By Carl Stagner
The imago dei. The image of God. The term, used in varying contexts, reflects the precious and sacred nature of every human being—regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, age, social class, background—regardless of any characteristic. Everyone has intrinsic value to God and, therefore, also to every disciple who desires to walk in the steps of Jesus. Perhaps that’s why so many congregations choose each year to acknowledge the sanctity of life during the month of January, especially on the fourth Sunday of the month. National Sanctity of Human Life Day began in the United States in 1984 when then President Ronald Reagan issued the proclamation eleven years after the Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade. Though celebration accompanied the overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022, Church of God congregations know much yet has to be done to champion life from womb to tomb.
In 2023, many congregations of the Church of God are again setting aside time to teach on the subject of the sanctity of human life, open services up to testimonies related to God’s intervention, spend focused time in prayer concerning the issue, and advocate for the cause of life in public discourse. From coast to coast across the United States, in particular, Church of God congregations address the sanctity of life during special observances like January’s collective emphasis, when the court reviews cases publicly at any time during the year, when proposals come to the ballot box, and when related matters hit home.
For example, several pastors, churches, and ministerial groups broached the challenging subject upon the overturn of Roe v. Wade. Whenever national spotlight is shone on issues about which the Bible has much to say, they see the opportunity the church has to offer bold truth through the prism of unconditional love and hope. While preaching and teaching Christian worldview is paramount to these churches—and while prayer and one-on-one discipleship matters tremendously to matters of personal holiness, social justice, and ultimately the transformation of a culture—many pastors also find great value in rallying and petitioning local government for change. One church last fall, for instance, intentionally encouraged its congregation to support statewide legislation that would honor the Christian commitment to life from womb to tomb.
In January, the freshness of a new year reminds churches also of the new life offered in Christ to every soul. The heartbeat of one of our prominent West Virginia churches causes them to regularly engage the topic; as a result, they’ve brought in special speakers to address the sanctity of life over the years. A Church of God pastor from the Great Plains often speaks out on social media about social issues of great importance, including life. A Western states church of widespread influence has been known to mark Sanctity of Human Life Day with intentional prayer, by spreading awareness, and advocating in the public square. An East Coast church rallies together every January for a “walk for life” or a “rally for life” event locally, which brings awareness to issues like abortion and advocates maternal assistance at every step during pregnancy. Some even shed light on, and offer tools related to combatting, the rise of domestic violence. Care for persons with special needs and disabilities are included in the incredible work many in the Church of God continue to accomplish.
Speaking of maternal assistance—before and after delivery—numerous Church of God congregations actively support local shelters, programs, and resources of varying kinds to not only demonstrate opposition to abortion, but also live out the love of Jesus for the mother and child. A prime example is Maple Grove Church of God in Anderson, Indiana, which not only supports and walks alongside a local ministry called Lil Miracles Pregnancy Center, but also offers space at the church campus for the conducting of their regular business with the public. Stories of redemption, hope, transformation, and yes—miracles—dot this history of this fantastic work (learn more at www.lilmiraclesprc.org).
Certainly, during Sanctity of Human Life Month, the topic of abortion is both timely and relevant. Sometimes Christians find it difficult, however, to articulate their pro-life message in a redeeming fashion; sometimes the ardent support for life in the womb can be unintentionally understood as unconcern for life beyond the womb. Of course, the biblical witness inspires believers everywhere to extend care to those facing unplanned pregnancy, to feed the hungry, to free the oppressed, to stand up against racism, and to “do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with [our] God” (NKJV). Thankfully, the pastor of Towne Church in Middletown, Ohio—Mark Jackson, also scheduled to speak at Convention 2023—crafted a statement a few years ago that captures this concern. He’s glad to share it with other persons in the pulpit, and the pew. CHOGnews is pleased to reproduce it this year for reader convenience, interest, and use:
“We at Towne Church believe in the sanctity of human life. In the Book of Genesis, we learn that God created all things. In particular, he created humanity uniquely in his image. We are different from the animals. Though animals are important and to be cared for, they are not made in God’s image like we are. They cannot have a personal relationship with God, nor are they held accountable to God. Thus, today we celebrate the sanctity of human life, for human life is more important than any other form of life on earth.
“The sanctity of human life means that we are pro-life. We believe that life is sacred. This life begins in the womb. From the moment of conception, there is a child made by God that is to be protected and allowed to develop until he or she is born. Abortion is not the will of God. It terminates life—God-given life.
“The sanctity of human life means that we also care for life after birth. We are to raise our children to serve the Lord, and we are to be willing to adopt or foster children that need a loving, Christian home. We are to follow the repeated command of Scripture: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
“The sanctity of human life means that we stand against all forms of oppression, slavery, abuse, and human trafficking. Life is sacred and people are not to be used as tools or treated as animals. Every life is to be respected and protected from evil.
“The sanctity of human life means that people should be allowed to die with dignity, in God’s time, not our own. Suicide, whether self-chosen or assisted, is not the will of God. Euthanasia is not an act of mercy, but an act of independence that asserts itself against God’s right to decide when we are born and when we die. As Scripture says, ‘There is a time to be born and a time to die.’ That time is in God’s hands.
“We celebrate the sanctity of human life! God is our Creator, God made us in his image, God sent his Son to die for our sins, and God loves each and every one of us. Life is sacred because life comes from God. We were made for a purpose—to live for Christ and to share his life with others. The greatest gift of all is eternal life! It’s free and offered to all. So, we celebrate the sanctity of human life and the free gift of eternal life. Both are given to us by God.”
To view the original proclamation from former President Ronald Reagan, click here. To find plentiful resources for your church, simply search “Sanctity of Human Life Sunday” on your browser of choice.