Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Ed Dingess, the work of the church, and the Gospel

recent article from one Ed Dingess grants us at Abolish Human Abortion excellent opportunities for clarification of our own position and convictions, and we'd like to take the time to comment at length on Dr. Dingess' statements.

First, though, we'd like to ask anyone who has not read our recent article The "Great Commission" Without Abolition Is Dead to please do so, then return here to read on.

It is unfortunate that Dr. Dingess begins with a very poor understanding of who we are and what we do. The entirety of his article, in fact, seems to take as its reference point no more than two or three pages from our website. We have put out a great deal more material than just that one website, and it would behoove someone who desires to be a thoughtful critic of ours to do a bit more research than that.

That said, this statement:
whose stated purpose is not necessarily to abolish all human abortion, but rather to “instigate,” and to “inspire” pro-life individuals to become more “assertive” and “actively” involved in abolishing abortion
most definitely disturbs us, for it is not what we have intended to communicate. And honestly, re-reading the page to which Dr. Dingess refers, I can sort of see what he means. To that end, plans are in motion to revise the material on our website.
For any reader to come away from our site with the notion that, for example,
There is no necessary connection between this coalition and the Church of Jesus Christ other than the fact that the Church condemns abortion as murder and so too does AHA.
or the notion that
It is telling that the gospel is not referenced until you scroll down nearly to the end of this page
is, like I said, disturbing.

So, we'd like to thank Dr. Dingess for reminding us to reflect our thinking more clearly on our website. Over the past year, we have grown in our understanding of what needs to be done, who we are in relation to this issue, and what really matters. The Gospel has always been central, but thankfully the Lord has been leading us to understand even better the paramount importance of it, so that Jesus take center stage in everything we do and say. Where we have failed to exalt Jesus in any way, we repent here, now, publicly, of it, and we are grateful for the assistance.

We are, after all, fallible human beings.

Having said all that, Dr. Dingess could have gotten a better understanding about us by consuming more material than a few webpages. There are our Daily Abolitionist videos, our videos from the What Must Be Done conference, our blog, especially recent interactions with Roman Catholics and aborticians. So Dr. Dingess would do well to expand his research before commenting on a group like us in this way.

Now, I'd like to move on to topical treatments of parts of Dr. Dingess' commentary.

Dr. Dingess is entirely incorrect to say that "(t)here is no necessary connection between this coalition and the Church of Jesus Christ". Abolition is a work of the church of Jesus, the invisible church, for it is a work that God demands from each human being, and those who are born again and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God will unfailingly desire to do the will of God during our lives.

Of the Two Great Commandments, one is "Love your neighbor as yourself." Right now in this country, 3500 of the smallest and weakest of our neighbors are being murdered every day. If Dr. Dingess or anyone else can find a greater destruction to our neighbor than abortion in the culture to which we have access, we'd certainly like to know about it, that we may turn our attention to abolishing it.
We'd like to ask Dr. Dingess to consider carefully what sort of oversight men like William Wilberforce, or William Lloyd Garrison, had in their pursuits of abolition. Who will stand up for the weakest of our neighbors? Who loves light rather than darkness, so as to expend one's energy, time, resources, etc for people we don't even know? Will this be the work of unregenerate people who love darkness rather than light? No! Just as it was the followers of Jesus who rose up in 2nd century Rome to rescue unwanted babies left on riverbanks and garbage heaps and who rose up in the 18th and 19th centuries to abolish the systematic oppression of people with dark brown skin, once again His followers in the invisible church are rising up to abolish this grossest of violations against love of neighbor in our culture.
The invisible church is just as real as the visible church, the visible church being a mix of partly members of the invisible church and, virtually always, enemies of God. Both churches are real, and both are important. We strive to neglect neither.

Abolitionists, as obedient to all that the Scripture teaches and reveals, are enjoined to be members of a local body of believers. We are men and women under authority, and we are glad to submit ourselves to the authorities that God puts into place.  Yet we fail to see in Scripture where every "ministry" must be under the "authority" of "the pastor" and elders of a local church. We agree with this in the sense that it is good for all Christians to be under the spiritual oversight of godly elders.  But does this mean that any work that a Christian does should be part of an officially-sanctioned program run by an institutional church? Is it not true, rather, that pastors should both desire and exhort the members of their churches to be actively seeking to serve Christ in the world, and not passively waiting for some governing body to issue an edict of what we are supposed to do?

Who is the authority over the work of AHA? It is simply Jesus the Messiah, the King of the universe and of His Church. If we are not being led by Jesus through the Holy Spirit, then we have no business being involved in this work. Jesus alone will direct the building and advancement of His Kingdom. Any mere human effort to add to what Jesus is doing will simply result in wood, hay, and stubble to be burned up in the Final Judgment. We desire that Jesus be both the positional as well as the functional head of our groups and our work.
Dr. Dingess (as well as many, many others who oppose us) functionally conflate the institutional visible church with the true Body and Bride of Christ. The work of abolition is a work of the latter. And the latter is one in Christ, and suffers no true division from institutional and denominational boundaries.

Of course it is possible, even likely that, there are those who take the name "abolitionist" and yet are unbelievers.

We are not a church. Yet only the most deluded and blind would think that there is no chance that their own church contains no unregenerate people, no false converts. That's the whole point of Jesus' institution and the Apostle Paul's reiteration of the need and proper process for church discipline.

We are up front and honest with everyone, as much as possible, about who we are and our strategies. We evangelise each other, sharing the law and the Gospel day after day.

We tell the unregenerate that we can work together towards the common goal of ending abortion, but we can never truly be on the same page because our core worldviews are different. But why would we tell people who want to work with us to go away? We want to be around non-Christians! There are those of us who resort to going out to the party district of their city late at night when they'd rather be in bed after a long week at work, or take vacation time off work to go onto the university campus, so as to share the law and the Gospel with lost people, and does Dr. Dingess think we should be intentionally telling those who want to be around us to take a hike?

One of the biggest problems with Dr. Dingess' article is the representation that we somehow equate being a "member of AHA" with being a Christian.

We never state that all Christians must self-identify with AHA. Again, if that is what people come away with when they visit our About Us page, we want to correct it, so this is another chance for us to sharpen our website.

To answer the question, all Christians must be salt and light in the world. This is the command of Jesus, and it's all over the Bible.
Here is just one place:
Ephesians 2:8-10 - For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
The good works that don't save us in verse 9 are the same good works that God has created us to do in verse 10.
The opposite of good works is bad works, and bad works are sin. Sin not only damns to Hell, it causes evil in the world, destroys relationships, wrecks communion with God, darkens the heart and spirit, and sears the consience. 1 John makes it clear that a lifestyle marked by sin is an indicator of the unregenerate condition of that person's heart.

Make no mistake, however. We question how it is that someone can call himself a Christian and yet take virtually no action on the issue of abortion. What other social evil is occurring at a level of 3500 deaths per day? Not all Christians need belong to AHA, but all Christians should have an abolitionist spirit and be engaging their culture in some fashion, because the culture is dark and evil, the people are lost and dying, and we have the light, the cure, the solution.

Consistent Christians are abolitionists but not necessarily tied to or self-labeled to associate with AHA. And of course, there is a host of evils out there. Christians can abolish other evils. AHA is not the actual thing we are calling people to. We are calling people to take up their cross, follow Jesus, love God entirely, and love neighbor as self. It's just that this is the way we see it played out in our time and on this issue. This is why we ask, "What does Christianity look like in a culture that murders its children?" Abolition is a principle and ideology that applies to any sin or evil, and as mentioned above, this is the most obvious legal evil facing our nation and the largest violation of love of neighbor at the moment.

Dr. Dingess says:

The Church should preach the gospel, condemning abortion along the way without getting distracted by it...The Church cannot afford all these distractions
That is indeed what we are doing, as members of the Body of Christ.

Yet as he goes on to point out later, preaching the Gospel is not all we are commanded to do. We are commanded to teach others to observe all that Jesus commanded, to make disciples, and obviously we are ourselves to obey all that Jesus commanded as we do so. And He said that one of the great commandments is to love neighbor. Well, we see 3500 of our neighbors put to death by their mothers and hired hitmen in this nation of ours. We can't love them if they're dead; we are to deliver the helpless and weak from death.

Yes, this is a by-product of disciple-making. Does Dr. Dingess think that disciples are made only by sitting around and ingesting thousands of pages of theological tomes? We love books; don't get me wrong. We know, however, that actual love walks, talks, and moves. The happy side effect of discipling people as we love neighbor is that the "disciplee", as it were, gets to see how real love is played out, how suffering is endured, how patience is built up, how sin is dealt with, as we live real lives of agitation and assistance.

And see, we just plain disagree that the systematic murder of 55 million children since 1973 is a "distraction". Would Dr. Dingess have adopted the same refrain in the Third Reich in 1943? "We can't afford these distractions of all these Jews being shoved into ovens; let's just make disciples."

One is almost forced to inquire, about such an attitude: Is this real biblical priority expressed here, or is it Bible-y excuse for the fear of man?
Dr. Dingess goes on to make an erroneous point while quoting 1 Peter 2:9-12 for support.
The command to let our light shine comes within the immediate context of keeping the commandments. In other words, the good works referenced by Christ do not emphasize social works. They mean living out the Christian ethic before the world. Peter says as much when he quotes Christ, "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation."
A few responses here:

1) Dr. Dingess does not inform us how precisely "social works" are different from "living out the Christian ethic before the world", especially as it pertains to abolition. He may be misunderstanding what we mean by "social works" (though I don't recall any of us using that term and neither our website nor our blog use it). Thus we will thank Dr. Dingess to be more careful in the future with his representation of our own words.

2) If he wants to live out the Christian ethic before the world, I'd like to ask Dr. Dingess what better suggestion he has than abolition, given that 3500 babies per day are murdered in this nation, and 55 million in 40 years.

3) How would Dr. Dingess propose we better keep the commandment to love neighbor as self in this kind of world? He doesn't say.

4) The passage itself says what we are saying. "Keep your behavior excellent", "...your good deeds", etc.

5) The earliest Church, as mentioned, were abolitionists of infant exposure, outright infanticide, abortion, child abandonment, and the gladiatorial games. They apparently thought 1 Peter's command was worth following.

6) This kind of language easily lends itself to supporting the false dichotomy between loving the born and the preborn. We are to love all people, their age unimportant.

7) Dr. Dingess may well profit from this recent article, the aforementioned pre-requisite reading.

8) What will Dr. Dingess make of other commands to do good works in the New Testament, such as Titus 3:14 - "Our people must also learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, so that they will not be unfruitful"?

Who has a more pressing need than the baby, who is a human being just like you or I, who is about to be murdered by his own mother and the hitman she pays to hold the weapon or administer the weaponised pharmaceutical?

Dr. Dingess states:

Hence, the light and salt argument that AHA puts forth is based on a misunderstanding of Christ’s command. While it may extend to caring for widows and orphans because this is indeed Christian love, it is entirely unrelated to the cause of exterminating social evils such as abortion.
How silly of us think that preborn children abandoned by their parents were orphans!
If one is inclined to be pedantic on this point, shall we conclude that, no, they are merely victims of parental homicide, so let's ignore them?

We are not called to end human trafficking.
1) That's easy for Dr. Dingess to say, living in a culture that still benefits, to this day, from the tireless efforts of men like Garrison, Wilberforce, Clarkson, Sharp, and Lovejoy.

2) We eagerly await Dr. Dingess' doubtless prompt publication of his critique of Louie Giglio's End It movement, in that case. Giglio should stick to making disciples. Those women trapped in sex slavery will figure it out. We have to make disciples.

We are called to live holy and to let the word see that holiness because it is the light of the world and the salt of the earth.
And how do we do that if we see "...a brother or sister (who) is without clothing and in need of daily food, (and we) say to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,' and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body"? "What use is that?" (James 2:15-16)
Does living holy include ignoring the blood of those under the knife, who are suffering death from weaponised pharamaceuticals?

The gospel is not “abortion is murder, Jesus died for sinners, place your faith in Christ."
No, it most certainly is not. Dr. Dingess made that up, and it is difficult to restrain a biting response to such misrepresentation of our position. Hopefully Dr. Dingess will read this article carefully and digest some of our other material before replying and will repent of what he has publicly said. We have never and would never say such a thing; to whom precisely is Dr. Dingess responding?

We will unhesitatingly accept that repentance at that time, for we love Dr. Dingess and long to see him obey Jesus fully as the Holy Spirit gives grace.

More than ever, the Church must distance itself from even the appearance of being a political movement. We are not a wing of the conservative party.
This is true, as "the conservative party" (by which I presume he means the Republican party) hasn't done close to enough! Honestly, it has barely even tried. Of course, political parties aim to be elected next cycle, generally. That's part of the problem.

Nowhere will anyone find any indication that we intend to be a political movement. We are, rather, engaging the culture - all parts of the culture - with the Gospel of Jesus. Jesus is Lord of all, not Lord of some.

There are those who denigrate us as "right-wingers", Republicans, fascists, etc. These are false and unkind pejoratives, which we reject.

We have serious work to do that has eternal consequences.
Murder and ignoring murder all around us also has eternal consequences.

And so does the fact that this nation is now without 55 million souls. Might one of those have been one who had as much Gospel potency and impact as a George Whitefield, a John Wesley, or a John Calvin? Might a man like that change some significant eternal consequences in this life?

We'll never know now.

Perhaps another partial explanation for Dr. Dingess' strategy for not ending abortion is the fact that Dr. Dingess doesn't think that abortion will be abolished:
Human abortion is a very wicked social evil. There is no question about it. It is the law we live with in America. Is it going away? I don’t think it is.
There you go. It's not going away, so why even fight it?
Did Jesus call us to concern ourselves with how this will all turn out in the end? Or did He command us to love our neighbor as self?

Does Dr. Dingess know for sure that "just" preaching the Gospel and making disciples will cause unbelief to go away, that all people will be converted? If not, by this same logic, he shouldn't preach the Gospel or make disciples. If his response is "But Jesus told us to preach the Gospel and make disciples," he has failed to realise that Jesus has also commanded us to love our neighbor, and he has defeated his own objection.

This is the result of shallow thinking. We are to go forth in the strength Jesus provides us, to do what He told us to do. If we fail, we fail, and in our lives and hearts we exalt Jesus. If we succeed, it is all because of Jesus. If we fail, it is to the glory of Jesus, Whose power is made perfect in weakness.
The only way to truly end social ills is through a changed heart, a regenerated mind. That comes from preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This, however, is absolutely right, which is why we welcome Dr. Dingess to join us.

You see, one of the pro-life movement's main strategies has been to ignore the Gospel in its work, searching for larger numbers and more political clout by diluting the message such that they are actually, at this point, hostile to the proclamation of the biblical Gospel. For this they will face fearful judgment, but we are not them. Dr. Dingess, an abolitionist loves neighbor and preaches the Gospel, both, at the same time. You can do both. Let us show you how, as we ourselves learn more and more and better and better how to do it.

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