Focusing on disputable matters can distract us from the weightier matters in gospel ministry.
Last year, this blog posted an article entitled “Immunizations and Christian Freedom” as part of a Parenting and Christian Freedom series. Over the past year, I’ve come to see how our focus on the controversial issue distracted the conversation from weightier matters. That article has been removed from the site, and this one appears in its place. What follows here unpacks Paul’s teaching on Christian Freedom from Romans 14. The “vaccinations” controversy is mentioned, but it is only mentioned incidentally. With this issue like with all matters of parenting freedom, the call to love is the main thing.
The apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Romans as a missionary support letter. In the letter, he unpacks the Gospel (Rom 1-11) as an encouragement for this church to pursue self-sacrifice (Romans 12), perseverance (Rom 13), unity (Rom 14), and partnership with him in his mission to Spain (Rom 15). Paul’s emphasis on unity in controversial matters (14:1-15:13) is particularly instructive when we see it in light of the context of the whole book. A lack of unity within the church over “eating meat” and “celebrating days” had become a roadblock to mission. We should not allow our own disputable matters to do the same. When we engage in conversations about disputable trends in parenting as a church, it is important for us not to let our strong opinions distract us from love and gospel ministry.
Vaccinations are controversial. And because they are controversial, there are members of our church that have strong opinions about them—for and against. I won’t rehearse the reasons here. Some will vaccinate their children and some will not. Now, the analogy with the Roman church breaks down a bit here. Jesus declared all food to be clean (Mark 7:19). He hasn’t done that for vaccinations. But Paul’s principles for loving one another still apply. Paul focused less on the disputable matters in these chapters (15:1-3). Rather, he focused on the way that the Romans Christians should love one another. This is where I allowed our earlier conversations to go astray, and it is why this revision of the earlier post is necessary. Controversial matters should not be avoided altogether, but advocating a position as a church where the Bible is silent and believers differ is unwise. I’m certain that having done so diluted our gospel influence.
Don’t weaken your gospel influence. If you’ve done your homework about this issue and you have come to a decision as a family, you know how tempting it is to pass judgment, “I am doing this in a right way” and because you aren’t doing the same thing I am doing, you are wrong.” But Paul says clearly, “Accept… and do not judge” (Romans 14:1-13).
Here is what “not judging” means in this passage. God accepts parents who vaccinate and those who don’t as Christians. And he calls both his friends (John 15:15). Why are we afraid to do the same? Choosing to vaccinate or to not vaccinate doesn’t make a parent a more or less mature Christian. A better test of our maturity is whether or not we choose to “bear with one another” in love. The one who is mature in love will not be found accusing his sisters and brothers of fear and arrogance about a matter that—in light of eternity—carries very little weight. Who are we to stand in judgment over another of God’s servants? They answer to him—not to us (Romans 14:4).
Of course I have strong opinions, but (to paraphrase Amy Fenton Lee) my opinion on this matter is irrelevant to my calling as a Christian. I care more about families coming to Christ than I do about whether or not they vaccinate.
Christian Freedom & Parenting Series: