By Garret Kell
A great tragedy unfolded less than one week ago on Tuesday, November 6, 2012.
The tragedy was not found in the celebrations of elected officials or the concessions of defeat. It was not colored red or blue, and it wasn’t wrapped up in meaningless campaign promises.
The tragedy of the 2012 election is that in this land of the free and home of the brave, many people were not allowed to vote. Their voices were silenced. Their votes were not cast. Their opinions not expressed. Why?
Because they were dead.
The great tragedy of the 2012 election is that roughly 33 million would-be voters had been murdered. From 1973 to 1994, roughly 35 million babies were aborted. That’s roughly 35 million 18- to 39-year-olds who could not vote from the grave.
This is an unspeakable tragedy.
They did not have the chance to learn what makes our nation so great. They did not have the chance to watch the results roll in with their friends and family. They did not have the chance to rest their heads on a pillow in the land of the free.
But this tragedy is not over.
In 2016, roughly 5 million more voices will be unheard. Why? Because more than 3,500 babies will be killed today. And each day leading up to Tuesday, November 8, 2016. In the three minutes it takes you to read this article, seven babies will have been aborted in the United States of America. Their voices silenced. Their freedom robbed. Their bravery unknown.
Close to Home
This is a tragedy that hits close to home. When I was 19, I chose to end the life of my first child through an abortion. My friend and I were in a scary place, we didn’t plan to get married, and we had nowhere else to go. So we opted to end the life of our child.
That child would be 16 today. They’d be excited about driving a car and, in just a couple of years, they’d be excited about voting. But they won’t be doing any of that. We won’t be sitting down together as I explain how to think about policies and the candidates who represent them. I won’t be able to tell them about freedom and justice for all. I took that freedom away with my injustice.
I cannot undo what I’ve done in the past. None of us can. Only Jesus, who shed his blood for sinners like me, can heal those wounds. Jesus gives us great hope in the midst of this tragedy, and all the other tragedies we face in this life.
Refuge in Jesus
If you have committed an abortion, I want you to know there is a refuge in Jesus. He will heal your wounds. There is no sin so great that he cannot forgive and no sin so small that does not need to be forgiven. If you will confess your sins and turn to him in faith, he will wash away all your guilt and all your shame. Come to Christ.
If you support abortion, I encourage you to spend time in prayer and ask God to show you if abortion pleases him or not. Ask a Christian to help you learn what God’s Word says. I know you already have deeply rooted ideas. I did too. But I encourage you to take the time to read what God says about life and who has the right to give and take it away. I encourage you to start with Psalm 139.
If you are a Christian, be patient with those who view things differently. But also speak truth in love to those who are in need. Find ways to help those who are struggling through unplanned pregnancies. Investigate options for adoption and invest in the lives of those who are facing difficult choices.
I have on my wall a picture of a 3-year-old boy in cowboy boots. He nearly wasn’t with us today because his mother was in a difficult place. She was unmarried, pregnant, and scared. But my wife met with her, prayed with her, and took her to a Christian doctor who showed her the baby in her womb through a sonogram. That young mother had the courage to keep her child.
That young boy’s smile reminds me that God can save children, one at a time. He does this by using his people to come alongside the struggling to lovingly show them the Christ who can walk them through any terrifying situation—even an unplanned pregnancy.
I believe the only hope to turn the trend of this tragedy is for people to turn their hearts toward the God who made them through the way paved by his Son Jesus. Jesus changes hearts, and changed hearts can change a nation. May God give us grace as a country, and may God give us courage to stand up in the midst of this tragedy so that, if he tarries, many more will cast votes in 2030.
Lord Jesus, we need your help.”
Although I disagree that Justification was the main concern, this is a good article.
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses concerning clerical abuses and indulgences on the church door at Wittenberg. This famous event is often considered that launching point for the Protestant Reformation.
The chief concern for Luther and the other reformers was the doctrine of justification. It was, to use Calvin’s language, the main hinge on which religion turns.” And the doctrine of justification is no less important today than it was 500 years ago.
There are five key concepts every Protestant should grasp if they are to understanding the reformer’s (and the Bible’s) doctrine of justification.
First, the Christian is simul iustus et peccator. This is Martin Luther’s famous Latin phrase which means “At the same time, justified and a sinner.” The Catechism powerfully reminds us that even though we are right with God, we still violate his commands, feel the sting of conscience, and battle against indwelling sin. On this side of the consummation, we will always be sinning saints, righteous wretches, and on occasion even justified jerks. God does not acquit us of our guilt based upon our works, but because we trust “him who justifies the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5).
Second, our right standing with God is based on an alien righteousness. Alien doesn’t refer to an E.T. spirituality. It means we are justified because of a righteousness that is not our own. I am not right with God because of my righteousness, but because “the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ” has been credited to me. “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling; naked, come to thee for dress; helpless, look to thee for grace; foul, I to the Fountain fly; wash me, Savior, or I die” wrote August Toplady in the old hymn. We contribute nothing to our salvation. The name by which every Christian must be called is “The Lord is our righteousness” (Jer. 23:6).
Third, the righteousness of Christ is ours by imputation, not by impartation. That is to say, we are not made holy, or infused with goodness as if we possessed it in ourselves, but rather Christ’s righteousness is credited to our account.
Fourth, we are justified by faith alone. The Catholic Church acknowledged that the Christian was saved by faith; it was the alone part they wouldn’t allow. In fact, the Council of Trent from the 16th century Catholic counter-reformation declared anathema those who believe in either justification by imputation or justification by faith alone. But evangelical faith has always held that “all I need to do is accept the gift of God with a believing heart.” True, justifying faith must show itself in good works. That’s what James 2 is all about. But these works serve as corroborating evidence, not as the ground of our justification. We are justified by faith without deeds of the law (Rom. 3:28; Titus 3:5). The gospel is “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved” (Acts 16:30-31), not “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and cooperate with transforming grace and you shall be saved.” There is nothing we contribute to our salvation but our sin, no merit we bring but Christ’s, and nothing necessary for justification except for faith alone.
Finally, with all this talk about the necessity of faith, the Catechism explains that faith is only an instrumental cause in our salvation. In other words, faith is not what God finds acceptable in us. In fact, strictly speaking, faith itself does not justify. Faith is only the instrument by which we embrace Christ, have communion with him, and share in all his benefits. It is the object of our faith that matters. If you venture out on to a frozen pond, it isn’t your faith that keeps you from crashing into the water. True, it takes faith to step onto the pond, but it it’s the object of your faith, the twelve inches of ice, that keeps you safe. Believe in Christ with all your heart, but don’t put your faith in your faith. Your experience of trusting Christ will ebb and flow. So be sure to rest in Jesus Christ and not your faith in him. He alone is the one who died for our sakes and was raised for our justification. Believe this, and you too will be saved.”
In Acts 14, Luke sets forth for us the events that took place on Paul’s first missionary journey, a journey on which Barnabas accompanied him. We’ve seen this pattern emerge over and over again. The apostles would come into the synagogue or the public square known as the agora. They would proclaim the gospel openly. And there would always be some people who responded in faith by the power of the Holy Ghost while others in attendance would stand up in outright hostility and oppose them. Indeed, it was through great tribulation that the gospel bore fruit in places like Antioch and Iconium. And everyday Paul and Barnabas were subjected to threats, insults, hostility and even physical danger. We can see how things degenerated to such a degree here in the latter part of chapter fourteen: the Jewish leadership actually convenes a kangaroo court and imposes the death penalty upon Paul! A rioting mob is gathered and begins to throw stones at Paul with deadly force. Paul is knocked down by the repeated blows to the face, arms, torso, and head. His would-be executors then drag him out of the city, leaving him for dead.
Now ladies and gentlemen we can’t read that and say, “Ho-hum, isn’t that interesting?” Passages like this speak to the truthfulness of the adage “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” These sorts of things happened to a multitude of Christians who did not recover as swiftly as Paul did on this occasion. Indeed, many in the Christian community of the first century became human torches in the gardens of Nero. Others were thrown into the arena to go against professional gladiators, or to be fed to the lions while crazed emperors and a depraved public watched the spectacle with perverted glee. That’s our history as Christians. And down through the ages every time the gospel has been preached openly in the public square, it has been met with some degree of hostility, violence and persecution. And no doubt such things continue in our day in various pockets of the world.
Now one of the things that I think about in terms of my own ministry is why I’ve never been cast into jail. Why has no one ever thrown a stone at me because of the boldness by which I preach the gospel? Well, I preach it in a safe zone, I suppose—a zone that has been declared something of a reservation. The church has been banished in our day from the public square, and a deal has been made. The deal goes something like this: If we confine our preaching and teaching to spiritual matters (matters of the world to come) and keep our mouths shut about what’s going on all around us in the culture in which we live, then we will be protected by the powers that be. But if we venture off the reservation and intrude our opinions into the public square, then we will feel the full measure of the wrath of the culture and indeed of the government itself.
That government today perpetuates a myth which is totally ungrounded in American history. This myth is articulated every day under the rubric of the “separation of church and state”. But I defy anybody in this room or in this nation to find such a concept anywhere in the Constitution of the United States of America or in the Declaration of Independence. The phrase originated in some private correspondence from the pen of Thomas Jefferson where he spoke of erecting a wall of separation but it never become part of the fabric of the law of this land historically. And I say today in our age that the concept of the separation of state and church that even Jefferson had in view in the 18th century has also been changed dramatically in its public understanding. What was meant in the 18th century even in the informal way in which Jefferson spoke of it was the division of labor between the church and the state. In other words, it is not the state’s responsibility to do the ministry of the church and it is not the state’s responsibility to preach the gospel or to administer the sacrament. Those duties have been given to the church that God ordained and to the Christian ministers whom God has called and appointed. But on the other side of the coin God also instituted government for the safety and well being of the people who live in its midst. And the government has been assigned by God the responsibility of preserving, protecting and maintaining the sanctity of human life. The government has been ordained by God to protect those areas of life in the realm ofcommon grace—blessings that God gives to all people—not just Jews or Christians or any other group. I’m referring to blessings such as the sanctity of marriage. That’s why the church recognizes marriages that take place in the secular world. But it is God who ordains the state and before whom the state is ultimately responsible and to Whom it will be held accountable at the end of the age for how it exercised its responsibility.
A few years ago I was invited to give the address at the inaugural breakfast of the newly elected governor of the state of Florida. And on that occasion I said to the governor elect, “Good sir, today is your ordination day. You have received your mandate to govern not from the will of the people, but from almighty God, who Himself establishes government and calls you His minister, not the minister of the church, but His minister as a guardian of the affairs of the state. And I remind you that you will be judged by Him in how you carry out your duties.” But in our time the separation of church and state has come to mean the separation of the state from God. It is one thing to say the state is not accountable to the church, it’s another thing to say the state is not accountable to God. And when the state assumes its autonomy and declares its independence from Almighty God it is not just the right but the duty of the church to call the state to task: Not to ask the state to be the church, but to tell the state to be the state under God.
And that has been the task of the church throughout the ages, throughout the pages of the Old Testament and into the New. I know there are people in Christendom who believe that the church should never say anything about the public square or what happens in the political realm. But given our biblical history I wonder how anybody can come to that conclusion. You read the pages of the Old Testament and you read the history of the prophets. You see a king like Ahab using the power of his secular authority to confiscate the personal private property of neighbors. And nobody says a word until Elijah risks his life to declare it unjust and call him to task. Isaiah was raised and anointed to go into the palace and speak to king after king after king, bringing God’s criticism to the nation. Amos was the one who cried in the marketplace “let justice roll down like an ever-flowing stream.” And for calling the culture of their day to righteousness every one of those prophets faced hostility, bodily harm, and death. Why was John the Baptist beheaded? Because he called attention to the immorality of the king, and the unjustness and illicit basis of his marriage. Jesus criticized Herod as well, calling him a fox. And when He called the nation of Israel to righteousness, corrected the Sanhedrin, and criticized the leading authorities and their corrupt practices, He was arrested and executed. He was not executed because he said, “Consider the lilies, how they spin.” He was executed because He said, “Consider the thieves, how they steal.”
Jesus took His message to the public square. But Uncle Sam has cut a deal with us, and here’s the deal: They’ll give you and I a tax exemption whereby we can deduct from our income taxes our tithes and offerings that we give to the church. But on one condition: that we not speak out on the political issues in our day. Ladies and Gentlemen that’s a compromise that the church can never afford to make. I’m not allowed by law at this point to tell you who to vote for, to recommend or endorse a particular candidate, and I’m going to obey that law because I’m called to obey the civil magistrates even when I disagree with those civil magistrates. But at the same time I’m going to protest against that condition and say to the church if it means that we have to give up our tax deductions so be it. Because we shouldn’t be giving our donations and charitable gifts to the church just so we can get a tax write-off. Our responsibility to tithe to the Kingdom of God is there whether we receive any benefit from the secular government or not. Surely we must all understand that. And I’m not going to tell you who to vote for, but I am going to tell you some things you should be concerned about when you go to the voting booth.
But here is what I’m going to tell you to do when you vote. As a Christian you have obligations opposed upon your conscience that in some sense other people don’t have, although they should have. And the first thing is this: You have to understand what a vote is. The word vote comes from the Latin votum, which means ‘will’ or choice. And when you go to the ballot box and you vote, you are not there to vote for what’s going to benefit you necessarily. Your vote is not a license to impose your selfish desires upon the rest of the country. You only have the right to vote for what is right. And not only do you have the right to vote for what is right, but when you vote you have the duty to vote for what is right.
I’m reminded of the work of William Wilberforce in England. You may recall that in debate after debate after debate, and in election after election after election, Wilberforce was soundly and roundly defeated when he sought the abolition of slavery in the British Commonwealth. But if ever there was an exercise in perseverance, it was by Wilberforce. Wilberforce refused to give up. He simply would not walk away from being the conscience of the English nation. And he publicly testified that slavery was wrong and he promised to oppose it as long as he had breath in his body. And finally in the providence of God, Parliament woke up and abolished this unethical practice that was a plague on the English speaking world.
We’ve gone through the same plague in the history of America, and thanks be to God slavery has finally been abolished in America. But I believe that slavery is the second most serious ethical issue that our country has ever faced. From my perspective the number one ethical issue that this nation has ever faced is the issue of abortion. Abortion is not a matter of private choice—not for the Christian who understands anything about the sanctity of life. The first century church made it very clear in their day, explicitly stating that abortion is murder.
I’ve written over 70 books. The book that had the shortest shelf life of all of my books was my book on the case against abortion. I talked to pastor after pastor and sought to understand why they weren’t using this material (for which we also made a video series). They told me, “Well, we agree with it but we can’t do it in our church.” And I said, “Why?” They responded: “It will split the congregation.” And I said, “So be it!” A million and a half unborn babies are slaughtered wantonly in the United States of America every year in the name of women’s rights. If I know anything about the character of God after forty years of study, I know that God hates abortion. And I could never vote for a candidate who supported abortion—even if I agreed with that candidate on every other policy position. If he supported abortion I would not vote for him and I urge you to do the same.
I know that abortion is not the number one issue in this campaign because it has become acceptable. Just like slavery became acceptable. But it cannot be acceptable to ethical people. The people of God have to rise up and say ‘NO’! We are not asking the state to be the church but we must say to the state, “Please be the state. God ordained you to protect, maintain, and preserve the sanctity of life, and you are not doing it.” So that has to be on your mind when you walk into that voting booth.
And a second ethical issue that you need to keep in mind before you vote is this: Don’t be a lobby group of one. I read in the Sentinel that they did a poll of athletes, asking them for whom they were going to vote. And one said it straight out. He said “I’m going to vote for the one who’s going to give the most money away.” How many times have you heard the phrase ‘I’m going to vote my pocketbook’? I’m going to go to the trough of the public and drink as deeply as I can. Alexis de Tocqueville, when he came and examined the great American experiment of democracy, said two things can destroy this experiment: One is when people learn that their vote is worth money, that you can bribe people to get their vote or that you can use the vote to somehow shelter yourself from financial or other obligations imposed upon others. Have we taken the blindfold away from lady justice? Are we not all equal under the law?
On the contrary, we have an income tax structure today that is inherently unjust. We almost never hear anybody discuss this injustice. But when God set up a system of taxation, He did things differently. God said I’m going to impose a tax on my people and it’s going to be ten percent from everybody: The rich man and the poor man are not going to pay the same amount. The rich man’s going to pay much more than the poor man, but they’re both going to pay the same percentage. They’re both going to have the same responsibility. That way the rich man can’t use his power to exploit the poor man, saying, “I’m going to pay five percent, but you’re going to pay fifty percent.” The rich weren’t allowed to do that. Nor were the poor allowed to say, “We’re going to pay five percent and the rich are going to pay fifty percent because they can afford it.” What that is ladies and gentlemen is the politics of envy that legalizes theft. Anytime you vote a tax on somebody else that is not a tax on yourself, you’re stealing from your brother. And though the whole world does it and though it’s common practice in the United States of America, a Christian shouldn’t be caught dead voting to fill his own pocketbook at the expense of someone else. Isn’t that plain? Isn’t that clear? And until we get some kind of flat tax, we’re going to have a politicized economy, we’re going to have class warfare, and we’re going to have the whole nation’s rule being determined by the rush for economic advantage at the polls. Don’t do it. Even if that means sacrificing some benefit you might receive from the federal government. Don’t ask other people at the point of a gun to give you from their pockets what you don’t have. That’s sin.
It is, of course, the American way. But we Christians should not be involved in that sort of thing. Rather we should be voting for what is right, what is ethical. And our consciences on that score need to be informed by the Word of God, not by our wallets. And so I plead with you: When you enter the voting booth, don’t leave your Christianity in the parking lot. And be bold to speak on these issues, even if it means somebody picks up a rock and throws it in your head. Because it is through tribulation that we enter the Kingdom of God. I pray for you, beloved, and for our nation in these days to come.”
My friends tell me that my name has been invoked in various web skirmishes concerning Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism, sometimes by people, including friends, who claim that I nurtured them along in their departure from the Protestant world. My friends also hinted that it would be good for me to say again why I’m not heading to Rome or Constantinople or Moscow (Russia!), nor encouraging anyone to do so. Everything I say below I’ve said before in various venues – on this blog, in First Things, in conference presentations. But it might be useful to put down my reasons fairly concisely in one place, so here tis.
One of the major themes of my academic and pastoral life, and one of the passions of my heart, has been to participate in the healing of the divided church. I have written and taught a great deal on ecclesiology; I participate in various joint Protestant-Catholic-Orthodox ventures (Touchstone, First Things, Center for Catholic-Evangelical Dialog). I consider many Catholics and Orthodox friends as co-belligerents in various causes, and I think of Catholicism and Orthodoxy as allies on a wide range of issues, not only in the culture wars but in theology and church life.
This isn’t just a theological niche for me. It’s a product of a deep conviction about the nature of the church. I still remember the pain I felt when I first understood (with James Dunn’s help) what Paul was on about in Galatians 2, when he attacked Peter for withdrawing from table fellowship. The division of the church, especially since the Reformation, has largely been a story of horror and tragedy, with the occasional act of faithful separation thrown in. I regard the division of the church as one of the great evils of the modern world, which has seen more than its share of evils (many of which are, I believe, quite closely related to the division of the church). What more horrific sight can we imagine than to see Christ again crucified? Christ is not divided. I think our main response to this half-millennium of Western division, and millennium-plus of East-West division should be deep mourning and repentance.
My Protestantism, my reformed catholicity, isn’t at all in conflict with that passion for church unity. There is no tension at all. On the contrary, it’sbecause I am so passionate to see the church reunited that I, not grudgingly but cheerfully, stay where I am. My summary reason for staying put is simple: I’m too catholic to become Catholic or Orthodox.
I agree with the standard Protestant objections to Catholicism and Orthodoxy: Certain Catholic teachings and practices obscure the free grace of God in Jesus Christ; prayers through Mary and the saints are not encouraged or permitted by Scripture, and they distract from the one Mediator, Jesus; I do not accept the Papal claims of Vatican I; I believe iconodules violate the second commandment by engaging in liturgical idolatry; venerating the Host is also liturgical idolatry; in both Catholicism and Orthodoxy, tradition muzzles the word of God. I’m encouraged by many of the developments in Catholicism before and since Vatican II, but Vatican II created issues of its own (cf. the treatment of Islam in Lumen Gentium).
I agree with those objections, but those are not the primary driving reasons that keep me Protestant. I have strong objections to some brands of Protestantism, after all. My Protestantism – better, reformed catholicity – is not fundamentally anti-. It’s pro-, pro-church, pro-ecumenism, pro-unity, pro-One Body of the One Lord. It’s not that I’m too anti-Catholic to be Catholic. I’m too catholic to be Catholic.
Here’s the question I would ask to any Protestant considering a move: What are you saying about your past Christian experience by moving to Rome or Constantinople? Are you willing to start going to a Eucharistic table where your Protestant friends are no longer welcome? How is that different from Peter’s withdrawal from table fellowship with Gentiles? Are you willing to say that every faithful saint you have known is living a sub-Christian existence because they are not in churches that claim apostolic succession, no matter how fruitful their lives have been in faith, hope, and love? For myself, I would have to agree that my ordination is invalid, and that I have never presided over an actual Eucharist. To become Catholic, I would have to begin regarding my Protestant brothers as ambiguously situated “separated brothers,” rather than full brothers in the divine Brother, Jesus. To become Orthodox, I would likely have to go through the whole process of initiation again, as if I were never baptized. And what is that saying about all my Protestant brothers who have been “inadequately” baptized? Why should I distance myself from other Christians like that? I’m too catholic to do that.
Catholicism and Orthodoxy are impressive for their heritage, the seriousness of much of their theology, the seriousness with which they take Christian cultural engagement. Both, especially the Catholic church, are impressive for their sheer size. But when I attend Mass and am denied access to the table of my Lord Jesus together with my Catholic brothers, I can’t help wondering what really is the difference between Catholics and the Wisconsin Synod Lutherans or the Continental Reformed who practice closed communion. My Catholic friends take offense at this, but I can’t escape it: Size and history apart, how is Catholicism different from a gigantic sect? Doesn’t Orthodoxy come under the same Pauline condemnation as the fundamentalist Baptist churches who close their table to everyone outside? To become Catholic I would had to contract my ecclesial world. I would have to become lesscatholic – less catholic than Jesus is. Which is why I will continue to say: I’m too catholic to become Catholic.
One final reason has to do with time. I cut my theological teeth, and still cut them, on James Jordan’s biblical theology. At the end of Through New Eyes, Jordan argues just as the temple was unimaginable to Israelites living through the collapse of the tabernacle system, so the future of the church is unimaginable to us. We can’t see the future; we can’t know how God is going to put back the fragmented pieces of His church. We can trust and hope that He is and will, but all we have access to are the configurations of the past and present. It’s tempting to imagine that the future of the church will be an extension of some present tradition – Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Anabaptist, whatever. But the future never is a simple extension of the past and present (how can it be, with the massive surge in Christianity in the global South?). So I remain contentedly and firmly in my reformed catholicity, but I remain also eager and impatient for the church to come. Of that church we know nothing except that it will be like nothing we know. We worship a living God, which means (Jenson tells us) a God of constant surprises.”