Steadfast Marquart — Abortion and Luther’s Two Kingdoms Theology
The following is an excerpt from a paper of the late Professor Kurt Marquart. It was given at Mequon in 2002 and is titled, “Abortion and Luther’s Two Kingdoms Theology.” With the upcoming anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I thought it appropriate to provide these excellent paragraphs from a doctor of the church who fought ardently against abortion with Allen County Right to Life, as well as other pro-life groups. - Robert Paul
Before the excerpts I leave you with the rather poignant concluding paragraph:
“The Supreme Court decision of 1973 is just as wrong as the Dred Scott ruling of 1857, which held that slaves were property and not “persons” under the law! It took a Civil War to reverse that! The constitutional status of the unborn to-day is completely analogous. The moral and legal absurdity of our present situation is that while the corporations which slaughter the unborn for profit have full constitutional protection as (corporate) “persons” in law, their genuinely human victims do not! We cannot rest until this obscenity is reversed.” K. Marquart, “Abortion and Luther’s Two Kingdoms Theology,” 23.
Professor Kurt Marquart
Excerpts from “Abortion and Luther’s Two Kingdoms Theology”
Mequon, WI – 10 March 2002
The church is the realm not of force or coercion, but of grace. She comes into being, and is constantly renewed and preserved, not by reason or by the Law, but by the Gospel (in Word and Sacrament) alone. Yet the proclamation of the Law is always presupposed, the way a diagnosis is presupposed by the cure or remedy in medical practice. Also, believers receive from the Gospel the desire and the power to serve and please God, namely according to His revealed will or Law. This is the so-called “third use of the Law.” In the matter of abortion, the revealed will of God is perfectly clear, and must be taught in the church in no uncertain terms.
The decisive moral truth here is twofold: (1) Human beings are such from conception, and (2) it is wrong to shed innocent human blood. The first truth is evident from texts like Ps. 51:5; 139:13-17; Job 10:10-11; and Jer. 1:5. The object of conception here is “me,” not some amorphous entity which later developed into “me”! The late Mother Theresa was fond of pointing out that the unborn St. John the Baptist was the first human to welcome Our Lord to earth, when He Himself was as yet unborn! See the account of the Visitation in St. Luke 1:39 ff. And the Church celebrates the Miracle of the Incarnation exactly nine months before the Nativity, in other words, on the 25th of March. It would be monstrous to declare either Our Lord Himself, or St. John, somehow pre-human, or non-human, or sub-human and therefore freely abortable prior to birth!
The second truth is equally clear from texts like Gen. 4:10 and Numbers 35:33. Shedding innocent blood is not simply an “ordinary” sin, if indeed there is such a thing. Rather it is a “heaven-crying” sin—as is also Sodomy (Gen. 18:20-21), withholding just wages from workers (St. James 5:4), and oppression of the helpless generally (Exodus 3:7-9; 22:21-24; etc.). In view of King Herod’s brutal slaughter of the babies of Bethlehem (St. Mt. 2:16), the ancient church called abortion “Herodism.”
It is true that abortion as such is not expressly dealt with in the New Testament. Some scholars believe, however, that when lists of vices refer to “murder” in close proximity to “immorality” and “witchcraft,” abortion is meant. See Rev. 9:21; 21:8; 22:15. “Pharmakia/pharmakon” (“sorcery/sorcerer”) included the preparation and administration of abortifacients. Further, Strack-Billerbeck point out the real meaning of St. Jn. 18:28, where the Jewish leaders “themselves did not enter the praetorium, so that they might not be defiled, but might eat the passover.” The point here is that Gentile houses were considered to be places defiled by the dead bodies of aborted babies. Entering such a house meant contracting the defilement of having touched a dead body (Nu. 19:14)—unless the house was vouched for by a Jewish slave or woman who had observed it in this regard (p. 838)!
Attempts have been made to write off the opposition to abortion simply as a “sectarian” (i.e. Roman Catholic) issue. In fact that was the deliberate strategy of pro-abortion forces in the early ‘70s, according to then-insider Bernard Nathanson (1983, pp. 177 ff.). For that reason it is important that the public and the media regularly encounter “Lutherans for Life,” “Baptists for Life,” etc. The irony is, however, that whereas the Roman Catholic Church to-day is undoubtedly the major champion of the pro-life cause among Western churches, it was not so in the sixteenth century. According to the 1978 Encyclopedia of Bioethics, the
reformers [Luther, Melachthon, and Calvin are meant] insisted upon the full humanity of the fetus from the time of conception. . . The major reformers, then, were rigorously opposed to abortion at any stage of pregnancy. Moreover, they had significantly enhanced the fetal status for reasons more basically doctrinal than for ethical reasons against abortion. Regarding fetal status, they were more conservative than the sixteenth-century Roman Catholic Church, which still maintained the Septuagint’s distinction between the “unformed” an the “formed” fetus, and with it a consequent distinction in the gravity of abortion, depending upon its timing (1:14).
The real authority behind this false distinction was Aristotle, who held that “ensoulment” or “quickening” happens in the case of males 40 days after conception, and 80 days after it in the case of females!
Highly suggestive, too, is the connexion between the words for “womb” and “mercy” in several languages. In Hebrew the word for both is racham. The German Barmherzigkeit (mercy) literally means “womb-heartedness.” I understand that the same is true in the case of the related Dutch language. Perhaps the reason for this odd linguistic link is that nothing expresses compassion better than the tender solicitude which expectant mothers feel for their pre-born babies. No asylum on earth should be safer or more inviolate than that sacred refuge which nurtures the developing baby beneath its mother’s heart for the first nine months of its life. To invade and destroy that is to destroy human mercy at its very source. It is part and parcel of the progressive brutalisation of human life, documented daily in the news media.
Mercy stands at the heart of the Christian faith. Having received God’s radical mercy in His Son, we are then to be merciful towards one another. Justice is not enough—it is compassion that must reign among Christians. This is why Our Lord places such a high premium on mutual forgiveness. He even teaches us to pray that we should not be forgiven if we do not forgive those who trespass against us! The reason for this is given in the parable of the Unmerciful Servant (St. Mt. 18:23-35): the psychological monstrosity of the situation dramatises the truth that to refuse to forgive is not to believe oneself forgiven! If one truly believes oneself forgiven by God in Christ, one cannot possibly refuse forgiveness to another. Persistent refusal to do so therefore is a clear confession of unbelief.
The Gospel of God’s mercy must also shape the church’s handling of the abortion issue. It goes without saying that abortion must not be presented as the one unforgivable sin. The Lord welcomes all penitent sinners, and Christian preaching—unlike mere social crusading—dare never forget this. Two anecdotes illustrate different facets of the problem. A good friend and colleague of mine in Australia had opened a pregnancy crisis centre in Adelaide. One day a fifteen-year old girl came in, thinking she could get an abortion there. My friend showed her the ghastly reality of abortion, and she decided to keep her baby. A few days later her enraged father came in, fulminating: “I am an elder at such-and-such a church. Don’t you realise how I shall be disgraced if she has this illegitimate child? How dare you tell her not to have an abortion?” It would be difficult to imagine a more repulsive instance of unmerciful Pharisaic cruelty! How can a father be so obsessed with appearances as to wish to burden his own daughter’s soul with the sin of murder? Yet such is the oppressive power of the false god of Respectability, which disfigures so much of our “church”-culture!
The other example I heard some years ago from one of the leaders of “Women Exploited,” women who had been misled into having abortions, and then came to regret it lifelong. This lady told us how she had believed the propaganda that the foetus was simply a mass of cells, and how horrified she had been when she saw the clearly human shape of the being she had killed. In her guilt and despair she went to her pastor and confessed her sin. But he made light of it and said, “It’s OK, don’t worry about it!” That, she said, did not help her at all. She knew that it was not “OK,” and that she had done evil. What she needed was absolution, forgiveness, not excuses!
In concrete pastoral care, the full weight of the Law’s condemnation must fall not on the poor, troubled woman or girl who had an abortion and regretted ever after, but on callous “Christian” doctors and nurses who habitually do abortion “procedures,” without any emotional confusion or pressure, but simply for money! They need to be told that until they repent, they cannot receive the Holy Sacrament, I Jn. 3:15. Those who shed innocent blood may not partake of the Sacred Cup of the Lord’s Blood!
These are the sorts of things which Christians ought to be saying to one another in the spiritual realm, in Christ’s holy Church. Finally, the public teachers of the Church especially are not doing their full duty in this matter if they neglect to tell their hearers that it is their solemn duty to use such economic and political “clout” as they have to restore the protection of the law to the unborn. That is not “politics” but a basic decency required by the Fifth Commandment:
Likewise, if you see anyone who is [innocently] condemned to death or in similar peril and do not save him although you have means and ways to do so, you have killed him. It will be of no help for you to use the excuse that you did not assist their deaths by word or deed, for you have withheld your love from them and robbed them of the kindness by means of which their lives might have been saved . . .
Therefore God rightly calls all persons murderers who o not offer counsel or assistance to those in need and peril of body and life. . . What else is this but to call these people murderous and bloodthirsty? For although you have not actually committed all these crimes, as far as you are concerned, you have nevertheless permitted your neighbours to languish and perish in their misfortune (Large Catechism, Kolb-Wengert, p. 412).