The Church and Bioethics: An Ethical and Theological Foundation

Below is a brief summary of the introductory sermon I preached on April 10, 2016 for a series called “The Church and Bioethics.”

Bioethics is the study of the typically controversial ethical issues emerging from new situations and possibilities brought about by advances in biology and medicine.

A few presuppositions for this sermon series:

1. Worldview
We do not change the Bible to align with our thinking. But we change our thinking to align with the Bible. Information on bioethical issues come to us in a variety of ways. We are instructed on these concerns by what we read in the news, through digital media, by our own personal experiences, through the always-accurate Google searches, from our medical providers, and through the Scriptures. As helpful as these other sources may be, Christians must always shape their worldview through the power of God’s word that then provides guidance to how we should evaluate additional fountains of information. This series will highlight a Christ-centered approach to thinking and responding well to medical technology.

2. Comprehensive
Abstract moral questions are rarely helpful. Our decisions and life experiences are a connected whole and the choices we make in one situation will often determine the kinds of choices we will be forced to make later. Making a wise choice today might very well prevent an even more difficult bioethical choice later in life. But even more important than that is how our individual moral decisions must be examined in light of our broader growth in Christ because each of us has a certain character about us. We do not come to any bioethical decision with a blank slate. We bring the totality of our lives to the decision making table, and the substance of our character in Christ will drive the decision making process.

Almost every abstract question raised in bioethics is reduced to external action. What would you “do” in this situation, is the way the question is typically asked. But we will be approaching these issues believing that our character in Christ is just as important as the actions we take, or the rules of conduct. In fact, our conduct is directly impacted by our character. Christians will act our of their character in Christ, and our character is formed by growing deeper and deeper in love with Jesus, being transformed by him.

So, the person who wishes to carry out the correct external action must be a person of excellent internal character, and for the Christian, that means growing more in Christ, looking more like Jesus. Thus, bioethics is a comprehensive discipline, not limited to just the notion of “what would you do?” in an abstract situation. To that end, this sermon series is concerned with not only helping us think about the right thing to do, but more importantly, cultivating in ourselves the kind of Christ-exalting character in order to make our choices and make them well.

3. There is not always a right or wrong.
Sometimes there is a right and wrong. Perhaps many times there is a right or wrong. But not always. And this goes back to our second point about decisions taking place within a comprehensive framework of a person’s entire life, including their family, friends, and so forth. Some bioethical decisions will depend on the wisdom, judgment, and circumstances of a particular person in their particular situation. However, what all scenarios must have in common for the Christian is that their particular situation is placed first and foremost under the direction of Scripture. But from there, two people with a similar issue in front of them might end up with two different decisions, and that does not necessarily mean one is wrong and one is right.

4. Not a series on political engagement or activism or how the Christian should understand the public square.
There are important questions to consider on how Christians should engage the bioethical debate within the public square, and there are even some Christians who are calling for a complete departure from a “secular” health care platform. I believe Christians should be heard and have a voice in these ethical, political, and health care discussions, but that is simply not the road we are traveling for this series. I am concerned with us as individual Christians who make up the church of Jesus Christ thinking well about our personal medical decision making.

5. Not a series to tell you what to do, but to help us all think clearly.
I hope to offer guidance and direction as we stand face to face with morally confusing issues presented by modern medicine, to grow in our knowledge of Christ in a way that better prepares us to make personal, bioethical decisions with godliness, wisdom, and integrity.

6. Personal
I know these issues do not exists in a vacuum. They impact all of us. Some of us have even recently had to make difficult, bioethical decisions and you might be wondering if you made the right call. I will do my very best to preach these sermons with a pastoral sensitive heart and spirit.

7. Three Essential Theological Footings

God is Sovereign.
You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Romans 9:19-20. Throughout these sermons, we will keep reminding ourselves that humans are not capable of “playing God” even if we wanted to. God is still ruling and reigning.

Humans are masterpieces of God’s creation.
Whatever you think about the nature of human beings, both in our beginnings and end, will eventually steer you to make certain assumptions about medical issues related to humanity.
The Bible makes breathtaking claims about humanity. We are God’s masterpiece. A fallen masterpiece to be sure – and sin is the reason why bioethics is even a concern for us – but nevertheless we are the pinnacle of God’s creation. Consider this:
It is humanity that is created in God’s image. (Genesis 1:27)
It is humanity that will judge the angels. (1 Corinthians 6:3)
It is humanity that is given dominion over the earth. (Genesis 1:26)
It is humanity that God loves enough to kill his only son. (Romans 5:8)
It is humanity that Jesus Christ, the eternal son of God, clothes himself in and wraps himself in to fully become one of us in order to save us. (Philippians 2:7)
What worth! What dignity! What purpose! What potential! May we never believe the lie of our adversary who gently suggests to us that the human in the womb or the human in the nursing home has no real meaning. That we are formed and shaped by a sovereign God into his own image means there is incredible worth at all stages of human development and life. Every single stage.

The death and resurrection of Christ.
Jesus came to suffer and die. (A man of sorrows). This means that as we strive to look more like Jesus and be more like Jesus, that we will have to understand suffering as a part of our lives. We do not seek out suffering, but we will expect it and must grow to find joy in it.
Jesus’ resurrection demonstrates just how important our bodies really are. Our bodies will be glorified and they will exist forever. Thus, the decisions we make concerning our bodies are important decisions. The spiritual and the physical are not two separate islands. Both are redeemed.

I’m praying for you as we dive into these deep waters. Please pray for me.