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Baptist churches and COVID-19
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

These FAQ's have been answered by the Baptist COVID-19 Response Team, and grouped under the following six headings:

1.     Baptist Union of New Zealand ‘official’ position
2.     COVID-19 Protection Framework (Traffic lights system)
3.     Church services
4.     Legal positions (mandates/employment)
5.     Health and Safety
6.     Theology

Click on a question to reveal the answer. We will mark updates, revisions, and additions as they occur. Find out more about the Baptist Churches of New Zealand and COVID-19 here: baptist.org.nz/covid19

FAQ revision history

4 December 2021: Q5.7 added. A5.3 A5.4 A5.6 updated.
30 November 2021: Q2.4 added. A4.4 updated. A5.3 updated. A2.2 image updated. COVID-19 Protection Framework - Guidelines for places of worship PDF link added at bottom of this page.
29 November 2021: A2.1 updated. COVID Protection Framework PDF link added at bottom of this page.
26 November 2021: 4.4 Q&A updated.
25 November 2021: Q5.3 clarified.
24 November 2021: Q4.4 added.
21 November 2021: Q5.6 added. A5.4 clarified.
19 November 2021: A3.8 updated.
18 November 2021: This FAQ webpage goes live.

1. Baptist Union of New Zealand ‘official’ position

1.1 What is the ‘official’ Baptist Churches of New Zealand position about the vaccination programme and the government’s overall strategy (including vaccine mandates and travel restrictions)?

The Baptist Churches of New Zealand do not have an ‘official’ position. Charles Hewlett, as National Leader of the Baptist Churches, has stated that he is “fully supportive of the New Zealand Government’s Covid vaccination programme.” He writes, “For us our faith is about being prepared to give up our rights for another. It is very much about loving our neighbour. Being vaccinated will help save the lives of others. I urge you to proactively encourage and support not only the people in your congregation, but also those within your local neighbourhoods, to be vaccinated.”
 
The Baptist Union’s COVID-19 Response Team is also supportive of the government’s vaccination programme as a public health measure that will save lives. However, this is not an ‘official’ position, as such. Baptists believe (based on texts like Matthew 18:20) that final authority over any local church rests not with a national leader or a national council (and not even with a senior pastor or a group of elders) but with the risen Christ who promises to be present and make his will known whenever that church gathers together to seek his will. The members of every local church are accountable ultimately to Christ and must obey what they discern he is saying to them. In that sense they are free from external edicts.
 
However, the freedom of the local church to discern Christ’s will is not an unbridled autonomy. Contrary to popular belief, Baptists do not believe in the “autonomy” of local congregations. From their beginning, Baptists have recognised (based on texts like 1 Corinthians 12) that every local congregation is not on its own competent to find the mind of Christ in some issues. It needs to draw on the experience and insights of other churches, on other Christians. That is why, from their origins, Baptists have always formed associations and unions, and gathered together in assemblies or hui to listen together to the risen Christ in their midst. We need the wisdom of one another. And we certainly need the wisdom of one another if, as local churches, we are to navigate this pandemic in a way that honours Jesus.


 

 

2. COVID-19 Protection Framework (Traffic lights system)

2.1 What is the traffic light system and how is it proposed to be implemented?

[Updated 29 November 2021] The Government announced the new COVID-19 Protection Framework (aka the new traffic light system) in October 2021 and that it would replace the alert level framework in Auckland once the 90 per cent [double] vaccination rates are achieved across all three DHB’s. The Prime Minister announced on 17th November 2021 that all of New Zealand will shift into this framework following Cabinet confirming this on Monday 29th November, taking effect from Friday 3st December 2021.
 
This framework sets out a future without alert level lockdowns, but only once 90 per cent vaccination rates were met.


 

2.2 Can you produce a simpler guideline/image for churches to use that shows the church-specific requirements under the traffic light system?

[Updated 30 November 2021] A graphic that Windsor Park Baptist Church produced, which can be adopted by your church, is below, last updated 30 November 2021 (contact [email protected] if you’d like it amended for your use):

 

This graphic will be updated regularly as more information comes to hand. Click here for a larger version of the graphic (3335px x 1876px).


 

2.3 How can we maintain unity in the Church under the COVID-19 Protection Framework when there are differences of opinion about how this should be implemented in the leadership, and in the wider church?

This will be a contextual process based on an individual church, however some general considerations should always apply:
 
Consistency of Communication: Listening and speaking. We need to step into the conversations with grace and welcome the conversation
 
Acknowledgement: 

 

  • Some answers are unknown, and we will discover the answers in time. A decision today will likely need to be reviewed in the future as to continued relevance.
  • Some things that are the right answer now, may not be in the coming days.
  • It’s ok to go on a discovery journey.
  • We won't be able to implement every idea or opportunity. That doesn't mean it's a bad or wrong idea, but it may not be the immediate next decision. 

 
Revisiting Vision, Values and Purpose with congregants. This discussion can anchor and bring focus in reminding our people of the important function of the church in society, and that this hasn't changed. It’s possibly amplified the need for our ‘why’ to be outworked in these times. Much attention is being focussed on how we will function, and that’s important, however, having clarity on why we function may direct how we do that while keeping the interests of our most vulnerable in society in mind. 
 
Jesus: Constantly reflect on Christ and his response to pressure, opinion, the neighbourhood, the unkind and the delivery of the Gospel in the midst of all of it. 
 
There is no doubt that this is one of the more difficult conversations to have. Each church will have their own culture and structure around how decisions are made. The COVID-19 Response Team are supportive of the government’s guidelines as a public health measure. Our only advice is that we should be holding to, and focussing on, what defines us as brothers and sisters in Christ, vaccinated or unvaccinated.
 
The reality is that each church might respond differently to the one around the corner. Talk lots, pray daily, listen to many voices and don’t be in any rush before you need to make any decisions.
 
We’re here to help if you need any specific advice or support based in your context.

 


 

2.4  Has the government provided any information about how places of worship should operate under the COVID-19 Protection Framework (traffic lights)? 
 

Yes. On 29 November 2021 the government released the COVID-19 Protection Framework - Guidelines for places of worship document (11-page PDF). It’s reasonably comprehensive about how we should operate at the three different traffic light colour settings. Download your own copy here... 


 

 

3. Church services

3.1 If a church requires vaccine certificates at a service or event, does this mean that all staff and volunteers involved in that service or event must also be vaccinated? Can we therefore assume that if vaccine certificates are not required, then staff and volunteers do not need to be vaccinated?

Correct. However, consideration still needs to be given to the safety and wellness of the most vulnerable in each congregation and to the wider community regardless of certification mandates. We encourage a ‘What’s best for them and not us’ viewpoint should help you through this. All stakeholders should be considered in forming a decision, e.g. parents, children, non-churches etc.


 

3.2 What happens if we do not follow the governments mandates and policies?

We do not endorse this pathway as we fully support the governments COVID-19 Protection Framework as a matter of public health during a global pandemic. We do not support working outside of the government’s mandates. How each church implements the Framework will be dependent upon its congregation size, location, and the ways in which church gather. 
 
We recommend you fully consult government advice including WorkSafe and the Ministry of Health.


 

3.3 School teachers and any school workers (e.g., teacher aides) are being mandated to be fully vaccinated by 1 January 2022. Children under the age of 12 years are not able to be vaccinated yet. Schools usually work in classrooms and confined spaces so how should the church respond to staff and volunteers who work with children and youth?
The government has not mandated the approach to be taken by organisations who work with children and youth, outside of registered schools, student hostels and ECE (Early Childhood Education) providers. 
 
Therefore, each church needs to decide whether the role currently held by a staff member or volunteer is one that should be held by a vaccinated person, in accordance with the churches obligations to mitigate risks (in this case, the spread of COVID-19) under the church’s usual health and safety obligations. 
 
WorkSafe has provided guidance around a risk assessment that organisations can use to determine whether a role should be held by a vaccinated person to mitigate the risk of infection and transmission of COVID-19. Look at this link to see a series of questions to work through to help assess the risk of a worker in a particular role being infected with, and transmitting, COVID-19 - https://www.worksafe.govt.nz/managing-health-and-safety/novel-coronavirus-covid/how-to-decide-what-work-requires-a-vaccinated-employee/
 
A church could look to other sections (such as education) when deciding what its answers to each of the WorkSafe factors is.
 
If a church decides that a role should be held by a vaccinated person, then they need to follow a process in trying to implement that if the person currently holding that role is not vaccinated. This process varies depending on whether the person currently in the role is an employee of the church, engaged under a Terms of Call, or a volunteer. However, an overview of the process is as follows:
 
  1. Consult with the person/people holding the role about the church’s health and safety assessment that the role should be held by a vaccinated person, and why that assessment was made.
  2. Consider any feedback the person might have about the assessment.
  3. Confirm if the role needs to be held by a vaccinated person, or not.
  4. If the role does need to be held by a vaccinated person for health and safety reasons, ask the person if they are vaccinated and/or give them an opportunity (on work time) to get vaccinated.
  5. If they choose not to get vaccinated, redeployment opportunities within the church should be considered and/or whether the role can be modified. 
  6. If there are no redeployment opportunities within the church, and/or the person does not wish to take them up, the church needs to terminate employment on the basis of health and safety grounds (with notice given in line with the employment agreement, or if the terms of call are being ended, in line with the terms of call). 

 
The above process should largely be followed for volunteer positions, but obviously employment law doesn’t apply.
 
It is recommended that churches seek independent legal advice before terminating employment on the above grounds. Contact us if you would like to be put in touch with someone.


 

3.4 What should be our approach regarding vulnerable people, e.g. elderly, those not able to have the vaccine or those with medical conditions that prevents them from having the vaccine?

People that may fall into these categories should be approached with empathy, care and consideration. We would like to think that our priority would lean toward these people as they are the most vulnerable in our communities and the Gospel message highlights the importance of the church focussing here. It’s also important not to be seen as being coercive, manipulative, but building one's trust and relationships. 
 
What that may look like for each congregation is different, however, there are a number of churches and models that have implemented digital services that have accompanying support, follow up and regular relational investment that can help navigate a person through to worship and connection with the wider church community and point towards Jesus. This means it is not simply all ‘online’ but a hybrid model which seeks to understand vulnerabilities and limitations for an individual with the option to still connect technologically and in person. 
 
For example, a few people may be willing to open their homes on a Sunday morning so that vulnerable, or unvaccinated, people can be in community and still participate in a livestreamed service, or a church might hold a service that does not require vaccine certificates on a different day of the week, keeping within allowed limits of course.


 

3.5 How do we navigate church services and events where the vaccinated may not feel safe to mix with the unvaccinated?

As above, we can educate, build relationships, communicate and then leave people to make their own decision.


 

3.6 What special procedures might we need to observe if we are having food, such as a shared lunch, either if we mandate vaccine certificates or not?

If vaccine certificates are required at orange and green, there are no restrictions on how food is handled, and it’s anticipated that food can be served to people seated and separated to minimum allowed levels. This is both indoors and outdoors.
 
If vaccine certificates are not required at red, food and drink should not be served. Under orange and green it’s anticipated that food and drink can be served to people seated and separated by a minimum distance of 1 metre.
 
Standard Food and Safety Hygiene should still apply and then any government requirements around gathering and sharing of food should also apply. We are not aware of any new requirements for this, so, if you were going to do so, proceed with care, consideration and hygiene mandates.


 

3.7 Will people still be required to scan or sign-in once we move to the traffic light system?

Yes, the Framework clearly states that contact tracing/sign-in is still required across all colour levels.


 

3.8 When is it appropriate (if at all) to require proof of a negative covid test at services or gatherings?

[Answer updated 19/11/21] At this point there is no situation under the COVID19 Protection Framework that applies where a negative test will gain entry to a gathering in place of a vaccine certificate.


 

3.9 If vaccination certificates are required for church gatherings, what guidelines should be followed if a person refuses to adhere to these requirements and enters a church service?

There is a possibility this could happen; however, it really is dependent on the way in which leadership approaches communication, education and relational trust in the early stages. The intended outcome would be that people are aware of what boundaries are imposed on the organisation and have to be adhered to, but also the churches efforts and obligation to ensuring everyone has access to some form of worship and fellowship, be it online, in person, or in a hybrid environment.
 
It is recommended that whatever decision an individual church makes about vaccination status of attendees, that this should be clearly communicated on church websites and at entrances to all buildings. This is particularly important so that any visitors are aware of what they should expect.


 

 

4. Legal positions (mandates/employment)

4.1 What are our responsibilities regarding the vaccination of staff and volunteers (church and community) involved in our church ministries? Should we mandate vaccination for all staff and volunteers?

This decision is over to the individual church. Each role, and the work that is being done, should be assessed to decide whether a role should be held by a vaccinated person or not.
 
Each church needs to decide whether the role currently held by a staff member or volunteer is one that should be held by a vaccinated person, in accordance with the churches obligations to mitigate risks (in this case, the spread of COVID-19) under the church’s usual health and safety obligations. 
There is room for churches to reach different conclusions around this. At law, a church needs to take reasonable and practicable steps to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 spreading. For some churches, this may mean all staff and volunteers are vaccinated. For others, this may mean (for example) services continue online, or youth groups etc are only run outside, where everyone wears masks, and hand sanitizer is used regularly etc, or it may mean that only some roles need to be held by a person who is vaccinated.
 
WorkSafe has provided guidance around a risk assessment that organisations can use to determine whether a role should be held by a vaccinated person to mitigate the risk of spread of COVID-19. Look at this link to see a series of questions to work through to help assess the risk of a worker in a particular role spreading COVID-19 - https://www.worksafe.govt.nz/managing-health-and-safety/novel-coronavirus-covid/how-to-decide-what-work-requires-a-vaccinated-employee/
 
A church could look to other sections (such as education) when deciding what its answers to each of the WorkSafe factors is.


 

4.2 Can we ask our staff team if they have been vaccinated?

Yes. However, whether someone is vaccinated or not is personal information, and your team do not have to tell you if they are or not. You are entitled to assume that someone is not vaccinated if they do not provide you with proof that they are. 


 

4.3 Can we require volunteers to be vaccinated?

A church can decide that a role needs to be held by a vaccinated person, and then only allow vaccinated people to carry on volunteering in that role.
 
WorkSafe has provided guidance around a risk assessment that organisations can use to determine whether a role should be held by a vaccinated person to mitigate the risk of spread of COVID-19. Look at this link to see a series of questions to work through to help assess the risk of a worker in a particular role spreading COVID-19 - https://www.worksafe.govt.nz/managing-health-and-safety/novel-coronavirus-covid/how-to-decide-what-work-requires-a-vaccinated-employee/
 
If a church decides that a volunteer role should only be held by a vaccinated person, they are entitled to either ask the person holding the role to be vaccinated or ask them to step down. Please note, employment law obligations do not apply to volunteers, so a process in relation to requiring volunteer roles to be held by vaccinated people only is legally more straight forward than for roles held by employees or those engaged under terms of call. 
 
We suggest that any process you go through with volunteers should be a highly relational process with open communication and lots of grace. It’s a difficult subject to talk about with lots of emotion, so think carefully (& pray much) about your approach and what you want to communicate.


 

4.4  [Question added 24 November 2021 and updated 26 November 2021 and 30 November 2021] Is the government now mandating that all church staff need to be vaccinated by the time the COVID-19 Protection Framework comes in, so by 3 December 2021?

[Answer updated 30 November 2021] 
No. As yet, the government has not mandated that all church staff need to be vaccinated by 3 December 2021 (or at all). On 26 November 2021 the COVID-19 Response (Vaccinations) Legislation Act 2021 came into force. The Act gives the Minister of Workplace Relations the ability to issue a Specified Work Order, which means only certain work or classes of work can be carried out by vaccinated individuals and/or individuals that satisfy testing requirements. A Specified Work Order has not been made in relation to church staff.

In a press release on 23 November 2021, Michael Wood suggested that staff in workplaces that are required to or can use the My Vaccine Pass must be vaccinated (whether they use the My Vaccine Pass or not), which would include churches. Subsequently, other indications from government appear to suggest that this will not be the case.
 
To date, if church staff are attending a service that requires vaccination certificates (My Vaccine Pass) they will need to be vaccinated. Otherwise, whether church staff and volunteers should be vaccinated or not should be determined by the risk to contracting and transmitting COVID-19 that their role possesses (see answer to question 4.1)
 
If the government mandates that church staff are vaccinated, the answer to this question will be updated.


 

5. Health and safety

5.1 Is New Zealand working towards approval of Rapid Antigen Tests that could be used at churches?

Yes. A trial is underway with 29 businesses in collaboration with the government (Ministry of Health and MBIE) to see how they can best be used; 300,000 test kits are being used. The kits use a swab from the nose or throat, or saliva, provide a result within 15 minutes and cost $10-15 each. They are fast and convenient and can be used by most people without the need for trained health workers, and without the need for a laboratory. Furthermore, they encourage wider testing and a quicker public health response, which is very helpful in high-risk communities if virus transmission is widespread. However, they are not as accurate at detecting cases of COVID-19 as the PCR tests that have been used to date on the swabs at COVID testing centres. Rapid Antigen Tests may give false positive results (i.e. they may give a positive result when someone doesn’t have COVID-19) or false negative results (i.e. miss a real case), especially when there is very low viral load, such as at the start or tail-end of an infection. These tests could be in widespread use within the next few months. There are hundreds of brands of these tests available for sale on the internet. However, some are of low quality and should be avoided. Only approved tests that meet quality standards should be used.  If the virus is circulating widely in our community, it may be possible to use them as a way of people self-checking that they are not infected, and therefore not a risk to others, before attending a church meeting.


 

5.2 If rapid testing becomes an option, how can this be made accessible for the local Baptist churches?

This is something that we will look at as more information becomes available.


 

5.3 [Question clarified on 25 November 2021] Can a Church service that requires vaccinations certificates to be used meet on the same day in the same building as a service that doesn’t require vaccination certificates to be used, as long as they are kept completely separate?

[Answer updated 4 December 2021]
Yes. But there are a bunch of guidelines you need to adhere to for this to work. Please refer to the COVID-19 Protection Framework - Guidelines for places of worship document from the govenment dated 29 November 2021, pages 5-7 for more details (click the link to open PDF).


 

5.4 Who is ultimately responsible for checking vaccine certificates?

[Answer updated 4 December 2021] The NZ Pass Verifier app should be the preferred method to check all vaccine certificates for all gatherings that are for vaccinated people only. 

Ultimately, the church will be responsible to ensure that those entering the gathering/event or using the premises have signed in and are identified. Each local church will need to decide who they have checking vaccine certificates upon entry to the building, for example: pastor, elders, volunteers. An important consideration with this role is the potential for difficult conversations that may be required if people arrive without vaccine certificates and are turned away.

The [Senior] Pastor would normally be considered the PCBU (Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking) under health and safety protocols and would be personally accountable for these actions to take place, consistent with health and safety legislation that has been in place for a number of years.


 

5.5 Should a person who walks in off the street to a Sunday church service be asked for their vaccine passport?

Yes, if your church is operating in a way that requires vaccine certificates to be shown to enter the building.


 

5.6  Is mask use compulsory for churches under all levels of the COVID-19 Protection Framework?

[Answer updated 4 December 2021] No. Despite most of us saying that we are a public venue, and we often open up our facilities for the public to use, churches are actually privately owned and operated. Public facilities are things like libraries, museums, art galleries, anything that is either owned or funded by local or central government. Therefore, mask use for attendees is only recommended under the framework.

However, we advocate for the use of masks as they are a key back-up protection measure to reduce the risk of virus transmission, particularly when people are indoors in enclosed spaces where the risks of transmission are so much greater than outdoors. They are an important element in the ‘Vaccination-Plus’ strategy used to good effect in many places, a kind of ‘belt and braces’, multi-layered defence that we need to encourage more people to adopt. We believe churches should be advocating that people always wear them when meeting, especially indoors. Note that singing indoors is a very risky activity. This report https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6919e6.htm describes a church choir practice early in the pandemic, when the pre-Delta variant was circulating.

A church could decide to voluntarily make mask use compulsory for attendees.

The recent ‘Guidelines for Places of Worship’ released by the government clearly state that face coverings are required for workers (paid and unpaid) in any gathering.  This would mean staff/volunteers such as sound/data people, front door greeters, ushers if you have them, ministry leaders and volunteers (kids, youth, etc), food and drink servers, communion servers etc. For those up front (speakers and singers), face coverings do not need to be worn but if the church is encouraging these they should be re-donned once sitting down.   

Specific activity within a gathering setting has not been identified under government guidelines however we strongly encourage face covering use even in groups like children’s programmes that might be separate from the main gathering as these currently have high numbers of vulnerable people with children ineligible for vaccination. Whilst a teacher/leader is at a distance and talking to the full group (in a similar way to those up the front of a church service)  they may be able to remove their masks, but while working close with the children masks should ideally be worn. However we recommend that each church also does regular risk assessments to come to your own conclusions.


 

5.7  A lot is being said about completing our own risk assessments for our particular situation. Is there a template we can use?
Yes. If you haven’t already been using your own risk assessments, the best place to start is the WorkSafe COVID-19 Safety Plan document. It can be found, with relevant advice, here: https://www.worksafe.govt.nz/managing-health-and-safety/novel-coronavirus-covid/operating-safely-what-you-need-to-think-about/ Download the PDF or Word document part way down the page to get started. The language is business orientated, but just think church and gatherings and it will achieve the same result.

 

6. Theology

6.1 Is the vaccination the mark of the beast?

Vaccination is simply a way of helping our immune systems to develop memory for specific diseases, so that if a person is later exposed to the microorganisms that cause those diseases they are protected from the disease, or even if infected, from serious illness and death.  
 
Vaccination is mostly a safe and effective medical intervention that has been used for hundreds of years and has saved millions of people’s lives all around the world. It has led to the elimination and control of diseases that were until relatively recently common causes of misery and death, such as smallpox, polio, rubella and diphtheria. In regard to success rates vaccination has proved to be (one of) the most effective. Like any vaccination however there is risk but this is extremely small in comparison.  Refer to: https://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/diseases-and-conditions/covid-19-novel-coronavirus/covid-19-vaccines/covid-19-vaccine-side-effects-and-reactions.
 
Vaccination is a huge success story. It has eliminated smallpox worldwide. In New Zealand it has dramatically reduced the occurrence of and deaths and complications from polio, diphtheria, tuberculosis, tetanus, measles, whooping cough, hepatitis B, rubella, some types of pneumonia and meningitis, influenza and others. When we travel to other countries, vaccinations can protect us from diseases such as Yellow Fever, Hepatitis A, rabies and typhoid fever. We have much to be thankful for. In past generations, it was common for children and adults to die from such infections. 
 
The more people vaccinated in a population, the less the microorganisms that cause infections can circulate in that population. Getting vaccinated therefore benefits not only the individual who is vaccinated but also the people around them who are not vaccinated especially people who may be particularly susceptible because of age or ill health.
 
Vaccines for COVID-19 were developed following the declaration of the pandemic in March 2020 and have been given to hundreds of millions of people around the world. They are not as effective at preventing infection as some other vaccines, but they have been conclusively shown to reduce the risk of becoming seriously ill and dying from COVID-19.
 
Some people have suggested that the current vaccine mandates match the situation described in Revelation 13, where all people were forced to receive a mark on their right hands or foreheads. They could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name…. That number is 666.” 
 
Throughout history many people have assumed that the book of Revelation is written primarily to predict future events many centuries later. That ignores the clear fact that Revelation was written to Christians living under the pressure of a pagan empire in the first century. The book was written to strengthen their faith in the face of pressure to worship the Roman Emperor. We need to interpret texts like Revelation 13 in light of that context. 
 
When we do that, it becomes apparent that the number “666” is probably a reference to the Roman Caesar, Nero. When Nero’s name is translated from Greek into Hebrew, its numerical equivalent is 666. In the Roman empire, it was not uncommon for people to wear religious tattoos, marks on their bodies, to indicate their devotion to a particular deity. Revelation 13 is arguing, therefore, that the religious practices of the Roman Empire – the worship of the Caesars and of pagan gods – was demonic in nature. 
 
The implication for us is that we must resist the empires or systems of our day when they induce us to give our worship – our ultimate allegiance – to anything but Jesus. Our view is that the government’s vaccine system is not preventing us from worshiping Jesus as Lord. But it is calling us to be creative, for a season, in how and where we do that.


 

6.2 Do vaccine mandates violate the principles of freedom of religion and separation of church and state?

Biblically, and historically, freedom of conscience means the freedom to choose and practice your religious faith. Our forebears in the faith argued that the state should not compel you to adopt a certain religion or doctrine. As one early Baptist statement expressed it: “the magistrate is not by virtue of his office to meddle with religion, or matters of conscience, to force and compel men [and women] to this or that form of religion, or doctrine: but to leave Christian religion free, to every [person’s] conscience, and to handle only civil transgressions (Rom 13) … for Christ only is the king, and lawgiver of the church and conscience (James 4:12).” [Quoted in Paul Fiddes, Tracks and Traces, 260-1]
 
The question we have to ask is whether the government, by requiring us to exclude unvaccinated people from attending certain worship gatherings, is forcing and compelling anyone to adopt a certain religion or doctrine? Is the government requiring us to disobey Christ our king, or disown him as Lord? We do not believe it is. The government is simply limiting the ability of some Christians, under certain circumstances, and for a certain period of time, to participate in certain worship gatherings – and this to protect the population. This is not a violation of our religious freedom, at least not as our forebears in the faith understood it. 


 

6.3 Does the government’s COVID response framework violate the traditional separation of church and state?

Some people are arguing that vaccine mandates, when applied to the church, violate the traditional separation of church and state. But what is meant by this “separation of church and state”? The early Baptists in England articulated this concept when they insisted that the state should not favour, under law, any particular religion. This is how the early Baptist leader, Thomas Helwys, put it: “Men’s religion to God, is betwixt God and themselves; the King shall not answer for it, neither may the King be judge between God and man. Let them be heretics, Turks, Jews, or whatsoever, it appertains not to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure” [A Short Declaration of the Mistery of Iniquity, 1612].
 
Separation of church and state means, in other words, that the state should not mandate a particular religion or doctrine, and it should not punish those who refuse to embrace that religion or doctrine. It does not mean that the state cannot interfere with the operation of churches. The state does that all the time, with our consent. For example, it requires by law that local churches abide by certain health and safety regulations. It requires by law that churches follow certain practices in the way they treat employees. The state is entitled to do the same in relation to vaccination. 
 
While these restrictions might be disruptive, they might yet prove to be the hand of God (Romans 8:28), compelling us to find new and creative ways in which to worship together, and care for each other, and witness to our neighbours. 


 

 

Click here for government PDF COVID-19 Protection Framework - Guidelines for places of worship, 29 November 2021. 
Click here for summary PDF of the COVID-19 Protection Framework
, last updated 25 November 2021.

If you have further questions or seek clarification, please contact the Baptist COVID-19 Response Team via the following email address, including which New Zealand Baptist Church you are representing and your role within that church:  [email protected] 

[This page last updated 4 December 2021]

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