Monday, December 22, 2008

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

In my last post I quoted Paul’s poem about the incarnation of Christ, but ended in the middle of the poem, so I’ll pick up where I left off. Paul in describing the self-emptying and humiliation of Christ as an example to his readers in Philippi, could not stop with his death. He had to go on to speak of the exaltation of Christ.

Therefore also God has exalted Him to the highest
and granted to Him the Name
which is above every name,
so that at Jesus’ Name
every knee should bend --
of heavenly beings,
and earthly beings,
and sub-earthly beings,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord
to the glory of God the Father! (Philippians 2:9-11)

Though Jesus Christ in His pre-incarnate state had shared the glory of the Father in eternity past (John 17:5), in some way the Father “has exalted Him” – the One who is now both God and Man – “to the highest” because of His humiliation. Because Christ had not “clung to” His equality with the Father, the Father was exalting Him in a new way, by bringing His deity to recognition by all moral creatures.

When God revealed Himself to Moses in Exodus 3 as the God of his fathers, Moses asked His name.

And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM” (Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyah); and He said, “Thus you shall say to Israel, ‘I AM (Ehyeh) has sent me to you!’” And God said further to Moses, “Thus shall you say to the sons of Israel, ‘The LORD (Yahweh) the God of your fathers … has sent me to you.’ This is My name forever and this is My memorial-name to generation of generation.” (Exodus 3:14, 15)

While God (Elohim) could be said to be His generic name, the name LORD (Yahweh) is God’s personal name. It is related to the verb “to be” or “I AM” and has been understood to mean something like “The One Who Is” or “The Self-Existent One.” We’re not even sure how it is pronounced because it ceased to be pronounced by the Jews long before vowel points were added to the Hebrew alphabet. Whenever a Jew, ancient or modern, in his reading comes across the four consonants YHWH, he automatically reads Adonai, a title for God, which means “my Lord” or “my Master.” Most of our English Bibles reflect this by translating Yahweh as “LORD” (all capitals) and Adonai as “Lord” in the Old Testament.

When the Old Testament was translated into Greek about 200 or so years before the time of Christ, the translators rendered both Yahweh and Adonai by the Greek word Kurios, which normally means “master” or “lord” (human or divine) or even simply “sir.” This usage was carried over into the Greek of the New Testament. The Greek word Kurios is usually translated “Lord” in our English New Testament, thus leaving the reader with an interpretation problem: when Jesus is addressed as “Lord” (Kurios) is He being addressed as Deity, or as Master, or simply as Sir? The context determines.

In Isaiah 45, the LORD (Yahweh) is speaking:

I am the LORD and there is none else;
beside Me there is no God. (verse 5)
Thus says the LORD,
the Holy One of Israel and his Maker ... (verse 11)
Thus says the LORD,
the Creator of the heavens, who alone is God … (verse 18)
Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth,
for I am God and there is none else. (verse 22)
By Myself I have sworn …
that to me every knee shall bend,
every tongue will confess. (verse 23)

In Philippians 2:9-11, Paul is alluding to Isaiah 45:23. The “Name which is above every name” (verse 10) is the Greek word Kurios, translated “Lord” in verse 11. Here the word clearly refers to Yahweh in Isaiah 45:23. The Jesus of the New Testament is the Yahweh of the Old, the One to whom “every knee will bend and every tongue confess.”

Paul is saying here that because Jesus Christ did not cling to His prerogatives of deity, because He emptied Himself of those prerogatives, because He humiliated Himself to be born in a stable and to suffer a criminal’s death, He has been granted that every creature must confess Him as Yahweh – as God!

Bill Ball
12/22/2008

Saturday, December 20, 2008

HOLIDAY IMAGES

Contrasting images are brought to our minds during this holiday season. One image is that of elves and reindeer and one particular jolly fat elf in a red suit. There is glitz and tinsel all around. There are also signs advertising giant sales, urging us to spend and spend some more, while loud music blares extolling the praise of Santa and Rudolph and sleigh rides.

There is another picture of happy families celebrating together around a decorated tree with brightly wrapped gifts beneath. There is food on the table – a turkey with all the trimmings. Everyone appears well fed and happy.

The last is the simple picture of a poor, road-weary middle-eastern young couple in a stable gazing reverently at a newborn baby, wrapped in ragged cloths, lying in a feeding trough. They are surrounded by a variety of barnyard animals, staring curiously at the baby in the trough. There may also be some rough, dirty men, shepherds standing reverently by.

These images appeal to contrasting feelings and urges within us: greed and generosity; self-centeredness and reverence; loneliness and gregariousness.

Apparently the believers in Philippi to whom Paul wrote were a lot like we are: selfish, ambitious, proud. To counter these negative traits, Paul takes them to another image, that of the incarnation of Christ, the greatest act of self-humiliation.

“Do nothing according to selfishness (or selfish ambition) nor according to empty conceit, but in low-mindedness considering one another as surpassing yourselves, not looking out only for your own interests but also for those of others” (Philippians 2:3, 4).

But Paul doesn’t simply give us “oughts.” In a beautiful piece of poetry, he gives us the example of the One who was God and became Man.

“Set your minds on this among yourselves,
which was also in Christ Jesus,
Who being God in form
did not consider being equal with God,
something to be clung to,
but emptied Himself
taking the form of a slave
becoming in the likeness of man
and being found in appearance as man
He humbled Himself
becoming obedient right up to death
even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).

Here is what the season is all about. The pre-incarnate Christ, the second Person of the Trinity, equal with God, emptied Himself of His divine privileges and entered His own creation as a human being – an embryo in the womb of a peasant girl, then a baby born in a barn. And if that were not humiliation enough, He humbled Himself even more, even to the point of dying on a cross, a death reserved for the lowest and most despised of criminals.

As we think on the images that we are faced with at this season, I believe this is the appropriate one to think on, a mental picture of the One who gave His all for us.

More later.

Bill Ball
12/19/2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

SPIRITUAL FORMATION

A friend of mine sent me an e-mail asking for my help on an assignment. He was to ask some fellow believers what they think the term “spiritual formation” means and then summarize.

When I first saw the topic I was a bit puzzled. "Spiritual Formation" was not part of my vocabulary. My first thought was that it was just another buzzword, one of those new catchy terms coined by some hipper Christians than I. I thought, this is not a biblical word. Why use it?

So I looked up "formation" in my concordance, just to make sure. The only uses I could find were of a battle "formation" of soldiers arrayed for war. (Would warring angels be in "spiritual formation"?) No help here. So I looked up "form." I found that Rachel was "beautiful of form and face" (Genesis 29:17). So was Joseph (Genesis 39:6). Was I on to something?

I did remember that the latest copy of the DTS alumni magazine had an article (which I had read) on Spiritual Formation, written by a classmate of mine. It seemed to equate Spiritual Formation with discipleship and transformation of character. Now I had somewhat of a handle on it. I like the word "transformation" better.

Then I recalled Galatians 4:19. "My children for whom I am again suffering birth pangs until Christ is formed in you ..." The Greek word is morphoo.

This then is what spiritual formation is! It is the forming in our lives of the character of Jesus Christ. It is what God predestined for us. " ... whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed (summorphos) to the image of His Son" (Romans 8:29).

It is, I believe, a lifelong process in the believer, though it gets its jumpstart when we, as believers commit our lives to Jesus Christ (Romans 12:1). We are then to "be transformed (metamorphoo) by the renewing of (our) mind" (Romans 12:2). "But we all with face unveiled, gazing as in a mirror on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed (metamorphoo) into that very image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 3:18).

So then, what are the ingredients in our recipe for Spiritual Formation?
· Commitment of our lives to Christ based on our knowledge of and experience of God's mercies to us (Romans 12:1).
· Renewing of our minds through study of and prayerful meditation on the Word (Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18).
· Changed behavior patterns based on our renewed thinking -- the application of those biblical principles.
· Constant communication with others who are hopefully more mature than we are, yet are still involved in this process themselves (Philippians 3:13, 14; 1 Corinthians 11:1), people who are concerned about our growth into Christlikeness (Galatians 4:19)
· Involvement with others by helping them move along in the process.
· A continual growth in Christlikeness through this process (2 Corinthians 3:18).
· It never ceases until as John says, " ... when He appears we will be like Him because we will see Him just as He is" (1 John 3:2).

Bill Ball
12/16/2008

Friday, December 12, 2008

THE GIRLS IN THE FAMILY TREE

A while back, I received an amazing and exciting gift from a niece of mine: a printed copy of my personal genealogy. Though I had known a bit about my family tree from some research done by an uncle, this one was mind-boggling. I found the names of ancestors on my father’s side going all the way back to the 9th century. There were famous people, even royalty, as well as a few scoundrels.

It’s nice to know one’s family tree, even if there may be a few horse-thieves hanging from it. It somehow makes you feel a bit more connected to history and to the rest of the human race.

The gospels give us the genealogy of Jesus – in fact, two genealogies. Luke gives His genealogy through his mother, Mary; Matthew gives His genealogy through his stepfather, Joseph. Luke’s goes back to Adam, the father of the human race; Matthew’s goes back to Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel. Both trace His lineage through King David. They show us His Jewishness, His royalty, His humanity.

Matthew begins his gospel with the genealogy and leads us right into his version of what we would call “The Christmas Story.”

We usually consider during this season, the incarnation of the Son of God, the fact that as John says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Matthew seems to be telling us “start here!”

And as we read through the list of all the “begots,” if we read carefully, we may notice that four women (besides Mary) and four only, are included in the list of Jesus‘ ancestors. Of course, if my math and my biology are correct, there should be one woman for each of the males listed. We may ask, why these four?

Look at the women listed: Tamar (Matthew 1:3); Rahab (verse 5); Ruth (verse 5); and “her of Uriah” (verse 6). That’s all. Who are they?

Tamar (Genesis 38) was probably a Canaanite by birth (this was before there were laws forbidding intermarriage). Judah, the fourth son of Jacob, had three sons. He “took a wife for Er his first-born and her name was Tamar” (38:6). “But Er … was evil in the sight of the LORD, so the LORD took his life” (verse 7). So Judah told Onan his second-born to take Tamar and inseminate her to raise up offspring for his brother. Onan, however, had sex with her but “spilled his semen on the ground,” so the LORD took his life also (verses 8-10). So Judah told Tamar to wait for his third son, Shelah to grow up. But he never gave him to her (verses 11, 12). Desperate for a child (apparently her biological clock was ticking) she disguised herself as a prostitute and had sex with her father-in-law Judah. (This was considered incest in the later Mosaic Law and a capital offense for both parties: Leviticus 18:15; 10:12). When Judah found out his daughter-in-law was “pregnant by harlotry” he wanted to put her to death till he found that he was the father (verses 13-26). And so through this soap-opera union, Perez entered the genealogy of Jesus (verses 27-30).

The next woman mentioned was Rahab (Joshua 2; 6:21-25). Rahab was a genuine prostitute, not just a pretend one. She was also a Canaanite and as such was doomed to die at the hands of the invading Israelites (Deuteronomy 7:1-3). But Rahab hid two Israelite spies and gave a confession of faith in the LORD, “ … the LORD your God, He is God in Heaven above and on earth below” (Joshua 2:11). She and her family were spared death when her city Jericho was destroyed. She is remembered elsewhere in the New Testament as a woman of faith (Hebrew 11:31; James 2:25). Later she married an Israelite man named Salmon and gave birth to a son named Boaz.

Ruth, the third woman on the list (the Book of Ruth), was from Moab, the widow of an Israelite, who came to Israel with her (also widowed) mother-in-law, Naomi. Like Rahab, she, as a foreigner was considered part of a despised group. A Moabite was not permitted to “enter the assembly of the LORD … even to the tenth generation” (Deuteronomy 23:3-6). But like Rahab (her future mother-in-law) she confessed faith in the LORD. She says to Naomi, “Your people shall be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16). Through faith, divine providence and (it seems to me) a little scheming, she ends up married to Boaz, a rich relative of her deceased husband and becomes the great-grandmother of King David. (I guess Boaz couldn’t be too uptight about marrying a foreigner. After all, his mother was both a foreigner and a hooker!)

The last woman in Matthew’s list isn’t even named. He simply refers to her as “her of Uriah.” Her story is found in 2 Samuel 11 and 12. Her name is given as Bath-Sheba and she is the (former) wife of Uriah the Hittite, a foreign mercenary in King David’s army. She is an Israelite by birth, the only one of the four women who is. (Her genealogy can be found in 2 Samuel 11:3; 23:34). Most of us know the story of David’s illicit affair with her and how he had her husband murdered. Yet she became the mother of both King Solomon (Joseph’s ancestor) and of Nathan (Mary’s ancestor).

Certainly if I were setting down the genealogy of the One whom we claim as God-in-the-flesh, I could have chosen better ones than these, couldn’t I – some of the good wives and mothers of the kings in the Old Testament? On the other hand, if Matthew was looking for some real baddies, he could have found them: Athaliah, the daughter of Jezebel, the woman who murdered her own children and grandchildren and almost wiped out the royal line of David.

So why these four? Well they do have some things in common.
· None of them belong here! Each should have been excluded by the Law that God gave Israel. Two were prostitutes; one committed incest; one committed adultery; and three were foreigners, two of whom were to be excluded by the Mosaic Law. By the way, most of the men in this list weren’t fit to be here either!
· Most likely all four were believers. We have the statements of faith of two of them.
· Therefore they are examples of grace, people who can make no claim to privilege, people who are “outside,” or as Paul says, “ … Gentiles in the flesh … separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now … brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:11-13).
· They demonstrate the reality of the incarnation. Jesus chose to be born into a family of sinners. He put it all on the line: He “emptied Himself” of the prerogatives of Deity (Philippians 2:6-8) and took on all the dangers of being human: physical dangers as well as dangers to His reputation (cf. John 8:41, 48).
· Perhaps as well, they are there to tell us that we need to empty ourselves of any pride we may have in ourselves or our ancestry. We need to recognize that we too come from a family of sinners and are sinners ourselves, and place our faith in the One who put it all on the line for us.

Bill Ball
12/11/2008

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

WHAT ABOUT ROMANS 14?

As I have mentioned elsewhere, I came to faith in Christ in my teens, in a “fundamentalist” church. The Gospel was preached, the Bible was taught, but the Christian life was seen as a set of do’s and don’ts. One’s walk with the Lord was measured by what one didn’t do.

Though it took a long time for me to be free of those standards (I’m still not sure if I am completely), a first step was when I began to study the book of Romans and came to chapter 14. This chapter seemed to stand much of what I had been taught on its head. I had been taught that the strong or mature Christian was one who didn’t do certain things and this chapter said no to that idea.

Paul talks in this chapter about two types of believers: “One has faith to eat all things, but the one who is weak eats vegetables” (verse 2). “One regards one day over another, but another regards everyday” (verse 5).

He refers to the one who is limited as “weak in the faith” (verse 1) and the one who can do all these things as “strong” and puts himself in this latter group (15:1).

This was astounding to me! It was intoxicating! It was frightening. But I kept it pretty much to myself, because one didn’t question “official” teachings. Did Paul’s teachings mean I could feel free to: go to the movies? listen to rock and roll? dance? even (perish the thought!) have a drink of wine?

Later when I attended a Bible church in Houston, I heard this chapter taught in its context and began to experience the freedom I had had in Christ all along.

But there is so much in this passage that every time I study it, I find some “deeper“ truths – truths that I had ignored or just hadn’t noticed. So I’d like to say a few things about its interpretation and its application that I believe need to be said.

I have heard and read many comments and think we may be missing some things. The usual titles for what is covered here are “doubtful things,” “gray areas,” “matters of indifference.” It has often – usually – been applied in areas of entertainment. And I believe those are valid (thought secondary) applications.

But I believe there is much more to the passage than this.

First, we should notice that the differences between the two groups Paul speaks of go much deeper than what they did for amusement. These were people who held to their beliefs with conviction (verse 22). These convictions were not “matters of indifference.”

Underlying the whole Epistle to the Romans seems to be a conflict between two groups of believers from different backgrounds – Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews). Paul has had to address each group separately at times. “But if you are named ‘Jew’….” (2:17). “But to you the Gentiles I’m speaking ... ” (11:13).

Some Jewish-background believers may still have held deep convictions about eating non-Kosher foods – Old Testament dietary restrictions. While they may have recognized their freedom in this area, they may have felt that keeping Kosher laws was the best way to honor Jesus Christ. “ … the one who doesn’t eat – to the Lord he doesn’t eat, and gives thanks to God!" (14:6). Some Gentile believers as well may also have restricted their diets for other reasons (see 1 Corinthians 8:17).

On the other hand, Gentile believers (and some Jewish believers, including Paul) may have recognized their freedom and felt that the best way to honor Jesus Christ was to partake freely of all foods that He had cleansed (see Acts 10:15).

Who was right? Though Paul clearly sides with the latter group, he exhorts both groups concerning their attitudes toward the other. “The one who eats must not despise the one who doesn’t eat and the one who doesn’t eat must not judge the one who does eat … “ (verse 3).

Paul didn’t discuss “right or wrong.” He didn’t try to convince those he disagreed with. What he was more concerned about was that both groups behave in love toward each other. I don’t believe he was urging his readers to compromise truth. He seemed to be urging them to recognize that there are some who have a different understanding of truth and to love and tolerate them in spite of their disagreement.

For many years I taught students from differing theological backgrounds and convictions. I have learned that none of us has a complete corner on the truth and that those with whom I differ have much to teach me. I don’t believe I’ve ever had to compromise the truth though many times I have had to revise or clarify my understanding of it.

Today I feel that Romans 14 has been, if I may say it, “over-applied” in some areas. We have become too tolerant in the areas that are essential, and are willing to compromise the essentials of faith. A reading of the first 11 chapters of Romans should make it clear that this is not what Paul is talking about in chapter 14. Nor is Paul urging his readers to be “soft on sin” or false doctrine.

And yet at the same time, I find that there are areas where Romans 14 definitely needs to be applied. One is in the area of ethical conviction. The first time this hit me was back in the early 70s during the Vietnam war, when my home Bible study was interrupted one evening with a heated argument regarding participation in the war. Both hawks and doves felt they had biblical reasons for their positions. As there seemed no hope of resolving the dispute, I took them to Romans 14. I didn’t know why, I believe it was just one of those Holy Spirit moments. We did end the discussion on a peaceable note even though neither side “won.”

Many of my friends “take stands” on various issues, and I have been urged to do the same. I’ve been urged to “take a stand” on: six-day creationism, tongues, political parties, war, even Halloween!

But while I hold strong convictions in many of these areas, I fear that taking a stand would do nothing to promote the cause of truth or of the Gospel. It would simply be a way to cause divisions.

So I say, we should hold our convictions, but make sure they’re biblical. And we should remember that those who disagree with us may hold their convictions as tight as we hold ours. They may disagree with us but that doesn’t mean they’re disagreeing with God. We should neither despise nor judge them.

Bill Ball
12/9/2008

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

I LOVE YOU LORD!

Our Sunday school class has been going through the lessons based on the movie “Fireproof.” We watch clips of the movie and then discuss how to “fireproof” our marriage. It’s pretty good.

One of the questions asked a few weeks ago was something like, “What things can we do for our wives to show them that we love them?” (I’m quoting from memory.)

There was a brief discussion, but something didn’t seem right. I thought for a few minutes and then commented that I thought this was the wrong question. I don’t do things for my wife to SHOW her I love her; I do things for her BECAUSE I love her.

It made me think of “Fiddler on the Roof.” Tevye asks his wife Golda, “Do you love me?” She replies in song telling all the things she does and has done for him. Again he asks her, “But do you love me?” (I guess I could get out my DVD and find the scene.)

In John 21, there is a similar dialog. Jesus has risen from the dead and already appeared to His disciples. One morning He appears to them while they are fishing, miraculously causes them to have a huge catch, and has breakfast waiting for them on the shore when they moor their boat.

“So when they finished breakfast, Jesus says to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?’
He says to Him, ‘Yes Lord, You know that I love You!’
He says to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’
He says to him again, a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’
He says to Him, ‘Yes Lord, You know that I love You!’
He says to him, ‘Shepherd my sheep.’
He says to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’
Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me? And he says to Him, ’Lord, You know everything! You know that I love You!’
Jesus says to him, ‘Feed my sheep …’” (John 21:15-17).

The dialog goes on.

Much has been made about the fact that two different Greek words for love are used here. The first two times, Jesus uses the word agapaō, while Peter uses the word phileō. The third time Jesus uses Peter’s word phileō and Peter replies using the same word.

There are many different views espoused as to the reason for the use of 2 different words. Anyone who has ever heard a sermon on this passage has probably been exposed to at least one view. I’ll not review all the opinions. I’ll just say what I believe may be a possible reason for this.

While both Greek words translate into the English word love, they do have different meanings.

Phileō speaks of the love of affection; it is the love we have for a friend. In fact, the usual Greek word for friend is related (philos). The word for kiss is also related (philēma). There are many other related words: philadelphia – love of the brothers, philoxenia – love for strangers, philanthropia – love of mankind, etc., etc. It is not a lesser kind of love than agapaō, it is a different kind of love.

Agapaō is the kind of love that God has. “God so loved the world” (John 3:16). It is not simply affection. It is the kind of love that we are commanded. “Love the Lord your God …” “Love your neighbor” (Matthew 22:37-39 and others). “Love one another …” (John 13:34 and others). “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44). And we are told that God is the Source of that love. “Love is from God” (1 John 4:7); “God is love” (4:8, 16); “We love because He first loved us” (4:19). This love is more than affection. It is more than a feeling. It is that which seeks the greatest good in its object.

Now back to our story.

Peter had denied Jesus three times as Jesus was going through His trial. Luke tells us that when Peter had denied Him the third time and the rooster crowed, “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered … and he went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:61, 62). He was apparently nowhere to be found later as Jesus was hanging on the cross.

Peter must have had that image burned on his brain: his bruised, bleeding Lord looking at him as he uttered his third denial. What kind of look was it? We can only imagine. But it was probably a look that Peter couldn’t get out of his mind, even after Jesus had risen and appeared to him personally.

“Do you love me?” Jesus asks. Of course Peter couldn’t reply using Jesus’ word. He couldn’t say that he had sought his Lord’s good. He had been looking out solely for himself. Peter knew that to say I love (agapaō) you would have been an empty profession that his actions gave the lie to. All he could tell Jesus was that he had a deep affection for Him.

And so Jesus asks him the same question a second time and Peter gives the same reply. So the third time Jesus lets it stand and uses Peter’s word.

Perhaps we English speakers have it easy. We can say, “I love you” to someone and not have to clarify the word’s meaning. We may mean affection, desire, even lust. We can sing to the Lord on Sunday “I love You Lord.” But what do we mean? Would I have a hard time telling the Lord I love Him in the way He commands?

Bill Ball
12/3/2008

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

ABORTION

It would seem that most of my evangelical Christian friends regard abortion as the defining issue of our day. It is considered to be THE issue on which political decisions must be made. Any political candidate who is pro-abortion (or pro-choice) is considered unqualified for office, especially national: president, congress or judgeship.

I feel that I may, by disagreeing with them, be considered by some to be ignorant, contrary, or just plain “liberal” (There also are probably some who will consider me an ultra-conservative.) I know that those who have known me, while they may disagree, will continue to love and respect me. I pray that those who read this post will hear me out.

Abortion is a sin. It is the taking of an innocent human life, and unless there are justifiable reasons, it seems that it should be considered to be the same as murder or at least manslaughter. (See THE VALUE OF HUMAN LIFE.)

This argument is based on the Bible’s teaching that the unborn fetus is a human being.
-- The creation of man was apparently completed with the creation of the first couple (Genesis 1:26, 27; 2:7). There is no biblical data that speaks of a further creation. The soul as well as the body originate by propagation and are passed on from the parents in some way.
-- Men are said to exist “in the loins” of their ancestors (Genesis 46:26; Hebrews 7:9, 10, commenting on Genesis 14:17-20).
-- The sinful nature is said to be transmitted at conception (Psalm 51:5). When David said, “ … in sin my mother conceived me,” he was not claiming that his parents had an illicit sexual affair, but that he was a sinner from the instant of conception. And, or course, only persons are sinners.
-- There are a number of scriptural passages which imply that an unborn child is a person:
-- “And the word of the LORD came to me saying, ‘before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you …’” (Jeremiah 1:4, 5).
-- “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13; see all of verses 13-16).
-- “And it came about, when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb (Luke 1:41) … ‘the baby leaped in my womb for joy!’” (1:44). The Greek word translated “baby” here is brephos, the same word that is used in 2:12, 16 to describe the newborn Jesus.

The Bible agrees here with all modern biology which tells us that there is no point at which the fetus cannot be considered human.

There is one passage of Scripture that is claimed to contradict the above:

It has been claimed that Exodus 21:22-25 speaks of a miscarriage resulting from a blow to a pregnant woman. According to this argument only a fine was to be paid as determined by the courts. This proves that the miscarried fetus was not considered human.

However, the passage does not speak directly of a miscarriage. Verse 22 says more literally “if her children come out.” Two things should be noted. The Hebrew word is YELED, which normally means “child” or “children.” It also does not say the child came out dead. Verse 23 and 29 apply the Law of LEX TALIONIS in this case. “But if there is injury … (apparently to either mother or child) … then you shall appoint life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth” … etc. This then would seem to assume the humanity of the child.

There are possible exceptions claimed:
-- If abortion is normally considered to be murder, than most of the various reasons for abortion which are often cited, are not valid exceptions (rape, incest, deformity, retardation). These are no more appropriate than the taking of the life of a child already born.
-- One valid exception would be the case where the continued existence of the fetus threatens the life of the mother. The taking of the life of the fetus would be considered a defense of the life of the mother and therefore not murder. The mother's life and person is known, that of the fetus, though actually human, is only potential.

If we accept the above arguments and agree that the unborn fetus has value as a human being, then I believe we have to recognize that many of our currently acceptable methods of birth control are unacceptable. Much has been make of the “morning after” pill, which supposedly keeps the newly conceived embryo from developing. Also would be included would be intrauterine devices, which do the same thing. We need to distinguish between birth control which prevents conception and birth control that prevents development.

We also need to examine artificial means of conception, such as in vitro fertilization, which causes a need to in some way dispose of fertilized eggs.

What is the church’s responsibility toward abortion today?
-- Our first responsibility is to teach, to give a clear biblical position on the issue. We should teach that sin is sin. We also need to recognize that abortion is going on today even among our good church people.
-- We must extend the grace of God to the persons who have had abortions –the mothers and the fathers of aborted children. It is not our responsibility to treat them as criminals. We must let them know that they are sinners, but not simply because of the abortion, and then let them know that there is total forgiveness in Christ.
-- Our evangelistic efforts toward these persons should be motivated by a desire to convert them to Christ, not to enlist them in a political campaign.
-- The church should extend to all forgiven sinners a welcome and a special compassion. Often the person who has had an abortion is burdened with a sense of shame and psychological “guilt.” We should not add to that shame and guilt.

However, there are reasons why I do not believe that abortion should be the one defining issue in our politics.
-- Abortion, like other social evils, cannot simply be voted out of office. The church has responsibilities, as I have mentioned above. “Because it is time for judgment to begin from the household of God” (1 Peter 4:17). We as a church must clean up our own act first.
-- Single-issue politics keeps us from looking at the total picture. If we see the totality of our politics and our voting as wrapped up in a candidate’s stated position on one or two issues, we may neglect (and I believe have neglected) other issues. It would seem that if a candidate proclaims him or herself “pro-life,” we are willing to forgive them for other sins and inadequacies.
-- The big concern seems to be Roe vs. Wade. I’m not a lawyer, but I believe this was a bad decision. However, it’s been on the books for over 35 years (23 years during a Republican administration, 12 years with a Democrat administration) and there seems no indication of any change in the immediate future. Besides even if it were overturned tomorrow, it wouldn’t be long before most states would have laws permitting abortion. And even if this were not so, abortions would continue. This sin is too entrenched in our society for it to simply be legislated away.
-- There are other “life” issues that need to be addressed, both in the church and in the nation:
-- War – just or unjust (See THE CHRISTIAN AND WAR.)
-- Exploitation of the poor here in America and elsewhere.

I will continue to vote my conscience as a citizen of two kingdoms. I will seek to find the candidates who agree with my “values” in certain areas. But I will be more concerned with whether the candidate is a person of integrity, a candidate who desires to serve his or her country. I will also be concerned with whether that candidate is capable of handling the job.

Bill Ball
12/2/2008