February 25, 2013

My dad once said, “If you have nothing to say, don’t prove it by talking!” Good advice for politicians! Okay, and for us pastors. But if you do have something to say, something positive and powerful, something life affirming and life changing then it is no time for silence. It is time to speak! 

Time to Speak in the Church
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the most positive, powerful, life-affirming, and life-changing message in the universe. The Gospel speaks directly to these issues of life and death. The Gospel, in the broad sense, speaks of what God does that gives value to human life. It may seem backward, but when it comes to speaking up for the sanctity of human life in the Church and convincing others to do the same, we need to start with the Gospel, not the prohibitions of the law. Only when we understand the value that God gives to life will we be able to realize fully the weight of the law against harming human life.

Take abortion as an example. From a pagan perspective, that which is in the womb is something. From a moral perspective, it is someone. But from a Christian perspective, it raises that which is in the womb is someone created by God, someone for whom Jesus died, and someone the Spirit desires to call into eternity. The same could be said of the embryo in the Petri dish or the elderly in the nursing home.

When confronting Goliath, David understood what was at stake. Goliath defied Israel, “I defy the ranks of Israel this day” (1 Samuel 17:10b). But David said, “I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” (17:45b). “Whom” here is singular and thus refers to God. David understood that when you defied God’s armies, you defied God. So it is with life. Defy life and you defy the Author, Redeemer and Sanctifier of life. 

In our congregations, then, we do not speak up for life because we live in a society that doesn’t, but because we serve a God who does. We do not speak up for life because life is precious, but because it is precious to God. This makes the life arena a biblical and theological arena and not a moral or political one; and this is why we are compelled to speak in our churches.

How to Speak in the Church
Whenever possible on his missionary journeys, Paul went to a synagogue. He wanted his fellow Jews to believe in Jesus as their Savior from sin. How did he go about this? In Thessalonica he “reasoned with them from the Scriptures” (Acts 17:2b). When it comes to the value of human life, we also reason from Scripture. Scripture attests to the Creator of Life (Psalm 139:13-14) and to the price to redeem life (Acts 20:28) and to God’s desire to call every human life (1 Timothy 2:4). Such reasoning does not call for anger or a judgmental attitude. It calls for speaking truth in love so we can grow up in unity in Christ (Ephesians 4:15). The Church does not grow in unity by ignoring controversial truths in order to “get along,” but by discussing them reasonably with one another based on the Word of God.

An understanding of the theological nature of the life issues compels us to speak of them in the Church. The truth compels us to label assaults on life and the Lord of Life for what they are—sin. Society conditions us not to call wrong things wrong. Indeed the push is there to call wrong things right. This influences the body of Christ. Such influence needs to be countered in our churches. No one will be calling wrong things wrong if the Church stops doing so.

But the reason we call wrong things wrong is not to shake the fist of indignation but so we can share what God, in Christ, has done about wrong things. When the magnitude of a sin against life strikes the human heart, it crushes it in a way few sins can. Those struck by such guilt need to hear the Gospel spoken and applied to that sin. 

I sometimes hear pastors say, “I don’t preach on abortion because there might be a woman out there who has had one. I do not want to offend her.” I understand the pastoral concern. But is it not a much greater offense to have what such women desperately need to hear spoken to their hearts—the objective, blood-bought cleansing of sin—and then not speak it? 

Time to Speak in Society
But the Church needs to do more than guard itself against the influence of society. It must reverse the flow of influence. Jesus, the Light of the World, calls us to be the light of the world (Matthew 5:14) and the salt of the earth (5:13). He calls us to expose the works of darkness (Ephesians 5:11) and to proclaim the Gospel to the whole of creation (Mark 16:15). Like the value God gives to human life, this, too, elevates the life issues far above the political. It makes them opportunities of influence and harvest fields for the Gospel.

How to Speak in Society
In Athens, Paul also proclaimed the resurrected Jesus as the Savior from sin. But he did not reason with the Athenians from the Scriptures. Rather he started where they were at. He reasoned with them about their “unknown god” (Acts 17:23). He did not quote Bible passages. In fact, he quoted their own poets (17:28). But he did proclaim Bible truths and eventually pointed them to Jesus. Some who heard mocked him (17:32), but others were touched by the Spirit and believed (17:34). 

We do not gain by engaging society regarding the life issues with angry and judgmental rhetoric and “Bible thumping.” But we can engage people starting where they are at. After all, we have reason, logic, science, and biology all on our side! Our objective is not to win the debate but to share Jesus! Debate may give us opportunity to do so. Our words and deeds of compassion as we reach out to those struggling with these difficult issues will also give us opportunity to do so. Some may mock us, but the Spirit will be at work and others may very well not only come to understand the value of human life, but the source of that value in our Triune God. When individuals in society are changed, society will change.

“If you don’t have anything to say, don’t prove it by talking.” But if you do have something to say that changes hearts and mind and lives, it is no time for silence. It is time to speak!