Here is the first section of a article I began penning a few years ago, about the state of the Church (in the United States, at least). My premise: My belief that the Church today has a misunderstanding of God’s purpose regarding Her…
“Prior to 1990, the popularity of Christianity had been stable in the U.S. About 87% of adults identified themselves as Christians. The country then experienced a major change. Significant numbers of American adults began to disaffiliate themselves from Christianity and from other organized religions. By 2008, the percentage of Christians had reached 76% and is believed to be continuing its decline.” (As stated by ReligiousTolerance.org — decidedly not an evangelical source — but confirmed by other studies — see this NYTimes opinion by John S. Dickerson.)
Subsequent to the most significant Pentecost that the Christian world ever experienced, a small group of believers (beginning with twelve disciples) transformed the world in a generation. Even the world-dominating empire of Rome eventually succumbed to the influence of Christianity. Just a handful of Christians evangelized much of the known world.
Here in the 21st century, we have a greater number of “professing” Christians than all the people living on the planet only a century ago. However, the transformational character of today’s Christianity pales in comparison to the power present in the early church.
Prior to that above-mentioned Pentecost, another small group had shaken the world to its core; the twelve sons of Israel. The current nation spawned by those twelve still dominates much of the political and social context of contemporary culture.
Why did both these groups of twelve grow to dominate the political and social fabric of society?
And more importantly, why are they now seemingly in decline?
The Westminster Shorter Catechism (to which many churches abide) states that, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.” While that is indeed a grand and expected end for man, I have been taught more than once that this is God’s highest and single purpose for man. But I believe that man’s purpose — on earth at least — is to … procreate.
Most in the western world are familiar with the Biblical account of Adam and Eve, whether as a myth, a fable, or a tenet of faith. In Genesis 1:28 we find the first commandment (and perhaps the highest): God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Be fruitful and multiply… This couple, Adam and Eve, were instructed to be a family, the first family, and to raise a family that would fill the earth. If you believe the account in Genesis 10, all the nations of the earth, including Israel, descended from that first family.
We use that term – family – to describe all of mankind: The Family of Man. We use it to describe large biological groups. We use it to describe the Church. Many conservative and Christian groups incorporate it in their name. And many want to redefine the term to represent relationships other than the traditional heterosexual application of family (which implicitly includes marriage).
We all agree “family” is an important thing. But not only is “Family” an important thing; I believe it is the most important thing.
And if it’s the most important thing, to refuse to propagate is to go directly against the purpose of God in the earth, in the natural and the spiritual…
You may be reading this, or be flipping through it, because the title caught your eye. There are already plenty of articles on abortion; there are plenty of articles on the Church, and its growth or decline. No one declares, “I think abortion is, in and of itself, a good thing.” They may think it a necessity or they may think it a sin, but no one thinks it’s a good thing. But abortion is just an action; it’s a procedure. But however you feel and think about abortion, how you feel and think about church, the key is the attitude you have about abortion, about church.
Attitudes shape our actions.
Attitudes shape other attitudes.
We’ve all seen and experienced (and been) people with a “bad attitude,” if we have children, or a job, or drive a car, or go shopping, or… We know a bad attitude when we see one, because we see the actions the attitude spawned. We see the facial expressions and body language, and we hear the comments; and thus we can get a sense of the heart. Jesus pointed at the heart, the attitude of his listeners when he trumped the Old Testament system of judging actions with the New Testament self-judgment of thoughts and intent. “You have heard…shall not commit…but I tell you… anyone who looks…”
So what is the attitude that leads to abortion?
Many in the church, and many in socially conservative politics consider abortion to be the most important issue in society today. Many at the opposite end of the spectrum are just as vociferous in their support of abortion “rights.” We’ve even coined a term – “litmus test” – as a ultimate test of our support or opposition based on a candidate’s stand (or a judge’s) on this single issue.
So this procedure, this act, that makes even the most liberal of politicians say, “I’m personally opposed to abortion…” even while doing everything in their power to insure its legality and continuance, this procedure, this act, that creates firestorms in the halls of legislative and judicial bodies and — literally — in the clinics that perform them, is still just the result of … an attitude.
So what is the attitude that leads to abortion?
If family is “the most important thing,” then our attitude towards family becomes our most important attitude. The attitude that the individual is the most important thing is the attitude that leads to abortion.
Two differing attitudes, begetting two different sets of actions:
The family is the most important thing.
The individual is the most important thing.
What difference does what we think about this, make?
What God believes about these statements makes all the difference.
Now in practical application, having a wrong viewpoint and attitude can seem to make a significant difference. In the Biblical account of the Tower of Babel, the whole population of earth was aligned with a wrong attitude (“it’s about us“) – “let us …make a name for ourselves… reaching to the heavens” – and God recognized that they could make a difference acting on a wrong attitude (“nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.”) But God is, after all – God – and we are not, so His action to confuse language and scatter the population all over the earth made their attitude and action of no effect at all…
So what God really thinks, really counts, and what we really think, doesn’t.
But the Apostle Paul says, “No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began… What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived…these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. [Quoting Isaiah] ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.”
So we should be able to figure out what God’s attitude about family (and abortion) really is, just by looking at what He’s chosen to reveal to us, through His Word.
In His Word, He establishes a foundational principle: First, the natural, then the spiritual. “So also it is written, the first man, Adam, became a living soul. The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven.” So we have this parallel: Adam, then Christ; the natural, then the spiritual; from the earth, then from heaven.
Our parallel we’ll look at? The Old Testament family (Israel) and the New Testament Family (the Church.) More is said about family (of Israel, and others) than just about any other issue (by context) in the Old Testament.
We talk about the Abrahamic Covenant — that promise that was given to Abraham — which extends well into New Testament commentary. God chose to focus on a family – Israel – starting in Genesis and extending to Revelation. Abraham (first mentioned as Abram), who we meet in Genesis 11 has his family’s name written on the walls of the City in Revelation 21. This idea of family must be a “big deal” to God.
The Old Testament Attitude?
“Be fruitful and multiply,” Adam was told. And so he did. We don’t have a lot of information regarding the number of Adam and Eve’s offspring in the Biblical record, but it wasn’t too long until cities were being built (Genesis 4). Henry Morris points out that using the same rate of population increase from 1650 to 1800 (without modern medicine and life-extending amenities) the current population from Noah to the present would actually exceed the current population. With a higher birth rate, the earth at the time of the flood could have had a population not only in the millions, but in the billions.
The “nation” of Israel, numbering just 70 when relocating to Egypt in Genesis 46, numbered over 600,000 just over four hundred years later when returning to Canaan (not counting women and children). Exodus 1:7 but the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them.
The secular society (Egypt) was being “out-populated” by the people of God, which greatly concerned Pharaoh and his leaders.
Large families were commended by Old Testament scripture:
Don’t you see that children are God’s best gift?
the fruit of the womb his generous legacy?
Like a warrior’s fistful of arrows
are the children of a vigorous youth.
Oh, how blessed are you parents,
with your quivers full of children!
Your enemies don’t stand a chance against you;
you’ll sweep them right off your doorstep. — Psalm 125 (Eugene Peterson, the Message)
There are numerous other passages relating to the positive effects of many children and large families.
On the flip side, one of the greatest curses in the Old Testament was the inability to propagate. Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Hannah are profiled in the Old Testament; others are mentioned, and the state of childlessness is addressed over a dozen more times.
Jesus said there would be a day where it would be said, “Blessed be the barren womb.” In one prophetic sense, this is that day, when childbearing is frowned upon by those “progressive” in our culture.
If current trends continue, Japan’s population will sink from its peak of 130 million to 50 million at the turn of the century. While the West’s birth rate drops, the birth rate of Muslim populations continues to create an increase in population (nearly doubling in some European nations from 1990 to 2030). In 1990 Muslims accounted for less than 20% of world population; in 2030 they are projected to exceed one quarter of the world population; from 2010 to 2030 their population will increase 35%. In contrast, evangelical birth rates, while slightly over the general population, don’t come close to rivaling the Muslim communities.
God’s command was to “be fruitful;” in the Old Testament, that was by having lots of kids, by having a family.
It appears the Muslim world is doing better at this than the Christian one…
Have we, as evangelicals, exalted our own individual well-being — our status, our wealth, our freedom — over that of raising a family?
Some of the questions that drive one to have an abortion are, “How will having a baby affect me?” “Will it inconvenience me?” “Will it be expensive for me?” “Will it reduce my options, restrict my freedom?” These are all focused on “me” and “mine,” a “Me-Attitude.”
Are we, as Christians, mirroring that attitude in our decisions regarding the size of our family? Are we contributing to the decline of the Church by deciding to limit our natural family?
“God made husbands and wives to become one body and one spirit for his purpose—so they would have children who are true to God.” Malachi 2:15 NCV (Emphasis mine.)
What’s God’s New Testament command for fruitfulness? And a perfectly good reason to not have a large family? More to follow …