Tag Archives: Heidelberg Catechism QA 105

Pastoral Q & A: Vaccinations

A parishioner wrote and asked:  What is the Christian position on vaccinations?  Should we get our children vaccinated?

Now that’s a dangerous question!  Emotions run high on both sides of the debate.  The pro-vaccination crowd accuses the anti-vaccination crowd of being reckless with the health of our children.  The anti-vaxxers respond by accusing the pro-vaxxers of wanting to poison their children.  Things get all the more intense when we bring Christian arguments about God’s providence or abortion into the debate.

Wouldn’t it be great if the Bible gave a clear answer to this question?  As it stands, there are no Bible passages that give us explicit instructions about whether to vaccinate our children.  There are biblical principles that we need to consider and apply, but we must recognize that we’re in an area where Christians do and can disagree.  Our church does not hold to a position on vaccinations.  Our confessions don’t stake a position on this.  There is no single “Reformed” position, rather a diversity of views exist among Reformed people.  We therefore have to be careful with the way we debate this issue.  We can still be brothers and sisters in Christ and disagree on this question.

In my view, there are at least three biblical principles that we need to consider and apply.

First and foremost, we are not to recklessly endanger lives, whether our own or those of others.  This is derived from the Heidelberg Catechism’s explanation of the Sixth Commandment, “You shall not kill” (HC QA 105).  Vaccinations are proven to prevent diseases, many of which can be life-threatening.  However, it should also be recognized that there may be individuals who might experience life-threatening side-effects or reactions to vaccinations.  By way of exception, therefore, it can be granted that some individual children ought not to be vaccinated.

Second, children are entrusted by God to the parents (Psalm 127:3).  The parents have the ultimate responsibility to care for their children and make decisions relating to their health and welfare.  Parents also have the calling to be responsible in caring for their children.  Moreover, they are accountable to God for the decisions they make.  If your child dies from a disease you could have prevented by having your child vaccinated, that’s on your conscience.  You have to be prepared to accept that risk if you choose not to vaccinate your children.

Third, since the government is mandated by God to uphold justice (Romans 13:1-4), vaccinations are also a matter of public health policy.  Justice includes preventing unnecessary deaths due to bad public health practices.  At the very least, civil governments have the responsibility to educate the public on the value of vaccinations.  Going beyond that, one is faced with an inevitable conflict between the rights of parents and the responsibility of the government to protect the public from harm.  At the moment, I don’t know exactly how to resolve that.  Perhaps it would be resolved by recognizing parents have the freedom to choose, but still holding them criminally responsible for any public health consequences from their choice.

And what about God’s providence?  Yes, we believe that he is sovereignly in control over all things.  Nothing happens to us by chance.  But we can never use that truth to evade the truth of our human responsibility.  I don’t get in the car and say, “I don’t need to wear a seatbelt because God is sovereign.  If he wants me to die in a crash, then it’s my time.”  We all realize that’s foolish talk with seatbelts — it’s equally foolish with vaccinations.  If there’s a means to preserve the life of you or your child, you’re required to use it.

Finally, objections are sometimes raised about the contents of vaccines.  One objection says that vaccines contain toxic/poisonous chemicals.  Since our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, we ought not to inject these substances into them.  However, my understanding is that the levels of these chemicals found in vaccines is so small as to have no negative effect on your overall health.  I’m not a medical doctor, but the Australian Medical Association, the Canadian Medical Association, and others all stand behind the safety of vaccines, and I’ll take their word for it.  Think about it:  if doctors and medical researchers are aware of the content of these vaccines, and they really knew it was harmful and hid it from us, would they allow their own children to be vaccinated?  There’s no proof that doctors are secretly leading the way in keeping their children unvaccinated — in fact, the opposite is the case with the vast majority (as illustrated from this research with doctors in Switzerland).

The other objection is far more weighty and has to do with the use of aborted human babies in developing vaccines.  This is a reality which we need to acknowledge and come to terms with.  While the number of babies that were used to develop certain cell lines for vaccines was small, they each represent a human life unjustly killed.  Even if they weren’t expressly killed for medical research, murder made it possible.  That said, there are several medical advances commonly used today which have their origins in highly unethical circumstances.  One of the most well-known is a treatment for hypothermia discovered by researchers in Nazi Germany.  Are we forbidden from using that life-saving treatment because a number of people were murdered by the Nazis in the process of developing it?  No, we recognize that Scripture teaches that God can and does bring good out of horrible evil (think of the cross!).  We are not approving of the evil when we make use of the good that has come from it.  Yes, by all means, if there are alternatives not developed from human fetal cell lines, we would rather use those.  Furthermore, we would certainly want to encourage medical/pharmaceutical companies to be ethical.  However, this argument need not be an obstacle for Christian parents when it comes to vaccinations.

As you might have gathered, all our children have been vaccinated for the usual assortment of preventable illnesses.  My wife and I believe that was the responsible thing to do — and certainly no ill effects have resulted from that choice.  I respect the right of other Christian parents to reach a different conclusion, so long as they’re being thoughtful and responsible in the way they reason and act.  In the spirit of Romans 14:1-12, we ought to all give one another the same Christian courtesy.

 


Honour the Emperor

Social media is both a blessing and a curse, and oftentimes I’m tempted to think it may be more of the latter.  One of those double-edged things about social media is that you get to see what people are really thinking.  It’s sort of like getting everybody drunk without the alcohol.  All their inhibitions are gone, they become impulsive, and start baring what’s really in their hearts.  That can be a blessing — when you see thoughts and words that clearly are fruit of the Holy Spirit.  It can also be a blessing for pastors and other church leaders as you get to understand the areas of growth that are still needed in the lives of those entrusted to our care.  But it can also be a curse when you get frustrated with seeing blatantly unbiblical behaviour amongst God’s people online.

Right now I’m thinking about especially about the way that Christians will sometimes speak about those set over them in positions of authority.  It’s one thing to disagree with the policies, principles or actions of our political leaders.  I disagree with a lot of those too.  But it is quite another thing to disrespect those leaders.  It’s another thing to mock them.  It’s another thing to call them names.  Sometimes it seems as if professing Christians regard politicians as not even being human beings created in the image of God.  It’s as if lawfully elected men and women suddenly lose their humanity and it’s open season on them.  Christians are free to attack them.

This is problematic on two levels.  The first level has to do with the Sixth Commandment, “You shall not kill.”  Reformed believers understand that this commandment is not just about the physical act of killing someone.  It also goes to our attitudes and the roots of murder.  In the words of the Heidelberg Catechism, “I am not to dishonour, hate, injure, or kill my neighbour by thoughts, words or gestures, and much less by deeds, whether personally or through another” (QA 105).  Positively speaking, we are “to love our neighbour as ourselves, to show patience, peace, gentleness, mercy, and friendliness toward him…” (QA 107).  Is the Prime Minister your neighbour?  How about the Minister of National Defence?  Even if you don’t appreciate their policies or their actions, at the bare minimum they are still human beings created in the image of God.  They are still our neighbours and therefore the Sixth Commandment applies.  Does mocking your neighbour honour him?  Does calling your neighbour names show “patience, peace, gentleness, mercy and friendliness toward him”?

The second level on which this is problematic is more specific.  The Fifth Commandment has to do with how we interact with authority.  It’s not just about honouring our father and mother, but also about honouring government.  We are to show “honour, love, and faithfulness” to all those in authority.  We’re also to be patient “with their weaknesses and shortcomings, since it is God’s will to govern us by their hand.” (HC QA 104).  God calls us in the Fifth Commandment to honour and love our government officials, even if they are difficult to love.

This receives further attention in the New Testament.  The era in which the New Testament was written saw many people living under a tyrannical foreign ruler — the Roman Emperor.  The Roman Emperors were corrupt and wicked in many ways.  They were oppressive and they persecuted Christians.  If one were to compare today’s Prime Minister (in Canada or Australia) with, say, Nero, the PM would come off looking relatively alright.  Has your PM burned down the capital and then blamed it on the Christians?  Has he used Christians as living torches for a garden party?  No, I didn’t think so.  That places the statements about the emperor in the New Testament in context.  Statements like what we find in 1 Peter 2:17, “Honour everyone.  Love the brotherhood.  Fear God.  Honour the emperor.”  Yes, that emperor.  Lest we miss the point, the Holy Spirit speaks along the same lines in Romans 13 and 1 Timothy 2.  Even if the Emperor is a wicked man with ungodly values, the Holy Spirit told believers to honour him and pray for him.  The Holy Spirit even went so far as to say that such a man is a “minister of God” (Rom. 13:6)!

I have the impression that many people underestimate the workload of our elected leaders.  Many of them work long hours in civic service.  Many of them put in these long hours out of a sense of commitment to their communities.  Even if they’re not Christians, they do want to make our communities better.  They want to serve.  Whatever their motives may be or how pure they are, we can be thankful that there are men and women willing to do this hard work.  Yes, we need more Christians to step up to the plate as well.  But, for all of us, the Scriptures are clear that those carrying the name of Christ are to respect those in this field.  The world mocks and dehumanizes politicians.  The world glories when they fall and say or do foolish things.  The world dishonours our leaders and treats them with contempt.  Do we see that Christians are called to be counter-cultural here?  Let’s find ways of disagreeing with our leaders, while at the same time loving them, respecting them, honouring them and their service, and praying for them.