Conscience and COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates: 
In Defense of Sphere Authority

New Warhorn Media post by Lucas Weeks:


Thankful for this. Thank you, brothers.


It was an honor to be a part of the committee to write this statement. I think it is balanced and can be of help bringing peace to the church on this issue. I would like to encourage all those who liked this post to share it on their social media and in their own spheres of influence.


I really appreciate the attempt to wrestle with this issue - it is certainly the most serious and grounded effort that I have seen.

I have a questions about this section:

I agree that carefully weighing those factors would be prudent and wise (and we could use a lot more prudence right now!), but how are we getting from [a wise magistrate will carefully weigh these factors] to [a magistrate is “required” to properly weigh these factors, or their action is “unjustified”], which is the way I read that extended passage?

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It’s an excellent statement, as the last one was.

Tying it back to the Vaccine Mandate thread(s), if we are saying that Reformed Christians believe in three different and overlapping spheres of authority, and if we are saying that the federal government is overstepping its sphere of authority by mandating these particular vaccines at this time, may religious exemption letters be written on that basis?

Or, would it be better to leave our Bibles and Reformed confessions out of this one, and object based on temporal considerations (maybe bring natural law into it?) such as the Constitution and Tenth Amendment?

I tried to ask Joseph Spurgeon this in person. We did not have a lot of time to discuss. I would also like to see what other men say. I have an idea of how I would answer at this point, but I will wait and see how others answer.


Great question.

It’s based on the separation of spheres of authority. I’d rather not try to write that all out in this comment thread right now.

@bencarmack, my opinion is that it is a poor candidate for a letter if you want it to stand up in court. The reason is because you are not saying, “My conscience forbids me to get this vaccine,” but rather “My conscience forbids me to obey you on this matter because you have no right to tell me what to do on this matter.” They’ve obviously already decided they do have the right to tell you what to do on this matter. I think there’s a good chance that decision will fall when it is brought to court, but if it doesn’t, then I’m afraid a letter on that basis wouldn’t carry much water. But I’m not a lawyer. And that doesn’t mean that a letter wouldn’t work for employers enforcing the federal mandate. There’s still a fair bit of submission syndrome wrt religious freedom in this nation.

I would discourage letters signed by pastors, as it is an issue of personal decision whether to resist the overstepping. Whatever the decision is would not be one that I’m officially teaching as the church’s doctrine. However, that it is an overstepping is one I can (and obviously have) judged, so I can see that being signed by a pastor.


That’s key.

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As stated in another thread, very thankful for the work that produced this document. I was so gladdened to see the points expressed, their bases and the manner in which each of the points were expressed.

My couple quick thoughts, for whatever bits they’re worth:

I wouldn’t at all disagree with this statement. It obviously makes sense and is logical. I also don’t intend to speculate in grotesque ways regarding motivations of those in the civil realm. I honestly wonder how much a sensible statement like the quoted sentence above could be seen as the sort of dynamic that would be made to order by the form of evil that I think underlies some of what is transpiring in the current set of events. To be honest, I expect to see something like it and at the very minimum, a clouding or manipulation of the ongoing multi-varied facts so as to attempt the portrayal of just that sort of development.
It would also serve to further strengthen and manipulate the divisions across wide aspects of society around the necessity or alternatively the unacceptability of mandated measures. As I say, tailor-made.
I’ll be glad to be shown in error and by no means want to give anyone their next assignments in work after the efforts for this needed statement were so recently concluded.

Also, I really appreciated the thoughts included in these lines toward the end:

It brings to my mind one of the central differences in fundamental belief between those implementing these measures and those being distressed by them. The secular, technocratic mindset views almost everything (material and immaterial) as exactly a zero-sum game. I think that these beliefs underlie what’s actually taking place on numerous inter-related levels. In fact, I think the attempted re-engineering of all of society and even the human person that motivates the worldviews of some not un-powerful men is being pursued in the ways and along the timeframes that it is precisely because the nature of the world, its resources, its economy, its politics, all of its inhabitants, and its very beginnings and destiny are seen exactly as “zero-sum.”
This is one reason why I (simply following the work of many others) believe “disease-related” quarantines, mandates and hyper-bureaucratic management will eventually give rise to “green” or “resource-based” versions of the same. All expressed with equal or lesser concern for the actual framework of the laws of the land or compassion for those on the receiving end of the management. These words are meant as the opposite of fear-mongering. They lose, you see. For God’s universe and economy are, in fact, not at all zero-sum. Those who insist on the contrary doctrine are following the understanding of Lewis’ “Screwtape” and will surely inherit his destiny.

I do hope that this isn’t sounding too dark as far as predictions go. I’m optimistic. My guess is that this will be very far from the end of statements, thinking, or important shepherding work for the decade that started with the weird bat-soup virus. My aim is to be encouraging to those doing such valuable labor. So be encouraged to take a little rest :heart: and get ready for a lot more years! :sweat_smile:


I want to thank everyone who worked on this statement. The last year and a half have been difficult and discouraging. I realize most of which is that we, the Church, are simply reaping what we have sown. Still, it does not lessen the disappointment and sorrow—friendships broken, churches divided, and worst of all, Christ scandalized. We have majored on the minors erroneously thinking we were exposing the sins of the heathens when all we were doing was exposing our own sins. Despite these difficult days, your faithfulness to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2) is much appreciated and a source of great encouragement. Brothers, keep on the firing line!


Dear Ben,
I am have two thoughts that will sound contradictory but which I don’t think are. First, I don’t actually have any principled support for religious exemptions as a thing in and of themselves. What I mean is that all of life is under the reign of Christ and if I truly believed whatever I was asking as religious was required by Christ than I would also believe that it is required for all people and not just Christians. If I believe that vaccine mandates are an overreach of the authority of the civil government than I believe not only should I not be required to obey it but neither should my atheist neighbor. I don’t like to say its cool if civil government do X as long as X doesn’t apply to me with X being whatever thing I believe goes against God’s law or order. I don’t believe in pluralism but rather believe that all must answer to God. Therefore in that world where the civil magistrate where attempting to rule by God’s word than they shouldn’t give religious exemptions.

That said, when under a tyrannical and ungodly civil government that denies Christ, I don’t have a problem using a religious exemption as a tactic to protect your family especially if it is a tactic that keeps you from at the time using riskier tactics and allows you to keep fighting. It shouldn’t therefore keep you from speaking out against whatever it is you are requesting an exemption from even if they grant it. If they grant an exemption from a vaccine mandate, I still would speak out against these covid vaccine mandates in general. Therefore as a tactic, I can support religious exemptions. When Daniel and his friends requested that they not be forced to eat the king’s meat, I see that as a tactic that they used to prove that their position was actually better than the king’s. We don’t know what would have happened had that not been granted.
Therefore, I am not too worried about all the arguments bandied about about whether one can request an exemption or not during this time because of certain beliefs. If I believe it is an overreach and one in which I am not personally obligated to obey, then I have no problem requesting an exemption and not trying to be all technical about the specifics of it. Be wise enough to get it. If you don’t get it, be wise in how you respond. If you can stand firm. Look to other options in resisting tyranny that God has given his people.

To sum up, I think you could use our paper to apply for a religious exemption. I would have no problem signing one for a parishioner.


In a perfect world, sure, I don’t believe in religious exemptions either.

Since we live in the world with the Spanish Inquisition, I believe in religious exemptions.

Religious exemptions are a recognition on the part of the state that the state makes laws based on morality, but that God alone is Lord of the conscience.

If we cannot have perfect unity within the church (baptism comes to mind), then on what basis would you expect to be able to be able to do so within the civil sphere, if you were ever a civil magistrate?

In other words, I not only believe in religious exemptions, but I think they are one of the single most important concepts in our states and founded upon Christian principles that are far more sound than a goal of complete unanimity on all things.


“Therefore in that world where the civil magistrate where attempting to rule by God’s word than they shouldn’t give religious exemptions.”

You would still need religious exemptions for those of minority or non conformist Christian denominations, like Anabaptists. Although I agree with you that pluralism is not sustainable. The Constitution should be rewritten to acknowledge Christ as Lord. And I would be down with subscribing to the Chad 1646 WCF as opposed to the Virgin 1789 American revision.

But we do live in a world where…nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!


Pluralism is not the same thing as acknowledging the importance of freedom of conscience.

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Let’s get back on topic.

Based on the back and forth with @Joel the other day, and having some time to think about it, I have to reverse myself on what I said before. Religious exemption letters for the vaccines don’t help; they muddy waters. As a tactic, I don’t think they are effective. They may even make things worse. As Joseph Bayly posted the other day, at least one hospital system decided to call our bluff and make us sign something to say we will swear off other kinds of products tested on fetal cells.

The issue of the 9th commandment and letting our Yes be Yes and our No be No comes into view. Even when up against magistrates who despise us, I think we should strive to tell the truth as much as possible. The truth is Scripture and the Reformed confessions do not condemn vaccines.

We compared vaccine mandates to the draft. But what I remembered, knowing someone whose father was a CO during WWII, is that CO status did not exempt you from the draft. You were drafted to serve in non combat roles, such as the medical corps.

In a similar manner, the magistrate could say, get the vaccine, or do something else…exactly what Doug Wilson said in a post from 2015.

However, what is being done with the federal vaccine mandate is unconstitutional. It goes against the 10th Amendment and the unwritten constitution of precedent and tradition, which is represented by the Jacobson case. (See the footnotes of the Evangel statement). The best tactic for fighting it is to trigger a Court case that will prompt judicial review of Biden’s action. Those suits are already underway.

If the judicial review route were to fail, we would have to look at new options.

Red state governors, including our Gov. Holcomb, have said they oppose the mandate and they will fight it. We could see real lesser magistrate interposition against President Biden, which I would welcome.

The best way to fight this thing tactically is to make a narrow legal argument that can win in federal court. That’s your best bet for a win. The Supreme Court as its presently constituted would surely rule your way if you presented that case to them.


The civil magistrate must rule by the law of God. If the law is in accordance with the law of God what exemption could one have that would be lawful and if the law is not in accordance with God’s law than it isn’t lawful and no exemption is necessary except where it may be a tool of resistance.

But because we live in a secular humanist empire, I’ll gladly use them as a tool in my tool belt. While I agree we must be wise in our fight it’s my judgment that the covid vaccine mandates are an unlawful overreach of the federal government and therefore no one is obligated to obey them and if using an exemption helps some young ladies at our church as they have then I’m glad to do it. So if you want to be the one who goes through the courts and fights it that way, by all means do so Ben but I’m not going to force our people to do that if they ask me to write a letter.


I agree with your reasoning, Joseph, that this statement applies to everyone alike.

However, I can’t help but chuckle at the idea that you and I could sit down and come to complete agreement on what laws would be “in accordance with the law of God.” Let alone so that Ben could sign on as well. Freedom of conscience is a biblical principle, not a secular humanist one.

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What are the bounds of this liberty of conscience? If I say my religion allows for abortion or requires it would you grant a religious exemption for me if you were a Christian nation that outlawed abortion?

Freedom of conscience has never implied freedom to murder.

Is your idea of freedom of conscience some sort of absolute liberty? Bannerman is quite wise in pointing out the difficulty of drawing the line, but surely just because the line is hard to draw doesn’t mean we need to throw the baby out with the bath water?

Take for example, the sabbath. Some believe they can play soccer together after church to the glory of God. The recreation exception to the WCF. Others do not. For them it is sin. Whether or not soccer after church is prohibited in your imaginary world is a tough nut to crack. Moral law and all that. Probably switches back and forth from allowed to forbidden depending on who is in power. Assuming the first man in power doesn’t just execute those who disagree with him.

Here’s some Bannerman selections I find helpful:

“Conscience may err in the case of the society as well as in the case of the individual ; and yet an erring conscience is to be dealt with reverently, because it has rights as against a fellow-creature, although it may have no rights as against God.” Church of Christ, Appendix D. p 378

Then a bit later, referencing the Mormons, he says:

“In such extreme cases it must become a question with the rulers of the State, whether it is possible to extend to them the benefits of toleration at all, or whether it is not rather necessary to fall back on the last resort of nations as of Churches, to expel from among them the offending members. The limits of toleration is a question for rulers, which it is as difficult to solve as the parallel question for the people, of the limits of obedience. But if the right of resistance is one which the people should seldom remember, and which princes should never forget, the right of refusing toleration is also one which Churches cannot question, even although the State ought to be slow in seeking an occasion to exercise it.“ ibid 386-7


If I read Bannerman (and others in the 17th-19th centuries who discuss this) correctly, freedom of conscience is dealing with a legal freedom to worship in a free/independent (non state sanctioned) church rather than with an individual Christian response to individual laws from the government. In other words, freedom on conscience deals with where or how we worship (usually as a part of a congregation rather than as a single believer), not the what of our individual ethics.

Sabbath observation has never (to my knowledge) been a matter of specific legal interest (other than in very specific and short-lived instances). Whether or not we’re allowed to play ball games on the sabbath isn’t a legal question. Whether or not we’re free to attend a church that is not supported by the state (Baptist, Congregational, Quaker, etc) in a nation with a state church (i.e. the Church of England or the Church of Scotland), however, is a legal question.

As relates to the current discussion, a conscientious objection deals with individual beliefs that are sweeping rather than occasional (i.e. ‘I believe all wars/vaccines are morally objectionable’ rather than ‘I believe this war/vaccine is morally objectionable’). A religious objection is what we’ve discussed above, that our objection is based on our religious teaching on the subject, and the objection is still sweeping rather than occasional (i.e. ‘7th Day Adventism teaches that all violence is evil’ or ‘the Catholic Church teaches that all contraception is immoral’). It’s the selective nature of this discussion at present (vaccines) that I think disqualifies it from being suitable for a conscientious objection.

Not that I’m unsympathetic with those wanting to make use of it. I get the panic that results from a centralised government ordering needles upon a helpless populace. But hasty or reactionary measures usually come back to bite us, and often worse than the original problems we were reacting against. The sort of back and forth argumentation in this thread is worth the effort (and is both incredibly challenging and edifying). God-willing it will help us think these things through wisely now, so that we can spare ourselves and others unnecessary suffering later.


I don’t get why you all keep making this argument. My religious belief is opposed to unlawful intrusions of one sphere of authority into other spheres and of commands built upon half truths and manipulation. Therefore I oppose covid vaccines upon this religious basis.

Maybe I’m just not 2k enough but I don’t make hard distinctions between my religious faith and it’s application to the civil realm.

That said, again I see religious exemptions merely as a tool against a godless system and therefore feel no need to try to have some principled system for using them rather if I can make use of them to protect my family or others in the church than I will. I know of two people in our church who have successfully used them to keep from losing their jobs.

It seems to me at some point your arguments here will end up keeping you from protecting your people. As a pastor I have a duty to protect my sheep from unlawful intrusions of the civil government into their family sphere of authority when I able. I have no problem being a Hebrew midwife here.

Honestly if I was in the situation facing a loss of job and came to a pastor who was unwilling to sign a letter for religious exemption on this, I’d be looking for a new church.