Wednesday, 1 November 2017

The Reformation and Medicine - My lecture to commemorate the 500th anniversary

This is the text of the talk I gave at the Guildhall, Guildford on Wednesday 1 November 2017 as part of an eight-lecture series to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The main sources are listed at the end.

Christian doctors motivated by Christ’s teaching and example have been profoundly influential in shaping healthcare’s history. 

 You may be surprised to know just how many of medicine's pioneers were men and women of faith: Ambroise Pare, Louis Pasteur, Joseph Lister, James Paget, Thomas Barnardo, Edward Jenner, James Simpson, Thomas Sydenham, William Osler, Ida Scudder, David Livingstone and many more.

Christians remain active in all fields of medicine today but particularly in AIDS care and education, drug rehabilitation, child health, palliative care, relief of poverty and in service to the developing world.

This should not surprise us. Jesus Christ is known as the Great Physician for good reason.

According to eyewitnesses, his dynamic entry into first century Palestine was marked by miraculous healing of many illnesses for which even today there are no known treatments.

But along with his compassion to restore health he also brought a message of healing of broken relationships - between human beings, between human beings and the planet and most crucially between human beings and God.

In his historical account of those events, Luke, probably the first ever Christian physician, tells us that Jesus described his own ministry in terms of preaching, healing, deliverance and justice (Luke 4:18-19) and sent his followers out 'to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick’ (Luke 9:2).

When I told colleagues that I had been asked to speak about Medicine and the Reformation, some questioned whether there was any connection at all. There is a perception that the Reformation in England actually took medicine back to the dark ages as a result of King Henry VIII suppressing the monasteries. And there is some truth in this. Henry’s actions indirectly deprived many suffering and disabled people of their only means of support. Patients of hospitals like St Thomas’ and St Bartholomew’s, founded and run by monastic orders, were thrown onto the streets and the onus for health care was shifted to the City Fathers and municipalities.

But in considering how the Reformation influenced medicine we are not saying that every political consequence of the Reformation was good for medicine and society, nor that Christianity’s involvement with medicine began with the reformation.

Rather we are claiming that the biblical doctrines which the Reformers rediscovered and emphasised provided the framework out of which modern medicine was available eventually to develop.  It did not happen immediately but rather the Reformation laid the seedbed which gave rise in Britain to the Puritan century of 1560 to 1660, the evangelical revival of the 1700s and the ensuing social reforms of the 1800s which in turn led to the explosive advances in medicine and surgery which characterised the 1900s and which continue unabated today.

When Martin Luther (1483–1546) nailed his ‘Ninety-Five Theses’ to the door of the castle church at Wittenberg on 31 October 1517, he initiated not simply a schism in the church, but a subtly different way of thinking about the relationship between God and human beings. The doctrines summed up in the five solas provided the foundation.

Sola Gratia (Grace alone) – God’s love offered to those who cannot pay or help themselves
Sola Fide (Faith alone) – God’s forgiveness granted to those who truly believe and trust him
Solus Christus (Christ alone) – God revealing himself fully in the person and work of Christ
Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) – God speaking clearly through the Old and New Testaments
Sola Deo Christus (To the glory of God alone) – Man’s chief end being to honour and glorify God

In considering how these foundational beliefs – the five solas – shaped medicine I can think of no better example than Thomas Sydenham, an outstanding medical pioneer who has been called 'The Father of English Medicine'.

Thomas Sydenham was born in Dorset in 1624 into a Puritan family and was himself a man of deep Christian faith in the Puritan tradition.

He studied medicine at Oxford, befriending scientist, Robert Boyle and philosopher, John Locke. He graduated in 1648 and, after fighting alongside his father and four brothers in the Civil war on the Parliamentary (Cromwell's) side, resumed medical practice in Westminster. When the bubonic plague struck in 1665 he risked his life by returning to London to care for those affected.

Sydenham’s Christian ideals are apparent in his advice to medical students as published in 'Medical Observations concerning the History and Cure of Acute Diseases' in 1668:

'Whoever applies himself to medicine should seriously weigh the following considerations:

First, that he will one day have to render an account to the Supreme Judge of the lives of sick persons committed to his care.

Next, whatever skill or knowledge he may, by the divine favour, become possessed of, should be devoted above all things to the glory of God and the welfare of the human race.

Thirdly, he must remember that it is no mean or ignoble creature that he deals with. We may ascertain the worth of the human race since for its sake God’s only begotten Son became man and thereby ennobled the nature that he took upon him.

Finally, the physician should bear in mind that he himself is not exempt from the common lot but is subject to the same laws of mortality and disease as his fellows and he will care for the sick with more diligence and tenderness if he remembers that he himself is their fellow sufferer.'

We see here several powerful biblical doctrines which underpinned his medical practice

A belief in the value of human beings as creatures made in the image of God
A conviction that scientific knowledge and technology should be used to serve human beings
An understanding of disease as a consequence of living in e fallen world
A sense of vocation, giving one’s life to serve the needy and to glorify God
The reality of the judgement and the need to give account to God for how he had lived 

These doctrines, of course, were not new but they were freshly rediscovered and applied by the reformers.

They might perhaps be summed up in the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians, ‘Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ’.

But first let’s go back to the early centuries of Christendom to trace Christianity’s relationship with medicine.

While so-called healers have always existed (and there is no shortage today), modern, scientific medicine has its roots in ancient Greece. The study of illness and the treatment of disease are traced back to the school of Hippocrates. However, for all the intellectual interest they had in medicine, the ancient Greeks had little interest in hospitals. There has not been much prospect of real cure for most illnesses until the last century. The real challenge down the ages has been to care.

As the aphorism goes, ‘Cure sometimes, relieve often, comfort always’.

Leading Christian writers of the earliest centuries of Christianity for the most part exhibit positive views of medicine. Thus Origen (c. 185–c. 254) considered medicine ‘beneficial and essential to mankind’ (Contra Celsum 3.12), and Tertullian (c. 200 ce), who was fond of employing medical analogies in his writings, believed that medicine was appropriate for Christians to use.

The theme of Jesus as the Great Physician (Christus medicus) was popular in the writings of the Church Fathers.

Christian concepts of philanthropy were motivated by agape, a self-sacrificing love of others that bore witness to the love of Christ as reflected in his incarnation and redemptive work on the cross (e.g., Mt. 25:35–40, Jas. 1:27). Christians were encouraged to visit the sick privately, and deacons (whose duties largely consisted of the relief of physical want and suffering) were expected to visit the ill.

Beginning in 250, the cities of the Roman Empire experienced a major plague that lasted for fifteen to twenty years and reached epidemic proportions. Because the civic authorities did little to deal with the plague, the Christian churches undertook the systematic care of both pagan and Christian plague victims and the burial of the dead, despite the fact that Christians were at the time a persecuted minority.

It wasn't until Constantine granted the first Edict of Toleration in AD 311, that Christians were able to give public expression to their ethical convictions and undertake social reform. From the fourth-century to present times, Christians have been especially prominent in the planning, siting and building of hospitals, as well as fundraising for them.

The embracing of Christianity by the Roman Empire from 313AD allowed the rise of institutions devoted to nursing care. Important hospitals were founded in Caesarea (369), Edessa (375), Monte Cassino (529), Iona (563), Ephesus (610) and St Albans (794).

A few decades after Constantine, Julian, who came to power in AD 355, was the last Roman Emperor to try to re-institute paganism. In his Apology, Julian said that if the old religion wanted to succeed, it would need to care for people even better than the way Christians cared.

In AD 369, St Basil of Caesarea founded a 300-bed hospital. This was the first large-scale hospital for the seriously ill and disabled. It cared for victims of the plague. There were hospices for the poor and aged isolation units, wards for travellers who were sick and a leprosy house. It was the first of many built by the Christian Church.

In the so-called Dark Ages (476-1000) rulers influenced by Christian principles encouraged building of hospitals. Charlemagne decreed that every cathedral should have a school, monastery and hospital attached.

As Europe began to change from a largely rural and manor-based society to an urbanized one in the eleventh century, medicine developed into a profession and the clergy's role was diminished over time.

By the Middle Ages, across Europe, churches and religious orders cared for the elderly, the weak, the insane, the sick, and the dying, as well as passing travellers in need of shelter. The foundation charter of the Pantokrator hospital in Constantinople (1136) says that medical teaching also took place there.

In the later Middle Ages, in cities with large Christian populations, monks began to 'profess' medicine and care for the sick. Monastic infirmaries were expanded to accommodate more of the local population and even the surrounding areas.

In England, there are said to have been nearly 500 hospitals by the close of the fourteenth century.The main institutions were in cities. In London, St Bartholomew's had been founded in 1137; St Thomas's in 1215.

But the Reformation, through the doctrines it emphasised, took medicine several giant steps forward over the next few centuries – establishing it as a professional calling or vocation in its own right, putting it on a scientific footing, enhancing medical training, building specialities, making it truly holistic, bolstering its ethical framework, extending its role into public health and taking it to the developing world.

Protestants differed from Catholics in their approach to the Christian life. The Catholic tradition saw in the ascetic or reclusive life the Christian ideal, whereas Protestants encouraged a life of active participation in the world. In Catholic thought the world was divided into temporal and spiritual estates. Catholics who desired wholeheartedly to serve God entered holy orders, and they considered secular professions to be of secondary importance.

Martin Luther and John Calvin (1509–1564) abolished the distinction between secular and sacred

callings. They broadened the idea of vocation (in medieval terms, a call to a contemplative life) by incorporating into it the secular professions. A physician or a nurse might glorify God in treating others medically as much as a priest might do so in caring for souls. The reformers' desire was to extend God's redeeming grace into every activity of life.

Luther became influential in changing how the public viewed physicians by emphasizing that most diseases could be traced to natural explanations and were not always caused by black magic and Satan. He promoted medicine by advocating that physicians should be used whenever possible to treat a disease and that God would reveal medical information the physicians who sought for answers. Physicians were, in this way, similar to ministers who could heal the heart and soul and act as extensions of God’s will. Specifically, Luther recommended the use of apothecaries, barbers, physicians, and nurses to cure physical ailments when he ministered to the sick.

He also recommended fumigation for homes contaminated with the plague and avoidance of unnecessary travel and exposure to different places. During the plague, Luther also suggested that neighbours help each other and provide sympathetic support to the sick and to the mourning.

Luther’s friend Bugenhagen implemented health reforms centering on baptism, midwifery, nursing, and hospitals. He argued that midwives should be regulated, qualified, and honest. By his promotion of public health concerns, the medical community gained the necessary funding, support, and personnel to treat the diseases of the day.

Luther argued that God gave man the ability to think so that man could use tools such as medicine in order to have healthy, productive lives. In the same way that God gave man the ability to make clothes, to be used as protection against the elements, God gave man the ability to make medicine to be used for healing. An acquaintance of Luther, Philip Melanchthon, based his medical school curriculum at Wittenberg University on the exploration of dissected bodies - a practice that was not usually socially acceptable.

Clergy-physicians played an important role among Protestant ministers from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries. In an age in which trained physicians were especially uncommon in villages and rural areas, the Protestant belief in an educated clergy ensured a supply of persons who had both the leisure and the learning to read medical books. John Wesley (1703–1791) took a course in medicine so that as a minister he could be of help to those who had no regular physician. In 1746 he opened a dispensary and in the next year published a lay medical guide, Primitive Physick. 

Clerical physicians were also common in colonial New England, where Cotton Mather (1663–1728), a Bostonian minister who himself practised medicine, called the combination of the care of soul and body the "angelical conjunction." During an epidemic of smallpox in 1721, many physicians (together with members of the local press) opposed inoculation as a hazard to health and a rejection of divine providence. Mather defended the practice, maintaining that any medical procedure might invite the same kind of objections. He was supported by five other prominent clergymen.

In eighteenth-century Edinburgh, the center of a strong Presbyterian (Calvinist) tradition, the Scots established what became one of the most celebrated medical faculties in Europe. It was not until the eighteenth century that the Christian hospital movement re-emerged. The religious revival sparked in England by the preaching of John Wesley and George Whitefield was part of an enormous unleashing of Christian energy throughout 'Enlightenment' Western Europe. It reminded Christians to remember the poor and needy in their midst. They came to understand afresh that bodies needed tending as much as souls.

A new 'Age of Hospitals' began, with new institutions built by devout Christians for the 'sick poor', supported mainly by voluntary contributions. The influence of this new age was felt overseas as well as in England. Healthcare by Christians in continental Europe received a new impetus. The first hospitals in the New World were founded by Christian pioneers. Christians were at the forefront of the dispensary movement (the prototype of general practice), providing medical care for the urban poor in the congested areas of large cities.

When the National Health Service took over most voluntary hospitals, it became clear just how indebted the community was to these hospitals and the Christian zeal and money that supported them over centuries. In fact, the NHS was essentially created through the nationalisation of Christian hospitals like St Bartholomew’s, St Thomas’s, St Mary’s and St George’s. 

Many very important discoveries in many medical fields were made by people who held a Christian commitment and there is not time to mention them all here: William Harvey (circulation), Jan Swammerdam (lymph vessels and red cells) and Niels Stensen (fibrils in muscle contraction) were all people of faith, while Albrecht von Haller, widely regarded as the founder of modern physiology and author of the first physiology textbook, was a devout believer; Abbe Spallanzani (digestion, reproductive physiology), Stephen Hales (haemostatics, urinary calculi and artificial ventilation), Marshall Hall (reflex nerve action) and Michael Foster (heart muscle contraction and founder of Journal of Physiology) were just some among many others.

The same can be said of the advance of surgical techniques and practice. Ambroise Pare abandoned the horrific use of the cautery to treat wounds and made many significant surgical discoveries and improvements. The Catholic Louis Pasteur's discovery of germs was a turning point in the understanding of infection. Lister (a Quaker) was the first to apply his discoveries to surgery, changing surgical practice forever. Davy and Faraday, who discovered and pioneered the use of anaesthesia in surgery, were well known for their Christian faith, and the obstetrician James Simpson, a very humble believer, was the first to use ether and chloroform in midwifery. James Syme, an excellent pioneer Episcopalian surgeon, was among the first to use anaesthesia and aseptic techniques together. William Halsted of Johns Hopkins pioneered many new operations and introduced many more aseptic practices (eg rubber gloves), while William Keen, a Baptist, was the first to successfully operate on a brain tumour.

It is not surprising to find that, again, due to their commitment to love and serve those weaker than themselves as Christ did, Christians were at the forefront of advancing standards of clinical medicine and patient care throughout the ages. Thomas Sydenham, who we considered earlier, stressed the importance of personal, scientific observation and holistic care for patients.

Herman Boerhaave followed in Sydenham's footsteps, and was very influential in pioneering modern clinical medicine, while William Osler taught all medical students to base their attitudes and care for their patients on the standards laid down in the Bible. He was also a leading pioneer in whole person or holistic medicine.

Herman Boerhaave (1668- 1738) was the son of a Reformed minister in Leyden who switched from theology studies to medicine. By 1718 he was the Professor of Medicine, Botany and also Chemistry.

He was much influenced by the writings of Thomas Sydenham, especially his empirical attitude to disease. Boerhaave re-introduced bedside teaching and laid down clinical attitudes to patient care that came to be widely followed by his disciples throughout Europe. Several of them became highly influential, including: von Haller and Linnaeus (founders of modern physiology and natural history), as well as van Swieten and de Haen (whose open-minded scientific empiricism, based on Boerhaave’s teaching, transformed the outlook and approach of the Viennese School of Medicine, which in turn became the pattern of the new Western Medicine).

The Hippocratic ideal was expanded by doctors such as Thomas Browne (seventeenth-century), a Christian physician who was one of the first to write on medical ethics and whole-person care. 

Thomas Percival, a zealous social reformer as well as a physician of integrity, drew up the first professional code of ethics in the eighteenth-century. From that time Christian thought has shaped much of the modern profession’s ethical conduct, promoting personal integrity, truthfulness and honesty.

The Christian contribution to the many specialist branches of medicine is huge.

Specialties

The emerging practice of orthopaedics was much enhanced by the Lutheran Rosenstein's textbook on the subject, while the devout Underwood's Treatise on the Diseases of Children became a classic. Still's disease was named after George Still of King's College Hospital and Great Ormond Street Hospital, who was a Lutheran and a vigorous supporter of Barnardo's homes. In the field of dermatology, Willan (who wrote a history of Christ) was the first to classify skin diseases, while many Christian clergymen-physicians such as Blackmore, Willis and Fox were pioneers in the advance of psychiatry. In the USA Daniel Drake, an Episcopalian, was among the first to study geographical pathology, and WH Welch of the Johns Hopkins, was an outstanding Christian pathologist who discovered the bacillus of gas gangrene. James Simpson, Howard Kelly and Ephraim McDowell, all devout believers, were towering figures in obstetrics and gynaecology. When asked by a journalist about his greatest discovery, Simpson said that his greatest discovery was not chloroform in anaesthesia, but that he was a sinner and Jesus Christ his saviour. Whilst most medical advances and discoveries have taken place in hospitals, numerous general practitioners such as Sydenham, James Mackenzie and Clement Gunn worked tirelessly in day-to-day practice, striving to embody the ideals of Christianity in their ethics and care of their patients.

Public health, preventative medicine and epidemiology

Early on Christians realised the connection between health and hygiene. Girolamo Fracastoro, a very versatile student in the sixteenth-century, began to investigate the spread of contagious diseases. In the next century his work was continued by Thomas Sydenham. Ministers advocated personal hygiene. It was John Wesley who said 'Cleanliness is, indeed, next to Godliness.' The social activism of the Quakers is well-known, among them John Fothergill who campaigned to eliminate social wrongs on grounds that they undermined the health of the people. Another Quaker, John Howard, had a great concern for prisons, where overcrowding and typhus were rife, and successfully promoted two prison reform Acts of Parliament. Edward Jenner, was responsible for the beginnings of immunology and in ridding the world of the scourge of smallpox.

Social need

In the nineteenth-century, the Industrial Revolution had led a drift to the inner cities and intense social needs among the poor. It was the Quakers, Evangelicals and Methodists who in particular applied themselves vigorously to meeting these needs. A nationwide movement of Christian missions to help the poor was founded. Huge sums of money were raised by voluntary subscriptions. And armies of volunteers went to slum areas to offer practical help. Attention was paid to the misfits of society, such as drunkards, criminals and prostitutes, as well as homeless teenagers.

The Salvation Army, founded in 1865 by William Booth, provided much-needed medical care in impoverished inner city areas and homes for women who had been induced into prostitution. Unmarried mothers were cared for, and these projects have spread all over the world. Great Ormond Street Hospital was founded by Charles West, a Baptist, to meet the needs of sick children who were inadequately cared for by 'habitually drunk (nurses) with easy-going, selfish indifference to their patients, and no knowledge or skill of nursing.'

Dr Thomas Barnardo set up his children's homes after seeing the terrible plight of thousands of hungry and homeless children in the East End. Inner city missions bringing a combination of medical care and the gospel were set up. Christians were at the forefront of temperance movements. Care for the blind and deaf were areas drawing direct inspiration from Jesus. Use of Braille worldwide and schools for the deaf were pioneered by evangelical Christians.

St Joseph's Hospice in Hackney, founded by the Sisters of Charity in 1905, was the prototype of the modern hospice movement. Dame Cicely Saunders founded St Christopher's Hospice in 1967, with the aim of providing as peaceful an atmosphere as possible for those in their terminal illness, while offering an environment of Christian love and support.

Developing world missions

Jesus commanded his followers to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19), as well as exhorting them to love their neighbours as themselves. There have been several waves of missionary work during two millennia, and in each case medical work has played a key part.

Dr John Scudder was among the first Western missionaries of the modern era and in 1819 went to Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. Among the best-known pioneer medical missionaries were David Livingstone (Central Africa), Albert Schweitzer, a talented doctor, theologian and musician, who devoted his life to people living in the remote forests of Gabon, and Albert Cook, who founded Mengo Hospital in Uganda. William Wanless founded the Christian Miraj Hospital in India, and Ida Scudder, daughter of John, founded the world-famous Vellore Medical College in the same country. Hudson Taylor spread the gospel and western medicine to China and founded the China Inland Mission. Paul Brand pioneered missions to lepers. Henry Holland and his team, working in the north-west frontier of the Indian sub-continent, operated on hundreds of cataracts every day. Others have been influential in the prevention of such diseases as malaria and tuberculosis.

Women doctors

There was a strong Christian element in the motivation of the pioneers of medical education for women. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman doctor, was a Quaker, while Elizabeth Garrett came from a very devout family. Ann Clark, another Quaker, was the first woman surgeon and worked at the Women's Hospital and the Children's Hospital in Birmingham. Sophia Jex-Blake, another devout Christian, founded the London School of Medicine for Women, while Clara Swain was the first woman doctor to go overseas (to Asia) as a medical missionary.

Christianity gives men and women a new perspective and allegiance; their lives are spent in joyful grateful service of the God who has redeemed them and given them new life. In many ways, Christianity and medicine are natural allies; medicine gives men and women unique opportunities to express their faith in daily practical caring for others, embodying the commands of Christ; 'whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' (Matthew 25:40)

Conclusion

The example and principles we see in the teaching of Jesus and his apostles led to the natural marriage of Christianity and medicine throughout the centuries. But they gained fresh impetus, voice and expression after the Reformation and through the Puritan century, the evangelical revival and the social reforms and world missionary movement that it spawned in the 19th century – medicine as a vocation, scientific evidence, medical training, whole person medicine, specialities, ethics, public health and medicine in the developing world. We still bask in its legacy today.

The following were the main sources used in compiling this lecture

Medicine and the Reformation – Elizabeth Ping (2011)
Healing and Medicine in Christianity – Encyclopaedia of Religion (2005)
The Christian Contribution to Medicine – Rosie Beal-Preston (2000) Triple Helix
Jesus - the Pivot of History and Medical Care – Peter May (2000) Triple Helix
Faith in Medicine – Peter Saunders (2000) Triple Helix


Tuesday, 24 October 2017

What does God think? Reflections on the 50th anniversary of the Abortion Act

50 years; 8.8 million abortions; 550 every day; 3,800 every week; 16,000 each month; 200,000 every year.

That’s one Airbus 380 or 32 Dunblanes every day. The entire population of Wales and Scotland over all; 15% of Britain’s population (watch this!)

Or to put it another way, there are 100,000 people alive in Northern Ireland today precisely because they don’t have a law like ours: sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, uncles and aunts, grandparents even. Teachers, nurses, pilots, lawyers, drivers, bakers, artists, musicians.

One in five pregnancies ends in abortion. One in three women has cooperated in the death of her son or daughter. One in three men has fathered, and abandoned, an aborted baby.

Every abortion has been carried out by a doctor trained in the art of healing despite abortion being against the Hippocratic Oath, the Declaration of Geneva and the historic stance of the British Medical Association.

98% of abortions have been authorised on grounds that the continuance of the pregnancy constitutes a greater danger to the mental health of the mother than having her baby aborted.

But there is no medical evidence that this is ever the case making 98% of abortions technically illegal.

When a doctor makes a false statement on a statutory document that is perjury. But the police don’t investigate. The CPS doesn’t prosecute.  Judges give perverse judgements and parliament turns a blind eye. And the churches remain largely silent.

67 doctors, known to the GMC, who illegally pre-signed forms authorising abortions for women they had never met and who in many cases were not yet pregnant remain uninvestigated.

Two doctors who illegally authorised sex-selection abortions walked free whilst Aisling Hubert, the person who brought the allegations against them (because the CPS wouldn’t), is landed with a £47,000 legal bill.

Meanwhile the bodies of aborted babies are incinerated amongst with recycled waste to heat our hospitals.

And yet it is seemingly not enough.

The We Trust Women campaign wants to decriminalise abortion completely. Driven by abortion ‘provider’ BPAS, the Royal College of Midwives, the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have given their support.

There are calls to relax the law in Northern Ireland, Ireland and the Isle of Man. The pressure is relentless.

Those who express a contrary opinion are pilloried on the media and driven from the public square.

And yet at the same time there is increasing disquiet about late abortions.

High resolution ultrasound videos; media stories of babies born alive following 'botched' procedures; doctors being forced against their conscience to refer women; reports of late abortions flouting the existing law; testimonies from women damaged or coerced into having abortions; the growing evidence in the medical literature of the links between abortion and mental illness, prematurity and (possibly) breast cancer; the sheer volume of spilt blood. At least with late abortions some people are beginning to wake up to reality.

But this simply brings into stark relief the fundamental conviction which enables this situation to go on.

Virtually no one would contemplate dismembering a newborn baby and throwing the bleeding body parts into a bucket – simply because the baby was unwanted, or even because it was the product of rape. It would be unthinkable. And yet the younger the baby in the womb, the more people regard abortion as acceptable.

In 2008 an attempt by MPs to cut the upper limit for abortion to 12 weeks (the European average) was opposed by 393 votes to 71. At 16 weeks it was 387 to 84 and at 20 weeks 332 to 190. The closest vote, on a 22-week limit, was defeated by 304 to 233.

And yet the European record for survival outside the womb is 21 weeks and five days and in the best neonatal units babies have good survival rates at 23 and 24 weeks (picture above).

Why should a preborn baby be accorded less value at 16 weeks or 12 weeks or eight weeks. They all have developed organ systems and beating hearts. And an individual human life begins at conception.

This is simply discrimination on the basis of age, or size, or neurological capacity – an arbitrary judgement akin to racism or sexism – it is just the biological parameter that is different.
So why do we tolerate it and rationalise it?

I suspect it is that we are all involved.

Abortion is an inevitable consequence of the lifestyle choices we have collectively made – a natural consequence of sexual immorality, the breakdown of the family, and the desire for a life unencumbered by dependents. We have parented aborted children ourselves or do not want to upset those who have.

What does God think?

The Bible links sexual immorality and the killing of children to idolatry (Psalm 106:37-39; Jeremiah 19:3,4); these sins are symptomatic of a nation which has turned its back on God, of an end stage culture. By contrast God calls his people to ‘rescue those being led away to death’ (Proverbs 24:11) and to ‘speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves’ (Proverbs 31:8).

‘You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb…when I was made in the secret place…your eyes saw my unformed body’, writes the Psalmist (Psalm 139:13-16)
God hates ‘hands that shed innocent blood’ warns the writer of Proverbs (Proverbs 6:16,17).

God ‘hides his eyes’ from those whose ‘hands are full of blood’ (Isaiah 1:15). He will demand ‘an accounting’ (Genesis 9:5; Jeremiah 19:3,4).

God was ‘not willing to forgive’ Manasseh who ‘shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from end to end’ (2 Kings 21:16, 24:3,4).

How then does God view Christian doctors; keeping silent; playing it safe; embarrassed by those who dare to speak out; rationalising their involvement in the ‘difficult cases’; perhaps even oiling the abortion machinery and participating in the killing?

We can be certain that God will bring justice. Judgment will come. Innocent blood will be paid for. And yet God, the supreme judge, is also the God of mercy and grace who withholds judgment to give people a chance to repent, who grants us forgiveness that we do not deserve, who sends his own son to have his innocent blood shed by evil men in order to pay the price for our sin. Judgment falls on Christ the innocent rather than upon us the guilty (Isaiah 53:5,6).

And in response to this mercy and grace he calls us to follow him by carrying his cross and embracing lives of love and obedience: risking the contempt of the politically correct by being advocates for the unborn child; bearing the cost of providing compassionate alternatives to abortion for those who will accept them; being part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

8.8 million abortions. But it is not too late to change things; to reflect, repent and reorder our priorities; to speak out; to be advocates for the voiceless; to offer women in crisis something other than a curette; to tell the truth about the consequences of abortion for children, women and society.

God's word reminds us that righteousness exalts a nation (Proverbs 14:34) and warnings of judgment always come with promises of restoration and hope – provided we respond to God's call. The choice is ours.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Sunday, 17 September 2017

RCOG President backs total decriminalisation of abortion – no surprises there then

A leading doctor has this weekend called for abortions to be decriminalised and made much more freely available.

Professor Lesley Regan (pictured), president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), has said abortions should be treated no differently from other ‘medical procedures’ – including something as simple as removing a bunion.

Next Friday the RCOG General Council will hold a ballot to decide whether the College should formally back total decriminalisation, which would put further pressure on the Government to overhaul the law.

The doctors’ union (the BMA), the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and the ‘We Trust Women’ campaign by abortion industry leaders have already signalled their support for such a move.

Professor Regan said there had been a ‘societal shift’, particularly among medical professionals.

Of this there is no doubt.

The Hippocratic Oath, which graduating doctors used to take, says, ‘I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked nor suggest such counsel, nor in like manner will I give a woman a pessary to produce abortion.’ So most doctors today, by their complicity in abortion, are in direct breach of it, which is ironically the main reason the oath has fallen out of use.

The Declaration of Geneva (1948), adopted by the World Medical Association after World War 2, originally read, ‘I will maintain the utmost respect for human life from the time of conception, even against threat I will not use my medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity’.

Perhaps most striking of all, the BMA affirmed in 1947 that ‘although there have been many changes in medicine, the spirit of the Hippocratic Oath cannot change’ and added that ‘co-operation in the destruction of life by murder, suicide and abortion’ was ‘the greatest crime’.

How times have changed.

From being the greatest protectors of innocent human life just 70 years ago it now seems that doctors have now become abortion's greatest proponents and facilitators.

Last year there were over 200,000 abortions carried out in Great Britain; one in every five pregnancies ended in abortion. Each one was authorised by two doctors and carried out by another – the former were largely members of the BMA and the latter either qualified or trainee members of the RCOG.

In total, doctors in this country have intentionally ended the lives of over 8.5 million unborn children since the Abortion Act was passed in 1967, 50 years ago this year. That is a huge number – five times the combined populations of Glasgow or Birmingham.

Furthermore, no less than 98% of these abortions were carried out on mental health grounds, although there is no evidence that the continuance of a pregnancy poses any greater risk to the mental health of a mother than an abortion.

In other words, as I have argued before on this blog, and on national media, 98% of abortions in Britain are technically illegal. And the doctors who authorise them are knowingly making false statements on statutory documents and thereby perjuring themselves.

Abortion is still illegal in Britain under the Offences against the Person Act. What the Abortion Act did was to make it admissible only when a limited number of criteria applied.

But the law in Britain is largely flouted by doctors - with loose interpretations, unsigned forms, sex-selection abortions and bullying of conscientious objectors - and one of the main private abortion providers, Marie Stopes International (MSI), has been under investigation by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) for substandard practice.

This situation exists because, although the abortion law is still restricted on paper, in practice when its boundaries are crossed, doctors close ranks, the police do not investigate, the CPS does not prosecute, the courts do not convict and parliamentarians turn a blind eye.

Prof Regan thinks that abortion should be treated like the removal of tonsils or a bunion, requiring informed consent only.

At the moment she says ‘it’s the only medical procedure which requires two doctors’ signatures’.

But abortion is part of the criminal law precisely because the baby in the womb is a human being who, along with its mother, deserves legal protection.

In other words the law upholds the key principle that ‘both lives matter’.

It is because every abortion takes a human life that abortion has been treated as legally different from any other procedure carried out by doctors.

Regan, and others like her, do not attribute any status to human life before birth. This is why it is not surprising that she holds the views she does – because, in spite of the fact that her medical knowledge should lead her in the opposite direction, she sees the unborn baby as just ‘tissue’ and not as an individual human life.

Accordingly, it is not at all surprising that she wants abortion ‘decriminalised’.

Regan is president of the RCOG, whose members, like those of the BMA and RCM, are knee deep in abortion. We don’t know how many abortions Regan has personally performed in 30 years as a practising gynaecologist but it would be very interesting to know.

But even if she has not been personally involved it is not surprising that she would seek even less regulation and oversight for her colleagues than at present by pushing for abortion to be removed from the criminal law.

But how is this different from bankers asking for fraud to be decriminalised, taxi drivers seeking an end to speed limits, or tenants aiming to abolish rental contracts? Surely it is those who most stand to gain by a change in the law who should have least say over how it is framed.

The law is there to protect vulnerable people from exploitation and abuse. In the case of the abortion law it aims to protect both women and their unborn children.

It is parliament’s decision whether or not it should be changed – and they should be very wary of the vested ideological and other vested interests of professional groups (which are behaving like campaign groups) like the BMA, RCOG and RCM.

It is still possible that the RCOG General Council will not follow Regan’s lead and vote instead to retain the status quo next week.

But I am not holding my breath. I think they are already too deeply wedded to it.  

Always singing one note – the English vernacular Bible - A tribute to William Tyndale

If you have not yet discovered John Piper’s biographies then I heartily recommend them. They can all be downloaded free of charge from the Desiring God website and are great for car or train journeys, walks and runs. 

I’ve just listened again today, during a long run, to John Piper’s biography on William Tyndale,  ‘Always singing one note – a vernacular Bible’. You can read or download it here or watch it here.

The following is a 2,000 word precis of Piper’s 7,600 word talk (including references) which is in turn is largely based on David Daniell’s, William Tyndale: A Biography

So take your  pick, depending on how much time you have.

2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, which started with Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the Wittenberg church door in 1517.

But the father of the Reformation in England was William Tyndale, who produced the first English translation of the Bible from the original Greek and Hebrew.

At 28 years old in 1522, as a young Catholic priest, he spent most of his time studying Erasmus’ Greek New Testament which had just been printed six years before in 1516.

This was the first time that the Greek New Testament had been printed and it is no exaggeration to say that it set fire to Europe. Martin Luther translated it into his famous German version of 1522. In a few years there appeared translations from the Greek into most European vernaculars and these provided the basis of the popular reformation.

John Foxe tells us that one day an exasperated Catholic scholar at dinner with Tyndale said, ‘We were better be without God’s law than the pope’s.’

 In response Tyndale spoke his famous words, ‘I defy the Pope and all his laws. . . . If God spare my life ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plow, shall know more of the Scripture than thou dost.’

Four years later Tyndale finished the English translation of the Greek New Testament in Worms, Germany, and began to smuggle it into England in bails of cloth. By October of 1526 the book had been banned by Bishop Tunstall in London, but the print run was at least 3,000.

For the first time ever in history, the Greek New Testament was translated into English. And for the first time ever the New Testament in English was available in a printed form.

Before Tyndale there were only hand-written manuscripts of the Bible in English. These manuscripts we owe to the work and inspiration of John Wyclif and the Lollards from 130 years earlier but these were based on Jerome’s Latin Vulgate.

Before he was martyred in 1536 Tyndale had translated into clear, common English not only the New Testament but also the Pentateuch, Joshua to 2 Chronicles, and Jonah.

All this material became the basis of the Great Bible issued by Miles Coverdale in England in 1539 and the basis for the Geneva Bible published in 1557—‘the Bible of the nation,’ which sold over a million copies between 1560 and 1640.

The sages assembled by King James to prepare the Authorized Version of 1611, so often praised for unlikely corporate inspiration, took over Tyndale’s work. Nine-tenths of the Authorized Version’s New Testament is Tyndale’s. The same is true of the first half of the Old Testament, which was as far as he was able to get before he was executed outside Brussels in 1536. Probably 70% of our ESV is Tyndale.

Here are some of the English phrases we owe to Tyndale:

‘Let there be light’ (Genesis 1:3).

‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ (Genesis 4:9)

‘The Lord bless thee and keep thee. The Lord make his face to shine upon thee and be merciful unto thee. The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace’ (Numbers 6:24-26).

‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God’ (John 1:1).

‘There were shepherds abiding in the field’ (Luke 2:8).

‘Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted’ (Matthew 5:4).

‘Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name’ (Matthew 6:9).

‘The signs of the times’ (Matthew 16:3)

‘The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak’ (Matthew 26:41).

‘He went out . . . and wept bitterly’ (Matthew 26:75).

‘A law unto themselves’ (Romans 2:14)

‘In him we live, move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28).

‘Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels’ (1 Corinthians 13:1)

‘Fight the good fight’ (1 Timothy 6:12).

Five hundred years after his great work newspaper headlines still quote Tyndale, though unknowingly, and he has reached more people than even Shakespeare.

Luther’s translation of 1522 is often praised for ‘having given a language to the emerging German nation.’ But the same is true for Tyndale in English.

This was not merely a literary phenomenon; it was a spiritual explosion. Tyndale’s Bible and writings were the kindling that set the Reformation on fire in England.

Erasmus was twenty-eight years older than Tyndale, but they both died in 1536—Tyndale martyred by the Roman Catholic Church, Erasmus a respected member of that church. Erasmus had spent time in Oxford and Cambridge, but we don’t know if he and Tyndale ever met.

On the surface, one sees remarkable similarities between Tyndale and Erasmus. Both were great linguists. Erasmus was a Latin scholar and produced the first printed Greek New Testament. Tyndale knew eight languages: Latin, Greek, German, French, Hebrew, Spanish, Italian, and English. Both men loved the natural power of language and were part of a rebirth of interest in the way language works and both believed the Bible should be translated into the vernacular of every language.

Tyndale’s view of human sinfulness set the stage for his grasp of the glory of God’s sovereign grace in the gospel. Erasmus did not see the depth of the human condition, and so did not see the glory and explosive power of what the reformers saw in the New Testament.

Where Luther and Tyndale were blood-earnest about our dreadful human condition and the glory of salvation in Christ, Erasmus and Thomas More joked and bantered. When Luther published his 95 theses in 1517, Erasmus sent a copy of them to More—along with a ‘jocular letter including the anti-papal games, and witty satirical diatribes against abuses within the church, which both of them loved to make.’

What drove Tyndale to sing ‘one note’ all his life – that the Bible might be available in the English vernacular for the common man - was the rock-solid conviction that all humans were in bondage to sin, blind, dead, damned, and helpless, and that God had acted in Christ to provide salvation by grace through faith.

This massive dose of bondage to sin and deliverance by blood-bought sovereign grace is missing in Erasmus. This is why there is an elitist lightness to his religion—just like there is to so much of evangelicalism today. Hell and sin and atonement and sovereign grace were not weighty realities for him. But for Tyndale they were everything. And in the middle of these great realities was the doctrine of justification by faith alone. This is why the Bible had to be translated, and ultimately this is why Tyndale was martyred.

This is the answer to how William Tyndale accomplished what he did in translating the New Testament and writing books that set England on fire with the reformed faith.

It is almost incomprehensible to us how viciously opposed the Roman Catholic Church was to the translation of the Scriptures into English. John Wyclif and his followers called ‘Lollards’ had spread written manuscripts of English translations from the Latin in the late 1300s. In 1401 Parliament passed the law de Haeretico Comburendo—‘on the burning of heretics’—to make heresy punishable by burning people alive at the stake. The Bible translators were in view.

This statute meant that you could be burned alive by the Catholic Church for simply reading the Bible in English. John Foxe records . . . seven Lollards burned at Coventry in 1519 for teaching their children the Lord’s Prayer in English.

Tyndale hoped to escape this condemnation by getting official authorization for his translation in 1524. But he found just the opposite and had to escape from London to the continent where he did all his translating and writing for the next twelve years. He lived as a fugitive the entire time until his death near Brussels in 1536.

He watched a rising tide of persecution and felt the pain of seeing young men burned alive who were converted by reading his translation and his books. His closest friend, John Frith, was arrested in London and tried by Thomas More and burned alive July 4, 1531, at the age of 28.

Why this extraordinary hostility against the English New Testament?

There were surface reasons and deeper reasons why the church opposed an English Bible. The surface reasons were that the English language is rude and unworthy of the exalted language of God’s word; and when one translates, errors can creep in, so it is safer not to translate; moreover, if the Bible is in English, then each man will become his own interpreter, and many will go astray into heresy and be condemned; and it was church tradition that only priests are given the divine grace to understand the Scriptures; and what’s more, there is a special sacramental value to the Latin service in which people cannot understand, but grace is given. Such were the kinds of things being said on the surface.

But there were deeper reasons why the church opposed the English Bible: one doctrinal and one ecclesiastical. The church realized that they would not be able to sustain certain doctrines biblically because the people would see that they are not in the Bible. And the church realized that their power and control over the people, and even over the state, would be lost if certain doctrines were exposed as unbiblical—especially the priesthood and purgatory and penance.

Thomas More’s criticism of Tyndale boils down mainly to the way Tyndale translated five words. He translated presbuteros as elder instead of priest. He translated ekklesia as congregation instead of church. He translated metanoeoas repent instead of do penance. He translated exomologeo as acknowledge or admit instead of confess. And he translated agape as love rather than charity.

These words undercut the entire sacramental structure of the thousand year church throughout Europe, Asia and North Africa. It was the Greek New Testament that was doing the undercutting.

And with the doctrinal undermining of these ecclesiastical pillars of priesthood and penance and confession, the pervasive power and control of the church collapsed. England would not be a Catholic nation. The reformed faith would flourish there in due time.

What did it cost William Tyndale under these hostile circumstances to stay faithful to his calling as a translator of the Bible and a writer of the reformed faith?

He fled his homeland in 1524 and was killed in 1536. He gives us some glimpse of those twelve years as a fugitive in Germany and the Netherlands in one of the very few personal descriptions we have from Stephen Vaughan’s letter in 1531. He refers to:

‘. . . my pains . . . my poverty . . . my exile out of mine natural country, and bitter absence from my friends . . . my hunger, my thirst, my cold, the great danger wherewith I am everywhere encompassed, and finally . . . innumerable other hard and sharp fightings which I endure.’

All these sufferings came to a climax on May 21, 1535, in the midst of Tyndale’s great Old Testament translation labors, when he was betrayed by an Englishman, Henry Philips. He was imprisoned, formally condemned as a heretic and degraded from the priesthood. Then in Brussels on 6 October he was tied to the stake and then strangled by the executioner, then afterward consumed in the fire.

Foxe reports that his last words were, ‘Lord! Open the King of England’s eyes!’ Tyndale was forty-two years old, never married and never buried.

Tyndale’s wrote to his best friend, John Frith, in a letter just before he was burned alive for believing and speaking the truth of Scripture:

‘Your cause is Christ’s gospel, a light that must be fed with the blood of faith. . . . If when we be buffeted for well-doing, we suffer patiently and endure, that is thankful with God; for to that end we are called. For Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow his steps, who did no sin. Hereby have we perceived love that he laid down his life for us: therefore we ought to be able to lay down our lives for the brethren. . . . Let not your body faint. If the pain be above your strength, remember: “Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, I will give it you.” And pray to our Father in that name, and he will ease your pain, or shorten it. . . . Amen.’


Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Presumed Consent for Organ Transplantation – What does the Bible say?

Geoffrey Robinson MP wants to bring in an opt-out system for organ donation in England. His Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill is due its second reading (debate stage) on 23 February 2018.

It seems he has a lot of support and yet evidence for the claim that an opt-out system will increase transplants is still lacking and the Nuffield Council has advised this month that robust evidence is needed before any change to the law is considered. See previous CMF blogposts on this issue here, here and here)

In deemed (presumed) consent, a person, unless he or she specifically ‘opts out’, is assumed to have given consent to the harvest of their organs after death, even if their wishes are not known. Although relatives may be consulted (a so called ‘soft’ opt out), to ascertain any wishes of the deceased expressed before death, their views can still be overruled by the state should they decide against transplantation.

The Bible does not deal specifically with organ transplantation, as the technology was not then available, but we believe that the timeless principles it outlines can be applied to contemporary situations (2 Timothy 3:16, 17). 

So what biblical principles are relevant? Here are twelve points which should be considered:

1. The value of human life.

God the Father, through his son, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the Creator, the Sustainer and the Lord of all life (Colossians 1:15-20; Hebrews 1:3). All human life, is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27, 9:6) formed in the womb by God (Psalm 139:13-16) and belongs to God (Psalm 24:1). It must therefore be treated with the utmost respect from its beginning to its end, including the unborn, the helpless, the handicapped and those advanced in age.

2. Embodied souls

Human beings were created with physical bodies from ‘the dust of the earth’ (created inanimate matter) but receive the ‘breath of life’ from God, making us ‘living beings’ (Genesis 2:7). Whilst described as ‘spirit, soul and body’ (1 Thessalonians 5:23) these component parts are not divisible but exist together as an integrated whole. We are ‘ensouled bodies’ or ‘embodied souls’.  Our bodies are therefore very important and what we do to and with them has great moral significance.

3. Life after death

Whilst our bodies will decay after death, human life does not end at death but every person on earth survives death to face judgment (Hebrews 9:27) when Jesus returns. We then face one of two destinies – either to live with God forever (1 Corinthians 2:9) or to be banished to hell (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; Revelation 20:11-15).

4. The resurrection of the body

As Christian believers our destiny after death is not to live as ‘disembodied souls’ but to be resurrected with new indestructible bodies like that of Jesus Christ after his resurrection (Romans 8:22-24; 1 Corinthians 15:35-56; 2 Corinthians 5:1-10; Philippians 3:21). This new body equips us to live not ‘in heaven’ but in a ‘new earth’ (Isaiah 65:17-25, 66:22-24; Daniel 12:2,13; Revelation 21:1) where there is ‘no more death or mourning or crying or pain’ (Revelation 21:4) but where, like Christ, we can be seen and felt and can carry out physical actions (eg. Jesus lit fires and ate food).

5. Ownership of the body

God places us in a network of supportive relationships - families (Psalm 68:6), communities (the church is the body of Christ) and nations (Acts 17:26). As Christians we are not our own, as we were ‘bought with a price’ through Christ’s death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20). We belong to God but we also belong in a sense to our families and communities: ‘For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.’ (1 Corinthians 7:4) 

6. The limits of state power

Human authorities are appointed by God and must be obeyed but their rightful authority has limits. So, for example, whilst they can require us to pay taxes or conscript us into the armed forces (Mark 12:13-17) they cannot force us to marry and they do not have authority over our bodies, either before or after death. Money ‘bears the image of Caesar’ so must be paid in tax to governing authorities (Romans 13:6,7) but human beings ‘bear the image of God’ and so belong to God (Genesis 1:27). 
Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20). God has delegated stewardship to human beings – giving us authority, responsibility, and accountability, to care for our bodies, and those of others, as he himself would.

7. Stewardship of the body

Stewardship of the body, even after death, lies with the person whose body it is, and with their family. There are many biblical examples of people giving instructions about what was to happen with their bodies after death and these were respected by governing authorities. Pharaoh, for example, gave permission to Joseph to bury his father Jacob in Canaan in the tomb of his fathers in accordance with Jacob’s wishes (Genesis 50:1-14). Joseph gave similar instructions about what was to be done with his own bones (Genesis 50:24-26). God himself buried Moses (Deuteronomy 34:5,6). Jesus was himself buried and other biblical references abound (eg. Genesis 23:9, 25:9, 35:8; Joshua 24:33; 2 Chronicles 16:14, 21:20, 21:26; 32:33)

8. The body after death

The body after death must be treated with the utmost respect. Again there is strong biblical precedent for ensuring that bodies even of those who had been executed or killed in war were retrieved and buried whole (2 Samuel 21:1-14). Not to be buried was a mark of humiliation (2 Kings 9:30-37; Revelation 11:9).

9. Organ donation as a sacrificial act 

The giving of an organ to provide life or health to another person is a profoundly sacrificial act which resonates with the love of Christ in laying down his body for us. ‘God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:8). Christ’s body was ‘broken for us’ on the cross and he showed his life by ‘laying down his life for his friends’ (John 15:13). The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel describing Christ’s death on our behalf uses the language of transplantation: ‘I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.’ (Ezekiel 36:26) We are exhorted to be imitators of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1; Ephesians 5:1,2) and to walk in the way that Christ himself walked (1 John 2:6) The apostle Paul says, as a measure of the devotion and love of the Galatians for him, that they would have ‘torn out their eyes and given them to him’ to alleviate his painful eye condition (Galatians 4:15).

10. Ends and means

The end, however, does not justify the means. So whilst giving an organ is a good and a sacrificial act, either before or after death, a person must not be killed in the process of, or for the purpose of, retrieving it. (Romans 3:8). This rules out and casts doubt on some practices of organ retrieval (eg. Organ transplantation euthanasia as practised in Belgium, or some forms of ‘beating heart’ donation).

11. Coercion and gift

Whilst donation of an organ, either by an individual before or after death, is admissible and  commendable, this must be without coercion and the final decision must lie with the family on the basis of what the person would have wanted, if this is known. Organs are not the property of the state and must not be ‘taken’ without permission, however needy any prospective recipient may be.

12. Conclusion

Whilst the donation of an organ, with the intention of preserving the life or health of another person, is a sacrificial act consistent with biblical morality and walking in the footsteps of Christ; the harvesting of an organ without the permission of the individual before death or his/her next of kin after death, is inconsistent with biblical teaching about ownership and stewardship of the body.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Two wrong attitudes that damage the body of Christ - Reflections on 1 Corinthians 12:1-31

In 1 Corinthians 12 the apostle Paul argues that the church is like a living, growing organism made up of diverse parts all of which interrelate and cooperate with each other.

In a previous blog post we considered spiritual gifts – their nature, distribution and function. In this post, we look at two wrong attitudes which threaten the integrity of the body.

‘I’m not needed’ (v14-20)

This is the temptation of the less visible members of the body. So the foot says, ‘I’m not part of the body because I’m not a hand’ and in so doing stops being a foot. This means that the hand is then more limited what it can do as it has to operate from a fixed base.

The last of the Ten Commandments says ‘you shall not covet’. The reason covetousness, or jealousy, is so utterly destructive is because it both cultivates a resentful better attitude about someone else while at the same time immobilising the person so that they are no longer contributing what they can uniquely give.

So, not only do they become transfixed on wishing that they were someone else, but, more tragically, they stop being the person that God made them to be.

One of my heroes is a Christian psychiatrist by the name of Marjory Foyle.

Marjorie went out as a young doctor to serve as a cross-cultural missionary in Southeast Asia.

She tried many different positions at the hospital but really struggled to find a role that really suited her.

That was, until she had what she called her ‘bean field experience’. Now the bean field was where you went to the toilet and also, perhaps like Isaac the patriarch, to meditate and pray.

And it was in the bean field one day that Marjory had her Eureka moment and realised exactly why God had placed her on the planet.

Her unique gift was to be a carer for the carers. That was the moment she realised it and from that time forward she put all her energy into achieving excellence in that role.

You may be familiar with the book ‘Honourably wounded’ referring to people who had been wounded psychologically or spiritually in the Lord’s service. It’s an absolute classic. Marjory wrote it.

I remember hearing Cliff Richard describing going out to offer help during one of the African famines and feeling grossly inadequate as he didn’t have medical or nursing training.

One of the nurses was very straight with him thankfully. She said, ‘are you capable even of putting on a bandage?’ ‘No’, he said. ‘Well’, she replied, ‘then you’re of no use to us here’.

‘Why don’t you go back to England and do what only you can do which is to use your gifts as a singer and entertainer to draw attention to the situation and financial need out here’.

It was an absolute game changer for Cliff Richard.

You might’ve heard it said ‘Dare to be a Daniel’. Perhaps we would all like to be Daniels facing down the lions. But in fact there was only one Daniel on the whole of the Bible and he had a unique role to play.

Could you bear to be a Baruch? Baruch was Jeremiah’s scribe. His job was to write down everything that Jeremiah said and then read it out in the marketplace. The job that was tedious, thankless and also dangerous. But if it wasn’t for Baruch we would not have the book of Jeremiah and all the wonderful prophecies about the new covenant that it contains.

We wouldn’t have Moses if it wasn’t for two midwives who risked the wrath of Pharaoh. We wouldn’t have David if his mighty men had not preserved his life on more than one occasion. We wouldn’t have Nehemiah’s great achievement if it wasn’t for the many others who helped him to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem.

Solomon could have achieved nothing if it wasn’t for the literally thousands of workers who gathered resources, carved stone, cut wood, managed his horses and organised the feeding and defence of the nation.

There would have been no Spurgeon without an unnamed man one day, when he was diverted by the snow and ended up in the wrong church, who preached the sermon which utterly transformed his life. We would have no John Wesley without his mother Susanna.

You see the point. We are all interdependent. We are all needed. We are all necessary. I don’t know whether you are spending time wishing you were someone else or had some gift or ability that you see someone else has.

Or perhaps that you think that you are unnecessary in God’s great plan.

Well the message of this passage is that you are needed and you are necessary but you need to be the person God has made you to be, with the gifts he has chosen to give you, to build up and serve others.

Be that person and help your children and fellow believers to do the same. Don’t try to press others into the wrong mould.

It was Samuel Johnson who sad, ‘Don’t send your ducks to eagle school! You will frustrate the ducks, frustrate the eagles and frustrate yourself. Almost every man wastes part of his life in an attempt to display qualities that he does not possess’

Don’t say ‘I’m not needed’. Instead find out what you are made to do and do it.

You’re not needed (v21-26)

This is perhaps the temptation of the more visible in church, perhaps those in leadership or so-called ‘gospel ministry’. They possess the gifts regard as most strategic for building up the body of Christ.

Their temptation is to look on others who don’t have those same gifts and think they are less important.

But the reality is that every highly visible member of the body of Christ needs an effective team of people around them, praying for them, helping them to take their opportunities, and perhaps most importantly of all, encouraging them and holding them accountable, knowing that from those to whom much has been given much will be expected.

Lewis Hamilton is a phenomenally gifted grand prix racing driver but he could do nothing without his team, his designers, his computer analysts, his managers and the people who supply the millions of pounds necessary for to take to the track. The man is extraordinarily talented but he needs a whole team in order that he can do anything at all.

One of the most important letters lessons Moses ever learnt, and he learned from his father in law, was that he needed to build an effective team and delegate responsibility.

This was a life changer, not only from Moses, but for the whole nation of Israel.

As Paul tells us here (v26) if one part of the body suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part of the body is honoured, then every part rejoices with it.

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.

As doctors we are only all too acutely aware of this – an affliction in only one part of the body will adversely affect the whole and perhaps event threaten the body’s life: a narrowed coronary artery, an inflamed appendix, a blood vessel in the brain blocked by clot, some abnormally dividing cancer cells in one organ spreading everywhere.

And so it is with the church – one person’s suffering is borne by all.

‘If one part of the body is honoured, then every part rejoices with it.’

You may know that we Kiwis are very proud of our national rugby team , the All Blacks. We are still trying to get over the fact that they were able only to draw recently with the British Lions because we are so used to them winning virtually every game.

They are widely acknowledged to be the most successful team in world history, in any sport.

But what makes them so good? You could point to many things: the training schemes, New Zealand’s prioritisation of rugby above any other sport, the prestige of being chosen to represent the country or maybe even the fact that they all seem so wonderfully uniquely talented.

But actually, I think the key secret of success is that they are trained to believe that the team is far more important than any one of the players. And if you watch them on the field, you’ll see they get as much pleasure from helping someone else score, giving that winning pass, as they do in scoring themselves.

It’s this utter delight in seeing any individual exceed that is such a powerful motivator.

The success of any member of the team is the whole team’s success.  There is an unselfishness cultivated which leads them always to put the good of the team ahead of their own glory.

If one part is honoured (v26) every part rejoices with it.

It’s perhaps a very imperfect model but I think that it’s something of what Paul is saying here about the church.

In the next blog post we look at some practical applications of this teaching.