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vaccines, masks, civil liberties, & the church

Masks

PART 1 OF 3

Part 1: KEEPING THE MAIN THING THE MAIN THING
(Why experiencing and extending the kingdom of heaven on earth is all that matters)

Part 2: LOVING CHOICES AND PUBLIC HEALTH
(Why I am personally pro-vaccine while also wanting to respectfully listen to and learn from people who disagree)

Part 3: RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
(Some suggestions on ways to move forward together)

Hi friends. I am asked regularly by a variety of people for my opinion on all things COVID-19, vaccinations, mask-wearing, and government intervention. So I’ve decided to do a short series of blog posts to invite you into my process, for those who might be interested.

In this first post, I want to share some introductory thoughts about my general approach to the topic of submission to government. In part 2, I will share how I interpret the competing voices on the science and sanity of vaccinations and government legislation. In part 3, I will suggest some ways we can all move forward together and will talk more about what it means to “not give up meeting together” according to Hebrews 10:24-25.

The following opinions are those of this participant, and do not necessarily reflect the views of our church, our denomination, or its sponsors. 😉

MY CONFESSION

I should start with a confession: these issues do not interest me as much as they seem to interest many of the people who ask for my opinion or who try to engage me in conversation about it all. Let me explain…

Yes, I believe they are important topics, but not everything that is important is personally engaging to everyone. I am grateful that dentists know dentistry and chemists know chemistry and mechanics know mechanistry, but I don’t personally care to think about or talk about these topics all the time even though I know they are valuable contributors to contemporary life. This is how I feel about most discussions revolving around vaccinations and mask-wearing and government guidelines.

I’m not saying this is a particularly good thing or bad thing about me. It just is. If you find these issues interesting and engaging and you enjoy spending time looking into it all, I am cheering you on! (Better you than me, I think quietly to myself.) 😊

MY STARTING POINT

My default is simple: in every conversation I have, every mental reaction I allow myself, and every interaction I engage in, I want to move with the flow of the Holy Spirit in me, who we know is working to produce more love, more joy, more peace, more patience, more kindness, more goodness, more faithfulness, more gentleness, and more self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

In every conversation I have, every mental reaction I allow myself, and every interaction I engage in, I want to move with the flow of the Holy Spirit in me.

~ Bruxy Cavey

When it comes to the issues of governmental guidelines during this pandemic, I am happy to do whatever is recommended by our government as long as it does not push me to disrespect, disobey, or deny Christ. Then I can move along happily with my focus put back onto things that more naturally (and supernaturally) occupy my attention – like the mission and message of Jesus and what it means to help people experience and extend the kingdom of heaven on earth. One of my favourite Bible verses helps me keep it simple:

Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus.
(Hebrews 3:1)

Amen! We live in a world of infinite distractions, and I find current debates about our government’s approach to healthcare can be added to that long list. My goal is always to find the simplest and most Jesus-centred way forward, the way that helps rather than hinders our calling to keep our thoughts fixed on Jesus.

I pass everything through my mental filter of what matters most to me: helping more and more people learn about and follow Jesus. I am pretty one dimensional that way. A broken record. A one note song. To riff off the first-century Rabbi Hillel: Jesus is life to me; the rest is commentary.  That commentary can be helpful support and important backup, but when it starts to overtake the central place in my mental space and prime real estate in conversations with others around me, it becomes distracting noise and I need to re-adjust my focus before my soul begins to shrivel.

Having said that, even though the topics of masks, vaccines, and civil liberties do not directly capture my interest, people do capture my interest, and a lot of people have been asking me about these things. So, what follows in this series of posts is, no doubt in a clumsy and inadequate fashion, me trying to lay out how I’ve been approaching and processing these issues in my mind and my relationships. I am writing this series of posts, not because I like to swim in these conversational waters, but because I am pulled into them regularly by people who ask me questions. With that in mind, I appreciate your grace as I do my best to wade into some waters I don’t usually swim in.

AN OBSERVATION

People tend to be egocentric. And that is completely understandable. But as a community of Jesus People, the Church should be a network of relationships where we challenge one another to push back against this tendency toward self-absorption in all of us, where we encourage and help equip one another to do a better job of loving others around us.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.
(Hebrews 10:24)

The Greek word behind spurring one another on means to jab, poke, or stab someone with something sharp. I love it. Christ-followers are called to provoke one another, to jab one another, to poke and prod one another toward loving well and living well.

Christ-followers are called to provoke one another, to jab one another, to poke and prod one another toward loving well and living well.

~ Bruxy Cavey

But it seems to me that over the past number of COVID-19 dominated months, when our government gives us health guidelines during this difficult time, a common Christian response has been to criticize our leaders while asking ego-centric questions about our rights, our freedoms, our liberties and how we can protect them. I anticipate these kinds of questions from the population at large, but I am disappointed when Christians mimic this mental focus. We ask collectively self-absorbed questions like “What are the exemptions for churches?” or “How are we going to organize ourselves as Christians to stand up for our rights and push back against government overreach?” etc.

Heavy sigh.

It seems to me that our government officials must hold a measure of unhealthy fear of the push-back of religious institutions, since they often make different guidelines for secular vs religious gatherings, usually being more lenient in their restrictions for religious meetings. What are these different standards based on? Government officials must discuss how far they can mandate what they feel is most healthy for our communities before they cross a line and offend too many religious people. Is this really the space we want to occupy in the minds of others when they think of churches in our nation? Do we want to be those people who cause others to walk on eggshells because they don’t want to offend us and draw our ire?

Heavier sigh.

GRATEFUL FOR GOVERNMENT

Providence. That’s the word used to describe how God works through all kinds of means in our world throughout history. This means that Christians can have a generally positive disposition toward institutions and organizations of power, especially governments, not because we find them consistently trustworthy, but because God is consistently trustworthy and he has promised to work through governments even when they are not. Because of Divine Providence, Christians can engage with government all the while looking for ways God might be at work through their decisions.

Christians can have a generally positive disposition toward institutions and organizations of power, especially governments, not because we find them consistently trustworthy, but because God is consistently trustworthy and he has promised to work through governments even when they are not.

~ Bruxy Cavey

We who follow Jesus are inspired by the way Jesus willingly submitted himself to Pontius Pilate, a terrible leader by most standards, saying:

You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.
~ Jesus (John 19:11) [For more on this, see here.]

That line from Jesus is super significant. Unless any governing authority asks us to do something that causes us to disrespect, disobey, or deny Christ, we should gladly and gratefully submit to our governments knowing that God is somehow bigger than our governments and is always at work through them. This seems to be an unambiguous New Covenant teaching.

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
~ The apostle Paul (Romans 13:1)

Lean into this idea a moment. Let it sink in. We shouldn’t breeze past it. Jesus, and later the apostle Paul, tells us just how big and engaged God is in human affairs, even if we don’t see it on the surface. Let’s not miss the glory of this reality. Let’s celebrate Divine Providence. [For more on Divine Providence, see my post here.]

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 
~ The apostle Paul (Romans 8:28)

When the apostle Paul wrote these words above, in Romans 8 and 12, Nero was Emperor of Rome. And he was a bad man. But Paul had the faith to believe that God was bigger than Rome and was using even poor leadership to accomplish something that played right into God’s larger plan. Lord increase our faith and give us eyes to see.

[An aside: I realize that some Christians believe that the government is mandating that we do dishonour and disobey Christ by not assembling in Sunday services in the same way we have always done, but I’m not buying it and I’ll talk more about that in the last post of this three-part series.]

Yes, there may be times when we must not submit to ungodly government. One time the apostles were warned by the authorities not to publicly proclaim the good news of Jesus. But an angel of the Lord appeared to them in a vision and told them the opposite – to go and tell others about this new life in Christ. Peter and the other apostles made the choice not to submit to the governing authorities, saying:

We must obey God rather than human beings!
~ The apostle Peter (Acts 5:29)

If our government tells us we cannot proclaim Jesus, we will need to make this same apostolic choice, and gladly accept whatever persecution follows. But this story about the apostles is not a blanket permission to ignore the edicts of governments under the banner of “We must obey God rather than men!” We should have the faith to believe that it may be God who is the one instructing us through governments for our own and others’ wellbeing. That is Providence. In most cases, our cry will not be “We must obey God rather than government!” but rather “We must obey God by submitting to government!”

To be clear, I am under no delusion that pharmaceutical companies and secular governments are always acting out of other-centred love and the milk of human kindness. People want to make money and exercise power. I get it. Our Canadian government, like most governments, has often acted in unloving, damage-causing, truth-hiding ways, especially toward indigenous and marginalized people. This lived experience will understandably make many people more hesitant to trust. Whatever the reason behind our trust hesitancy, my encouragement to all Christ-followers is to remember that when we submit to government we are not so much trusting in government as much as we are trusting in God. We are not declaring that government is good, but that God is good and God is great and that in all things God works for our good.

This does not mean that we are never called upon to speak truth to power, only that our prophetic voice must occur within the framework of God’s Providence, which should lead to a disposition of peace in the middle of the storm. Love, even enemy love, is always our motivation rather than fear and its accompanying outrage. (Again, for more on how God’s Providence can lead to our peace, see this post here.)

When we submit to government, we are not so much trusting in government as much as we are trusting in God.

~ Bruxy Cavey

Rome was the government that both Jesus and the apostle Paul were engaged with when they pointed toward God’s overarching plan being worked out through government, and Rome was an unloving, damage-causing, truth-hiding superpower, like every super power before and since.

In his sermon to Greek leaders in Athens, the apostle Paul tells them:

From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.
~ The apostle Paul (Acts 17:26-27)

Wow. God is always arranging national history so that the maximum opportunity exists to encounter and engage with God’s own Self. When we focus on helping people experience and extend the kingdom of heaven on earth, we are moving in the flow of God’s Spirit at work in our world. Then we will have the faith to say along with Joseph, whose life was radically affected by the evil decisions of others around him: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good” (Genesis 50:20).

The bottom line for me is that it is not my job to police this world and to judge human hearts. (Remember, the hearts of Roman governor Pilate and emperor Nero were apparently quite evil, but somehow God was still working through their leadership.) So, whenever I am tempted to play the role of Judge over the universe, I recall that I am not good at it and the position is taken.

While mentoring a young pastor to help him guide his church well, the apostle Paul wrote:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.
~ The apostle Paul (1 Timothy 2:1-6)

Are we praying for, and thanking God for, our leadership as they try to navigate through this emotionally, relationally, and politically complex season of history? When governmental officials think of the Christian Church in Canada today, do smiles come across their faces and a lightness enter their hearts as they think “Ah, these people are always so grateful and kind toward us”? I have my doubts. And notice too in the above passage how Paul’s mind then moves quickly back to his main focus: joining God in his ultimate desire to see more and more people encounter Christ, our only hope of rescue out of our sin and self-absorption.

OUR REASON FOR BEING THE CHURCH

We have a lot to learn from the first generations of Christ-followers. The early church, persecuted as they were, seemed to have a singular focus of experiencing and extending the kingdom of heaven on earth. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) was their reason for being. And to accomplish their calling to make disciples of all nations, the first Christians were happy to bend where they could so they could save up their energies to be inflexible where they must. They were brilliantly strategic and refused to be embroiled in debates that could absorb their limited energies and pull them off mission.

The first Christians were happy to bend where they could so they could save up their energies to be inflexible where they must.

~ Bruxy Cavey

For instance:

  • Even though Jesus declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19), the Jerusalem Council recommends gentiles abstain from meat with blood in it out of kindness to their conservative Jewish brothers and sisters (Acts 15:28-29) and the apostle Paul recommends restricting our New Covenant liberties if it causes division in the Body of Christ (Romans 14:1-15:7).
  • Although a religious mandate to get circumcised could potentially compromise the gospel (see the book of Galatians), Paul would still circumcise Timothy (awkward!) to help advance the gospel (Acts 16:1-3).
  • Even though the need for animal sacrifice is done away with under the New Covenant (Hebrews 10:1-18), the apostle Paul would participate in the temple sacrificial system on at least one occasion in order to dispel the misunderstanding that he had become anti-Jewish (Acts 21:22-26).
  • Although the New Covenant allows for freedom of expression in appearance (John 7:24), Paul counselled men and women to follow cultural guidelines for showing respect (1 Corinthians 11). 
  • And even though paying taxes to Rome might fund a government that was far from God-honouring, Jesus encouraged paying taxes as a practical expression of submission (Matthew 22:15-22) and the early church followed this practice as an act of honour (Romans 13:6-7).

Once again: the early Church would bend wherever they could while being inflexible wherever they must.

So, for my sisters and brothers who might not be personally convinced by the science behind vaccinations and masks (more about this in our next post) or fear that our government is overreaching in its legislation, the bottom line for me is that if it isn’t an issue essential to the gospel, I would hope we could at least comply for the sake of living “peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:2).

Let us not care about our rights as Canadian citizens as much as we care about our responsibilities as ambassadors of the Jesus Nation.

~ Bruxy Cavey

Let us not care about our rights as Canadian citizens as much as we care about our responsibilities as ambassadors of the Jesus Nation, and about making the most of every opportunity we might have to share the good news of Jesus.

Grace and Peace,

Bruxy

NEXT POST COMING SOON…

Part 2: LOVING CHOICES AND PUBLIC HEALTH (Why I am personally pro-vaccine while also wanting to respectfully listen to and learn from people who disagree)

Tags : ChurchGovernmentmasksProvidenceSubmissionVaccines

55 Comments

  1. This article made me want to cry. I felt sad at where we are, after having attended the Meeting House for over 15 years. Is it loving to say to a member of your church, “Just comply, take the injection, it’ll probably be ok, the government says so” when the experimental vaccine has been known to harm, has harmed people that I know personally? Is it loving to single out an identifiable group within your congregation with coercion about an action they must take in order to belong, other than the action of “Follow Jesus” and then letting them prayerfully consider what that means to them? Is it loving to say anything to the unvaccinated other than, “We respect your personal decision regarding the vaccine and you are welcome at the Meeting House, come as you are”? Our church has, in the past, set up forums for persecuted groups. These groups have come under other names – a gender, an ethnicity, a race, a disability. This latest group whom you’ve singled out is now staring at you and you’re telling them they need to change who they are to follow Jesus. Would you say the same thing to someone who has experienced sexism, racism, ableism, ageism or other forms of abuse? I leave you with one final question: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you whom you have received from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19) For some, that verse may mean nothing, no change to one’s lifestyle, sign me up for an injection and hopefully that will keep me safe. For others, that verse is a call to actually do something meaningful with one’s body, to treat it as sacred, to keep it healthy, to use it as God would want us to use it, because our bodies are God’s. Such a “calling” does not fall into the category of a Canadian claiming rights and freedoms. Such a “calling” respects your identified verse in 1 Timothy about “peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness”. You will not find me getting really angry, causing riots or yelling obscenities, the sort of person colloquially referred to as an “anti-vaxxer”. The “calling” that I have experienced goes much deeper than anything the state might give me as a right or freedom; it goes to the core of honouring who I am as a Christ follower by making my own decisions for the health of my body in prayerful discernment with Jesus. I don’t take this responsibility that I have lightly. I have a lot to risk, including my professional reputation in the minds of the masses. We need to realize that God might actually have different plans for different bodies, that just as you have taken the vaccine and it has worked for you, He might use me in a different way because I have not taken the vaccine. Isn’t it wonderful that we are all not the same? The one-size-fits-all mentality of vaccine pushers ignores that there is a segment of Christ followers for whom God might have plans that are different from what you would like or anticipate. And that is part of the beauty of life. That we aren’t all the same. If you respect that I am not alone, that there are others like me, with similar beliefs in your church, I think you will realize that maybe compliance is not the answer after all. We can in any event trade stories in Heaven and marvel at how we ended up in the same place at the end of the day.

  2. Does not Romans 14 talk about leaving room for conscience in disputable matters? Did Daniel not respectfully turn down the King’s royal food and wine in Daniel 1? Are not many of the bible’s “one another” commands prescribed for the church without condition?

    Respectfully, I’m not anti-vaccine at all, but this vaccine passport is encouraging Canadians to shame their brothers and sisters for having a differing of conscience on a personal medical decision. Is the “Heavy sigh” and “Heavier sigh” in your post a helpful response to Christians who feel called to respectfully stand up for their churches, their brothers, their sisters, and their children? Can we not love our neighbour without causing Christians to walk on eggshells with other Christians around these issues?

  3. I think you make some excellent points, mostly near the beginning but then it got a little too spicy meatball for me to swallow. I think you begin to use scripture too broadly to wrap everything up with a nice little bow as if it’s not extremely complex. You’re wrapping up too many different things into one post and one “submit to the government” command from God. Masks are different from vaccines, different from restrictions for businesses and churches, etc. You can submit to the government and wear your mask (if you are able?) where it is a law as a way of peace (fully knowing that these masks may or may not actually do anything depending on who you choose to believe). Getting the vaccine is still a choice according to the government (although yes, you are getting more restricted about what you can and can’t do without one) so, if someone doesn’t get a vaccine that does not equate them to not “submitting to the government as Jesus did to be killed as part of God’s plan”. They can still “submit to the government” (if that is in fact what being a Christ-follower always requires) by simply not going where they are no longer welcome. Is this now The Meeting House included?

    Yes, God can work through evil to bring forth his good plan but we are given free will, we are responsible for taking care of our “fearfully and wonderfully made bodies”, we are given the intelligence, time and resources to make good decisions (making informed personal health decisions is a “responsibility” too). Most of us have access to the internet to search for truth IF we care to take the time to find it instead of playing video games or watching Netflix (although yes, censorship is making it difficult). We can choose to find non-bias research and a variety of Health Professional opinions on the effects of “the vaccines” (which yes, aren’t fully known yet because there hasn’t been enough time to fully study them. Early research says they don’t work and the #s of vaccine injuries and deaths are quite frankly sickening. I believe this breaks God’s heart and should break ours too). Thankfully, God made herbs that are helping people improve after making a choice they have since regretted. I think we underestimate how poor health outcomes can be used by the enemy to cripple us and minimize the love, forgiveness and energy we have left to give to others. (Furthermore, if we’re talking about “submitting to the government” many of us should try to meet the nutrition, physical activity, sedentary time and alcohol guidelines they provide to protect us but we don’t “submit” to that and we’re not considered to be not following Jesus if we don’t).

    And if we want to talk about “rights”, perhaps we are being asked to give up our rights to hop on an airplane and fly whenever wherever we want or go to concerts/sports events. Maybe we are being called to live simpler and give more generously with time and money that would be used for pleasure. Woah, that’s far too convicting…

    Peace and Love can still be done no matter what choice you make for your own personal health. Just because you don’t get an “injection of God only knows what” doesn’t mean you aren’t a peaceful, loving, Christ follower (and vice versa).

    I think this blog article really should have started and ended with “Focus on Jesus. Pray for him to give you the wisdom and truth to help you make the best decision for your health and circumstances because you are precious to Him. Love others as yourself whether or not they have the same race, ethnicity, gender, age group, political view, or “vaccine” status as you. We do not all have to make the same decisions for our health because God created each of us unique. Work to create unity and don’t get distracted by the world, just focus on what unites us, not divides us. And pray, because no one but God truly knows what is going on here”.

    What I do know is personally I would not want to be responsible for endorsing a potentially lethal action to any fellow child of God and certainly not in the name of Christ.

    Bottom line: Jesus still loves you whether or not you have decided to get “the vaccine”. He looks at your heart, not your vaccine passport. Hopefully this is the case right?

    And Bruxy, please know that I recognize these times are challenging for you in your position. I continue to pray that God will help you continuously discern the messages you put forth in your work as a teacher of Jesus.

    1. Thank you Aglow,Jesse, &JoyDC – I apprecoate Bruxy’s love for God’s word but areas of deficits for me were in noted persons responses-covered my thoughts completely – so important “care of God’s Temple” – our bodies (include my God created brain for use in decisions )and to “speak the truth in love” especially for the vulnerable ie: children. The parents whom “informed consent” is requested but details cannot be fully understood without some transparency from the medical community. So many unknowns and poor or nontransparent data. I’ve had my vaccine and it was not without repercussions.

  4. I personally do not understand the hard line resistance to vaccines. I have many friends who are resistant, and who are particularly worried about the government becoming control crazy. While I do share some of the concerns (I do not enjoy controlling people or institutions), the movement to resist vaccines is not new and has traditionally been based on fear and a refusal to accept the scientific inquiry of the worlds top scientists as a conspiracy of big pharma. Here’s the thing: If you aren’t willing to take the one thing that is a near guarantee to protect you from one of the worst viruses any of us has seen, what are you willing to do? This very quickly becomes is a “save me God from drowning but ignore the boats being sent to help you not drown” situation.

    Here is where my mind melts:
    There is a fair amount of hard science that points to the overall efficacy of the current covid vaccines, and the key reasons they were developed quickly has a lot to do with incredible modern computing power and coordinated global information sharing. I take medication for a medical condition I’ve had for a long time, and for a long time I didn’t know about the problem and my health deteriorated over time. One of the possible serious side effects of this medication is blood clots. I could try a bunch of home remedies, but in the end the medication is still the most effective thing.

    Here’s the rub: if given the choice between almost certain delibating illness that also poses a clear and present risk to my life vs a 90-95% chance of a completely managed (or possibly no) illness but a 5% chance of something serious developing, I’m going with option 2 because if I go with option 1, my risk of death or serious illness is much greater. This is not that far off from the choice we have to make regarding covid.

    Having said that, I am not trying to make anyone feel bad about their choices. But I am hoping to present enough good reasons that this vaccine, for all of its flaws, is our best shot. It’s a miracle this thing was developed so fast and It’s a miracle it works. What more do we need to see? However, if you are so ground in on your choice that you do not wish to be reasoned with, I will respect that completely.

  5. Bruxy, brother, if you do read this, please know that I appreciate you writing this. One of my favourite passages in the Bible has to do with Paul essentially saying, “I don’t care who you hear the gospel from, or who you think is the best teacher, just as long as you are hearing the good news of Jesus!” Talk about seeing the big picture. When it comes to social distancing, mask mandates, vaccine passports, freedoms, rights, and all the rest of it, my only expectation of my fellow Christians is that they base the reasons for their decisions on Jesus’ teachings and example.

    If all the law and the prophets hang on the command to love God with all that we are and to love even those we despise the most as we love ourselves, then whether it’s right or wrong to assemble, or to get vaccinated, or to wear white after labour day, it should ALWAYS be a decision we make based on love. So if you refuse to social distance, help me see how that’s loving. Or if you insist on getting vaccinated to the point that you would cut those who are unvaccinated out of your life, again, fine, help me see how that’s loving.

    By the way, when Jesus commands us to love others as he loves us, that’s a pretty tall order. For consider this – Jesus was perfect. That means Jesus obeyed the command to love God with his heart, mind, and strength. It also means he loved his enemies as he loved himself. But since Jesus is God, then the way Jesus loves himself is with all his heart, mind and strength. Which means, in turn, that he loved his enemies, including us, with all his heart, mind and strength. In fact he proved that by giving up all of those things for our sake on the cross. Therefore, if we are to love others as Jesus loves us, then this means we need to love others with all that we are. This is how we love God with our everything, by loving his children with our everything as well.

    Thanks again for your perspective. I think it’s right on target.

    Charles

  6. No choice comes without risk. I really Just want people to carefully weigh out the actual risk one takes with themselves and those around them by not taking an established vaccine. But I am just one person on the internet with an opinion. So …

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