Nearly 1,000 church leaders sign letter opposing vaccine passports

(Photo: Unsplash/John Cameron)

Some 948 church leaders have added their names to an open letter opposing the introduction of vaccine passports. 

The letter, to be sent to Boris Johnson and the devolved nations’ first ministers, calls the introduction of vaccine passports “one of the most dangerous policy proposals ever to be made in the history of British politics”.

The church leaders warn of a “medical apartheid” and “two-tier society” divided between those who have had the vaccine and those who have not. 

They argue that people should be free to turn down the vaccine on grounds of conscience, and that to do so should not exclude them from public life. 

They further state that they will keep their church doors open to all, regardless of whether they have had the vaccine or not.

Vaccine passports have been floated as a way of helping countries ease restrictions by requiring evidence that people have been vaccinated against Covid-19 before they are allowed to enter public spaces like shops, theatres, restaurants and hotels.

Over 32 million people in the UK have received the first dose of the vaccine, while over 7 million have had both jabs. The Airfinity tracker predicts that 75% of the population will be fully immunised by the first week of August. 

With the successful vaccine rollout bringing case numbers in the UK down to the low thousands, non-essential shops and outdoor dining resumed this week. 

The Government has expressed its openness to the introduction of vaccine passports, saying last week that they “could play a role in reducing social-distancing requirements”. 

A poll by The Times has found strong public support for vaccine passports if it means the end of social distancing, but the church leaders are urging the Government not to go down this route. 

Setting out their opposition, they argue that “those who have been vaccinated have already received protection”, rendering a vaccine passport unnecessary, but they also raise serious concerns about the impact on democracy and individual freedom. 

Vaccine passports, they say, would “constitute an unethical form of coercion and violation of the principle of informed consent”. 

“People may have various reasons for being unable or unwilling to receive vaccines currently available including, for some Christians, serious issues of conscience related to the ethics of vaccine manufacture or testing,” they said.

“We risk creating a two-tier society, a medical apartheid in which an underclass of people who decline vaccination are excluded from significant areas of public life.

“There is also a legitimate fear that this scheme would be the thin end of the wedge leading to a permanent state of affairs in which COVID vaccine status could be expanded to encompass other forms of medical treatment and perhaps even other criteria beyond that.

“This scheme has the potential to bring about the end of liberal democracy as we know it and to create a surveillance state in which the government uses technology to control certain aspects of citizens’ lives.

“As such, this constitutes one of the most dangerous policy proposals ever to be made in the history of British politics.” 

The letter has been compiled by Rev Dr Jamie Franklin, Curate of St George in the Meadows, Nottingham, Rev David Johnston, Minister Emeritus of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Rev Dr William JU Philip, Minister of the Tron Church in Glasgow, Rev A Paul Levy, Minister of Ealing International Presbyterian Church, London, Rev Mez McConnell, Senior Minister of Niddrie Community Church, and Terence McCutcheon, Executive Director of the Hope For Glasgow Addiction Recovery Centre.

They “envisage no circumstances in which we could close our doors to those who do not have a vaccine passport, negative test certificate, or any other ‘proof of health'”, and hint of legal action if the Government should press ahead with the scheme. 

“For the Church of Jesus Christ to shut out those deemed by the state to be social undesirables would be anathema to us and a denial of the truth of the Gospel,” they said.

“The message we preach is given by God for all people and consists in nothing other than the free gift of grace offered in Christ Jesus, with the universal call to repentance and faith in him.

“To deny people entry to hear this life-giving message and to receive this life-giving ministry would be a fundamental betrayal of Christ and the Gospel.

“Sincere Christian churches and organisations could not do this, and as Christian leaders we would be compelled to resist any such Act of Parliament vigorously.” 

The letter concludes by drawing attendtion to their recent judicial review that overturned the Scottish Government’s ban on public worship during the lockdown on the grounds that it was disproportionate. 

“We cannot see how any attempt to prevent people gathering for worship on the basis of either testing or non-vaccination would not similarly be ruled to be a breach,” they say.

“We agree with those members of Parliament who have already voiced opposition to this proposal: that it would be divisive, discriminatory and destructive to introduce any such mandatory health certification into British society.

“We call on the government to assert strongly and clearly that it will not contemplate this illiberal and dangerous plan, not now and not ever.”

Canadian Pastor Holds Service in Undisclosed Location after Officials Barricade Church

Canadian Pastor Holds Service in Undisclosed Location after Officials Barricade Church

Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church in Alberta, Canada, who was recently jailed for violating COVID-19 restrictions, has found a new way to hold services after police fenced off his church’s building last week.

On Sunday, GraceLife congregants met in an undisclosed location for a worship service. The service was livestreamed, but the faces of congregants were blurred out. The video was later uploaded to the church’s YouTube channel and has since amassed nearly 60,000 views.

As Coates greeted those in attendance, he asserted that “they can take our facility, but we’ll just find another one.”

According to Faithwire, two men (identified in the video as Joe and John) then came and led the church in song, including a rendition of the hymn “It Is Well With My Soul”. One of the men began by asking, “Did you ever think you’d be part of the underground church?”

Following the praise and worship portion of the service, Pastor Coates delivered a sermon titled “A Vain Thing,” which was taken from Psalm 2. Before delivering the message, Coates explained how his initial preaching text was going to be on Psalm 56, but he recognized that the church shut down was confirmation for him to change course.

“We need a Psalm more appropriate for an occasion like this. We need to hear a ‘Jesus is Lord’ kind of sermon,” he explained, which led to Psalm 2.

“As we read Psalm 2, I want you to consider that what we see taking place in this Psalm though it really describes something yet future to us, is a sense in which this is taking right now at present,” Coates said.

After explaining the context of the biblical text, Coates paralleled Psalm 2 to things that are happening today, namely how “governments all over the world are counseling together in a unified effort to oppress the people they govern.”

“In that context, those who are faithful, those who follow Christ and confess that Jesus is Lord are going to be the ones they have to silence and get out of the way because everyone else is going to fall in line,” he explained.

The pastor contended that “it’s going to be the Lord’s people who stand and herald him as king and call governments to submit to him as king and to govern in accord with the very Word that will judge them on judgement day.”

“Even as we think about our own government, we have called them to their duty. Unmistakably, we have directed them to their duty,” he added. “They know they are going to be judged in accord with the Word of God, that the Word of God is going to be the standard with which they are assessed and evaluated, and they still continue to persevere in their obstinacy. This is defiance.”

The service concluded with congregants singing the hymn “How Great Thou Art” and a scripture reading of 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17.


Canadian Officials Barricade Church while Its Pastor Awaits Trial for Violating COVID-19 Restrictions

Pastor Turns Himself In for Violating COVID-19 Regulations

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Chuang Tzu Dreaming

Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer. He is also the co-hosts of the For Your Soul podcast, which seeks to equip the church with biblical truth and sound doctrine Visit his blog Blessed Are The Forgiven.

Hillsong pauses all Dallas operations amid claims of lavish spending

Reed and Jess Bogard(Photo: Hillsong)

It continues to be a challenging time for Hillsong Church as it suspends all operations at its Dallas branch. 

The decision was announced by senior pastors Brian and Bobbie Houston over the weekend, the Daily Mail reports, and follows an investigation into former leaders Reed Bogard and his wife Jess. 

The couple, who resigned from their positions at Hillsong Dallas in January, were accused of misusing church funds.

At the time the Bogards, both in their thirties, said they felt it was “time to transition off of our staff and take some time to remain healthy, get healthy and to really see what this next season holds for us.”

But in their email to church members, the Houstons said Reed Bogard had been suspended from pastoral duties following complaints that he had failed to “uphold the standards of Hillsong leadership”.

They also acknowledged some had been left hurt by their experience at Dallas, a relatively new branch only established in 2019.

“Early in our process, the Bogards decided to resign from Hillsong Church. We accepted their resignations and acknowledged the time that the Bogards spent establishing our Dallas location,” the Houstons said. 

“It was very disappointing to learn that, while some of you experienced the Bogards as dedicated pastors, many others have experienced leadership that failed to meet the commitments and standards of Hillsong Church.

“I want to be the first to apologize to those who felt disappointed or hurt, and I pray that God does a swift work in bringing peace and healing.”

In light of the investigation and the added challenges of the pandemic, the Houstons said Dallas operations were being suspended for the timebeing.

“As we were establishing Hillsong Church in Dallas, the pandemic swept across the globe and quickly changed the shape of our growing church in the city,” the Houstons said.

“Many factors, all amplified by the pandemic, have resulted in the difficult decision to pause all operations at Hillsong Dallas for now.”

The Bogards stepped down from Dallas leadership just two months after the high profile sacking of New York City lead pastor Carl Lentz for “leadership issues” and moral failures. 

Following his resignation, a New York City-based designer claimed she had had a months-long affair with Lentz. 

Then ex-Hillsong volunteers and staffers told The New York Post that tithe money was used to pay for expensive gifts, hotel stays, and food for pastors and guests. 

“The exploitation of free labor while these pastors are making bank is just crazy to me,” said former Hillsong NYC volunteer Jenna Babbitt, who claims she spent months working without pay for the Bogards.

Brandon Walker, 28, who helped the Bogards plant Hillsong Dallas, told the New York Post he saw “a lot of toxic activity”, and that sometimes Airbnbs were rented for guests costing $1,100 a night. 

“There was a lot of eating out, a lot of Airbnbs — very nice Airbnbs,” he alleged.

4 Principles for Raising Up Elders

Biblically qualified elders are crucial for the health of the church, which is “a pillar and buttress of truth” (1 Tim 3:15). Faithful elders lead to stronger churches and the preservation and advancement of the gospel. But what should a pastor do when he finds a church without elders, or without the right ones?

When I became the senior pastor of the United Christian Church of Dubai (UCCD) in 2005, I was excited about the possibility of ministry there, but the leadership challenges were daunting. The elders were good men who loved the Lord, but they were guided by varying theology and different ministry philosophies. They spent much of their meetings focused on programs and parking problems—important issues, but not the main matters of elder ministry. How could that culture change?

Here are four principles for raising up elders in a church-revitalization environment, all of which helped me in this task.

1. Teach

Before you call a members’ meeting, before you announce a new leadership structure, before you do anything—simply teach the Bible. If you’re seeking to lead, first show yourself to be a man under authority. Commit to regular, consecutive expositional preaching that dispels any notion you have an agenda or axe to grind. And when you encounter passages that touch on biblical leadership, pause to explain and apply—whether you’re seeing how Moses benefited from a plurality of leadership (Ex. 18), or how David extolled the virtues of leadership (2 Sam. 22:3), or that Paul and Barnabas specifically appointed elders in every town (Acts 14:23).

Before you call a members’ meeting, before you announce a new leadership structure, before you do anything—simply teach the Bible.

Hand out good literature on biblical leadership. Talk with people one on one. Take them to Acts, 1 Timothy, Titus, James, and 1 Peter, and show them the plurality of spiritual leaders called “elders” or “overseers” in the early church. Trust that God’s people are indwelt by his Spirit and will find Scripture persuasive and compelling.

Many churches are confused about leadership because they have not been taught. They drift toward corporate models, or fashionable trends, or whatever works best, and the spiritual life of the church slowly dies. Elders are not a board of directors. They’re pastors—whether paid or not—who love the church and lead by counseling, teaching, one-on-one discipling, preaching, and praying. This isn’t always intuitive, and your congregation needs you to teach.

2. Pray

Pastors don’t make other elders; the Holy Spirit does (Acts 20:28). That’s why, in addition to teaching and training, church leaders must be dedicated to prayer. God is the one who will raise up faithful shepherds through the ministry of his Word.

Pastors don’t make other elders. God is the one who will raise up faithful shepherds through the ministry of his Word.

In the beginning at UCCD, some suspected I was trying to get “my guys” in leadership. Others were fearful of losing power. There was nothing I could do about it. I became painfully aware of my inability to reform the church on my own. So I began praying that the Lord would transform the elder board—and slowly but surely he did.

One of the answers to my prayer was Richard. He joined our church shortly after arriving from Zambia. He was there whenever the church gathered, he engaged people intentionally in spiritual conversation, he served others regardless of whether he received credit. Thanks to his previous church, we’d received a ready-made elder. Soon the congregation recognized him as such. One by one the composition of our elder board began to change.

3. Love

Love is expressed by pastors in many ways, but a crucial one is meeting individually with potential elders for intentional discipleship. Jesus invested deeply in the Twelve, and even more so in the three (Peter, James, John). We must train elders in the same way. Select a few promising men and disciple them.

This stewardship involves teaching, but more. Making disciples and raising up elders is less like a classroom and more like parenting. As Colin Marshall and Tony Payne observe, “It’s deeply and inescapably relational. When we look at the relationship between Paul and Timothy, it becomes immediately apparent that much more than a transfer of information was involved in Timothy’s training.”

Making disciples and raising up elders is less like a classroom and more like parenting.

Mark Dever endured many Subway sandwiches during the early years when he was discipling me. I remember as a brand-new Christian wondering: Why do we always go to the same place for lunch? How about some variety? Only later did I realize Mark chose to eat there because he was systematically building a relationship with the family behind the counter—and in that, he was modeling for me the intentionality and evangelistic faithfulness I needed as an elder.

The apostle Paul said, “The aim of our charge is love” (1 Tim. 1:5). This kind of love multiplies itself in the life of a church. Model it to the potential leaders you disciple.

4. Stay

Training elders is more like farming than a factory assembly. As Thabiti Anyabwile wisely counsels, “Be patient and note those men who evidence the desire over time. Watch a man. Encourage him. Observe the desire in fruitful seasons, in dry times, when he is full of joy, and when he is sorrowful.” It helps to take the long view. Think in terms of years, not months.

Nader, from Egypt, was a young man when he arrived at UCCD. He was affable, encouraging, and naturally connected with our Arabic-speaking members. As Nader got married and started raising a family, he also developed a growing interest in missions and was elected as our deacon of missions. Then people began to notice his shepherding gifts. He cared for our supported workers pastorally and checked in on them regularly. He began teaching more and our congregation eventually recognized an elder who’d grown up among us.

Take the long view in training elders. “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands” (1 Tim. 5:22). Training elders takes time. With a long-term perspective, we can cultivate the next crop.