Abolitionism is not a more radical, Protestantized, immediatist, form of prolifeism. It is so much more than that.
Many have become involved in this movement or interested in this movement because of abolitionism’s stance against regulationism. They are drawn to the uncompromised rhetoric, our bold critiquing of the failed Prolife Industrial Complex, and our obvious Christianity. This is great. God bless them! I am thankful for that interest and for any co-laborers that are striving to love their preborn neighbors. However, abolitionism is more than that. To better understand the abolitionism as a whole, this is a good starting point.
It is especially important to understand the fullness of abolitionism because some have adopted truncated versions of abolitionism. They like the immediatism, but they leave out the Gospel centeredness. They like the idea of Gospel centeredness, but buy into regulationism. They adopt four tenets, yet leave out one. They say they like all five tenets, yet twist immediatism or Gospel Centeredness, and so on and so on.
I do not make these distinctions and I do not call out faux-abolitionism for the sake of “tribal” loyalty, a misplaced fancy for extreme purity, or the desire to promote a certain brand. I want to maintain and defend the meaning of abolitionism because I believe ideas matter. I believe words matter. I believe that abolitionism matters. I believe abolitionism, properly understood, is found within the Scriptures. I believe abolitionism is true. I want to define and defend abolitionism because I love our preborn neighbors, justice, mercy, and truth. If this defence causes division, I pray it is good division based on that love. Even more, I pray that I am able to persuade those who may have bought into a truncated form of abolitionism. Because it matters.
One tenet of abolitionism is The Obligation of the Church.
The Obligation of the Church in regards to abolitionism is to “seek to awaken the Church to fulfill her ordained purpose to be salt and light in this sin spoiled and darkened world. The primary means God has ordained to display his manifold wisdom to the world is through his people, his body and bride. The church must take the gospel to the ends of the earth and bring it into conflict with every dark deed of man.” [from www.abolishhumanabortion.com]
This is not too controversial. Sure, there will be a number of antinomians who believe that the obligation of the Church cannot move past talking about penal substitutionary atonement on Sunday mornings (just a little tongue-in-cheek). However, all who call themselves “abolitionist” will believe that the Church should be engaging the culture about particular sins, and most certainly the sin of abortion.
The contention, however, is in the meaning of “obligation”. This is where the ideas become twisted and confused. The abolitionist believes that Christians should be engaged, in one way or another, in fighting injustice. The abolitionist believes that the obligation of the Church is, well, an obligation. Not a suggestion.
Take a moment and consider other obligations in your personal life, work life, or church life. If you cognitively affirmed that you have an obligation to provide for your family, yet you get fired from your job because you’re too busy reading John Piper and listening to Matt Chandler podcasts, how do you think your family and church should respond? Would assuring them that you most certainly agree with them in your obligation and duty carry much weight? Any weight at all? What if you strongly affirmed a personal obligation to worship with other Christians every Sunday morning, yet you consistently sleep in? There is a sort of person who confesses with their mouth their strongly affirmed beliefs, duties, and obligations, yet never follows through with those ideas. We call most of these people plainly immature, undependable, and hypocritical.
Do we apply the same standards to those who confess that the Church has a duty to fight against the injustice of our age yet fail to act in accordance with those ideas?
The obligation of the Church means exactly that. It is an obligation.
I want to be clear. The obligation of the Church does not mean financing a special ministry made up of a few select prolife sidewalk counselors. I want to make this point very clear.
We should not be content with those scant few at the abortion clinics. These few work as the Green Berets of the Christian sub-culture fighting against abortion. I’m thankful for these few battle-hardened men and women. However, we are fighting against a Leviathan of an enemy. Think China. If the answer is to enlist a few diehards into special church ministries it is as if the rest of the military stays at home doing some training exercises but mostly they sit around reading about the great military geniuses of yesteryear. We send out a few talented shock troops of the Kingdom. God bless them. But the Army stays home.
Sometimes the Green Beret of the Kingdom feels mighty good about himself because he’s doing all he can. He certainly has many little victories, but we all REALLY know that a few Green Berets can’t defeat the whole of the Leviathan Military. It is very much like plugging holes in a dam with your fingers. You’re trying really hard, but doing little to no long-term good.
Believing that the work of justice and mercy is the duty of a few “special forces” is inherently pessimistic. It is how Premils do justice in accordance with their eschatological pessimism. They know the world is going down like the Titanic, so these faithful few spec-ops try to save as many of the unborn as possible at the final lines; i.e. the abortion clinics. They don’t expect the Bride of Christ to fight this losing fight. They know they’re going to lose, so there’s no need for long-term strategies that incorporate the time and resources of the whole of the Church. Their jurisdiction is not the world, but rather a piece of concrete in front of their local abortion mill.
The Obligation of the Church is a tenet of abolitionism that assumes optimism. Enlisting the help of the Church, the sleeping giant, is the first step to any effective long-term strategy to establish any sort of justice or to generally build the Kingdom of God. Instead of pretending like you’re the Delta Force of Christendom while being content to leave the Army at home as they read The Art of War (obviously Desiring God) over and over again, call on the Army to do their duty. Fulfil their obligation. Without the Church there is no Kingdom building and no justice and no mercy. There’s no abolition. There’s a baby saved once in a while. A beautiful, amazing, God glorifying save. But thousands will die tomorrow.
Prolifism, even the sort that pretends to understand and hold to abolitionism, is short-term, abortion mill focused, and special ministry driven. It is defensive. It is about saving a baby here or there. It is not about abolition and it is not about the building of the Kingdom of God. Rest in the fact that God is known for using dedicated and loud minorities to do great things. And waking that sleeping giant is certainly a great task.
A truncated understanding of The Obligation of Church that replaces the Bride of Christ with a handful of specialists is consistent with a pessimistic view of the fight against abortion and the building of the Kingdom of God. I believe Dr. Gary North understood this paradigm years ago, and he has only been proved more correct over the last six years of modern abortion abolitionism.
“This culturally pessimistic outlook of “no earthly hope in the ‘Church Age'” has dominated American fundamentalism for over a century. American Protestant Christianity for about a century was socially and politically invisible as an independent influence. The abortion issue has now begun to break this strangle hold of eschatological pessimism and social paralysis. There is no question that Christians are at the forefront of this social protest movement.
This makes a lot of Christian leaders nervous. They see where it could lead, namely, to a transformation of the American evangelical consciousness: from pietism to activism. It could also lead to a shift in eschatology: from premillennialism to postmillennialism. But most important, it could (and I believe will) lead to a shift in moral theology: from natural law to biblical law.”
(When Justice Is Aborted pg 128)
Subscribing to the tenet “The Obligation of The Church” and yet refusing to call the Church to Repent is like subscribing to the tenet “Gospel Centered” and refusing to preach the Gospel. It’s a hollow and false acceptance of the idea, or it is plain disingenuousness.
Church Repent is imperative. It is vital. There is no Obligation of the Church without Church Repent and there’s no abolitionism without the Obligation of the Church. Abolitionists believe that the primary reason why the Church is largely silent and inactive in this fight is because of sin. This may be controversial to some, but it is a fact of logic and Scripture that actions flow forth from ideas held that demand action. Many orthodox fellowships believe that the Church should play some sort of role in fighting against injustice, yet the fruit of that belief is either rotten or indiscernible.
Either the conservative and Reformed congregations are not thinking rightly about their duties by falling into a pit of pietistic antinomianism, they are not thinking rightly about abortion specifically, or they are thinking rightly about ideas yet failing to act in a consistent manner.
I should note that I reject the idea that the Obligation of The Church means full-time or even part-time street activism is an obligation for every Christian individual. Because the Obligation of the Church is dependent on repentance, it’s importance to understand that HOW individuals ought to repent will depend on many factors including but not limited to available resources, time, location, and ability. It’s not about fulfilling a list of required actions. It’s about truly repenting and, of course, acting on that repentance. Engaging in this fight can look like a lot of different things.
The faux abolitionist typically affirms and acts on one side of the “Obligation of the Church” coin. The Church being obligated to fight injustice is one side of the coin. The other side of the coin is that The Church, through local fellowships, is God’s sovereignly ordained means of bringing revival to the world. The faux-abolitionist misses the first side of the coin; the side that is explicitly rooted in obligation. He believes that it is the Churches job to fight injustice, but it is not a binding obligation.
We can see this by how they attempt to enlist the churches. They do so with a fervor and passion more in common with a Bible School bake sale than with talking on mass murder in our midst. Instead of calling for repentance, a change of heart and mind, the faux-abolitionist meekly asks for help. There’s often the assumption that pastors and churches need not repent, but it is still good to encourage them to start their own abortion clinic ministry. Instead of repenting of a genuine hardness of heart towards the unborn, perhaps all these church leaders need is some new and fancy material to help them with their own prolife organizations? Maybe instead of repentance, what they need is well-edited videos on social media? Maybe yet another line of Prolife and Reformed ministry resources aimed at “the local church”? Conferences, fancy youtube videos, and new materials aren’t bad things, but apart from understanding the root of the problem, these tools are only swiping at twigs.
This is the crux of the problem with this flavour of faux-abolitionism. There is no real need to act as if the Obligation of the Church is truly an obligation, because there’s also no genuine repentance needed. Why should we feel a weight of obligation when there is no repentance needed?
Subscribing to the tenet “The Obligation of The Church” and yet refusing to call the Church to repent is like subscribing to the tenet “Gospel Centered” and refusing to preach the Gospel. It is a hollow and false acceptance of the idea, or it is plain disingenuousness. Either way, it is not abolitionism.
One mark of the false abolitionist is an unwillingness to unify with the abolitionist movement. This is most obviously seen by the blatant disunifying of some who would rather not associate with those who hold to genuine, black coffee, jet fuel, abolitionism. Some of these choose to abandon the symbol and retain the terminology, while others continue using the symbol. Onlookers may hear lines such as “I’m an abolitionist but not one of those ‘AHA’ abolitionists”. Although this may be appealing to those who in their fear do not want to unify with others under the same ideals, what has been most common is that those who scorn the symbol do so because they are pushers of a false-abolitionism. The symbol represents the ideals, therefore although it is sad to see division, some of this division is warranted and appropriate. It is not abolitionists wanting to be apart from “the AHA”, it is false abolitionists deciding to not be abolitionists.
As abolitionism grows the terminology will become more in vogue. In order to distinguish themselves, some will use the language of abolitionism while not understanding or holding the ideals of abolitionism. Some will dress up their sidewalk ministries in a shallow version of the abolitionist ideology, and they will attempt to convince others to buy into their false bill of goods. Although terms and rhetoric do matter, what is being lost is the ideas. What is being lost is abolitionism.
Beware of faux-abolitionism. Not because it can do no good, but because we are seeking the Kingdom of God and the abolition of abortion, not merely the saving of a few lives while the holocaust continues.