I Stand Corrected: Revisiting 1 Corinthians 10
Updated: Feb 4, 2021
In the fourth and final instalment of a recent series of blogs on Covid-19 vaccine ethics, I went from commending a boycott of aborted fetal cell line vaccines as part of a consistent, integral, principled stand against the ongoing heinous practice of baby genocide and organ harvesting today, to arguing from 1 Corinthians 10 that it may be more than just a good idea; it may be a biblically mandated necessity for Christians to refuse the vaccine.
I made the case clearly and boldly according to my understanding of the passage, and yet tentatively: "I eagerly invite discussion over this because if my reading is right, the implications are huge: this is not a freedom of conscience issue but one in which Christians are called to take a clear stand: there is one right answer. If I’m wrong I need to be shown that I am wrong in order to prevent me from causing all sorts of harm."
To their great credit a number of brothers and sisters took me up on this invitation - first Mark Pickering and Jennie Pollock from CMF in a very helpful Zoom conversation, and then more recently John Stevens and Matthew Mason in their analyses of the minority view put forward by myself and John Piper. Whilst in all of these interactions much more was tackled than just the 1 Corinthians 10 issue, and I plan to return to those things in a subsequent blog because they are terrifically important, I want to take this opportunity to thank them all for their gracious, thorough engagement and for one correction in particular, which I accept and which changes the import of this passage with regards to us and vaccines today.
In short, for those familiar with the arguments I've been putting forward, it doesn't change what I say in blogs 1, 2, and 3, but it does mean that I am rowing back slightly from going so far as to say that there is a biblical "must" given by this passage. I no longer think that.
Before I go on to outline the correction, let me just be clear on why I'm doing this.
I agree wholeheartedly with John Stevens when he says that "we need to be extremely cautious before binding the consciences of others if Scripture is not absolutely clear." I've been persuaded on this particular point that Scripture is not "absolutely clear" in the way that I thought it was, and so I have a duty before God and before my readers (all three of them) to retract and correct to the best of my understanding.
Matthew Mason says a similar thing when he warns against going "beyond what may legitimately be deduced from Scripture". This can cause people to do the wrong thing, or to do the right thing for the wrong reasons (which can in some cases make it wrong), or to do the right thing for the right reasons but then be plagued by false guilt. As Mason says, this would be "no light thing". I am not an elder or a pastor of a church, but I am sure there is some sobering way in which I come under the same fearful category of being judged more harshly as someone who teaches (James 3:1). So again, this is important.
The correction is this:
Whereas I argued that we are in a situation analagous to a Corinthian Christian being told that their meat had been offered to an idol in worship, and therefore should refuse on account of the conscience of the unbeliever in question, so as not to communicate approval of idol worship, in fact our situation is different in rather a significant way.
Back then, for these freshly converted Corinthian Christians and their still-pagan friends and neighbours, there was a clear and common understanding of what idol worship was and what it meant for meat to be offered to an idol. So when it was raised specifically in conversation (1 Corinthians 10:28), the Christian's response carried a certain inevitable and unmistakable evangelistic weight.
Our situation today is different: there is not a clear and common understanding in society at large of the connection between these vaccines and child sacrifice (though the information is out there), and we are not being told in a deliberate and personal way about this connection in a way similar to the conversation envisaged in 1 Corinthians 10. Indeed, on the contrary, the Government and media are working rather hard to trivialise and divert attention away from the abortion connection, including with a hefty dose of strawman "fake news busting".
So in terms of direct evangelistic witness, which is I think what 1 Corinthians 10 is primarily about, the "must" does not apply to us in the same way. There is not that shared basis of understanding upon which the refusal of the Christian is so necessary evangelistically.
However, and this is where I will fire back a challenge of my own, that lack of shared understanding, far from letting us off the hook, should trouble us deeply. The widespread ignorance and cover-up of mass baby killing and organ harvesting today, and of its connection to medicine today (including these vaccines), should be intolerable to us, because of love for these most vulnerable of image-bearers. Rather than breathing a sigh of relief that child sacrifice and organ harvesting are so far from the minds of the unbelievers around us that we're free to take the vaccine without fear of giving the wrong message, we should be working to create that understanding, to produce that crisis of conscience, to use this as an opportunity to show people what they're not seeing and what they don't want to see.
To use a quote attributed to Bonhoeffer: "Not to speak is to speak; not to act is to act." Merely accepting the status quo is not acceptable.
This is my challenge: neutral doesn't exist, and the question "Is it sin (to take the vaccine)?" although an important question may not be the only or indeed the most important question.
I think there has been an over-emphasis generally on what we might call the "personal piety" aspect to this issue - "is it permissible?" - rather than on the more outward-looking, activistic concerns - "is it beneficial?", i.e., what is the very best thing we can do to end the genocide. That is why I say I want to row back from what I said earlier only "slightly". I cannot now from Scripture give an absolute "no" for all Christians on this, but neither do I want to suggest that it is a free-for-all, a preference issue, "everyone must do what they feel is right", with no real consequences or true accountability before God. I truly believe that mass-scale acceptance of this vaccine represents further entrenchment of a culture of organ harvesting from babies (which continues today), and so it is no trivial matter when Christians take part in this - even if I cannot prove biblically that they must not.
It was right of my brothers and sisters to correct me on 1 Corinthians 10. But I beg them and others not to stop there, content that liberty of conscience has been restored. There is so much more at stake here. If I asked my child to hold the door open for someone, and their reply was, "But do I have to? Will I be punished if I don't?", I would take them to task for asking the wrong question, for having the wrong attitude. It's not just about "must"s: "should"s matter too. If we really care about people, positive concerns ("How can I love them best?") will drive us at least as much as negative ones ("But is it sin not to?"). We should be looking to please our Lord as best we can, and do the most that we can against the greatest evil of our day, not simply asking whether a connection with evil is remote enough for us to bear.
For my part, I venture to suggest that if we saw child sacrifice as it really is, if we felt about it as the Lord does, and if we realised just how prevalent it is today and how deeply connected it is with organ harvesting and widespread global medical research today, we would not be asking how close we can get to its fruit but rather how far away from it we can possibly "flee" (Psalm 37:27), and how much more we can do to "expose" it (Ephesians 5:11).
But, to those who think differently, who think that refusing the vaccine is not an opportunity to lift the curtain on today's great injustice, I still ask this: what are we doing to bear witness against this great evil?