Pro-Life in America

Child at 24 weeks

Child at 24 weeks

Recently a Gallup poll reported that the majority of Americans call themselves “pro-life” for the first time since Roe v Wade decision. Predictably, Gallup has been widely criticized for lack of nuance in its poll. After all, many Americans may identify themselves as personally pro-life, but support full legal access for others who choose to abort their children. Even President Obama voiced his desire to reduce abortions in the United States.

It may be that the majority of Americans still desire abortion to be “safe, legal and rare.” But it is not at all clear that the majority of Americans support publicly subsidizing of abortion or the radical pro-choice agenda pushed by the current administration.

  • Do you believe that tax payers should supply one third of Planned Parenthood’s $1 billion dollar budget?
  • Do you believe that the federal government should invalidate all state restrictions on abortion, including parental notification laws, informed consent laws, and bans on partial birth abortion?
  • Do you believe we should repeal the conscience clause and require all doctors and health care professionals to perform abortions, even if doing so violates their conscience and their understanding of the Hippocratic oath?

Our federal government has long subsidized Planned Parenthood, the nations leading provider of elective abortions, and we expect to see the level of public funding increase dramatically. President Obama also promised to sign the Freedom of Choice Act, which will remove all state restrictions. Perhaps most shocking is that Health and Human Services is working to repeal the conscience clause that protects medical professionals from being compelled to perform abortions.
Our President stated his opinion that mothers should be free to navigate these ethical waters and have the right to a safe and legal abortion. But what about the freedom and conscience of the healthcare professional? How can we claim to uphold the first amendment with a law that so clearly violates the religious convictions of so many? Forcing doctors to perform abortions against their conscience is not morally different from China’s policy of forced abortions for second pregnancies. China compels the conscience of the mother, while Obama is attempting to compel the conscience of the doctor or nurse.

Of course the pro-life movement has been severely set back by the schizophrenic loon who murdered Dr. George Tiller, one the few late term abortion providers in the country. Being pro-life means that we uphold the command “thou shall not murder.” The Bible categorically rejects all vigilantism (Deut 32:35; Rom 12:19) and places the sword of justice in the hands of government alone (Rom 13:1-7). Even when our leaders get it horribly wrong, Christians are called to suffer unjustly and to entrust ourselves to God’s future judgment (1 Peter 2:13-25).

As a Christian church we will not back down from the claim that elective abortions take human life, and we will not hesitate to identify it as sin. We also insist that sin must be taken to the cross of Jesus Christ, and that his blood is sufficient to atone for all sin, even murder. We are all in the same boat; we are all sinners. God alone is holy, but his grace is free and forgiveness is available for those who repent and believe.

God in the brain

BrainA few years ago Dr. Dean Hamer made a splash with the publication The God Gene, in which he argued that he pinpointed a gene responsible for theism. The study, however, was very poorly done as his indicators of theistic belief had more in common with Eastern mysticism than theism. According to my answers to the survey questions Dr. Hamer would predict that I am a very skeptical agnostic when in fact I have dedicated my life to my religious belief.

Carl Zimmer, writing for Scientific American, ridiculed Dr. Hamer’s new book. In 1993 Scientific American published Dr. Hamer’s peer reviewed study “The Gay Gene,” which study was enthusiastically received by much of the scientific community before it was discredited a few years later. Zimmer was not impressed with Hamer’s exotic theories motivated by a quest for self-understanding.

Dr. Hamer, however, was trying to answer an important and troubling question. Certainly not everybody professes belief in God, but religion is a universal phenomenon that has existed in every culture since the beginning of human history until now. Plutarch observed, “If you go round the world, you will find cities without walls, or literature, or kings, or houses or money, without gymnasia or theaters. But no one ever saw a city without temples or gods, one which does not have recourse to prayers, oaths or oracles.” Cicero likewise wrote, “There is no people so wild and savage to have not believed in a god… It is necessary to believe that there are gods, because we have an implanted or an innate knowledge of them.”

Freud argued that religion is neurosis but he could not explain its universal impulse. Feuerbach argued that belief in God is wish-fulfillment, but he could not account for why we should have a desire for which there is no corresponding fulfillment. Karl Marx, like many before him, declared that religion was the opiate of the masses devised by the ruling class to keep the working class in line. While it is true that many rulers have used and perverted religion to this end, John Calvin pointed out the flaw in this explanation: “they never could have succeeded in this, had the minds of men not been previously imbued with that uniform belief in God, from which, as from its seed, the religious propensity springs.”[1] Even atheists often feel “the truth that they are desirous not to know” and they are troubled with the prospect of this truth.

If there is a God who has implanted in mankind an innate knowledge of the Divine then it follows that this is a God to whom we are morally accountable to. In the Bible, the Apostle Paul writes these sobering words, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” (Romans 1:18-23).

The prospect of a personal God to whom we are morally accountable to is a frightening thing. Atheism is quite understandable from a psychological point of view: who wants an all Seeing Eye scrutinizing our every action and thought? But there is a way that we can come near to God without fear. He has provided a way for us to approach him as a father instead of a judge. Only through Jesus Christ, who gave himself for sinners, can we serve God without fear (Luke 1:74). Jesus came to take our place as God’s obedient Son. He obeyed the law in every respect so that he might substitute our disobedience with his obedience. On the cross he was judged as a sinner and absorbed the wrath of God against sin. Through his resurrection he was vindicated and conquered death. Through faith in Jesus our sins are covered and his righteousness is imputed to us. We are able to stand on the Day of Judgment forgiven and clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Although we are guilty, we will stand acquitted (Romans 5:12-21; 2 Corinthians 5:12). It is therefore through Jesus Christ alone that we can enter into a right relationship with our Heavenly Father.

[1] Inst., 1.3.2.

Is the Bible a Wax Nose?

holding-bible“Why should I take the Bible seriously?” some ask, “Christians cannot even agree amongst themselves as to what it teaches!” Indeed, today there is a great variety of Christian sects, each with seminary trained teachers and PhDs in the fields of Biblical scholarship. How can the average Joe expect to arrive at the “correct” understanding when so-called scholars cannot agree how to interpret the Bible? Isn’t it reasonable to conclude that the Bible is really a “wax nose?”

Some will suggest that the Christian church was united in its understanding of the Faith until the Protestant Reformation, when the likes of Martin Luther and John Calvin abandoned the authority of the church and placed the responsibility of interpretation in the hands of every individual. It is no wonder, therefore, that ten individuals might have ten distinct interpretations of any given passage. “Obviously” they say, “this led to the multiplications of Christian sects, which causes many to loose their faith and embrace skepticism. The thing to be done is for the factious Protestants to return to Mother Rome.”

Cardinal Sadoleto relied on this argument when he tried to lure the city of Geneva back to the Catholic faith through a letter he addressed to them in March 1539. He appealed to the multiplying Anabaptist sects teaching novelties and disrupting the peace. “For already, since these men began, how many sects have torn the Church? Sects not agreeing with them, and yet disagreeing with each other – a manifest indication of falsehood.”

John Calvin, then 30-years of age, replied that the sects were Rome’s stepchildren, rather than those of the Protestant Reformers. All sects, he argued, believe that the Holy Spirit leads their guys, and not the other guys, into the correct interpretation. Calvin wrote,

“We are assailed by two sects, which seem to differ most widely from each other. For what similitude is there in appearance between the Pope and the Anabaptists? And yet, that you may see that… the principle weapon with which they both assail us is the same. For when they boast extravagantly of the Spirit, the tendency certainly is to sink and bury the Word of God, that they may make room for their own falsehoods. …For, as if those who seek the way of God were standing where two ways meet and destitute of any certain sign, you are forced to introduce them as hesitating whether it be more expedient to follow the authority of the Church, or to listen to those whom you call the inventors of new dogmas.”

Calvin pointed out that the issue of Biblical interpretation is not as difficult as it first seems. There are two fundamentally different approaches. There is the “Bible and” approach, and the “Bible only” approach. There are many Christian sects today. They differ widely from each other, but they all agree that the “Bible and…” guides their interpretation. “We know the Catholic faith is correct,” the priest says, “because the Holy Spirit guides our church into all truth.” This is essentially the same argument I heard growing up in Pentecostal and Charismatic circles. “We know we are correct because the Holy Spirit guides our church into all truth.” When the Mormons came knocking on my door they appealed to the multiplication of sects resulting in religious confusion. They then said “we know we are correct because the Holy Spirit guides our Church into all truth.” I told them that this is the same line all the other sects are feeding me. I also pointed out that their dogma had not prevented them from dividing into sects among themselves.

The “Bible only” approach means that “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men” (Westminster Confession of Faith 1.6). We believe that Biblical interpretation follows the ordinary rules for interpreting other literary or historical texts. We have no private pipeline to ultimate reality and we do not look for secret or private messages from God on the pages of Holy Scripture.

There are not many Christian groups that accept the “Bible only” approach – the formal principle of the Protestant Reformation. Those who hold to the “Bible only” are mainly conservative Reformed and Presbyterian churches. Some Reformed Baptists and a small number of other Baptist groups also strive to discover the meaning from the Biblical text, rather than reading meaning into it. Among these groups there is broad agreement. There are still some differences, but they are few when compared to the astonishing variety among the sects. In every academic discipline there is variety among experts. But we do not despair of all historical knowledge because historians have different interpretations on the finer points. It is the same in the field of Biblical scholarship.

The “Bible only” view is the Bible’s own teaching. Jesus promised his Apostles that he would send his Spirit to them and said of the Spirit, “He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (Jn 14:26). The Spirit cannot bring to remembrance Jesus’ words to those to whom Jesus never spoke! It is only to apostles that Jesus promised to lead into all truth and to give divine recall. Witnessing the totality of Christ’s ministry was the prerequisite for apostleship. The criteria for the replacement apostle were that he accompanied Jesus from the time he was baptized by John until the resurrection, having witnessed that also (Acts 1:22-24).[1]

The Apostle Paul also refers to himself as the last Apostle, “as to one untimely born” (1 Cor 15:8). For this reason in the Apostle John’s Book of the Revelation he sees the New Jerusalem coming out of heaven. It had twelve gates, which represent the 12 tribes of Israel and twelve foundation stones, which represent “the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Rev. 21:14). There is no reason to believe that the Church is ruled by a group of Apostles in every generation, or that their foundational ministry continues in every age.

Neither does the prophetic ministry continue in the Church, but it passed away with the Apostles. Ephesians 2:20 states that the Church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” When Paul compares himself to a “skilled master builder” who lays the foundation he teaches that this was done once and for all. “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid” (1 Cor. 3:11). Jesus the cornerstone has ascended to the father. The Apostles and prophets, our foundation layers, related to us the “faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). We do believe in an apostolic succession, but it is not a succession of persons, but of doctrine. Our job is to hold fast the teaching that we received directly from them (2 Thess. 2:15).

If we follow this method, we discover that the Bible is not like a “wax nose” that is open to any interpretation. We will discover that although “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them” (Westminster Confession of Faith 1.7).