The apostle Paul noted that “if the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, no one will prepare himself to the battle.” His point: If what we're hearing doesn't sound to us like a clear call from God, even when it is, we're unlikely to mobilize.
History bears this out. It is precisely what happened with the transatlantic slave trade. One of the reasons it took so long to end that horrific business is that too few Christians believed that God wanted them to actively oppose it. The biblical message they heard on the issue was confused and indistinct, like a trumpet giving an uncertain sound. As a result there was no consensus, no united front, and slavery continued.
It wasn't that the message was not loud enough: Everyone heard the noise that was being made over slavery. It was that the message was not clear enough: The people of God were getting mixed signals and thus weren't sure what their responsibility was.
From abolitionists they heard biblical arguments against slavery. From some clergy, willing for different reasons to justify slavery, they heard other supposedly “biblical” arguments that either sanctioned slavery, or at the very least downplayed how important it was to God that it be abolished.
The result? The church did not rally to the battle, at least not in sufficient numbers. What the church ought to have done, and arguably could have done, peacefully, the state had to do by bloody civil war.
History Repeating Itself
What happened years ago with slavery is happening again today with abortion. Churchgoers are hearingconflicting messages, all supposedly “biblical,” and the result is distressingly the same: Indifference, inaction, and staggering loss of innocent human life as the horrid practice continues virtually unopposed.
Today's abolitionists are waging the war against abortion apathy with largely the same apologetic weapons employed in the fight against slavery. To be sure, we are using the latest and best scientific and sociological data available, which is good. And we are using Scripture to persuade our fellow Christians, which is also good—in fact necessary, because as someone has said, “abortion will end when the church wants it to end.”
The problem is we are attempting to do it using Scripture in the same way our forebears used it, mostly through isolated proof-texts whose impact is relatively easy to blunt or deflect. If we want to expedite the end of the church's passive acceptance of a culture of death we must do more.
Relying on Proof-Texts
There are a number of reasons the church is not clear on how breathtakingly important the abortion issue is to God. One is that the word “abortion” doesn't appear in the Bible. Many sincere believers conclude from this that pro-life activism must be of marginal importance to God, else He would have spelled it out explicitly.
Seeking to be “biblical,” these believers define Christian duty in proportion to the number of proof-texts that can be amassed. Activities that are clearly “proof-textable,” such as evangelism and Bible teaching, come to be viewed as practically the sole mission of the church, while pro-life activism and other such “unproof-textable” causes are relegated to the bottom of the list as mere adjuncts to the church's mission.
Such reasoning is seriously flawed. Think about it: There are some things, even some of the most atrocious evils imaginable, against which no clear verse of Scripture may be mustered. Pedophilia and child abuse are among dozens of examples we could cite. Does that mean God doesn’t have the strongest conceivable abhorrence of such evils and that Christians should be passive on them?
The fact is, there is much more to being biblical than having watertight proof-texts.
What it Means to be ‘Biblical’
As I noted in a previous BreakPoint piece, being “biblical” means being true to the spirit, not just the letter, of Scripture. Sometimes proof-texts convey readily only the letter. The Pharisees were infamous for keeping the letter but neglecting the “weightier things”—i.e., the spirit—of the law. To discern the spirit we must identify underlying principles: not just what the Scripture says, but what it means.
So just what is a principle? And how does it differ from a proof-text?
A principle is a fundamental truth that is valid at all times and in all places. It differs from a proof-text in that, whereas a proof-text is an explicit statement one can quote “chapter and verse,” a principle may or may not be quite so plainly stated. It may have to be inferred by sound deductive reasoning—a process the formulators of the Westminster Confession of Faith called “good and necessary consequence.”
Does that diminish its force? Not in the least. Echoing the Westminster Confession, Matthew Henry notesin his “Commentary” that “whatever is by just and necessary consequence deduced from Scripture may be depended upon with as much certainty as if it were contained in express words of Scripture.” Principles so derived from Scripture are every bit as “biblical” as proof-texts.
Principles also have this advantage over proof-texts: Whereas stand-alone proof-texts can be weakened by conflicting counter “proof-texts,” principles are so clearly demonstrable and sweeping that the occasional “contradictory” verse, no matter how seemingly plain, has little power to shake conviction in the bedrock truth enshrined in a principle.
Principles thus are sophisticated spiritual weaponry, “divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.” Like the arrow that miraculously found the chink in Ahab's armor, these heaven-guided missiles are able to penetrate the enemy's most impregnable defenses to “destroy speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God.”
Proof-texts, the warfare equivalent of catapults and cross-bows, have enabled us to breach many of Hell's gates over the ages. But for this particular enemy stronghold—church passivity on abortion—we need an atomic bomb. And we have it, right in our hands.
A Thermonuclear Trumpet
We have in our Bibles the most powerful pro-life apologetic imaginable, an anti-abortion principle whose intercontinental ballistic punch beggars the accumulated force of every proof-text that has ever been mustered. It is this:
God values each human life more than His own.
How do we know this? Because it is the elemental principle, the fundamental message, the unequivocal import of the cross of Jesus: God loves us more than life. It is literally what God did in Christ: He literallyloved us more than His own life. He showed us with His life's blood what the “so” in John 3:16's “God 'so' loved the world” means: We are more precious to Him than life.
The cross of Christ is the pro-life apologetic, par excellence. Because the cross is the centerpiece of Christianity, pro-life activism is not an adjunct to the church's mission; it is profoundly emblematic of thevery essence of the church's mission.
Proof-texts will always give an uncertain sound because nowhere is there a verse that says, “people, from conception to natural death, are infinitely precious to God.” But the cross of Jesus thunders it—unmistakably, emphatically, deafeningly—like a nuclear blast.
If we sound this trumpet, the troops will rally and the gates of Hell will fall.