For United Methodists
A GOSPEL WITHOUT LIFE?
Is it possible to preach the Gospel without mentioning the dignity of human life and those practices that threaten human life (e.g., abortion and euthanasia)? Rather than offering the Gospel of Life as advocated by John Paul II, might a church-school teacher, lay speaker, pastor, district superintendent, or bishop present the Gospel, plainly and simply, without life?
Of course, it is possible to try. It happens with regularity. Many United Methodist laity and clergy, who are charged to teach and preach in local churches, carefully avoid even the mention of life, abortion, euthanasia, and other related issues. Some charged to teach and preach consciously avoid these matters. They studiously censor their own presentations to keep them free of human-life issues. Others’ avoidance of these concerns is unconscious. Formed mainly by the formerly prestigious media, they simply do not think to address concerns connected to human life. Whether the avoidance is conscious or not, the result is the same: classes and congregations are consistently denied the Church’s Biblical, traditional instruction and proclamation on matters related to human life, especially to human beings in their most vulnerable conditions.
Two popular reasons are offered for the studied, conscious avoidance of human-life issues by the Church’s teachers and preachers.
First and most famously, teachers and preachers avoid human-life issues, because such issues have the potential of stirring up disagreement, even controversy, in the congregation. Here it is assumed that disagreement and controversy in the congregation are to be avoided like the plague. After all, congregational peace—understood as the avoidance of all conflict—is taken to be the greatest good, or one of the greatest goods, in the local church.
Second, teachers and preachers often claim an evangelistic reason for not bringing up human-life issues in their lessons and sermons. They simply want to present Christ, and Christ alone, for the sake of winning new converts. They reason: Christ, in His time, will straighten out new converts on matters related to human life; but in the meantime, these issues should not be explicitly mentioned in the congregation’s evangelistic witness.
While these reasons for avoiding human-life issues arequite understandable, they are based on false hopes. One of the false hopes is congregational peace, and the other is evangelistic effectiveness.
Those who believe that congregational peace is achieved by avoiding difficult topics, such as abortion and euthanasia, are mistaken. When United Methodist churches discover that their teachers and preachers are consistently avoiding matters that are of enormous concern to the Church and society at large, they are likely to become restless. Lacking solid theological instruction on human-life issues from their authorized teachers and preachers, some in the congregation will tend to take such matters into their own hands. To the best of their abilities, they will teach against the studied silence and moral relativism of their leaders. Other laity will disagree in kind. Conflict then develops and spreads. And some pro-life people will eventually leave the church. The hoped-for peace in the congregation becomes conflict throughout the congregation. So an unintended consequence of avoiding human-life concerns is congregational discord. The peace sought becomes the conflict endured.
Intending maximum evangelistic outreach, some teachers and preachers ignore life, abortion, and euthanasia in their public presentations. However, some of those who hear these evangelistic lessons and sermons are heavy with guilt from past violations of the dignity of human lives. Some in the congregation have been involved in abortion. Others have not properly cared for severely ill or dying relatives (and/or friends). They know, in their heart of hearts, that they were wrong in what they did. Avoiding abortion and euthanasia, well intentioned evangelistic teachers and preachers deny some of their hearers the God-given forgiveness, even deliverance, that the Gospel promises. So another unintended consequence of avoiding human life concerns is evangelistic postponement, if not failure.
But return to the question in the title of this article: is there a gospel without life? We could say that, because it is taught and preached so often, there really is such a gospel. However, this gospel—a gospel without life—is not really the Gospel. A gospel without life is another gospel. A gospel without life is a gospel that has been cobbled together to suit our own purposes, while ignoring divine purposes. A gospel without life is not received from the prophets and the apostles.
The Gospel—the Gospel—centers on Jesus Christ, the Word who became flesh. In becoming flesh, Jesus Christ dignified human life at each stage of human development. That is, God the Father loved humanity enough to send His Son to experience each stage of human life—from conception to death. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ was conceived, so He became an embryo inside the Blessed Virgin Mary; therefore, He dignified human life at the embryonic stage. Our Lord was an unborn child in Mary’s womb, and so He dignified the unborn child. Jesus was an infant in arms, a toddler, a running child, a teen, a young adult, and an adult; therefore, He invested immeasurable dignity in all of these ages of the human being. And our Lord suffered and died, thereby dignifying the human being’s suffering and dying. Our Lord, Jesus Christ, experienced all of human life, from womb to tomb, for our sake, for our salvation. This is Gospel truth, the Gospel’s truth. And this Gospel truth contains moral truth about how those informed and formed by the Gospel should rightly recognize the dignity of all human beings—even very young human beings, even suffering human beings, even dying human beings. This moral truth is directly challenged by the practices of abortion and euthanasia. This moral truth deserves loving, winsome presentation in occasional Sunday lessons and sermons, as the Biblical texts require.
To avoid this Gospel, the Gospel, the Gospel of Life, in the hope of serving other goals—even respectable goals such as congregational peace and evangelistic outreach—is to adopt another gospel. Call it a gospel without life. This gospel without life does indeed lack life.
On the other hand, the Gospel of Life offers life. Abundant life. (PTS) ?
Lifewatch is published by the Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality, a network of United Methodist clergy, laity, and churches.
It is sent, free of charge, to interested readers. Editor, Rev. Paul T. Stallsworth: 111 Hodges Street, Morehead City NC 28557 (252)726-2175.
Administrator, and Publicity and Outreach Coordinator, Mrs. Cindy Evans: P.O. Box 306, Cottleville MO 63338 (636)294-2344.
Gift checks should be made payable, and mailed, to Lifewatch/P.O. Box 306, Cottleville MO 63338.
Email: Lifewatch@charter.net/Web site: www.lifewatch.org.
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