By Callie Mitchell, SAVED News International Correspondent, Jerusalem, Israel
Recently I’ve observed several influential leaders in the believing communities, both here in Israel and the United States, employ Romans 13 to encourage the Covid-19 vaccines. I’ve been concerned about this use of scripture, and the implications it might have in the lives of others not only for today but also for the direction history is moving according to God’s word. It is worth discussing.
In this passage, the Lord, through Paul, admonishes the believers in Rome to “be subject to governing authorities” because they are “instituted by God.” (v.1).
The scripture then follows that resisting authorities appointed by God will cause judgment. (v.2)
That’s strong language, worthy of any believer taking a pause.
While this passage is unquestionably profitable for teaching, to rightly divide the word of God, we need to be careful to not have a reader-centered hermeneutic that misapplies the principles of the passage to present circumstances.
In context, this passage is primarily about the legalities of paying taxes (vs. 6-7). It was written with that specific issue in mind. Paul is admonishing the believers to obey tax laws, which is consistent with the teachings of Messiah Yeshua, to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12: 13-17).
Scripture here continues to explain that the role of the government is to “bear the sword” against the “wrong doer.” (vs. 3-4).
The Lord establishes government, and in its appropriate form, the government is a tool He uses to execute righteous judgment against those who violate His moral code of right and wrong. Naturally, if we are doing good, then the government is not a “terror” to us. (v.4)
The admonishment to obey the ruling officials is to keep civil order and to protect the safe well-being of the believing community over an issue that is not in conflict with God’s law. Today the same would easily apply for other laws that are not found in scripture but are not in conflict with scripture. Traffic laws are a good example.
There have been times in history; however, where governments have rebelled against God’s morality and set unrighteous standards of their own. We have seen this with Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and presently with the Chinese Communist Party, to name a few.
Government Rebellion Against God
In the cases where the government is ruling in rebellion against God, “We must obey God rather than man.” (Acts 5:29).
Obedience to the ruling authorities is not absolute, but rather conditional, based on the governmental law not conflicting with God’s law. In the cases where government rules in rebellion, the appointment of such leadership is for testing and refining the saints to have a character that fears God rather than man.
The midwives who refused to murder baby boys at the requirement of Pharaoh in Exodus 1 is a great biblical example of a time where disobedience to the ruling authorities was righteous in the eyes of God.
Sometimes issues are not as black and white, though. In the context of paying taxes, Paul discusses submitting for the sake of personal conscience (v. 5). When an area seems “gray” the personal conscience of the decision-maker must be clear before the Lord. Because the government can certainly act in opposition to God’s law, we are never asked to submit blindly to leadership or to turn off our brains. Your discernment and prayerful critical thinking are important.
In my two places of citizenship, Israel and the United States, it is strongly recommended by Public Health officials that we receive Covid-19 vaccines. It is not a violation of the law to decline. Even if it was a legal mandate, declining a medical treatment does not constitute a moral evil under the authority of scripture, in which the government would be acting righteously to punish with the sword.
On the contrary, such coercive methods violate the dignity of humans made in the image of God.
There is no such thing as a risk-free medical intervention. It is important that as individuals we all retain our freedom of conscience to weigh risks and determine how we will steward the bodies that the Lord has knit together uniquely for each of us.
Being subject to the government’s consequences, even if unjust, might be preferable to the loss of personal conscience, or the risks of receiving an Emergency Use Authorized medical technology that does not have adequate controlled studies to address long-term safety concerns. Especially, when the virus at hand is statistically very low risk for most of the population.
In Israel, where we have a de-facto mandate through our Green Passport (immunity credential system), I believe we are in “civil disobedience” for declining, and we are facing government sanctions for doing so. In most cases, I wouldn’t even use that strength of language.
If you do not want this vaccine, you are declining a private medical treatment that you do not believe you need for any number of valid reasons. It’s as simple as that. To exercise your conscience on this issue, you are not in rebellion against God’s word. Romans 13 does not in any way obligate you to receive this medical treatment just because the government is recommending it and sanctioning those who decline.
In the western world, God has largely ordained democratic systems for this season. Under various types of democracy, one fact remains consistent: the government rules with the consent of the governed. Just as the Lord ordained the elected officials, He ordained that the people in democratic systems would have an active role to hold the government accountable to constitutional limitations, and ultimately God’s law.
Declining the vaccine is a peaceful and appropriate way to remind the government of its limits, and the necessity of ethical healthcare practices.
The Green Passport
In Israel, those of us who are declining are standing against government intrusion on our rights as they are coercively pushing an “investigational” medical treatment on the population.
We are also speaking forth that the Green Passport is a violation of God’s law.
The Green Passport denies the intrinsic value of human life, in favor of a framework of extrinsic value. It attributes the value of people to be based on something other than the fact we are created in the image of God. In this case, it’s based on medical treatment. Those who comply with government directives are more worthy of freedoms ordinarily granted by law-abiding citizens than those who do not. We are headed in a highly consequential direction if we allow this to remain in place.
Rightly Dividing The Word of Truth
Vaccine aside, we need to be aware of the limitations of Romans 13 because as we approach Messiah Yeshua’s return, we will see an increase of rebellion and delusion in ruling bodies, ultimately culminating in the rule of the Anti-Messiah at the end of the age.
I’m deeply grieved, given the lack of knowledge we have on long-term safety, that any believer in leadership would employ Romans 13 to encourage vaccination. Applying, or rather misapplying, this passage makes this personal decision into a matter of biblical obedience, for which government compliance is the godly response. This is not Truth. Even if well-intended, this is coercive.
Romans 13 does not obligate you to receive this vaccine.
Seek the Lord
If you are unsure what to do, ask the Lord for wisdom. He will grant it (James 1:5). You are fully capable of weighing risks to make the best possible decision for you and your home, even if that is different than mine. May the Lord give us all discernment and sound minds for this season!