Christmas, the Gospel, and (Pro) Life

The Scriptures command a reverence for life. Embedded in every book and interwoven into every doctrine is the unwavering standard of justice and mercy for all: the weak and the strong, the great and the small, the rich and the poor, the lame and the whole, the young and the old, and the born and the unborn. This truth is at the very heart of the Gospel.

The Bible declares the sanctity of life in its account of God’s creation:

Woe to him who strives with his Maker. Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him who forms it, “What are you making?” Or, shall your handiwork say, “He has no hands?” Woe to him who says to his father, “What are you begetting?” (Isaiah 45:9-12).

The Bible declares the sanctity of life in its description of God’s sovereignty:

For You have formed my inward parts; You have covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your Book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them (Psalm 139:13-16).

The Bible declares the sanctity of life in its discussion of the incarnation:

The thief does not come except to kill, and to steal, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly (John 10:10).

The Bible declares the sanctity of life in its explanation of Christ’s redemption:

But has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel (2 Timothy 1:10).

The Bible declares the sanctity of life in its exposition of ethical justice:

I call heaven and earth today as witnesses against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live (Deuteronomy 30:19).

The Bible declares the sanctity of life in its exhortation to covenantal mercy: 

If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. Deliver those who are drawn toward death, hold back those stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Surely we did not know this,” does not He who weighs the heart consider it? He who keeps your soul, does He not know it? (Proverbs 24:10-11).

From Genesis to Revelation (Genesis 2:7; Revelation 22:17), in the Books of the Law (Exodus 4:12; Leviticus 19:16), in the Books of History (Judges 13:2-24; 1 Samuel 16:7), in the Books of Wisdom (Psalm 68:5-6; Proverbs 29:7), in the Prophetic Books (Amos 1:13; Jeremiah 1:5), in the Gospels (Matthew 10:31; Luke 1:15; 41-44), and in the Epistles (Galatians 1:15; 1 Corinthians 15:22), the pro-life message of the Bible is absolutely inescapable. 

It is this “Word of Life” (Philippians 2:16) that we have believed–and it is this Word that we must act upon faithfully.

 

The Early Church and the sanctity of life

This is why the early church was so adamant about the connection between the Gospel and the sanctity of life.

The Didache was a compilation of Apostolic moral teachings that appeared at the end of the first century. Among its many admonitions, it asserted an unwavering reverence for the sanctity of life,

“There are two ways: the way of life and the way of death, and the difference between these two ways is great. Therefore, do not murder a child by abortion or kill a newborn infant.”

The Epistle of Barnabas was an early second century theological tract that was highly regarded by the first Christian communities, Like the Didache, it laid down absolute strictures against abortion and infanticide,

“You shall love your neighbor more than your own life. You shall not slay a child by abortion. You shall not kill that which has been given life by God.”

In the third century, the brilliant and prolific Tertullian composed his Apology. There he connected the sanctity of life with the very integrity of the Gospel,

“Our faith declares life out of death. Therefore, murder is forbidden once and for all. We may not destroy even the fetus in the womb. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man killing. Thus it does not matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth.”

Ambrose, the renowned and revered bishop of Milan, was forthright in his condemnation of those engaged in child-killing procedures,

“They deny in their very womb their own progeny. By use of parricidal mixtures they snuff out the fruit of their wombs. In this way life is taken before it is given. Who except man himself has taught us ways of repudiating our own children.”

Athenagorus and Augustine, Athanasius and Basil, Cyril and Jerome: the fact is, every father of the early church was unanimous in their defense of the sanctity of life.

As we celebrate Christmas, let us remember that at the heart of the message of Bethlehem is the fulfillment of the promise of God to destroy the final enemy: death.

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