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What the Early Christians Thought about Abortion

June 5, 2018 by

a baby asleep in a onesie
Photograph by Darius Clement

On May 26, 2018, Ireland voted by a 66 percent majority to drop the Eighth Amendment to its constitution that gives an equal right to life to the unborn and the mother. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said the referendum marked “the day Ireland stepped out from under the last of our shadows and into the light.”

I disagree. It was a sad day for Ireland, not simply because the nation decided to make abortion legal, but because Irish Christians gave their consent – the country is eighty-six percent Christian. Ending the life of any baby developing in a mother’s womb is wrong, but when so many of today’s Christians support what the early Christians clearly identified as “murder of the unborn,” it is especially unconscionable. The early Christian apologist Tertullian said, “Since murder is absolutely forbidden in any form, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb. It matters not whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that has not yet come to birth.” We have fallen far from this clarity.

An English news anchor interviewed an Irish “No” campaigner, who voted against legalized abortion. The anchor asked her, “Aren’t the fundamentals changing, or aren’t people’s beliefs in the fundamentals changing?” The “No” campaigner answered, “The fundamental issue is ending the life of a baby and the ‘Yes’ campaign did not want to discuss the issue.”

What people happen to feel or believe about “the fundamentals” today is inconsequential. Throughout history, cultural mores have been constantly changing. But God and his commands – the real fundamentals – will never change. The author of Hebrews wrote, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8). And Jesus himself said to his disciples: “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:19). Therefore, the true church always has been, and always will be, counter-cultural. A gospel that does not offend is no gospel at all. The early Church understood this more than Christians of any other era. Most of today’s churches, unlike the early Church, are compromising on “the fundamentals” and aligning with the zeitgeist, which opposes God.

Eberhard Arnold, the founder of the Bruderhof, spoke of this in a fellowship meeting in March, 1935:

The apostles refer again and again to the fact that we share in the martyrdom and the cross of Christ, for the zeitgeist will not tolerate the spirit of Christ’s future. The zeitgeist does tolerate and enjoy our attempts at representing a little of the spirit of the future and at the same time catering to people who are quite willing to make a few concessions. That kind of mixture is most desirable to the zeitgeist. Even the heathen state affects a mixture with the Christian spirit; the biggest capitalist enterprises want to have a bit of the Christian spirit, and deceitful undertakings of all sorts wish for a veneer of Christianity, a veneer of truth. Even those who go to war want to show some Christian love. This mixture is dear to them all.

In our society, women are often abandoned to very difficult situations where the care of a new life is almost impossible. Justice for the unborn must be coupled with active compassion for the mother. Where is that compassion? One of my friends worked in a hospital where a woman was having an abortion because her baby had Down syndrome and she couldn’t handle it alone. The fact that this woman felt forced to choose between her life and her child’s life is a terrible thing, something no mother should have to face. But there are countless stories like this. We live in a society that has the means to help but lacks the willingness.

Justice for the unborn must be coupled with active compassion for the mother.

I realize that my anger at the injustice done to the unborn does not really solve anything. And I admit that I only discovered reverence for all life when Jesus completely changed my selfish life. Before I became a Christian I thought children were annoying; they got in the way of my good time.

The early Christians lived in a similarly self-oriented society, full of people like me. So they did not only oppose abortion, they provided a solution by making loving homes for the babies who needed them. Tertullian said, “The church’s funds are to supply the wants of children destitute of means and parents.”

Today, there are pockets of Christian families, communities, and organizations who are offering the same support necessary for women to avoid abortion. The Sisters of Life, a Catholic order, helps expecting mothers and their babies. Their mission statement is “to lay down our lives that others might live.” The organization Home for Good encourages church families to adopt children who need loving homes. Eberhard Arnold and his wife, Emmy, founded the Bruderhof community movement as a small witness to the fact that people can live together and take care of each other’s needs as the early Christians did.

God’s revolution of love and selflessness needs to begin within the churches. The state of Ireland may change its abortion laws, but God’s laws never change. Jesus said, “Let all the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matt. 19:14). Instead of embracing “progress,” we Christians need to go back to this true fundamental.


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  • Thank you, REDPILLED, for your response to this article. You have an excellent point! Since the 3rd century A.D. when Constantine joined Christianity to the State, Christians have been compromising the Gospel teachings of Jesus. Jesus made it quite clear in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5) that we should love our enemies. He brought the final revelation of God’s will for mankind—sacrificial love; love so great that instead of ever taking life, one gives one’s life for others. That is the Gospel message. Unfortunately, Christians haven’t done a very good job of following it—although there have been many individuals and groups of Christians over the ages who have conscientiously objected to bearing arms and participating in war. They have endured hatred and persecution, but they are real witnesses for us today (Early Christians in Rome, conscientious objectors in WWI and WWII, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Franz Jägerstätter, Martin Luther King, Jr., to name a few). The priest, George Zabelka, who blessed the atomic bombing mission to Japan in WWII, repented for the rest of his life for what he had done. He is a real inspiration to me. He said that “when Jesus told Peter to put away his sword, he disarmed all Christians forever more.” I am a pacifist Christian and a member of the Bruderhof movement—about 3,000 fellow Christian pacifists. So, not all Christians support war. In our movement, we try to live the Gospel message and the Sermon on the Mount as best we can. We are also trying to encourage Christians to get back to the Early Christian witness, which forbade the taking of human life under any circumstances. The Early Christians were absolutely opposed to war and military service. They said, “We’ll pray for the leaders and governments instead,” and lived in a way that removed all occasion for war. If we say that all life is sacred, then we cannot compromise in any area. We can’t say abortion is okay but war is murder, and vice versa. All taking of life is murder. It is always in our best interest to obey God’s commandments to love and care for one another as He taught us to do. There is also a moral war being waged today. I believe that Christians will have to be conscientious objectors against the destruction of God’s order—marriage between one man and one woman for life, and that God created each person as he or she is meant to be. As “moral C.O.s” we may face hatred and persecution, but Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me.” Thanks so much for your thoughts, Emily Hallock

    Emily Hallock
  • If life is so sacred, why do so many "Christians" as well as other believers support all the illegal wars of aggression (NOT defensive wars) waged since 1945? These wars are simply mass murder.

  • Abortion is a rotten thing to force onto a person and loving sonebody you should not put them in that situation

    Marc latuskie
  • We were told, or at least my wife was told, that we were going to have a Downes syndrome baby. We had the baby, who at 5 came 1st and 2nd in the Sir Mark Olphant science competition in SA, and, is now doing first year science at university. The science is not always right. We had 8 children, and, all are doing well, and, in demographic terms we would have been classified below poverty line. To society we have made a school teacher, mechanic, accountant, agronomy student/beekeeper, fabricator in steel, architecture student, science student, and primary school student.

    Stephen Heatley
  • Can one be a member of the Bruderhof and adopt children? Are there members who have adopted children from the U.S. or overseas?