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Issue #15

The Pro-Life Pastor: His Job Description and Your Responsibility

By Scott Klusendorf

What does a pro-life pastor look like? Tell him! Maybe your church will get serious about saving lives.

Suppose your pastor asks you the million-dollar question: “As a pro-life pastor, what are my responsibilities regarding the issue of abortion?” Are you ready to give him a persuasive answer that will help him engage the issue in a Christ-honoring way? Then again, don’t wait for him to ask. (He won’t.) Tell him.

You should graciously remind him that the pro-life pastor commits himself to four essential tasks. First, he preaches a biblical view of human value and applies that view to abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and cloning. Second, he equips his people to engage the culture with a persuasive defense of the pro-life view. Third, he restores lost passion for ministry with cross-centered preaching. Fourth, he confronts his own fears about preaching inconvenient truth.

Task #1: The pro-life pastor preaches a biblical view of human value. We don’t need Scripture to expressly say elective abortion is wrong before we can know that it’s wrong. The Bible affirms that all humans have value because they bear God’s image. (Gen. 1:26, 9:6, Ex. 23:7, Prov. 6:16-17, James 3: 9.) The facts of science make clear that from the earliest stages of development, the unborn are unquestionably human. Hence, Biblical commands against the unjust taking of human life apply to the unborn as they do other human beings. Moreover, if humans have value only because of some acquired property like self-awareness—as critics of the pro-life view assert—it follows that since this acquired property comes in varying degrees, basic human rights come in varying degrees. Theologically, it’s far more reasonable to argue that although humans differ immensely in their respective degrees of development, they are nonetheless equal because they share a common human nature made in the image of God. After presenting the gospel of grace (see Task #3 below), the pastor should use a short visual presentation to convey what’s truly at stake in the abortion debate. (You can watch me introduce and show a short abortion clip here:

Task #2: The pro-life pastor equips his people to engage the culture with a persuasive defense of the pro-life view. Scientifically, pro-lifers contend that from the earliest stages of development, the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings. True, they have yet to grow and mature, but they are whole human beings nonetheless. Leading embryology textbooks affirm this. Philosophically, pro-lifers argue that there is no morally significant difference between the embryo you once were and the adult you are today. Differences of size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency are not relevant in the way that abortion advocates need them to be. For example, everyone agrees that embryos are small—perhaps smaller than the dot at the end of this sentence. But since when do rights depend on how large we are? Men are generally larger than women, but that hardly means they deserve more rights. Size does not equal value. Pro-lifers don’t need Scripture to tell them these things. They are truths unchurched people can, and sometimes do, recognize.

Task #3: The pro-life pastor restores passion for ministry through cross-centered preaching. Millions of Christians have given up on a passionate pursuit of God-glorifying ministry because they feel disqualified by past sexual sins which may include abortion, premarital sex, pornography, etc. Ignoring these sins does not spare people guilt; it spares them healing. And we wonder why there is little passion for missions and pro-life advocacy in our churches?

Instead of ignoring abortion, pastors should use this difficult topic to reiterate the great truth of the gospel, which alone frees people to pursue passionate ministry for the kingdom. Far from singling out post-abortion men and women for condemnation, the gospel puts everyone in the room on the same footing before the bar of God’s justice. That gospel speaks of a holy God who designed a good world, but we rebelled against our Creator and set ourselves up as king. Although every last one of us deserved God’s almighty wrath, He held back His righteous judgment and sent Jesus to take the punishment we deserved. As a result of Christ’s sin-bearing work on their behalf, God’s people—all of them unworthy of anything but death if judged by their own merits—are declared justified by God the Father, who then adopts them as His own sons and daughters.

Task #4: The pro-life pastor confronts his own fear of distraction. Pastors sometimes ask, “Won’t addressing abortion distract the church from the gospel?” This is a legitimate concern. Our preaching must always direct sinful human beings to the righteousness that God alone provides. The good news is that we can use the topic of abortion to point people to the very gospel they so desperately need. At the same time, we should remember that God’s gospel is addressed to a particular audience, human beings. But our attempts to communicate that gospel suffer when the very definition of what it means to be human is up for grabs. Indeed, it’s hard to preach that man is a sinner, that man needs to repent, and that man can be saved only through Christ when nobody knows what a man is anymore.

To cite J. Gresham Machen, teaching Christians to engage the ideas that determine culture is not a distraction from the gospel. Rather, it removes roadblocks to it:

False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel. We may preach with all the fervor of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation or of the world to be controlled by ideas which, by the resistless force of logic, prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion. Under such circumstances, what God desires us to do is to destroy the obstacle at its root. (“Christianity and Culture, Princeton Theological Review 11 (1913): 7.)

In short, it’s not either/or: We can preach the gospel and confront false ideas, including the one that says humans have no intrinsic value.

Admittedly, confronting your pastor on his need to address moral evil isn’t easy. I’m reminded of a World War Two story I read at the Holocaust Museum in D.C. Surprising though it may seem, General Dwight D. Eisenhower had to be badgered by a Jewish aide into finally visiting a death camp. Here was Eisenhower’s reaction after viewing one: “The things I saw beggared description.” He ordered aides to ensure that as many GIs as possible saw the camps. “We are told the American solider doesn’t know what he is fighting for. Now, at least, he will know what he is fighting against.” He later told the aide, “You’re persistent as hell, and I was pissed off. But you were right” (“Hitler’s Horrors,” U.S. News and World Report, April 3, 1995).

If a Jewish aide had the guts to confront the Supreme Allied Commander with the truth, maybe we should be a little braver confronting our reluctant pastors and priests?