Two Challenges

As we draw to an end, two challenges before us need to be examined. In both cases, the difficulty of our task of calling God’s people to repentance over abortion may lead us to throw up our hands with despair, turning aside from the work because we had not counted the cost or difficulty of that task beforehand. These two challenges then need to be clarified so we may be wise in carrying out our prophetic work.

Challenge 1: Restoring Our Depleted Understanding of the Image of God in Man

Watching the selectivity of moderns choosing their objects of compassion, the Christian soon comes to the necessary conclusion that compassion now is based on feelings, and those feelings are awakened only by finding oneself identifying with a victim personally. The compassion of moderns is reserved for those who tug on their heartstrings, and wokeism is our parading those heartstrings.

This superficiality of modern compassion is the center of our inability to awaken the people of God to the horror of murdering our little ones by means of hormonal birth control. The two-day-old child is hard for anyone to feel empathy towards,245 so he awakens no one’s compassion. What we’re left with, then, is the objective fact of his bearing the image of God. This is his ironclad claim to life, but this doctrinal truth does not tug heartstrings.

Can it really be true that, concerning bloodshed, the church today has turned from truth to feelings?

Again, if 1 and 2 Corinthians teach us anything, it is that the church is never immune to the sins of the surrounding culture, and this is particularly true concerning the bloodshed of innocents. The Lutheran Church in the time of the Third Reich and the Evangelical Christians of Rwanda in the time of their genocide mark this truth with an exclamation point. So today, the selectivity of our compassion and concern for life has reached a level best described as lunacy.

Stop for a second and think about the laws protecting dolphins and the eggs of bald eagles. Think about the national outpourings of anguish over whether or not the newborn panda bear at this or that zoo will survive. Think about the regular headlines and pictures of cats trapped in trees, and firefighters’ attempts to rescue them. Think about the compassion of social justice warriors opposing racism and human trafficking and the effect of climate change on unborn generations.

There is no end to the masses’ riots of indignation and demands for government action on behalf of Mother Nature, almost every sort of animal, and endless oppressed people groups. Many never stop shouting down others over these things. The parading of one’s moral superiority in such matters may well be the central theme of social media. The discovery of a new people group or species suffering some new, heretofore unrecognized, injustice is a vein of riches greater than any found during the Klondike Gold Rush.

But why do these waves of discovery of injustice and compassion toward a succession of victims never extend to the unborn? Even among Christians whose compassion does extend to the unborn killed surgically later in pregnancy, why does this compassion for some preborn not continue backwards to the little one trying to implant in her mother’s womb shortly after conception? Surely she deserves some small benefit from our much-ballyhooed tenderness for the weak and oppressed?

Once we have the wisdom to question the eliciting of our compassion today, and its relevance to our battle against abortion, the answer becomes clear. Preborn children don’t tug at our heartstrings because their existence is hidden in the secret places, seen only by the God who created them. The mother can’t see or feel these little ones in her body. Often she kills them before she is able to establish that they exist.

She has unprotected sex, she’s forty and wondering if she may give birth to a child with Down syndrome, so just to be safe, she takes an ECP. The mother is a junior in college and has a boyfriend she expects to marry, but they’re living together and both are Christians, so they make provision for their flesh by getting on the Pill. The pastor’s daughter gets drunk with the son of an elder at a party one night and they copulate. The next morning, though, filled with horror, the daughter runs to the Kroger pharmacy and asks the pharmacist for the morning-after pill. The deacon and his wife already have five children and have decided they can’t afford a Christian education for those five if they have any more, so she pays her OB-GYN to insert an IUD.

In each of these cases, there’s plausible deniability of any knowledge of pregnancy, so the act of hormonal birth control seems morally unremarkable. Note that word “seems.” Add to this the small percentage of the abortifacient agency of hormonal methods of birth control, and it’s no wonder the people of God feel no pangs of conscience when they use these methods. “Everything in life involves risk,” they say.

However, move the timeline forward: the mother’s period is late, she feels sick to her stomach and takes a pregnancy test and it’s positive. See then how that mother reacts to a casual offer of a smoke or her girlfriends getting together for drinks or her family telling her to take a ride on the roller coaster at King’s Island. This woman has turned into a whole different person called “mother,” so no thank you, no thank you, and thank you very much—but no. Move the timeline forward a few weeks more after the baby has woken this mother up with shifting and kicking her womb, and try again the smoke, the drink, or the roller coaster. Oh my, there is nothing and no one more intense than a mother whose newborn has quickened. She is hardwired to die protecting her little one now.

What has changed?

The mother knows she has a baby now, and she has bonded with that baby physically and emotionally. In other words, her perceptions of the life God has created within her are acute, and they tug at every one of her heartstrings. This is her precious child!

But was the child precious before the pregnancy test? Before he moved and kicked? To put it another way, is the child’s life and claim on his mother’s protection a function of her personal perceptions of his value? Or is it the simple fact of God’s creation of this little one in His own image?

Every Christian knows the truth. Man’s value is not a function of his ability to elicit empathy or sympathy from others, but the prior fact of his creation by God who, at the moment of conception, placed within him His own image and likeness. Thus as we have said repeatedly, this little one’s murder is prohibited by God because this little one is His image-bearer.

It’s understandable that pagans who flip all God’s distinctions upside down would feel no guilt over killing babies they have not yet bonded with physically or emotionally. It’s even understandable that they would be able to descend to that level of hell where they feel no guilt over killing their own babies after quickening. Such women are dead in their trespasses and sins and need to be born again by the Holy Spirit, that they might be horrified at their sin and flee to Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

But Christians? What do we say to women of God and their husbands who feel no guilt over practicing birth control that has an abortifacient agency in the first days of life?

Several passages come to mind:

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:2)

For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not commit murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. (James 2:11)

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

“Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you.” (Eph. 5:11–14)

Note that command, “expose them.” This is one of the major purposes of this document—to open up the sin of this violation of the Sixth Commandment, including opening up the sad truth that worldlings have no slightest qualms over the morality of killing living beings they can’t see or feel who are incapable of eliciting any slightest empathy or sympathy from them.

Living in this culture of death, Christians need this great sin exposed to us also. We must have the degraded state of our empathy and compassion demonstrated to us. We must be reminded of the image of God in man—particularly that image in the little man or woman in our womb struggling to attach himself or herself there in order to receive his mother’s protection and nurture.

Until the image of God in teeny-weeny babies is exposed once more by the light of the Word of God, there will be no repentance within the church over our ubiquitous and incessant killing of our God-given sons and daughters. We may not see any quick restoration of our ability to see and recognize and cherish His image, but this objective fact must lead us to repentance and set us free from our bloodshed.

This truth of the image of God in man from the moment of conception must be taught repeatedly, fervently, and with all authority. No other truth will do.

Challenge 2: Maintaining the Unity of the Body of Christ

The second problem we face in leading the church to repent of abortion is schism. Among the people of God within His church, calls to repentance are always divisive. How much more so, then, when we are called to repent of the sacrifice of our unborn children to the idols of our hearts. Naturally, the response will often be hostility. Brothers and sisters in Christ will accuse this call to repentance of being divisive within the church.

It’s always been true that some whose consciences are tender repent, while some with consciences that are seared or hardened refuse and attack those who preach to them. Our Lord spoke this tender lament:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! (Matt. 23:37–38)

During His week of passion, our Lord prayed for His people that we would be one as He and His Father are One. He said our unity would show the world His Father had sent Him (John 17:21). Much is at stake with the unity of the body of Christ, but this unity is not a simple or straightforward thing.

Five centuries ago, the Protestant reformers sought to restore the gospel of regeneration in the power of the Holy Spirit to the Christian church. The response of Rome to the reformers who condemned the selling of indulgences was to threaten their lives, then excommunicate them. Rome’s priests never stopped condemning the reformers for schism, and the reformers never stopped defending themselves against this charge.

Similarly, one century ago, J. Gresham Machen strongly condemned the denial of the gospel and many fundamental doctrines of Scripture by missionaries and church officers of his time. Calling for the restoration of biblical Christianity to the church and God’s sheep, he wrote his classic Christianity and Liberalism, whose call for division is resident in that very title. His message was that the liberalism of the Presbyterian church at the time was a different religion than Christianity, and that the church must separate from liberals who called themselves Christians.

Much of the church’s history in North America across the twentieth century is simply the outworking of Machen’s clarion call for reform implemented in mission after mission, denomination after denomination, church after church, carried in waves across the continent in city, town, and village. In time, those dividing from liberals came to be known broadly as “Evangelicals,” regardless of their denominational or doctrinal affiliation, and those liberals who refused to repent were cut off.

The reigning religious authorities of the time accused these reformers of schism, but were they truly schismatics? Who was responsible for the division of the church at the time of the Reformation? Rome, or reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin? Who caused schism in the battle over liberalism? The liberal pastors and seminary professors of the Presbyterian church, or J. Gresham Machen whom they condemned and defrocked?

In Galatians, the Apostle Paul did not hesitate to divide the church by his denouncements and anathemas against those within the church calling for the Gentiles to be circumcised. If we believe Paul did so under his apostolic authority and his words here are inspired by the Holy Spirit, we acknowledge the rightness of his divisive statements such as:

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! (Gal. 1:6–9)

Strong words, those, and they are fully justified by what is at stake, which was the preaching of a different gospel which was no gospel at all. If the people of God in the church of Galatia allowed themselves to be circumcised, they were turning aside and following preachers the Apostle Paul said were to be damned.

There are many other places in Scripture where God’s servants called for division from false preachers and prophets, and they did so not because they were seeking to please their listeners and readers, but because they loved the unity of the bride of Christ and knew the false teachers’ assaults on the purity of the doctrine of salvation was destroying that unity. John the Baptist, Jesus, the Apostle Paul, Luther, Calvin, Bucer, Knox, and Machen are all alike in this.

We must grow in our discernment concerning the nature of the church’s unity, so that we can distinguish between reformers and schismatics. After all, every schismatic claims to be a reformer. The Judaizers of the New Testament church preached another gospel as restorationists, as prophets, as the only men truly concerned for the unity of the body of Christ. They said they had to preach circumcision in order to restore unity in God’s truth among God’s people.

There are no false prophets, false apostles, false preachers, or false shepherds dividing the church with false doctrine who neglect to claim they are the true healers of Christ’s body, restoring the unity of ages past through what in truth is their schism.

First then, the unity of the church is protected by distinguishing between true shepherds and false shepherds, the true church and the false church. Any work of reform must be recognized as an effort, not at division of the true church, but the reform of this church. The church reformed must always continue pursuing that reformation.

Those who condemn the exposure of false ethics and doctrine because of the divisive nature of that exposure must keep in mind John Calvin’s warning:

“Peace” is certainly a pleasing word; but cursed is the peace that is obtained at so great a cost that there is lost to us the doctrine of Christ, by which alone we grow together into a godly and holy unity.246

There is a godly unity, but also an ungodly unity. What ought we to call that unity that defends the practice of hormonal birth control by denying the image of God in the unborn present from the moment of conception? What ought we to call that unity that condemns those who call for repentance in this matter, claiming they are schismatic?

This brings us to another consideration, though, which must be thought through carefully.

The Apostle Paul condemned those false preachers who called for the Gentile believers to be circumcised, and he sought to expel them from the body of Christ, but at the same time he also condemned the division in the body of Christ over meat sacrificed to idols. This second division over meat was a matter of “weaker” and “stronger brothers,” and while making it clear that one group was “stronger,” he nevertheless commanded both sides to “accept one another.” It was not that there was no truth in the matter, but that this doctrinal disagreement was not to divide the people of God.

There have been innumerable divisions in the history of the church of a similar nature, where one group is properly called “strong” and the other “weak.” Is the division between those who do and those who do not use hormonal birth control of such a nature that it is right to label those who condemn these early methods of birth control “weaker brothers” and those who use them “stronger brothers”? Maybe it’s unfair to word it that way? Maybe it should be left up to the individual church or family whether to label those who repent of hormonal birth control “weaker” or “stronger”?

As we come to the end of this document, it is obvious those who have adopted this call to the church to repent of abortion do not believe abortion is properly spoken of as a secondary or tertiary matter in which Christians should agree to disagree. Abortion is a matter of life and death, and not the life and death of dolphins or cats or the murderer on death row, but the life and death of our own precious sons and daughters made in the image and likeness of God.

In this connection, keep in mind God’s command to the sons of Israel not to “play the harlot” with those sacrificing their children to Molech by disregarding this heinous crime committed by their neighbors. Keep in mind His warning that the penalty of this disregard will be His cutting them off from the people of God:

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. 20:4–5)

But what if, as in Solomon’s time, the people of God have become inured to the horror and wickedness of child sacrifice? Is this not the case today, and does this necessitate the same sort of radical act Ezra commanded when he demanded the Jewish husbands cast out their idolatrous pagan wives?

In other words, should the church divide over abortion? Should the church divide over surgical abortion? Should the church divide over late-first-trimester abortion by mifepristone and misoprostol? Should the church divide over early-first-trimester abortion through IUDs and other hormonal methods of birth control?

Is there a simple answer to this question? Those who have adopted this paper do not speak with apostolic authority. We are not familiar with every cultural context of those who will read it, and we do not know the condition and vulnerabilities of each church that readers are members of. In one sense, we believe the division of denominations and churches over abortion is necessary, yet the challenge is in the details, so we make no overarching claim about how and when that division should be accomplished.

There are many questions related to this division that require great wisdom in pastoral application. Is there a member of the church who is paid for performing abortions? Is there someone in the congregation who works for United Way or Planned Parenthood? Is there a representative serving in state government who has voted in favor of lifting restrictions on hormonal birth control methods, approving their distribution on the internet and over-the-counter in pharmacies? Is there an engaged couple who tell the pastor during their premarital counseling that they plan to use a hormonal method of birth control for the first couple of years so they can save up a down payment on a house? So they can minister in a Muslim part of the world without worrying about having a child? Is there an ER physician or physician’s assistant who is required to care for rape victims by providing them an ECP? Is there a public school teacher who is responsible to teach a sex education module which presents drugs with an abortifacient agency as “contraceptives” which “do not cause an abortion”?

The list of such challenges to any simple call for church division over abortion could be multiplied, going on for pages. The meaning of the Sixth Commandment is clearly opened and explained in many doctrinal statements of the church adopted over many centuries since the Reformation, one helpful example being the Westminster Larger Catechism cited above. Even the penalty for breaking the Sixth Commandment and the divine rationale for that penalty is recorded in Scripture concisely and precisely. We have worked hard to make it clear how abortion in all its forms is a violation of this Sixth Commandment, and that Scripture, church history, and genetics speak in unison concerning this violation.

Still, the pastoral instruction, preaching, and application of these truths to God’s flock and sheep never may disregard our necessary commitment to uphold the purity of God’s truth while also seeking the peace of Christ’s church. Sometimes division is the necessary tool of restoring the church’s peace. Sometimes not. Making this determination is not something pastors, deacons, elders (and the older women of the church who teach the younger women under the authority of those officers) may avoid. We must not shirk this responsibility. We must have faith and make pastoral decisions in light of the coming judgment of our Chief Shepherd. Jesus calls each of us to lead in such a way that we can join the Apostle Paul in stating to our sheep that we have none of their blood on our hands (Acts 20:26).

It is undeniable that even the most biblical of churches today living in the midst of this growing holocaust are unfaithful in condemning all the forms of abortion practiced in our congregations. This must end, and it must end now! Pastors must preach and teach against abortion in all its forms, doing so with love and patience, but also authority and boldness.

On the other hand, each of us will have our own way and timing of turning the ship of the church towards this repentance, but difference in timing and method must not lead us to condemn those also committed to calling for repentance from this bloodshed.

We may put it this way: the pursuit of the church’s repentance over abortion is an act of love for God and our neighbor, and that love should be obvious, even and especially when it divides those who claim the name of Christ. This is not an impossible goal. Let us give ourselves to it.

  1. We are aware this concept of “empathy” has become controversial in some parts of the church recently. No question false empathy is abroad and social media is the perfect breeding ground. While conceding that the word can be abused, the abuse of a thing does not invalidate its proper use. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “empathy” as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” Thus empathy is a critical component of the character of Christian charity:

    For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. (Heb. 4:15)

    When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. (John 11:33–35)

    And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. (1 Cor. 12:26)


  2. John Calvin, comments on Acts 15:2, The Acts of the Apostles 14–28, trans. John W. Fraser, ed. David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance (Eerdmans, 1995), 27.↩︎