The sin of Adam brought a devastating curse to all creation. The ground would no longer cooperate in his agricultural pursuits. His God-ordained work of tending the garden would now be filled with pain and difficulty. Man’s rule over creation—because he had obeyed that creation instead of obeying the Creator—was now broken, damaged, and incomplete.
Yet God’s grace in the midst of the curse is still plainly evident; with work and knowledge, Adam could still gain what he needed from the ground. He would often experience failure, but the successes would still come. God didn’t step away and allow a fallen creation to overwhelm and suffocate our first forefather and mother. Rather, he permitted humanity to get the necessary sustenance and knowledge from that ground that we need to survive.
Perhaps you’ve never thought about the goodness of biomedical research or the goodness of vaccines. In his grace, God allows our knowledge and experience to make life more endurable. Technology and medicine are good things, insofar as they are used unto the glory of God and the benefit of others. And saving lives with medicine and technology is certainly God-honoring, since the Bible upholds the sanctity of every human life.
Vaccines as Gift
Vaccines, then, are a good gift from God brought about by the proper application of biomedical research to the human immune system and how it responds to dangerous pathogens. God has given our bodies the ability to recognize dangerous foreign organisms and to remember them in case they return for another battle. A vaccine simply gives the patient a non-dangerous amount or piece of that organism, so that the body can create immunological memory before it ever encounters the actual dangerous organism. Your immune system hasn’t just received the playbook of that enemy; it knows every play it will try to carry out.
The immune system is a truly wonderful gift of God. And just like earlier humans learned agricultural techniques to bring better yield from their crops, researchers have learned the usefulness of vaccines in protecting us from another aspect of the fall.
Yet, just like every other human attempt to push back against the fall’s effects, it’s not always a perfect endeavor. Biomedical research has seen many dark days. Vaccinology has sometimes caused unnecessary deaths. And this is why people sometimes choose to forego a particular vaccine, or sometimes every vaccine.
In the past year, we have seen leaders of major political parties publicly question the validity of a COVID vaccine. Many of us are left wondering what to do. Should we take a vaccine that has been publicly questioned? Was this vaccine rushed? Were shortcuts taken that may make it dangerous? Since it uses a different type of vaccine technology, is it going to do something unexpected to our bodies? Are there any bioethical concerns that should make us wary, such as the use of stem cells or tissues from aborted babies?
As a COVID researcher, I can answer some of these questions for you. I can even tell you what I will do. But before I do that, let me share something even more important.
Of utmost importance within the body of Christ, we must not let such decisions divide us. Make no mistake: disunity is a real possibility and temptation. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that many of us take our health seriously, and we get upset when others don’t take personal health as seriously as we do.
For example, if I choose to take the vaccine, but another church member chooses not to, it would be easy for me to be uncharitable toward that person. I may even feel they are endangering my health, as viral mutations could render my vaccine ineffective.
Conversely, if I choose not to be vaccinated due to a conviction that some aspect of the vaccine conflicts with biblical principles, I could judge the decision of a brother or sister to vaccinate as wrong or sinful. Judgmentalism is a distinct and dangerous sin when it comes to conscience issues like this. We know that the Spirit gives more grace, but we often do not.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, whatever you decide, our Christian witness is often borne out in how we continue to love those who don’t hold the exact same positions we do. We all serve a sovereign God who decides where every viral particle floats when it’s expelled from an infected person.
Our Christian unity isn’t built on a set of common attitudes, pursuits, convictions, experiences, or political beliefs, but wholly on the shed blood of Jesus Christ, to whom we are united by faith and thus united to one another.
We are not the Lions Club, the VA, the Red Cross, or the Salvation Army. We are the body of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Vaccines offer temporal solutions; the gospel brings eternal ones.
Answers to Common Questions
1. Is this vaccine unsafe because it was pushed through so quickly?
The speed with which the COVID-19 vaccines were developed was truly breathtaking, but no shortcuts were taken. The development speed was expedient for several reasons.
First, every vaccine goes through multiple clinical trial stages. Usually, companies don’t start a Phase 2 trial before the Phase 1 is completed, as they want to know the results of the first phase before they invest millions of dollars into the next. But the influx of money from Congress and the reduced restrictions in trial timing allowed companies to start multiple phase trials at once. This meant companies could complete all the necessary clinical trial phases within months, instead of the typical years.
Second, finding volunteers who have the disease of interest can sometimes be a difficult process for researchers. Some diseases are so rare that it can take years to find enough volunteers to complete a trial. For COVID-19, however, this was not a problem. It took only weeks or months to get enough volunteers to fill up a large clinical trial.
2. Why did some public officials question the vaccine?
The political gamesmanship has been thick and heavy over the past year, with the pandemic as the hockey puck both teams have been trying to use to score on their opponent. It’s sad to watch. But it’s telling that the leaders of both major political parties have publicly taken the vaccine.
3. I’ve heard this vaccine is different from other vaccines. What’s an mRNA vaccine? And is it dangerous?
Most vaccines work by injecting either a weakened version of an organism or specific proteins from that organism, along with an adjuvant that helps to boost the immune response and make better memory. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines work by injecting a piece of mRNA, which contains blueprints that tell cells how to make proteins. When your cells take up the mRNA, they make a specific protein from the organism that causes COVID. The immune system recognizes the invader, and memory is made. The mRNA degrades within the cell quickly and is gone from the body shortly after the vaccination. But the immunity lasts. Using mRNA for various research purposes has been happening for decades, and the biological results are generally well understood.
4. Are there any Christian ethical concerns with this vaccine?
The two largest Christian ethical considerations in biomedical research are the use of both stem cells and also tissues/cells from aborted babies. Much ink has been spilled on these topics; I won’t go into that here. But from what has been publicly disclosed––and it is still a law in the United States that researchers must disclose whenever they use tissues from aborted babies––the production of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines do not use cell lines from aborted babies.
There are other vaccines under development that do use cell lines from aborted babies in production. I have seen good arguments on both sides of this issue. Many widely used vaccines (e.g., MMR, shingles, chickenpox) have been developed using these cell lines.
5. So what will you do?
I will be taking the vaccine when my time is allotted. The research seems solid, and I haven’t heard anything that would give me pause as a Christian. I know at least one person who is unable to get the vaccine for medical reasons, and I know this will also be true for others. I will do what I can to love them by helping stem the tide of this virus.
Ultimately, God controls every single viral particle that spreads over the earth. It may be that he uses these vaccines to rid the world of this dangerous disease. He’s allowed us to do it with smallpox; I pray he allows it again with COVID-19.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this letter do not represent the views of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the National Institutes of Health, or the federal government of the United States of America. The opinions expressed are the sole opinions of the author and are intended for the purposes of church edification. For specific questions on whether you are able or eligible to receive a vaccine, consult your local and state health departments and your primary-care physician for further guidance and direction.
Keith Kauffman is a researcher studying the immune response to tuberculosis and other infectious diseases. He earned a BS from the University of Maryland and an MDiv from Capital Bible Seminary. He is also adjunct science faculty at Lancaster Bible College. He serves as an elder at Greenbelt Baptist Church in Greenbelt, Maryland. He and his wife, Sara, have two daughters, Arielle and Talia.
[published Jan. 19, 2021]