What’s Love Got to Do with It? Discerning the Value of Unity

I was browsing Twitter a few days ago and came across a tweet retweeting a quote from a source I generally ignore. I make active use of the block and mute functions on social media. What good comes from arguments in 140 characters (or 280)? When someone is hostile or belligerent, I exit them from my online world. Titus 3:10 tells us to do that sort of thing.

The source is irrelevant (and not who you are thinking). The sentiment expressed in this quote is one I’ve encountered frequently among the so-called discernment ministries. While they provide a worthwhile service to a church prone to doctrinal laziness, they sometimes see concepts such as unity, love, and edification as evidence of spiritual and theological compromise. I’m not “calling out” the author but engaging the concept behind the statements he made, which I’ve heard often.

Here are two quotes that began and ended the treatise.

“What is it with evangelicals and this “idol of gentleness, unity, and respect?

Unity and gentleness are idols. False gods! Lest you think this might be a mistake, he doubles down later and says,

“The idol of unity needs to be repented of.”

We must repent of seeking unity? Unity is an idol? Stunning. Those who prize unity are in sin and must repent.

He may fear that truth will be sacrificed in the pursuit of unity and doctrinal compromise will result. Compromise and error are real problems in the church. Jesus warned us about false Christs, apostles, prophets, and teachers. Paul, Peter, and the other NT writers renewed those warnings and a church that fails to arm itself against theological error swims in shark-infested water in a raw-meat swimming suit. There are warnings to be alert, to expose error, and to contend against it. But nowhere are we called to abandon unity, love, or gentleness in that pursuit. We must balance these two – speak the truth in love. If we abandon truth, we err. If we abandon love, we err.

If your “discernment” ministry denies the high value of unity in the Body of Christ, of love, peace, patience, and gentleness towards other believers, it is NOT biblical discernment you are practicing.

There are many are doctrinal cowards, unwilling to stand for truth and expose error, but many of us also give in to our fleshly impulse toward anger, toward schism, and become agents of division. It is my contention that the weight of NT revelation makes love, unity, and gentleness of the highest value. Jesus died to unite disparate peoples into one Body to worship God eternally. Unity is essential to the purpose of Christ’s death.

I watched a video this morning by a well-known blogger. It was powerful and confrontational, exposing error in the church. But it was done with a tone of gentleness and grace. One can confront powerfully without anger, without bombastic and cruel words. The means matters as well as the ends.

Let us peruse a few Scriptures – this post could be 10,000 words long – that speak of the value of love and unity.

What’s Love Got to Do with It?

1 Corinthians 13

If I speak human or angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give away all my possessions, and if I give over my body in order to boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 12:1-3

Case closed. Nothing you do without love matters. Love and unity are not IDOLS, they are ESSENTIALS.

Of course, those who argue the “Unity is an idol” side generally make two assertions.

     1. Love is telling people the truth. They claim that their habit of brutal confrontation is genuine love because it exposes people to truth and causes them to repent.

But  Paul describes love in 1 Corinthians 13 – how it acts. It is patient and kind, not rude, self-seeking, or irritable. Most significantly, love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” It seeks the best in people and does not rush to condemn them as heretics. It builds up and doesn’t tear down, edifies, not destroys. The love Paul describes here is not a brutal, eviscerating love.

     2. Love only applies to those in the true “Body,” not to “heretics.

My favorite novel as a child was Tom Sawyer. In it, Mark Twain describes the Presbyterian pastor’s sermon Tom sat through as “an argument that dealt in limitless fire and brimstone and thinned the predestined elect down to a company so small as to be hardly worth the saving.” Discernment ministries tend to thin the “elect” to a small company as well, an inner circle of the theologically correct. Commands to unity only apply within this circle. Those outside it are heretics, deserving of the Matthew 23 treatment. The need for love and gentleness and patience is abrogated by perceived theological error and becomes idolatrous, not virtuous.

This attitude is confronted in 2 Timothy 2:24-26, dealt with below.

The Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5)

Galatians 5 differentiates the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit working in us. The “works of the flesh” are abundantly evident, are they not?

 …hatred, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy… Galatians 5:20-21

What is the work of the Spirit within?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23

These are the things that are often seen as weakness and compromise, and here as idolatry! The Spirit draws us away from the outbursts of anger, away from dissensions and factions, from schisms, from strife and jealousy, toward love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and all that squishy, hippy-dippy stuff!

It is time we stop acting in the flesh and calling it the Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12

There is a lot here, but I’d like to point out a simple truth.

For just as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of that body, though many, are one body—so also is Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and we were all given one Spirit to drink. Indeed, the body is not one part but many. 1 Corinthians 12:12-14

We are diverse – different gifts, different ministries, but Jesus died for ONE Body. Jesus died for UNITY and the Spirit works in us to produce UNITY. It is not idolatry to seek unity, it is obedience. It is difficult because we are fleshly and our hearts resist it, but if we wish to live in line with the purposes of Christ, we seek unity. If one does not seek unity he is working against Christ and his Spirit, not with them.

Ephesians 4

The first half of Ephesians describes the great work of Christ in redemption, how he died to save us by grace through faith and to build one new man out of the two – Jews and Gentiles. In Ephesians 4:1 he commands the Ephesians to live a life that is worthy of that salvation. No one can be worthy, be in Christ we can live a life that is a worthy reflection of the purposes of Christ in effecting our salvation. The rest of the book is a litany of imperatives describing how we can live “worthy of the calling you have received.”

But what does Paul begin with? What was number 1?

Therefore I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to live worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope at your calling— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

Yep, unity. #1. Numero Uno. Peace. Gentleness. Humility. In the power of the Spirit we, are to “make every effort” to maintain unity by “bearing with one another in love.” Paul thought unity was important. The first priority of a worthy walk was not contending for the faith or fighting false doctrine, but struggling against our flesh to maintain the unity of the Spirit.

John 17

This was not just Paul’s priority. The night before he died, Jesus poured out his heart to the Father, and he prayed,

I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in me through their word. May they all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. John 17:20-21

The church is meant to reflect the perfect unity of the Godhead. One day, we will!

Of course, he prayed for “those who believe in me” and it opens the door to excluding those we classify as heretics. but that violates the entirety of the prayer. Yes, there are wolves among the sheep, but every sheep whose wool is a slightly different color than mine is not a wolf. We need to stop going nuclear on all doctrinal disagreement and dropping the h-bomb on everyone who doesn’t see things our way. Unity is something for which Jesus died and shouldn’t be lightly sacrificed.

Miscellaneous Verses

Jesus desired unity in the church and we should too. There are many such teachings in the Epistles.

  • Jesus made it pretty clear in John 13:35. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
  • In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul described the tendency to divide as an evidence of spiritual immaturity.
  • In 1 Corinthians 6, he said it was better to be wronged, even cheated, than to take another believer to court and create public discord.
  • In Philippians 2, Paul begged the church to complete his joy by unity, humility, and honoring (respecting?) one another.
  • In Colossians 3:14, Paul says, “above all these” characteristics of godly living, “put on love” because it “binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
  • It is interesting that the very definition of a “false teacher” in Titus 3:10 is “one who stirs up division.”

Qualifications of a Pastor: 2 Timothy 2:24-26

When a church is seeking a pastor they generally say that he must meet the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. This passage, 2 Timothy 2:24-26, is unfortunately ignored, but these qualities are as binding on leaders in the church as the others.

The Lord’s servant must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, 25 instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth. 26 Then they may come to their senses and escape the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

Paul is instructing Timothy about how to deal with the false teachers that were plaguing the church at Ephesus. These are character qualities essential to a leader in the church. A man who does not exhibit these is disqualified from ministry – as unfit for pastoral ministry as an adulterer or drunkard!

  • He must not quarrel. He must not be bogged down in petty, angry debate that produces no fruit. This might have been a prophecy, Paul foreseeing the advent of social media!
  • He must be gentle with everyone. Even false teachers. Everyone. We do not pick fights or preach as if the death and destruction of the wicked give us joy. Again, gentleness is a command of God’s word and an essential quality of a man of God. A pastor who is not gentle, even with troublesome people, is disqualified from ministry.
  • He is able to teach and instructs his opponents with gentleness. Gentleness again. He does not bluster or shout, or call hellfire down on those who disagree. He gently attempts to instruct those, even those who disagree. This is hard, but so is rejoicing in the hard times, loving your enemy, and forgiving the one who sins against you. Everything the Spirit is doing in us is hard. But it is not optional for a man of God.
  • He must be patient. You see the true character of a man of God when he is opposed. Who likes that? But does he lash out in anger, call names, escalate the conflict? Or does he patiently respond with gentle instruction? That is what a man of God does.

I could go on and on and on. The New Testament’s highest value is the UNITY of the Body of Christ. We confront false teachers not because it gives us a sense of superiority and glee, but because these false teachers invariably insert themselves and their egos in the mix and produce schism in the church. They divide. Men of God work with all their hearts to be loving, patient, kind, gentle, and peaceful with others, even those who disagree or hold false ideas because that is what the Bible commands us to do. That is what a man of God does – he gently instructs, trusting the Spirit of God to use the Word of God to do the Work of God. If someone shows themselves unalterably to be an enemy of the Cross we are willing to stand – but that must always be a last resort, not a first response.

Never let anyone shame you for pursuing unity. It is not compromise to seek unity with all of God’s redeemed, it is obedience! Those who love Jesus and love the word of God will be agents of unity, not servants of division or soldiers of schism.

True discernment understands why Jesus died – to create ONE Body, an eternal people who will worship him forever in perfect unity – and devotes itself to serving that purpose here on earth. Anything else is error.

The Day After: Random Thoughts in a Weird World

Random thoughts after the divisive Alabama Senate race and the tragic story about Judge Pressler.

1. It is time that character becomes an issue once again in American politics. 

The truth is that sin, hypocrisy, and all kinds of darkness have always been a part of the American political landscape.

But not too many years ago, Christians held politicians to a certain lifestyle standard if they were going to gain broad support. A thrice-divorced man who boasted of bedding multitudes of women, many married, or a man accused by 9 women of sexual assault would not have gotten an evangelical majority. They just wouldn’t. No, we aren’t electing pastors and the standards of Timothy and Titus do not apply, but a basic character test once did.

And it should again.

Christians, when we line up to support those whose lives undermine what we claim to promote, it gives us a black eye in this world that already instinctively views us as hypocrites. When partisanship trumps character and Christians are willing to vote for scoundrels so the GOP wins, it does not help our moral claims.

Philip Nation had a Facebook post, which I will reference again in a moment, and I saw this meme on it, created by a man I don’t know, Matthew Lee Davis.

 

To me, that says it all. I think we’ve allowed partisan politics to let us forget who we work for and have become way too invested in the love of the world. When we compromise heavenly values for earthly gain (the very definition of politics) it is treacherous ground.

2. The fact that everyone is a sinner does not mean no one is virtuous. 

One of the tropes that the apologists for the morally compromised (but GOP) candidates say is some variation on, “There are no perfect candidates. Everyone is a sinner. We all have skeletons in our closets.” That is using a biblical truth to speak a moral lie.

Yes, we are all sinners. Yes, we have all done things in our past we aren’t proud of. I’m glad we didn’t have cell phones and Facebook in my college days or I’d be seeking how to delete and scrub a lot of stupidity out of the interwebs. But just because we’ve all done things we regret doesn’t mean there are no moral standards to be observed. We need a higher moral standard than “R” behind your name on the ballot.

Each of us has to decide what those moral standards are – your vote is your own. But to argue that because no one is perfect there is no moral standard for anyone – that’s ridiculous. I must make moral decisions and have moral and ethical standards.

  • I voted for the divorced Ronald Reagan. I would not vote for the thrice-divorced, enthusiastically adulterous, and sexually abusive Donald Trump. I drew a line.
  • I would vote for a moral Mormon (some of my closest friends disagree) because I am not voting for America’s Pastor-in-chief but I will not vote for openly immoral or hypocritical Christian.
  • I refuse to cast my vote for anyone who is either pro-choice (in any way, shape, or form) or anyone (and this is a newer commitment) who smacks of racism, alt-rightism, or anything like that.

You don’t have to agree 100% with my standards but you should strive for excellence. Don’t let the presence of sincause you to abandon the concept of nobility. Yes, all have sinned but that doesn’t mean that everyone is equally degraded.

And that leads me to point 3…

3. Back to Philip Nation’s Facebook Post!

He posed a simple dilemma.

Raise your hand if you feel politically homeless.

I am a lifelong and loyal Republican who has filed for divorce from the GOP. No sense going over the reasons – I’ve cataloged them before – but I have realized that the GOP is not committed to the things I’m committed to. It is a “say one thing, do another” party. And I certainly cannot join the party of perversion and death, the Democratic Party. I will no longer stay in one party just because, “they aren’t as bad as the Democrats.”

If we continue to vote Republican because they aren’t as bad as the Democrats, that is what we’ll get, Republicans who are marginally better than Democrats, and massive hypocrites.

I’ve explored third parties and haven’t found one yet. Some appeal to me in one area, but not another.

For the first time in my life I am a man without a political home. Maybe I should just spend more time working for the King of kings as an Ambassador of Heaven, as Mr. Smith mentioned above.

4. Stop with the “Innocent until proven guilty” thing. 

The presumption of innocence is a wonderful LEGAL concept. We are blessed to live in a country in which the government is required to prove your guilt and you are not required to prove your innocence. Thank God for that system.

But if I had a dollar for every weak defense of Judge Moore based on “he’s innocent until proven guilty” I’d retire tomorrow. People, the presumption of innocence is a legal concept, not a moral or biblical one. We are not required to withhold judgment until the secular courts decide his guilt. The Bible tells us a matter should be established by two or three witnesses.

Yes, we should not immediately believe every accusation. Dwight McKissic shared an accusation made against him that was false. Sometimes, the accused are innocent. But when a multitude of witnesses step forward to speak to an issue, we need not wait, as churches or as voters, for a legal determination.

5. In fact, pastors and other public officials, the presumption of innocence is ONLY legal!

Lets get real.

I have never been accused of any sexual misconduct (because I’ve never committed any – before marriage or since). But if a young lady stands up at church and speaks a word of accusation against me, I have a legal presumption of innocence, but in the eyes of the world, and even in the eyes of my church, I have a burden of proof. If I sit back and say, “prove it” I will likely be looking for employment. AND I SHOULD BE! If I am accused of moral sin I should defend myself.

One of my closest friends was accused of a heinous sin – the very worst. He was not guilty. His family knew it, the church knew it, even the authorities knew it. But he still had to answer the charges. Fortunately, he was able to show that the charges were false and was completely exonerated. But he couldn’t hide behind the presumption of innocence.

When  you are in a position of trust, the presumption of innocence is only a legal concept. Your character is at issue in leadership and you get no presumption there. You have to be tested and approved, not presumed!

6. Yes, there are liars, but most of them are NOT.

I just mentioned a false accusation against Dwight (a misunderstanding, not a lie) and a lie told against a close friend. Divorcing parties have leveled false accusations in custody hearings to gain an advantage. People have lied to humiliate someone else. Yes, it happens. But every time someone makes an accusation against a conservative religious or political figure, we cannot assume that they are lying.

The simple fact is that in the end, the vast majority of those who speak up are TELLING THE TRUTH.

7. Thank God women (and men) are speaking up.

If you silence someone who speaks up about abuse with shame, recrimination, or hate, you are part of the problem.

I do not know if the allegations against Judge Pressler are true and the lawsuit against him is perhaps the worst written thing in legal history (not written pro se). But please, Baptist friends, let us not go on the attack against Mr. Rollins and treat him like a bug to be squashed. Maybe he is a liar. If he is, I hope he is exposed and then the Judge and the other defendants sue the pants off him and his lawyer. But maybe he is telling the truth. Almost every one of these allegations shocks the family and friends of the accused. “No way he could have done that.”

Christian circles have a notorious history for pressuring victims to remain silent and of making them feel guilty instead of ministering to them. This must stop.

Thank God that people are finally finding the courage to stand and speak, to shine the light of truth on this ugly thing. It may be painful because we may find out some things that we don’t want to know about ourselves and our heroes. It has happened in Hollywood. It has happened on the left and the right in the Beltway. We have no idea where this trend will take us as Christians and as Southern Baptists.

But for the love of God, let us be the friend of the victims!

8. The cover-up is as bad as the crime. 

As certain offenses come to light we may also find out that people knew about these offenses and kept quiet. Hearing a rumor is one thing. I never act on gossip. A rumor is a rumor and we are not obligated to act on rumors. But if anyone in any leadership position in the SBC can be shown to have been made aware of accusations of molestation or other abuse, and helped to hide that abuse, that is a serious thing and should be taken seriously.

To aid and abet an abuser by helping him keep his sin hidden should not be excused.

That’s all I’ve got for now. This is one of those “William Thornton” specials – random thoughts. But I like his stuff so imitation is flatter and all. Of course, his are about half as long as mine, so….

Like congressmen, I reserve the right to amend and extend my remarks. The edit function is a wonderful thing.

(I’ve tried to do a little more editing recently – have done almost NONE here.)

 

 

 

Judge Paul Pressler Accused of Molestation in Texas Lawsuit

It is a sad day for the Southern Baptist family.

We do not know the outcome of this. Perhaps in time the allegations will be disproven and dismissed, or perhaps they will not. But today, one of the luminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention has felt the sting of accusation. An online journal called the Texas Monitor has reported that Judge Paul Pressler is being sued by a man named Gareld Duane Rollins who claims that Pressler molested him from the time he was 14 years old in 1979 through 2014.

Pressler forcefully denies the allegations. His law partner, Jared Woodfill, also named in the lawsuit, claims this is an attempt to extort money and embarrass the SBC. Rollins is also suing Mrs. Pressler, First Baptist of Houston, Southwestern Seminary, and Dr. Patterson. While it may be standard to cast a wide net to get include as many deep pockets in a lawsuit as one can, Rollins argues that the Conservative Resurgence was a vast conspiracy that enabled men to abuse women and children.

I read the lawsuit and though I am not fluent in legalese, I think I understood most of it. I have talked to several lawyers about this. The general agreement is that it is among the worst written lawsuits ever. One told me he was sure that it was “pro se” until he saw a lawyer’s name attached.

The fact that it is such a horribly written lawsuit does not make it either true or false. I would make some observations.

  • There are two main sections to the lawsuit. The first – “Threshold Matters” – is a rambling “expose” of the Conservative Resurgence, Rick Patrick’s screed against Calvinism at Chapel at Southwestern, and some random psychological insights (pages 3-12). Then, on pages 12-40 he lays out the alleged offenses. It begins with the allegations of molestation against Judge Pressler (no graphic details) and then turns to the “joint and several” liability of the other defendants. He attempts to apply the principles of joint enterprise and conspiracy he lays out in the “Threshold” section to assign blame to Patterson, the seminary, and the church.
  • He asserts that the CR is a joint (criminal?) enterprise designed to enable men like Pressler to exert control over women and children (or young men like Rollins – aged 14 when the alleged abuse began). He also accuses both Paul Pressler and Paige Patterson of being closet Calvinists (this will come as quite a surprise to many). He makes amazing claims about Calvinism (for instance, that only White people are elect). Somehow, he ties Patterson’s and Pressler’s “Calvinism” with the conspiratorial aspects of the Conservative Resurgence into a “Trojan Horse” that allowed them to control both the SBC and people like Rollins. The logic of the “Threshold Matters” section escapes me, but the result is clear. The Conservative Resurgence and Calvinism (which Patterson and Pressler both hold) were a joint exercise allowing men to control women and children and use them as they wish.
  • He makes unequivocal claims that Judge Paul Pressler sexually molested him starting when he was 14 years old and continuing until 2014.
  • He does not claim, as best I can tell, that any of the other defendants knew the molestation was going on, nor does he assert a cover-up. His accusations against them are that they were part of this joint enterprise and did not fulfill their “duty to exercise reasonable care” to prevent the abuse and to protect him from it. I am guessing that SWBTS and Dr. Patterson are hard at work seeking a summary judgment to have that part of the suit dismissed. Again, there is NO ACCUSATION of cover-up here.
  • The lawsuit comes across as a bit bizarre. But if the accuser is angry and bizarre it neither proves nor disproves the allegations.  He could be an unstable and bitter man making a false accusation. Or he could be bitter and unstable because of terrible things that have been done to him. That is for the legal system, not for us, to decide.
  • The plaintiff’s lawyer, Daniel Shea, is known for lawsuits against the Catholic church (he once sued the Pope) based on the molestation scandal. This seems to be his specialty.

I love the SBC and publishing this is grievous. Those who disdain our convention will rejoice at hearing an icon of our CR accused. But the day of sweeping these things under the rug has passed. The allegation has been made and Judge Pressler is now obligated to publicly answer it. It is news. It is public. We make no judgment as to the Judge’s guilt or innocence. in fact, we strongly encourage the reader not to do that.

Many will approach this with the presumption of Pressler’s guilt and will be nearly impossible to convince otherwise. This has already proven true on social media. This story has been out there for about a week, but we waited until Baptist Press (or someone else) went public. Some in social media have been circulating the story, often with false facts. Others, who are more supportive of the CR, may defend the Judge and disbelieve the accusations. This may become a bit of a Conservative Resurgence Rorschach Test. But this is very different than many of the situations that have played out in the news recently. There is, at this time, a lone accuser. That accuser is clearly angry and has an agenda. Is he angry because of the abuse or is he accusing the Judge because he is angry? That is beyond my knowledge at this point – or yours. We must withhold judgment. I would say two things.

  • People we would NEVER believe could be guilty have been proven guilty of vile sins.
  • People who have been accused of heinous crimes, and been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion, have later been shown to be innocent; falsely accused.

Either a rush to judgment or a rush to acquittal or absolution is premature. Withhold judgment and let the court system do its job. Pray for justice. Either he did it or he didn’t. Let truth prevail.

I am no historian, but I cannot remember an accusation like this ever being made against such a prominent leader in the Southern Baptist Convention. This will be devastating – whether it is true or false. We pray that the light of God’s truth will shine and that justice will prevail.

A PDF of the lawsuit is available here. If you read it and see something different than I did, please let me know by email. I would encourage you to READ the LAWSUIT. It is genuinely weird.

Nothing is to be gained by exchanging comments here, and much could be lost. Comments are closed.

Here is a link to the Baptist Press article on the lawsuit.

And yes, if you are wondering, you read that right. The basis of this lawsuit is that Dr. Paige Patterson (and Judge Pressler) is a Calvinist who promoted the Calvinist doctrine of inerrancy as a part of a conspiracy to create an environment of authority and control in which men could control and abuse women and children. 

Pro Choice Heretic

Pro choice heretic

*This article was discussed on the author’s podcast, All Truth is God’s Truth, recently. You can find the episode here (iTunes, Google Play, or Stitcher). Subscribe for more interaction with culture from a consistent Christian worldview.

In the beginning, God created mankind, body and soul, male and female, in his image (Gen. 1:26-28; Matt. 10:28). God made mankind for the purpose of mirroring him. In light of creation, the image of God in man is meant to be displayed physically in a physical world.

Created in the image of God

Body and soul exist in unity and they make up human nature. Natures do not act on their own; rather, persons act through their natures. This is not to say persons can be separated from their natures. They cannot be separated from their natures; persons are the acting subjects.[1] Natures do not subsist in themselves, but in persons.[2]

Human persons act in and through their natures, their souls and bodies, simultaneously to make up a human being in unity.[3] One cannot act through his soul without also acting through his body unless the soul has been separated from the body, meaning that the body is dead. In other words, the soul is the non-physical substance and the body is the physical substance, and these make up a single substance, a capacity known as the human nature.[4] If you have a human nature, you necessarily have a person; if you do not have a human nature, you necessarily do not have a person.

The nature refers to our “whatness,” and the person refers to our “whoness.” “If I pick up a pencil, what is holding it? Answer: A human being, a human nature. Who is holding this same pencil? Answer, I am, a person, Jared Moore.”

To summarize, the person is the acting subject, and persons act in and through their natures. To have a human nature on earth, one needs a human body (regardless of how minimal) and a human soul. If the body is ensouled, the soul is embodied, and a human nature and person exists.

With these truths in mind, we ask, “Does Scripture teach that human embryos are human natures that subsist in persons?” The answer to our question is found in understanding the most important human who has ever lived, Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ, fully human, a human nature subsisting in a Divine Person from conception

For Jesus Christ to represent the human race, he had to come from Adam’s race (Gen. 3:15; John 1:1, 14; Heb. 2:14-17). Mary is treated as Jesus’s mother, not because she was a mere surrogate for the implanted embryo of Christ, but because it was her egg that was fertilized by God miraculously. The same process that you and I went through in embryonic stage onward to birth is the same process Jesus Christ went through. Yet, he was not conceived in iniquity like us because he was conceived sinless by the Holy Spirit from His Father, the first person of the Trinity (Matt. 1:18; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5).

Before Jesus was conceived in Mary, her cousin Elizabeth became pregnant with John the Baptist. John was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15, 41). An angel told Mary she would be pregnant by the Holy Spirit and that Elizabeth, her cousin, was already six months pregnant. Mary then hurried to see Elizabeth. Mary greeted her and John the Baptist jumped in Elizabeth’s womb (Luke 1:26-41).

“And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord’” (Luke 1:42-45).

It had only been a few days or a few weeks at the most since Mary became pregnant. She was still very early in the first trimester, and it’s even possible that the embryo had not even attached to the uterine wall yet, a process that takes 6-10 days. Based on what Elizabeth said to Mary, Mary was already pregnant when she entered the room. Elizabeth referred to Mary’s baby, her embryo, as tou kuriou—the Lord.

Pro choice heretic

These realities now bring us to the title of this article, “Pro choice heretic.” There are two dominant positions when it comes to the discussion of abortion: pro-life and pro-choice. Those who affirm the pro-life argument believe babies are living human persons from conception. All that human beings need to possess in order to be considered persons, babies possess from conception. On the other side, those who affirm the pro-choice argument believe that mothers should have the choice concerning whether or not to bring their babies to delivery, because only they should determine what to do with their own bodies. Since the baby is inside the mother’s body, she alone should have control over her body. Some in this movement justify abortion by arguing that babies are not human persons until they possess higher brain function, self-consciousness, autonomy, etc. This “transformation” into human personhood takes place at some point late in the second trimester.

If the pro-choice movement is correct about when personhood begins, what does this say about God the Son Incarnate at conception? Was he something less than human from conception to late in the 2nd trimester or birth? If so, what was he, and how does this fit with orthodoxy?

The Chalcedonian Creed and Orthodoxy

For example, consider the Creed of Chalcedon. The Chalcedonian Creed was written due to heresies forming in the early church. The church needed to precisely understand and officially confess what Scripture said in order to answer heresy and prevent error. They had their Fourth Ecumenical Council in Chalcedon in 451, and the result was the Chalcedonian Creed:

Following, then, the holy Fathers, we all with one voice teach that it is to be confessed that our Lord Jesus Christ is one and the same God, perfect in divinity, and perfect in humanity, true God and true human, with a rational soul and a body, of one substance with the Father in his divinity, and of one substance with us in his humanity, in every way like us, with the only exception of sin, begotten of the Father before all time in his divinity, and also begotten in the latter days, in his humanity, of Mary the virgin bearer of God.

This is one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, manifested in two natures without any confusion, change, division or separation. The union does not destroy the difference of the two natures, but on the contrary the properties of each are kept, and both are joined in one person and hypostasis. They are not divided into two persons, but belong to the one Only-begotten Son, the Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. All this, as the prophets of old said of him, and as he himself has taught us, and as the Creed of the Fathers has passed on to us.[5]

The Chalcedonian definition rejected heresy while reaffirming what had been done in the three previous great councils—Nicea in 325 (Christ is fully God), Constantinople in 381 (Christ is fully Man; Holy Spirit is fully God), and Ephesus in 431 (Christ is one Divine Person with two natures: fully divine and fully human).[6] Chalcedon drew the orthodox boundaries for discussion of the God-Man Jesus Christ even up to the present day. It further clarified that the two natures are untied in the Person of God the Son. There is distinction of the two natures without mixture or division of the two natures in the Person of Christ.

Notice that the Chalcedonian creed argued that God the Son is fully God and fully Man. Also notice that they argued that God the Son is united to two natures, divine and human, which means that God the Son has never been united to anything less than a human nature. Thus, in order to affirm the pro-choice argument that a baby is less than human until late in the 2nd trimester, pro-choice advocates must also argue that God the Son Incarnate was less than human until late in the 2nd trimester. To argue that God the Son Incarnate is less than human at any point in His life is heresy.

But, as we have already read, what do the Scriptures say?

God the Son Incarnate from conception

Returning to Luke 1:26-41, John the Baptist, filled with the Spirit while in the womb, jumped for joy due to his Lord and Savior entering the room as a divine person united with a human embryo (the God-Man). Remember, natures do not subsist in themselves; they subsist in persons. God the Son had already united with his human nature at conception, for Elizabeth called him “the Lord.” Though it was very early in the first trimester, God the Son did not unite with a mere “fetus” or a mere “clump of cells.” That would mean there are two incarnations, God the Son Clump of Cells and God the Son Incarnate, which adds a heretical “nature” to Christ in addition to his full humanity and full deity.

Additionally, due to Adam’s sin, sinful mankind needed a Second Adam, not some other substance incapable of sin. Clumps of cells do not need saviors for they do not and cannot sin; only persons are sinners and only persons sin. Therefore, God the Son united with a human nature, embryo (body) and soul, not an inhuman clump of cells. John the Baptist did not leap over what Mary’s “fetus” would become; he jumped for joy over what her embryo already was, even at a few days in utero—God the Son Incarnate.

Jesus Christ’s human nature subsisted in his divine Person from conception. To argue otherwise is to deny orthodoxy, to deny Scripture, and to affirm heresy.

Conclusion

Therefore, reader, if you consider yourself pro-choice, you just might be a pro-choice heretic. If you affirm the full humanity and full deity of Jesus Christ, then you must also affirm that if your Savior was fully human from conception, then so is every other human being who has ever lived or will live. As Voddie Baucham has said, “The only differences between an infant and an embryo are age and location.”

Christians, It’s time leave abortion on the ash-heap of history. The Scriptures tell us who a person is. If Jesus Christ was a full human being from conception, then so are we. The blood of millions of dead babies cry out, “We are persons!” Will we listen to them? Or, have we become dull of hearing?


[1]See Richard Swinburne, The Evolution of the Soul (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), 10, 145, 310-311. Swinburne argues that the soul and body affect one another. I agree with this premise. But, he then argues that the soul is like a light bulb and the brain like a light socket. The bulb can exist apart from the socket, but will not light. I, however, want to argue that the human nature, body and soul, is the light bulb and the human person is the light socket, since natures subsist in persons. Of course, then the bulb (human nature) cannot exist without the socket (human person) and the socket cannot exist without the bulb; the analogy then fails. Truthfully, the analogy fails even with Swinburne’s original use since the bulb does not affect the socket like the soul affects the human body. Also see Alvin Plantinga, “Materialism and Christian Belief,” in Persons: Human and Divine, eds. Peter Van Inwagen and Dean Zimmerman (Oxford, NY: Clarendon Press, 2007), 100-101.

[2]Jove Jim S. Aguas, “The Notions of the Human Person and Human Dignity in Aquinas and Wojtyla,” Kritike 3:1 (June 2009): 50-51.

[3]Ibid., 51. Also, see Millard Erickson, where he suggests that man’s nature is analogous to two elements that combine to form a molecule or compound. “We might think of man as a unitary compound of a material and an immaterial element. The spiritual and the physical elements are not always distinguishable, for man is a unitary subject; there is no struggle between his material and immaterial nature. The compound is dissolvable, however; dissolution takes place at death. At the resurrection a compound will again be formed, with the soul (if we choose to call it that) once more becoming inseparably attached to a body.” Millard Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1990), 537-538. I would rather say man is like a mixture, a liquid solution. Erickson mentions a mixture analogy, but then suggests that the human person would be able to choose which element to act through, the body or the soul, at any given point. I think a better analogy would be a liquid solution where one has a minor (the solute) and a major component (the solvent). The solute is uniformly distributed throughout the solvent to form a solution. The original properties are still intact in each element. Yet, the two are indistinguishable in the mixture, and they can be separated through a special process (evaporation). If the soul is analogous to the solvent and the body the solute, the two would subsist uniformly in the human person while still maintaining their distinct properties and still possess the ability to separate due to a special process (death). Yet, the human person would act through both simultaneously since the nature is unified until physical death; then the person would act through only the soul, which is what is left of the human nature in the intermediate state.

[4]Jove Jim S. Aguas, “The Notions of the Human Person and Human Dignity in Aquinas and Wojtyla,” Kritike 3:1 (June 2009): 51.

[5]Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation, vol. 1 (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1985), 256-257.  Also, R. L. Reymond argues that the Council of Chalcedon’s creedal labors produced the Christological definition that fixed the boundaries for all future discussion; R. L. Reymond, “Incarnation,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed., ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 601.

[6]Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation, vol. 1, 256.