Although we have been fighting legal abortion in the United States since Roe v. Wade (1973), abortion has been practiced by civilizations of people for centuries. Abortion is not limited to our own culture, and we are not the first to speak against it. There is a long tradition of Christians standing for the unborn. This was especially true during the Reformation. The Reformation was a resurgence in biblical authority and the Reformers were some of the best expositors in the history of the church. As such, there were times when they applied biblical texts to the evil of abortion.
The Reformer who sparked the Reformation, Martin Luther, gave a series of lectures on the book of Genesis in 1540. In one of his lectures Luther declared, “the begetting of children is wonderfully pleasing to [God] … He is not hostile to children, as we are.” He continued,
How great, therefore, the wickedness of human nature is! How many girls there are who prevent conception and kill and expel tender fetuses, although procreation is the work of God! Indeed, some spouses who marry and live together in a respectable manner have various ends in mind, but rarely children.
Luther saw procreation as God’s work. Conception is a gift from a loving Father. It is particularly evil to destroy what has been gifted by God. He is the one who commands that we be fruitful and multiply, so to undermine this command and gift is a clear and direct offense against God. Destruction of an unborn baby is a rejection of the plan of God and defecation of the image of God.
Even more than this, Luther would later write a gentle and loving treatise called, Comfort for Women Who Have Had a Miscarriage (1542). In it, Luther gave assurance to suffering Christian women that children who die from miscarriage do not require baptism. A point of emphasis in this work is on a clear distinction. Luther communicated that he was not writing for women who despised pregnancy, deliberately neglected their child, or destroyed the child. These Christian woman who had experience the tragedy of a miscarriage were called to bow before the “strange providence” of God. So, according to Luther, an unborn child was clearly a child worthy of both protection and mourning.
Luther was not the only reformer who wrote or spoke against abortion. John Calvin, too, applied the truths of Scripture to the horror of abortion. He once wrote in his commentary on Exodus,
The foetus, though enclosed in the womb of its mother, is already a human being…If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man’s house is his place of most secure refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy a foetus in the womb before it has come to light.
According to Calvin, abortion is comparable, yet worse, than killing a man in his own house. A mother’s womb is the safest place for a baby to live. It is in this safest place that the practice of abortion invades and ends an otherwise well-protected life.
We must remember that as Christians fighting against the evil practices of abortion, we are not alone historically. Church history provides us with many friends, especially in the Reformation. Abortionists believe they are progressive in their view toward women, but their view toward little men and women in the womb is ancient. It is a product of the Fall and finds friends throughout history and in multiple cultures. One more reason to admire the Reformers is their bold and unashamed commitment to the image of God in the smallest and most helpless of humans.
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.