A Christian brother launched a volley of convictions about masks and vaccinations at me in our telephone conversation. He did so without knowing my convictions, and he did not care to find out. He assumed that his convictions were right, so he had the right to express them. Last year, a local church advertised that they opposed the government mask mandate “by Christian conviction” as if those on the other side have no convictions. The reality is that many Christians hold opposite convictions about vaccinations and mask-wearing, leading to a divided church in a partisan world.


What are convictions, and how can we hold our convictions without dividing the church?

Tim Meuhlhoff and Richard Langer define convictions as “firmly held moral or religious beliefs that guide our beliefs, actions, or choices.” There are two different kinds of convictions, absolute and personal. Absolute convictions are doctrinal truths, or “confessional beliefs” that apply to all Christians. Personal convictions are important beliefs or “core values” that guide our lifestyle choices as individual Christians.[1] They are convictions of conscience. We must distinguish between absolute and personal convictions in the church. Absolute convictions should not be compromised while personal convictions call us to live in unity with other Christians who do not share those same personal convictions. Convictions about COVID fall clearly into the personal conviction category


Paul’s instructions about the relationship between the stronger and weaker brothers help us deal with personal convictions about issues like COVID in the church. Paul was dealing with a local church, Corinth, divided by personal convictions about eating meat offered to idols. Paul does not use the phrases “stronger brother” or “weaker brother,” although the phrases are a helpful shorthand for conflicting convictions. The stronger brothers are proud of their knowledge that idols are nothing and insistent on their rights to eat the meat (1 Cor. 8:4-5). The weaker brothers have more sensitive consciences. They are more cautious and careful in their concerns about eating the meat (1 Cor. 8:7, 10).

Paul is not saying that one is right and the other wrong. They are both right in different ways. The stronger brothers are right that there is only one God, so the idols are not gods (1 Cor. 8:4-6). The weaker brothers are right in being cautious with meat offered to idols because they could become “sharers in demons” by their participation in the temple sacrifices (1 Cor. 10:19-22). We must not imply that strong is better than weak. Paul’s point is that we should not take pride in our knowledge but practice love that builds up other believers (1 Cor. 8:1-3).

The stronger brothers are not more godly than the weaker brothers. They are more aggressive. The weaker brothers feel powerless (ἀσθενής) in their consciences. They are more cautious and lack the boldness of the stronger brothers because they have more sensitive consciences. Remember, however, that God chose “the weak (ἀσθενής) things of the world to shame the things which are strong” (1 Cor. 1:27). Paul knows that God’s power is “perfected in weakness” (ἀσθενής), and he will boast in weakness (ἀσθενής) so that the power of Christ will be displayed in him (2 Cor. 12:9).

Therefore, we must not view the stronger as better and the weaker as lesser in understanding these conflicting convictions. The stronger are more aggressive and bolder to express themselves. They are proud of their knowledge and strong faith in God and tend to demean the weaker brothers as lacking knowledge and faith. Yet, Paul does not accuse the weaker brother of sin. He accuses the stronger brothers of sinning in their treatment of the more sensitive Christians. It is better to give up our rights than to cause others to stumble because when we wound the consciences of cautious Christians, we “sin against Christ!” (1 Cor. 8:12-13)


Convictions congeal. They harden. Convictions of conscience develop over time as we interact with others who influence us. We have seen this take place in the church regarding COVID, leading to increasing fragmentation in the body of Christ. Those opposed to vaccines and masks grow more aggressive, and those promoting vaccines and masks push back. Convictions of conscience congeal on both sides. Sometimes, the cautious Christians act like the stronger brother, but it is the other way around more often. The anti-vaccine Christians insist that they will not give up their rights for the sake of others in the church, forcing the cautious Christians to make a choice – surrender to those who refuse to mask or stay away from attending church.

Full disclosure: I am a weaker brother when it comes to COVID. I believe, as a matter of conscience, that Christians should get vaccinated – except in rare circumstances – and wear masks. I believe that churches should ask worshipers to mask in and mask out and encourage their people to get vaccinated. Don’t panic but be prudent. My conviction is that churches must protect the most vulnerable and the weakest in their communities, so they should err on the side of caution when it comes to safety matters. We should cater to the needs of the most sensitive and cautious among us. It is the weaker brother principle (1 Cor. 8:13).


Let’s find a way to live together in harmony on the issue of COVID. The virus has revealed how we are all prone to look at matters from a selfish perspective, focusing on our convictions more than loving others. Will you join me in seeking ways to love one another despite our differences over vaccines? Will you join me in seeking ways to value one another despite our conflicting convictions? Let’s show the world how followers of Christ exhibit the love of Christ amidst conflict.


[1] Tim Muehlhoff and Richard Langer, “The Art of Dogma: Why and How Christians Form Convictions and How we can Work for Unity,” Christianity Today, January/February, 2022, 68-70.