So a funny story: A couple of years ago, while I was driving down Main Street at my old college, I happened upon a young family holding several disgusting pictures of dead children killed by abortion. I was driving by at a decent clip, so I didn’t get to see their faces, but I became instantly angry. I remember thinking, “You know it’s people like that that make the world think that Christians are a bunch of unloving lunatics.”
Fast forward a year, and I start seeing posts on facebook from an old college friend named Liz. Also holding signs with disgusting pictures, she apparently had become a pro-life activist. After the initial shock, I thought, “Good for you, Liz!” remembering her former lukewarm Christianity (Actually, according to her, she wasn’t even a genuine believer back then).
Then one night I happened to be on facebook; my evening plans had been canceled, and she invited me to instead watch the abolitionist declaration of sentiments on live stream. I said “sure”, and…the rest is history :-P.
Now I’m one of those jerks out in the culture holding pictures of dead children. How did that happen? I didn’t even remember the encounter at my college until several months after I became an abolitionist. When I did, I did a face-palm. “That was Liz!” I realized; she goes there regularly with her kids to fight abortion on the front lines of this culture war. I was angry with a wonderful, loving sister in Christ because I did not understand her reasons for confronting our culture in this way, with graphic images.
On Sunday a big group of us were outside of Walmart in Morgantown, and Conner and I had a surprisingly long and fruitful conversation with a Christian woman who seemed to genuinely want to understand us, and why Christians would act in a way that feels so unloving. This is a common question I encounter, one that I once held myself, so I think it might be helpful for me to write up a post on the matter to explain where we’re coming from.
So why graphic images? One pragmatic answer I sometimes hear from the abolitionist side is very simple – because they work (and my growing collection of experience actually agrees with this assessment). Men and women who haven’t already sinned in this area are impacted by the signs, and don’t want anything to do with killing children. They also don’t want anything to do with us for that matter, but that’s all right :-).
The opposing Christian argument you tend to hear is that “it isn’t loving.” It makes people who have had abortions feel bad (and we all know that Jesus never made people feel bad about their sin). Satire aside, intentionally going out of our way to bring a person grief is not something we as Christians should take lightly, and if we are going to do so in Jesus’ name, such a practice must be entirely consistent with the light of scripture.
Fortunately, abolitionism offers a systematic understanding of evil that is thoroughly grounded in scripture, and while knowledge systems are certainly fallible, we generally do very little without evaluating our actions against the express word of God. Is there a solid, biblical reason compelling us to hold images of the slaughtered preborn, or are we just a bunch of jerks and/or crazy people?
My journey in this area was significantly helped by my time in Reformed circles. One of the enemies that is constantly discussed in that brand of Christianity is a category of thought called “Antinomianism” (“anti” meaning “against”, “nom” meaning “law”) – Christianity that implicitly or explicitly opposes the idea of believers being under God’s law. “We are not under law, but under grace” is a common mantra pulled from (a misuse of) Romans 6:14.
Because the Reformation had such a focus on God’s grace as the foundation of Christian living, some who came out of that era began to devalue the importance of law. Ever since then, theologians (especially the Reformed) have been grappling with Antinomianism and the role of God’s law in the world. Here’s a book that’s on my to-read list, for any interested:
One of the byproducts of this struggle is that Reformed people (at least those in my life) seem to have a really well-developed understanding of the law. Don’t ever tell them I said that; they’ll make me eat my words later (I hold some pretty solid disagreement with the way they frame the Torah and Ten Commandments). But the emphasis they place on the law of God has helped many including myself to understand its critical role in sharing the gospel. A person will not admit that he needs a savior if he does not believe that he is a desperate sinner in the hands of a righteous God.
Throughout scripture you see a pattern of God presenting His law, unflinching beside the unmerited favor He promises to those who repent. In Romans, the most systematic presentation of the gospel in scripture, Paul spends the first two and a half chapters bringing every living soul under the judgment of God’s law, so that he can then present the glorious hope found in Messiah. You see this same pattern in the Torah, and in the prophets – impending judgment, paired with hope for those who would repent (Isaiah 1, Amos 5 etc.)
We live in a church culture that has a high emphasis on grace, and a lacking emphasis on the law of God. As Pastor Joel noted this Sunday, “We have so much grace that we don’t even need it anymore.” Unbelievers are told, quite readily, that Jesus offers forgiveness for sin, but so often we skimp on holding them accountable to the very standard which reveals our need for Christ (Rom 3:20).
Sharing the law is a crucial component of sharing the gospel. This is true when dealing with an individuals’ sin, and it is especially true when dealing with sins made legal by a ruling government – such as abortion, homosexual marriage, no-fault divorce etc. Pastor Matt Trewhella drives home this point in a video series he made on the Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrate.
“Pietism, which teaches that Christianity should be a purely private matter, and that God’s law should have nothing to do with the governance of nations always tells us that we’re wasting our time to be involved in trying to see good laws established in our nation. They mock it as mere moralizing.
“For example, if someone becomes involved in trying to pass laws agains abortion, the pietist immediately objects, and says, ‘That’s an utter waste of time. Women are not saved by not having abortions, but by hearing the gospel. We should just preach the gospel.’
“Though what the pietist says sounds spiritual, in reality it works against his position of men coming to know Christ, not to mention it promotes lawlessness in society. First, the law of God should be honored among men, and one way it is honored is that it is reflected in the laws of a nation. Second, the preborn should be protected from murder and an unjust death. And third, people who are involved in abortion are more apt to see their guilt, and therefore their need for Christ, if the laws of the nation do reflect the law and justice of God.
“These truths do not contradict what the pietist is trying to accomplish – seeing men won to Christ – these two positions are not opposed to each-other. In fact it is the hope of both positions to see men won to Christ. The pietist simply misunderstands that his position actually hinders precisely what he is trying to accomplish.
“The point is, good law which affirms or mirrors the law and justice of God helps men to see their need for Christ. Bad law which impugns or contravenes the law and justice of God helps men ignore or justify their sin. When the law and justice of the magistrates mirrors the law and justice of God, people are more readily able to see God’s justice, and therefore their guilt before Him for violating His law. But when the magistrates rebel, and make law contrary to the law of God, it hinders people from clearly seeing their sin and guilt, and hence their need for Christ.
“To learn more about the Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates, go to LesserMagistrate.com.”
– The Laws of a Nation Should Mirror the Law and Justice of God
Holding people accountable to the law of God is a central part of our message as Christians, and it is a HUGE theme in the Bible, old and new testaments. And when God’s people became so stubborn and deaf that they would not yield to His law preached with the spoken word, He sent men like Ezekiel to show it to them through disturbing images (Ez 2:5, 4:1-15).
We serve a God who is infinitely gracious and longsuffering, even to sinners such as me. But He is also a God of unflinching justice and wrath toward the arrogant, and it would be a poor reflection of His character to share only His grace at the expense of His justice. People need to know that they are sinners before they can sense their need for Jesus, and we are doing them a favor by confronting them with His law.
I often think of this issue in terms of leprosy, a disease which was a picture of sin in the Bible. Lepers were considered the “walking dead” in Israel, and were not entirely unlike what’s often seen in modern zombie movies. They would be missing noses, feet, hands and limbs – not because the disease was particularly damaging, but because it took away their ability to feel pain.
Pain is a guardian that protects us when we put our hand on a sharp object or burning flame. It isn’t pleasant to be burned, but it teaches us to avoid those things which would hurt and kill us. God’s law is very much the same way – it’s like a shooting pain that tells us when something is wrong. It isn’t pleasant to experience that pain, but it helps us to know when to pull our hand back from the flame in repentance. Pain is not the enemy; the true danger comes when we can no longer feel that pain, and we stumble like the walking dead into something that will take our life.
As a nation we are walking around, dead in our trespasses and sins, devoid of feeling, and we need the law of God to wake us up so that we can see our need for Jesus. Below is a video of our challenge to the culture last Sunday, a joint operation between Absoc Allentown, Absoc Philly, and Independence Reformation Bible Church. Thanks go out to Conner for putting the video together, and HUGE thanks go to Pastor Joel for sacrificing so much of your (already strained) time to stand with us. Words cannot convey how encouraging it is to have a pastor who loves the Word, and who loves the Lord standing with us, in word and in deed.