Prof. Hanko is professor of Church History and New Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
While we have, in previous articles in the Standard Bearer, discussed the major issues which arise in the field of Christian ethics, there are many subjects which could be treated in these articles, some of which are related to subjects we have already discussed and most of which do not warrant an entire article. We have decided, therefore, to write an article or two concerning various less important issues and concerning developments in various areas which we have already discussed.
Custody Fight Over Fertilized Ova
In an earlier article we discussed at some length the increasingly common practice of artificial fertilization of a mother’s ova, and we made some passing reference to the current practice of preserving these ova by freezing and storing them for use at some future time. This abominable practice has led to some problems, not the least of which is court fights over such stored ova.
In a recent issue of the Grand Rapids Press an article appeared in which we were told of a court fight that was presently going on in Maryville, Tennessee. A couple apparently decided to have seven fertilized ova stored at the Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center for future use. In the meantime, the couple are in the process of gaining a divorce and now a custody fight has come to the courts over these fertilized ova. The mother in this case wants to be impregnated with these frozen embryos; but the father has contested the matter, claiming that, if this were done, it would “have an impact on his life.” The judge apparently agreed and a restraining order has been placed on the mother’s request until further hearings can be held. The point is that the custody fight over jointly held property now includes these stored fetuses.
Many of the advances in the field of medical technology have raised legal as well as moral problems. To some of these legal problems we have called attention in earlier articles. Here is one that clearly shows the stupidity of tampering with God-ordained processes for who knows what reasons, Violations of God’s law always lead men to increasingly more serious problems, most of which have no solution, if for no other reason than that the problems arise out of great evils.
In the March 17 issue of Christianity Today, editorial comment was made on the subject of using abortion as a means of sex selection. No one knows how widespread this practice is, but it seems to be more widely done than has been admitted in the past.Christianity Today refers to an article in The New York Times in which doctors who perform abortions admitted that they were “all routinely asked by patients to test fetuses for gender.” Almost always female fetuses are the ones aborted. So abortion has now become a means of sex selection among many.
The irony of it all is that the feminist movement, which stood in the forefront of the pro-abortion battle, does not like what it is hearing. Militant feminists now are increasingly of the opinion that abortions on demand have become a method of “femicide”—the wholesale destruction of the female population. Already in India, where such kind of sex selection has been commonly practiced, feminists have succeeded in getting laws passed which ban abortions on the grounds of sexual preference. Feminists in this country are likely to begin pressing for the same laws in this land.
Abortion is a great evil wherever it is practiced. Those who promote and practice it stand under the fierce wrath of a holy God. It is murder of the first degree. It is unbelievably shocking that it can be done in this country with the protection of the law. Not only-upon individuals, but also upon countries God’s judgment comes with ferocity when His holy law is openly flaunted.
But here we have an illustration of how one sin leads to another. God is never mocked. In fact, God punishes sin with sin, as Romans 1:18ff. clearly teach. As the country sinks deeper into the abyss of moral corruption, sin grows greater and the night of evil grows darker. But the holy God of Israel maintains His righteousness through it all.
One of the great evils of our times is the desecration of the I Sabbath by shopping on the Lord’s Day. There was a time in the history of our country when so-called “blue laws” were on the books in every state of the union. These laws made it a civil offense to buy or sell on the Lord’s Day. One by one these laws have been struck from the books by decisions of the courts. The result is that, especially in our cities, many, if not most, stores and restaurants are open. In fact, retailers claim that the Lord’s Day are some of the biggest shopping days of the week. One finds, even in traveling to church, that the parking lots of malls are jammed with cars, the parking lots of restaurants are filled, and the roads are crowded with vehicles carrying families I and individuals to stores and restaurants.
Periodically, a cry is raised against this practice in evangelical and fundamentalist circles. Various writers long for the good old days when everything was closed on the Sabbath, when only the churches were open, and when the shopping was done during the week. The good days were those days when the Sunday dinner was prepared as much as possible on Saturday night, when all the parents and children had had their baths, and when only the very necessary work was done on the Lord’s Day.
I can appreciate the distress which many feel at this desecration of the Lord’s Day. It was better when Sabbaths were quiet except for the ringing of church bells; when the beaches were empty; when the streets were uncrowded; when the rattle and clatter of lawn mowers was never heard. What I cannot always appreciate is the line of argumentation which is used in support of keeping public places closed on the Sabbath.
Recently I read an article in which a “Christian” who worked on the Lord’s Day as a meat cutter complained about the fact that he had to work, even though he preferred not to do so, because other Christians used the Lord’s Day to shop. “It’s a shame when Christians have to work on Sunday,” he said; “if Christians wouldn’t shop on Sunday, Christians wouldn’t have to work on Sunday.” This line of defense reminds one of the many excuses which Christians make to defend their sinful conduct—a line of reasoning which began when Adam blamed Eve for his sin of eating of the forbidden tree.
But the main line of reasoning in defense of the closing of public places on the Lord’s Day follows a somewhat different track. It is often argued that the Sabbath is good for man for various reasons. One writer puts it this way: ‘God’s creation of the Sabbath established more than just a pattern of work and rest; it established the values of community, freedom, and redemption. The Sabbath ministered to basic human needs—physical, emotional, and spiritual. The Lord’s Day is designed to meet those same needs. It embodies eternal values. It offers a respite from chronic materialism. It offers a chance to regain our bearings as we gather as a body of believers and witness to the truth of the resurrection.”
In other words, one ought to keep the Sabbath because the keeping of the Sabbath has physical and emotional as well as spiritual benefits. It does one good to take a day off. It is physically and emotionally healthy to refrain from normal and ordinary activities on one day of the week.
I can’t buy that argument. I have no quarrel with the argument that the keeping of the law of God is always good for a man. Of course. Just as a violation of God’s law brings grief and sorrow, trouble and pain, so the keeping of God’s law is good. This is no less true of Sabbath observance than it is of idolatry or adultery. But it seems to me that this line of reasoning misses the point altogether. It reduces the keeping of the law to selfish motives. One ought to keep the law because it is good for him to do that. Avoid what is bad for one’s self and do what is healthy. Seek yourself and your best interests, but do so by taking the long-range view of things; i.e., deny yourself immediate pleasure in the interests of a long-range health. If this becomes the motive of keeping the law, what happens to the great commandment of the law: Love God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength? We substitute self-love for love of God as a motive for keeping the law.
When all else is said and done, the sole motive for keeping the law, including the keeping of the Sabbath, is this: God says we must do so; disobedience is a form of hatred of God; we keep His law because we love Him. If God is so gracious that He sends His blessings upon us in the way of observance of His law, we have not earned that either, and that too is of grace alone.
Such reasoning as mentioned above misses the point. The Sabbath in the old dispensation was on the seventh day. The rule, in keeping with the nature of the law, was: work for seven days to earn that one day in which you can have fellowship with your covenant God. That proved forever impossible. Man cannot earn his salvation, nor work in such a way that he merits God’s blessing. Christ arose on the first day of the week and instituted the new dispensation Sabbath. Christ earned all our salvation for us. The great abiding truth of the Sabbath is: Christ gives us the rest of Gods covenant; in the strength of that great grace, go forth into your life and work. No longer, work to rest, but rest in order to work. No longer merit—forever impossible; but grace, grace through Christ to do the Lords work.
It is for this reason too that the argumentation of “Christians” who open their places of business is specious. One Christian store manager said: “If Sunday isn’t available to us, we can spend another day with the Lord.” This is current thinking even among some very conservative Christians. The choice of the first day of the week as the Lord’s Day is arbitrary, not required by God, and done only for reasons of expediency. Such argumentation is fallacious and to be condemned. The Lords will is that the first day of the week, as part of the creation ordinances, is the Lords Day. The believer, by frequenting the house of God on the first day of the week, confesses that his strength and power to walk in this world obedient to God depends upon his Christ. To labor six days in the service of his King, he needs that first day to be with Christ in church to hear Christ speak and to be fed with the bread of life.
In obedience to Christ he keeps the Sabbath holy. That must be his motive.