The Duty of Church Authorities

The Church and Abortion: Success Followed by Failure

In Moby Dick, Herman Melville makes the simple observation, “The pulpit leads the world.” He adds, “Yes, the world’s a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow.”215 Jesus said He would build His church, and He promised the gates of hell would not prevail against her.

The Christian church is always to be on the offensive. After His resurrection, our Lord declared, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.” It is His—not our own—authority we carry to the ends of the earth, teaching all men to do what He has commanded. We are His church militant.

God delegated the keys of His kingdom to the officers of His church. Thus pastors and elders lead the world through the proclamation of His Word, yes, but also through their exercise of these keys in their practice of church discipline. Immediately following our Lord’s ascension, the power and authority of the King of kings and Lord of lords was carried by the church and her officers across the Roman Empire.

The New Testament church was born and grew in a world of infanticide, abortion, and fruitlessness. Through the pulpit, then, the early church proclaimed and practiced the protection of the weak and vulnerable, as well as the restoration of fruitfulness to the marriage bed. The church rescued unwanted, exposed infants left to die in the garbage heaps of Roman cities. The church protected the aged and infirm. As the church spread through Asia Minor, North Africa, and the Roman Empire, obedience to God’s law spread. Contraception dwindled and abortion became unthinkable. Church fathers did not cease condemning the slaughter of the preborn, as well as all attempts to remove fruitfulness from marriage. Even when the church adopted unbiblical views of sex and celibacy, it did not alter its witness to these basic divine truths concerning procreation and the wickedness of abortion.

It is a terrible tragedy, then, that it was the twentieth-century church and her officers who led the West into the legalization and widespread practice first, of birth control and contraception, and then abortion. It was the early part of the twentieth century when the first major denomination announced that artificial birth control was an acceptable practice.

In August of 1930, breaking with all Christendom, the officers of the Anglican Church announced at their decennial Lambeth Conference their repudiation of their historic condemnation of intentional prevention of pregnancy.216 A few months later, the Federal Council of Churches followed suit, endorsing “the careful and restrained use of contraceptives by married people.”217

Those unaware of the uniform condemnation of contraception and abortion by Christendom will find instructive this March 22, 1931, editorial by the Washington Post written in response to the Anglican pronouncement:

It is impossible to reconcile the doctrine of the divine institution of marriage with any modernistic plan for the mechanical regulation or suppression of human birth. The church must either reject the plain teachings of the Bible or reject schemes for the “scientific” production of human souls. Carried to its logical conclusion, the committee’s report if carried into effect would sound the death-knell of marriage as a holy institution, by establishing degrading practices which would encourage indiscriminate immorality. The suggestion that the use of legalized contraceptives would be “careful and restrained” is preposterous.218

The Anglicans’ reversal was not in response to some new discovery in the Bible or any advancement in theological understanding. Rather, it seems evident the change of doctrinal standards followed the practice of the pastors in their own lives.

For instance, an actuarial survey of the professional and upper classes in the UK during 1875 showed clergymen had an average of 5.2 children.219 This was on par with the UK’s national average. Yet when the 1911 census was taken, this figure had dropped to 2.8 children. Meanwhile, the national average remained at 3.7. Two decades before announcing their change in doctrine, the men of the pulpit had already changed their practice so that, inevitably, their personal practices changed their preaching.

To return to the Washington Post, it was only a matter of time until the Anglican bishops’ talking point “careful and restrained” vanished, just as Planned Parenthood, the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights, and the National Abortion Rights Action League’s talking point about keeping abortion “safe, legal, and rare” has also vanished. It took a mere thirty years for the “careful and restrained use” of contraception to give way to the National Council of Churches’ full embrace of abortion. It was February 23, 1961, when the National Council of Churches endorsed abortion—twelve years before the Supreme Court legalized infant murder in 1973.

Ten years after Roe v. Wade, the Presbyterian Church (USA) declared abortion “an act of faithfulness before God”:

Protestants have long affirmed the use of contraception as a responsible exercise of stewardship of life. To prevent pregnancy when it is not desired is to be a responsible steward of human life. However, in the exceptional case in which a woman is pregnant and judges that it would be irresponsible to bring a child into the world, given the limitations of her situation, it can be an act of faithfulness before God to intervene in the natural process of pregnancy and terminate it.220

In 1970, three years prior to the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling, the Baptist Sunday School Board (now known as Lifeway) conducted a poll which found that 70 percent of Southern Baptist pastors supported abortion to protect, not just the physical health of a mother, but also her mental health; and that 64 percent of Southern Baptist pastors supported abortion in the case of a fetal disability. One year later (1971), the Southern Baptist Convention (the largest Protestant denomination in the US) at their annual national meeting passed a resolution stating:

We call upon Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.221

Two years later, a poll conducted by the Baptist Standard found that 90 percent of Texas Baptists believed their state’s abortion laws were too restrictive. Here again, the pulpit led the world, removing moral censures against the slaughter of little ones in the womb. The world followed the church’s leadership, and one year later the Supreme Court issued its bloody decree.

In subsequent years, the Southern Baptist Convention went through a “conservative resurgence,” and by God’s grace moved back from its former advocacy of abortion. Yet the damage had been done.

Today, we have some hope that opinion polls within conservative Christian denominations would not resemble those of the 1970s. There are many pastors faithfully working to awaken Southern Baptists’ consciences to the horror of the slaughter of children. We appreciate this work in any denomination, and yet still today the most conservative Christian churches and congregations neglect or even refuse to give the souls under their charge biblical moral instruction concerning these matters.

For example, in 2019, the Pew Research Center analyzed nearly 50,000 sermons shared online by more than 6,000 US churches during the second quarter of the year, and they found that abortion was mentioned in only 4 percent of those sermons. Pew Research noted that, even when abortion was mentioned, it was rarely the focus of the sermon:

When sermons are broken into smaller segments of 250 words (the median sermon runs 5,502 words), three-quarters of all sermons that mention abortion do so in just one segment. As a result, only 1% of all sermons across the whole database discuss abortion in more than one segment.222

Given pastors’ avoidance of these matters, it’s no surprise researchers find more than 4 out of 10 women who have had an abortion are churchgoers,223 nor is it any surprise 54 percent of members of the Presbyterian Church in America believe abortion should be legal.224

The Church’s Bloodguilt

We, the people of God, must confess our bloodguilt. As it was with Israel and Judah in the times of the Old Testament prophets, the people of God today have our children’s blood on our hands.

We don’t know how many of their lives we have sacrificed, and we’re relieved not to know. At times we have used methods of birth control which have an abortifacient agency knowing full well we were doing so. At other times we have assuaged our consciences by telling ourselves we’ll never know whether our method of birth control killed our child; and anyhow, it’s more likely our birth control prevented conception than that it killed any little one God had created and placed in our wife’s womb. We dampen down our consciences with self-talk of risk being an everyday part of life. It was not our intent to kill our little one. Surely any bloodshed we commit from a desire to provide our already-born children a college education and greater socioeconomic stability justifies any risk we take with our birth control.

It must be stated clearly that, among the people of God, the bloodguilt doesn’t rest on fathers and mothers alone, but also physicians, nurses, and pharmacists who are brothers and sisters in Christ and who neglected to inform us that our birth control has an abortifacient agency. Among the people of God, many physicians, nurses, and pharmacists answered our questions with equivocations and lies concerning the medical choices they helped us make.

Listen to this command given by God to His covenant people, noting His warning against their pleading ignorance:

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “You shall also say to the sons of Israel:

‘Any man from the sons of Israel or from the aliens sojourning in Israel who gives any of his offspring to Molech, shall surely be put to death; the people of the land shall stone him with stones. I will also set My face against that man and will cut him off from among his people, because he has given some of his offspring to Molech, so as to defile My sanctuary and to profane My holy name. If the people of the land, however, should ever disregard that man when he gives any of his offspring to Molech, so as not to put him to death, then I Myself will set My face against that man and against his family, and I will cut off from among their people both him and all those who play the harlot after him, by playing the harlot after Molech.’” (Lev. 20:1–5)

Bloodguilt is everywhere among God’s people in the Western world today, especially here in North America where there still remains such a treasure of Christian faith and witness. Having been given much, our guilt is that much greater. God commanded Moses to warn His people against child slaughter. Who warns the people of God today?

God has set apart pastors and other church officers to preach and teach His Word today. In connection with intimate matters related to women and their life-givingness, it is the particular calling of our congregation’s “older women” to instruct the women of the church in these life-and-death matters. Older women are called to teach godliness to the congregation’s younger women; and specifically to teach the younger women to “love their children.”225

Would it not be the most basic fulfillment of this calling for older women to warn young brides and mothers against the horror of child sacrifice practiced all around us by the pagans? Yes, pastors must give this instruction and provide these warnings in premarital counseling also; but how can an older woman of God instruct a younger woman to love her children without warning her not to kill her children?

It is good and right for our older women to teach the younger women to read the Bible and pray, to keep a rein on their irritation at their little ones and not lash out in anger at them, to respect their husbands, to read the Bible to their little ones, to be patient with a child who is difficult to nurse, and so on. But does their obligation to lead the younger women of God not include speaking to them about the sanctity of the marriage bed and its fruit?

In the final analysis, though, none among the people of God have greater responsibility for the pervasiveness of the bloodshed of our children than the shepherds of Christ’s church. The Apostle Paul testified to those he had shepherded in Ephesus that none of their “blood” was on his “hands.” How had he acquitted himself of any bloodguilt?

For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. (Acts 20:27)

Today, pastors shrink and run from declaring to their sheep the whole counsel of God concerning sexuality, marriage, and God’s blessing of children. Pastors have not warned their sheep against subverting God’s purpose in the womb by shedding the blood of those children He Himself has placed there. Pastors in their pulpits, in their offices during marital and premarital counseling, and in every part of church life—as well as elders, deacons, and older women in their congregations—are neither teaching nor warning their sheep against the wiles of the Evil One who loves death, particularly the death of little ones who have just been created by our heavenly Father.

It’s an awful truth that those we worship with who are marked by the sign of God’s covenant continue to do obeisance to the pagans’ demon gods of choice, self-determination, convenience, academic degrees, wealth, comfort, and a whole host of other idols, even joining them in their child sacrifices. God blesses us, entrusting the womb of our wives with new life for the propagation of His godly seed,226 and Christian wives leave His worship, drive home with their husband and children, eat dinner, and later go up to their bathroom and murder this little blessing He’s given.

Do God’s prophets warn them against this sin?

No. As in the days of the prophet Isaiah, so in our own day:

His watchmen are blind,
All of them know nothing.
All of them are mute dogs unable to bark,
Dreamers lying down, who love to slumber;
And the dogs are greedy, they are not satisfied.
And they are shepherds who have no understanding;
They have all turned to their own way,
Each one to his unjust gain, to the last one.
“Come,” they say, “let us get wine, and let us drink heavily of strong drink;
And tomorrow will be like today, only more so.”
(Isa. 56:10–12)

Within the church today, God makes husband and wife one for the propagation of a godly seed; He blesses the husband and wife by creating a child in the womb of the wife; and we respond by practicing pregnancy prevention using hormones that regularly kill a child God has created and sent to us as His blessing.

Thus God’s covenant people today commit the same sin as God’s covenant people in the time of Manasseh and Solomon. Where is our King Josiah whose reform included forbidding and stopping the child sacrifices practiced by God’s people?

He [Josiah] also defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter pass through the fire for Molech. (2 Kings 23:10)

The Necessity of Repentance

Repentance is the only path back to the grace of God, but how shall pastors lead this repentance?

First, repentance must be preached. As they stand in their pulpits proclaiming God’s Word, God’s servants must not avert their eyes from the most helpless of lambs being taken away to the slaughter. Remember our Lord’s parable of the religious leaders who walked past the victim lying injured in the road?

God has called us to rescue those being led away to death; to hold back those who are staggering to the slaughter (Prov. 24:11). Will our shepherds continue to close their eyes to the blood that stains the ground of our villages, cities, states, and nations? Will our shepherds continue to pretend they don’t know about these deaths of the lambs of their flock?

Nothing is hidden from God, and He will repay according to what has been done and left undone, what pastors have said and left unsaid. From the ground, the blood of these little ones cries out to Him.

This is not a political issue, nor should pastors relegate the defense of these littles ones to a single pro-life Sunday each January. Nor should pastors preach as if the abortions are all done “out there” by others—and only at Planned Parenthood’s clinics. One Sunday each year with condemnation only of outsiders is a betrayal of the pastoral office.

Shepherds must repent of their self-censorship which arises from a desire to avoid offending their people. The souls under the care of shepherds are sheep. Sheep must be taught and rebuked and led to confession of their sins by faithful shepherds watching over their souls, regardless of whether their sheep want to be rebuked and called to repentance.

If the response is that some things are impolite to speak of in mixed company, keep in mind that eternity and judgment are drawing near. How could it ever be impolite for men who are shepherds to call women to repentance for murdering their children—nor any less their husbands who are eager for, and complicit in, their decisions?

Women pay for abortion procedures and drugs. Some of our own mothers, wives, and daughters have committed abortion. Women we love and are called to instruct and protect should not lack shepherds who will speak truthfully, leading them into a biblical understanding and a true spiritual remorse for what they have done. Women who have committed abortions need the wounding of God’s law so they may confess their crimes, and by faith alongside David, find forgiveness and have the joy of their salvation restored to them:

Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation;
Then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness.
(Ps. 51:14)

In all the work of the pastor, he must keep this warning in mind:

Now as for you, son of man, I have appointed you a watchman for the house of Israel; so you will hear a message from My mouth and give them warning from Me. When I say to the wicked, “O wicked man, you will surely die,” and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require from your hand. But if you on your part warn a wicked man to turn from his way and he does not turn from his way, he will die in his iniquity, but you have delivered your life. (Ezek. 33:7–9)

True gospel ministry never consists of God’s yes without His no.

The Church’s Public Witness against the Killing

As our Lord said, it was God who “from the beginning made them male and female” (Matt. 19:4). Sex is a station assigned each of us by God. We have no individuality that is not marked by God’s call of each of us to the station of either man or woman. We cannot live by faith without doing so as men and women who, by faith, fulfill our sex biblically.

Given the pervasive rebellion of individuals today repudiating God’s creation of each person as man or woman, the beginning of repentance and the first steps of faith will often be defined within the church by men and women rediscovering, learning to love, and fulfilling their God-given sexuality. One certain and joyful side effect of such a resurgence of biblical sexuality is that pastors who preach and teach with application to men as men and women as women will lead the way toward the abolition of abortion.

When pastors lead their people to rejoice in their God-given sexuality and to desire a godly seed (Mal. 2:15), this will awaken the consciences of the people of God to the horror of abortion’s slaughter. Pastors who are fearful of the reaction of their sheep, and thus inclined to avoid serving as the instruments of this sexual awakening, may take encouragement and be strengthened by the Apostle Paul’s exhortation: “Speak and exhort with all authority. Let no one disregard you” (Titus 2:15).

Men and women of God who discover the blessing of manhood and womanhood, marital love, and children will also certainly come to realize the wickedness of abortion and express a desire to witness against this great evil. This is particularly true of women who, prior to coming to faith or a truly biblical understanding of the blessing of unborn life, have aborted their little ones. Naturally, those who have repented of their own abortions will desire to find women considering abortion and awaken these women to the beauty of life and the terrible sin of killing our Lord’s little ones, truly “the least of these”:

But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.

Then the King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.” Then the righteous will answer Him, “Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?” The King will answer and say to them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”

Then He will also say to those on His left, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.” Then they themselves also will answer, “Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?” Then He will answer them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.” These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matt. 25:31–46)

Men too, discovering not only the blessing of manhood and womanhood, marital love, and children, but also their manly biblical duty227 to protect the lives woman presents the race, will ask how they can help restrain and end this bloodshed. It is right for men and women to ask these questions and seek to stand up against the slaughter of the unborn. We will all seek to love and protect the least of these, and the officers of Christ’s church will be called upon to give wise counsel concerning how to best witness against this horror.

While not every church is located within driving distance of a surgical abortion “clinic,” many are, and it is a work of justice and love to go and bear witness against the bloodletting as those inside their mother’s wombs are being led to the slaughter. Even though pharmacies dispensing murderous drugs are fast becoming the primary battleground, the abortuary remains a place of bloodshed, and there are Christian men and women who will desire to present a Christian witness there. This work should be supported by the wise counsel of their church officers. Examining how best to undertake this work is particularly necessary given the physical, legal, and spiritual dangers that attend any Christian witness at these killing places.

Other ways and places to witness against the bloodshed are best considered under the wise counsel of those officers congregants have vowed submission to. This is no light matter and should not be entered into unadvisedly. Standing against the massive murder of our little ones, though, is righteous, and where the officers of a particular church are uninterested in preaching against it as well as supporting public anti-abortion witness by their counsel and presence, it remains a Christian duty which will weigh heavy on the consciences of God’s faithful. It is no sin for them to commend their conscience to God by such public witness.

Some churches will decide to witness against abortion publicly outside the abortuary on its killing days. Some will have no abortuary to provide sidewalk counseling to and may choose to picket their local supermarket pharmacies. Other churches will go together with fellow believers of neighboring congregations to picket the city’s United Way offices where the community’s charitable contributions are used to support Planned Parenthood. Some churches will call their members to attend county and city council hearings related to the zoning and support of the killing places. Other congregations will have pastors, elders, and deacons gifted for open-air preaching who will ask their people to come and support that preaching outside the abortuaries, pharmacies, and supermarkets, or at the county courthouse and inside the state capital.

Some churches will focus on social media forms of witness. Other churches will join together to write a doctrinal witness and teaching tool similar to this one that can be shared among their denominational churches, officers, and members. Other churches will start and support crisis pregnancy ministries, or provide financial support to couples in the congregation who adopt children—or embryos left in the “concentration can” of in vitro businesses.228

Churches may provide an effective witness against abortion in countless ways. What is important is to be creative in providing men and women opportunities to speak up in defense of these little ones created by God; and, where possible, to provide this witness under the wise counsel and direction of the shepherds God has provided us in His church.

For Christians to undertake calling those killing their children to repentance is a gospel witness, not merely a political demonstration. But as we bear this witness, church members and officers must exercise caution and wisdom in this work, guarding against schism and division among God’s people, as well as any needless scandal in the wider community.

Still, it must be said that any witness against the slaughter will inevitably give rise to scandal among those covered in blood and unwilling to repent. Truth is often scandalous, particularly when it exposes the bloodshed of the innocents. The mere fact of scandal in the community attendant to the church’s witness against abortion may be the most clear evidence of the effectiveness of that witness.

In addition, all churches can and should be regularly praying for the end of abortion. Prayer doesn’t take the place of these other forms of action but prayer itself is not passive. It is one of the main weapons of warfare that Jesus has given us. In sacred Scripture, the prayers of God’s people are described as rising to the heavens like a pleasing aroma of incense. The fire of this incense is then hurled back to the earth in God’s judgment on the enemies of Christ.229 Christ hears the cry of those who suffer, and He is the great Defender of the orphan. Churches should not forget the power of prayer, and they should pray for God’s mercy on little ones and judgment upon those who oppress them without repentance.

Remember that the church, God’s house, is to be a house of prayer for the nations (Isa. 56:7). The Apostle Paul instructed the church to offer entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, on behalf of all people including those in civil authority (1 Tim. 2:1–2). Surely, the little children in the womb are among those who are of the nations that we ought to pray on behalf of. Prayer and thanksgiving for these children and their mothers ought to be a normal part of the intercessory work of the church. Pray that God would turn the hearts of the fathers and mothers toward their children. Pray that God would move the hearts of our civil authorities. Pray that all our efforts to bear witness will be used by God for His glory, the souls of mothers, and the lives of the preborn.

Instructing the Civil Magistrate

Pastors are not simply called to shepherd God’s flock. That is their primary call, but by that call they are also responsible to serve as God’s servants commissioned to proclaim His law and gospel to the nations. Pastors today are God’s servants, the prophets.

The gospel of Jesus Christ always and necessarily proclaims God’s law. Calling men to repent and believe is no private Christian work, and this is our Lord’s Great Commission:

All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matt. 28:18–20)

Add to this statement our Lord’s call to His followers to be His witnesses to the world:

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Matt. 5:13–18)

Christian pastors are to heed and obey our Lord’s order that we make disciples of “all nations,” that we be “the salt of the earth,” that we remain “salty,” that we provide “the light of the world,” and that we serve as His “city on a hill” which “cannot be hidden.” We are not to hide our light under a basket, but to lift it up on a lampstand for all to see.

The Apostle Paul is simply reiterating these commands, emphasizing this responsibility of pastors and their congregations to serve as witnesses to our wicked world when he writes to Timothy that the Christian church is “the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).

When pastors censor themselves, justifying it by talk of “being gospel-centered” or pontificating on “two-kingdom theology,” we betray our calling. When we are silent, refusing to expose and condemn the bloodlust and slaughter we are drowning in today, we betray our commission. Why would anyone repent of abortion who has not been confronted with God’s terrible condemnations of child sacrifice?

Understanding why we are petrified to proclaim those condemnations is not difficult.

Given how intensely the state supports the bloodshed of our little ones, it’s important to say that Christians’ prophetic witness against abortion must begin with proclaiming the truth to the rich, powerful, and strong, particularly the civil magistrate. Yes, it is true that ministers are church—not civil—authorities. It is true some pastors suffer the temptation to focus on the political realm to the neglect of their calling to feed and guard their flock. Yet God’s prophets must not use this first priority as an excuse for abandoning their prophetic calling. We are to call all men—including especially civil authorities—to repentance.

Pierre Viret, a minister in Calvin’s company of pastors, put it this way:

Just as ministers are not bound to do what pertains to rulers and magistrates, so on the other hand if they do not sound the word, and do not speak to the rulers and magistrates with all frankness according to their calling, they will be guilty of grave guilt. For they would then be included in the number of dumb dogs which Isaiah speaks of. For their office requires them to call the rulers and magistrates to do their duty according to the Law of God.230

The historic church has always proclaimed God’s law to civil magistrates. John Calvin addressed his Institutes of the Christian Religion to the civil magistrate. Luther was relentless in challenging the princes of Germany. A thousand years earlier, John Chrysostom enraged the empress with his rebukes of her luxurious lifestyle, and was exiled for his work. The early church apologists directed their works to the civil magistrates, calling them to repent and believe on Jesus Christ.

Here, church fathers are only following the biblical example. The Old Testament prophets rebuked kings to their faces, both Israelite and gentile kings. These same prophets proclaimed the coming salvation of the nations in the time of the New Covenant, foretelling that kings would be nursing maids to the church. Psalm 2 explicitly commands rulers to “kiss the Son,” warning of the consequences if they refused.

Do we remember that John the Baptist lost his head for rebuking the civil ruler, Herod, for violating God’s law? Jesus told His disciples they would stand before kings, and so they did, preaching to civil authorities, some of whom were converted. There was the proconsul Sergius Paulus (Acts 13) and Dionysius the Areopagite (Acts 17). The book of Acts concludes with Paul’s journey to the capital of the Roman Empire, leaving the reader with the anticipation of his encounter with its leaders. Even Theophilus, the man addressed by Luke in both his gospel and the book of Acts, is thought by some to have been a civil magistrate.

It involves no admixture or denial of the discrete nature of the two kingdoms to command civil rulers in God’s name to punish abortion as a fundamental violation of God’s law. It’s an old tactic here in the United States to maintain the canard of the separation of church and state in order to silence those prophesying against injustice and oppression. Both ecclesiastical and civil rulers are agreed that the church should shut up.

Here in the United States, this is nothing new. Note this lament by President Lincoln:

You say that you think slavery is wrong, but you denounce all attempts to restrain it. Is there anything else that you think wrong, that you are not willing to deal with as a wrong? Why are you so careful, so tender of this one wrong and no other? You will not let us do a single thing as if it was wrong; there is no place where you will allow it to be even called wrong! We must not call it wrong . . . in politics because that is bringing morality into politics, and we must not call it wrong in the pulpit because that is bringing politics into religion . . . and there is no single place, according to you, where this wrong thing can be properly called wrong!231

Pastors are not to allow God’s prophetic words to be gagged in the public square. Right there at the heart of our towns and cities, pastors are to preach against the evils of our day, condemning those evils as well as civil magistrates who live by them electorally. Of course pastors must not abandon their flock to become political hacks. And yes, this is a danger when the sheep feel impotent in the face of pagan culture warriors and desire that a champion be raised up representing their side. Many pastors choose to be their flock’s hero rather than their shepherd. It is enticing, and shepherds must resist this temptation.

Still, pastors have a duty to serve as prophets to the civil rulers. They can only fulfill their duty to rule by the law of God if they heard that law proclaimed.

The Civil Authority and the Power of the Keys

This responsibility is even more imperative when, as is so often the case here in North America, the civil ruler is a Christian who has vowed submission to his shepherds and sits with the people of God each week under the preaching of God’s Word, then communing with them at the Table of our Lord. In such cases, pastors must preach and teach this ruler; but if he refuses to honor his shepherds calling him to submission to God’s law, they must exercise the tools of discipline given them by God. Civil rulers who bow the knee to Molech and refuse admonitions and rebukes concerning their promotion of bloody sacrifices to demons must, in time, be barred from the Lord’s Table. No one who is complicit and unrepentant in spilling the blood of the innocent should be allowed to continue to commune with God’s people. He is not discerning the body and blood of our Lord.

Walking alongside Our Sheep in the Death of the Unborn

Finally, pastors testify against abortion by being tender with those in their flock who have lost their little ones. Despite improvements in technology, the death of children in utero is still a regular sadness felt by many of our sheep. Yet, too often, God’s people do not know how to grieve the loss of the unborn, because pastors, church officers, and the older women of the church have not been examples to them in these things, nor instructed them. In light of the massive numbers of abortions the past half century, as well as the dwindling love of fruitfulness within the church the past full century now, it’s no surprise the church has grown insensitive to the grief of mothers, fathers, and children mourning the deaths of their unborn and stillborn babies.

Families should not be left to suffer this grief hidden and alone. Shepherds and their wives can lead the way in helping and comforting those who grieve the deaths of our lambs. Shepherds and their wives can lead the way, showing the flock the beauty and relief of mourning these little ones with the eyes of faith fixed on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. King David himself taught us how to do so, mourning the loss of his little one (2 Sam. 12:23).

A number of our modern practices surrounding death are unhelpful in this regard. Our forced cheerful and happy-clappy posture toward death today inside and outside the church is a betrayal of the Fall and its awful consequences which seek to drown us in grief and sadness. Mutual conspiracies to deny death’s terrible weight are no good.

The church should be led back to our former heavy and truthful liturgies of death and mourning testifying to our hope in the resurrection of our Lord. These liturgies will be so helpful directing families in their grief (over the deaths of adults or babies), and this is particularly the case following the loss of their little child—when it does seem awkward to grieve someone so very tiny whom we have never seen.

This leadership of the pastor and church will be particularly helpful to mothers who have carried these little ones and known them intimately, sometimes for a full nine months; who with great expectation have been singing to them, praying for them, talking to them, and naming them. We provide a safe place for the mother and father’s grief when we give a homily, pray, sing, and help bury their lambs at the end of funerals and committal services.

It is not absurd to have a funeral for a child. It is not foolishly sentimental to bury him. It is not wrong to love him before he has lived outside his mother’s womb.

God’s flock needs shepherds who will join the ewes in grieving over their little lost lambs. It will be difficult to know precisely when and how to provide such ministry in this or that circumstance and with this or that family. Immediately questions will come up concerning what age to begin, and whether or not to have any service if there is no body to bury. These questions will need pastoral sensitivity and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

What is crucial, though, is that the church recover the uniquely Christian way of life and death. Pastors who lead that recovery will be blessed by the deepening love and trust of their sheep—particularly the mothers. But more, these pastors will have the supreme good of the approval of our Chief Shepherd.

  1. Herman Melville, Moby Dick, ch. 8.↩︎

  2. See Resolution 15 from The Lambeth Conference, 1930, Anglican Communion,↩︎

  3. “Protestants Endorse Birth Control,” Birth Control Review 15, no. 4 (April 1931): 102.↩︎

  4. Quoted in Howard Kainz, “Failing to Connect the Dots on Contraception,” First Things, February 8, 2012,↩︎

  5. As reported by Richard Soloway, Birth Control and the Population Question in England, 1877–1930 (University of North Carolina Press, 1982), 103.↩︎

  6. “Covenant and Creation: Theological Reflections on Contraception and Abortion,” report delivered to the 195th General Assembly (1983) of the Presbyterian Church (USA), 17. The GA received this report and adopted its policy statements and recommendations.↩︎

  7. David Roach, “How Southern Baptists Became Pro-Life,” Baptist Press, January 16, 2015,↩︎

  8. Dennis Quinn, “Few U.S. Sermons Mention Abortion, Though Discussion Varies by Religious Affiliation and Congregation Size,” Pew Research Center, April 29, 2020,↩︎

  9. Lisa Cannon Green, “Survey: Women Go Silently from Church to Abortion Clinic,” Focus on the Family, August 17, 2021,↩︎

  10. David Masci, “American Religious Groups Vary Widely in Their Views of Abortion,” Pew Research Center, January 22, 2018,↩︎

  11. “Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.” Titus 2:3–5.↩︎

  12. “But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit. And what did that one do while he was seeking a godly offspring? Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth.” Malachi 2:15.↩︎

  13. For more, see “Man’s Duty to Protect Woman,” Majority Report of the Presbyterian Church in America’s General Assembly Ad Interim Study Committee on Women in the Military, 2001,↩︎

  14. For more information on embryo adoption, see the website of the National Embryo Donation Center,; or the website of Nightlight Christian Adoption’s “Snowflakes” program,↩︎

  15. See Revelation 8.↩︎

  16. Pierre Viret, The Christian and the Magistrate: Roles, Responsibilities, and Jurisdictions, trans. R. A. Sheats (Psalm 78 Ministries, 2015), ch. 7, Kindle.↩︎

  17. Speech at New Haven, Connecticut, March 6, 1860, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, vol. 4 (University of Michigan Digital Library Production Services, 2001), 21, Emphases original.↩︎