Thursday, November 12, 2015

Aborting what, exactly?

When we speak on the subject of “abortion,” as when we speak to any subject, it is important to define our terms. To “abort” is to stop, cease, terminate, discontinue prematurely. But when we are speaking culturally and ethically on the subject of “abortion” we are being more specific. One would not accuse the military, after it chose to abort a mission, of having performed an illegal government funded abortion on that mission. When we talk about abortion, we obviously are not talking about the abortion of missions. So what are we talking about? Aborting what exactly? We might say that we are talking about aborting the pregnancy, but this also is not correct. A cesarean section ends the pregnancy prematurely by surgically bringing the baby out alive, and this is not an abortion. If an abortion procedure is performed, and the baby comes out alive, this is referred to as a botched or failed abortion, even though the pregnancy was successfully ended. These two examples show us something important. The C section is not an abortion because it does not end the unborn life. The procedure described above as a "botched abortion" is a botched abortion because the baby did not die. It is plain, then, that when we speak of “abortion” we are talking about aborting the unborn life. Ceasing, terminating, prematurely ending a life. Our usage makes it clear, we are talking about killing.

Killing what? Well, from the moment of conception all the way until death, it is the same distinct human life. While the emotions of our culture may make this a controversial thing to say, it is still not a questionable or debatable thing to say. At the moment the sperm of the father combines with the egg of the mother, a not only genetically unique, but undeniably living and distinctly human organism comes to be. This organism goes through a rapid early development from a single cell to a more familiar form with organs, skin, nerves, etc. It’s stages of development include fast changes in physical form and attributes, but never is there a point after conception that this now distinct and genetically human life can be said to have changed from one essential thing to another, much like being an infant, a 17 year old high school athlete, and a 90 year old man are all physically quite different states, though all are the same human person at different points in development. A biologically distinct human being comes into existence at conception. Objectively, visibly, observably, scientifically, this is as certain as any human knowledge. If we cannot know this, than we can know nothing at all, for we know this on the same clear basis as we know any other basic fact of clear, consistent, repeatable observation. From conception until death, we are talking about a human life.

As Christians, we have an even surer foundation for knowing this with certainty. The Scriptures make it abundantly clear! From beginning to end, again and again, we see reference to unborn existence as personal, human life. We see places like Job 31:15, Psalm 139:13, and Isaiah 44:2, 44:24; 49:5 and others that all speak directly of personal human life formed in the womb. Jeremiah 20:17 even refers to taking life in the womb as “killing”, and makes clear that the life in his mother’s womb was already personally Jeremiah’s life. Psalm 51:5 even indicates that one at conception is not only a personal human being but is already under the curse of sin. Likewise, Luke chapter 1 indicates the personal humanity of the preborn John the Baptist. Yet we need not stop even there. In both the gospel narratives we have which describe for us the details of the nativity, the language indicates that the incarnation of of the Son of God began at conception. As the 2nd century Christian writer Aristedes describes it, Jesus "clothed himself with flesh; and the Son of God lived in a daughter of man." Jesus took on human flesh, and lived a fully human life. He did so from conception, because human life begins at conception. There is no basis to think that the second person of the trinity became a non-person for six months or so. Mary conceived of the Holy Spirit, and what she conceived was the Son of God. Jesus personal human life, and all personal human life, began at conception.

The early readers of the scriptures understood as much. The earliest Jewish writings we posses denounce the nations around them fro practicing abortion. One document even attributed the practice’s origin to demonic instruction! Another fascinating example looks at Leviticus 22:28 which tells us that “But you are not to slaughter an animal from the herd or flock on the same day as its young” and the dead sea scrolls in 4Q943 and 4Q947 freely apply this law in judging cases of slaughtering pregnant animals, showing that the Jewish community understood from the scriptures that the life in the womb was the same life as the the life to be born, and applied the law accordingly. The pregnant animal was already a mother with young that could not be slaughtered on the same day, so both must live. The so called “Damascus document” agrees with this, and this document has been found both in the dead sea scrolls and outside among other Jews, showing this interpretation was not unique to the Dead Sea community. The early Jews honored the unborn life because the testimony of the scriptures. Likewise the Didache, one of the earliest Christian writings going back to perhaps even the first century AD, includes the command “you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is born”. Other early Christian writings such as the Epistle to Diognetus and the Epistle of Barnabas concur with this interpretation. It was clearly understood by these early believers in the scriptures, both Christian and Jew, that human life began at conception with all of its rights and privileges. Scripture, science, logic, observation, and history all stand in agreement. There is just no reasonable doubt on this matter.

But let's say for a moment, just for the sake of argument, that somehow we did not know whether or not the child in the womb was a living human being. What do we do in other cases where we are considering a destructive action and do not know if there is a human there? Do we demolish a building if a living human might be inside? Do we fire a gun at a target if we simply don't know if a living human is standing behind it? No, or course not! So even if we somehow did not know that the unborn child was a living human, it would still be absurd to say, "well, it might be a living human, but since I'm not quite sure, I'll air on the side of dismembering it." Even in ignorance, this would be an immoral act. How much more evil is it, then, to kill and destroy what we fully know is an innocent and defenseless human life? This is the issue at hand when we are discussing “abortion.”

Luke Wayne is a bi-vocational Baptist missionary in Utah and the chief editor for Perilous Trails. He holds an MDiv from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and an MA in Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist College. He has served as a church planter in Olathe, KS and a Homeless Shelter Manager in Kansas City, MO. He is also a husband, father, fisher, hiker, security officer, and raiser of livestock.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Saboteurs in our Midst

“Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Jude 3-4)

It’s a pity that we don’t spend more time in serious study, even memorization, of the shorter books in our bible. Obadiah and Nahum and Malachi are powerful warnings and reminders. Philemon and 2 and 3 John are extremely enriching books for the Christian walk. And Jude, that last little letter right before the book of Revelation, is an extremely urgent and necessary call to us as members of church communities to be alert, for our sake and the sake of our brothers and sisters, against the great corrupting dangers of false teachers. It is important to note that these false teachers are not the ones out there in the world clearly representing other religions and ideas, but the ones right in and among us, influencing people away from sound, Christ centered teaching and from strict biblical virtues and righteous, holy living. As was quoted above, they  turn the grace of our God into licentiousness” or as the HSCB translation puts it, “turning the grace of our God into promiscuity,” or in the NIV “who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality.” God’s wondrous message of salvation by grace alone is not to be twisted into permission to live as we want. 

When Paul famously wrote in Ephesians 2:8,9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;  not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” He followed it immediately in verse 10 with, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” The gospel is destroyed by the idea that we can earn or merit salvation by our good actions, but it is also destroyed by the idea that God’s grace means that our evil deeds are in fact not something that we need to be saved from, and that we can just go on doing whatever we want and God will just be okay with it, love us for who we are, and forgive any wrong in the end. The message of the gospel is one of grace, mercy, and forgiveness. It is a message of unmerited, unearned, undeserved blessing from God purchased by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It is all of Him, and nothing of us. But the message calls on us to repent (change our minds, turn around, go the other way) and believe (that we are sinners, that we have been wrong, that God has saved us in Jesus Christ, and that He is Lord, Master, and King, and is therefore in charge of our lives and whom we should now obey). The gospel is not a mere feel good message, it is a life transforming reality that, if believed, will have the necessary effect of changing ones priorities and view of life, and therefore of one’s actions. As Peter wrote, “Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance,  but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior;  because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:13-16) 

Understanding this, Jude is greatly concerned for the Christian churches of his day because there are those who are coming in spreading a sinful lie that uses Christian language about God’s grace and love, but in fact entices people to sin freely without regard for God, and is therefore utterly opposed to repentance, faith, the Lordship of Jesus Christ, our need for redemption, and therefore the very gospel itself. The book is replete with examples from Old Testament Scripture, history, and Jewish traditions familiar to the readers that help them remember the fact that there have always been those who outwardly professed the name of the one true God and dwelled among His people as if they were truly part of the faith community, but were in fact false brothers and deceivers marked out for condemnation by God, and we must be careful to keep ourselves and our beloved brothers from walking according to their ways. As we talked about (HERE), we must be ever vigilant and on guard against sin!

In our day (as in many times in the past) it is highly unpopular to point out that a particular teaching is wrong, a particular teacher or author is dangerous, or that a particular action is sin, and that such things and people are not Christian and not befitting of the Christian community, despite their own self identification and surface language that may sound very loving and evoke the name of Jesus, but these are exactly the sort of things Jude is warning us we must be ready to do, and if we love our Christian brothers we will be eager to deliver them from the snare of such lies. We must pursue holiness together, and watch one another’s back for the stealth and guile of wolves in sheep’s clothing.

It is interesting that Jude frequently uses the example of those who would justify sexual immorality. Today, we see this more than we want to admit.  There is, to give one of many possible examples, an organization called the “reformation project” whose express goal is to train people to actively work within local churches to influence people into believing that homosexual and bisexual lifestyles are perfectly okay, and to shame the biblical standard of holiness and the need for repentance. The whole thing tries to be as “Christian” as possible while representing exactly what Jude is talking about in a very literal sense. People coming into our fellowships by stealth to turn the grace of God into a license to sin and bring shame and reproach before God on our fellowships. One can see a similar idea in the documentary “expelled.” While it is focusing on the subject academic freedom and the study of intelligent design, it makes a passing observation that is crucial to our subject after an interview with a PR representative for a secular organization that works with churches and other faith communities to convince them that full fledged secular Darwinian ideology is totally compatible with their faith. What is shown through the interviews is that such people are often very conscious that in fact their teachings are NOT compatible, and that it will destroy the faith of the next generation. They are intentionally deceiving, and often training people inside the church to be their mouth pieces to the Christian community. While many of the sort of teachings Jude is warning us about come into our churches passively through books and media and the like, there really are people doing exactly what Jude warned about, literally making the conscious and active effort to infiltrate churches and alter their teaching in a manner that turns us to sin or even leads to eventual outright denial of our Lord! 

But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed.” (Jude 10)

These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever.” (Jude 12, 13)

Jude goes on to urge the Church to hold fast to the true, biblical faith and to remain steadfast, knowing that Christ is coming again. Our hope of pleasure and reward is not in this sin sick world, and it is okay to be outsiders here in the name of holiness, indeed it is glorious to be so! Christ is coming in judgment on the wicked and to bring eternal life to those who are His own, a holy people of faith resting in His grace and enduring to the end, not in our strength, but in His!

“But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 20-25)

I urge, read through Jude regularly. Memorize its warnings and reflect on them often. (The entire book is set to great music HERE for easy memorization.) Keep the true gospel ever before you, and be careful of teachings, even from those in the pew next to you, that would lead you into sin or into denial of our Lord’s teachings, and care enough about those around you to correct them of such error and encourage them on in righteousness and holiness. As James, Jude’s brother, wrote “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19,20). Know your brothers and sisters of your local church well enough to notice if something is wrong and to be able to speak immediately into their lives to turn them from sin and error, and open yourself up to them enough so that they can do the same for you. We are in this together, and we need each other.

Luke Wayne is a bi-vocational Baptist missionary in Utah and the chief editor for Perilous Trails. He holds an MDiv from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and an MA in Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist College. He has served as a church planter in Olathe, KS and a Homeless Shelter Manager in Kansas City, MO. He is also a husband, father, fisher, hiker, security officer, and raiser of livestock.