When A Subject Gets Confused
Recently, an article was written on Public Discourse which stated, “Because we believe that concerns about vaccination do not rise to the threshold necessary to justify forgoing it, we believe that it is strongly morally advisable to get vaccinated.” (note: link to article below) Rest assured, however, these individuals do not want you to suffer church discipline if you decide not to be vaccinated, “However, even if this rises to the level of a moral ‘ought,’ that does not mean we think churches should discipline their members if they refuse to get vaccinated. Nor does it mean that an individual who forgoes the vaccine is necessarily sinning. Vaccination is a salutary act born of Christian love for neighbor and community, not a test of faithfulness.” So, according to these writers, you should not be forced to be vaccinated, but it is a sign of Christian love for you to be vaccinated. Is this fact really true? Is there a moral “ought” for Christians to be vaccinated?
Now, I must commend the gentlemen who wrote the article I am referencing for one thing, and one thing only. They are actually seeking to develop a distinctly Christian ethic for approaching the topic of vaccines, this goal is one which I humbly applaud. However, I believe the article dismally fails to accomplish its intended objective. Their main thesis seems to be, “It is not possible to properly love a person and act so as to unnecessarily jeopardize their health. If by the minimal burden of wearing a mask, we can potentially protect others from grave illness, then it seems we have a moral obligation to wear a mask. The same can be said for COVID-19 vaccinations. If by being vaccinated we can protect others from illness, then we have a corresponding obligation, given our Lord’s command to love neighbors, to be vaccinated. Vaccinations not only protect me, but also protect other vulnerable members of society.”
Based upon this thesis, I see these individuals are saying that if a Christian can do something to protect the health of another, then they should. Of course, we must place a caveat on this subject because the authors of this article also do so when they say, “At the same time, we acknowledge that the call to love one’s neighbor does not justify—carte blanche—all action taken to lessen transmission or the forfeiture of one’s own conscience.” So, in fairness we must see where they are clearly asserting there are limits to the extent one should go when seeking the safety of others. (Note all previous quotations come from this article).1
In this article, I am not here to primarily debate all of the medical information surrounding the COVID vaccine. However, I would be amiss if I did not briefly comment on it since the vaccine is the subject of this post. As you likely know, the COVID vaccine is claimed to be 95% effective by PFIZER and BIONTECH.2 The current population of the world is 7.8 billion3 and at the time of the writing of this article 73.7 million people have been reported to have Coronavirus4 which is roughly .95% of the population. In other words, your risk of getting infected is less than 1% without the vaccine.
The sprint to create a vaccine began in only January.5 Since it is so new medical professionals do not know how long the vaccine will remain effective, they do not know if it can prevent transmission of the disease, rare serious side effects are currently unknown.6 There is a .5% risk you will have a serious reaction which can include Bell’s palsy.7 The risk of a serious side effect from the vaccine is quite similar to the risk of getting the disease without the vaccine. Historically vaccines typically go through years of testing before they are approved.8 For example, how does this specific vaccine impact a child’s growth if they take it at 12-years old? This simply has not been tested in the real world. What is the impact upon a man or woman 3-years after they take the vaccine? Once again this has not been observed through processes of monitoring individuals who have taken the vaccine. This data is normally compiled and evaluated over years prior to a vaccines release to the public. All of this information combined makes it highly difficult to morally suggest anyone ought to take this vaccine. In fact, there is good reason to be wary and cautious in regards to this vaccine.
Unconfusing The Subject
Now, I believe I have succeeded in showing the lack of legitimate argumentation behind the idea Christians should take the vaccine to protect their neighbor. The lack of knowledge about the vaccine makes this argument essentially impossible to make just from that standpoint. So, what is a biblical theology behind vaccinations? Let’s begin to bring greater clarity to this subject and develop our ethic from Scripture. We must first recognize human beings are made in the image of God. Genesis 1:26 says:
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’”
Since every human being is made in the image of God, we should treat them with dignity and respect. As Christ said, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31). Therefore, we should want what is best for our neighbors as defined by God’s Word to His glory and praise. We must also consider another principle and that is the truth that Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit:
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. -1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Therefore, we see from this text that we should honor God with our bodies. We have established three general principles so far. First, every human is made in the image of God. Secondly, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves to God’s glory. Lastly, Christians are indwelt by God’s Holy Spirit and should glorify God with their bodies. Now, let’s take these biblical principles and apply them to the area of vaccination.
Talking About The Specifics
The big question is are Christians morally obligated to take a vaccine? The answer is a loud and resounding no! This statement is not a disputed one even by the article I disagreed with and mentioned at the start of this post. On the one hand the authors of that piece state, “If by being vaccinated we can protect others from illness, then we have a corresponding obligation, given our Lord’s command to love neighbors, to be vaccinated.”9 Yet they later state, “Despite our own convictions about the rigorous protocols to ensure safety and efficacy, we believe that Christian liberty requires that each person be free to choose whether or not to receive these new vaccines.”10 So, they are basically saying it is the moral obligation of Christians to be vaccinated and yet Christians are free to choose whether or not they should be vaccinated. Such is the dizzying approach of an article when it strays from Scripture. These individuals cannot clearly assert Christians are morally obligated to take the vaccine because that is not biblical teaching.
Christians are obligated to care for their bodies because their body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. However, there are some differences as to how Christians can go about applying this duty while maintaining faithfulness to God’s Word. There is not a specifically endorsed exercise program in the Word of God. Consequently, if I want to run for my cardio-workout and if you want to swim, then that is permissible. In a similar way, if you decide to take the Coronavirus vaccination, it is your free choice to do that if you deem that to be the best way to protect yourself. If I choose to eat healthy, workout, get good rest, drink plenty of water in order to maintain health and avoid any illness, then that is my free choice. We are free to choose the best way to take care of our physical bodies and there is not a specified workout or vaccination regiment in Scripture. To place a different burden on an individual is simply not biblical.
The Scripture does not allow for the conclusion that vaccinations morally ought to be taken. So, the biblical approach is to treat your body and the body of others with respect since every human is made in the image of God. If you believe it is in your best interest to take a vaccine, then I disagree with the conclusion, but I clearly recognize it is your perfect right to take that action. However, to place an ethical “ought” to this action is to mishandle God’s Word and place burdens on individuals God has not given them. I would encourage Christians to see the need to care for their bodies and love their neighbors. I urge my brothers and sisters to do their research on this issue and act in good conscience before God. But, I also urge you not to place moral obligations upon others which are not biblical.
This subject is one in which Christians should seek to apply biblical principles as in all of life. However, just as deciding which exercise routine is right for you may be different than the one which is right for me, this area is one where different Christians will come to different conclusions as to whether or not they should take the vaccine. That is to be expected considering we are all at different stages in terms of our age, health, and many other factors. Some will decide to take the vaccine and their only reason is so they can travel outside of the country in which they live. Others who do not care as much about international travel and will not see that as a reason for them to take the vaccine. Are any of these individuals in sin or failing to fulfill a moral duty to love their neighbor? Most certainly they are not. The Bible dictates we seek to care for human bodies and thoroughly research the best way to undertake that obligation. We should seek to accomplish this for the glory of our God! It is imperative not to place a moral “ought” to taking the vaccine. Doing so shows a lack of ability to interpret Scripture in this realm and poor application of biblical principles.