Sunday, 17 September 2017

RCOG President backs total decriminalisation of abortion – no surprises there then

A leading doctor has this weekend called for abortions to be decriminalised and made much more freely available.

Professor Lesley Regan (pictured), president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), has said abortions should be treated no differently from other ‘medical procedures’ – including something as simple as removing a bunion.

Next Friday the RCOG General Council will hold a ballot to decide whether the College should formally back total decriminalisation, which would put further pressure on the Government to overhaul the law.

The doctors’ union (the BMA), the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and the ‘We Trust Women’ campaign by abortion industry leaders have already signalled their support for such a move.

Professor Regan said there had been a ‘societal shift’, particularly among medical professionals.

Of this there is no doubt.

The Hippocratic Oath, which graduating doctors used to take, says, ‘I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked nor suggest such counsel, nor in like manner will I give a woman a pessary to produce abortion.’ So most doctors today, by their complicity in abortion, are in direct breach of it, which is ironically the main reason the oath has fallen out of use.

The Declaration of Geneva (1948), adopted by the World Medical Association after World War 2, originally read, ‘I will maintain the utmost respect for human life from the time of conception, even against threat I will not use my medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity’.

Perhaps most striking of all, the BMA affirmed in 1947 that ‘although there have been many changes in medicine, the spirit of the Hippocratic Oath cannot change’ and added that ‘co-operation in the destruction of life by murder, suicide and abortion’ was ‘the greatest crime’.

How times have changed.

From being the greatest protectors of innocent human life just 70 years ago it now seems that doctors have now become abortion's greatest proponents and facilitators.

Last year there were over 200,000 abortions carried out in Great Britain; one in every five pregnancies ended in abortion. Each one was authorised by two doctors and carried out by another – the former were largely members of the BMA and the latter either qualified or trainee members of the RCOG.

In total, doctors in this country have intentionally ended the lives of over 8.5 million unborn children since the Abortion Act was passed in 1967, 50 years ago this year. That is a huge number – five times the combined populations of Glasgow or Birmingham.

Furthermore, no less than 98% of these abortions were carried out on mental health grounds, although there is no evidence that the continuance of a pregnancy poses any greater risk to the mental health of a mother than an abortion.

In other words, as I have argued before on this blog, and on national media, 98% of abortions in Britain are technically illegal. And the doctors who authorise them are knowingly making false statements on statutory documents and thereby perjuring themselves.

Abortion is still illegal in Britain under the Offences against the Person Act. What the Abortion Act did was to make it admissible only when a limited number of criteria applied.

But the law in Britain is largely flouted by doctors - with loose interpretations, unsigned forms, sex-selection abortions and bullying of conscientious objectors - and one of the main private abortion providers, Marie Stopes International (MSI), has been under investigation by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) for substandard practice.

This situation exists because, although the abortion law is still restricted on paper, in practice when its boundaries are crossed, doctors close ranks, the police do not investigate, the CPS does not prosecute, the courts do not convict and parliamentarians turn a blind eye.

Prof Regan thinks that abortion should be treated like the removal of tonsils or a bunion, requiring informed consent only.

At the moment she says ‘it’s the only medical procedure which requires two doctors’ signatures’.

But abortion is part of the criminal law precisely because the baby in the womb is a human being who, along with its mother, deserves legal protection.

In other words the law upholds the key principle that ‘both lives matter’.

It is because every abortion takes a human life that abortion has been treated as legally different from any other procedure carried out by doctors.

Regan, and others like her, do not attribute any status to human life before birth. This is why it is not surprising that she holds the views she does – because, in spite of the fact that her medical knowledge should lead her in the opposite direction, she sees the unborn baby as just ‘tissue’ and not as an individual human life.

Accordingly, it is not at all surprising that she wants abortion ‘decriminalised’.

Regan is president of the RCOG, whose members, like those of the BMA and RCM, are knee deep in abortion. We don’t know how many abortions Regan has personally performed in 30 years as a practising gynaecologist but it would be very interesting to know.

But even if she has not been personally involved it is not surprising that she would seek even less regulation and oversight for her colleagues than at present by pushing for abortion to be removed from the criminal law.

But how is this different from bankers asking for fraud to be decriminalised, taxi drivers seeking an end to speed limits, or tenants aiming to abolish rental contracts? Surely it is those who most stand to gain by a change in the law who should have least say over how it is framed.

The law is there to protect vulnerable people from exploitation and abuse. In the case of the abortion law it aims to protect both women and their unborn children.

It is parliament’s decision whether or not it should be changed – and they should be very wary of the vested ideological and other vested interests of professional groups (which are behaving like campaign groups) like the BMA, RCOG and RCM.

It is still possible that the RCOG General Council will not follow Regan’s lead and vote instead to retain the status quo next week.

But I am not holding my breath. I think they are already too deeply wedded to it.  

Always singing one note – the English vernacular Bible - A tribute to William Tyndale

If you have not yet discovered John Piper’s biographies then I heartily recommend them. They can all be downloaded free of charge from the Desiring God website and are great for car or train journeys, walks and runs. 

I’ve just listened again today, during a long run, to John Piper’s biography on William Tyndale,  ‘Always singing one note – a vernacular Bible’. You can read or download it here or watch it here.

The following is a 2,000 word precis of Piper’s 7,600 word talk (including references) which is in turn is largely based on David Daniell’s, William Tyndale: A Biography

So take your  pick, depending on how much time you have.

2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, which started with Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the Wittenberg church door in 1517.

But the father of the Reformation in England was William Tyndale, who produced the first English translation of the Bible from the original Greek and Hebrew.

At 28 years old in 1522, as a young Catholic priest, he spent most of his time studying Erasmus’ Greek New Testament which had just been printed six years before in 1516.

This was the first time that the Greek New Testament had been printed and it is no exaggeration to say that it set fire to Europe. Martin Luther translated it into his famous German version of 1522. In a few years there appeared translations from the Greek into most European vernaculars and these provided the basis of the popular reformation.

John Foxe tells us that one day an exasperated Catholic scholar at dinner with Tyndale said, ‘We were better be without God’s law than the pope’s.’

 In response Tyndale spoke his famous words, ‘I defy the Pope and all his laws. . . . If God spare my life ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plow, shall know more of the Scripture than thou dost.’

Four years later Tyndale finished the English translation of the Greek New Testament in Worms, Germany, and began to smuggle it into England in bails of cloth. By October of 1526 the book had been banned by Bishop Tunstall in London, but the print run was at least 3,000.

For the first time ever in history, the Greek New Testament was translated into English. And for the first time ever the New Testament in English was available in a printed form.

Before Tyndale there were only hand-written manuscripts of the Bible in English. These manuscripts we owe to the work and inspiration of John Wyclif and the Lollards from 130 years earlier but these were based on Jerome’s Latin Vulgate.

Before he was martyred in 1536 Tyndale had translated into clear, common English not only the New Testament but also the Pentateuch, Joshua to 2 Chronicles, and Jonah.

All this material became the basis of the Great Bible issued by Miles Coverdale in England in 1539 and the basis for the Geneva Bible published in 1557—‘the Bible of the nation,’ which sold over a million copies between 1560 and 1640.

The sages assembled by King James to prepare the Authorized Version of 1611, so often praised for unlikely corporate inspiration, took over Tyndale’s work. Nine-tenths of the Authorized Version’s New Testament is Tyndale’s. The same is true of the first half of the Old Testament, which was as far as he was able to get before he was executed outside Brussels in 1536. Probably 70% of our ESV is Tyndale.

Here are some of the English phrases we owe to Tyndale:

‘Let there be light’ (Genesis 1:3).

‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ (Genesis 4:9)

‘The Lord bless thee and keep thee. The Lord make his face to shine upon thee and be merciful unto thee. The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace’ (Numbers 6:24-26).

‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God’ (John 1:1).

‘There were shepherds abiding in the field’ (Luke 2:8).

‘Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted’ (Matthew 5:4).

‘Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name’ (Matthew 6:9).

‘The signs of the times’ (Matthew 16:3)

‘The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak’ (Matthew 26:41).

‘He went out . . . and wept bitterly’ (Matthew 26:75).

‘A law unto themselves’ (Romans 2:14)

‘In him we live, move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28).

‘Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels’ (1 Corinthians 13:1)

‘Fight the good fight’ (1 Timothy 6:12).

Five hundred years after his great work newspaper headlines still quote Tyndale, though unknowingly, and he has reached more people than even Shakespeare.

Luther’s translation of 1522 is often praised for ‘having given a language to the emerging German nation.’ But the same is true for Tyndale in English.

This was not merely a literary phenomenon; it was a spiritual explosion. Tyndale’s Bible and writings were the kindling that set the Reformation on fire in England.

Erasmus was twenty-eight years older than Tyndale, but they both died in 1536—Tyndale martyred by the Roman Catholic Church, Erasmus a respected member of that church. Erasmus had spent time in Oxford and Cambridge, but we don’t know if he and Tyndale ever met.

On the surface, one sees remarkable similarities between Tyndale and Erasmus. Both were great linguists. Erasmus was a Latin scholar and produced the first printed Greek New Testament. Tyndale knew eight languages: Latin, Greek, German, French, Hebrew, Spanish, Italian, and English. Both men loved the natural power of language and were part of a rebirth of interest in the way language works and both believed the Bible should be translated into the vernacular of every language.

Tyndale’s view of human sinfulness set the stage for his grasp of the glory of God’s sovereign grace in the gospel. Erasmus did not see the depth of the human condition, and so did not see the glory and explosive power of what the reformers saw in the New Testament.

Where Luther and Tyndale were blood-earnest about our dreadful human condition and the glory of salvation in Christ, Erasmus and Thomas More joked and bantered. When Luther published his 95 theses in 1517, Erasmus sent a copy of them to More—along with a ‘jocular letter including the anti-papal games, and witty satirical diatribes against abuses within the church, which both of them loved to make.’

What drove Tyndale to sing ‘one note’ all his life – that the Bible might be available in the English vernacular for the common man - was the rock-solid conviction that all humans were in bondage to sin, blind, dead, damned, and helpless, and that God had acted in Christ to provide salvation by grace through faith.

This massive dose of bondage to sin and deliverance by blood-bought sovereign grace is missing in Erasmus. This is why there is an elitist lightness to his religion—just like there is to so much of evangelicalism today. Hell and sin and atonement and sovereign grace were not weighty realities for him. But for Tyndale they were everything. And in the middle of these great realities was the doctrine of justification by faith alone. This is why the Bible had to be translated, and ultimately this is why Tyndale was martyred.

This is the answer to how William Tyndale accomplished what he did in translating the New Testament and writing books that set England on fire with the reformed faith.

It is almost incomprehensible to us how viciously opposed the Roman Catholic Church was to the translation of the Scriptures into English. John Wyclif and his followers called ‘Lollards’ had spread written manuscripts of English translations from the Latin in the late 1300s. In 1401 Parliament passed the law de Haeretico Comburendo—‘on the burning of heretics’—to make heresy punishable by burning people alive at the stake. The Bible translators were in view.

This statute meant that you could be burned alive by the Catholic Church for simply reading the Bible in English. John Foxe records . . . seven Lollards burned at Coventry in 1519 for teaching their children the Lord’s Prayer in English.

Tyndale hoped to escape this condemnation by getting official authorization for his translation in 1524. But he found just the opposite and had to escape from London to the continent where he did all his translating and writing for the next twelve years. He lived as a fugitive the entire time until his death near Brussels in 1536.

He watched a rising tide of persecution and felt the pain of seeing young men burned alive who were converted by reading his translation and his books. His closest friend, John Frith, was arrested in London and tried by Thomas More and burned alive July 4, 1531, at the age of 28.

Why this extraordinary hostility against the English New Testament?

There were surface reasons and deeper reasons why the church opposed an English Bible. The surface reasons were that the English language is rude and unworthy of the exalted language of God’s word; and when one translates, errors can creep in, so it is safer not to translate; moreover, if the Bible is in English, then each man will become his own interpreter, and many will go astray into heresy and be condemned; and it was church tradition that only priests are given the divine grace to understand the Scriptures; and what’s more, there is a special sacramental value to the Latin service in which people cannot understand, but grace is given. Such were the kinds of things being said on the surface.

But there were deeper reasons why the church opposed the English Bible: one doctrinal and one ecclesiastical. The church realized that they would not be able to sustain certain doctrines biblically because the people would see that they are not in the Bible. And the church realized that their power and control over the people, and even over the state, would be lost if certain doctrines were exposed as unbiblical—especially the priesthood and purgatory and penance.

Thomas More’s criticism of Tyndale boils down mainly to the way Tyndale translated five words. He translated presbuteros as elder instead of priest. He translated ekklesia as congregation instead of church. He translated metanoeoas repent instead of do penance. He translated exomologeo as acknowledge or admit instead of confess. And he translated agape as love rather than charity.

These words undercut the entire sacramental structure of the thousand year church throughout Europe, Asia and North Africa. It was the Greek New Testament that was doing the undercutting.

And with the doctrinal undermining of these ecclesiastical pillars of priesthood and penance and confession, the pervasive power and control of the church collapsed. England would not be a Catholic nation. The reformed faith would flourish there in due time.

What did it cost William Tyndale under these hostile circumstances to stay faithful to his calling as a translator of the Bible and a writer of the reformed faith?

He fled his homeland in 1524 and was killed in 1536. He gives us some glimpse of those twelve years as a fugitive in Germany and the Netherlands in one of the very few personal descriptions we have from Stephen Vaughan’s letter in 1531. He refers to:

‘. . . my pains . . . my poverty . . . my exile out of mine natural country, and bitter absence from my friends . . . my hunger, my thirst, my cold, the great danger wherewith I am everywhere encompassed, and finally . . . innumerable other hard and sharp fightings which I endure.’

All these sufferings came to a climax on May 21, 1535, in the midst of Tyndale’s great Old Testament translation labors, when he was betrayed by an Englishman, Henry Philips. He was imprisoned, formally condemned as a heretic and degraded from the priesthood. Then in Brussels on 6 October he was tied to the stake and then strangled by the executioner, then afterward consumed in the fire.

Foxe reports that his last words were, ‘Lord! Open the King of England’s eyes!’ Tyndale was forty-two years old, never married and never buried.

Tyndale’s wrote to his best friend, John Frith, in a letter just before he was burned alive for believing and speaking the truth of Scripture:

‘Your cause is Christ’s gospel, a light that must be fed with the blood of faith. . . . If when we be buffeted for well-doing, we suffer patiently and endure, that is thankful with God; for to that end we are called. For Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow his steps, who did no sin. Hereby have we perceived love that he laid down his life for us: therefore we ought to be able to lay down our lives for the brethren. . . . Let not your body faint. If the pain be above your strength, remember: “Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, I will give it you.” And pray to our Father in that name, and he will ease your pain, or shorten it. . . . Amen.’

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Presumed Consent for Organ Transplantation – What does the Bible say?

Geoffrey Robinson MP wants to bring in an opt-out system for organ donation in England. His Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill is due its second reading (debate stage) on 23 February 2018.

It seems he has a lot of support and yet evidence for the claim that an opt-out system will increase transplants is still lacking and the Nuffield Council has advised this month that robust evidence is needed before any change to the law is considered. See previous CMF blogposts on this issue here, here and here)

In deemed (presumed) consent, a person, unless he or she specifically ‘opts out’, is assumed to have given consent to the harvest of their organs after death, even if their wishes are not known. Although relatives may be consulted (a so called ‘soft’ opt out), to ascertain any wishes of the deceased expressed before death, their views can still be overruled by the state should they decide against transplantation.

The Bible does not deal specifically with organ transplantation, as the technology was not then available, but we believe that the timeless principles it outlines can be applied to contemporary situations (2 Timothy 3:16, 17). 

So what biblical principles are relevant? Here are twelve points which should be considered:

1. The value of human life.

God the Father, through his son, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the Creator, the Sustainer and the Lord of all life (Colossians 1:15-20; Hebrews 1:3). All human life, is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27, 9:6) formed in the womb by God (Psalm 139:13-16) and belongs to God (Psalm 24:1). It must therefore be treated with the utmost respect from its beginning to its end, including the unborn, the helpless, the handicapped and those advanced in age.

2. Embodied souls

Human beings were created with physical bodies from ‘the dust of the earth’ (created inanimate matter) but receive the ‘breath of life’ from God, making us ‘living beings’ (Genesis 2:7). Whilst described as ‘spirit, soul and body’ (1 Thessalonians 5:23) these component parts are not divisible but exist together as an integrated whole. We are ‘ensouled bodies’ or ‘embodied souls’.  Our bodies are therefore very important and what we do to and with them has great moral significance.

3. Life after death

Whilst our bodies will decay after death, human life does not end at death but every person on earth survives death to face judgment (Hebrews 9:27) when Jesus returns. We then face one of two destinies – either to live with God forever (1 Corinthians 2:9) or to be banished to hell (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; Revelation 20:11-15).

4. The resurrection of the body

As Christian believers our destiny after death is not to live as ‘disembodied souls’ but to be resurrected with new indestructible bodies like that of Jesus Christ after his resurrection (Romans 8:22-24; 1 Corinthians 15:35-56; 2 Corinthians 5:1-10; Philippians 3:21). This new body equips us to live not ‘in heaven’ but in a ‘new earth’ (Isaiah 65:17-25, 66:22-24; Daniel 12:2,13; Revelation 21:1) where there is ‘no more death or mourning or crying or pain’ (Revelation 21:4) but where, like Christ, we can be seen and felt and can carry out physical actions (eg. Jesus lit fires and ate food).

5. Ownership of the body

God places us in a network of supportive relationships - families (Psalm 68:6), communities (the church is the body of Christ) and nations (Acts 17:26). As Christians we are not our own, as we were ‘bought with a price’ through Christ’s death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20). We belong to God but we also belong in a sense to our families and communities: ‘For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.’ (1 Corinthians 7:4) 

6. The limits of state power

Human authorities are appointed by God and must be obeyed but their rightful authority has limits. So, for example, whilst they can require us to pay taxes or conscript us into the armed forces (Mark 12:13-17) they cannot force us to marry and they do not have authority over our bodies, either before or after death. Money ‘bears the image of Caesar’ so must be paid in tax to governing authorities (Romans 13:6,7) but human beings ‘bear the image of God’ and so belong to God (Genesis 1:27). 
Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20). God has delegated stewardship to human beings – giving us authority, responsibility, and accountability, to care for our bodies, and those of others, as he himself would.

7. Stewardship of the body

Stewardship of the body, even after death, lies with the person whose body it is, and with their family. There are many biblical examples of people giving instructions about what was to happen with their bodies after death and these were respected by governing authorities. Pharaoh, for example, gave permission to Joseph to bury his father Jacob in Canaan in the tomb of his fathers in accordance with Jacob’s wishes (Genesis 50:1-14). Joseph gave similar instructions about what was to be done with his own bones (Genesis 50:24-26). God himself buried Moses (Deuteronomy 34:5,6). Jesus was himself buried and other biblical references abound (eg. Genesis 23:9, 25:9, 35:8; Joshua 24:33; 2 Chronicles 16:14, 21:20, 21:26; 32:33)

8. The body after death

The body after death must be treated with the utmost respect. Again there is strong biblical precedent for ensuring that bodies even of those who had been executed or killed in war were retrieved and buried whole (2 Samuel 21:1-14). Not to be buried was a mark of humiliation (2 Kings 9:30-37; Revelation 11:9).

9. Organ donation as a sacrificial act 

The giving of an organ to provide life or health to another person is a profoundly sacrificial act which resonates with the love of Christ in laying down his body for us. ‘God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:8). Christ’s body was ‘broken for us’ on the cross and he showed his life by ‘laying down his life for his friends’ (John 15:13). The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel describing Christ’s death on our behalf uses the language of transplantation: ‘I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.’ (Ezekiel 36:26) We are exhorted to be imitators of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1; Ephesians 5:1,2) and to walk in the way that Christ himself walked (1 John 2:6) The apostle Paul says, as a measure of the devotion and love of the Galatians for him, that they would have ‘torn out their eyes and given them to him’ to alleviate his painful eye condition (Galatians 4:15).

10. Ends and means

The end, however, does not justify the means. So whilst giving an organ is a good and a sacrificial act, either before or after death, a person must not be killed in the process of, or for the purpose of, retrieving it. (Romans 3:8). This rules out and casts doubt on some practices of organ retrieval (eg. Organ transplantation euthanasia as practised in Belgium, or some forms of ‘beating heart’ donation).

11. Coercion and gift

Whilst donation of an organ, either by an individual before or after death, is admissible and  commendable, this must be without coercion and the final decision must lie with the family on the basis of what the person would have wanted, if this is known. Organs are not the property of the state and must not be ‘taken’ without permission, however needy any prospective recipient may be.

12. Conclusion

Whilst the donation of an organ, with the intention of preserving the life or health of another person, is a sacrificial act consistent with biblical morality and walking in the footsteps of Christ; the harvesting of an organ without the permission of the individual before death or his/her next of kin after death, is inconsistent with biblical teaching about ownership and stewardship of the body.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Two wrong attitudes that damage the body of Christ - Reflections on 1 Corinthians 12:1-31

In 1 Corinthians 12 the apostle Paul argues that the church is like a living, growing organism made up of diverse parts all of which interrelate and cooperate with each other.

In a previous blog post we considered spiritual gifts – their nature, distribution and function. In this post, we look at two wrong attitudes which threaten the integrity of the body.

‘I’m not needed’ (v14-20)

This is the temptation of the less visible members of the body. So the foot says, ‘I’m not part of the body because I’m not a hand’ and in so doing stops being a foot. This means that the hand is then more limited what it can do as it has to operate from a fixed base.

The last of the Ten Commandments says ‘you shall not covet’. The reason covetousness, or jealousy, is so utterly destructive is because it both cultivates a resentful better attitude about someone else while at the same time immobilising the person so that they are no longer contributing what they can uniquely give.

So, not only do they become transfixed on wishing that they were someone else, but, more tragically, they stop being the person that God made them to be.

One of my heroes is a Christian psychiatrist by the name of Marjory Foyle.

Marjorie went out as a young doctor to serve as a cross-cultural missionary in Southeast Asia.

She tried many different positions at the hospital but really struggled to find a role that really suited her.

That was, until she had what she called her ‘bean field experience’. Now the bean field was where you went to the toilet and also, perhaps like Isaac the patriarch, to meditate and pray.

And it was in the bean field one day that Marjory had her Eureka moment and realised exactly why God had placed her on the planet.

Her unique gift was to be a carer for the carers. That was the moment she realised it and from that time forward she put all her energy into achieving excellence in that role.

You may be familiar with the book ‘Honourably wounded’ referring to people who had been wounded psychologically or spiritually in the Lord’s service. It’s an absolute classic. Marjory wrote it.

I remember hearing Cliff Richard describing going out to offer help during one of the African famines and feeling grossly inadequate as he didn’t have medical or nursing training.

One of the nurses was very straight with him thankfully. She said, ‘are you capable even of putting on a bandage?’ ‘No’, he said. ‘Well’, she replied, ‘then you’re of no use to us here’.

‘Why don’t you go back to England and do what only you can do which is to use your gifts as a singer and entertainer to draw attention to the situation and financial need out here’.

It was an absolute game changer for Cliff Richard.

You might’ve heard it said ‘Dare to be a Daniel’. Perhaps we would all like to be Daniels facing down the lions. But in fact there was only one Daniel on the whole of the Bible and he had a unique role to play.

Could you bear to be a Baruch? Baruch was Jeremiah’s scribe. His job was to write down everything that Jeremiah said and then read it out in the marketplace. The job that was tedious, thankless and also dangerous. But if it wasn’t for Baruch we would not have the book of Jeremiah and all the wonderful prophecies about the new covenant that it contains.

We wouldn’t have Moses if it wasn’t for two midwives who risked the wrath of Pharaoh. We wouldn’t have David if his mighty men had not preserved his life on more than one occasion. We wouldn’t have Nehemiah’s great achievement if it wasn’t for the many others who helped him to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem.

Solomon could have achieved nothing if it wasn’t for the literally thousands of workers who gathered resources, carved stone, cut wood, managed his horses and organised the feeding and defence of the nation.

There would have been no Spurgeon without an unnamed man one day, when he was diverted by the snow and ended up in the wrong church, who preached the sermon which utterly transformed his life. We would have no John Wesley without his mother Susanna.

You see the point. We are all interdependent. We are all needed. We are all necessary. I don’t know whether you are spending time wishing you were someone else or had some gift or ability that you see someone else has.

Or perhaps that you think that you are unnecessary in God’s great plan.

Well the message of this passage is that you are needed and you are necessary but you need to be the person God has made you to be, with the gifts he has chosen to give you, to build up and serve others.

Be that person and help your children and fellow believers to do the same. Don’t try to press others into the wrong mould.

It was Samuel Johnson who sad, ‘Don’t send your ducks to eagle school! You will frustrate the ducks, frustrate the eagles and frustrate yourself. Almost every man wastes part of his life in an attempt to display qualities that he does not possess’

Don’t say ‘I’m not needed’. Instead find out what you are made to do and do it.

You’re not needed (v21-26)

This is perhaps the temptation of the more visible in church, perhaps those in leadership or so-called ‘gospel ministry’. They possess the gifts regard as most strategic for building up the body of Christ.

Their temptation is to look on others who don’t have those same gifts and think they are less important.

But the reality is that every highly visible member of the body of Christ needs an effective team of people around them, praying for them, helping them to take their opportunities, and perhaps most importantly of all, encouraging them and holding them accountable, knowing that from those to whom much has been given much will be expected.

Lewis Hamilton is a phenomenally gifted grand prix racing driver but he could do nothing without his team, his designers, his computer analysts, his managers and the people who supply the millions of pounds necessary for to take to the track. The man is extraordinarily talented but he needs a whole team in order that he can do anything at all.

One of the most important letters lessons Moses ever learnt, and he learned from his father in law, was that he needed to build an effective team and delegate responsibility.

This was a life changer, not only from Moses, but for the whole nation of Israel.

As Paul tells us here (v26) if one part of the body suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part of the body is honoured, then every part rejoices with it.

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.

As doctors we are only all too acutely aware of this – an affliction in only one part of the body will adversely affect the whole and perhaps event threaten the body’s life: a narrowed coronary artery, an inflamed appendix, a blood vessel in the brain blocked by clot, some abnormally dividing cancer cells in one organ spreading everywhere.

And so it is with the church – one person’s suffering is borne by all.

‘If one part of the body is honoured, then every part rejoices with it.’

You may know that we Kiwis are very proud of our national rugby team , the All Blacks. We are still trying to get over the fact that they were able only to draw recently with the British Lions because we are so used to them winning virtually every game.

They are widely acknowledged to be the most successful team in world history, in any sport.

But what makes them so good? You could point to many things: the training schemes, New Zealand’s prioritisation of rugby above any other sport, the prestige of being chosen to represent the country or maybe even the fact that they all seem so wonderfully uniquely talented.

But actually, I think the key secret of success is that they are trained to believe that the team is far more important than any one of the players. And if you watch them on the field, you’ll see they get as much pleasure from helping someone else score, giving that winning pass, as they do in scoring themselves.

It’s this utter delight in seeing any individual exceed that is such a powerful motivator.

The success of any member of the team is the whole team’s success.  There is an unselfishness cultivated which leads them always to put the good of the team ahead of their own glory.

If one part is honoured (v26) every part rejoices with it.

It’s perhaps a very imperfect model but I think that it’s something of what Paul is saying here about the church.

In the next blog post we look at some practical applications of this teaching.

Friday, 11 August 2017

A navy of ordinary people – reflections on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12

A couple of weeks ago we went to see Dunkirk the movie. Although technically Dunkirk was a withdrawal or a retreat it paved the way for Britain’s recovery and eventual victory in WW2 against the Nazi threat when 330,000 soldiers were pulled off the French beaches to safety.

What people call the miracle of Dunkirk was effected when King George VI called the whole nation to prayer and three extraordinary things happened: Hitler inexplicably gave the order to his tanks not to advance further when the British and French troops were trapped between them and the sea, a storm grounded the Luftwaffe and the subsequent calm sea enabled a huge flotilla of small boats to reach the beach.

The most emotional moment of the whole film was the arrival of this flotilla out of the mist.
Certainly (alongside the providence of the halted tanks, the storm and the calm) what happened at Dunkirk is that many individuals, with extraordinary courage and at huge personal risk, joined together to offer whatever skills and resources they had in a selfless effort to rescue others.

And that is the perspective that Christopher Nolan offers in his film Dunkirk. Many ordinary people joined together to make the Dunkirk evacuation possible.

Director Christopher Nolan has said: ‘as a group of people we can achieve so much more than we can individually.’

An army of ordinary people, or perhaps more accurately, a navy of ordinary people.

And it’s this picture of the church – a group of diverse people engaged in a common task – that is the subject of 1 Corinthians 12.

The apostle Paul could have used a variety of different metaphors to capture this idea of a people of diverse origins and skills uniting together – an army, an orchestra – but in this passage, as we will see, he uses the metaphor of the body.  The church is the body of Christ.

Paul is responding to a question or perhaps series of questions that they have raised about the subject spiritual gifts. But he is also using this as an opportunity to teach them important theology and truth about what it means to belong to the church and how to behave within it especially with respect to working together.

In this passage the apostle Paul he makes it clear that despite their individual and corporate failings – these Christians in Corinth are ‘the body of Christ’ (v27). They have been baptised by one Spirit into one body (v13). They are people who recognise Jesus as Lord (v3) – the one who holds all authority in the universe, to whom they have given their lives. And despite their diverse backgrounds as both Jews and Greeks (v13) they have been given the one Spirit to drink.

And so Paul asks by addressing five questions about spiritual gifts

1.       What are spiritual gifts? (v7)

He starts in vs 4-6 by saying there are different ‘gifts’, different kinds of ‘service’, different ‘kinds of working’. We are told in verse seven that they are ‘manifestations of the spirit’. That’s the Holy Spirit, the third person the Trinity after the father and son. The Holy Spirit is the one who leads us to faith in Christ’s death and resurrection (v13) and who lives in us. And he gives special abilities - what are described in verses  4 & 5 as ‘gifts’, ‘services’ and ‘workings’. There are no less than eight specific references to the Holy Spirit in just the first eleven verses of this chapter.

2.       Who receives these gifts? (v7,11)

We are told that they are given ‘to each one’ (v7 & 11).

Not just to pastors, leaders, preachers or deacons but to every single member of the congregation.

You see, there is no division here between minister and congregation, between clergy and laity, between priests and pew sitters. Yes of course there was order and authority, and in Paul’s letter to Timothy and Titus - the pastoral epistles - a leadership structure consisting of elders and deacons on which our own church is modelled, but this leadership is plural and all members of the congregation are ministers in the sense that each one gift that benefit others.

Some have more than one gift. Paul it seems was an apostle, teacher, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher - but the point is that every member of Christ’s church has at least one gift. Each person is a minister of sorts.

This year 2017 is the 500th anniversary of the protestant reformation which began with Martin Luther nailing 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg in 1517.

The whole aim of the reformation was to take the church back to the Bible and to the doctrines taught there.

One of the key truths that Luther rediscovered was what we now call ‘the priesthood of all believers’.

In his Address to the Nobility of the German Nation (1520), Luther criticised the traditional distinction between the ‘temporal’ and ‘spiritual’ orders—the laity and the clergy—arguing that all who belong to Christ through faith, baptism, and the Gospel shared in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. 

All baptised believers are called to be priests, Luther said, but not all are called to be pastors.

3.       What are these gifts for? (v7)

We are told that they are for ‘the common good’ (v7). In other words they are intended not for self -edification or glorification but to benefit others. And so you see that every member of the church is both incomplete and interdependent, having something that all others need and at the same time needing all others.

4.       What do these gifts include? (v8-10)

We see that they are extraordinarily diverse (v8-10). There are nine different gifts mentioned: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, speaking in tongues and the interpretation of tongues. And we see all of these gifts operating in the early church in the book of Acts.  

Is this list intended to be exhaustive? No it’s clear that these are just examples. And Paul is not giving us here any teaching about what these specific gifts are in order to satisfy our curiosity.

His prime purpose is to illustrate their diversity.

There are similar, but interestingly not identical lists of gifts in other parts of the New Testament. Some of these gifts are repeated and others are new.

So in Romans 12:6-8 the list includes prophecy, serving, encouragement, contribution to the needs of others, leadership and showing mercy.

In Ephesians 4:11 we read of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Almost exactly the same list appears later at the end of 1 Corinthians 12.

1 Peter 4:10-11 speaks of speaking, serving and showing hospitality.

So in these five passages alone we see about 20 gifts and I expect that not even these are meant to be exhaustive, but simply illustrative of the diversity of God’s bountiful giving.

Of course as you might expect in different cultures, denominations and periods in church history different gifts are more prominent – as you might expect in a church which is worldwide.

Some of these gifts are more spectacular – prophecy, miracles, speaking in tongues – others are more familiar and may appear even more mundane – but all are gifts of God’s spirit.

Some are possessed by many individuals – other are much rarer.

In the Old Testament Exodus 35:31ff talks about Bezalel who was gifted with all kinds of crafts by the Holy Spirit. It was Bezalel who was responsible for virtually all of the decorative work in the Tabernacle.

Remarkably, a person with very similar gifting, Huram Abi, did all the ornate work in Solomon’s Temple.

So these were uniquely gifted individuals in arts and crafts, but needed thousands of others to help them fulfil their tasks,

5.       How are these gifts distributed? (v11)

We are told that they are distributed ‘as the spirit determines’ (v11)  they are gifts of grace not earned - you can’t earn a gift. You can only receive it. These gifts are given by virtue of God’s unmerited favour. It is God who arranges (v18) and apportions (v28). The Greek word charismata used in this passage simply means gifts of grace.

We see exactly the same idea in Romans 12:6. ‘Having gifts that differ according to the grace given us, let us use them’. And because they are gifts of grace there is therefore no pride in having them.

One of the most gifted preachers in the evangelical church today is John Piper. I recently had the privilege of being at a conference where he was giving the main Bible talks and went along to a question-and-answer session where we all got to ask our most burning questions.

One of the first questions John was asked was how he dealt with pride. The obvious implication was that the questioner felt he was head and shoulders above not just other Christians but above preachers as well.

His answer was very challenging. First, he said, ‘I know my own heart and there is very little to be proud of’. Second, he said, ‘I know that that any ability or gift I have is given to me by God, so what is there to boast about?’

So how do they these gifts work together?

Paul illustrates this by using a metaphor - the metaphor of the body.

Why should he choose the body? Elsewhere in the New Testament we see a building or a bride or an army used to illustrate the church.

However here uses the body because he wants to show that the church is like a living, growing organism made up of diverse parts all of which interrelate and cooperate with each other.

The key thing about the body, is every that part, whether visible or invisible, is dependent on every other part. All parts need to be working for the body to be functioning properly.

In part 2 of this blog we will look at two wrong attitudes which threaten the integrity of the body.

Friday, 4 August 2017

College climbs down over ban on Christian doctors and nurses training in sexual and reproductive health

Doctors and nurses wishing to practise in sexual and reproductive health have been granted more liberty to exercise freedom of conscience under new guidelines published earlier this year.

The Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH), a faculty of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), has relaxed its stance on conscience in new guidelines issued in April so that those with an ethical objection to certain procedures can now obtain qualifications which they were previously excluded from.

Christian doctors and nurses in the UK are practising in an environment that is increasingly hostile to their beliefs and values. We have accordingly come to expect new constraints on our freedom of conscience almost as a matter of course. So this is a refreshing backtrack by the College.

In April 2014 I highlighted the fact that the FRSH was barring doctors and nurses with pro-life views from receiving its degrees and diplomas and may also be breaking the law (see also here). The story was later picked up by the Telegraph.

Under the previous guidelines, now removed from the FSRH website but still accessible in the Telegraph, doctors and nurses who had a moral objection to prescribing ‘contraceptives’ which can act by killing human embryos (levonelle, ellaOne, IUCDs etc) were barred from receiving diplomas in sexual and reproductive health even if they undertook the necessary training.

The wording was as follows (emphasis mine):

‘Completing the syllabus means willingness during training to prescribe all forms of hormonal contraception, including emergency, and willingness to counsel and refer, if appropriate, for all intrauterine methods…Failure to complete the syllabus renders candidates ineligible for the award of a FSRH Diploma.’

It added:

‘Doctors who hold moral or religious reservations about any contraceptive methods will be unable to fulfil the syllabus for the membership … or speciality training…This will render them ineligible for the award of the examination or completion of training certificates.

However, the new guidance grants much more freedom.

It begins by underlining the faculty’s commitment to diversity:

‘The FSRH welcomes and values having a diverse membership, representing a wide range of personal, religious and non-religious views and beliefs.’

It then underlines the fact that there is already statutory protection for healthcare professionals (HCPs) to opt out of abortions and procedures authorised under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (HFEA):

‘There are currently two specific statutory protections for HCPs who have a conscientious objection 1) to participating in abortion (Abortion Act 1967, s.4) 2) to technological procedures to achieve conception and pregnancy (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, s.38) .’  

But it also recognises that both the Human Rights Act 1998 and Equality Act 2010 offer some conscience protection in areas other than abortion and IVF:

‘The Human Rights Act 1998 incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into UK law. Article 9 of the ECHR protects “the freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes … to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”’

‘Part 5 of the Equality Act 2010 sets out provisions for non-discrimination in employment. Specifically, s.39 prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals on the basis of “protected characteristics” (of which religious belief is one) and places an obligation on employers to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to accommodate religious beliefs.’

The guidance recognises that the rights to ‘freedom of thought, conscience and religion’ and to ‘religious beliefs’ are not absolute, but qualified, and also that NHS employers may interpret these in different ways than the faculty, but this is nonetheless a significant step forward.

The guidance says that it applies to all FSRH qualifications and training, but a closer reading suggests that those seeking to sit the membership examination of the Faculty of Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare (MFSRH) will need to undergo ‘practical assessment of the provision of contraception (all methods including emergency contraception)’ and those seeking a Letter of Competence in Intrauterine Techniques (LoC IUT) will need to demonstrate ‘practical competence in the relevant live procedures’.

However, with respect to the Diploma of the Faculty of Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare (DFSRH and NDFSRH), holder must simply be ‘competent and willing to advise on all forms of contraception and manage SRH consultations, including providing evidence-based information on the options for unplanned pregnancy’. But there is no duty actually to provide all treatments.

‘The FSRH requires all Diplomates to provide patients with the full range of contraception choices, including emergency contraception and support of a woman with an unplanned pregnancy and appropriate onward referral. HCPs who plan to opt out of providing aspects of care because of their personal beliefs may still be awarded the Diploma, or recertified, if they can demonstrate commitment in their practice to the principles of care in section 5 of this document. For example, if a HCP chooses not to prescribe emergency contraception because of their personal beliefs, she/he has a personal responsibility to ensure that arrangements are made for a prescription to be issued by a colleague without delay, ensuring that the care and outcomes of the patient are never compromised or delayed.’

Although some would see referral to another doctor or nurse as a form of complicity, this is nonetheless a big improvement on the previous guidance.

Previously doctors or nurses who refused to fit coils or prescribe the morning after pill (MAP) were also barred from receiving the diploma signifying expertise in the management of infertility, cervical cancer or sexually transmitted infections. This effectively meant that many thousands of doctors and nurses were not able to obtain qualifications to pursue a career in gynaecology and sexual health.

This is no longer the case.

Quite why the faculty has relaxed its guidance is not clear, but I wonder if they have been conferring with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) who also similarly relaxed their guidance on dispensing drugs after receiving submissions from Christian Medical Fellowship and the Christian Institute earlier this year.

The GPhC’s attention was drawn to the fact that their proposed new guidance might well be illegal under Equality legislation (I made the same point about the FSRH in 2014).

The GPhC backtracked after the Christian Institute made it clear, in pre-action legal correspondence exchanged with the Council’s lawyers, that they ‘were fully prepared to litigate’.

Perhaps the FSRH also, on reflection, thought it wise to protect themselves by erring on the side of caution and taking themselves out of the legal firing line.

However, whatever the reason, the climb down is most welcome and will enable many more doctors and nurses to obtain diplomas in sexual and reproductive health. That can only be good for patient care. 

Thursday, 3 August 2017

DNA editing – a significant advance but many questions remained unanswered

You can see my Sky News interview on this story here.

Scientists have, for the first time shown that it is possible to correct gene mutations in human embryos successfully using a gene editing tool potentially opening the door to treatment for over 10,000 single gene disorders.

The US and the South Korean researchers used a new technology called Crispr which was only developed in 2013.

The research appears in the journal Nature and has been covered by numerous media outlets and science magazines. The BBC report is somewhat simplistic and it’s well worth reading the original paper and coverage by the New York Times, Scientific American and Science News which give more detail.

Crispr technology has been used for human embryos before but the results have never been quite this good (see previous blog posts by CMF authors here, here, here, here and here).

What is new about this study is that the researchers managed to avert two important safety problems. First, they managed to produce embryos in which all cells, rather than just some, were mutation free. Second, they avoided creating unwanted extra mutations (‘off target’ effects) elsewhere in the genome.

The breakthrough was achieved by carrying out the gene editing at an earlier stage in development before fertilisation had taken place.

The study involved a condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) a disease affecting about one in 500 people which causes thickening of the heart muscle and can cause sudden heart rhythm disturbances and heart failure.

HCM is caused by a mutation in a gene called MYBPC3 and is autosomal dominant, meaning that if one parent has a mutated copy there is a 50% chance of passing the disease on to children.

Researchers first tried editing the DNA in affected embryos (ie. after fertilisation), but of 54 embryos produced, 13 were ‘mosaics’ with some repaired and some unrepaired cells.  

So they then tried to correct the faulty gene before fertilisation. Along with the man’s affected sperm, the researchers then injected into an egg the DNA cutting enzyme Cas9, a piece of RNA to direct the enzyme to the faulty gene, and another piece of normal DNA to be used in the repair.

In 72% of 58 embryos the faulty DNA was excised and replaced with a copy of normal DNA from the egg, which the embryo used for the repair instead of the introduced DNA. In the remainder, the faulty DNA was excised but not replaced.   

So what we make of this?

There is no doubt that this research represents a significant step forward in gene editing technology.

Up until now, the approach to disability in the developing embryo and fetus has essentially been one of ‘search and destroy’. That is, embryos or foetuses are examined for genetic abnormalities and, if found to be affected, are discarded or aborted.

Gene editing, instead, offers the possibility of correcting a genetic abnormality in an individual embryo in order that that individual will then grow and develop normally. It is essentially guided molecular microsurgery and seems to have extraordinary precision. So, in principle, it holds great promise.

However, there are still huge ethical, technological and legislative hurdles remaining before this technology could be considered safe and appropriate for clinical use.

The key questions are around safety, ethics and necessity.

First, any change to the DNA in sperm, egg or a one celled embryo (so-called germline editing) will inevitably be passed down from generation to generation. If any errors are introduced they may be almost impossible to detect or eradicate. This is why over 40 countries currently ban all germline therapy.

But the key question is this: if it were possible to repair an abnormal gene in egg, sperm or embryo safely, would it still be wrong to attempt it given that this could mean, not only curing the affected individual, but eradicating the abnormal gene from the whole family? The question is most poignant when applied to diseases like Tay Sachs which are invariably fatal in childhood, but caused by an identifiable single gene mutation.

Second, this technology is already involving unethical practices in its development. Dozens of human embryos produced were discarded and it is likely that many hundreds and thousands more will be lost as the technology is refined. In addition, thousands of human eggs will be needed for research and young women, possibly driven by financial incentives, will be vulnerable to the well-recognised complications of egg harvesting. Twelve egg donors were used in this research. Preventing serious illness is a noble aim of course, but the end does not justify the means. There is a huge difference between editing a gene to help an individual and using that individual as a means to developing a technique that might possibly help others in the future. Why have we jumped straight to human research before testing this technique exhaustively in higher animals and non-human primates if we are so far from refining it?

Third, there is the danger of mission creep. The initial motivation might be to prevent or treat serious life-threatening illnesses caused by single gene mutations. However, there will inevitably be huge pressure to use this technology for far less serious genetic conditions or to modify, design and manufacture human lives to our preferences. The genie will truly be out of the bottle for designer babies and the vested ideological and financial interests will be very difficult to resist.

Fourth, is the danger of rogue scientists. It will be very difficult to offer proper surveillance or regulation to prevent abuses given that this is effectively ‘portakabin technology’ that will be almost impossible to police. We could be opening up a Pandora’s box of truly frightening possibilities.

Fifth, our understanding of the way genes produce physical traits, including genetic diseases, is still very rudimentary. What we do know is that our previous understanding of ‘one gene producing one trait’ is a gross oversimplification. Genes interact together in very complex ways and by editing one gene we may simply be altering one step in a complex process with knock-on effects elsewhere: rather as pulling a single thread from a knitted garment can lead to further spontaneous unravelling. This again underlines the importance of rigorous research being done in animals and especially nonhuman primates, before it is even contemplated in human beings.

Sixth, there are alternative ethical approaches to the prevention and treatment of many single gene disorders. I’m not advocating preimplantation diagnosis or abortion because, as noted above, both are eugenic practices involving the destruction of individuals with special needs. But, for example, parents known to be carrying deleterious genes can obviously avoid passing them on to their offspring by opting for  adoption. The vast majority of single gene disorders are neither serious nor life-threatening and even for those that are there often supportive treatments available (see also my previous blog post ‘13 solutions to mitochondrial disease assessed’).

Why am I more open to this technique than the three parent embryo for mitochondrial disease? Don’t both involve germline therapy? Don’t both promise to eradicate defective genes? Yes, but the similarities end there. Three parent embryo techniques do not work for single gene disorders, they introduce a third parent and they involve cell-nuclear replacement ‘cloning’ technology.

By contrast, gene editing is precise, anatomical and appears to work. It resonates much better with ‘restoration of a masterpiece’ (the human embryo) to its original unspoilt state than the unnatural fusing of tissues from three individuals we see in so-called ‘mitochondrial replacement’. It is more Michelangelo than Picasso. In fact DNA editing has already been successfully employed to treat mitochondrial disease in mice.

But the real questions are ‘is it safe’, ‘will it work’ and ‘can it be developed by ethical means’? And we are a long way from knowing the answers. We need to find these answers, but not by using human embryos as a means to an end.

Instead we need to employ techniques that treat the human embryo with the respect and care that it deserves as a very young, yet complete, human life.