Biblical Mandate

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Pure and Undefiled Religion: A Balance of Priorities

For those who believe the Bible, and do their best to live by it, the most significant question regarding abortion is not whether abortion is right or wrong (this should be clear), but whether the Bible commends us to do anything about it. Some have argued that pro-life involvement is “fringe” work, a distraction from the true call of the church; others believe that a person’s entire spiritual health can be measured by their efforts to save unborn children. Some maintain that evangelism is the only legitimate means of producing the change necessary to end abortion; others have placed pro-life activism on par with evangelism. So what is a biblically minded person to do amidst so many conflicting opinions? On what side of the “pro-life” spectrum are Christians called to land? It’s a difficult question. Let’s begin with James 1:27.

Pure and undefiled religion is this, to visit widows and orphans and keep yourself unstained from the world.

This remarkably concise definition of true religion should immediately make it clear (among other things) that God has a unique concern for orphans, and by implication, a unique concern for children who are to be aborted. Lest you miss the connection, here it is. Since God compels believers to care for children whose parents have been killed, wouldn’t He also compel us to care for children whose parents want to kill them? Whereas the orphan is bereft because his parents are dead, the unborn child on the way to the abortion clinic is bereft because his parents want him dead, and that’s a worse condition to be in. By reasoning from the lesser to the greater, we can be fairly certain that God’s concern for orphans also mandates concern for unborn children. With that in mind, let’s continue to the real application of James’ statement.

According to this text, “pure and undefiled religion” (which is what we’re all after!), consists of two things. Visit those in need, and keep yourself unstained from the world. It is a combination of doing and being, a union of meeting needs and walking in purity. The first aspect is “visiting”. Visit the widows. Visit the orphans. Get up. Get out. Do something in the service of love to alleviate suffering in the lives of those around you. The second aspect is, “keep yourself unstained from the world”. Be holy. Be sanctified. Renew your mind. Live a life of humility. Be above reproach. Essentially, James 1:27 declares that the application of our religious life (as it relates to abortion and to everything else) must always play out in two fields. As John Piper argues, in his sermon “Visiting Orphans in a World of AIDS and Abortion” (where much of this reasoning comes from), there is a horse to ride, biblically, and it is easy to fall off the saddle on one side or the other.

There are some in the church who are so focused on being “unstained from the world” that they isolate themselves almost completely from the suffering of those around them. They read the Word, they pray, but they stay far away from the ugly and messy needs of the downtrodden (like orphans, widows and unborn children). There are others in the church whose commitment to meeting social needs is unwavering, and they hit the streets: caring for the homeless, feeding the hungry, protesting at the abortion mill, but having (perhaps) too little concern for personal holiness, and very little regard for the absolute centrality of the gospel. Devotion to God has been replaced with devotion to cause.

James tells us it should not be so. Visit widows and orphans and keep yourself unstained from the world. We must not become so “spiritual” in our Christian life that we forget about meeting physical needs, and we must not become so “worldly” in meeting those needs that we lose sight of God’s ultimate design. Or, to say it in specifically “pro-life” terms, we must not become so “spiritual” in our Christian life that we write off the daily slaughter of 4,000 innocent human beings as a political issue (beyond our jurisdiction), and we must not become so “worldly” in intervening for them that we lose sight of the bigger picture (reconciling people to Christ through holiness and love). This balance is the essence of pure and undefiled religion.

Rescue the Dying: A Clear Mandate

In case you feel that listing unborn children with the widows and orphans of James 1:27 is unjustified, the case only gets stronger. Let’s consider Proverbs 24:11-12.

Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not requite man according to his work?

Like almost all Biblical proverbs, the text gives us no indication as to what specific injustice (if any) the author has in mind. There is no narrow application we can point to, but rather a broad and general guideline for what God’s people are called to do in the face of violent injustice. John Piper summarizes it this way:

The duty of verse 11 could be stated like this: “If a group of humans is being taken away to death who ought not be taken away to death, the people who fear God ought to try and rescue them.” Or, to use the words of the second half of the verse, “If there is a group of humans who are stumbling (literally: slipping) to the slaughter who ought not to be slipping to the slaughter, the people who fear God ought to try to hold them back from the slaughter.” What is being commanded here is some kind of intervention from us when we become aware of humans being killed who ought not to be killed.

“Rescuing Unborn Children” — January 5, 1989

This proverb becomes even more poignant in light of verse 12. The author anticipates circumstances in which injustice will be cloaked to such an extent that people, with some plausibility, will be able to deny that they had any knowledge of it. We are warned against taking up such an excuse and reminded that God knows our every thought. Claims of ignorance will do us no good on the day of judgment. Let us ask ourselves, then, are there people among us today who are stumbling towards the slaughter? Are there injustices in our day that Proverbs 24 compels us to raise our voices against? Yes, and yes. Proverbs 24:11-12 is a text (Psalm 82:3-4 is another) that should have compelled masses of German Christians into the defense of their Jewish countrymen, and it is a text that should compel masses of Christians today into the defense of the unborn.

Who is My Neighbor? A Lesson in Love

Luke 10:25-37 is a passage that has massive implications concerning Christian responsibility and abortion. It chronicles the dialogue that takes place between Jesus Christ and the lawyer who asks Him the quintessential gospel question, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds by asking what is written in the law (Luke 10:25,26). The lawyer answers, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” “Do this and you will live,” Christ responds, but the lawyer (wanting to justify himself) asks Jesus who his neighbor is. Christ’s answer not only tells us who our neighbor is but also gives us a daunting pattern for loving him, a pattern which speaks volumes to our relationship with unborn children.

The pattern laid forth is that of the Good Samaritan, a man who at great cost to himself cared for a dying stranger, one that all the rest of society (religious and otherwise) was ignoring (sound familiar?). Those that Christ condemns are the religious leaders who saw the dying man, but passed by on the other side, without doing a thing. How many of us are passing by on the other side as it relates to abortion? How many of us see and recognize the plight of unwanted, unborn children, but aren’t doing a thing about it, arguing that it isn’t our calling, isn’t our responsibility,or isn’t a wise use of our time and resources. How easy (and likely) it would have been for the priest and Levite to justify themselves in much the same way. They probably felt all the right things about the beating victim, recognizing the injustice, feeling angry at his attackers, and maybe even praying for him as they passed by. But they are condemned, not for wrong thinking, but for wrong action. To love their neighbor at that moment required rescuing and caring for him, and that is something they deemed too costly or too insignificant.

Christ is calling His followers not to the mere theoretical opposition of injustice, but rather to the real and practical (and often painful) ministry of meeting physical needs in a dying world. The gospel life is not merely about right thinking, it is far more about right loving (which sums up the whole of the law — Matthew 22:36-40). James says as much in James 2:15. “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” What good is it if you say you’re opposed to abortion, and yet you are not doing anything to actually help those who are dying?

Since a willingness to come to the aid of the dying and downtrodden is the Christ-given example of what it means to love our neighbor, then how can we live biblically if we’re not doing anything about the plight of dying, unborn children? When Jesus says in Matthew 25:45, “To the extent that you did not [take care of] the least of these, you did not [take care of] Me.” He makes it ever clearer that meeting physical needs is huge! Yes, we are called to more than this, but we are not called to less. The people in this passage are sent into eternal damnation because they failed to care for the “least of these”. And if unwanted, unborn children do not fit the bill as “the least of these” in today’s America, I don’t know who does. Whatever we do not do for them, we do not do for the Lord.

If Christians will not stand up with conviction (and love!) to boldly say of child-killing, “This is wrong!”, then who in the whole world will?! Martin Niemoller, a German pastor who was imprisoned for his opposition to Hitler made this statement in 1946, “Christianity in Germany bears a greater responsibility before God (for the Holocaust) than the National Socialists, the SS and the Gestapo” (Quoted in Hitler’s Cross, Erwin Lutzer, 191). How can he say this? Because he recognized that those who have been rescued unto salvation are far more accountable to God than those who remain mired in blindness and unbelief. When history looks back, someday, on the massive bloodshed of abortion, could the same indictment be said of us? In the end, unmanisfested opposition towards injustice is nothing more than masked complicity.

What Should We Do? A Question of Tactics

So far we have seen that God has a heart for the unwanted, a heart for the overlooked, and a heart for the victimized. We have seen that His people are called to much more than just right thinking. We are called to right actions. But the question now becomes, “What are those right actions to be?” What would God have us do to help care for unborn children? It’s one thing to find a beaten man lying wounded in the street, where the path to remedy is fairly straightforward. It is quite another to try and preserve the life of a person who you cannot see, who you cannot access, and who may be killed before you even know he’s alive. How, then, do we reach them?

Many wonderful and godly saints have suggested that evangelism is the best and only hope for changing people’s minds about abortion. Merely changing someone’s mind about abortion (without getting them saved), they argue, does no good in the long run. “They will simply go to hell as a more moral person.” While this is true as it applies to the parent, such reasoning wholly neglects the person whose life hangs in the balance, and for this reason, such logic is faulty. Changing someone’s mind about abortion does not have in view the creation of a more moral person, it has in view the saving of a child’s life. If you change a pregnant woman’s thinking about aborting her child, it will not gain her access to heaven, but it certainly will gain her child access to life, and that is of no small significance!

Here’s what it boils down to. If any of us were to witness the kidnapping and subsequent assault of a small child (especially if it was our own child), two things would be true. First, we wouldn’t delay intervention with thoughts of “calling” and “resource distribution”. In other words, we wouldn’t stand there and think, “Is God calling me to help this child?” or, “Is getting involved in this really a wise use of my resources?”. Secondly, we wouldn’t think for a minute that evangelism were the only legitimate means of helping this child. We might physically confront the assailant, we might call the police, we might ask for help from those around us, but there isn’t a person alive who would think to himself, “The only ‘biblical’ way to spare this child is to share the gospel with her attacker so that he will repent and stop assaulting her.” Such an “evangelistic” approach would be in violation of so many biblical principles that it would, in fact, be an absurdly “unbiblical” path to take.

While there are some major circumstantial differences between a child attacked on the street and a child attacked in the womb, there remain many parallels. The above example serves, if nothing else, to illustrate a reality that every believer already knows, namely that there are certain life and death situations that are so urgent that evangelism isn’t an appropriate or most effective first response. If we only rely on evangelism as a means of changing people’s minds and behavior concerning abortion, then all those people who do not repent and believe (which is the vast majority) will continue to kill their children en masse. If, however, we also educate young people about what abortion actually is and who unborn humans actually are, then they will be far less likely to abort their children, even if they ultimately reject salvation. The external morality which results will not make a difference for their souls on the day of judgment, but it will make a HUGE difference in the lives of their children, children who would have otherwise been destroyed.

The vast majority of unsaved Americans do not need convincing that child-killing is wretched and immoral. What they do need convincing of is that abortion is child killing. Likewise, the vast majority of unsaved Americans do not need convincing that it is wrong to tear people’s arms and legs and heads off, but they do need convincing that abortion does just that, four thousand times a day in this country. Thank God that so many of the people who reject Him as Creator and Saviour still have enough of His law written on their heart to govern their actions and inform their morality (at least as it applies to murder). What this means for us is that the major obstacle keeping most people on the “pro-choice” side is not so much moral as educational. We are not trying to preach them into a “new” morality, we are educating them towards a more consistent application of the morality they already have in place (one that condemns killing innocent people).

Here is the biblical precedent for educating people to choose against abortion: Ephesians 5:11.

Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light.

John Piper responds to Paul’s charge this way:

I hope you hear the force of [the command in Ephesians 5:11]. It is radically different from the passivity and moral withdrawal of many Christians. Many believers have a passive avoidance ethic and that is all. In other words they think: if I avoid the works of darkness, and don’t do them myself, then I am doing my Christian duty. I’m clean. I’m in the light. But that is not what verse 11 says. It says you are only doing half your duty. “Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness”–that’s an avoidance ethic. That’s half your duty. But it goes on, and in fact puts stress on the next phrase because it is easily overlooked and because it can be very costly: “Rather even expose them!” Don’t just avoid the works of darkness, EXPOSE them. This is not avoidance. This is action…. [God] is calling all Christians–to expose the dark and fruitless work of abortion . . .

Abortion persists in this country because it is masked and hidden and ignored. Even it’s most ardent supporters rarely use the term. Child-killing is called choice, pro-abortion marches are renamed for “women’s freedom”, and every effort is made to ensure that the procedure itself is never debated. Abortion is legal in America not because of legislation, but because of judicial decree, because it slithered through the back door. It has never had to stand the test of full-disclosure, nor could it. The most powerful human weapon we have against abortion is the massive body evidence that condemns it on every front. We must present this evidence as broadly, as comprehensively, and as compellingly as possible. If we don’t, then the mandate of Ephesians 5 condemns us. And If we claim to people that abortion is murder, the daily slaughter of 4,000 innocent human beings, and then go happily about our life as if nothing we’re happening, the world will never take such claims seriously.

R.C. Sproul asserts that (and you can hear the echoes of Martin Niemoller), “the organized church – more than any other institution apart from the Supreme Court – has neglected its duty to inform the public conscience (about abortion)” (Abortion, 15). If those who know don’t tell, then what good is it to know? And our obligation is not just to the outside world but also to those within the church, to educate ourselves and others, and to remind each other of the massive injustice that continues day after day. John Piper urged his congregation in a 1987 sermon to:

Use your imagination to see what abortion really is!…Use your imagination to see and feel what is really happening behind those sterile clinic doors. If you could see each little handiwork of God and what it looks like when it is being crushed or poisoned or starved, you would say, this can’t be happening. Civilized people do not do this! The children will not be saved and God’s work will not be reverenced without an act of sustained sympathetic imagination. Otherwise it is out of sight out of mind — just like Dachau, Buchenwald, Belsen, and Auschwitz. It just couldn’t be happening and so we act as if it isn’t.

“Abortion” — January 18, 1987

The horrors which could only be imagined in 1987 need not be “imagined” anymore. In the years since Dr. Piper urged God’s people to try and visualize the crushed and poisoned bodies of those tiny little humans, photographs have emerged which powerfully expose the grisly aftermath of abortion in all it’s horror. As with the death camps of Nazi Germany, as with any crime, photographic evidence is incalculably valuable to the formation of a final verdict. Though we no longer need rely on our imagination alone to visualize this secret injustice, we do need ever greater and sustained acts of imagination to accurately and effectively present this evidence to the watching world. We need men and women sharing the truth with their friends and families and coworkers, but we also need broader, and more visionary efforts (like Abort73!) to reach the masses with the truth that can turn the tide for the sakes of dying children. So let us give to such works, let us be creative in spending less on self so we can invest more in eternity, and may we never count it sacrifice, but joy!

In Conclusion: Be Who You Are in Christ

In closing, let’s return the lesson we began with, the message of James 1:27. There is a balance in the Christian life, and we are all prone to fall off on one side or the other, some on the “social justice” side, and some on the “spiritual purity” side. The Bible exists to keep us from falling off. The world must know that abortion is an act of violence that kills a baby, and the world must also know that there is only one name under heaven, given to men by which we are saved (Acts 4:12). We do not live in a vacuum. There can be no perfect separation between the “spiritual” and the “secular”, nor should there be. We are not sometimes working to end abortion and sometimes working to spread the gospel, we are always working for the magnification of the glory of God. We must not lose sight of the bigger evangelistic picture, but neither can we ignore our unborn neighbors with pious indifference. Francis Schaeffer, one of the most articulate Christian minds of the 20th said it this way:

Certainly every Christian ought to be praying and working to nullify the abominable abortion law. But as we work and pray, we should have in mind not only this important issue as though it stood alone. Rather, we should be struggling and praying that this whole other total entity – [this godless] worldview – can be rolled back with all its results across all of life.

Erwin Lutzer expressed the delicate balance it in these terms

In our desperate moment in history we face two dangers. The first is to say that we must retreat from our cultural and spiritual battles to be true to the supremacy of the Cross. This viewpoint is right in emphasizing that our primary mission is to preach the gospel, but it fails because we end up preaching to ourselves…Thus the Cross, though exalted among the faithful, [is] hidden from the world. The second danger is that we become so overburdened with social/political agendas that our message is lost amid these cultural skirmishes. The church has always faced the temptation to modify the gospel or make it secondary to a given political, philosophical, or cultural agenda. When this happens, Christians have exposure to the culture, but the Cross does not. Again, it is hidden.

And perhaps most compellingly and to the point (from the mouth of John Piper):

The root cause of abortion is the failure to be satisfied in God as our supreme love. And, for all the great legal work that needs to be done to protect human life, the greatest work that needs to be done is to spread a passion – a satisfaction for the supremacy of God in all things. That’s our calling.

There is an irreversible order in the Christian life (laid out beautifully in Ephesians 5). It is a mysterious union of being and becoming. We are not God’s children because we imitate God, rather we imitate God because we are His children. We do not “walk in love” so that God will love us. Rather, we walk in love because God has loved us. We do not “let our light shine” (upon the deeds of darkness) so that we’ll be made “children of light”. Rather, we let our light shine because we are children of light. There are ramifications of being united to Christ (if we are united to Him!) and they cannot be avoided. We do not defend the defenseless to be acceptable to Him, we defend the defenseless because the acceptance we’ve already gained through His death, allows us to do no less. So let us throw down the dreaded Christian idols of “personal peace” and “affluence”, and pursue with joy all that the Bible calls us to. May we go boldly forth into the world and be who we are, in Christ.