A couple of days ago I joined our local church Ladies Fellowship for a Q&A and I have selected the first three questions asked for this article.
These are just some of the life-related theological/biblical questions that many people wrestle with and so they may be of particular interest to you.
Question One: “My children are both divorced and living with other partners out of wedlock, and, in one instance, expecting a baby. Will the Church accept this baby and how would I deal with the situation?”
For Roman Catholics, there is only one church with one set of established doctrines and protocols, but for Protestants, there are many denominations and independent churches all with their own dogmas and practices. Some churches will bless any child irrespective of the parent’s church affiliations. Others will insist that both parents are Christians. Some will simply pray a blessing over the child while others will ask the church members present to agree to assist the parents in bringing up the child to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus. In this later case, it makes sense that the parents must be committed to the local church otherwise how can the members help them to spiritually nurture the child?
My yardstick for all matters of doctrine and practice is Jesus Christ, so the question is ‘how did he deal with this sort of situation?
Matthew 19:13-15 records that ‘little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them, but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there’. So for me, that matter is clear and during the three decades that I was a local church pastor I always accepted any child brought to me at a Sunday service for blessing and prayer.
However, some church leaders will not allow baby blessing/christening/baptism unless the parents are members of their church. For some, this flows from a belief that babies born to Christian parents are automatically ‘saved’ and therefore part of the church but only by virtue of the parent’s spiritual standing. For others, it comes from a belief that there is sacramental spiritual power in ‘Christenings’ provided they are conducted in terms of the denomination’s ordinances and protocols. In these cases, grandparents would perhaps fret if they felt that the child was being deprived of Christian validation. I don’t think that this is the case at all because God is merciful to all irrespective of whether they have been religiously ‘processed’.
Question Two: “If a friend is banned from the Church because he was divorcing his wife after years of misery, as a Church member, am I expected to ignore him? He has a girlfriend now and looks after his children magnificently in every way.”
Church leaders sometimes have to make tough decisions and the hardest of all is when there is a conflict between a relationship with an individual and the good of other church members or indeed the whole church. A divorce is always a traumatic event with long term consequences. When both parties are members of the same church then it is even more difficult for them and their church leaders.
Some scriptures that have relevance to this sort of situation are 1 Corinthians 5:11-12, Titus 3:9-11 and Matthew 18:15-17. In 1 Corinthians 5 Paul was dealing with a case where a church member was sleeping with his stepmother and this was being condoned by the local church. However, it does instruct us that in some extreme circumstances church leaders may need to ‘excommunicate’ an unrepentant member. In Titus 3:10-11 Paul put it this way: ‘Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
Of course, the Lord Jesus established the basis for church practice in cases like this when he said: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17). To treat someone like a ‘pagan’ is not to deal with them without compassion, respect and human dignity. However, it does mean that they cannot be regarded as spiritual ‘family’. In fact, from a personal relationship perspective, 1 Corinthians 5:9-10 and 12 would then apply.
Question Three: “Where does the Church’s view regarding abortion come from? Does the idea come from ‘Thou shalt not kill?’ If one has an abortion, is that person a sinner? How does the Church view it?”
This a complex and emotionally charged issue. The 6th commandment is ‘You shall not murder’ not ‘you shall not kill.’ Over the centuries theologians and judges have debated the validity of the taking of life that may not necessarily be understood as murder; such things as capital punishment, self-defense, and acts of war. In the USA politicians are currently using the abortion issue as a means of gaining election support. I was interested to watch a debate between two ladies on American TV, one a Democrat and the other a Republican. The Democrat was arguing passionately for a woman’s right over her own body while the Republican was presenting the pro-life case. The Republican lady made the point that she and her group were not opposed to ‘abortion’, but only to abortion on demand. Both arguments are difficult to sustain consistently. On the one hand, woman’s rights assume that the developing baby is part of her body and not a separate life. On the other hand, the difficulty comes in determining when abortion is acceptable and when it is not.
Almost all theologians hold to one of two theories of the origin of the human soul.
- Those who believe that God individually creates the human soul upon conception normally argue that abortion is a form of murder and therefore ‘unbiblical’ and wrong.
- Those who believe that the human soul is passed down from generation to generation in the same way as other constituents of the human being would be more inclined to accept abortion as acceptable in certain specific circumstances.
Whatever the circumstances, I do not consider abortion as any less forgivable than other serious offences. A woman who aborts a baby after agonising consideration and as an inescapable last resort should not be made to experience the additional pain of our condemnation.
God freely forgives us all our transgressions but does not absolve us from the consequences of our decisions – should we do less?
As always Jesus sets the example for us. In dealing with another of the Ten Commandments, you shall not commit adultery, he ended his practical example with the words: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?“. “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:3-11).
There are three great underlying principles we need to consider when dealing with these life issues; let me express them here in the form of questions:
- What did Jesus say or do concerning this or something similar?
- What light does the bible in all its parts shed on this?
- Do Jesus’ words, “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent” (Matthew 12:7) apply here?
The ladies of the Friday fellowship asked nineteen other questions and so I will perhaps pick up on some of these in future articles … so stay tuned.