In the April 15, 1975 issue of the Standard Bearer, I commented on an article which appeared in the Wayland Globe concerning an ecumenical mass which was attended by the sixth grade students of the Byron Center Christian School. The article in the Wayland Globe spoke in its title of the fact that the students of the sixth grade of Byron Center Christian School had attended this mass with the sixth grade of a Roman Catholic School in the area. The mass was held during Unity Week and was, on the part of the students of the Roman Catholic School, intended to be an expression of their desire for unity. The caption of this article spoke of the fact that the students from Byron Center Christian School had participated in this mass. On that grounds I criticized the actions of the Christian School for engaging in this act of ecumenism.
The principal of Byron Center Christian School, Mr. Bonnema, called me up about the article, and I later talked with him and the teacher who teaches the Sixth Grade in Byron Center Christian School. They both assured me of the following facts: they had told the Roman Catholic teacher who extended the invitation that they had no intention of participating in any respect in the celebration of the mass. They made it very clear to the teacher that they could not, for conscience’ sake, have any part in it—not the kneeling, the singing, the chanting, nor any other activities involved in the mass itself. At the celebration of the mass, the students, along with their teacher, were only observers. They witnessed the celebration of the mass—nothing more. Furthermore, they informed me that after they had returned to their classroom, they spent nearly three hours discussing together the celebration of the mass in the light of the principles of the Reformation which was a part of their heritage, and the teacher used the opportunity to give to the students a greater appreciation for the heritage of the Reformation in the light of the perversions of Rome. Further, the teacher, Mr. Los, also went with the class and did not leave the matter with a student teacher.
I am glad to hear this, and happy to present this information to our readers. The article in the Wayland Globe was in error on this key point. We offer our sincerest apologies to the teachers and students of Byron Center for reporting the erroneous information in the Wayland Globe, and for our criticisms which we made which arose out of this erroneous article.
More On The Abortion Issue
The editor of our paper received a letter from one of our readers which he referred to me because the letter had to do with what I had written in the April 1 issue of the Standard Bearer, on the subject of abortion. The letter reads as follows:
I am having difficulty with a statement on page 296 of the Standard Bearer, Volume LI, number 13, April, 1975.
In the second column I read: “The ultimate decision rests with parents, or perhaps with the mother alone. Hence murder is condoned.
“But we want to emphasize again that abortion in all cases except when the choice is very concretely between the life of the unborn child and the mother is murder.”
Is this a case of situation ethics? Here it is assumed that in certain instances God in His providence places a believing mother and believing doctor before au impossible decision, and the killing of a life becomes a good thing acceptable to God.
God leaves it up to the mother and, doctor to decide which life shall be more useful in God’s kingdom here on earth.
So far my question.
(In another connection I included) the following illustration. A Mr. Ceres was crossing a bridge over a gorge when upstream in the swollen river he spotted a figure struggling to stay afloat. This called for quick action, for farther down stream was a treacherous falls and certain death.
Quickly he took hold of a nearby life belt with rope attached. This he tossed over the railing as the struggling figure neared the bridge.
Now he saw that it was a neighbor lady with her ten year old son clinging to her back. She was able to get hold of the life belt and Mr. Ceres started to pull them up on the bridge, but his strength was not equal to the weight of the two.
The mother then pleaded with Mr. Ceres to help her get rid of the son who was still clinging to her.
Mr. Ceres had been hunting and had carried his rifle (surgical instruments). A single well-aimed shot loosened the boy’s grip and Ceres was able to pull the mother to safety.
In our Men’s Society (the men) were of the opinion that God would never cause such a situation to happen.
Please, what is your verdict?
This question which confronts believing parents at a time when the life of the mother is threatened is a difficult one. In fact, we do not hesitate to say that the question is so difficult that believing parents may very well pray that they never face it. Nevertheless, it happens. The difficulty of the decision which they are called to make however, is in part, due to other matters. It is not always easy to tell when the life of the mother is actually threatened by childbirth. Even conscientious doctors oftentimes do not know with certainty. Parents have told me of their own personal experiences in this respect. They have been themselves informed by doctors that further children would seriously endanger the life of the mother. They have, nevertheless, been given children from the Lord without any harm whatsoever to the mother. The same thing is true during a pregnancy. The doctor may very seriously inform the mother that her life is threatened by a continuation of the pregnancy, but the doctor does not always know.
This problem is compounded in our day by the fact that all doctors are not equally conscientious about this matter. Doctors may sometimes, on the flimsiest of medical evidence, inform the mother that continued childbearing would be a threat to her health and life.
In all these cases, parents must certainly get the opinion of more than one doctor, and, if at all possible, they should try to get the opinion of a Christian doctor.
It is for these reasons that I stated in my article: “. . . except when the choice is very concretely between the life of the unborn child and the mother. . . .” The choice must be as clear as it is possible to make it in the light of all available medical evidence. It is for this reason, too, that the analogy of the story of Mr. Ceres is not completely appropriate.
But all of this does not yet get at the question. The question, if I understand it correctly, really asks concerning the grounds on which one makes a choice of this nature. When parents are confronted very specifically and definitely with the choice between the life of the mother and the life of the unborn child, what can serve as the basis for their decision?
I think it is important at this point to remember that a decision has to be made. It will not do just to let matters take their course. It is true that believing parents believe that the ultimate outcome of the matter is in the hands of the Lord. But at such a crucial point in their lives, the Lord calls them to make a decision—prayerfully and before His face. It is a decision which may be difficult and heart-rending; but it must be made. It is a decision comparable to the kind of decision which a believer faces when he has, e.g., a tumor in his brain. The doctors have assured him that he will die without surgery, but surgery carries with it the risk of destroying his mind.
If parents do not make such a decision and simply let matters take their course, the mother will die, and perhaps the baby also will die. To refrain from doing anything is also a decision of sorts, but it also can carry with it the gravest responsibilities. Are the parents who let matters take their course with the result that both mother and baby die any less guilty of murder than those who let a loved one die through neglect and failure to provide proper medical care when they knew such care was necessary? Is not a doctor guilty when he refuses to treat a person for a sickness when it is within his power to do so?
In this context, the question very really comes to a decision concerning the life of the mother and the life of the unborn child. It seems to us then, that the grounds on which such a decision has to be made are suggested by our correspondent when he writes: “God leaves it up to the mother and doctor to decide which life shall be more useful in God’s kingdom here on earth.” I would modify this somewhat. I would think that the decision rests alone with the parents. This does not mean that they may not consult others, but the final decision is their’s to make. And then it would seem to me that the decision would have to be that the mother “is more useful in God’s kingdom here on earth.” She has responsibilities towards her husband and family. She has a definite place and calling already established in God’s Church and kingdom. It would, it seems to me, be incredible under these circumstances, to take the life of the mother in order to save that of the unborn child.
Nevertheless, we must remember that the responsibility always remains to do all in one’s power to the very end to save both the mother and the child. We never know with certainty what God will do in these matters. Our lives are, after all, in His hands alone. He gives life and only He can take it away. And He rules over life in ways that oftentimes amaze the most capable of doctors.
There are two remarks which I want to make by way of conclusion. In the first place, there are many other circumstances which may enter into the decision. We cannot anticipate them all in this article. Although these circumstances do not materially affect the principle we have stated above, conscientious and believing parents must make their decision before God’s face and in the light of all the circumstances. In the second place, we do not want to suggest in any way that the decision is an easy one. We may well hope and pray that we are never confronted with it. But we may nevertheless be assured that when the decision is forced upon us and we make our decision in prayer before God, God will bless that decision as well.