Challenging Choices

5 November 2021
Dr Stuart Lange

Challenging Choices

by | Nov 5, 2021

As in wider society, there is significant anxiety among many Christians. Apart from general worries about Covid, lockdowns, livelihoods, vaccinations (for and against), vax mandates, and some people losing their jobs, some Christians are also concerned about the State impinging on the Church, or about how churches can operate within the traffic light system.

From our very wide contacts across churches, however, we can confidently say that most Christian people in New Zealand accept that Covid restrictions and vaccinations are necessary measures during a pandemic (even though some may disagree with the Government on many matters), and that the vast majority of Christian pastors believe they should obey the authorities, are feeling for those most vulnerable, care for those they disagree with, are struggling with how best to hold church gatherings within the new framework, and are eagerly looking forward to completely unrestricted church services post-pandemic.

As is their right, and on various grounds, some Christians have decided not to take the vax, and continue to act with grace, reason, and respect towards others. Some others have become close-minded, angry, militant, and divisive, and that is causing problems in some churches.

See a respectful “Open Letter to the Unvaccinated in the Christian Community” from Gareth Jones, Emeritus Professor of Anatomy in the University of Otago, and a Baptist.

To all Christians we say: love and honour one another, listen to one another, show the fruit of the Spirit, and whatever your views on lesser matters always keep Christ at the centre.


CHOICES: vaccination certificate-required church, or open-entry?

This issue is particularly preoccupying church leaders at this time. The very idea of the Government prescribing who may or may not come to church is troubling to many. Some believe the separation of vaxed and unvaxed believers us contrary to biblical principles. Some see the matter from a more pragmatic perspective.

Here’s an Australian article that discusses the biblical and doctrinal issues around church services requiring vaccination certificates. (Remember, though, that in New Zealand smaller church services are allowed, without a vaccination certificate).

Some churches, especially those which already have multiple services, may decide to offer two different types of church services (at least once we reach the orange level):

  1. vaccination-certificate-required church gatherings (which are allowed to be larger)
  2. open-entry church gatherings (but with smaller numbers allowed – see the NZCN summary graphic of the traffic light system above). In these services, no consideration need be given to whether or not attenders are vaccinated. We feel it is unhelpful to see these open-entry services as just “services for the unvaccinated”.

Some smaller churches may opt for just one or more open-entry services.

For very large churches, with thousands of members, limits on numbers are obviously highly restricting. Some such churches may delay resuming on-site church services for some months.

Some churches may rely heavily on small groups.

Some may hold outdoor gatherings or picnics, in accordance with whatever is permitted at the time.

Some churches would like the Government to change the rules about church gatherings. For the sake of public health, the authorities may or may not be willing to agree to that. For instance, some are hoping that tests such as Rapid Antigen Tests may be able to be used by some who don’t have vaccination certificates.

Please pray for church leaders as they find their way through all this, and also please let us know what your own church or denomination is thinking! We are happy to share useful resources.

Here is an RNZ item surveying what some (Auckland) churches have in mind.

Here is a heartfelt piece from Rev Frank Ritchie, asking for people to be generous with regard to whatever decisions their church makes. Among other things, Frank writes:  “Be gentle with your leaders. I can almost guarantee any who take this seriously will be having sleepless nights and have probably shed tears. They feel the pressure of loud voices. If they’re listening, they’ll be wondering if they’re making the right calls. There is no absolute right and wrong in navigating this. We stick close to God and trust that the wisdom of the Spirit is guiding our steps…”

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