Why I Am Not An Abortion Abolitionist - Part 2 - Bible
The last post took us to the theological reason that I don’t believe Abolition will not work. That theological reason is Common Grace. God is only partially restraining sin in the unbelieving world; therefore we can only expect a partial stop of abortion. It will be more or less in different places and different times. We must always strive for the fullest and most complete end of abortion that we can, but there is only so much that can be done in an unbelieving world.
Today I want to look at a few specific biblical texts. We are not going to look at what the Bible says about the value of life, the nature of humans as made in the image of God, the evil and guilt of shedding innocent blood and the like. Those are some of the many reasons every Christian must want to see abortion end immediately. But for this discussion, our focus will be upon the question of method. Is there anything in scripture that gives us indications about how we should deal with ending certain sins in an unbelieving world?
Incrementalism And Slavery
Probably the closest we can come to a similar sin that the culture embraced as normal was the sin of slavery. Even here there are some immediate differences. It is not inherently wrong for one person to serve another. Both the Old and New Testaments speak of ways that it could be done righteously. Paul wrote to slave holders in the churches and commanded them to be good slave holders. So that is a significant difference. There is no good version of abortion.
But there are clearly sinful kinds of slavery. Man-stealing is evil as well as all of the abuses that were often committed against slaves. The Bible commands that those things are to be immediately and totally stopped by Christians in the churches. But even more than that, the bigger picture of slavery was that it was still an inferior model. Paul counseled slaves that if they could attain freedom they should do it (1 Cor. 7:21).
So with all of that evil slavery happening in the Roman world, which included not only horrific abuse but also the taking of human life, what do we find as the Christian imperative regarding action steps to end slavery in the Roman world? Were Christians to demand that it all must stop immediately and all the slaves released? Not even close. What we find is the concept of incrementalism. The approach to end slavery was gospel brotherhood, and this is most clearly seen in the book of Philemon. Onesimus the slave was getting sent back to Philemon by Paul. Philemon was not abusing Onesimus but he hadn’t freed him either. What did Paul want to happen?
For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. Philemon 15–16
Paul wanted the gospel to transform people. It would be a transformation that turns a person first into someone to give our life for, and then into a brother or sister in Christ. This transformation would be one by one, and little by little. This incremental transformation was what would eventually be the end to an inferior, and often appallingly abusive, culture of slavery.
Without doubt, abortion is a greater evil with no positive features in any sense. But that also means that slavery would have been an even easier arena to bring cultural change. Unlike abortion, slavery could be done in ways that bless and honor people. If Paul didn’t issue calls to change, or even ban, slavery immediately, then why do we think Paul would support calls to do something even harder to achieve in a culture?
Incrementalism and a Cup of Cold Water
Jesus spoke a lot about rewards. Rewards for service are meant to motivate us to do what really matters. That forces us to know what kinds of service actually matters. If we do the wrong things we will lose the rewards that are promised. The Abolition Movement says that any service done to save babies that is not saving all babies is a service that will not only lose reward but actually be condemned by the Lord. They say incremental service is a compromised service, an illegitimate service. It is service that won’t be rewarded even though it has saved many babies from death.
However, this doesn’t seem to match the way Jesus spoke of service and reward. In one of the most surprising statements about reward Jesus said the following: (colon)
“And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.” Matthew 10:42
A cup of cold water isn’t much. Consider the needs that children in that day may have had: malnutrition, vulnerability, poor education, abuse. A cup of cold water is the smallest of acts. It is the smallest of steps toward any kind of total solution. But Jesus doesn’t scorn it. It is one little part and each part fits into the whole. This is incremental service and Jesus says it will be rewarded.
Incrementalism and Doing What You Can
Paul gives two chapters in 2 Corinthians (8 & 9) to speak about giving and meeting needs. The Macedonian church set the example of faithful giving for the Corinthians to follow. That example was one of eagerness and faithfulness, not an example of wealth and power. Paul made it clear over and over that in giving it is the attitude of the heart that mattered most. You must have joy, earnestness and cheerfulness. The amounts given did not matter. The reason that amounts don’t matter is because one’s level of ability to give is something that God is responsible for. God gives some people much and others little. That is God’s doing. What we are responsible for is our heart. Whether we have a little or a lot, is it given and used cheerfully?
The issue of ability is key to our point. When people do not have ability, God does not hold them responsible for doing or giving what is outside of their means. It would be good to look at a variety of verses that demonstrate this.
But now finish doing it also, so that just as there was the readiness to desire it, so there may be also the completion of it by your ability. For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. 2 Corinthians 8:11–12
On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come. 1 Corinthians 16:2
And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea. Acts 11:29
“She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial. Mark 14:8
If Christians had the ability to end abortion today would we not do it? I am sure we would. But that is simply not the case. Paul did not heap reproach upon the churches because they were not demanding or effecting the immediate end to slavery in the Roman world. And why not? Because Paul knew they had absolutely no power or standing in the government. Paul himself was not issuing that kind of demand to government officials about the significant moral issues of the day. Why not? Because he had no power or authority to do such a thing either. All he had was the power of the gospel to change lives little by little.
There does seem to be a sense that Abortion Abolitionists have become so accustomed to democracy and the power of citizens to move our government that they have forgotten democracy is still new to the world scene. It would be interesting to know if Abolitionists make abolition demands upon Chinese Christians and North Korean Christians. Our voting power is a wonderful thing that we should steward well. But even with such blessed participation in governmental decisions, we simply do not have the ability to do what we want yet. Perhaps a nation-wide revival will give Christianity an ability to move culture once again. But currently we do not have it.
So what do we do? We do all that we can do. We make the most of the ability we have. Little by little we can save more and more lives. But we should not let all babies die until we can save them all. Let’s save the ones we can with the ability we have while we work and pray for total abolition.
More in Pastor Jay's Blog
November 1, 2023Why I Am Not An Abortion Abolitionist - Part 2 - Bible
September 30, 2023Why I Am Not An Abortion Abolitionist. Part One - Theology
July 14, 2023What's In A Name