Sub-Christian Nationalism? (Part 19)

While Christian Nationalists busily try to put the theocratic band back together (i.e., to restore Christianity to its privileged place in American society), the culture continues to disintegrate at an alarming rate and to an alarming degree. Christians do well to spend more time preparing to live in post-Christendom than they do trying to recapture old Christendom, or, in the case of the USA, to foment a revolution by instituting either a state or national church.1 From our early Christian history, we learn how to navigate life in a predominantly pagan culture. On this, article XIX of the Statement addresses the question of abortion, the killing of human beings in utero. Article XIX of the Statement says:

WE AFFIRM that all civil authorities have a duty before God to uphold justice by establishing equal protection under the law for all image-bearers of God from the moment of fertilization, which is conception. We affirm that civil authorities must reject all partiality in judgment by asserting the same legal prohibitions and available sanctions against homicide that exist to protect persons after birth and persons before birth.

WE DENY that any law which classifies abortion as a lesser crime than homicide or which allows any class of humans to murder preborn children with legal immunity is a just law.

On the question of abortion, the early church was quite clear. The Didache (Διδαχὴ) was an early church manual of moral instruction and church order. Though scholars debate its location and date, it most likely dates to the very early second century. The first part contains moral instruction following the “two ways” pattern we find in the Psalms and Proverbs. In 2:2: “You shall not murder a child in destruction nor shall you kill one just born.”2 Michael Holmes translates this verse thus, “You shall not abort a child or commit infanticide.”3 Bart Ehrman’s translation agrees with Holmes: “do not abort a foetus or kill a child that is born.”4 The Latin noun foetus, of course, simply means infant.5

One did not even have to be a Christian in the ancient world to understand the evil of abortion. J. Ryan Davidson writes, “The Middle Assyrian Laws, which date as far back as the early eleventh century BC, specifically addressed abortion. In these laws—a collection of legal codes including decrees of the Assyrian kings and Amorite legal customs (Tetlow, Women, Crime, and Punishment, 126)—abortion was considered a serious offense against the state and was punishable by death.”6 In 1971, Enzo Nardi catalogued other ancient laws against abortion.7 He recognized that the Hippocratic Oath prohibited abortion.8 Sheila K. Dickison, summarizing Nardi’s work, writes, “With the first centuries B. C. and A.D. . . . the sources referring to abortion increase in frequency. At the same time Nardi tries to prove from literary and religious sources that the general public opinion and feeling was becoming increasingly opposed to abortion on the grounds that abortion is murder.”9 Reflective of that trend perhaps, the pagan Roman emperors, Septimius Severus (ruled from AD 193–211) and Caracalla (reigned AD 198–217) forbade abortion in certain circumstances.10

Certainly today, with all the biological and physiological information (e.g., high-resolution imagery) that we have about human development in utero, and the fact that infants in every stage of development possess human DNA, the case that humans conceive, gestate, and give birth to humans is very strong indeed.

Whatever pagans may say, Christians are and should be persuaded that human beings are conceived in the image of God and are therefore subject, in every stage of human development, to the protections afforded to human beings. We see this sort of contrast between pagan ethics—which sometimes diverge sharply from Christian ethics—and a Christian ethic of life in the Epistle to Diognetus (5.6) which said, “[Christians] marry like everyone else, and have children, but they do not expose their offspring.”11 Notably, however, none of the authors of the New Testament spoke to the evil of abortion, though they were certainly aware of it.

I offer this background not to dispute the Statement’s articulation of the prevailing Christian consensus against abortion, or even to dispute it as a statement of Christian anthropology (the doctrine humanity) and ethics, but rather to suggest that it is one thing for Christians to teach what they do about humans being image bearers—which is certainly true—and another thing to formulate civil law on the basis of Christian doctrine.

Though there was, broadly, a Christian consensus in this country for a long time, the founders of the Republic did not assert their claims against Great Britain on the basis of Christian doctrine, but rather on the basis of natural law. They did not assert the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which is quite germane to this discussion, on the basis of a statement of Christian doctrine, but on the basis of natural law established by a Creator.12 They proposed them as self-evident truths, perceived by the senses from nature. This is the American way of articulating political principles and policy. Thus, again, the Statement is proposing a theocratic revolution.

If the approach of the pre-theocratic Christians is to be our model, then it is important to observe that neither the apostolic church nor the early post-apostolic church, considered as an institution, ever spoke out against the practice of abortion. Nor did they, for that matter, petition the government to make Christianity the established religion. This is not to suggest that the Christians were indifferent to abortion. All the evidence is to the contrary. It is to suggest that it was possible for Christians to oppose abortion, as a matter of public policy, without involving the visible, institutional church in the attempt. History suggests that when Christian teaching is accepted it does have an effect on the way people live. The consequences of Christian teaching tend to be indirect instead of direct and immediate.

Experience suggests that it is when people become convinced that human beings in utero are just that, human beings, and therefore “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” Just about five years ago, I appealed to the Drew Carey Show as an example of the ways that Christians can subvert culture.13 For nine seasons, the Drew Carey show subtly but effectively (and apparently unintentionally) helped to persuade millions of Americans that the infant (foetus) in the mother’s womb really is a human being. That messaging might have been as effective as protests in front of abortion clinics. This is not to suggest that clinic protests are a bad thing, but only to say that there are other ways to try to persuade our fellow citizens of the reality and humanity of humans in utero.

The Statement apparently seeks to do an end run around the American process of persuading citizens by making sound, cogent, and compelling natural law arguments, which is the American way, as for example, Martin Luther King’s 1963 letter From Birmingham Jail. The reason that King’s letter was so powerful, so affective, and so effective is that it was not revolutionary. It was classic American stuff. It called America to fidelity to her political creeds (e.g., the Declaration of Independence). The old Civil Rights movement won because they finished the rational argument against the humanity of black Americans. They persuaded Americans that the country had been wrong and unfaithful to the things to which, we say, we are all agreed. They marched, they sued, they prayed, and they legislated; but above all, they persuaded. The tragedy of the Christian Nationalist movement is that they seem to have given up on the American experiment before they have even tried to make use of the tools that very experiment provides.


  1. It is not clear to me what the framers of the Statement intend regarding the establishment of the church. Some establishmentarians hope to institute Christianity as the state religion and others seem to be willing to accept Christianity as the “national Church” (which is the status of the Church of Scotland). They would do well to investigate the history of the Church of Scotland, to see what good the status of “national Church” has done for the orthodoxy of the Church of Scotland.
  2. οὐ φονεύσεις τέκνον ἐν φθορᾷ οὐδὲ γεννηθέντα ἀποκτενεῖς. Michael W. Holmes, ed., The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, 3rd edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 346.
  3. Holmes, ed. The Apostolic Fathers, 347.
  4. Bart D. Ehrman, The Apostolic Fathers, vol. 1, I Clement, II Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, Didache, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003).
  5. For more on the Didache on abortion see, R. Scott Clark, “Notes From the Didache On the Early Christian View of Abortion.”
  6. J. Ryan Davidson, s.v., “Abortion in Antiquity,” The Lexham Bible Dictionary (2016), citing Elisabeth Meier Tetlow, Women, Crime, and Punishment in Ancient Law and Society, vol. 1 (New York: Continuum, 2004), 126.
  7. Enzo Nardi, Procurato aborto nel mondo greco romano (Milan: Giuffre editore). Sheila K. Dickison surveys Nardi’s work in her review, “Abortion in Antiquity,” Arethusa 6.1 (1973): 159–66.
  8. Aristotle prohibited abortion after the foetus “developed sensation and life.” Politics 7.14.10, 1335b.
  9. Dickison, “Abortion in Antiquity,” 161. Nardi also mentions the Stoics, who saw the foetus as part of the mother.
  10. Dickison, 161.
  11. Holmes, 703.
  12. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” Declaration of Independence, para. 2.
  13. See RSC, “What Christians Can Learn From Drew Carey About Subverting Culture.”

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.

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  1. With all due respect Dr Clark the early church didn’t need to protest abortion as it wasn’t as widely practiced as it is today, certainly God is clear in the OT that sacrificing children to idols was an egregious sin that God was very displeased with as Israel practiced it, adopting it from the pagan nations around them in their decline.
    Additional thought, the civil rights legislation implemented as a result of Dr King’s efforts resulted in a welfare state as harmful to minorities and the destruction of the family as just about anything else they’ve experienced.

    • Gary,

      Your premise is in question: that the early church didn’t need to protest abortion because it wasn’t widespread. As I’ve worked on this issue it seems that it was more widespread than I first thought. It was widespread enough for the Didache to mention it.

      So, your argument doesn’t really explain the evidence.

      The church faced a great number of social issues on which they might have commented but they didn’t do it. I’m not saying thereby that American Christians shouldn’t speak to issues or get involved. I’ve argued the exact opposite in this very space but we have to face the fact that ancient church didn’t do what the Christian Nationalists say that Christians ought to do.

      If they fail the test of the Christian Nationalists, perhaps it is the Christian Nationalists who have failed?

      • Understanding we’re speaking in generalities here there are many issues the church SHOULD have been speaking to but took much longer than is reasonable to come around on.
        Slavery being a major one as the church actually participated in perpetuating this centuries long evil until gradually realizing it’s sin.

        Nothing I’m saying or implying here should be construed as Christian Nationalism, I’m not a CN, but the church in general being in a lather about this seems rather odd as their silence speaking about the Left and it’s much more destructive influence in America the last 100 years beginning with the Progressive Era up to the current administration in Washington DC speaks volumes to their ignorance of political moral issues.
        Both the Right and the Left seek to concentrate power in political and academic institutions to bring about their respective anti-Christian and anti-freedom goals, none of which are good for individual Christians and their families nor the at large church.

          • Honestly I am not always sure what the term means.
            Individual Christians, associations of churches, ie denominations, an individual church, para church associations, all of the above?
            I understand no one church, group, or individual can speak for the entirety of all believers, so when I say the at large professing evangelical church I’m simply referring in a general way to believers in the various, respective groups they may be associated with that name the name of Christ.

            In general it seems to me that the fervor in speaking out about the perceived threat of the Right/Christian Nationalism ignores what the Left has already done and is continuing to do remaking America from a limited government system of federalism with specifically enumerated powers delegated to the federal government and the balance of powers left to individual states, ie a decentralized system of governance that is conducive to restraining man’s sinful tendencies to accumulate and centralize power, which always leads to a form of totalitarianism of some kind, which tends to be anti-Christian and restrictive of freedoms and liberties that were once inherent in our nation, all of which were conducive to the success of gospel work and the ancillary ministries of the church at large.
            I guess a simpler way of putting it is the State, as in the federal government of America, has become an idol overseeing and managing the details of our lives, supplanting God as our source of blessings, rescuing us in and from every perceived or real crisis that occurs or may occur, all micromanaged by the Left for well over a century now, yet the outcry is concentrated on a small group of the Right, albeit an unhealthy group, ie nationalists, who are so small in number and influence as to be more a nuisance than a threat.

            This just all seems to be very unbalanced.

            • Gary,

              People use the word church in confusing ways. It has two primary senses:

              1) the visible, institutional church
              2) the members or individual Christians.

              I’ve been arguing that individual Christians may and should speak up and get involved in our culture and society. My great concern is that believers, out of fear, reacting to the post-Christian decline of the country, should not turn the visible, institutional church into a union to protect them from society. That’s not the vocation of the church as institution.

              There is simply no evidence in the New Testament that the visible church functioned that way. This is why I wrote the series detailing how Christians in the ancient church responded to pre-Christian paganism.

            • Another Way To Respond To Satanists And Other Pagans (Part 1)
            • Another Way To Respond To Satanists And Other Pagans (Part 2)
            • Another Way To Respond To Satanists And Other Pagans (Part 3)
            • That’s the pattern. Read the New Testament carefully. We do not see the visible, institutional church or her officers speaking to the many grave social crises in the Greco-Roman world or the Roman empire. Human trafficking was a major problem. Abortion was a significant problem. This was an empire that crucified certain criminals! The empire could be cruel and abusive. They murdered Christians for refusing to submit to the state religion. They subjugated other nations and cultures brutally.

              Our Lord and his apostles never spoke to these issues in the canonical Scriptures.

              I’m not counseling passivism but we have to be honest about what the Scriptures do and do not say. I’m not arguing that we may not draw inferences from Scripture as we think through the issues we face. I do that regularly. We must and we should oppose the theonomy of the left as well as the right.

              I agree that the state has become an idol (of the left and the right). There is an American response to that problem. Our founders gave it to us. They argued from natural law: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights….” We don’t need theocracy to be Americans. Indeed, the two are incompatible.

              • I totally agree Dr Clark.
                I have read some of the pieces you list above, I need to reread all of them.
                Thank God for your wisdom and ability to state these things Dr Clark.

        • Good point about slavery, I was surprised when I learned how long it took faithful Presbyterians to condemn the practice. When the church met and offered an opinion, it was way too cautions and tepid in its response. I know we have the benefit of hindsight but eventually the church will need to take a stand. Even with Covid, the church may have to take an inconvenient stand. We can’t wait for the ‘experts’ and the ‘profiteers’ to reveal themselves. Depraved men have the potential to behave very badly.

  2. Certainly this does not describe how politics works. Many states went from passing referenda or laws establishing traditional marriage then obergefell changed it overnight. Obama changed literally overnight. King Alfred was baptized and the culture was changed overnight for the better. Very few people were for the revolution against the british. Etc etc. Rational discourse played no role.

    • Zack,

      King Alfred’s baptism did not confer new life & true faith in one fell swoop. Conversion was imposed from above. Regional kings “converted” and viola! Their people were baptized and entered into the church. It’s a strategy but it wasn’t that of the apostles.

      Obergefell will be overturned just like Roe & Doe were. It will be slow but it’s as poorly decided as Roe & Doe were.

      It is a gross over generalization to say that “rational discourse played no role.” Obergefell happened for a lot of reasons. Some of it was top-down pressure from the Obama admin. Some of it was because America is sick and needs heart surgery. When Obergefell is overturned, some states will affirm gay marriage and others will not. A constitutional amendment is probably in our future. It’s better than war.

  3. This would be a good one for the Church, however defined, to weight in on (see below)…

    I would say the Church should have a voice on matters relevant to the common good, especially when “good” is redefined. The health of the church is affected by the edicts of the state, especially when conscience conflicts with the common good. Even my worker’s union, which I miraculously was able to break free from, paid lip service to a conscientious objection to a mandatory experimental vaccine. Why should the Church be silent in these confusing, perplexing times? Natural Law can still be the barometer for the Church to raise her voice. The teaching of a eugenics-oriented evolution curriculum and subsequently a less offensive form of Darwin’s Origins (which would undoubtedly conflict with Aquinas) as a default, state-authorized religion is further evidence of the Church’s neglect (also relevant in the areas of segregation, discrimination and subjugation/dehumanization, i.e., enslavement of our fellow image barer. When natural goods are deceptively defined/redefined, shall the Church not resist such transformations by at least offering her opinion and the grounds for conscientious objection?

    More on the history and justification of “common good” vaccine coercion:


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