What's the purpose of the local church?
Last Sunday myself and a group of other anti-abortion activists conducted a church repent project outside the doors of a large, influential evangelical church in our community. With churches finally 'opening up' after months of coronavirus lock-down (during which most Christian congregations made radical adjustments they've always refused to make for lesser emergencies like the daily evisceration of human babies) now seemed the perfect opportunity to pay them a visit.
Of course we caused a stir and eventually found ourselves debating two members of the pastoral staff there on the sidewalk. One pastor repeatedly told us that we were misunderstanding the mission of the church. Fighting abortion, he said, could not become a primary focus of his congregation because the mission of the church was "Building believers to the glory of God". Such rebukes are not uncommon so I took note.
I later examined that church's official constitution and found there a more comprehensive statement:
ARTICLE II – PURPOSE As expressed in our statement of faith (Article V below), we believe that the purpose of the local church is to worship, praise, and glorify God by proclaiming the gospel of Christ Jesus to the entire world, by teaching His Word, by seeking Him through earnest prayer, by equipping the saints to walk, serve, and fellowship in the power of the Holy Spirit, and by keeping the ordinances (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8, 2:42-46; 1 Corinthians 11:24,25; 14:26; Ephesians 4:11-16; Colossians 1:24-28; 1 Timothy 4:11).
The sentiments expressed in this article are not uncommon. While most Christians would agree that fighting abortion can be a thing they may legitimately spend time doing, many clergy would assert that it's NOT the business of the "local church", by which they mean a congregation under pastoral authority. Christians who want to end child killing are free to do so, and may even be encouraged to do so by church elders (this particular congregation has a close relationship with a local pregnancy help center which they are very proud of), but it's ultimately something he or she must do independently. The local church, as a local church, should not be involved.
You might wonder what difference this really makes in practice. After all, if a big group of Christians bands together to do something good, does it matter if they do so as a local church?
The problem is that big groups of Christians rarely band together to do anything difficult unless they are shepherded by those with traditional authority (actually, they usually won't do it even with shepherding, but that's another issue). Followers of Jesus, sadly, follow men.
The problem runs deeper than mere individual fear and selfishness. It's often a problem of bad Biblical exegesis, or even worse bad Biblical exegesis enshrined into official documents and deeply embedded in Christian subculture. Due to a very rigid interpretation of the things we see local churches doing in the New Testament, many pastors view the function of the local church (and by association their own function) as something with very strict boundaries, outside of which they will not go. This is how they justify ignoring child-killing for 47 years while never failing to hold Sunday morning services.
None of the Biblical passages cited above would preclude a congregation from laboring, as a congregation led by the pastors, in the movement to end preborn child killing. They are statements about what the early church did, not statements about what the church is forbidden from doing.
Examining the website of the church in question, I easily found several examples of ministries that didn't fall neatly inside the "build believers to the glory of God" paradigm: a food drive program, an auto-donation program and ESL classes. They also run a very successful, relatively large school for elementary and Middle School students located adjacent to the church building. Certainly, these projects provide opportunities for believers to serve the community (and perhaps evangelize), thus fulfilling at least one or two aspects of the aforementioned "Purpose" noted above. But the same could be said of fighting abortion! Why is it okay to carry out these projects as a church, but when it comes to the fight against child killing, believers must act independently?
In the end, I can't avoid concluding that "ending abortion is not the church's mission" is merely one more clever ruse to avoid a manifest duty. Christians, especially pastors, should stop hiding behind it. The stakes are incredibly high.