David praises it (Ps 133), Paul urges it (Eph 4:3), and Peter commands it (I Peter 3:8). Unity, that is. Unity among the brethren. But if you survey the Protestant landscape, from the most theologically conservative to the most socially liberal, you’ll find massive differences in both practice and belief. There isn’t a whole lot of unity—with one notable exception. The vast majority of these otherwise disparate churches are remarkably unified in their practical indifference towards abortion-vulnerable children.
Though most churches are officially “pro-life,” their everyday response to abortion is virtually indistinguishable from the mainline churches who support it. In other words, liberal and conservative churches alike are doing precious little to actively aid the victims of abortion. Some churches ignore abortion because they believe it to be outside their gospel purview. Others do so because it's a sacred right to many of the progressive subsets they’re trying to emulate.
I’ve lamented this fact before, but I’d like to introduce a new argument for engagement—in the form of John the Baptist. By my thinking, John the Baptist has (or should have) street cred across the entire gamut of churches. On the one hand, he rejected social convention, lived off the grid, and spoke truth to power (which cost him his head). On the other hand, he was a Nazirite ascetic who preached repentance and vigilant law-keeping. John the Baptist publicly ridiculed religious leaders, while also preaching a message of fire and brimstone. He was both the God-ordained ambassador of Jesus the Christ, and the disillusioned skeptic who had serious doubts about the divinity of Jesus. Referring to John the Baptist, Jesus called him the greatest prophet to ever live and the least-important person in the kingdom of heaven. When it comes to this rather enigmatic figure, there is something for all of us to relate to—which leads to an important question.
What was John the Baptist sent for? What was the purpose of his earthly ministry? I suspect most believers would answer with some variant of the following: John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way for Jesus. John the Baptist was sent to preach repentance. John the Baptist was sent to proclaim the gospel. John the Baptist was sent to bring people back to God. Biblically-speaking, all of these answers have merit. They all have textual support, but here’s an equally-biblical answer that all but the most astute are likely to have missed: John the Baptist was sent to reconcile fathers to their children. Did you know that? Here’s how it’s rendered in the ESV:
He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared. (Luke 1:16-17)
Have you ever considered this remarkable commission, or have you read right past it, as I did for so many years? One of the reasons God sent John the Baptist was to restore the severed relationships between fathers and children, or as the NIV says, “turn the hearts of parents to their children.” Even more significantly, when Malachi prophesied of John the Baptist some 400 years before his birth, this little-known office was the only one assigned to him. The last statement in the last book of the Old Testament reads like this:
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction. (Malachi 4:5-6)
John the Baptist was animated by the same spirit and power found in Elijah, and was sent to reconcile parents to their children—as a preventative to the full-scale judgment of God. The reason this is such a significant revelation is because it doesn’t fit with a narrowly-evangelistic understanding of the gospel. More to the context at hand, it demonstrates why turning the hearts of fathers and mothers away from abortion is so integral to the gospel.
Abortion is the quintessential manifestation of family discord. John the Baptist was sent to restore the relationship between fathers and their children. Abortion does precisely the opposite. We may wrestle with what it means to “turn the hearts of fathers to the children,” but we certainly know what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean putting the children to death—which is what abortion is, parents killing children. Literally, it is the putting to death of family.
According to Mark, the gospel begins with the arrival of John the Baptist (Mark 1:1-3). And though we might argue that the good news traces all the way back to the garden, the point here is that John the Baptist inaugurates the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. So how can we say that one of John the Baptist’s central offices should not be considered a gospel priority? Isn’t it understood that what John came to inaugurate Jesus came to fulfill? It was Jesus, after all, who said that both literally and figuratively, the kingdom of heaven belongs to little children.
Though I suspect John the Baptist wouldn’t have thought it possible for a Hebrew mother to intentionally destroy her own child, he still has plenty to teach us about abortion. To the socially progressive, who looks for cultural equity in soft-pedaling the violence and injustice of abortion, John might say this. Stop calling evil good. According to Malachi, our propensity to call evil good is what necessitated John’s coming in the first place:
You have wearied the LORD with your words. But you say, "How have we wearied him?" By saying, "Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delights in them." (Malachi 2:17)
Preparing the way of the Lord, making his pathways straight, does not mean affirming people in their sin—while telling them that God sees no difference between crooked paths and straight ones. This is not the way of wisdom. Compassion for pregnant women in crisis is crucial, but not at the expense of the innocent children whose lives hang in the balance.
One of the primary ways in which our cultural paths need to be straightened is with regard to family relationships, specifically fathers and children. The preservation of the nuclear family is absolutely essential to human thriving, and no amount of social tinkering can undo the damage done by its widespread demise. Children need fathers who will love them and live with them, not manipulate their mom into an abortion.
But what about those on the more conservative end of the Christian spectrum? What would John the Baptist say to them? I suspect it would be something like this, from Luke 3:9: “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” According to the passage, the fruit they were lacking wasn’t evangelism or church attendance. It was the failure to share food and clothing with those in need.
If you overly-spiritualize the gospel, and fail to meet the physical needs of the ostracized and vulnerable, you will be cast into the unquenchable fire. And it makes no difference who your parents are, what church you go to, or how good your theology is. If you ignore abortion-vulnerable children, you ignore Christ.
“With many other exhortations [John the Baptist] preached good news to the people.” The gospel, the good news, is not only or even primarily something you believe. It’s much bigger than that, and any effort to place abortion-vulnerable families outside the bounds of gospel ministry is something that would have been entirely foreign to both John the Baptist, and the Lord whose way he prepared. John the Baptist didn’t wear “soft clothing” or “live in luxury.” The gospel has nothing to do with the accumulation of wealth or prestige, but it has everything to do with the way we love the least.
Michael Spielman is the founder and director of Abort73.com. His book, Love the Least (A Lot), is available as a free download. You can also find him on Facebook and Google+. Abort73 is part of Loxafamosity Ministries, a 501c3, Christian education corporation. If you have been helped by the information available at Abort73.com, please consider making a donation.