November 2019  |  Pete Jackson

Why is this a part and parcel of the calling of a pastor?

 

"Our false gods, false gospels and favourite sins converge on the issue of abortion."

(Conference 2019: Such a time as this)

Transcript | Why I teach my congregation about abortion once a year

In one sense once we’ve talked about what abortion is and what the bible says about it we have the answer to this question.  In one sense the answer is: I nicked the idea from Jon Piper.  We started teaching on it once a year, around the time of the anniversary of the passing of the 1967 bill.  We chose to start in 2017 at the 50th anniversary.  That seemed appropriate.  I don’t want to suggest the exact way we do it is the only way, though if you preach it on a Sunday it signals to your church how important you think this is.  It also gives you time to be pastoral as well as to be ‘prophetic’, to be gracious and salty.  But I do want to suggest that this is something Pastors and Teachers should be preaching and teaching on.

 

Why is this a part and parcel of the calling and ministry of a Pastor in today’s world?  And why this is something that we should address through our teaching ministry?  The reasons I want to give you are some of the reasons I gave our church leadership as to why we were going to do this.  And they are also reasons that are all rooted in a high view of the office of the Pastor, and the power of preaching, the role and responsibility of the Church in the world and of the church’s corporate worship

1. Because true gospel preaching demands it (Missional reasons)

2. Because changing the Church demands it (Reformational reasons)

3. Because tending the flock demands it (Pastoral reasons)

1. Because true gospel preaching demands it (Missional reasons)

We planted Christ Church Walkley over 7 years ago, and one of the thing I found was that as I tried to preach and disciple people in the context of our culture’s prevailing idols, false gospels and favourite sins, the issue of abortion was never very far. A lot of our false gods, gospels and favourite sins converge on abortion.  It is a concrete practice where we see these things made manifest, where we see where these lead and what they are really like.  I think it is this that has led some to suggest that abortion is the sacrament of secular humanism.  It’s a rite and a ritual that we do because we believe our gods will work through it to bring us their promised blessings. And true gospel preaching must deal with the actual idols/ false gospels/ favourite sins of our culture. 

 

Let me give you some examples.

 

a. Sexual revolution:  If you want to preach the gospel today you have to take on the sexual revolution.  Abortion is deeply connected to our pursuit of sexual freedom and the way we have dismantled the scriptural vision for the family, how the bonds between men and women have been loosened.  We have a masculinity crisis.

b. Materialism: Abortion is also related to the false gods and gospels associated with materialism.  What happens when we believe that we are valuable and meaningful particularly as economic agents?  When a good job and career is an expectation or even a right?  One of the things that happens is abortion. Because babies are costly, and interrupting your career is costly.  What happens when you teach people that personal autonomy and choice is a key value for true life?  One of the things that happens is abortion.

c. The State:  The State is an enormous idol.  Where else do we look to for our daily bread, for the wisdom which will give us true life, for our peace and security and prosperity?  Abortion unmasks this idol for what it is too.  In abortion our State neglects its true God-given duties (protect the innocent and punish murder/ unlawful killing).  All the while the State meddles in other areas where the bible would leave people free.  In short, we have a government that will tell us what sort of light-bulbs we are allowed to use , but which will not protect human life in the womb until 24 weeks.  True gospel preaching should address the State itself.  Rulers and leaders are not exempt from the call of the gospel.

d. Progress:  We are progressive people.  We are uniquely positioned in the history of the world as the knowledgeable and the wise.  We are getting better and will continue to make things better.  We are (or must try to be) so much better than the savages and ignorant who have gone before us, steeped in superstition and religion.  And yet when the gods ask us for our children as the necessary sacrifice for their promised blessings, we oblige along with the best of pagan societies. 

 

Abortion is a rebuttal of our claim to be scientifically advanced and rational.  Abortion is a blight on our NHS and our education system and our democracy - things we think symbolise our superiority.  We could give many other examples.

So, if ‘contextualisation’ is going to be more than cool illustrations and pop culture references, true gospel preaching should unmask these false gods, false gospels and favourite sins for what they are.  It’s part of what Christ is saving us from (delivers us from our sins, frees us from idols, opens our eyes to the truth).  Doing that is going to mean getting to the issue of abortion.  Or it is going to mean a conscious choice to ignore it.

2. Because changing the Church demands it (Reformational reasons)

 

Abortion is also a focal point for many things that are wrong with the Church and churches.  We fall in line with, fall in love with, and fall victim to the same gods, gospels and sins.  If we’re going to tackle these issues within the church we’re going to get to the issue of abortion.  We are guilty of many of the same attitudes towards life, wealth, purpose, identity, marriage, sex and the family, which have either caused or continue to provide a supporting rationale for abortion.  Even where we have not participated directly in abortions, we have been guilty of the same sins which have led our culture to abortion.

In fact there’s more.  Because the church is in the world as salt and light, we bear a responsibility for what the world around us tastes like and how dark it is.  Yes, the sovereignty of God and the mysterious irrational nature of sin, but there is a link between the health and faithfulness of the church and the state of the nation.  Someone has said that the walls of the church are porous, so the flow is either from the church out or from the world in.

Abortion represents a failure by the church to stay true to God’s word and say controversial things.  It brings into focus our desire to be liked, the way we’ve used evangelism as an excuse for compromise.  We think the gospel succeeds off the back of our popularity.

The (only truly transformative and effective) answer to abortion is the gospel, and yet somehow the church has often used ‘the gospel’ as an excuse to not talk about abortion.  So it’s a clear example of where we have stunted the true depth and reach of the gospel and preached a truncated Jesus.  The excuse is often given that we don’t speak about abortion because it is a ‘political issue’ but when the church refuses to preach the gospel into an issue of injustice as serious as abortion where the culture’s idols come so clearly into view, it reveals we are radically politicised.  We have accepted the small (and ever-shrinking) corner that has been given us in the secularism settlement and we are willing to blunt the word of God, truncate the gospel, and restrain the saving Lordship of Christ in order to keep to our lane. 

 

3. Because tending the flock demands it (Pastoral reasons) 

 

People in our churches work in careers and workplaces where this is an issue, e.g. Midwives, GPs.  They are looking for help and support, teaching and discipleship.  If we won’t provide it for them as their Pastors then who will?  What’s more, people will take their lead from the preached word.  Silence in the pulpit trains them for silence in the workplace and wider society.  How can we expect them to be brave and courageous on this out in the culture if we are going to be cowards in the church?  It is naive to assume that people in our church already think clearly on this.  Our silence on this doesn’t leave a vacuum.  If we don’t teach on it the culture already is.

Likewise it is naive to assume no-one in our church ever has had or ever will have an abortion.  People will have abortions because we don’t teach on it.  And others will carry the guilt around with them because they think our silence means it is so wicked it cannot be forgiven.  And women who have been forced to have an abortion will think we don’t care.  And men who’ve had their babies aborted against their will, will think we don’t care

 

Finally, the ministry of the Pastor-teacher is one of the ministries given by Christ to the church to equip the saints for the work of ministry.  In one sense everything we’ve said already is included under that.  But unless we think that the tragedy and injustice of abortion, and all the surrounding tragedies and injustice, are something that Christians ought to be ignoring, then that means here is an area for Christian speech and action and service that we need to be equipping the people for.  Just as the direction of flow should be from the church out (salt and light), the direction of flow is from the pulpit out, because it’s from the word out. The ministry of the word is given to change and grow and train the people of God for all their other ministry.

 

In that sense we can trace our abortion tragedy right back to the pulpit.  (The church is supposed to shape the world, but the church is shaped by the ministry of the word.  So guess what happens when the pulpit is silent    on the issue of abortion?  It’s like we’re stemming the flow of gospel grace at the source), and if we can trace the problem of abortion back to the pulpit, the solution has to start there, right?

It is just a start.  We’re trying to keep asking what else and what next on abortion.  And the aim is obedient response, speaking and action from the church members.  We don’t want to be a church that salves our conscience once a year by ticking a box.  But it is a start.  What I’ve tried to show is that discharging our duty to preach the gospel, reform the church and care for the flock leads us to the issue of abortion.

But I want to finish with a final thought about courage.  “Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality. ”  C. S. Lewis.  How do you know whether you are really loving, compassionate, truthful, kind, generous?  When those things are unpopular, and costly.  When it gets tested.  Doesn’t abortion represent just such a point of testing?  Will we be loving when the culture will interpret our love as hate?  Will we be truthful when the truth will be deeply unpopular?  It’s easier to run mercy ministry when the world around us agrees that there’s a need that should be met.  But what about when it’s something that we’re told is none of our business?  But I’m talking about the pastoral ministry here particularly.

It’s easy to preach faithfully when the idols are the idols of another culture.  Or when the sins and injustices you’re calling out were from 100 years ago.  But will we be faithful to Christ, and his word, and his flock, when it is uncomfortable and costly.  Why do I preach on abortion once a year?  Because it helps prevent me from being a coward.  It helps keep me honest.