Christ, Culture, and Abortion
Sanctity of Life Sunday
But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY. 11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. 12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. 13 Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. 15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. 16 Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. 17 Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.
Over the years, in many sermons and lessons on the sanctity of human life, we have developed a long list of reasons why abortion is wrong and known to be wrong in the hearts even of pro-choice people. But new people are coming to Bethlehem all the time and might find it helpful to hear some of those reasons. So let me mention some of them.
Jesus' Word of Mercy to Those Touched by Abortion
But before I do that, a word to women who have had abortions -and men who may have encouraged or even demanded it. I know you are here. I know that a message on abortion is painful for you to hear. And I want you to know that the aim is not to make you miserable. Therefore I hope you begin by receiving and savoring and resting in the forgiveness of God through the death of his Son Jesus Christ on behalf of sinners. Let this word of Jesus from my devotional reading yesterday blow like a healing breeze across your soul (Matthew 9:11-13):
The Pharisees . . . said to Jesus' disciples, "Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?" [or you might add: those who give and get abortions]. But when Jesus heard this, He said, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. "But go and learn what this means: 'I DESIRE MERCY, AND NOT SACRIFICE,' for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
In other words, Jesus is in pursuit of sinners, not righteous people, because he came as a soul physician to show compassion, not to commend religious observances.
That is foundational for all our preaching on social issues such as racial harmony and sanctity of life. We are speaking to each other as those who have failed. We are building on forgiveness and healing. We all start there. But, we don't stay there. On that basis, we move forward and we call each other to radical living.
Some Reasons We Know Abortion Is Wrong
So now, what are some of the reasons that abortion is wrong? And even pro-choice people know it is wrong.
1. In Minnesota the Fetal Homicide Law makes a person guilty of manslaughter or worse if he kills the baby in a mother's womb - unless the mother agrees with the killing. Who is willing to live with the moral implications of making a person's "being wanted" the criterion of its right to life?
2. There is an inconsistency between doing fetal surgery on a baby in the womb to save life, and at a similar stage of development, killing a baby down the hall.
3. A baby can live on its own at 23 or 24 weeks. Yet pro-choice people say it can be killed even at and beyond this age if the mother will be distressed by its live birth more than its abortion. What morally significant factor will prevent them from saying that two babies at 23 weeks - one born and one unborn - may both be killed because of a mother's distress?
4. A baby's living without an umbilical cord (that is, outside the womb) is not the criterion of human personhood and the condition of the right to life. We all know this because our own living on a respirator or dialysis machine would not jeopardize our own personhood. The source of food and oxygen does not determine personhood.
5. The size of a human is irrelevant to human personhood. We know this because we do not make a one-month-old baby outside the womb vulnerable to killing even though it is so much smaller than a five-year-old. Littleness is irrelevant to personhood.
6. Developed reasoning powers are not the criterion of personhood. We know this because a one-month-old baby outside the womb does not have these powers either, yet its life is not in jeopardy because of that.
7. Scientifically we are human beings by virtue of our genetic makeup. The human code in the chromosomes is there from the start. We are utterly different from monkeys or rats or elephants as soon as the chromosomes of egg and sperm meet.
8. At eight weeks, all the organs are present - brain functioning, heart pumping, liver making blood cells, kidney cleaning the fluids, fingerprints formed, etc. Yet almost all abortions happen later than this date.
9. Ultrasound has given a stunning window on the womb that shows the unborn at eight weeks sucking a thumb, recoiling from pricking, responding to sound. We can see the amazing pictures in Life Magazine or various books or Web pages.
10. There is a principle of justice that, when two legitimate rights conflict - say the woman's right not to be pregnant, and the baby's right not to be killed - the right that should be limited is the one that would do the most harm.
11. The Word of God says, "Thou shalt not kill." But many abortionists admit they are killing baby humans. Bill Long, who used to do abortions at Midwest Health Center for Women told me over lunch some years ago that he knew he was "killing babies." Those were the abortionist's words. But he said it was a lesser evil; women must have "reproductive freedom."
Nevertheless the killing goes on. Within walking distance of our church there is Meadowbrook Women's Clinic at Eighth Street and Chicago; Midwest Health Center for Women downtown at Fifth and Hennepin and Mildred Hanson at 24th and Chicago. Together at these three abortion centers, about 8,000 babies are killed each year. You can go on line and read their fee structures and procedures.
But there are signs of positive turning as well. For example, among nurses, the approval of abortion is plummeting. Sixty percent now say that they would not work in an Ob-gyn unit where abortions are performed, up from forty-eight percent a decade ago (First Things, January, 2000, p. 75). On the home front, there were 250-300 people at Bethlehem's pro-life brunch yesterday and we took three bus loads and two vans to the capitol for the rally. That is four or five times the usual number we've had during the 13 years or so that we have been going.
My prayer and aim this morning is that this concern and engagement would increase. And to that end I simply want to put this kind of social involvement in a Biblical context so that you do not feel that it is incompatible with, but in fact demanded by a Biblical, eternity-aware, evangelistic, God-exalting orientation toward life.
Truths for Christian Involvement
From 1 Peter 2:9-17 let me draw out and simply state, with very little exposition, six truths for Christian involvement in society and culture.
1. We were once all in darkness, along with the whole world.
Notice the phrase near the end of verse 9: "Him who has called you out of darkness." We were once in darkness. The darkness of sin and unbelief and ignorance about God and his ways. It was the darkness of deadness in sin, as Paul says in Ephesians 2:5. This is the condition of our culture and our society. And we were once a part of it by nature. Why are we no longer?
2. God called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.
This truth comes from the same phrase in verse 9: "Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." We are not by nature smarter or wiser or more courageous than those who remain in darkness. The difference is that God exerted toward us an absolutely undeserved and compelling kindness: he called us. Paul put it like this in 1 Corinthians 1:23-24, "We preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." It was the omnipotent call of God that wakened us from the spiritual sleep of death and opened our eyes to the power and wisdom of God in Christ. Let us never forget: Free and powerful grace alone is the decisive reason that we are able to see the darkness of our culture and be free in some measure from it.
3. God's aim in calling us out of darkness is to send us back to (but not in) that darkness to "proclaim his excellencies."
Now all of verse 9: "But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." That is why you have been called out. That is why you are God's people, a chosen race. We exist to display with word and deed the excellencies of God. This is the way God's call came to us. Freely we received, now let us freely give. Our witness is not the same as the call of God. But God's call happens through our display of God's excellencies. When we speak and show God's excellencies to others, we provide the truth that God may grant the blind to see. If we say nothing, they will see nothing. Faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:17). And new birth is "through the living and abiding word," the gospel (1 Peter 1:23-25).
4. God's aim is that the way we make his excellencies known to the darkened culture around us take place both by avoidance and by engagement.
This is very crucial to see. Some err here by stressing one to the exclusion of the other. One group is swept away with social action. Another is absorbed in personal holiness. The Biblical way is both/and, not either/or.
Notice verse 11: "Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul." This is the avoidance ethic. And it is absolutely right and necessary. There are things in our culture that we should simply avoid and abstain from.
But notice verse 12: "Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation." Here we are "among the Gentiles." Here we are going on display to the Gentiles. Here we are not just avoiding their effect on us, we are aiming at having an effect on them with positive action. "They observe your good deeds and glorify God."
Over and over in the New Testament the writers stress that we were created and converted to be engaged relentlessly in a life of public good deeds. Indeed, Titus 1:14 says that Christ died to "purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds." The term "good deeds" does not mean sitting at home watching wholesome videos instead of going out and watching dirty movies. Good deeds means designing ministries for caring for AIDS orphans in Africa, and feeding the malnourished, and housing the homeless, and teaching the illiterate and ignorant, and freeing the addicted and fighting crime and visiting the prisoner and befriending the lonely, laboring in the cause of protecting the unborn and relieving the crisis of unexpected pregnancies, and a thousand other visible ways of doing good to others in the name of Jesus (see Titus 2:7-8; 3:8; Hebrews 10:22; Matthew 5:16).
My point here is that, in relation to our sin-riddled culture, we should pursue both avoidance and engagement; both purity of heart and merciful involvement, both personal holiness and public justice. In short, we should with the mind of Christ be both culture-denying and cultural transforming. The transformed mind steeped in scripture will discern when and how.
5. Submission to cultural institutions (like the state, and places of employment and family) is not canceled out by our freedom in Christ (and our citizenship being in heaven, and our being "strangers and exiles on earth), but our submission is put on a whole new footing of submission to God.
You see the call to submission in verse 13: "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution." Christians are not self-assertive rebels who kick against the pricks of regulations in government and business and schools and home. We are eager to be supportive and compliant wherever it does not compromise our commitment to Christ our king.
But notice the words in verse 13, "for the Lord's sake." Or: "On account of the Lord." Once we may have been submissive out of fear, or out of conniving for advancement, or out of greed, or out of laziness, or because we believed that these earthly institutions really were our master. But that is not how Christians submit now. It is for the Lord's sake.
Verse 16 is Peter's interpretation of those crucial words: "Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God." We are free. We are not slaves to any human institution. So why submit? Why not drive at any speed we want? Why not pay whatever tax we feel like? Why not come to class late? Why not wear perfume to the first service and park in the most convenient place for ourselves? Why not come in at whatever hour you please as a teenager? Why submit to a hundred rules and laws and guidelines in our culture and work places and schools and homes?
The answer is, God freed us from these institutions as masters, and then sent us back into them to declare his excellencies as his servants, not the servants of man. We submit in freedom, for the Lord's sake. Everything is on a different footing. All is from the Lord and for the Lord. Christ died to purify us for good deeds and we enter the world and the culture with a view to displaying the glory and the excellency of this great Christ.
6. Finally, Christians honor all persons, and seek to do it in different ways that are not the same for each, but appropriate to their roles in life.
Verse 17: "Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king." There is a special kind of honor for the king. There is a special fear for God. There is a special love for fellow Christians. But there is an honor for all persons, including the wicked.
Matthew Henry wrote: "The wicked must be honored, not for their wickedness, but for any other qualities, such as wit, prudence, courage, eminency of employment, or the hoary head. Abraham, Jacob, Samuel, the prophets, and the apostles never scrupled to give due honor to bad men" (Commentary on the Whole Bible [Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Co., n.d.], p. 1019).
How much more the unborn should be honored!
So in conclusion, let us not simply be a passive and apathetic people priding ourselves in our avoidance ethic. Let us live in the power of the grace that called us out of darkness into light and let us turn back to that very dark and dying culture and declare the excellencies of the One who called us, and let us be rich in good deeds, so that people might see the kind of Master we serve and give him glory on the day of visitation.