Early Church of God Attitudes Toward Vaccination
History of Divine Healing
Divine healing is not an uncommon practice. Often, people pray for the Lord to cure them or loved ones of deadly afflictions. When these prayers are answered, it is seen as a gift from God. In today’s modern age, these prayers for healing are accompanied by the use of modern medicine as well. The divine healing once practiced by E.E. Byrum, and the Church of God, would be considered uncommon by today’s standards.
Divine healing, according to E. E. Byrum, was based on the idea that Jesus came to save us from our sins, which were a result of the Fall. Death and sickness were also results of the Fall. Because Jesus came to save us from the Fall, he died for both our souls and our bodies. If we can be saved from sin by prayer through Jesus, then we can be saved from sickness in the same way—by prayer through Jesus’ Resurrection.
Because Byrum felt so strongly about this matter, the Gospel Trumpet ran a divine healing section on the last page of its publication for many years. In this section, readers could send in their own testimonies of divine healing in their lives. Byrum would write passages about divine healing and what to do when sick or injured. The biggest point of contention for the Church of God during the Byrum days was the idea of vaccination.
Byrum would often write that in order to be healed, prayer must always be administered. He admitted that there were moments—in the case of a broken bone for example—when a professional needed to be consulted, but those moments were only in extreme cases. In times when a professional need not be consulted (the preferred method), prayer was all that was needed. If it was the Lord’s will to bring healing, he would… but it would be in his own timing. If it was not the Lord’s will to bring healing, the common thought was that those asking for healing did not have enough faith for the Lord to bestow it upon them. Another reason for prayer not working was when sickness was brought upon an individual oneself, such as by wearing a corset or smoking. If this were the case, Byrum concluded that the Lord would not heal those who continued to indulge in sin. Only after they repentend and turned from the habit would they be healed.
Despite this strong feeling of relying as little as possible on medicine, Byrum did not want people to be careless. He believed that it was wise to quarantine if exposed to a disease, to have a deep wound stitched up, use a disinfectant when necessary, etc. All of these things had to be practiced with good faith and good prayer in order to truly work.¹
Early Gospel Trumpet Quotations Regarding Vaccination Attitudes:
February 22, 1906, pg 4, Editor: E. E. Byrum
Questions Answered Column
Q: "Please explain through the columns of the Trumpet whether vaccination of school children is right according to the Word of God and under the compulsory school law. The Pennsylvania school law, as it stands now, does not allow children from six to sixteen years of age to come to school unless they are vaccinated, and we are anxious to have the benefit of the public school for our children."
A: "If such is the law, you will have to comply with it. There is no wrong necessarily, in allowing children to be vaccinated, under the circumstances. It is a matter we can not help, and which places us in a position where we must trust God for protection from the danger sometimes caused by vaccination.”
October 11, 1906, pg 8, Editor: E. E. Byrum
Divine Healing Column, Title: "What to Do"
“Some have asked what to do in case of vaccination. In regard to this point, we consider it more of an imposition than a benefit. Thousands of people to-day are suffering, and will probably always suffer, on account of the evil effects of vaccination in their systems. Nevertheless, in many places it is looked upon by the people as a means of prevention of the spreading of small-pox, and health officers in some places require vaccination, and school boards require the same of the children or expulsion from the school, and the parents in some places will be fined if they fail to send the children to school. Under such circumstances, it would probably be wisdom to comply with the requests, or rather with the requirements, and submit to the vaccination, and trust God to overrule any evil effects. A refusal will sometimes bring unnecessary prejudice against the parents, the children, and against the church of God, which can be avoided by humbly submitting, which submission would not be sin but simply be in subjection to ‘the powers that be.’’’
December 5, 1907, pg 1, Editor/Author: E. E. Byrum
Editorial, Subtitle: "Vaccination"
- "There are some journals of health that bitterly oppose vaccination, giving many citations of those who have lost their lives, or have become cripples and sufferers for life through being poisoned or from injuries received thereby. Many have had to suffer as much or more than they would have suffered with the smallpox itself."
- "To be thus compelled to submit to such requirements is an imposition, an unnecessary imposition, an unjust imposition, and many physicians are considering it in that light."
- "Aside from those who oppose it as being unnecessary from a standpoint of health, there are others who also believe it to conflict with their religious views and desire to trust God for the necessary protection from smallpox, and depend upon him for help, even should they contract the disease. This is right."
- "What is to be done? Would it be compromise to submit to vaccination? No; when considered in the proper light, there need be no condemnation nor compromise in so doing, even though you consider it an imposition."
- "We are instructed in the Word to be 'subject to the powers that be,' and to 'every ordinance of man.' That is, if the law of our land compels us to do a thing upon which the Word of God is silent, or is not explicit, then he does not impute sin against us, if we are compelled to obey even though we do not consider it the best thing to do."
- "It would undoubtedly be more to the glory of God to quietly submit and trust God to overrule all poisonous effects the same as trusting for anything else."
April 18, 1912, pg 2, Editor: E. E. Byrum
Events and Comments Page, Column Title: "Compulsory Vaccination"
“At this season of the year, in tropical countries the people have to contend not only with epidemics of plague, cholera, smallpox, and fevers, but in addition to these, wherever there is a case of smallpox in the country, efforts are made to compel every one to to be vaccinated, which has so frequently proved to be a means of spreading the disease instead of preventing it, and has become a menace to travel and to business in general. In this country, where there is a case of smallpox in a community, all the school children must be vaccinated or be denied the privilege of attending school. This is one of the unjust impositions upon the public.
Dr. Hodge, of New York, states in Health Culture that he was at one time an advocate of vaccination, and helped impose the same upon others, but finally after several people lost their lives through vaccination, and the disease became widely spread, he made a more thorough investigation, and says:
‘I am now fully and firmly convinced that vaccination not only utterly fails to protect its subjects from smallpox infection for any namable period of time, but that on the contrary it renders them more liable to attack by that disease, as well as by other diseases, by impairing their health and diminishing the vigor of their vital powers of resistance.’
He gives several quotations from eminent physicians who have fully investigated the matter to their satisfaction, and who have given statistics proving their statements.”
August 15, 1912, pg 2, Editor: E. E. Byrum
Events and Comments Page, Title: "Compulsory Medical Treatment"
- “Many a parent has been sent to the prison-cell, because love for his child caused him to refuse to have its blood corrupted with vile animal poison.”
- “Wm. Hickman, M.D., states that through vaccination, the strength of youth is often reduced to weakness; and the healthy blood of the young girl is converted to contagious poison.”
- “It is the conclusion of scientific men… that vaccination taints the healthy body with vile animal poison.”
- “Should not medical treatment be held as a strictly personal affair instead of being made a public menace to the citizens of our free (?) country?”
January 28, 1915, pg 9, Editor: E. E. Byrum
Divine Healing Page, Title: "Material Remedies and Faith"
- “To be vaccinated could hardly be considered a sin, or perhaps, even out of place, if the law enforced it; but we are well aware of the fact that many medical men seriously question the benefits of vaccination.”
- In this column, lots of scripture was quoted: 2 Chronicles 16:12-13, Mark 5:25-26, Exodus 15:22-25, 2 Kings 4:38-40, Mark 6:13, James 5:14-16, Romans 3:3, Mark 16:15-18
- Byrum uses these verses to explain that in Biblical times there were no physicians or doctors. He also uses these—and other verses alluded to but not directly cited—to show that even if there was a doctor or physician, they often times did more harm than good. He uses these points to argue against medical aid and vaccination in most circumstances.
May 6, 1915, pg 9, Editor: E. E. Byrum
Divine Healing Page, Title: "Vaccination"
- “We consider vaccination more of an imposition than a benefit.”
- “Thousands of people today are suffering and will probably always suffer on account of the evil results of vaccination.”
- “If the circumstances are such that a refusal would bring prejudice against the parents, the children, or the church, it would probably be wisdom to submit to the vaccination and to trust God to overrule any evil effects.”
February 3, 1916, pg 10, Editor: E. E. Byrum
Divine Healing Page, Title: "What to Do"
- “Submission [to vaccination] would not be sin but simply be in subjection to ‘the powers that be.’”
November 7, 1918, pg 14, Editor: F. G. Smith
Divine Healing Page, Title: "A Crude Cure for Headache"
- Refers to vaccines as "crude and barbarous."
December 21, 1922, pg 6, Editor: F. G. Smith
Questions Answered Page
- “It is well within the rights of any State or city to require vaccination for smallpox, diphtheria, typhoid fever, or such like things. Such vaccines when administered properly and when they are pure evidently have to a considerable extent the effect the doctors claim they have.” (Emphasis added)
The Beginnings of Change
Articles and columns that addressed vaccination in any way shape or form were published rather steadily in The Gospel Trumpet for roughly 19 years. Throughout this time, the accounts all portrayed similar attitudes on the subject.
The previous quotation from December 1922 is the last time that vaccinations are mentioned in The Gospel Trumpet for nearly four years—at least as more than an offhand comment here or there—with a negative connotation (or seen as an imposition that is necessary to follow the law).
There is uncertainty as to why this is, and there is little evidence to find for precisely when Church of God attitudes began to shift towards vaccination. Beginning in the next set of quotations, however, a shift is evident. It is rather sudden in the literature, and there is little hard evidence for when these opinions began to change.
From the evidence we do have, it is plausible to conclude that an article by Dr. C. W. Smith was part of the reason and beginnings of the shift. It is quoted in the next portion of the exhibit. Smith gave his speech at the Camp Meeting in Anderson the summer of 1927, and from then on, vaccination is not as harshly condemned as it had been in the past.
Unfortunately, there is not enough evidence from the publications of The Gospel Trumpet, nor from other sources, to determine the exact timing and justification for the shift. However, this is an opportunity to practice historiography (for more on this, see the historiography section in the Black and White Relations in the Church of God exhibit), by taking the evidence we do have and interpreting it according to the context of the whole.
In the time period surrounding these quotations we first see a sort of shift away from the previous distrust of vaccines and modern medicine. It is unclear what prompted this, but these quotations view vaccination in a different light than the previous section.
June 10, 1926, pg 3, Editor: F. G. Smith
"Monday Morning Meditations" Column by the Musing Minister
In this column, the current situation of people not becoming Christians is compared to the way that vaccines work. Vaccination is spoken about in a matter of fact way that assumes most people are aware of how they work, and believe that they do.
- "I have come to this conclusion after a careful diagnosis of the case: many people are inoculated with a mild attack of Christianity which keeps the true from taking. it works the same way as vaccination with smallpox, and antitoxin with diphtheria, etc. The inoculation gives the inoculated a mild case of the disease and thus makes him immune from the real disease. Likewise, many are immune from the real experience of Christiantiy."
August 11, 1927, pg 2, Author: Dr. C. W. Smith, Editor: F. G. Smith
"The Relation of Doctors and Divine Healing," Subtitle: "Quarantine Laws Should be Obeyed"
- “I feel that if your children have been exposed to smallpox, diphtheria, or any other contagious disease you should have them vaccinated or keep them at home.”
- “We must not depend too much on vaccination. If we have been exposed we should stay at home and not impose on the public.”
- “I stood for what I thought was right and vaccinated the children.”
- “I should hate to hear of any of you sanctified preachers in this reformation being thrown into jail because you failed to obey the laws of the land.”
August 25, 1927, pg 14, Author: R. C. Das, Editor: F. G. Smith
"Superstitions and Evil Customs of Kurigram People," Subtitle: "Suppression of Smallpox Cases"
For context: This article is written by R. C. Das. He was described by F. G. Smith as "one of our Indian workers, who is in charge of much of our work in the Bengal district” (v 50 n 17). He thus appears to be native to India, converted to Christianity, and to have begun to work with the Church of God movement in India. He wrote two notable articles for The Gospel Trumpet, the most relevant to this exhibit being about the superstitions of Indian people in the Bengal area that he saw as being harmful to themselves and to others. Das saw compulsory vaccination as a positive, but explains in his article that local superstitions deter individuals from receiving the benefits of either immunization themselves or of herd immunity.
- “Compulsory vaccination or inoculation against smallpox of all children soon after their birth and of adults is the law of [India].”
- “Even educated people do not yet fully believe in the natural causes of smallpox but rather cling to the faith that it is the curse (or blessing;) of the Goddess Sitala of smallpox.”
- “When smallpox rages, people suppress cases to avoid public knowledge and government steps for its cure or prevention and make offerings at the shrine, and before the image of the goddess of smallpox.”
- “Is not the problem a spiritual one?“
- "Education has not improved the situation.”
September 8, 1927, pg 8, Author: C. W. Naylor, Editor: F. G. Smith
"Reformation Tendencies Article III," Subtitle: "The Leaders Must Keep Together"
At this point, vaccination is being used as a positive analogy.
- "There can be no such thing as spiritual vaccination against such ills [division in the movement] so that we shall not be affected by them."
After these quotations, vaccination is not mentioned—except when missionaries are speaking about their travel—until the 1950s. There is no hard evidence that these quotations are the exact reason for the shift, but sentiments are drastically different after these publications from the attitudes published between 1900-1922.
Midcentury Gospel Trumpet Quotations on Vaccinations:
By this point in time, all references to vaccines are positive and matter of fact to the way that they work to ward off illness. Significantly, it was at this point in time that Polio cases were rising at an incredible rate. The Salk vaccine for Polio began its testing stages in 1952, three years prior to the first quotation noted here.²
August 20, 1955, pg 2, Author: Lucena C. Byrum, Editor: Harold L. Phillips
Article: "The Shelf of Do Nothing"
- "Just as the Salk vaccine has had to be checked and rechecked before its vital work can be done, just so God checks and rechecks and proves His own."
March 16, 1957, pg 11, Author: W. Dale Oldham, Editor: Harold L. Phillips
Christian Brotherhood Hour Sermon, Title: "The Turning Point," Subtitle: "The New Rejected"
- "The appearance of a new vaccine is generally opposed by most of the people for a long time before being finally accepted."
July 27, 1957, pg 7, Author: Denzel R. Lovely, Editor: Harold L. Phillips
Little Rooms Where New Worlds are Made (Sermon preached at Anderson Camp Meeting)
- "In little rooms, discoveries and inventions have been made... Dr. Salk's polio vaccine came from a little room to prevent a dread disease from twisting the bodies of children."
August 3, 1957, pg 13, Author: W. Dale Oldham, Editor: Harold L. Phillips
Christian Brotherhood Hour Sermon, Title: "Greater Things Than These," Subtitle: "Health for Multitudes"
- "In 1956 the number [of polio cases] was reduced to 10,726, which means that 12,200 children are well and strong who might have been crippled for life had Salk not perfected the vaccine.”
- “In some states 90 per cent of the polio cases occurred among children who had not received the vaccine.”
- “So more than 12,000 children are well and strong today because God helped a scientist find a way to curb polio.”
- “Could Jesus have had something like this in mind when he said, ‘Greater works than these will he do’?”
October 19, 1957, pg 13, Author: Jack R. Anderson, Editor: Harold L. Phillips
Pointed Paragraphs Page, Title: "Like a Bolt of Lightning"
- “...thus conflict is not always bad. The Salk vaccine emerged out of conflict.”
November 21, 1959, pg 2, Author: W. Dale Oldham, Editor: Harold L. Philips
Christian Brotherhood Hour Message, Title: "Be Thankful for This," Subtitle: "Things to be Grateful For"
- “Be deeply thankful for the lives that have been saved through the Salk polio vaccine.”
Vital Christianity December 2, 1962, pg 6, Author: David K. Lynch, Editor: Harold L. Phillips
Article: "The Blood Must Be Applied"
- Lynch calls Jesus dying on the cross "God's 'vaccine'" by explaining that it is available and will save us from death like a vaccine does.
Vital Christianity March 13, 1966, pg 7, Author: Albert F. Gray, Editor: Harold L. Phillips
Article: "Why Baptize by Immersion?"
- “If baptism is to effect regeneration as vaccination provides immunization from smallpox…”
After these quotations, the references to vaccinations are of the same sentiments which have remained unchanged through the turn of the century to the time when Vital Christianity ceased publication.
Vaccines Referenced by Missionaries
Some missionaries took the standard Church of God view towards vaccinations at the beginning of the movement, yet others did not. Because these are a select type of quotations from The Gospel Trumpet, and could potentially be outliers to when the shift of divine healing to modern medicine occured, we have set these quotes apart from the others.
May 22, 1913, pg 3, Author/Editor: E. E. Byrum
"Missionary Travel in Central America"
When on a mission trip through the Panama Canal, E. E. Byrum was supposed to be vaccinated by doctors aboard the ship. He had this to say about the events that transpired as well as his feelings toward the event:
- “As our names were called, Arlo and I stepped forward without offering any objections [to be vaccinated]. Some time before this, while in our cabin we had agreed in prayer, in accordance with Matt. 18:19, that we might be spared the unnecessary imposition of vaccination… the doctors asked us a few questions… but did not even as us whether or not we had ever been vaccinated, neither did they examine us, but said, ‘Pass on out…’ but the next man was told to remove his coat for examination. We truly thanked the Lord for answering our prayers.”
April 19, 1923, pg 10, Author: G. Q. Coplin (missionary in Kingston, Jamaica), Editor: F. G. Smith
The Deeper Life Page, "A Sunbeam on the Wall"
- The author was required by law be vaccinated for travel through Cuba. The missionaries were concerned to get the vaccination. When they were administered, the side effects took hold, and the missionaries prayed diligently. Their prayers were answered, and they made it out alive.
- The article was too long too quote, and needs the context of the entire article to make sense. It will be linked on the resources page.
October 5, 1946, pg 11, Author: Daisy V. Maiden, Editor: Charles Brown
"Off to Our China"
- Maiden talks about the 6 required vaccinations for being a missionary in China. The six vaccines were for smallpox, cholera, typhus, typhoid, paratyphoid, plague, and yellow fever. Maiden does not include any phrasing that would allude to her distrust or anxiety about being inocculated. She sees them as another requirement for doing the Lord's work. She did mention that she endured pain in her arm where the vaccines were placed, and that she was feeling better when they made their way to China.
June 6, 1947, pg 13, Author: Daisy V. Maiden, Editor: Charles Brown
"The Flying Trip to Peace Memorial Hospital"
- A small offhand comment about smallpox vaccine papers that were required.
1. Merle Strege, I Saw the Church (Anderson: Warner Press, 2002), 63-92.
2. "History of Polio," History of Vaccines, College of Physicians of Philadelphia, accessed December 2, 2021, https://www.historyofvaccines.org/timeline/polio