A CONVERSATION ABOUT ABORTION
This letter was sent by Pastor Baudler to Rev. Michael Salesmink, Executive Director of Lutherans for Life, in response to his letter to clergy in the hope of influencing parishioners’ votes prior to national elections.
Thank you for your recent “Pastor to Pastor” letter in which you thank me for preaching the gospel of Christ, (although I’m not sure why you’re thanking me, since neither of us could do otherwise, but you’re welcome nonetheless). I had a look at your website which your letter directed me to, paying particular attention to the section titled “Gospel Preparation,” and have a few questions and comments regarding some of the theological suppositions found there in light of Luther’s theology of the cross. You state:
Preparatory for the Gospel, of course, is the truth of God’s Word of Law. In an age of relative truth, someone needs to take a stand and say that there is a truth. In an age of moral pluralism, someone needs to stand up and say that some things are morally wrong.
Given that morality concerns itself with the principles of right and wrong behavior and the goodness or badness of human character (Webster), and given that “no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:12), and that “only God is good” (Mark 10:18), “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away”(Isaiah 64:6).
In an age where abortion is called a “right” and a “choice,” where assisted suicide and euthanasia are called “compassion,” where sex outside of marriage is called “natural” and “safe,” someone needs to be bold and call them wrong.
Since you say you are a Lutheran “for life” I must assume that Christ is your life (Colossians 3:4), and not the law which, as you know, can only curse us (lex semper accusat). “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse” (Galatians 3:10). The law can never serve as a moral guide, all fanciful pretentions to a tertius usus [third use of the law as a moral guide] aside, (Law & Gospel 101). Paul writes in Galatians 3:13 “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us.” “Therefore Christ is the end of the law, that everyone who has faith may be justified” (Romans 10:4). All appeals to the law for the establishment of morality, I trust you’ll agree, are therefore little more than futile incurvatus in se [curvature into oneself] free will exercises which can be debated until the cows come home.
For instance, where the state employs its God-given right to establish laws for the governing of society, there is, of course, a “right” to have an abortion, which can be a rightful “choice” for the victim of rape or incest to end what is the ultimate violation from a penultimate violent assault. Euthanasia is by definition “an act of mercy” or “compassion” regardless of whether one sees it as “right” or “wrong.” Sex outside of the institution of marriage is, of course, biologically “natural,” although it may be unadvisable, even when done “safely.”
Such debates in the law, of course get us nowhere, and as we know, we are all “in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves,” our moral “choices” not withstanding. So the key is not the law, which can only condemn us— the key is faith alone. Only that which does not proceed from faith is sin, as Paul says in Romans 14:22-23, “Keep your belief about such matters between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the one who has doubts is condemned if he eats [for example], food dedicated to idols, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that is not from faith is sin.”
Consequently, “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace” (Galatians 5:4). And Paul reminds us in Galatians 3:23-27, “Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith was revealed. So the law was our tutor until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.”
The Law, however, must not be used to drive people to despair but to lead them to Christ and what God has done in Him to forgive the wrong choices and bad decisions people make in their lives.
We can’t “use” the law any more than we can use God. The purpose of the law is to show us that it cannot be kept. Thus, it isn’t a question of our moral “choices,” but of faith in God’s love and mercy in spite our choices. It’s not about needing to keep the law, but about trusting in the one who has already kept the law, whose righteousness is now ours by faith. “For Christ is the end of the law, that everyone who has faith may be justified” (Romans 10:4). Luther summed it up nicely when he said, “The law says ‘Do this, do that’ and it is never done; the gospel says ‘Believe this’ and it is already done.”
The sorrowful pregnant teen needs to hear that she is loved by God as that love is shared and shown through the Body of Christ. She needs the support of God’s people to help her any way they are able.
This is certainly true.
Women and men who are filled with sorrow and regret over an abortion decision need to hear about the forgiveness, hope, and healing that are found in Jesus. The depth of the sorrow over this sin is so deep that only the Gospel of Jesus can lift them up out of the darkness. Families who realize that they have made wrong decisions about end-of-life issues need to hear that they live under grace and that God will never leave them or forsake them.
Let me ask you something. I am the 4th of five sons. My mother, God bless her, always longed to have a daughter. After my younger brother was born my mother, the wife of a Lutheran pastor, became pregnant one more time, with my soon to be sister. Five months in it was determined by the doctors that if she carried the pregnancy to term it would, without question, kill her. The “choice” became one of 6 children with no mother, or five children with. She and dad prayed about it and then chose to abort. So tell me, was their decision in faith “a sin so deep,” a “wrong decision” born “out of darkness,” or was it the Lord’s will that the child’s mother should continue to live even as he took her child? Where does the law come down on this? How was this a sinful decision? How was it wrong? How were my parents not Lutherans “for life”?
The Gospel is not just something that happens to us. It is something that lives within us. The Gospel, not the “shoulds” and the “should nots” of the Law, is to be our motivation for making good decisions.
The gospel doesn’t “motivate “ us. It isn’t a motivational speaker a la Joel Osteen. The gospel isn’t a something” or a “what.” It’s a “who.” It is Christ in us, as Paul proclaims, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Hence, any so-called “good decisions” are not ours, but are Christ acting in us and through us by faith alone, all glory going to God.
Christian teenagers, for example, need to be reminded of whose they are. They have better motivation for making good decisions than the fear of horrible diseases happening to their bodies. They have a Savior who loves them and lives in their bodies as His temple. The message of the Gospel enables us to live lives acceptable and pleasing to God.
The only life that is “acceptable and pleasing to God” is a life that is lived by faith, without a reliance on works. “No one is righteous, no not one . . . no one is good, not even one” (Romans 3:10 & 12). “Indeed, the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20). Since we’re saints and sinners at the same time, we walk only by faith.
The message of the Gospel transforms us to live and think differently in the face of problems and afflictions in our lives. Things are never hopeless, and we do not have to turn to death as the solution to the problems of life.
Bonhoeffer should have thought of that before joining the bomb plot against Hitler.
The message of the Gospel assures us that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.
This includes the laundry list of sins Lutherans for Life likes to highlight. I’m assuming if you’re “for life,” you’re also deathly opposed to capital punishment (pun intended). Indeed, if LFL is ‘for life,” but “the wages of sin is death,” should you not also be highlighting the danger of every sin, of divorce, pride, greed, adultery, idolatry, lust, false witness, drunkenness, sloth, jealousy, etc.? Why limit yourselves to just one or two sins? And what are such admonishments in the law but the folly of seeking solutions in and through the law to “knock it off, stop doing it, don’t do it” — as if to suggest that then our lives will be “acceptable and pleasing to God.” As Jesus sarcastically said to the lawyer, “[Go ahead], do this, and you’ll live” . . . but of course we can’t.
The message of the Gospel assures us that just as God was at work in the suffering of His Son on the cross, so He is at work in the suffering of His people, even bringing good from it.
As in the case of my parents’ tough decision to abort my would-be sister so that we could all have a mother. “Where is Christ to be found?,” Luther asked. In suffering; in both that of the afflicted and that of the care giver.
The message of the Gospel assures us that there is a glory waiting for us that cannot compare at all with the sufferings of this present time.
Not to be overly picky, but I notice you repeatedly use the phrase “the message of the gospel” as in “the message of the gospel assures us,” or “the message of the gospel transforms us,” or “the message of the gospel enables us.” A theologian of the cross would say it’s not the message of the gospel that does this, it is the Christ of the gospel who does this. It is not he who does so that we can then do (a statement of free will), but he who does it all because we can do nothing.
The life issues provide tremendous opportunity to proclaim this wonderful message. The primary reason Lutherans For Life wants to raise awareness of the life issues among pastors and congregations is so that more will realize that we have the message that so many people need to hear applied to their sin and their lives.
The church only has one message: We are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, by his word alone. All else is a dog chasing its tail in the law.
Thank you for reading this and God’s blessings.
Pastor Kris Baudler St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Bay Shore, NY 11706
Lutherans for Life responds:
Dear Pastor Baudler,
The Lord be with you!
Thank you for thoughtfully engaging with the message of Lutherans For Life. I appreciate you taking the time to read our pastoral epistle and then to follow up by becoming acquainted with the statements on our website. I’m grateful that you’ve examined the sanctity of life from a theological perspective and have shared your sentiments with us.
While finer points about the third use of the Law are not my (or our) area of expertise, I can assure you that our understanding confidently and cheerfully reflects the distinctions specified in FC V and VI (which, according to my ordination vows, I accept as a clear and correct exposition of Holy Scripture, the Christian faith, and the will of God).
I see that you are LCMS, which I should have taken into account earlier, as it explains your affinity for law. The FC, as we both know, isn't a confessional document but a politically imposed compromise (literally a formula for concord post Luther & Melanchthon), and is not "the unanimous consensus and exposition of our Christian faith." (FC I.4) That exalted position belongs exclusively to the unaltered CA, Apologia, and Luther's Smalcald Articles. But even if one supposed it confessional, a tertius usus is theologically untenable given the CA's lex semper accusat. Semper pretty much settles it, not to mention Luther knew of no "third function" of the law. That being said, I have yet to meet a Lutheran, Missouri or otherwise, who can explain how a so-called "third function" isn't in fact the first or second.
I do rejoice to emphasize that Lutherans For Life’s life-affirming convictions are motivated by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and not the Law of God only. It is because God in His grace has created, redeemed, and called every member of our race that we respect and protect all human lives as precious treasures, particularly the least of these. God’s love gives human beings their priceless value. Nobody’s age, appearance, or ability either improves or impairs that sacred worth. This we both declare and demonstrate with courage and compassion because it embodies and reflects the good news that sinful creatures are saved not by their own works or anyone else’s assessment but only because of our Lord’s mercy.
I feel honored that you shared with me the history of your mother and your sister. I cannot imagine how heart-wrenching the situation must have been for your whole family, and I do grieve with you that you were never able to know your sister. Lutherans For Life does not condemn the separation of an unborn child from her mother’s body when the pregnancy immediately endangers the survival of one or both.
Well now that's a relief. Now I can sleep at night knowing LFL is withholding its condemnation, having found an exception to the law, even as it sets about parsing the law in order to reach morally self-justifying conclusions.
This deeply regrettable situation arises from the pervasiveness of original sin in creation and not necessarily from any particular act of iniquity on either the mother’s or the child’s part.
You're being presumptuous. Do we know the mind of God? Do we know that the God who creates weal and woe did not in fact create this situation for the sake his elect? The simple truth is there is no sin here at all. Sin is not the absence of faith, (nor acts of iniquity), but faith misplaced. My parents' faith was squarely in Christ their Lord and Savior from beginning to end, and as Luther noted, law & gospel cannot co-exist in the same heart. The law came in to increase the trespass, but where there is no trespass there is no condemnation. "The spiritual person judges all things, but is him/herself judged by no one. 'For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?' But we have the mind of Christ." (1 Cor. 2:15-16)
Furthermore, we believe that if your mother and her doctors could have saved both lives, they would have, and that the procedure separating child from mother was not performed with the intent of ending the child’s life.
In actuality it was, they opted to end the child's life in order to save the mother's. It's what abortion does.
It seems our world’s brokenness simply left no other options to save one of their lives, if not both. For these reasons, I wouldn’t feel comfortable calling this procedure an abortion at all, but rather a surgical attempt to save two lives that only resulted in saving one.
I'll call it what it is: an abortion carried out in faith.
However, the vast, vast majority of abortions in our world today do not take place in the context of such considerations. And the state of abortion access and abortion advocacy in our culture and our world is not predicated on saving lives but rather on preserving personal preferences. (I have had several obstetric and gynecological medical professionals assure me that given current advances in expertise and technology, they have never personally even heard of a case where a pregnancy threatened the life of a mother such that abortion offered the only available or effective intervention.) As such, abortion belongs to the sinfulness of which the Law– in its indisputable “second use” – urges all to repent.
With all due respect, my good friend the monsignor across the street at St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church would love this as it's canon law revisited, and not Lutheran theology. The law doesn't "urge" us to do anything — it only condemns us — lex semper accusat, and in so doing repents us. We are dead, drowned in our baptism. Dead men don't wear plaid and they can't do anything. We can no more repent than we can pray, but instead, we are repented by the Holy Spirit, horrified by the law's condemnation, made sorrowful in the horror of our sin. We are passive recipients of both law and grace, of sanctification and salvation and not synergistic participants. "Use," in reference to the law is an erroneous translation. The word is "function" as Luther repeatedly made clear.
Faith trusts that God has a better way than death and a better deliverance from it than disobedience.
God doesn't have a better way than death; death is his means of deliverance from the curse of the law for our disobedience. This is about dying to oneself, not about pseudo-spiritual gymnastics in the law. "But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit." (Romans 7:6)
And that faith – Christ alive and at work not only in our hearts but also in our actions – bears fruit, a new life that is for using and not just for having.
More free will. We don't "use" the new life; he IS our new life because we are dead, it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. We are being used. Thus where Christ is, there is the end of the law unto righteousness to everyone who believes. (Romans 10:4) Thanks be to God!
In truth and love,
Rev. Michael W. Salemink
Executive Director, Lutherans for Life