9 Marks of a Pro-Life Church
This month, it will be my privilege to deliver two keynote addresses for 40 Days for Life, one in Atlanta and one in Marietta, Georgia. The organization, 40 Days for Life, promotes prayer outside abortion clinics and offers pregnancy crisis intervention to the women and couples going into those clinics.
It started out in Texas, I believe some years ago, and it’s now all over the world. There are 40 Days for Life campaigns in many cities around the world. I like it because it’s an entry point for everyday people who are not normally given to a lot of radical things to just go out and grieve and pray for the end of abortion. They offer themselves as good Samaritans for one woman or one couple at a time as they enter into that abortion business and to say, “Listen, we’re here to help you. We’re able to help you. And if you choose life, you will be able to overcome all the obstacles that you are now facing in this pregnancy.”
It raises the larger question of what should we, as a church, be doing in the name of the gospel of life? We ask this question of pastors as well. What should their role be in the pro-life movement? Most pastors I know are a little bit defensive because they have been attacked by many people over the years for not doing enough. And I have wrestled with this question for over 30 years.
I wrote a book with Focus on the Family called Answering the Call, to try to help my fellow pastors learn how to lead well when it comes to the crisis of abortion. But over the years, I have recognized that there is a pretty good description of what a pro-life church looks like in today’s climate. For leaders of a church to be looking for these particular marks in their church should give them the confidence to know that they are doing a pretty good job. They are leading well in the crisis of abortion.
I wrote up and posted what I call the Nine Marks of a Pro Life Church. I would like to offer this for any of you to download for free, and to use it with any committees that you are working with or to encourage the people in your 40 Days for Life prayers as it unfolds this fall.
Number one, I believe it is vitally important for the people to know the Word of God. The role of pastor is not necessary to start a pregnancy crisis center or do anything special outside their church. Their job is to preach the will of God, as it’s revealed in the Bible, to the people of God. That includes, if they teach the whole Bible, an opportunity to speak to the intrinsic value of human life in the womb and outside the womb. That is their job. It is to primarily make sure that their people know the will of God and the word of God.
Number two, They are also to teach the people to fear God and fight to let their babies live. Somehow, between the pastor and the elders and the rulers of the church, they have communicated to their community, no matter the crisis that you’re in, no matter the embarrassment, no matter what shame that you now feel over some decisions that you’ve made, the solution is never abortion.
As much as we want to uphold the biblical vision of waiting till marriage and being faithful in marriage, we all fall short of the glory of God. Please don’t hide one sin with one another. They communicate that in multiple different ways to their community so that they know that, if they are pregnant, giving life is the will of God and the church will support them in that decision.
Number three, they love their pregnant neighbor. You know, that’s just working out the moral law of God to love your neighbor as yourself. And we want to be churches that are involved with, particularly with pregnancy help centers, to feel like they’re doing well on the issue of abortion. I think it’s one of the clearest marks of a pro-life church.
Number four, they hold true to their convictions while they link arms with people who don’t share all of their convictions. In other words, there are places where Pentecostals and Reformed people link arms with Catholic people. There are places in this battle where we need to link arms even with people that we don’t agree with theologically at all the points of the gospel. But for the sake of the unborn, we do link arms. We did this by battling slavery over the years. We do this with matters of racial injustice today. There are places for us to link arms with people that we don’t agree with completely, but we do agree with them in this particular cause. And so when it’s appropriate in matters of policy or voting or whatever else, this is a good place for us to link arms without compromising our moral beliefs.
Number five, we articulate the case for life. I believe that one of the most helpful things that the leaders of a church can do is simply to train their young people, their college age students, their high school students and all others who are interested, in how to make the case for life in a secular culture. We teach this in about five minutes to people. We talk about how to use science as a beginning point and incorporate moral reasoning when regarding human rights as a defense for the pro-life position on secular campuses and high schools.
I think that teaching pro-life apologetics is a basic and fundamental way of serving our communities of faith today.
Number six, a pro life church upholds the administration of justice. This is a gift in the Bible that some are called to enforce justice. And I think that what this means, in a practical sense, is that we encourage people who feel led to run for public office, or serve on a school board, or to run for mayor, or to run for congressman on the state, local or federal level. There are places for us to have influence in the leadership of our culture, and to go into those places as people willing to enforce justice and to pass laws and policies that reflect our view of justice and mercy today.
Number seven, they practice citizenship. This is probably an easier one. We are in a democratic society. We do get the leaders that we vote for and I think there’s an appropriate place for us as church leaders to encourage our people to make sure that they live out their biblical values in the voting booth. There are times to emphasize what it means to be a citizen according to the Bible and to practice that particularly in the context of the United States of America.
Number eight, they bring the gospel to the guilty. Instead of being defensive about abortion as a pastor or a leader, the greatest opportunity for the gospel today is to bring the good news of God’s grace to the guilt and the grief of abortion. This is what pastors should be leading with when they get a chance to talk on this topic. Many pregnancy centers have ministries that are helping those who have experienced the pain of abortion overcome it so they know that they are forgiven and they can stand for life with a clear conscience and a bold testimony. I think that the main mission of the church is to bring the good news to the guilty, even while we protect the innocent.
Number nine, a pro-life church is marked by prayers for the end of abortion which brings us back to the 40 Days for Life campaign this fall. If you’ve never heard of 40 Days for Life, look them up on the internet and find a local 40 Days for Life. If you’ve never gone out to pray with other people in public for the end of abortion, it would probably be good for you to get out of your comfort zone, and go take a public stand. Quietly grieve and weep over the reality of
abortion on our land and to pray for God in his mercy to remove this scourge from our land the way he removed slavery in previous generations.
Those are my nine marks and, if this is helpful for you, go ahead and visit passionlife.org and download this little two page reminder of the nine marks of a pro-life church. Let’s continue to work for the maturation of God’s people in our time.