The local church has the responsibility to demonstrate the life Christ makes possible by being an embassy of God’s kingdom. How so? Jonathan Leeman explains, “Indeed, the church is a kind of embassy, only it represents a kingdom of even greater political consequence to the nations and their governors. And this embassy represents a kingdom not from across geographic space but from across eschatological time.”
In his famous encyclical, Pope John Paul II introduced and developed the idea of cultures either being a culture of life or a culture of death. More comprehensive than advocacy for the unborn, important and of highest priority though that is, a culture of life encompasses the church’s and Christians’ solidarity with the weak among us – unborn in utero, unborn stored away awaiting a womb, the sick, the disabled, and the aging. John Paul, along with many other writers, have called into question the modern cultural, economic, and political trends to view the value and good of anything through the lens of efficiency, reducing everything (human beings, relationships, goods, etc.) to a means to an end and thus damaging and distorting even at the broadest levels the relationship between people and States (Evangelium Vitae 12). Christians and local churches stand between families and the State by bearing the responsibility to teach and disciple people to resist those trends and develop a culture of life in their local churches and in their local, state, and national cultures. A culture that sees the value of every human life and demonstrates those values in word and deed – in theology and practice.
As an embassy of God’s kingdom, how is a culture of life developed in word and deed within local churches? Thinking in three broad overlapping categories will help the church to avoid reductionistic approaches to being pro-life. These categories are constitutive, interlocking areas of a pro-life culture of a local church rather than separate discreet philosophies of pro-life engagement. These three areas are the church’s worship, literacy, and advocacy.
First, foundational to the church developing a pro-life culture is its’ worship. Foundational to the church’s worship is the Gospel. Christ came and tore down the veil between God and humanity and the wall of separation that stood between Jew and Gentile, and thus between all peoples on the earth (Heb. 10:20 and Eph. 2:14). A biblical worldview on the value and dignity of human life is essential to developing pro-life culture in the local church. This begins by the churches’ pastors preaching and teaching the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). By preaching the whole counsel of God, the church proclaims every human being being made in the imago dei (Genesis 1:26-27), the value and dignity of human life (Psalm 139), the care and protection of the most vulnerable among them, the sin of taking innocent human life and the forgiveness of sin and full pardon offered in the Gospel (Ex. 20:13 and 1 Cor. 15:1-3).
Not only is doctrinal clarity essential, but the church’s concrete practices as obedient to God’s word is just as important as doctrine fidelity. A local church can do a variety of things to exemplify a community that values all human life. One way is by being intergenerational in its worship and life. Integrating little ones and older ones together in life of the church displays the worth and place of every human life in Christ. Rather than an age segregated body, the church looks more like an intergenerational family, a people who treat older women are mothers, older men are fathers, younger men are brothers, and younger women are sisters. Children are shown to be not liabilities or burdens but assets and blessings to the body. The elderly and aging are not hinderances but sources of beauty and wisdom in the body. By promoting a culture of listening to and caring for the aging adults among the body, the church shows that people are not commodities to be used up and discarded but are rather to be treasured and valued even it if means joyfully sacrificing ease and comfort for the sake of them.
Second, the local church members’ literacy of pro-life arguments and issues surrounding the issue of human life will equip those church members to engage the culture of death with truth about God’s world and word. The church will be equipped to argue in the public square from the Bible and creation for the dignity and value of every human life. In God’s providence and kindness, the church currently has excellent resources of pro-life training. These resources are invaluable to church leaders and church members to develop a pro-life apologetic, being equipped to engage people with the Gospel, the Scriptures, and arguments from creation. By being literate of pro-life arguments and apologetics and all the issues surrounding the debates about life, Christians will have a comprehensive and consistent pro-life message and church culture around a nest of issues from abortion to IVF to euthanasia.
The church’s advocacy in the public and political sphere is what Christians may think mainly about when trying to create a pro-life culture in the local church. Should we reverse Roe v. Wade immediately or incrementally? Should we use graphic images in public protest at abortion clinics? Should we preach God’s wrath and grace with bull horns at abortion clinics or offer sidewalk counseling to women seeking abortions? Unnecessarily these forms of advocacy are pitted against one another rather than seen as complimenting the universal church’s broader advocacy in the world. Churches have the freedom to promote pro-life causes in their local communities along with advocating for the dismantling and abolishment of pro-abortion policy at the local, state and federal levels. At the local level, women’s resource centers need the prayer, volunteer, and financial support of the local church. Connected to supporting the work of women resource centers is the church’s own care for those in her midst that, like single mothers (and fathers) and extended family like grandparents, that are committed to keeping and caring for their children. This can be done is countless ways through radically ordinary hospitality towards those families, maybe moving them into your home rent free or helping with medical bills related to the pregnancy and post-natal care. Finally, as the church preaches and teaches God’s word, they will inevitability encounter the truth that God loves the orphan and that care for them springs from the fount of the Gospel. In Christ, God has taken orphaned sinners and adopted them as fully embraced sons and daughters. The church should promote and support a culture of adoption and foster care. Tony Merida explains “Once people actually see children adopted, see pastors coming to church with their ex-orphans, go over to visit their friends who just got back from Uganda with a new little one, then it hits them emotionally. They see that the orphans are not a cause; they are people. And once they hold an ex-orphan, play catch with an ex-orphan, it rocks their world.” The church needs its own witness to itself of God’s love for the least among us. Adoption and foster care are one way to display that reality to each other and the culture around us.
By the church’s worship, literacy, and advocacy for the unborn, local churches will be not only embassies of the kingdom of God but cultures of life in their local communities. In her worship, the church will proclaim the dignity and value of every human life created in the imago dei and sinners’ full pardon in the Gospel. In her literacy of the theological and moral issues surrounding human life, the church will confront distorted and damaging world views. And in her advocacy for the unborn, orphans, the disabled, and those aging adults among her, the church will image forth the cruciform life that Jesus calls his followers to live.
Jonathan Leeman, Political Church, 22.
Tim Walker is the Pastoral Care and Communications Pastor at First Baptist Church Biloxi in Biloxi, MS.