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Vox Scriptura Vox Dei

What Should Christians Think About Ghosts?

People are fascinated by ghosts and everyone has a ghost story. Ghosts remain one of the most popular topics for the television and film industry, including the SyFy Channel’s “Ghost Hunters” which chronicles the adventures of two real-life “ghostbusters.” What should Christians think about ghosts? Are ghosts real?

Certain presuppositions are necessary for a Christian to process the existence of ghosts. The philosophy of epistemology is the field of study that is interested in the possibility of human knowledge. How do we know what we know? Does truth exist? What is the foundation for what we have come to know and believe? The God of the Bible is a self-revealing God who has provided one of his greatest displays of grace by giving us a revelation of not only his existence, but also of his character, his intentions, and his purposes for the created world. For Christians, we can understand the truthfulness of the world only because we have been introduced to the God who created it, and then revealed it to us.

In light of this, Christians are reminded of the command in Proverbs 3:5 to trust in the Lord with all our hearts and do not lean on our own understanding. Although we typically read this beloved Proverb when we are suffering or persecuted, it is an equally powerful reminder of our tendency to substitute our own subjective experiences for the truthfulness of God’s word. The former is not unimportant, but its boundaries are limited by the latter.

As with most things, when discussing ghosts we need to begin by defining our terms. What do we mean by “ghost?” It seems the word is most commonly used to describe the disembodied spirit of a human who has passed away but returned to the earth for some purpose. The word might also be used to simply describe the presence of a supernatural being on earth. In this sense – that of the reality of a supernatural presence on earth – we can and should affirm the reality of ghosts, although we should call them by another name which we will address below. In the sense that a ghost is the spirit of a deceased human who has come back or been exiled on earth, we must dismiss the possibility as wholly unbiblical.

The Bible provides a consistent and simple pattern for the moments after a person’s death. Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” Death is followed by judgment, which in turn ushers the spirit of a person into their eternal abode, that being heaven or hell. Jesus says, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Luke 16 records the immediate arrival of the rich man into the “torment” of hades and Lazarus into the comfort of Abraham’s side. Paul is confident in 2nd Corinthians 5:8 that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” The thief was promised a destination of paradise “today” by the Lord Jesus. The long list of passages overwhelmingly provides a clear picture of what happens at death – we are judged and we are placed in an eternal home.

This is significant because Scripture never provides the possibility of a human spirit breaking the boundary of their eternal destination for any purpose, and certainly not for “haunting” a particular person or place. Consider the implications of this kind of ghostly presence. For those who are separated from God in hell, the ability to break from the confines of eternal judgment in order to roam the earth would be a welcomed relief from the darkness, solitude, and torment of their unbelief. However, the devastating reality for denying Christ is the inability to find rest from “the smoke of their torment.” (Revelation 14:11). Likewise, a soul who has a desire to return to earth for a positive purpose will be denied. For example, the rich man in Luke 16 sought to issue a warning to his family of the reality of his horrific condition. He wished to go and proclaim the good news of Christ or even send Lazarus, which he suggests to God in Luke 16:27-28. But again, even for the purpose of “ghostly evangelism,” the boundaries of eternity are locked.

Friend, do you see why the Great Commission is so urgent? We have but one life to live on this cursed earth and one opportunity to make Jesus known to the nations.

This still leaves an unanswered question. How do we explain the supernatural experiences and apparent “hauntings” that so many people have encountered? Should we believe that every person who has ever witnessed the appearing of a supernatural being is delusional? From the very first “ghost sighting” until now, was every occurrence just a mistake? Were they just “seeing things?”

No, certainly not. To be sure, I think many, and let me repeat that – many – experiences are a misunderstanding or fabrication. But that can not be the sole explanation for the thousands and thousands of supernatural sightings over the years. How do we respond?

Remember, the issue is not the reality of supernatural beings. So far we have simply ruled out the possibility of human spirits returning to earth after death.  We learn of  spirit beings from Scripture who can have the ability to interact with humans, sometimes even in physical form, while we are on earth. These are called angels and demons. Angels are righteous and holy, faithful in serving God by serving the saints on earth. Demons are probably fallen angels who have rebelled against God and are seeking to harm and deceive all of God’s children. Deception is the key word. Demons will do anything in their power to deceive God’s people and lead them away from the truth.

It is impossible to believe the narrative of the Bible without believing in angels and demons. To deny the reality of a demonic presence on earth is to deny the “ruler of this age,” who is Satan, the ultimate deceiver. It is because of his deception that the earth is still today under a curse of sin, and it is because of that curse that Jesus Christ was placed on a cross. The hateful waging of war continues by the “father of lies,” despite the deathblow given to Satan on the cross. It is on this battleground of deception by the evil supernatural forces of the world that the experiences which are often known as ” seeing ghosts” will occur.

What about “friendly ghosts” who seek no harm and seem to just mind their own business? What about mediums who get in touch with family members for good purposes? Listen carefully to 2nd Corinthians 11:14-15 – “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.” What we must never forget is how demons seek to deceive Christians and will do that by any means necessary, even by revealing potentially true information. Yet, in the hands of the evil one, even true or partially true information can lead to deadly results.

What can we conclude?

  1. Human spirits cannot cross the boundaries of their eternal destination in order to return to earth. In this sense, there are no such things as ghosts.
  2. Supernatural beings – angels and demons – are very much real and have the ability to intersect with humanity.
  3. Demons are motivated by deception and will disguise themselves as “servants of righteousness” in order to lead people astray.
  4. God, in his great sovereignty and power, limits the ability of evil spirits to harm Christians and has dispatched angels to fight for and serve humanity.

I want to address a couple of other items from Scripture, including the witch of Endor from 1 Samuel 28, but due to the length of this article, I will address that another time, along with some personal application we can draw from these things for spiritual growth.



Union With Christ – A FAQ Series

A Christian’s “union with Christ” has been a major doctrine of preaching and teaching at Graefenburg Baptist Church for the last 2 years. In January of 2014, I preached a series through the book of Colossians called “Transform” where we began helping our congregation notice the seemingly endless verses which emphasize the two words “in Christ.” When I was in middle school, there was a little game we would play where a person who notices a Volkswagen Beetle would shout the word “Bug!” and then give the person next to them a little punch in the arm. Well, it wasn’t a very nice game, but all of a sudden I started noticing Volkswagens all over the place. I mean, they had always been there on the road, but now I saw them all the time because I was looking for them. Anthony Hoekema wrote that “Once you have your eyes opened to this concept of union with Christ, you will find it almost everywhere in the New Testament.” The same thing started happening at GBC. Folks began to tell me that they were starting to notice how often the New Testament speaks of “Christ in us” and “in Him” and “through Him” and so forth.

Union with Christ is such an important and necessary doctrine that it naturally raises plenty of questions. As part of my “Question Vault” series of blog entries, I am going to write 3 or 4 articles responding to a few of these frequently asked questions . The first and most natural question with which we will begin is a reminder to us…

What does “Union With Christ” mean?

John Murray once wrote that union with Christ is “the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation.” When we speak of our union with Christ, we are talking about our identity, the very core of who we are and what we are capable of. It is sadly not a phrase that is well known in the church and has only recently seen a revival of sorts in Christian discipleship resources. When we think about who we are in relation to Jesus Christ, we tend to think of things such as “following” Jesus, “worshiping” Jesus, “submitting” to Jesus, “obeying” Jesus, and so forth. All of those descriptions are certainly true and clearly biblical, but they are only possible because of our union with Christ.

And let’s face it, most weeks we struggle to follow Jesus. Maybe we have found ourselves unhappy with the way we worship Jesus, as if we are just going through the motions. And obedience? If you are like me, then you are daily struggling in that department…big time.

What happens is that since we tend to think of our relationship to Jesus primarily through these kinds of things, we become guilt ridden when we have those bad weeks (or months) and our worship is off and our obedience is lacking. Guilt likewise leads to despair and feelings of worthlessness, that God might wreak havoc on us because of our shortcomings. Striving for holiness and living the Christian life will not only become a fruitless endeavor without a proper understanding of our union with Christ, but it will also become something we dread.

So, we must understand what Paul understood about his salvation that will do two things for us:
1. Keep us from feelings of guilt and condemnation.
2. Give us the power necessary for joyful Christian living and obedience.

What did Paul understand? His union with Christ. Here are just a few verses that show how Paul treasured and depended on this amazing truth:

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
“For you have died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3)
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation, the old has passed away and the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)

All of these verses teach us a profound truth about the most fundamental aspect of our identity and our salvation:  Because of our position in Christ, his actions are our actions, just as if we had personally carried them out. Christ was crucified, therefore we were crucified. Christ was buried, therefore we were buried. Christ was raised to new life, therefore we were raised to new life. To be in Christ means that Jesus is our representative; what he has done, we have done!

Think about it and be amazed all over again – the reason Paul says we are “hidden” with Christ is because the work of Christ has been credited, or “imputed” to us through faith. Thus, our old nature is dead, it is hidden, it is gone. What’s left is Christ’s work in us, because we are in him!

God looks at us and pardons us for one reason only. God does not pardon us because:
-He is willing to overlook sin.
-He is willing to cut us a break if we do our best.
-He is satisfied with our own works.
-He shows grace instead of judgment.

So what is the one reason why God forgives us and calls us his children?
-He sees perfect righteousness when he looks at us. How is that possible? Because he sees Jesus Christ and his perfect righteousness.

But it doesn’t stop there. Not only does our union with Christ impute his righteousness to us so that we are approved by God, but it also provides for us spiritual power to do what we could never do before. Willpower Christianity does not work. We will never be able to muster enough power from within ourselves to stay consistent with the things of God and find joy in them. It doesn’t matter how many conferences you attend, how many decision cards you fill out, and how many times you “recommit” your life (all of which are great things), only the power of Christ in you is strong enough to carry you to the finish line with joy. That is why the gospel must not be viewed as the thing that gets us saved and then we take over. No, the gospel is our power for daily living.

Consider one more text. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul describes our union with Christ in a remarkable way. He demonstrates how all humans are currently united with one of two people. Either we are united with Adam, and are thus marked by his sinful rebellion, or we are united with Christ, and are thus marked by his righteousness. Listen to Paul:

“For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22)

The rock band “Rush” once said, “if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” That is certainly true here. You will experience a union with one of two men. In Adam, there is death. In Christ, there is life.

So, with this remarkable truth that author Jerry Bridges called “breathtaking,” also comes some important questions. I will begin to address those in the next article.

Soli Deo Gloria!


Disney World and the Meade Academy


I hope the summer of 2016 was as incredible for you and your family as it was for the Meade’s! For us, the final thrill of this summer will happen in just a couple of days as all five of us will travel to Orlando, FL to spend 6 glorious days at the Walt Disney World Resort. This will be the first time the Meade family has visited Disney World and we don’t know what to do with ourselves!

Here are a few comments about the trip and our upcoming school year…

First, planning a trip to Walt Disney World has been a breeze. As most of you know, I have a fun little website called where me and my crazy brother, Rex, visit theme parks, record videos, write reviews and commentary, and record podcasts. We have been doing that since 2007 and although our lives have changed dramatically over the last 9 years preventing us from visiting parks and producing content as much as we once did, we still enjoy participating as much as we can. We have recently started a new kind of podcast called “Lunchtime with Rex and the Beast” where we record our phone conversations over lunch about theme park news that interests us. You should take a look! (By the way, my nickname is “Beast” because when I was a young tennis player, my doubles partner starting calling me “beast” due to the crazy “mane” of a hairstyle I had in those days).

When my brother and I plan trips to theme parks, we approach the trip much, much differently than when we are with family. So, this is the first time I have ever used the full blown “My Disney Experience” planning opportunities, and I am just so impressed. Right on the Disney website or smartphone app, we have our Fast Passes picked out for the week, we have our dining reservations already confirmed, we have Magic Bands in our possession, we have the “magical express” airport shuttle ready to deliver our luggage to our room, and so forth. I have spoken with Disney on the phone several times while planning the trip and every time they have been so helpful, friendly, and ready to go above and beyond to make our trip “magical.”

Second, I plan on recording a “Meade 5” video every day of our trip and will do my best to post them online every night in our room (after the kiddos go to sleep). We are staying at the Caribbean Beach Resort and although editing and uploading a video takes hours to complete, my will do my best to make it happen. If you haven’t yet subscribed to our YouTube channel, you should do that now so you don’t miss a video!

Third, I can’t believe my own children will be able to experience the wonder of The Haunted Mansion with me. Well, I mean if they will ride it. Which Eli has already told me there is “no way” he is getting on that ride. And Callie isn’t too sure. And Justus is trying to decide as well. But I am confident they will want to get in line once they see the beauty of that spectacular mansion nestled in the corner of “Liberty Square” in the Magic Kingdom. Grim Grinning Ghosts is just too catchy to not experience the ride! Wait, you don’t know what Grim Grinning Ghosts is? Then listen to it right here! Seriously, this is a huge life moment for me – being able to ride The Haunted Mansion with my children. Wow.


Once we return from Disney, it will be time for the Meade Academy to start school. For the first few years of Meade Academy, I have been rather silent on the joy of homeschooling and the approach, successes, and challenges Andi and I have faced during the journey. I have not wanted to inundate people to the point of annoyance with homeschooling articles, social media updates, etc. However, Andi and I receive questions every week about school and so I have decided to spend a little more time writing and recording about our experiences. For those who are currently homeschooling, I hope it will be comforting and fun. For those who are considering homeschooling, I hope it will be informative and encouraging.

So, I hope you will enjoy more homeschool content this year from In addition, I promise more frequent articles on a variety of subjects, from theology to pop culture to my family, will be coming this school year.


So, be looking for those Disney videos next week. It has been a wonderful summer. May the Lord’s blessing be on all of you during the 2016-2017 school year.


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My July 10, 2016 Prayer

Below is my prayer during worship on July 10, 2016.

Our God and Father,

It’s difficult to see perspectives other than our own. It’s even more difficult to understand them.

There are many different and competing perspectives in our country right now. Perspectives that are leading to violence, misery, and death.

Oh God, I pray you would keep us, your church, from being presumptuous. Forgive us when we neglect to appreciate the ongoing difficulties for minorities. Forgive us when we pretend there is no longer a need for racial reconciliation.

Likewise Father, forgive us when we are quick to judge the many good and faithful officers who are doing their best and risking their lives for our safety.

In short, forgive us when we think we know all the answers. We don’t. Forgive us when we think we can solve all these problems. We can’t.

And yet, God, you have granted us something incomprehensible. Something that seems to elude us during these dark days in our country.

You have granted us hope.

Only the power of your gospel can bring the transformation our country cries out for. God, help us cry to you.
Only the power of your gospel can heal the brokenness of families and friends who have lost the ones they love. God, be their healer.
Only the power of your gospel can reconcile one angry heart toward another. God, be our reconciler.

Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

Thank you for that hope.
Thank you for Jesus.

The Church and Bioethics: Refusing Treatment

Below is a summary of a sermon I preached on May 29, 2016 concerning the bioethical issue of refusing treatment.

Four questions to answer on refusing treatment:
1. Is death a natural or unnatural occurrence?
2. Is there a moral difference between killing and letting die?
3. Should we ever refuse treatment?
4. How should the church respond?

Is death a natural or unnatural occurrence?
When considering the gospel ramifications of dying, we need to be instructed on exactly what death is to us as Christians. Is death a fried or a foe? It is natural or unnatural?

This is an example of where the Bible provides some balance for us. First, Christians must reject the idea that death exists only as a natural part of living. But second, the Bible teaches us that every person will die because of sin. So there is a regularity to death in our lives. Let’s consider the unnatural reality first…

God did not create the inhabitants of the world to die. He created life in the garden of Eden and called it “Good”, and all was perfect. There was no death, only life. This was natural. A world without death.

But then we know what happened. In Geneses 3, Adam and Eve disobeyed God and brought sin into the world. God had clearly promised what would happen if they disobeyed – their disobedience would bring about the curse of death. And it did. When Adam and Eve sinned, a couple of things happened.

First, there was immediate spiritual death. Adam and Eve were spiritually separated from God and now in need of his grace for reconciliation. This is why they were hiding from God, in fear of him for the first time because of being separated from him. That spiritual death passes to every person who has ever lived, and we are all born with a need to be reconciled to God. That is only possible through faith in Jesus Christ.

Second, there was physical death. God banished Adam and Even from the garden and from the tree of life, and over the course of time, they physically died. This physical death also spread to all people because of sin. Romans 5:12 says that “just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” Romans 8:12 describes all of creation “groaning” because of the curse of sin and death, waiting for the day it will be restored to its natural state that God originally designed. And finally, and most importantly, Christ had to become a curse in order to destroy the curse of death and sin. Galatians 3:13 mentions this – that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree (cross).

Death is also an enemy. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that Jesus Christ will put all enemies under his feet. Let’s just pause there for a minute, friends. Do you hear that promise? That’s a promise of God, and God doesn’t break promises. You hear me? God doesn’t break promises. And he has promised that all enemies will be put under the feet of Jesus. Christ has conquered and will conquer. And then Paul describes the very last enemy that Christ will defeat – death itself. So Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:26 that “the last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

So from this biblical perspective, death is anything but natural. But in light of sin and the curse, death has become unavoidable. And this is where we might begin to understand it to be natural in a certain kind of way. The Bible says we will all die. The death rate is 100%. The Bible is remarkably clear and precise about the death rate. God mentions 120 years old as about the oldest anyone will live, and David writes that 70-80 years is a normal length of time for a person to live. Remarkable how accurate that still is to this day.

Is there a moral difference between killing and letting die?
As we discussed last week, it is not morally permissible to take one’s own life. But does that mean we must take advantage of every possible medical treatment in order to preserve our lives? Is there a moral distinction between actively killing and passively allowing our bodies to physically pass away? I would say yes, there is a moral distinction. Here’s a few reasons why.

First, although God does not permit the active killing of another person or our own bodies, he has mercifully and graciously provided an escape from our present suffering that will usher us directly into his presence. That escape is called death. Thus, as we just mentioned, God has limited the number of days a person will live so that those who are in Christ will reap the fruit of their faith. God turns death, which is no doubt an enemy, into a great blessing for those who trust him. And God does that all the time. Takes suffering and turns it into blessings. So, it is better for us to ultimately be with Christ, which Paul says on a few occasions.

Second, although murder and actively killing are prohibited, there are times in Scripture when allowing oneself to die is commended, such as when it describes an allegiance to Jesus Christ above and beyond anything else. Paul says in Acts 21:33 that, “I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Third, there is that beautiful Psalm 116 that has been used at so many funerals. It says, “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” Death can be a precious thing if you are in Christ.

So, in light of these biblical considerations, we see instances where there are moral distinctions between killing and allowing oneself to die.

Should we ever refuse treatment?
Since we have seen that death is a part of God’s providence over his sinful creation and since we have seen that there is a moral difference between killing and letting die, I would say there are scenarios where refusing treatment is morally permissible.

Whereby actively killing is the decision to choose death, refusing treatment is many times a choice of one kind of life over another kind of life. Let’s take for example a person who has a terminal illness or disease. This person has an option to undergo a long and painful series of treatments that might delay the inevitable for a bit longer, but in the process would keep them from seeing and being with the people they love, and would keep them from enjoying the hours of the days. Should this person refuse the treatment, the point is not that they are actively choosing death, but that they are choosing a shorter life that is free from the debilitating heartache of the harsh treatment.

Modern medical technology has certainly not eliminated death, but has delayed it in ways that keeps people alive in conditions that previous generations would have never thought imaginable. I believe a Christian moral ethic must avoid two things – first, we must avoid the idea that we can terminate life at will whenever it seems burdensome to us, and second, that we must avoid the idea that life should always be extended as long as possible.

Every family who must make these kinds of decisions will not have the luxury of plugging in some data into an ethical formula to receive a printed conclusion of what to do. These decisions take godly wisdom, prayer, and much conversation. But dear friends, be careful not to slip into the mistake of placing worldly values and ideas as the basis of your decision. These are wholly Christ-centered decisions that might look very different from a gospel approach than from a worldly approach.

How can the church help?
First, the church can help with these decisions by preparing one another to die in the confidence of Christ. This means preaching and teaching the gospel as the central purpose of our lives – to transform lives in Jesus. One of the great realities of the apostles and the great martyrs of our faith is that they had an unshakable belief in the gospel of Christ whereby their death, even in agony, was not something to fear but rather something to usher them into the sweet promise and embrace of God.

Second, the church can help by promoting service to Christ and to others, rather than ourselves. The time will come for so many of us when we will have to make critical decisions about the treatment of a family member or loved on. As I mentioned earlier, there are no easy formulas we can rely on. It takes prayerful conversation and wisdom, and sometimes there might not be a right or wrong answer. But when the time comes to begin making those decisions, the teaching of the church should play a vital role. We must be careful to not make decisions for our family members and loved ones based on what we most want to see happen, or for selfish reasons. In other words, if the time is right for a person to go be with the Lord, but we are not ready to have them depart us, we must think of others first.

Third, the church can help by carrying one another’s burdens. This means thinking of our church family in terms of people over programs. You don’t program burden carrying. We don’t set up a 6 week class or a summer event in order to suffer with one another. Bearing one another’s burdens takes an attitude of sacrifice and intentionality, to model the life of our Lord Jesus, and to let one another into our lives. Bearing one another’s burdens means to live as the church in such a way that we know we are never alone, not only do we have Christ has our great high priest, but we have one another. We have one another.

Fourth, the church can remember the power of prayer. Prayer changes hearts and lives. Prayer matters.

The Church and Bioethics: Suicide and Euthanasia

Below is a summary of a sermon I preached on May 22, 2016 concerning the bioethical issue of suicide and euthanasia.

Technology has provided many cures to a variety of illnesses and has increased life expectancy considerably over the years. But of course, technology has not and never will cure death itself. We all will die some day. Ironically, the same technology that has extended our life expectancy has not necessarily decreased our anxiety and fear of death. On the contrary, in some ways our fears have increased. We are now all very familiar with how modern medical advancement can preserve and maintain life, but often does so in a painful, miserable, unwanted existence. These concerns has led to an increased public desire to “die with dignity”, which is sometimes used as a synonym for “assisted suicide.” In light of this, a wide variety of bioethical public policy questions are in front of us to determine the obligation we have as a society to sustain life and the limits we have on how to end it. But as we mentioned in our first sermon in this series, we are not discussing public policy concerns so much as we are helping each other think personally through these issues. Our call then is to consider how our faith in the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ impacts our understanding of PAS and our decisions to either accept or refuse medical treatment.

This sermons will attempt to answer four questions:
Is Suicide Morally Wrong?
Does Suicide Automatically Send A Person To Hell?
What about Physician Assisted Suicide?
How should the church respond?

Is suicide morally wrong?
Throughout the history of the Church, Christians have almost universally held that suicide in general is a sin against God who is the giver of life. Even without backing up such a claim with specific biblical texts, there seems to be an intuition we have as Christians that says suicide is morally wrong. But what specifically can we point to in order to show that suicide is not pleasing to God?
Some will dismiss the legitimacy of suicide by suggesting it “usurps God’s authority and sovereignty.” Since God is the one who decides when we die, we should not take that into our own hands. But this is shortsighted, since we have already discussed during our sermon on Assisted Reproduction, where a similar argument is made, that absolutely nothing can usurp the sovereignty of God. His desires are incapable of being thwarted by human beings.

And yet there is an important aspect of being reminded that our power is incredibly limited against the sovereign power of God who alone is able to give life and take it away. To put it simply, God is God and we are not.

Let’s consider two biblical truths that will help us.
First, there is great power in the simple instruction by God in the 10 Commandments that says, “You shall not kill.” The force of that command, as is demonstrated throughout Scripture, is that God highly values life and has put an absolute prohibition on taking human life, which necessarily means a person taking his own life, since there is no qualification on the command to allow such an exemption. You may think, “but aren’t there instances in Scripture where taking a human life is permitted or even commanded by God?” Yes, so let’s think about those for a moment.

Author David VanDrunen lists three scenarios where God permits the taking of a human life in the Bible. 1. Capital punishment. 2. Waging a just war. 3. Self-defense.
In an ironic way, the one thing that unites all three of these scenarios is the 6th Commandment itself to not kill! Capital Punishment, Waging a just war, and self-defense are all permitted specifically to protect human life! In other words, God permits killing in these instances precisely because of the horrors of killing. Which means that a violation to God’s clear command to not kill is allowed when the 6th commandment itself is at stake.

Now, does suicide fall into that category? Is suicide a permissible violation of the 6th commandment to not kill because it defends and preserves human life? No it does not. Suicide only destroys lives.

Second, we can consider the people of the bible who committed suicide and see how their actions were perceived by God. At least 5 people committed suicide in the Bible – Abimilech, Saul, Ahithophel, Zimri, and Judas Iscariot. In every instance, Scripture records their act as that of wickedness against God. But perhaps even more compelling are the stories of those men in the Bible who contemplated or were drawn to the idea of taking their own life. Job. Elijah. Even Paul. Here we have men whose suffering we can only begin to understand, and who would have much preferred to be in the presence of the Lord away from their grief. And yet Scripture lifts them up as an example of the goodness of Christ because they remained faithful to him and his service. In Paul’s case, he says that “This happened that we might not rely on ourselves, but on God, who raises the dead.” (2 Corinthians 1:9)

Does suicide automatically send someone a person to hell?
No, it does not. All sin brings about death. Every sin we have ever committed – from the telling of a lie to our various acts of idolatry to our selfishness to our jealousy – all involve our active participation in that which is the very cause of death. Let’s be reminded that death exists because of idolatry in the garden of Eden, and from that one sin, death has followed every generation of humans who have ever lived. Suicide is a sin that brings about immediate death, but make no mistake, all sin is a killer.

But the gospel of Jesus Christ gives life. And no single act of sin, including the taking of one’s own life, can overcome the power of the cross. For that person who had saving faith in the Lord Jesus and who subsequently experienced a moment of deep despair, of terrible suffering, of incredibly heartbreak, of devastating depression, of mental illness, or of selfish cowardice that led them to an act of suicide, they awoke in the loving embrace of Jesus Christ where they will be forevermore, because nothing can separate his children from the power of the gospel, nothing can pluck them out of his hand, nothing can overcome the blood of Jesus. Grace is indeed greater than all of our sin, every single one. So dear brother or sister, shame and guilt you might feel for past sins must lead you to only one place this morning – lead you to the foot of the cross where Jesus is ready to forgive and save forevermore.

What about physician assisted suicide?
Physician assisted suicide is, of course, the assisting of a patient in the termination of their life. This is sometimes used synonymously with euthanasia, but the two are not exactly the same. Euthanasia, for starters, might be done by someone other than a medical professional, such a a close friend or family member, and second, there is something called involuntary euthanasia where the patient does not give consent for their life to be taken. This kind of assisted suicide is almost universally condemned since the one giving assistance is taking the patients life in their own hands without their agreement.

The core biblical issues relating to PAS do not change simply because a doctor is now the one administering the death. If a biblical case is made against suicide from the hands of the individual, that same case certainly holds true from the hands of a doctor. But this is where reality makes it very difficult, when a person is suffering and in pain and living with every breath in agony. We as Christians must respond with mercy to these situations, as we may very well find ourselves in their shoes.

One thing to remember is that if the person is not a believer, than assisting them in suicide does not relief their suffering. It increases it. Here is where we will test just how deep our trust and belief in biblical truth really goes, specifically in our believe of the doctrine of hell.

If the person is a Christian, then an act of assisted suicide says to them that there is no comfort and no answer to their suffering and to their despair – precisely opposite of the entire gospel message.

I said I wasn’t going to get into public policy issues, and I’m not, but two recently articles caught my attention. Just over the last few months, Canada has enacted legislation to legalize PAS in certain conditions, seeing this as an appropriate move toward human dignity. Canada would join a few US states, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg as those who legally allow assisted suicide. Published at the exact same time as this news concerning Canada is an article by Dr. Theo de Boer, a professor of health care ethics in the Netherlands, who argued for the benefits of PAS there. Now, several years later, he has written another article. Listen to what he says, “I told delegations from abroad that the Dutch solution was robust and humane. As recently as in 2011 I assured a European ecumenical audience that the Dutch system was a model worth considering. But that conclusion has become harder and harder for me to support. For no apparent reason, beginning in 2007, the numbers of assisted dying cases started going up by 15 percent each year. In 2014 the number of cases stood at 5,306, nearly three times the 2002 figure. Neither the Netherlands nor Belgium has made a serious attempt to address the rising incidents of assisted dying and the shift from seeing assisted dying as a last resort to seeing it as a normal death. It appears that once legalization of assisted dying has occurred, critical reflection is difficult…If there’s even one case of assisted dying for which there was a less drastic alternative, then that is one case too many.” I leave that with you.

How should the church respond?
1. We should respond with compassion to those who are struggling with this issue and for those who have had loved ones take their own lives.
2. We should remember that we are not autonomous people who make decisions based on what is best solely for us. That is the advice we hear a lot, isn’t it? “You will have to do what’s best for you.” We hear this when it comes to marriage advice all the time. You know, you just have to do what’s best for you. Hey, great advice, unless you believe a word of the Bible! Unless you understand the sacrifices of the gospel! Not once did Jesus say, “do what’s best for you.” Then we begin to remember that we follow the example of Christ, who always and only put others before himself, who came to serve and not be served, who said, “love God and love your neighbor.” The decisions we make, especially the decision to take a life, will have a lifetime of consequences on so many others who are left with the memories. Our lives are not our own. We belong wholly to God, who has purchased us. We do not have the freedom to do with them as we please.
3. We should respond with the gospel and the good news of a Savior who understands what it means to suffer. A righteous man who suffered in the most horrific of ways. Jesus understands. He understands. And he is available to save today. Are you suffering because of a loved one who is no longer with us? Jesus understands. Are you suffering with depression and pain and a desire to leave it all behind? Jesus understands.

The great Isaac Watts moves us with these words:

Touched with a sympathy within,
he knows our feeble frame;
he knows what sore temptations mean
for he has felt the same.
He in the days of feeble flesh
poured out his cries and tears;
and, in his measure, feels afresh
what every member bears.
Then let our humble faith address
his mercy and his power:
we shall obtain delivering grace
in every needful hour.

The Church and Bioethics: Gender Identity and Transgenderism

Below is a brief summary of a sermon I preached on May 15, 2016 at Graefenburg Baptist Church concerning gender identity and transgenderism.

This sermon will attempt to graciously and biblically answer four questions concerning gender identity:

1. What is gender identity and transgenderism?
2. What does science say about gender identity?
3. What does the gospel say about gender identity?
4. How should the church respond?

What is gender identity and transgenderism?
This is an essential place to begin because before we can properly address a concern, we must first understand the concern. Gender identity refers to a person’s internal sense or connection of gender. A person’s gender identity – their inward feeling of their gender – might be the same or different as their birth sex. A transgender person, then, is a person who identifies with a different gender than what is on their birth certificate. So, a person who was biologically born a male and was listed as such on their birth certificate might come to identify their gender as female later in life and live out that female identity instead of a male identity.

Now it is important to make some clarifications. Being a transgendered person is not the same as being a transvestite. A transvestite is a person, usually a male, who finds pleasure in dressing up as a female. The man does not wish to change genders, but enjoys dressing up as a fetish. In contrast, a transgendered person understands themselves to be different and desires to be different than their biological sex. Much of the social media memes and other unhelpful characterizations of this issue often come across as transvestitism, which is not a fair assessment of what the Obama administration is trying to protect. The issues related to the letter issued by the Department of Justice and Education are to protect transgendered people. Now obviously, this new policy opens the door wide open for potential abuse by those who are not actually transgendered and would be seeking  to experience an inappropriate erotic or sexual encounter. But for President Obama, civil rights protection for transgendered people outweighs the potential for abuse of the policy.

Transgenderism is also not sexual orientation. A transgendered person might identify as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, and so forth. So although we typically think of gender identity and transgendered people through a lens of sexuality, they are two different, but obviously closely connected things.

This first question is important because we need to have Christian compassion for those who are genuinely struggling and suffering through gender dysphoria. It might be easy for us to roll our eyes and turn our face away in disgust at the thought of a male fulfilling a sexual impulse by wearing make-up and a dress to walk into a women’s restroom. But if we begin to consider how a person might be confused, embarrassed, bullied, and emotionally scarred through their gender dysphoria, then our Christian mandate is to show a gracious spirit of love and concern, even as we push back against policies that are harmful, especially to our children.

What does science say about gender identity?
Sometimes the phrase used to describe the feeling of a transgendered person is that they are a “female trapped in a mans’ body” or vice versa. What does science say about this phenomenon? Is it biological? Or is it psychological? Or is it both? First, let me say that the Obama administration doesn’t really seem to care. They understand a trangendered person to identify their gender through an ongoing process of changing ideas that may weave in and out of various genders, including male, female, a “third gender”, “gender fluid (which means you are both), etc. But to help clarify for our purposes, is there an internal biological factor that makes this unavoidable for some people?

The truth is we just don’t know. We will hear scientific language used to establish the internal biological reality of transgendered people, such as XY Chromosomes and the chemistry of the brain, but this is still work that exists in the land of the unknown. JM Bailey, Professor in the Department of Psychology at Northwestern University, has an article on the National Center for Biotechnology Information website where he simply concludes that, “Currently the predominant cultural understanding of male-to-female transsexualism is that all male-to-female (MtF) transsexuals are, essentially, women trapped in men’s bodies. This understanding has little scientific basis, however, and is inconsistent with clinical observations…. The persistence of the predominant cultural understanding, while explicable, is damaging to science and to many transsexuals.” So, on the one hand, I think we have to avoid the extreme of thinking transgendered people are such because of biological science alone.

On the other hand, we should avoid the extreme of insisting that trangendered people are just perverts who want to live out an erotic desire. We don’t yet know the answer to the nature vs. nurture question. It may very well be that there is a biological component to their dysphoria. So, we just really don’t know what is happening. Which is another reason why making such a strong move as Obama has done is problematic. North Carolina Governor Pat Mcrory I think summarized this concept very well. He said the “federal government is searching for a solution to a problem that has yet to be defined.”

Let me mention one last thing concerning science. For Christians, we want to know the full story. We want to know the causes. We want to know all we can so we can better relate and engage. But from a biblical truth standpoint, nothing changes. Whether transgendered persons are a product of biology or by nurture or a combination of both, the truth of God’s word and His design still stands. Therefore…

What does the gospel say about gender identity?
If science doesn’t have much to say at this point on this issue, the gospel can speak all day. Let me mention a couple of things.

1. The gospel teaches that the male/female binary is a purposeful picture of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (Genesis 2, Ephesians 5).

2. The gospel teaches us that God is both Creator and King, ruling over our lives for His glory and our good. Humanity does not determine or assign gender to ourselves, that is the act of God alone. When men and women desire to create for themselves their own reality and their own direction and their own desires, we make ourselves false gods, which is always sin against the one King.

3. The gospel teaches us that suffering is an important part of the Christian’s life. I would never deny that those who genuinely feel an internal conflict between their birth gender and their perceived gender are tormented by that reality. But I would deny that alleviating that suffering by changing genders is a solution. Only the gospel can help here. For the gospel places us in Christ and in his sufferings, where we begin – over a long life journey – to find contentment and even joy in our sufferings. The very thing transgendered people desire by changing genders is the very thing they will miss. But they can find it by learning about the sufferings of Christ.

4. The gospel teaches that forgiveness and reconciliation with God is available through Jesus Christ. There is a story of a person who was born a man, switched genders, had sex reassignment surgery, and felt even more despair. On top of all of this, the person had a daughter who only knew them as “mom.” After coming under conviction, this person approached a pastor and asked, “is there any hope for someone like me who has made such a mess of things?” The answer is yes. There is always hope in Jesus Christ.

How should the church respond?
1. By being quick to repent and slow to judge. Whenever we are confronted with a unbiblical lifestyle or cultural shift that we find morally reprehensible, the church should first remember that we are a people redeemed from our own state of filth and wretchedness. Before we should begin discussing the speck in another’s eye, lets make certain we are removing the log in our own.

2. Have conversations. Both with individuals and in a corporate setting. When people who are struggling with issues such as sexual orientation and gender identity see that the church is quick to repent and slow to judge, it will open doors to real, meaningful conversations about life and faith. Would you be able to have such a conversation with a transgenered person without turning away from the individual in scorn?

3. Never, ever deny truth. If we are quick to repent, slow to judge, and then engage in conversation, we must never compromise the word of God. In other words, we must speak with grace and with conviction. And frankly, people appreciate conviction. People are not repulsed by conviction, but are deeply repulsed by condemnation. And there is no room for condemnation in the church of Jesus Christ. There is, however, plenty of room for gracious conversation marked by Godly conviction. The former will turn people away from the cross, the latter will draw them near.

4. Pray for God’s mercy on our country and our schools. We might consider America the greatest country on earth, and I believe she is, but if God was willing to send the nation Israel into exile for their idolatry, he will not hesitate to do the same to the USA. The political process involves the people of the United States making their voice known to their representatives and members of congress. We need Christians speaking up. We need Christians running for office. So do that. In love, do that.

5. Parents will have to determine the line of the Rubicon. The idiomatic expression “crossing the Rubicon” means the point of no return. Although I do not believe parents should panic and pull their children from public schools, I do believe parents should establish the point of no return. Here is why that’s important. If you never set that bar, then you will always think the next difficult issue for public education is just one more thing and not enough to take action. But if you know in advance that this particular line is where your family can no longer allow your children to attend public schools, then you will be prepared when the line is crossed to pursue other options. I know that is challenging. This is an issue that I think the church will need to be forward thinking on, and begin brainstorming now on we can help parents who are church members discover and fund other options if that time should come. *After preaching this sermon, two gracious church members also suggested the desperate need for Christians to plug into public education in a variety of ways, including holding positions of influence, in order to make a difference in the spiritual direction of our schools. I couldn’t agree more.

The Church and Bioethics: Abortion and Stem Cell Research

Below is a summary of a sermon I preached on May 1, 2016 at Graefenburg Baptist Church concerning abortion, stem cell research, and bioethics.

My position will be that babies in the womb, including the embryonic and fetal stages, are image bearers of God whose lives are to be protected and nurtured.

Four questions to answer addressing the topic of abortion and stem cell research:
1. Is there a difference between human life and human personhood?
2. What about Exodus 21?
3. Why is stem cell research a bioethical issue?
4. How does the gospel make a difference?

Is there a difference between human life and human personhood?
Most recent discussions that have a direct impact on public policy concerning abortion have centered around the question of what constitutes a human person. Why has the discussion of personhood become so important? Well, today most scientists, philosophers, educators, doctors, and theologians will agree that a human embryo, even from the first moment of fertilization, is a human life. This is difficult to refute. It is obviously alive, it possesses human DNA, and unless it is interfered with, will naturally develop through the various human life stages of maturity and development. But the Western world is now debating not so much if an embryo is a human life, but if all human life should be granted full human rights and thus equally protected.

Many are debating today that not all human lives are actually human persons, and that only persons are able to possess the kind of human rights that will protect them from harm. This, of course, has a tremendous impact on how people are thinking about abortion. If a human life is not yet a person and therefore does not have full human rights, such as the right to life, then abortion is not murder. But is this right? How does the Bible guide us in this area?

Although we have used the language of personhood to describe deep theological truths – such as the Trinity and the person of Christ – the Bible does not speak directly to the issue of if there is a distinction between human life and human personhood. Instead, the Bible speaks on these things in terms of the image of God and the impact of being created in that image. Let’s look at two examples:

Psalm 51 is a beautiful prayer by David seeking forgiveness for his multitude of sins.
First, notice that David refers to his time in the womb as “me.” There is a continuity in David’s inspired writing of himself with whatever stage of development he was in the womb.

Second, and even more powerfully, is that David identifies himself as a sinner, even while in the womb. This is not merely the mother’s sin, for the entire Psalm is about David’s sin and his pleas for forgiveness. This teaching lines up perfectly with Romans 5:12: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men…”
David is teaching us in Psalm 51 that his sinful condition is not just a result of his own personal actions, but because of his association with Adam. (now let’s pause here and be reminded of a beautiful gospel truth. It is through our association with the first Adam, the one from Genesis 1-3, that we are by nature sinners and children of wrath. But it is through our association with the second Adam, that is Jesus Christ, that we take on his righteous nature and become a child of God.) But the point here is that since David identifies himself as a sinner in his embryonic state, then even as a human life in the womb, he carried with him moral accountability, that is to say, the need to be forgiven of sin. This necessarily means that even before David was born, he was an image-bearing human person.

Psalm 139 is another example. Here the continuity of David with his “inward parts” is consistent with Psalm 51. But even more striking is the degree of care that God shows to this baby inside the womb. Matthew 6:26-30 teaches us that God does not show the same level of value and personal care for all of his creation. Humans who bear his image are his top priority. And this Psalm most beautifully demonstrates how God sees the life in the womb as a full image-bearing human person.

We can also turn our attention to Luke 1 and the announcement by Gabriel that Mary would conceive and bear a son. Jesus, as we know, is the ultimate image-bearer of God who perfectly identifies with humans and yet is without sin. But notice that Jesus does not just appear in his adult human form. He identifies, from first to last, with the full range of image-bearing human persons, which meant he came in the first stage of maturity and development – a life in the womb. In this way, Jesus completely lived for us, completely died for us, and completely saves us.

From these three examples, we can say that the Bible does not specifically target the language of personhood, but highlights the image-bearing nature of humanity from inside the womb, which means from a biblical perspective, there is no difference between a human life and a human person. From fertilization onward, we are image bearers of God and have a right to life.

What about Exodus 21?
Pro-choice advocates have historically used Exodus 21:22 as a pivotal text to demonstrate how the Bible views life in the womb as less than a human person. Let’s read the verse and see if that claim holds up. “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”

Now, you are probably wondering why pro-choice folks look to this text to support their position when in fact it appears to harm their position. Well, that’s right. This is actually a verse that once again shows the image-bearing nature of life in the womb. Look at it closely. The Bible is speaking about harm to either the children or the mother.

So why do pro-choice folks latch on to this? Because a few translations, including the New Revised Standard Version and the 1977 New American Standard Bible, translate it differently: “And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is no further injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him; and he shall pay as the judges decide.” (Emphasis mine)

In this translation, the text indicates the “no further injury” is to the mother alone, seemingly making the death of the baby in the womb a trivial matter, compensated by a fine.

Now, in 1995 the NASB updated the text of their translation in order to use the most up to day scholarship. Their updated text says something very different from the 1977 translation. It says, “If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide.”

So which translation is correct? The language evidence in this one verse coupled with the entirety of the Bible’s teaching on this topic shows that the updated version, and thus the translation of almost every modern translation (and most older translations, such as the KJV) is correct – the translation should be “her children come out” instead of “has a miscarriage.” This shows how life in the womb was considered just that – an image-bearing human person, and penalties would be paid in relation to the harm, or lack thereof, that came to the baby.

Why is stem-cell research a bioethical issue?
Stem cell research receives a significant amount of attention because of the potential to use the cells in ways that could produce better treatments for disease and illnesses. Because of that, many Christians struggle with an additional layer of ethical decision making – a case of which is the greater good, to preserve the life of a human embryo or to destroy that life in hopes of helping humans who are more fully matured and developed.

Stem cells are distinct from other types of cells because they are not fully differentiated. That just means that stem cells are able to develop into a variety of other cell types, leaving the possible scientific study on them open to many possibilities. The most important and valuable of stem cells are called “pluripotent” cells because they are are undifferentiated. Multipotent are the next valuable, and then unipotent are the least valuable to scientists. The ethical tension comes in the fact that human embryos, that is to say our children, are a rich source of pluripotent cells, the kind that are most valuable.

It is very difficult for Christians, even in light of all the evidence we have already discussed as the image-bearing nature of human life in all of its stages, to argue against stem cell research because all of us know loved ones and friends who could potentially benefit from this kind of scientific progress. It is easy to be seen as unloving to hold a position against stem cell research. Thus, this is another position where Christians will need to cultivate Christian courage. If human embryos do indeed bear the image of God in their personhood, then harming or killing them for the profit of another, even another who is more fully developed, is morally wrong and against all that we believe in Christ. Some of the most heinous periods in world history have come through brilliant arguments for the harming of those who are weaker, smaller, or supposedly dispensable for the perceived greater good of others.

But not all is lost here. Embryos are not the only source of stem cells and technology is providing additional sources for scientific study. Umbilical cord blood is one example of a plentiful source of stem cells, and even more promising is that scientists have started working on ways to extract stem cells from embryos without destroying the embryo itself, which of course would remove the difficult ethical considerations altogether.

How does the gospel make a difference?
First, the gospel reminds us of sacrifice and service, the vision statement of all Christians. In setting the ultimate example, Christ willingly left that which was comfortable, that which was majestic and perfect, that which was rightfully his, and took on a world of sacrifice and inconvenience. In 2014, an estimated 977,000 abortions took place in the US alone. Of those 977,000, a significant portion, upwards of 3/4 of women said they did not want a baby because it would interfere with their life. And listen, they are right about that. Babies get in the way. They can be loud and never sleep and are so demanding and inconvenient. They are expensive and seem to be so darn ungrateful. But do you remember what we said on day one of this sermon series? We said that bioethical issues involve a comprehensive view of who we are as Christians and must never be reduced to just the issue at hand. This is a perfect example. Apart from our Christ-centered worldview where the gospel instructs us on what service and sacrifice looks like, an annoying, interfering baby would be, well, just that. An annoyance. And who wants that? But in Christ, we find our joy through sacrifice. Our joy through service. Our joy in putting others before ourselves.

Second, the gospel reminds us of community and the church. After all, it was for the church that Christ died. Now listen, the church isn’t perfect. Far from it. But we love each other, sometimes in awkward ways, but we do. And we love babies. I can promise you that you will find a place of refuge and advice and help and support from the people of Graefenburg Baptist Church. That won’t make things easy for you. That won’t mean you will gets lots of sleep. But you will get help when you ask, you will be invited into community with us, and we will rally around you.

Third, the gospel reminds us of forgiveness. There is no condemnation for those of you who are in Christ Jesus. Abortion is one of those topics that when preached, seems crystal clear. But when there is a baby inside of your body that will disrupt everything, including perhaps your reputation, things become muddy very quickly. I understand that. Brother and sister, if you have a history that includes abortion and you have sought the Lord Jesus in forgiveness, then he does not condemn you and your guilt is removed. And if the Lord Jesus does not condemn you, then neither will Graefenburg Baptist Church.

But if you have not yet asked Christ to forgive you, then come to him today. He is gentle and ready to forgive. He will not turn you away.



The Church and Bioethics: Assisted Reproduction

Below is a summary of a sermon I preached on April 24, 2016 at Graefenburg Baptist Church concerning assisted reproduction and bioethics.

Four questions to answer addressing the topic of assisted reproduction:
1. Does assisted reproduction usurp (infringe upon) the sovereignty of God?
2. What is an embryo and how should Christians think about them?
3. What is the relationship between embryos and assisted reproduction?
4. Are there other ethical concerns?

Does assisted reproduction usurp the sovereignty of God?
Although a common objection from evangelicals to assisted reproduction is that the practice “usurps” the sovereignty of God, the answer to this first question is an unequivocal “no.” Human beings, despite our seemingly sophisticated technological advances, are not capable of disrupting or infringing upon the eternal purposes of a providential God. Therefore, Graefenburg Baptist Church will always view every baby and every child as a deeply loving and abundantly good gift from God. Regardless of how that child came into this world, whether it was through natural sexual relations or assisted reproduction or a single mother or single father who had a baby out of wedlock, every child is a beautiful gift of a sovereign God, and every child has come from God alone.

But we have to be careful. We can’t think that since God’s sovereignty is absolute and since every child is always a great gift that our actions and decisions concerning assisted reproduction do not matter. Remember, God’s sovereignty does not negate human responsibility, and we will be held responsible for our choices. So, we should not condemn assisted reproduction on the grounds that it usurps the sovereignty of God, but we should also avoid accepting every means of ART (assisted reproductive technology) as morally and ethically suitable for Christians.

What is an embryo and how should Christians thing about them?
An embryo is formed by the coming together of an egg from a female and a sperm from a male in a process called fertilization (sometimes called conception). When conception occurs, the egg and the sperm individually cease to be, and there is a new, distinct living human organism, sometimes referred to as a zygote. This new life is so amazing that it immediately closes itself off from any additional outside disruption. No other sperm can get in, no other parts are necessary for this human life to grow. This new living organism, so long as it is nurtured and fed and given time to develop, will very soon be crying and screaming and kicking in the arms of a doctor and then the arms of a parent.

Listen to how Robert George and Patrick Lee describe this process as they write for the US National Library of Medicine: “…from the zygote stage onward, the human embryo has within it all of the internal information needed—including chiefly its genetic and epigenetic constitution—and the active disposition to develop itself to the mature stage of a human organism. As long as the embryo is reasonably healthy and is not denied or deprived of a suitable environment and adequate nutrition, it will actively develop itself along the species-specific trajectory of development. This means that the embryo has the same nature—in other words, it is the same kind of entity—from fertilization onward; there is only a difference in degree of maturation, not in kind, between any of the stages from embryo, to fetus, infant and so on.”

In other words, Christians should consider embryos to be children. We should consider these to be our babies. All an embryo needs is time for more maturity and nourishment. But that is true for a newborn baby. That baby needs more time to mature, needs nourishment, needs somewhere safe to sleep. The exact same thing is true for the human embryo.

What is the relationship between embryos and assisted reproduction?
Let me address the two most common forms of ART. First is artificial insemination. Through this process a man’s sperm are injected into a woman at the right time and in the right place to help increase the probability of pregnancy. Through this means of assisted reproduction, fertilization occurs in a natural way and embryos are in no greater danger than if the couple would have engaged in normal sexual contact. For this reason, the relationship between embryos and artificial insemination does not create additional risk factors a couple would need to worry about.

The second most common type of assisted reproduction is In Vitro Fertilization. Through this process, Eggs are harvested from a woman, sperm is taken from the man, and they are brought together outside the womb. After fertilization occurs outside the womb, the embryos are implanted, or transferred, inside the womb. This process has several ethical concerns associated with embryos that artificial insemination does not.

First, both because IVF is incredibly expensive and because the success rate is very low, usually a much larger number of eggs are harvested for fertilization than are expected to be used.  After fertilization occurs outside the womb, only a couple, 2 to 4 typically, will be implanted into the womb. What is left is a very serious moral and ethical dilemma. What happens to the remaining embryos that were not placed in the woman? Sometimes they are frozen for potential use at a later date. Sometimes, and we have to recognize the way the secular world uses this language, they are “discarded.” Which simply means they are killed. There are some other options available as well, that I will mention below.

A second ethical concern for the embryos with IVF is the potential of needing to abort one or more of the embryos. This is sometimes referred to as “selective abortion.” Again, since there is such a low success rate and because of the high costs involved per transfer, the doctors might implant several embryos into the womb with the hope that one will continue to develop and mature. This often leads to multiple pregnancies and leaves the parent with a deeply difficult moral decision as to whether or not they should selectively abort one of the babies in order to put less health risk on the mother and on the other children. Thankfully, this trend of multiple embryo transfers is slowly starting to decrease. In some parts of Europe, there is a mandatory single embryo transfer, which is preferred from a Christian ethical viewpoint. Dr. Dorrette Noorahsen writing for Fertility Specialists says, “Due to the success of vitrification, we no longer need to transfer a higher number of embryos at the fresh ET, but are comfortable transferring fewer, and if the woman is not pregnant we can do a FET at a later point in time. The number of higher order multiples in the United States have decreased in the last decade due to fertility centers transferring fewer embryos. Transferring fewer embryos has not decreased pregnancy success rates in the last decade. Actually, IVF success rates have improved in the last decade due to improved technology.”

A third ethical problem for IVF is the reality of how many children have been killed in order to make the technology possible. It would be one thing if these killings had stopped now that we have the technology in place, but of course the industry desires to make the procedure more effective and safer for all parties. However, the means by which they continue to improve on IVF technology is in part the continuing destruction of embryos.

Are there other ethical concerns?
The parental connection when a third party is involved is an additional ethical concern. Third parties are sometimes necessary during assisted reproduction because either the female or the male is not able to conceive, so a third party egg or sperm is necessary. This creates a situation where there is a biological link to the child outside the husband and wife.

Now, most parents who are actually raising the child will have no problem clearly identifying themselves as the true parents, and rightly so. But what about the perspective of the child? There is no way to know how they might respond to the news of a third person having biological responsibilities for their birth. Of course, one option is to keep the information away from the child. But then that creates a situation where there are family secrets, and puts friends and family in an uncomfortable and often unfair situation of knowing something and keeping it quiet. Family secrets hardly ever turn out well.

Most children will want to know about their biological makeup and couples who use a third party must prepare for these kinds of ethical possibilities.

Another concern for third party involvement is the potential emotional connection between the third party and the child, a truth that is demonstrated in Scripture itself, such as the jealousy that develops with Sarah and Hagar.

Closing Thoughts
I believe one thing is absolutely necessary before any Christian couple should begin the process of assisted reproduction. Not surprisingly, it has to do with the gospel. Christian couples should seek contentment in Christ before any decisions are made or considered. This is not to say that contentment means a couple should not pursue a route to help with pregnancy. But rather, before a route is taken, they should seek contentment in Christ with their condition. The reality of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has not changed the brokenness and suffering of something so difficult as infertility, but it has radically changed a Christian’s perspective on that suffering.

Embryo adoption is a beautiful way for couples to both pursue parenthood in a God-honoring way while also coming alongside children who may be otherwise killed through the embryo discarding process. We would be happy to discuss embryo adoption with you and pray for your decision making.

The Church and Bioethics: Birth Control

Below is a summary of a sermon I preached on April 17, 2016 at Graefenburg Baptist Church concerning birth control and bioethics. The intent of these sermons is not to tell people what bioethical decisions they should make, but to help us think biblically and think well about the issues at stake. 

Four questions to answer concerning the Church and birth control:
1. Is the Creation Mandate of Genesis 1:28 a universal, ongoing command that requires all Christians to bear children?
2. What are the gospel implications of the Creation Mandate?
3. How does having dominion over the earth apply to birth control?
4. What are some warnings?

Is the Creation Mandate of Genesis 1:28 a universal, ongoing command that requires all Christians to bear children? We argued that the answer to that question is “no.” If we believe the mandate of Genesis 1:28 to multiply and fill the earth (that is repeated in 9:1, 35:11, etc), is still binding for all individual Christians today, then that would have obvious implications on how we would think about birth control, especially for couples who have decided never to have children. But we do not hold that position. The New Testament and the coming of Jesus Christ has a significant impact on our understanding of procreation. Jesus himself was childless, and yet remained the perfect fulfillment of the Law. Jesus has positive things to say about those who purposefully choose to be a eunuch. Paul endorses singleness, and thus childlessness, as a positive status for those who are able. Barrenness is never viewed as a curse in the New Testament for married couples, so those who struggle with infertility today should have no reason to think they are breaking a command of the Lord that says every Christian should bear children.

What are the gospel implications of the Creation Mandate? We should not assume the above position means the Creation Mandate is no longer a critical part of Christian practice today. On the contrary, there are several significant gospel implications:
1. God delights in children because children are image bearers who reflect the radiant glory of God. God desires Christ-honoring image bearers to fill his earth, not dishonoring idol worshipers. Thus, when Christian parents bear children and raise them in the fear and admonition of the Lord, God is greatly glorified by this act. This powerful means of bringing glory to God and good to us should be a factor when considering birth control and long term decision making for having children.

2. God used the Creation Mandate of Genesis 1:28 to fulfill his promise of the Seed of the Woman crushing the Seed of the Serpent. This is one reason why barrenness in the Old Testament was such a curse, and why God reminds Sarah and Rebecca and Rachel in their barrenness that He was the God of salvation and the God of the means of salvation, namely through the successful lineage up to Jesus Christ. When Jesus comes in the flesh, this critical application of the Creation Mandate came to a close, for the eternal purposes of God were now revealed in the death and resurrection of Christ. The Seed of the Serpent has been crushed by the new and better Adam.

3. The New Testament points us to another mandate that is, in fact, binding on all Christians. We call it the Great Commission. This also involved filling and multiplying the earth – with disciples of Jesus.

How does having dominion over the earth apply to birth control? Although we may at times wonder if technology, in all its forms, is helpful or harmful, we can nevertheless appreciate the giftedness God has given to doctors, engineers, scientists, and others who have used the earth’s resources for the betterment of humanity. That is a clear application of having dominion and subduing the earth. Modern medicine that is able to fight back against disease and death is a benefit to all humans and is consistent with the mandate of Genesis 1:28. The same principle is true for birth control, insofar as it falls within the category of subduing and having dominion. That does not mean that all forms of birth control, or all applications of birth control, are equally valid or morally acceptable, but it does mean that Christians should be careful to not dismiss the technology out right.

Finally, what are some warnings? We conclude from the above comments that birth control does not explicitly contradict the Creation Mandate, nor is it inherently contradictory to God’s design and commands for his children. There are moral and ethical considerations where a married couple would be wise to hold off on childbearing for a period of time, or even indefinitely, and birth control would make these wise and morally correct choices a possibility. In that way, artificial contraception can be used for the glory of God.

But we must be careful. There are moral and ethical considerations where a married couple would be acting against the character and commands of God by using birth control. A few examples are:

Greed. If a primary catalyst for preventing children is so we can fill up our barn houses with wealth, then we need to repent.  The riches of children far outweigh the riches of a bank account.

Selfishness. God desires his children to be concerned with others, to be servants to others, and to lay down our lives for others. Welcome to the definition of parenthood! Children are a beautiful way God cultivates the fruit of righteousness in husbands and wives. If our motivation for keeping children out of our lives is so we can fulfill selfish ambitions apart from being distracted by others, then we are on dangerous ground.

Fear. Will I be a good parent? What if I make the mistakes my parents made? Will we have enough money? There may very well be times when it is appropriate to wait and use birth control while you build character for godly parenting. There may very well be times when a significant debt, such as large tuition payments, need to be covered before you can have children. There are many situations where wisdom and stewardship would direct couples to wait before having children, or even decide to not have children at all. But, we will never be fully prepared in our character for parenting. Our bank account will never be rich enough. The brutal aspect of fear is that it is used by the evil one to immobilize us, to keep us stationary, to prevent us from experiencing the fullness of God’s design. Parenting, like every other part of Christian living, depends on the power of Christ in us. And the power of Christ in us develops character, such as courage, to do what scares us most for the glory of God.

In conclusion, we learn that God does not command or require every Christian to bear children, that birth control has legitimate, Christ-honoring uses for married couples who are thinking biblically, wisely, and with good Christian stewardship about children, and that birth control can become self-exalting if we use it for inappropriate reasons. A question every married couple should ask themselves is, “Why do we not want children?” and then how will the answer to that question impact our ability to serve and glorify God? That question, I think, will take us far.

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