Where is the Evangelical Church?

(Part One)

“The words of the wicked are, ‘Lie in wait for blood,’ but the mouth of the upright will deliver them” (Proverbs 12:6, NKJV).

 

I. INTRODUCTION

Since 1969, we, in Canada, have brutally put to death almost four million pre-born children.1 Some of these children were poisoned and burned to death with a concentrated salt solution (Saline abortion). Others were suctioned limb by limb from the womb (Suction abortion). Still others were cut up into pieces with a sharp curette (D & C and D & E abortions). Clearly, the plight of the pre-born is an emergency that calls for extraordinary action by the church of Jesus Christ. Yet, despite the fact that the evangelical church of Canada (henceforth simply referred to as the “church”) has known about the monstrous evil of abortion for almost half a century, it continues to treat this issue as if it were one of peripheral importance. I am ashamed that the church has not been “the salt of the earth” that Jesus called it to be, at least with regard to abortion. As such, in this paper I, respectfully, throw down the gauntlet to the church: either refute my contention that the plight of the pre-born is an emergency that calls for extraordinary action by the church, or join with believers like myself in fighting this evil.

I realize that the challenge I issue in this paper is a bold one. However, as I will argue in the following pages, I believe that my audaciousness is justified for, at least, three reasons: first, the church’s apathy concerning the plight of the pre-born is, I believe, a sin—the sin of omission; second, it is a sin, that, as the reader will see, some of the international evangelical church’s most prominent leaders have been chastening the Western evangelical church about for decades; third, the nationwide practice of abortion in Canada, far from being a small matter, is the mass shedding of innocent blood.

In this paper I will ask two basic questions:

 

1. Is there warrant for the claim that the plight of the pre-born is an emergency that calls for extraordinary action by the church?

2. Is there warrant for the claim that the plight of the pre-born is not an emergency that calls for extraordinary action by the church?

 

The Church Father, Cyprian of Carthage, says that no one can have God as a Father who does not have the church as a mother.2 Despite the evangelical church’s many faults, I am proud to say that, for most of my life, it has been my mother. (I, along with my family, attend a Nazarene church in Collingwood, Ontario.) In this paper, I am an evangelical writing to evangelicals. As such, my criticisms of the church are intended to be constructive, not destructive and to build-up, not tear-down. My sincere hope in writing this paper is to help the church become, not lesser, but greater.

Before we proceed further, to avoid misunderstanding, let me offer a number of points that, hopefully, will clarify the position that I am defending in this paper. First, I am not contending that the church is not pro-life. For I believe that, for the most part, it, probably, is. Although I was unable, for obvious reasons, to look at the official positions on abortion of all of the thousands of evangelical denominations in Canada, I did look at some of them. The following one, taken from the official webpage of the Church of the Nazarene, is, I suspect, representative:

 

“Life is a gift from God. All human life, including life developing in the womb is created by God in His image and is, therefore, to be nurtured, supported, and protected…. We oppose induced abortion by any means, when used for personal convenience or population control. We oppose laws that allow abortion.”3

 

Rather, what I am claiming, in this paper, is that the church is guilty of failing to recognize that the plight of the pre-born is an emergency that calls for extraordinary action.

Second, it should also be understood that, in making the claims that I do about the church, I am speaking in broad, general terms. For I am well aware of the dedicated service on behalf of the pre-born, today, by such organizations as the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA) and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.

Lastly, when I say that the church has an obligation to respond to the plight of the pre-born, I am speaking of the church in general. I am not contending that God has laid this duty upon every individual within the church. For all I know, there may be some within the church who, because of extenuating circumstances, are exempt from this duty.

 

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Points of Clarification

 

1. I am not contending that the evangelical church is not pro-life.

2. In making the claims that I do about the church, I am speaking in broad, general terms.

3. When I say that the church has an obligation to respond to the plight of the pre-born, I am speaking of the church in general.

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II. THE PROBLEM

 

At the 2012 National Pro-Life Conference, sponsored by Life Canada and Alliance for Life Ontario, Jim Hughes, the long-time national president of Campaign Life Coalition, asked a conference room full of people, including myself, “How many priests and pastors are here?” Not a single person raised his or her hand. Hughes then said, “This is the problem. It’s like this all across Canada. We need the spiritual leadership of our priests and pastors.”

It is a well-known fact within the pro-life community—though one that is seldom talked about—that, when it comes to the abortion conflict, the church has been conspicuously absent. As evidence of this, consider the following statements by leaders within the pro-life community:

 

  • “While the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada has consistently and emphatically denounced the evil of abortion over the past several decades, the same cannot be said of all-too-many Evangelical pastors. They know the truth about the sanctity of all human life, yet have rarely, if ever, decried the legalized mass slaughter of babies in the womb for fear of alienating some members of their congregation. These errant pastors and their church elders would do well to heed the wisdom of the late Charles Colson, who admonished time and again that what matters for the evangelical church is not man-made growth but biblical fidelity”—Rory Leishman (Pro-life speaker and author).4

 

  • “Institutionally many evangelical leaders and organizations haven’t shown the leadership on this issue that many of us would like to see”—Paul Tuns, (Editor-in-chief of ‘The Interim’).5
  • “Most evangelical Christians I know are pro-life, but they don’t know what to do. They support crisis pregnancy centres. They might participate in a march. But they often feel helpless. Many feel embarrassed by those who carry or display photos of aborted fetuses. But they care deeply about the unborn.”—Janet Epp-Buckingham (Former director of the Ottawa office of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada).6

 

  • “The lack of evangelical response to abortion is symptomatic of a bigger problem that has intensified in recent years. Many Christians now view politics in general as a liability to the Gospel. Issues like abortion are seen as a distraction from spreading the Good News,… There are many in the evangelical community who care deeply about preborn rights but struggle with knowing what to do about unrestricted abortion. There is a pressing need for all Christians to translate these concerns into a grace-filled witness in the public square.”—Mark Penninga (Executive Director, ARPA Canada).7

 

III. IS THERE WARRANT FOR THE CLAIM THAT THE PLIGHT OF THE

PRE-BORN IS AN EMERGENCY THAT CALLS FOR EXTRAORDINARY ACTION BY THE CHURCH?

 

In this section I will defend the contention that there is warrant for the claim that the plight of the pre-born is an emergency that calls for extraordinary action by the church. In so doing, I will appeal to three broad lines of evidence: Scripture, church tradition, and the testimony of contemporary evangelical leaders.

 

A. Scripture

 

  1. Lessons From the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus’ “Parable of the Good Samaritan” contains several lessons that the church today—faced, as it is, with the mass killing of pre-born children—would do well to take to heart.

Before we look at a few of these lessons, let us, briefly, reacquaint ourselves with the basic facts of Jesus’ story. Jesus told this story in response to the question, asked by a lawyer, “Who is my neighbour?” The story begins with a man walking on the, notoriously, dangerous road that joined Jerusalem and Jericho. (The road was so dangerous, in fact, that it was called “The Bloody Way.”) A band of robbers ambush him and after taking his money, leave him for dead. A Jewish priest, then, comes across the wounded man, but after moving to the other side of the road, he hurries on his way. Shortly afterwards, a Levite does the same thing. However, fortunately, for the wounded man, a Samaritan comes along the road, and upon seeing him is moved by compassion to help him.

Now, let us, briefly, look at the, aforementioned, lessons contained in the story, especially as they apply to the plight of the pre-born.

 

a. Our neighbour is anyone in need. Our neighbour, as the late Christian scholar         John Stott (1921–2011) says, “… is a fellow human being in need, whose need    we know and are in a position in some measure to relieve.”8 By this criterion,        there can be no doubt that the pre-born child—who continues to be brutally       put to death at a rate of, approximately, 100,000 a year9—is our neighbour.

 

b. Having pity for our neighbour is not enough. In his book, And Jesus Said, the            Bible scholar William Barclay (1907–1978) says, “Doubtless both the priest            and the Levite felt a pang of pity for the injured traveler, but they did nothing       to translate that pity into action.”10 Barclay, then, goes on to say, “The pity        which remains merely an emotion is actually a sin because it is always sin to experience high emotion and do nothing to turn it into action.”11 Most            evangelical Christians likely feel pity for the aborted pre-born. But if this pity        merely stays on the level of an emotion and never translates into action, then it is, as Barclay says, a sin. Specifically, it is the sin of omission.

 

c. Emergencies sometimes arise that require immediate action. Barclay says, “To         [the priest] religion meant that the sacrifices must be absolutely properly made, that the incense must be meticulously burned, that the liturgy must be       nobly correct.”12 Religious rituals have their place. Otherwise, God would not   have instructed Moses about the temple rituals (see Exodus 29). But as James 1:27 says, religious rituals must take a back seat to helping those in need.      “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after     orphans and widows in their distress…. (NIV). This is especially true in the case    of an emergency that is a matter of life and death.

 

                        The persecution of the Jews, and others, by the Nazis, was just such an emergency. However, apart from a few notable exceptions, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945), Martin Niemoller (1892–1984), and Helmut Thielicke (1908–1986), the German evangelical church failed to see this and went about “business as usual.” As a result, leaders of this church, following the war, felt compelled to issue the “Stuttgart Confession of Guilt” in which it confessed its complicity for the Holocaust. (More will be said about this below.) I believe that, like the evangelical church of Nazi Germany, the church is guilty of failing to recognize an emergency when it is staring them in the face.

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Lessons from the Parable of the Good Samaritan

 

1. Our neighbour is anyone in need.

2. Having pity for our neighbour is not enough.

3. Emergencies sometimes arise that call for extraordinary action.

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  1. Innocent Blood Pollutes a Land.Numbers 35:33, 34 says, “Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it.13

Since 1969 we, in Canada, have killed, almost, four million pre-born children.14 That is, as many people as live in the province of Alberta. As the above passage from Numbers makes clear, this mass shedding of innocent blood has polluted the country.

 

  1. God Hates the Shedding of Innocent Blood. The Bible teaches, implicitly, that God hates abortion. Proverbs 6:16a says that “There are six things the LORD hates…” (NKJV). One of these things is, “… hands that shed innocent blood” (Proverbs 6:17b, NKJV). This raises the question: how can the church be apathetic about that which God hates?

 

4. The Shedding of Much Innocent Blood Incurs God’s Judgment. The Bible scholar John Stott (1921–2011) says, “Human blood is sacrosanct because it is the life of Godlike human beings. To shed the blood of the innocent is therefore the gravest social sin….”15 The shedding of much innocent blood is so great a sin, in fact, that, according to Scripture, the nations that practice this evil invite God’s judgment upon themselves. For example, Ezekiel describes Jerusalem as “… this city of bloodshed?” and describes it as “… the city that brings on herself doom by shedding blood in her midst….” (22:2, 3). This prophesy was fulfilled when Judea, of which Jerusalem was the capital, was conquered by Babylon in 587 B.C. Unless Canada repents of the great evil of shedding innocent blood, I believe that it too will bring God’s judgment down upon itself.

  1. Abortion Is an Attack Upon God’s Sovereignty. According to the doctrine of the sovereignty of God, God rules, and has authority over, all things. To quote Psalms 103:19, “… his kingdom rules over all” (NIV). As such, it follows that God’s authority extends over human life. Since God gives life, only He—and the state to whom He has given “the sword” (Romans 13:4)—has the authority to take it.

Abortion is an implicit denial of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. To quote Mother Teresa (1910–1997), “Only God can decide life and death.… That is why abortion is such a terrible sin. You are not only killing life, but putting self before God; yet people decide who has to live and who has to die. They want to make themselves almighty God. They want to take the power of God in their hands. They want to say, ‘I can do without God. I can decide.’ That is the most devilish thing that a human hand can do.”16

 

6. God commands us to defend the defenseless. In Proverbs 31:8, we are told, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute” (NIV). The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer appealed to this verse when he tried, unfortunately in vain, to persuade the evangelical church of Nazi Germany to come to the defense of the Jews.17 Similarly, I would argue that since the pre-born, obviously, have no voice with which to plead their own cause, we are obligated to do this for them.

 

7. Abortion Is an Attack Upon the Doctrine of the Sanctity of Life. Although the phrase the “sanctity of life” is nowhere found in Scripture, it is, nonetheless, clearly, a biblical doctrine. The phrase refers to the dignity of persons that is possessed by all human beings. There are, at least, three reasons found in Scripture to think that human beings have dignity. Scripture says: first, that human beings have been made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26–27; 9:6); second, that human beings are the objects of God’s love (John 3:16); and, lastly, that human life is a gift from God (Acts 17:25).

Abortion treats the pre-born as a thing, rather than as a person. Following the Roe v. Wade decision, Archibald Cox, Watergate special prosecutor, had the following harsh words to say to the U.S. Supreme Court justices responsible for this decision:

 

“The decision fails even to consider what I would suppose to be the most compelling interest of the State in prohibiting abortion: the interest in maintaining that respect for the paramount sanctity of human life which has always been at the centre of Western civilization.”18

 

8. Lessons from the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. In this parable, which the Bible scholar William Barclay says “has become the very centre of Christian faith and practice,”19 Jesus says that on the day of judgment, God will separate people just as a shepherd separates sheep and goats. He will place the sheep on His right and the goats on His left. He will say to those on His right that they may enter heaven because, in showing love to those in need, they were, also, loving Him. However, Jesus will tell those on His left that, to them, the gates of heaven are shut because, in failing to react to the needs of others, they were, also, failing to react to Him.

Several lessons can be drawn from this parable. Let us, briefly, look at a few of these lessons, especially as they apply to the plight of the pre-born.

 

a. A standard that Jesus will use on the Day of Judgment is our reaction to the needs of others.20 In this parable Jesus, in no uncertain terms, lays down a    standard that He will use on the Day of Judgment, saying, “Inasmuch as ye             have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto      me.… Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these my brethren, ye did             it not to me” (Matthew 25:40b, 45b, KJV).

 

The pre-born in Canada can, surely, be included among “the least of these.” Like blacks in antebellum America, and Jews in Nazi Germany, they are legal nonpersons. From this, it follows that the church today will be judged, among other things, on the basis of its response to the plight of the pre-born.

 

b. We must make helping those in need a priority. In his book Lessons from the            Parables, the New Testament scholar, Neil Lightfoot (1929–2012), says, “The    really important thing, according to Jesus [in the ‘Parable of the Sheep and             Goats’], is how we have responded to the needs of our brothers.”21

 

Since, as the “Parable of the Sheep and the Goats” makes clear, God’s standard on the Day of Judgment will be our reactions to the needs of others, it is clear that the church should make helping those who are in need a priority. And since there is no victim group who is in greater need than the pre-born, defending them should, as the Christian scholar John Stott says, be “at the top of [the evangelical church’s] agenda.”22

 

c. We should treat those in need in the same way that we would treat Jesus       Himself. In this parable Jesus says that when we minister to those in need, we are, also, ministering to Him. That is why Mother Teresa said that the poor, she       dedicated her whole life to helping, were Jesus in “distressing disguise.”23

It is not clear what Jesus meant when He says that, by helping those in need we are, also, helping Jesus. Some, like Lightfoot, have suggested that since God is our Father and we are all His children, we can love God by loving His children.24 However, I respectfully disagree. For it seems to be the teaching of Scripture that to be a child of God, one must be born again. For example, Galatians 3:26 says, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith….” (NIV). Perhaps what Jesus has in mind, here, is that, by showing love to those in need we are loving God because, like all human beings, they are the image-bearers of God.

Since we should treat those in need in the same way that we would treat Jesus Himself, and the pre-born are, obviously, in need, it follows, logically, that we should treat the pre-born in the same way that we would treat Jesus Himself. This raises the question: has the church, in fact, treated the pre-born in this way? Clearly the answer to this question is: No, it has not.

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Lessons from the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats

 

  1. God’s standard on the Day of Judgment will be our reaction to the needs of others.

2. We must make helping those in need a priority.

3. We must treat those in the same way that we would treat Jesus Himself.

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9. Social concern is part of the church’s mission. Stott says that mission means “everything the church is sent into the world to do.”25 This understanding of mission is based on Jesus’ statement in John 20:21, in which He says: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (NIV). “The church’s mission,” then, as Stott says, “is to be modeled on Christ’s mission.”26 What was Jesus’ mission? It consisted of, both, evangelism and social action. For, on the one hand, Scripture says that Jesus “went throughout Galilee, teaching … and preaching” (Matthew 4:23, 9:35, NIV), while, on the other hand, it says that Jesus “went about doing good and healing” (Acts 10:38, NIV).

It is clear from the passages cited above that Jesus’ mission involved, both, evangelism and social concern. And since the church’s mission is to be modeled on Jesus’ mission, it follows that its mission must, also, involve evangelism and social concern. The International Congress on World Evangelization that was held in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1974, endorsed this position in the so-called ‘Lausanne Covenant.’ It says that, “… evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty.”26 The Grand Rapids Report on Evangelism and Social Responsibility, written in 1982, goes even further, saying that evangelism and social action are, “… like the … two wings of a bird.28

As examples of the “good” that Jesus did, Scripture says that He identified with the poor (cf. Luke 14:13, 21), showed concern for outcasts (cf. Luke 7:36–50; Mark 40:41), and denounced corruption and exploitation (cf. Matthew 21:12–13; 23:1–36). In so doing, Jesus carried on the tradition of the eighth century social prophets, such as Amos, Micah, and Isaiah. “It is within this tradition [the tradition of the eighth century social prophets],” says the Old Testament scholar Bruce Birch, “that Jesus stands in his radical ministry to the outcasts and the dispossessed of New Testament times.”29 A large portion of the message of these prophets consists of denouncing injustice wherever it was found. Amos, for example, condemned:

 

  • Damascus for its cruelty to Gilead (1:3).
  • Gaza for capturing whole communities and selling them as slaves (1:6).
  • Tyre for capturing whole communities and selling them as slaves, and for breaking a promise of brotherhood (1:9).
  • Edom for its cruelty to Israel (1:11).
  • Ammon for atrocities it committed in times of war (1:13).
  • Moab for desecrating the remains of a neighbouring king (2:1).

 

Similarly, many of Isaiah’s “woes” in 5:8–23 are social in nature. For example, verse 20a says, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil,” and verse 23b proclaims, “Woe to those who … deny justice to the innocent” (NIV). Given these facts, I think that Raymond Johnston, former director of CARE Trust, is, likely, correct when he says, “I personally am convinced that the destruction of the unborn on this massive, deliberate scale is the greatest single offence regularly perpetuated in Britain today, and would be the first thing an Old Testament prophet redivivus would reproach us for.”30

Social action, then, is part of the mission of the church. And since there is no more pressing social issue today than abortion—What other social issue involves the mass shedding of innocent blood?—it follows that responding to the plight of the pre-born should be a part of the church’s mission today.

10. The metaphor of salt refers, at least in part, to the Christian’s responsibility to engage in social action. Stott says, “Putting the two metaphors [of salt and light] together, it seems legitimate to discern in them the proper relation between evangelism and social action in the total mission of Christ in the world—a relation which perplexes many believers today. We are called to be both salt and light to the secular community.”31 To be effective as a preserving agent, salt must be rubbed into meat. As such, to be the “salt of the earth,” the church must immerse itself in society. It follows from the implicit teaching of this parable that, by failing to respond to the plight of the pre-born, the church is failing in its responsibility to be salt.

 

11. Scripture teaches that one of the two greatest commandments is to love our neighbour. Jesus, in reply to a question by a scribe as to what the greatest commandment is, says: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22: 37–40, NIV). The theologian David Clyde Jones, speaking of this passage, says, “… there is not just one great commandment but two. The first commandment is inseparable from its close second; the whole biblical revelation (“all the Law and the Prophets”) swings as a gate on these two hinges.”32

It is my contention in this paper, that, by failing to see in the plight of the pre-born an emergency that calls for extraordinary action, the church is guilty of breaking the second greatest commandment in Scripture: to love our neighbour. For the pre-born child, as we saw above, is our neighbour.

 

12. The sixth commandment requires, not only that we not murder, but that we, also, defend innocent life. Jesus not only interpreted the sixth commandment very broadly, but also taught that it has both negative and positive aspects. For example, He summarized the Old Testament Law—and, hence, the sixth commandment—with the commandments to love God and neighbour (Matthew 22: 37–40). Similarly, the Westminster Larger Catechism, written in 1648, interpreted the sixth commandment, in part, as follows:

 

“Catechism #135: What are the duties required in the sixth commandment?

‘… protecting and defending the innocent.’

 

“Catechism #136: What are the sins forbidden in the sixth commandment?

‘… all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense….’”34

            By turning a blind eye to the mass homicide of the pre-born, then, the church is guilty of violating the sixth commandment. Although not directly responsible for this evil, the church, nonetheless, bears indirect responsibility for it.

 

B. Testimony of Contemporary Evangelical Leaders

 

Many of the evangelical church’s most prominent and respected leaders have, for the past several decades, pleaded with the evangelical church to make the plight of the pre-born a matter of high priority. Let us look at a few such individuals.

 

1. Billy Graham (born 1918) is recognized as one of the greatest evangelists, not only of modern times, but of all time. Literally millions have come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ through his ministry. He also has a heart that grieves for the plight of the pre-born. In the mid-1970s, he was instrumental in founding the Christian Action Council, which would later become Care Net, a network of 1,100 independently owned crisis pregnancy centres scattered throughout North America. On July 19, 2012, Graham wrote a prayer letter to America entitled, “My Heart Aches for America.” In it he describes a time when his late wife, Ruth, was reading the draft of a book he was writing. When she finished reading a section in which Graham describes America’s increasing moral decadence, she exclaimed, “If God doesn’t punish America, He’ll have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.” Graham, then, goes on to say, “I wonder what Ruth would think of America if she were alive today. In the years since she made that remark, millions of babies have been aborted and our nation seems largely unconcerned….”35

 

2. When he was alive the author, English cleric, and Bible scholar, John Stott (1921–2011), was widely regarded as the leader of the evangelical church. David Brooks, the New York Times journalist, famously commented that if evangelicals elected a pope, “Stott is the person they would likely choose.”36 Stott says that the fact that abortion challenges, both, the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and human dignity “should bring it to the top of our agenda.”37

 

3. R.C. Sproul (born 1939) is an American theologian. He is the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries. In his book Abortion—A Rational Look at an Emotional Issue, he says, “The world still recoils in horror at the reality of the Holocaust in Nazi Germany. Yet I believe we are in the midst of a new and more evil holocaust, which sees the destruction of 1.5 million unborn babies every year in the United States alone…. If you care about the slaughter of the innocent, then for God’s sake, speak up….”38 In September of 1987, Sproul was invited to deliver an address for Congress on the Bible II. He, no doubt, shocked many when he concluded his talk with the following words: “I am supposed to be a theologian by profession, maybe with not all the dignity a theologian is supposed to manifest—and maybe no one will take me seriously—but I have the privilege of being able to study the things of God as my life’s vocation. I am sure there are errors in my theology…. But I do know this. If I know anything about the character of Almighty God … I know that God hates abortion on demand…. I can’t believe that all Christians are not literally screaming, ‘Bloody murder!’ every day. Because when we allow this to happen, we have surrendered the sanctity of human life.”39

 

4. Charles Colson (1931–2012) was a nationally respected author, speaker, and founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries. In his book The God of Stones and Spiders, he compares Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that helped to usher in abortion on demand, with Dred Scott, the 1857 ruling by the same institution that declared that blacks were not, and never would be, legal citizens. After stating that nothing short of a constitutional amendment “will bring an end to a practice as morally offensive as slavery,” Colson goes on to say, “The question that Christians must ask is whether or not we have the courage and perseverance to sustain a protracted national campaign for such an amendment…. If I am correct that Roe v. Wade cannot be upset in the Court, then it must be upset in the Constitution. To thus end the killing of the unborn, we must exercise the same holy tenacity demonstrated by those who fought slavery. The immensity of the task ahead is sobering. We have no alternative but to persevere.”40

 

5. The much-loved pastor, author, and radio preacher, Chuck Swindoll (born 1934), is the founder of Insight for Living, a radio program of the same name that airs on 2,000 stations around the world in 15 languages. In his book, The Sanctity of Life—The Inescapable Issue, he says, “But wait. Just how widespread is the practice of abortion? Are we making much ado about nothing, or do we have a full-scale issue deserving of our immediate attention? You decide. Only the senseless, faithless, heartless, and ruthless could read the following statistical facts and remain unmoved…. Worldwide, 55 million unborn children are killed every year. If you are like me, you can’t get your arms around that large a number. To help us do so, let me break it into days, hours, and minutes. Around the world, every day 150,685 children are killed by abortion; every hour, 6,278; and every minute, 105.”41

 

6. James Dobson (born 1936) is the founder of Focus on the Family. He writes, “But on this issue of abortion, we are confronted with one of the most terrible evils of all times. The Nazis killed six million Jews and ‘undesirables’ during World War II, but we in the United States—this great bastion of liberty and protection for the weak—have now slaughtered more than twenty million innocent babies! We have mercilessly torn them to pieces without anesthetic and poisoned them within their mothers’ wombs. My God! Forgive us for this wickedness…. How can we as Christians continue to sit in our services and ignore this unprecedented crime against humanity?”42

 

  1. Perhaps the person most responsible for mobilizing American evangelical Christians to fight against abortion after the Roe v. Wade decision, is Francis Schaeffer (1912–1984). This was done, largely, through the book, Whatever Happened to the Human Race, that Schaeffer co-wrote with Dr. C. Everett Koop (1916–2013), the future Surgeon General of America, and the film series by the same name that he made with Koop and his son Frank. In the aforementioned book, he and Koop say, “If, in this last part of the twentieth century, the Christian community does not take a prolonged and vocal stand for the dignity of the individual and each person’s right to life—for the right of each individual to be treated as created in the image of God, rather than as a collection of molecules with no unique value—we feel that as Christians we have failed the greatest moral test to be put before us in this century.”43 There can be little doubt that Schaeffer believed the church was failing this test. For in his last book, The Great Evangelical Disaster, written, as he lay dying from cancer, he wrote:

 

“And now we must ask where we as evangelicals have been in the battle for truth and morality in our culture. Have we as evangelicals been on the front lines contending for the faith and confronting the moral breakdown over the last forty to sixty years? … Sadly we must say that this has seldom happened. Most of the evangelical world has not been active in the battle, or even been able to see that we are in a battle. And when it comes to the issues of the day the evangelical world most often has said nothing; or worse has said nothing different from what the world would say. Here is the great evangelical disaster—the failure of the evangelical world to stand for truth as truth. There is only one word for this—accommodation; the evangelical church has accommodated to the world spirit of the age….there has been accommodation on the issues, with no clear stand being taken even on matters of life and death.”44

 

C. Church Tradition

 

            The church, possibly from as early as the end of the first century, has strongly opposed abortion. In his book Abortion & the Early Church, the New Testament scholar, Michael J. Gorman (born 1955), says, “The tests of universality and time reveal that during the first five centuries (and until quite recently) abortion was rejected by Christians everywhere.”45 The earliest Christian writings that explicitly condemn abortion are the Didache and the Epistle of Barnabas. Both of these writings date from the early second century. However, the authors of these writings, Gorman says, likely relied on Christian sources from the first century.46 The Didache says, “Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion/destruction.”47 A list of the early Christian leaders who opposed abortion include: Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian, Ambrose, Jerome, Chrysostom, Augustine, Clement, and Athenagoras.48 Tertullian (155–240), for example, condemned the Roman law on abortion.49 As well, Gorman and the historian William E. H. Lecky (1838–1903), both, believe there is reason to think that the early church was influential in having abortion outlawed throughout the Roman Empire in the third-century.50

George H. Payne, in the following passage from his book The Child in History (1916), describes how the church, in the first couple of centuries of its existence, defended the defenseless, such as children:

 

“Its impassioned preachers and apostles vaunted the humanity of their new faith; for cast-out infants and the despised slaves the new priests fought such a battle of perseverance and martyrdom as the world had never seen before…. Every human being had a soul that was a vital point in their fight. They asserted that children had souls, to which religious doctrine probably more is due in the way of checking the practice of infanticide than any other single idea…. The Fathers won the battle in that they convinced the Roman world that children had souls.”51

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Evidence in Support of My First Main Point

 

1. Scripture

2. The testimony of contemporary evangelical leaders

3. Church tradition and history

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IV. EXPLAINING THE CHURCH’S APATHY

 

In his book Open Thy Mouth for the Dumb: The German Evangelical Church and the Jews 1870–1950, Richard Gutteridge, commenting on the German evangelical church’s response to the Holocaust, says, “The Church as Church did not find a decisive word from Scripture as a whole to embrace the issue as a whole…. Throughout the conflict nobody in a position of authority made a full and plain denunciation of anti-semitism as such.”52 As a result, following the war, the leaders of the church thought it necessary to issue the Stuttgart Confession of Guilt. In it they said, in part, “… it is our self-indictment that we have not made a more courageous confession.”53 The German theologian Helmut Thielicke paraphrased the Confession as follows: “We have believed too little, confessed too little, loved too little; otherwise all this could not have happened.”54

Why did the evangelical church of Nazi Germany fail to oppose the Holocaust? There are several reasons. However, one of the most important of these was an unbiblical overemphasis upon Paul’s teaching in Romans 13. In verse one of this chapter, Paul says that all authorities—and, as such, even dictators like Hitler—are appointed by God, and, therefore, should not be resisted. However, this admonition was never intended by Paul to be absolute. For there are times when, as Peter and John say in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than human beings” (NIV)! This poor example of exegesis by the German evangelical church has been, rightly or wrongly, traced back to Martin Luther (1483–1546) and, among other things, his response to the German peasant rebellion of 1524–1526. Not surprisingly, Hitler exploited the unwillingness of the German Christians to oppose civil authority. For example, new pastors were required to swear an oath that said, “I swear before God … that I … will be true and obedient to the Fuhrer of the German people and state, Adolf Hitler.”55

Bonhoeffer often spoke out against the misinterpretation of Romans 13 by his fellow believers. To a friend he wrote: “It is … high time we broke with our theologically based restraint towards the state’s actions….”56 It was, at least in part, because of theological errors like this, that the evangelical church of Germany lacked the theological resources to respond to the plight of the Jews and other victims of Hitler’s killing machine.

I am concerned that theological errors, on the part of the church, have, similarly, left it without the theological resources to oppose the mass homicide of the pre-born. Let us look at two theological errors, in particular, that, I believe, go a long way towards explaining the church’s apathy concerning this monstrous evil. They are, first, pietism and, second, pessimism about human history. I will also, in this section, discuss the church’s conformity to society. Though not a theological error, per se, I am in agreement with Stott and Schaeffer, who, among others, say that the evangelical church’s worldliness is, at least in part, responsible for its apathy concerning abortion.

 

A. Pietism

 

In their book Turning Point, the Christian scholars, Herbert Schlossberg and Marvin Olasky (born 1952), distinguish between “piety” and “pietism.” According to them “piety” is, “A reverence for God, as evidenced in prayer, Scripture reading, and doing mercy to others.”57 They define “pietism”, in contrast, as, “A belief that the practice of piety is all the Christian has to do, and that it is all right to ignore the larger concerns of society.”58 They argue that while piety is a good thing, and something that all true followers of Christ should practice, pietism, in contrast, contradicts Scripture. For, as we have seen, this belief is diametrically opposed to the life and teachings of Christ to whom righteousness was not, simply, private, but social. I concur with Robert Sanders, who says, “A one-sided adherence to the personal aspect of the gospel in this day has caused the church to skirt the crying issues of our generation.”59

Pietism also stands in stark contrast to the rich heritage of social concern left to us by the evangelical church of previous centuries. John Wesley (1703¾1791), for example, as well as being a great evangelist, was also “one of the foremost social reformers of his century.”60 He was a harsh critic of slavery, which he described, in a letter to William Wilberforce as “that execrable villainy, which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature.”61 In a small book that he wrote on the subject, called Thoughts on Slavery, he finished with this prayer: “O thou God of love…. have compassion upon these outcasts of men, who are trodden down as dung upon the earth! Arise and help these that have no helper, whose blood is spilt upon the ground like water! Thou Saviour of all, make them free that they may be free indeed!”62

It was, perhaps, in answer to Wesley’s prayer, just cited, that God called William Wilberforce (1759–1833) to take up the cause of the African slave. Like Wesley before him, Wilberforce published a small book, Appeal in Behalf of the Negro Slaves in the West Indies, in which he argued against slavery. It is said to have “had a profound effect in Britain and throughout Europe.”63 For 40 years, Wilberforce, the leader of the Clapham Sect in Parliament, worked tirelessly for the abolition of, first, the slave trade, and, second, slavery. Mercifully, God allowed him to live long enough to see his hard work rewarded when, twenty-six years after the abolition of the slave trade, slavery itself was abolished in the United Kingdom in 1833, just days before he died. (It is interesting to note that Fr. Gerard Wilberforce, William’s great-great-grandson, says that if his famous relative was alive today, he would “almost certainly” make fighting abortion a priority.)64

 

B. Pessimism About Human History

          

            It is the view of many evangelicals that, because these are the End Times, the world is going to continue to get worse until Christ returns. That being the case, our time would be best spent evangelizing and practicing piety, rather than engaging in social concern. Why polish the brass on the Titanic? This pessimistic view of human history is especially common among premillennialists. For example, Jack Van Impe (born 1931), an American televangelist, says, “One who honestly feels that Christ may come at any moment is not involved with this world.”65

There are several problems with this position. First, Scripture says that the End Times began in the first century (Acts 2:14–21), almost two millennia ago, but knowledge of this fact did not stop the first century church from engaging in social action (Acts 4:32–35). Second, to quote the ethicists Paul and John Feinberg, “No one knows exactly when Jesus will return, but we do know that he has called believers to be light and salt to society until he does.”64 Third, in ‘The Parable of the Talents’ (Matthew 25:14–40), Jesus condemns the servant who buried the talent for not trying. To quote Barclay, “The condemnation of the unworthy servant was that he never tried.”67 The two other servants, in contrast, were praised for being “faithful.”

 

C. Conformity

 

I would argue that the church has become too conformed to society to take a strong stand against social evils, such as the mass homicide of the pre-born. Stott says, “Probably the greatest tragedy of the church throughout its long and chequered history has been its constant tendency to conform to the prevailing culture instead of developing a Christian counter-culture.”68 Also, as previously stated, Schaeffer, in his last book entitled The Great Evangelical Disaster, argued thatthe evangelical church has been a failure, in part, because of its conformity with regard to such life and death issues as abortion. Similarly, Harry Blamires (born 1916), in his influential book The Christian Mind, says, “… the Christian mind has succumbed to the secular drift with a degree of weakness and nervelessness unmatched in Christian history.”69

Several studies have been done recently that give evidence of the evangelical church’s worldliness. For example, commenting on a 2006 survey by the Barna Group that looked at the lifestyles of Americans, including such things as the use of profanity, levels of volunteerism, viewing pornography, alcohol consumption, drug use, illicit sexual relationships, etc., an article in Christianity Today says, “The differences, however, between the self-oriented behavior of born again Christians and that of national norms were small.”70Similarly, George Barna and William Paul McKay, in their book Vital Signs: Emerging Social Trends and the Future of American Christianity, say, “Survey data supply ample evidence of the bankruptcy of the commonly held world views of Christians. It is undeniable that as a body, American Christians have fallen prey to materialism, hedonism, secular humanism, and even to a jaded form of Christianity that rejects much of the commitment required of faithful servants.”71

Since the Supreme Court struck down Canada’s abortion law in 1988, the Canadian public—and, as such, the church—has been under constant pressure to accept the status quo concerning abortion. Much of this pressure has come from the all-pervasive influence of radical feminism.72 Such has been the influence of this movement, for example, that, in the eyes of many, if not most, Canadians today, to oppose abortion means to oppose women’s rights. Unfortunately, the church, it would seem, has caved in under this pressure. It has “accepted the unacceptable” (Stott), which is the very definition of apathy.73

However, the church would do well to heed the words of Solomon when he says, “Like a muddied spring or a polluted well are the righteous who give way to the wicked.” (Proverbs 25:26, NIV). Whittaker Chambers (1901–1961), the American writer and editor, who, after renouncing communism, first exposed and, then, testified against the Soviet spy, Alger Hiss, in ‘The Trial of the Century,’ says, “Evil can only be fought.”74 It must not be accepted. This is especially true, I would argue, of a monstrous evil like abortion.75

 

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Three Factors That Help to Explain the Church’s Apathy

 

1. Pietism

2. Pessimism about human history

3. Conformity

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To be continued