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.