Churches throughout Australia are increasingly being asked to enforce government health initiatives, such as prohibiting unvaccinated people from attending corporate worship. But is it up to churches to make sure that everyone is double-vaccinated as a condition of entry into their buildings? Significantly, The Guardian Australia has reported that:

NSW police commissioner Mick Fuller told Sydney radio on Tuesday morning that his officers would not be patrolling venues to enforce vaccines status.

“The role of police in terms of vaccine passports, we will not be walking through restaurants, cafes and pubs checking if people are double vaccinated,” he said.

“[But] we will certainly be assisting restaurant owners and shop owners if they are refusing entry to someone – we’ll certainly respond to assist those people.”

The Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews, has recently announced that “if they want to keep working” then every authorised worker will need to have had at least one does of a COVID-19 vaccine by October 15. In short, it’s a politically progressive diktat of mandatory vaccination for anyone in paid employment.

So much for the Nuremburg Code, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Declaration of Helsinki, and the Siracusa Principles. For the only people in society whom it seems are not impacted by this draconian legislation are stay-at-home mums. This can be seen by who the Victorian Government classifies as being an Authorised Provider and an Authorised Worker, which includes basically anyone in paid employment.

To be clear, there are a multiplicity of ways to keep those who want to meet with God’s people safe. For example, the Moderator-General of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, Peter Barnes, has argued recently for the implementation of Rapid Antigen Testing. This is a quick, cheap and reliable way to discern whether or not one is infectious – and likely to become quicker, cheaper, and more reliable..

Ultimately, it is a question of “Is it the Church’s responsibility to police and enforce health regulations imposed by the State?” Especially if it involves an action that is not in and of itself sinful—such as those outlined under the Conduct Protocol Unit—but is an issue of legitimate Christian freedom and individual conscience. Stated differently, the Working with Children Check protects against sin, whereas government health regulations revolve around the prevention of sickness.

Significantly, both the Supreme Standard of Holy Scriptures (Acts 5:29) as well as Subordinate Standard of the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF chapters 20 & 23) clearly teach that there are limits to the State’s authority. Indeed, this is an aspect that is specifically addressed in The Declaratory Statement which is an important addendum attached to WCF within the Presbyterian Church of Australia. Under section (vi) relating to the Civil Magistrate it says:

That with regard to the doctrine of the civil magistrate and his authority and duty in the sphere of religion as taught in the Subordinate Standard, the Church holds that the Lord Jesus Christ is the only King and Head of the Church, “and Head over all things to the Church, which is His body”. It disclaims, accordingly, intolerant or persecuting principles, and does not consider its office-bearers, in subscribing the Confession, as committed to any principle inconsistent with the liberty of conscience and the right of private judgment, declaring, in the words of the Confession, that ‘God alone is Lord of the conscience’.

Note in particular the final sentence: “…does not consider its office-bearers, in subscribing the Confession, as committed to any principle inconsistent with the liberty of conscience and the right of private judgment, declaring, in the words of the Confession, that ‘God alone is Lord of the conscience’”. Not only could paragraph (6) of the Declaratory Statement be reasonably applied to the issue of mandatory vaccination, but it also teaches that the State should not intrude into the ‘sphere sovereignty’ of the Church.

In particular, the State should not intrude upon the right of private judgment, or that of individual conscience, since the ‘Lord alone is Lord of the conscience’. This is because the conscience plays a crucial role in human decision making. As the apostle Paul says: “…everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Rom.14:23).

While one might consider the reasoning of those who remain unvaccinated as ‘weak’, our responsibility is not to police, exclude or even publicly shame them, but to accept one another in love. Which means that standing in solidarity alongside those for whom Jesus died—especially if they are unvaccinated—is part of our Christian responsibility in seeking the common good.

A significant number of churches are deciding to not meet in person again until all of their members are allowed. That kind of scenario continues to be far from ideal—with churches in Australia still being required to meet online—but it seems to me to be a wise and loving course of action to maintain the unity of the Spirit (Eph. 4:3).

What is unacceptable is that churches are being required to do the dirty work of the State by policing their ever-changing health regulations. This goes to the very heart as to why we have a separation between the two spheres at all. And if the NSW police commissioner Mick Fuller has said that he is not going to enforce it, then neither should we.

                                                                                                            – Mark Powell