Article Jan 18, 2017

Pastors, speak up for the unborn

Like many churches on Sanctity of Human Life Sunday (January 22), our church will remember the dignity, beauty and goodness of human life and the horror of abortion that continues to afflict millions across our country. And for the seventh time in as many years, I plan to preach for the voiceless millions who are being taken away to the slaughter. As Proverbs 24:11--12 instructs,

Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?  

We know that millions of babies are being slaughtered every year. We knew that before the Planned Parenthood videos were released in 2014. But even more graphically, we know that thousands of children are being aborted every day—being ripped apart, sold for parts and sacrificed on the altar of sexual liberty and personal autonomy.

With such knowledge, we are accountable to weep, pray, work, march and speak out for the unborn. This is true for all Christians, but even more for pastors. And so, it’s to my brother-pastors I speak to today.

An apologia for preaching Sanctity of Human Life Sunday

Since the beginning of my preaching ministry, the month of January has always included a sermon on the sanctity of life. And I would challenge every pastor—if you are not already committed to preaching against abortion and for the sanctity of life—to ask yourself a question: Why not? What is keeping me from giving voice to the voiceless? Do I think it’s a deviation from the gospel? A betrayal of expositional preaching? A distraction from the work of the church? A detour into politics?

Brother, let me challenge you: the sanctity of human life is anything but tangential to the gospel. It stands at the center of what it means to be human, and abortion’s grip on America (not to mention the world) is one of the greatest lies Satan uses to deceive people to kill innocents. Therefore, we are called to address this national scourge with the full weight of scripture and the full power of the gospel—grace to forgive those deceived into having an abortion, and grace to stand against all those who lead others to death.

With that in mind, let me offer three reasons why gospel preachers should make it an annual habit to preach about the sanctify of human life.

1. Scripture is replete with texts speaking of God's abomination of child sacrifice.

Moses writes, "You shall not give any of your children to offer them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord" (Leviticus 18:21; cf. 20:2–5; Deuteronomy 18:10). In ancient Israel, Molech was the pagan god that promised fertile fields. In our day, Planned Parenthood has assumed Molech's mantle, sacrificing children so that their parents can pursue any number of other idols. While the Bible regularly extols the blessedness of children (see Ps. 127–28), our country treats them as inconveniences to prosperity and hindrances to sexual liberation.

Steeped in this culture, we cannot assume Jesus' disciples will naturally see these things in scripture. So, we must show from the Bible how God hates the execution of the innocent and the sacrifice of children.

2. Preaching the whole counsel of God doesn't stop with a presentation of the gospel.

Christian discipleship includes forming Christ in the life of our congregations. Therefore, discipleship in our current context must include a broken-heartedness toward abortion and the women (and men) who have been ravished by it.

Fifty-seven million abortions mean that ten's of millions of people have succumbed to this evil. They are in your churches. And they need the gospel to lift them from the depths. Ignoring this sin will not serve them; only bringing the gospel to this sin will give hope. Indeed, only the gospel has the power to give hope and help. Therefore, addressing this evil head on is not a deviation from the gospel; it is the gospel herald’s mission.

3. The gospel of the kingdom is a political message. 

The rule of Christ reaches into every area of life. Therefore, to announce Christ's Lordship cannot be restricted to individual decisions; it must impact how Christians think and act in public. Therefore, preaching on this topic is not a detour into politics; it speaks a vital message of life into a culture of death. We must not only tell people how they can be saved as individuals, but how the Lordship of Christ shapes every sphere of life.

4. If you don't teach your people about abortion, someone else will.

The worst case scenario is a people who loathe abortion, but who take no vocal stance against it because no one has shown them how. If abortion is going to be made illegal in our country, it must first become unthinkable. And the only way it will become unthinkable is for the church to winsomely and courageously and continually speak up for the unborn.

Pastor, this is your calling—to equip the saints for their works of service.

An example and exhortation to preach ethically

Last year, shortly after Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, a gentlemen from our church reported the way he spoke up at his workplace. After touring the Holocaust museum in Washington, D.C., discussion arose about whether such a "holocaust" could be repeated today. With spiritual cunning and the equipping of information given at a previous youth meeting, he addressed his peers, explaining how our country has legally put 57 million innocents to death since 1973. This assertion is both true and controversial; it was received with anger and awkwardness. But the truth was proclaimed; the abomination of abortion was exposed.

May God increase this man's tribe. And may we as pastors work and pray and encourage our people to stand and speak in their various places of influence and occupation with such boldness. Only as we take our faith public will we see the salt and light of the church have its preserving and saving effect.

Personally, I did not come to this conviction about preaching against abortion without the influence of another pastor. During his 34 years of pastoral ministry, John Piper preached over 24 sermons on the sanctity of life. His chapter "Brothers, Blow the Trumpet for the Unborn" and his model of preaching deeply shaped my thinking. May his model and the urgency of the hour exhort us to do the same.

I close with another pastor who has been influenced by Piper's preaching. Hear Jason Meyer's words (included in his recently published Sanctity of Human Life sermon on In Vitro Fertilization).

I would commend to every pastor the practice of preaching a Sanctity of Human Life sermon every year. At Bethlehem Baptist Church, our practice is to have a sermon on ethnic harmony for Martin Luther King, Jr. day. The next weekend is a sermon on Sanctity of Life (the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision). By pairing these two sermons together every January, we send a unified message. Owning a person because of the color of their skin (slavery) is today unthinkable, but it was once acceptable. We long for the day when killing a baby in the womb is as unthinkable as slavery. We will look back on abortion and the slaughter of innocent lives someday and say the same thing we say about slavery today, “what were we thinking? Why did we as a society ever allow that to happen?” (Jason Meyer, “Children are a Divine Gift Not a Human Right: Biblical Clarity and Gospel Comfort for Those Contemplating In Vitro Fertilization (IVF),” JBMW 20.2 (Fall): 49, n1)

Meyer's words remind us that expositional preaching does not avoid ethical preaching. Indeed, it cannot avoid topics that continue to plague us. Scripture speaks ethically, and we need to help our ethics-starved people understand how to think biblically about all matters of life. More personally, Meyer's  words challenge me, because to date I haven't preached a message of racial reconciliation. I need to. And this year, after preaching a message on the sanctity of human life, I have planned a sermon on racial reconciliation.  

For all of us who herald the Word, may we remember that expositional preaching must address contemporary issues. While the biblical text always dictates the shape and structure of our message, we cannot forget the pressing needs of our culture. Standing between two horizons, may God give us wisdom and boldness to proclaim the whole counsel of God—equipping saints to withstand the sins of our age, refusing to hide behind exposition as an excuse for not addressing the thorny issue of our day. Rather, let us bring the full power of biblical exposition to the subject of abortion.

Brother-pastors, let us speak up for the unborn. 

ERLC2018