Over the past few decades, most people in Canada, the United States, Europe, and elsewhere have chosen to rely on their own unaided reason as a guide to morality with the result that they now condone everything from legalized abortion to assisted-suicide, euthanasia, and same-sex marriage.
John Calvin, the founder of Presbyterianism, would have been appalled, but not surprised by such moral degradation. He warned that human reason is prone to corruption and cannot be relied upon as the sole guide to moral truth. In his commentary on Paul’s admonition to the faithful at Rome, “Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God,” Calvin explained: “The world invents its own good works and persuades itself that they are good. But Paul declares that good and right according to the world are to be judged by the commandments of God.”
Pope John Paul II stated essentially the same view in his magisterial, 1993 encyclical on morality, Veritatis Splendor (“The Splendor of Truth”). Given “the present state of fallen nature,” he held that reason must rely on Divine Revelation “as an effective means of knowing moral truth.”
Correspondingly, in 1994, the Committee on Church Doctrine of the Presbyterian Church in Canada reiterated: “The ultimate authority for the Church and for Christian faith and life is God, revealed in Jesus Christ, witnessed to by the Holy Spirit speaking to the Church in the Scriptures.” However, for correct understanding, the committee advised that the Scriptures must be examined in the light of “a long and living tradition of interpretation and application. At the same time, theology makes use of reason and experience in the whole process of ‘faith seeking understanding’.”
All theologically orthodox Christians, Catholic and Protestant, would agree with that statement. At the beginning of the 1998 encyclical Fides et Ratio (“Faith and Reason”), Pope John Paul II observed: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.”
What, then, do Christian faith and reason, taken together, have to say about abortion? John Calvin had no doubt. In light of the Biblical commandment “Thou shalt not kill,” the plain teachings of Christ on the sanctity of all human life, and the explicit prohibition on the killing of a baby in the womb in Exodus 21:22-3, he concluded that “the fetus, though enclosed in the womb of its mother, is already a human being, and it is almost a monstrous crime to rob it of the life which it has not yet begun to enjoy.”
For more than four centuries, the great majority of Protestants agreed with Calvin’s Scripturally sound, eminently reasonable and scientifically valid opposition to abortion. Then came the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Rather than steadfastly uphold what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God in relation to the sanctity of human life, the mainline Protestant churches – Anglican, Calvinist, Congregationalist, Lutheran and Methodist – vainly attempted to curry popular favour by conforming their teaching to the new and fashionable opinion of the world on the accepatiblity of abortion.
The Presbyterian Church in Canada was no exception: In 1967, the church’s ruling General Assembly adopted a resolution to ask Parliament to make abortion legal “when the continuance of pregnancy endangers the mother’s life or is likely seriously to impair her physical or mental health.”
Of course, apostate Protestant leaders do not speak for everyone in their denominations. There still are tens of thousands of faithful pro-life Presbyterians, Anglicans, Lutherans and affiliates of the United Church in Canada. But, alas, most of them are ineffectual in promoting the pro-life cause, because they cower timidly in silence rather than boldly speak the truth about induced abortion as a grievous crime that can never be justified.
The Rev. John Vaudry, minister of First Presbyterian Church in Pembroke, Ont., is a conspicuous exception. He is a former president of the Huron County Right to Life Association in Ontario and currently serves on the board of directors of the pro-life Pregnancy Resource Centre for vulnerable mothers in Pembroke. Throughout his distinguished ministerial career, Vaudry has been an outspoken and compassionate exponent of the pro-life cause.
Let us thank God for faithful clerics like Vaudy and pray that the time will soon come – as eventually it surely will – when most Canadians will once again recognize the truth revealed in Sacred Scripture and confirmed by reason that all human life is sacred from conception to natural death.