fellow citizens by getting vaccinated. Please do the right thing. If you refuse it is reasonable for society to inconvenience you by setting conditions on your freedoms for a period of time, and to prevent you from working in high risk environments.’
At the time of writing, there are no details on how such a system might work, or how long it would be in place. Therefore, the LCA can’t offer you fully informed, definitive advice on something we have not yet seen. Different jurisdictions will have different rules and their application to worship services won’t just affect our congregations, but all Christian churches and other religious gatherings. For our part, we in the LCANZ want to keep our public worship services open to all. It is reasonable, but not certain, to expect the justification for vaccine passports to reduce as greater numbers become vaccinated. This is new territory for all of us, and it is very likely that, for some time yet, we will need to continue the personal hygiene and physical distancing measures with which we have become familiar.
I see no evidence that the concept of a vaccine passport constitutes a deliberate attack or persecution against Christians. I don’t think it is helpful, or fair, to view it through the lens of a threat to religious freedom. So far, during COVID, our governments have done their best to understand the needs of churches and accommodate them. When church leaders have asked, government officials have interpreted the general community rules for use within churches. Their concern is to protect us and bring us through the pandemic with as few illnesses and deaths as possible. We should not give in to the fear which can be so pervasive, or those who claim we are victims of a conspiracy, nor the panic merchants who would turn us away from our trust and faith in Christ, trying to persuade us that government, which God means to be a good agent for the ordering of society, is some form of malevolent evil. In truth, our democratic governments are bound to the will of the people. In general, they deserve our healthy, even if at times critical, support.
Citizens of two kingdoms
We are grateful that in our society all of us are entitled to our own opinions and views on matters. It’s our individual choice to be in favour of vaccination or to oppose it, and to form our own views on any purported ‘passport’ scheme. Whatever we think of such things, however, and whatever actions we take about them, under God each of us has the right, privilege and duty to act for the good of all, restrain any sense of panic, and to maintain good order and a spirit of neighbourliness and compassion that goes beyond self-interest and seeks to serve others.
In this situation, we have a particular advantage. The Christian church has survived the ravages of the centuries – war, pestilence and famine. It has endured fierce opposition, hostile dictatorships and calamitous times without demurring. Its greatest challenges have come, not in times of struggle, but in times of peace and prosperity when it can be so easy to forget God and our total reliance on him. The faith we share is one in which we believe our Creator and Saviour God personally reached into his creation, taking all our burdens on himself. He immersed himself in this world, choosing to be born into our fragile state in a historical period of domination and tyranny, long before anything like the human rights and personal freedoms we enjoy had been invented. There was no democracy when Jesus walked on earth. A capricious, brutal human regime took his life from him, but it proved a hollow victory. Caesar did not take Jesus’ life, but Jesus chose to give it up so that we might receive eternal life. He did it all by grace, without any merit or worthiness on our part.
Such faith is an enduring source of confidence, courage and strength as in our day we discern how to respond to this pandemic in God-pleasing ways.
Faith and trust in Jesus provides a secure, stable position from which to respond to the ravages of the current COVID pandemic. Safe in his arms, we can practise good sense, taking a balanced view of history and the nature of these things, however they run. We can be confident that this is God’s world and Jesus is our Saviour, no matter what. As St Paul wrote, ‘In everything we have won more than a victory because of Christ who loves us. I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love—not life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future, and not powers above or powers below. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord!’ (Romans 8:37,38) Faith, itself a gift from God, provides immunity from fear, panic and overreaction. Yes, we still have our human fears and uncertainties, but we know to turn to God in repentance, prayer and thanksgiving, placing our anxieties before him. God listens, holding us gently in the palm of his hand until we are restored and back on our feet once again.
I commend each of you, and our Church, to the care of Almighty God, trusting him for our health and our future, in Christ our Lord.
Pastor John Henderson
Bishop, Lutheran Church of Australia and New Zealand
Adelaide, 21 September 2021
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’
Revelation 21:3–4 (NRSV)
Some additional links:
- LCANZ Guide to Christian ethical decision making on vaccinations:
- A pastoral letter reflecting on COVID-19, vaccinations, and lockdowns, by Pastor Dan Mueller:
- Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (for comparison):
On vaccine development: https://mediablog.catholic.org.au/a-letter-to-the-faithful-regarding-development-of-a-covid-19-vaccine/
On receiving a COVID vaccine: https://mediablog.catholic.org.au/catholics-in-australia-encouraged-to-receive-covid-19-vaccine/
- Church leaders in Sydney, in the state currently most forward about introducing vaccine passports:
- A personal appeal by Bill Vasilakis, Australian head of Christian Family Centres International:
- ABC Religion and Ethics article (20 September 2021):