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Position Statement on Stem Cells PDF Print E-mail

The world will never starve for want of wonders, but only for want of wonder.

--G. K. Chesterton

 "We are the first generation to contemplate killing our very young children and grandchildren to use their body parts for our benefit."

 As the frontiers of medical research advance over time, the Church in each age is called to accurately evaluate the moral questions of its era and to live faithfully in the midst of new discoveries and possibilities.

 The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture . . . .(1)

 With those words, the Westminster Confession affirms the confidence of the Church that in every aspect of life, Christians can receive sufficient direction from Scripture to discern God's will and to respond obediently to all moral challenges, including those which have not been faced by previous generations. We believe that our limited and fallen understanding and reasoning must always be subject to the authority of Scripture.

Scripture commands us to love our neighbors and to demonstrate compassion for all who suffer. The Bible also teaches that we are forbidden to take innocent human lives and that there is a continuity between life before and after birth. Those key biblical principles provide the guidance we need to live faithfully when confronting new challenges and opportunities in the areas of life, death and biotechnology.

"Stem cell research" is a prominent contemporary topic. The popular understanding (though false) is that although "embryonic stem cells" could provide cures for those now suffering from Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes and numerous other devastating illnesses, such research is being unreasonably opposed by uncaring people, who are unmoved by the suffering of others. It is a controversy in which emotions sometimes run high, but the scientific and moral dimensions of the discussion are seldom well elucidated.

 What are stem cells?

Human "stem cells" are cells present throughout the biological stages of human life, from human embryo, to fetus, to baby, to child, to adult. Stem cells have the amazing potential to make identical copies of themselves and to "differentiate" into the more than 200 types of cells with specialized functions that are needed to support a human life -- from a neuron in the brain, to a muscle cell of the heart, to a lymphocyte circulating in the bloodstream, producing antibodies to fight infection.

The process that leads a fertilized egg, over time, to produce all the cells, organs, and complex structure that characterize an adult human being is an incredible one, which science has barely begun to understand. The beginnings of that process provide the background and terminology used in discussions of stem cells. At the time of fertilization–the union of a sperm and an egg–a new, genetically unique individual is formed. In the earliest stages of development, the fertilized egg ("zygote") divides and forms a ball of cells. That ball of cells develops a cavity (blastocyst stage) and comes to consist of two portions, the "trophoblast" (which will develop into the placenta and umbilical cord) and the "inner cell mass" (which will become the fetus). The "inner cell mass" will produce the three primary "germ layers" of cells that will later give rise to all the cell types of the body.(2) The "ectoderm" (external layer) is the source of cells which include skin cells and neurons of the brain. The "mesoderm" (middle layer) produces cells including muscle cells and blood cells. The "endoderm" (internal layer) yields cells such as pancreatic cells and alveolar cells of the lung.(3)

Scientists use the term "totipotent" to describe a cell having the potential to generate all the cells that make up the embryo plus its supporting structures (placenta and umbilical cord). The term "pluripotent" is used to describe stem cells which can give rise to all the cells of the human body (cells from all three germ layers). The term "unipotent" describes more limited stem cells which can produce cells of only one of the three lines.(3) The zygote is described as totipotent. Scientists have found embryonic stem cells to be pluripotent. It was initially believed that adult stem cells were unipotent.

However, "studies have shown that blood stem cells (derived from mesoderm) may be able to generate both skeletal muscle (also derived from mesoderm) and neurons (derived from ectoderm). That realization has been triggered by a flurry of papers reporting that stem cells derived from one adult tissue can change their appearance and assume characteristics that resemble those of differentiated cells from other tissues. The term plasticity . . . means that a stem cell from one adult tissue can generate the differentiated cell types of another tissue."(4) Adult stem cells are present in relatively low numbers and are mixed with differentiated cells in the tissues, therefore it is more time-consuming to isolate them, but adult stem cells have been isolated which developed from all three germ layers and adult stem cells have demonstrated the capability to differentiate into tissues other than the ones from which they originated.

 What is the moral issue?

 When stem cells for use in research or for treatment of disease are obtained in a manner that does not harm the donor, there is no ethical dilemma. The situation is analogous to a healthy person donating a unit of blood to benefit others, or to a person with two healthy kidneys donating one to help another. No one is harmed and there is great potential to save or significantly improve the life of someone else. "Adult stem cells" pose no moral problems because they can be obtained without harm to the donor. The list of adult tissues reported to contain stem cells is growing and includes bone marrow, peripheral blood, brain, spinal cord, dental pulp, blood vessels, skeletal muscle, epithelium of the skin and digestive system, cornea, retina, liver, and pancreas.(4) Bone marrow transplants, in which stem cells capable of producing all the types of blood cells are transfused into a person who needs them, have been performed successfully for a number of years. Umbilical cord blood from newborn babies(5) is a readily-available source of stem cells. Recovering stem cells from cord blood poses no moral problems and may have some advantages since the cells are younger and have not undergone the deleterious effects that aging may have on stem cells recovered from adults.

The only types of human stem cells which raise moral concern are human "embryonic stem cells" or fetal stem cells which require the killing of the donor to obtain the stem cells. The "embryonic stem cells" causing current controversy are obtained by allowing an embryo to develop in the laboratory to the "blastocyst" stage (a stage that occurs just before the embryo would implant in the uterine wall in a normal pregnancy) and then, in a process that ends the development of that individual, the embryo is destroyed and cells from the "inner cell mass" (which would have developed into the fetus) are separated from the others. Those cells are then propagated in the laboratory as embryonic stem cell lines for various uses, but they will not develop into a baby because the baby's life was ended when its stem cells were removed.

The embryo is very small and is only about a week old when it is destroyed to obtain embryonic stem cells.   In most discussions of abortion, the prenatal life being ended is one to which we can easily relate. Even very early in a pregnancy, say from eight to twelve weeks, the fetus already has easily-recognized features and a beating heart which can be seen on ultrasound. In the destruction of human embryos to create embryonic stem cell lines, the life that is being destroyed may appear, to our examination, to be just a collection of cells. But it is no ordinary group of cells. At the time of fertilization, when the 23 chromosomes of the sperm merge with the 23 chromosomes of the egg, a new human life comes into existence as a single, 46-chromosome cell called a "zygote." The zygote is just one cell, but already the genetic characteristics of that future human adult -- gender, blood type, hair and eye color, and all other genetic characteristics -- have been determined.

Even more remarkable, contained in that zygote are all of the instructions for how and when that cell will divide, which genes will be turned on and off at what times, and what types of specialized cells will be created in what locations in order to produce the more than 200 types of cells that are needed. The cells are not randomly produced and distributed, but rather are organized into the appropriate organs. For example, astrocytes, oligodendrocytes, and neurons are located in the brain while the insulin-producing cells reside in the pancreas. The various organs and tissues assemble into a complex structure, the human body, with head and trunk, arms and legs, right and left, front and back all in proper position. The cells in the brain capable of sight extend forward in the face forming eyes, a beating four-chambered heart connects to a network of blood vessels, propelling blood, delivering nutrients and oxygen to every cell of the body and removing toxic cellular waste products. The nervous system, digestive system, reproductive system are all intricately formed to provide for life. As in post-natal life, programmed cell death is part of the process of life. In utero, this means that instead of webbed fingers and toes, certain cells destroy themselves so that fingers and toes develop as separate structures.(2)

The zygote and early embryo may not be impressive to the human eye, but given the opportunity to implant in the uterine wall, in nine months that group of cells -- that embryo -- will be a baby, capable of independent life.

 How should we treat an early human embryo?

 Does the early embryo qualify as a human life which we are required to protect rather than to destroy?   Scripture clearly teaches that God places a higher value on humans than on the rest of creation, that the meaning and purpose of God for each human life begins before birth, that God forbids us to kill innocent human life, and that we are to protect and care for innocent life. (6) The biblical theme of continuity of life before and after birth is particularly relevant.

The biblical writers did not use different words to label prenatal and postnatal life. The same Hebrew and Greek terms are often used to refer both to the born and the unborn. For example, Geber is a Hebrew noun usually translated man, male, or husband. In Job 3:3, Job curses the night in which it was said, "a man-child [geber] is conceived." Yeled is a term in Hebrew commonly translated child or boy. Yet Genesis 25:22 refers to yeladim (children) struggling inside the womb of Rebekah. Moses recites a law in which a Yeled (child, boy) comes forth from a woman (born prematurely).

In Greek, brephos is often used of infants and the newly born (Luke 18:15; 1 Peter 2;2; Acts 7:19). But in Luke 1:41 and 44, brephos is used of John the Baptist leaping in the womb of Elizabeth. Huios in the Greek means son and is used in Luke 1:36 of John being conceived by Elizabeth: "'And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month.'" (7)

 Although it might seem convenient if the facts were otherwise, neither Scripture nor biology gives us a basis to treat the zygote and embryo as anything other than the unique human lives that they are. By using the same words to describe prenatal and postnatal life, Scripture shows continuity between life before and after birth. The biological process of human development from zygote, to embryo, to fetus, to baby, to child, to mature adult is a continuous biological process. The only beginning point is fertilization, when a new individual is created. There is no basis for drawing any other conclusion.

If embryos are going to be destroyed anyway, isn't it better to use them to obtain stem cells? Some have suggested that it is morally acceptable for "leftover" human embryos from in vitro fertilization clinics to be donated by their parents to be used as a source of stem cells since these frozen embryos will never be implanted and therefore will never develop into children. Two professors at the University of Minnesota effectively addressed the assertion that since no relative harm is done, such a practice would be moral:

The argument that research is justified as long as no relative harm is done to the subject and there is potential gain for others appears powerful at first inspection, and indeed it has proven powerful in the past. Gilbert Meilaender -- the Richard and Phyllis Duesenberg professor of Christian Ethics at Valparaiso University and a member of the President's Council on Bioethics -- cited two previous applications of the argument in a lecture at the University of Minnesota this past November.

The Tuskegee syphilis trials allowed black men with syphilis to go untreated to determine the effects of the disease. Access to "comfort" care for those men actually was improved by their participation in the trial, since their usual access to care was so poor. The fate of these men had been determined (by others) prior to the study. If no relative harm was done to them by participating in the study, and there was the promise of some gain for others, why not proceed?

Meilaender's second example was Nazi medical experimentation on prisoners at Auschwitz. Upon arrival at Auschwitz, prisoners were graded according to their "life prospects," and some were condemned to death (by others). If no relative harm was done to these prisoners -- already condemned to death -- and there was the promise of some gain for others, why not proceed? (8)

Such illustrations sharpen the focus on the moral issue involved in using "unwanted" embryos to obtain stem cells: What is wrong is wrong, regardless of the potential good that might result for others. "Shall we do evil that good may come of it?" (Romans 3:8) We are the first generation to contemplate killing our very young children and grandchildren to use their body parts for our benefit.

 Embryonic vs. adult stem cells

 Although all stem cells are believed to have wide potential, early research indicates that embryonic stem cells behave differently than stem cells from other sources. At this time, in fact, embryonic stem cells have not been shown to be helpful in alleviating any medical problems whereas work with adult stem cells, which poses no moral problem, has resulted in a number of successes. Doctor Nigel M. de S. Cameron, Ph.D., chair of the Advisory Board for The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity and founding editor of the international journal Ethics & Medicine, summarized the status of stem cell research this way in July 2004:

Even the more honest advocates of embryo stem cell research have admitted that cures are a long, long way off. This is patently clear to those who have followed the animal experiments, which have so far yielded very little evidence of cures and many problems . . .

I gave a presentation at the Experimental Biology conference in Washington, D.C. a few weeks ago, where I was surveying the ethical pros and cons of stem cell research. Alongside me were other speakers who are experts in embryo and stem cell research. The embryo research expert talked about basic research. The adult stem cell expert, on the other hand, talked about patients with what had been thought to be incurable diseases going home from the hospital cured. (If you want to read some of the latest research go to www.stemcellresearch.org . . .(9)

Even if human embryonic stem cells were to be effective and even if they were the only means of obtaining effective treatments, the principle that it is wrong to take an innocent human life still applies. Doctor Cameron articulately summarized the moral challenge:

For the question we face is distinctly ethical in character. At the heart of our conception of civilization lies the principle of restraint: that there are things we shall not do, shall never do, even though they may bring us benefit; some things we shall never do, though the heavens fall.

As we stand on the threshold of the biotech century, we could hardly confront a decision that is more onerous, since the promised benefits from this technology may be great . . .   If there are things that we should not do, it is easy for us to refuse to do them when they offer no benefit. When the benefit they offer is modest, the choice is still not hard. The challenge to morals and to public policy lies precisely here, where the benefits seem great. Yet it is here also that our intuitive respect for the early embryo requires us to pay a price.(10)

 We are hopeful that adult stem cells will one day provide new avenues for treatment of diseases which are currently untreatable and will alleviate the suffering of many. Research done thus far suggests that work with adult stem cells has great potential and promise. But even if it were true that adult stem cells do not accomplish the cures that embryonic stem cells might achieve, we must limit our work to that which can be done in a way that is morally right and does not kill one human life in the hopes of helping another, even if the human who must be killed is small -- even a very tiny human embryo, which each of us once was.    



  1. Westminster Confession, Book of Confessions, 6.006.
  2. Stem Cells: Scientific Progress adn Future Research Directions. Appendix A: Early Development. Department of Health and Human Services. June 2001. http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/scireport
  3. Ibid., Chapter 1: The Stem Cell.
  4. Ibid., Chapter 4: The Adult Stem Cell.
  5. During the process of development in the womb, the placenta and umbilical cord are tissues produced by the baby to support its growth. The blood that circulates from the baby, through the umbilical cord, to the placenta, and back to the baby is the baby's blood, produced by the developing child, and is different from  the mother's blood. Because the umbilical cord is discarded at birth, stem cells can be obtained from the blood remaining in the umbilical cord after birth without harming the baby.
  6. Position Statement on Abortion, Presbyterians Pro-Life Research, Education and Care, Inc., Allison Park, PA, adopted June 1988, rev 9/93.
  7. Fowler, Paul B., Abortion: Toward an Evangelical Consensus, 1987, Multnomah Press, Portland, Oregon, pp 144, 145.
  8. Dowd, Bryan and Chris Macosko, "Key question for research on human embryos is whether it is moral,"   Commentary, Minneapolis Star Tribune, March 12, 2004.
  9. Cameron, Nigel, "The stem cell debate gets hotter," Biotech Commentary, Council for Biotechnology Policy, July 19, 2004. http://www.pfm.org/BiotechTemplate.cfm?Section=Biotech_Home&Template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=13134 .
  10. Testimony of Nigel Cameron, Ph.D., given August 1, 2001 before the United States Senate Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, adn Related Agencies Hearing on Embryonic Stem Cell Research http://www.thecbc.org/redesigned/research_display.php?id=61 .

Approved by PPL for distribution, Oct. 7, 2005


Position Statement on Sexuality PDF Print E-mail

Brochures Available: Position Statement on Sexuality - Spanish , Position Statement on Sexuality - Korean, Position Statement on Sexuality - Youth, Position Statement on Sexuality

The Bible is God's written Word (1). We declare our commitment to its infallible truth (2), especially in the areas of marriage and sexuality where its teaching is under attack in our day (3). Our Reformed tradition has always stood on the absolute authority of Scripture in these matters (4).

The Bible tells us that male and female alike are made in God's own image (5), and are intended by God to express sexual love for one another only within the bonds of the life-long covenant of marriage (6).

Christian marriage is ordained by God (7) and designed for three purposes (8):

  1. The mutual help of husband and wife (9).
  2. The safe-guarding, undergirding, and development of their moral and spiritual character (10).
  3. The propagation of children (11) and the rearing of them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (12).

We call on our brothers and sisters in Christ to join with us as we follow the Bible's teaching (13) and our Reformed confessions and tradition across history in declaring that sexual relationships within this context (14) are the only possible expressions of sexuality that are not in direct rebellion against God's revealed will (15).

In this day of sexual promiscuity, perversion, and sensual idolatry with the resultant epidemic in AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, crisis pregnancies, abortion, and pornography, the Church of Jesus Christ must speak prophetically in support of God's laws concerning sex and marriage and against all violations of God's laws in these same areas (16). To do less than this is to be less than faithful followers of our Lord Jesus Christ who said both "Your sins are forgiven" (Luke 7:48), and "Stop sinning" (John 5:14) (17). The words of our Heavenly Father as well as the words of His followers call the unrepentant to repent (18) and the repentant to believe in the forgiveness offered to us through the blood of Jesus (19).


"Thou shalt not commit adultery." (Exodus 20:14)

"Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders not thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." (1 Corinthians 6:9,10)

"Do not be deceived; God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction: the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life." (Gal 6:7,8)

"But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people." (Ephesians 5:3)

"The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body." (1 Corinthians 6:13b)

"Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral." (Hebrews 13:4)

"So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature." (Galatians 5:16)


1) II Peter 1:20,21; I Thessalonians 2:13; Book of Confessions, 3.18, 6.002-6.004.
2) II Timothy 3:15,16; Book of Confessions, 6.005.
3) Isaiah 8:20; Book of Confessions, 3.20, 6.006-6.007, 6.010, 6.136.
4) Matthew 22:29,31; Luke 10:26; Book of Confessions, 3.20, 6.001-6.002, 6.010.
5) Genesis 1:27; Book of Confessions, 7.127.
6) Genesis 2:23,24; I Corinthians 7:2,39; Matthew 19:46; Hebrews 13:4; Book of Confessions, 4.108-4.109, 6.133, 6.137, 9.47.
7) Genesis 1:27,28; Mark 10:9; Book of Confessions, 5.246, 6.136, 7.130.
8) Book of Confessions, 6.134.
9) Genesis 2:18,24.
10) Genesis 1:27,28; Ephesians 5:22,23; Colossians 3:18,19; Genesis 2:18,25; I Corinthians 7:3-5,9,36.
11) Genesis 1:27,28; Genesis 9:1; Malachi 2:15; Matthew 18:5; Matthew 19:14.
12) Ephesians 6:1-4; Colossians 3:20,21; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17.
13) Book of Confessions, 5.001-5.002.
14) Book of Confessions, 5.245-5.246, 9.47.
15) Book of Confessions, 4.108-4.109, 6.136.
16) Book of Confessions, 5.001-5.014, 9.47.
17) Book of Confessions, 3.18, 3.20, 4.085, 5.163-5.165, 9.47.
18) Acts 11:18; Luke 24:47; Mark 1:15; Acts 20:21; Ezekiel 19:30,31; 36:31; Psalm 51:4; Jeremiah 31:18,19; II Corinthians 7:11; Luke 13:3; Acts 17:30; Proverbs 28:13; Book of Confessions, 4.087, 5.093-5.102.
19) Titus 3:5; Acts 5:31; Romans 3:24; Ephesians 1:7; Isaiah 55:7; Romans 8:1; Isaiah 1:18; I Timothy 1:13,15; Psalm 32:5,6; Psalm 51:4,5,7,9,14; I John 1:9; Book of Confessions, 4.001, 4.084, 6.081-6.086.

(Adopted March 1988)

Position Statement on Euthanasia PDF Print E-mail

For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.
The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
I Corinthians 15: 25,26

[Death] has been destroyed in such a way as to be no longer fatal for believers,but not in such a way as to cause them no trouble.
[T]he sword of death used to be able to pierce right to the heart, but now it is blunt. It wounds still, of course, but without any danger;
for we die, but, in dying, we pass over into life.
John Calvin

Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice? For whoever fails to find me harms himself; all who hate me love death." Proverbs 8: l,35,36

Scripture is our Authority

Christians have, for two-thousand years, recognized Scripture as the final authority in all matters of controversy (1) and have appealed to its authority with the same words which their Master frequently used when He taught His disciples: "It is written...." (2). Our own reformed tradition has confessed through the centuries that the Bible is our only infallible rule of faith and practice (3).

Scripture teaches that human beings are the crown of God's creation (4), and that the murder of a human being is a great wickedness before our Heavenly Father because each man and woman has been made in His image (5). The Sixth Commandment condemns not only the directly intended taking of innocent human life, whether our own or another's (6), but also the "neglecting or withdrawing the lawful or necessary means of preservation of life" (7).

Today there are mounting pressures upon medical professionals, pastors, families, and individuals to hasten the death of those under their care or authority. Such hastening sometimes takes the form of direct action, such as a lethal injection. It may also take a passive form in neglect or withdrawal of the necessary means of preservation of life. Such means include medical treatment, both extraordinary and ordinary. But they also include basic provisions normally understood as care: warmth, cleanliness, food, water, and love.

Christians must distinguish between "treatment" and "care"

Christians must distinguish between "treatment" and "care." Where medical treatment which is not gravely burdensome is necessary for an individual to continue to live, the withdrawal of such treatment--except in cases where death is imminent and inevitable and to continue such treatment would pose a grave risk or cause more burden to the patient than it would alleviate--is a violation of the image of God which all men and women bear.

Loving care for all members of the human community is a fundamental Christian teaching and an obligation of Christian discipleship (8). Therefore it ought never to be withheld. This includes providing liquids and nutrition through spoon-feeding or tubes where the patient is unable to take them by another manner. Withholding such necessary means for the preservation of life must, therefore, stand under Scripture's condemnation (9), even in case of those who are perpetually comatose.

Christians should act to alleviate suffering, but not at any cost

Christians should also ensure that members of the human community are upheld with the warmth and love of human contact. Christians follow their Master in humbly serving those who suffer and acting to alleviate their suffering. We recognize, however, that suffering is not to be avoided at any cost (10), especially if the cost is either our own or the patient's breaking of the Sixth Commandment. Scripture teaches that affliction often produces spiritual growth and holiness (11). Such spiritual fruit is far more valuable in God's eternal economy than those commodities so frequently mentioned by proponents of "quality of life" ethics such as self-determination and autonomy (12).

People who ask to be killed, to be assisted in suicide, or to have actions taken which will hasten their death, frequently do so out of a misguided desire not to burden others. Regrettably they are often pressured in this direction by talk of "quality of life" and "death with dignity"(13). Such individuals, though, are best helped by a simple warm embrace and other visible demonstrations of our love and affection for them. We need to reassure them by expressing our desire that they live here with us until God Himself, in His sovereign will (14), intervenes to take them, those who belong to Him, to live in His house forever (15). Jesus warned we would be judged on the basis of our ministry to "the least of these my brother."(16). How much more weighty is our responsibility when "the least of these" are our own family members (17), especially our mothers and fathers (18).

Good death is natural death in Christ

We urge all followers of the Lord Jesus Christ to approach death with the recognition that the only "good death" is the natural death of a man or woman, boy or girl, who is "in Christ" (19). Although for Christians "to die is gain"(20), death itself will never cease being our "last enemy"(21). Furthermore, for those who don't believe, death is the terrible moment "after [which comes] the judgment" (22).

Yet as followers of Jesus Christ we cling to our hope that the Holy Spirit has given us a lively faith in our precious Lord, and that through His blood our sins will be forgiven and we will be welcomed into His glorious presence where there "is fullness of joy [and]...pleasures for evermore" (23).


Since I am coming to that holy room,
Where, with thy quire of Saints for evermore,
I shall be made thy Music; as I come
I tune the instrument here at the door,
And what I must do then, think here before.

John Donne

O cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to hide from Thee;
I lay in dust life's glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

George Matheson

They, then, who are destined to die, need not be careful to inquire what death they are to die, but in what place death will usher them.

St. Augustine

O Heavenly Father, who didst bless Thine aged servants Simeon and Anna, suffering them to behold with their eyes the Savior of the world and to see Thy salvation; bless, we humbly pray Thee, this Thy servant in his later days. Give him a clear knowledge of his Savior, and a sure faith in that Savior's merits and sacrifice. Let not his mind be clouded over with doubts or darkness. May his path be as the shining light which shineth more and more unto the perfect day. May his end be calm and blessed. Suffer him not at the last from any pains of death to fall from Thee. Guide Thou him through the valley of the shadow of death. And may he pass joyfully from the weakness and weariness of this mortal life to a blessed rest; for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Scottish Book of Common Order; Prayer for the Aged

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of the dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants?
For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light [of life] and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Isaiah 53

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.

I Peter 4: 1,2


  1. Matthew 22:23-33; Acts 17:11; II Timothy 3:14-17; II Peter 1:19-21; Book of Confessions: 3.20; 5.013; 6.008; 6.010; 6.174
  2. Matthew 4:4,6,7,10; Luke 19:46; Mark 7:6
  3. Book of Confessions: 5.002; 6.052; 7.113; Book of Order: G-2.0400
  4. Psalm 8:5; Matthew 6:26; 12:12
  5. Genesis 1:27; 9:6
  6. Book of Confessions: 4.105; 4.106; 7.245
  7. Book of Confessions: 7.246; 4.107
  8. I Timothy 5:4-8; James 1:27
  9. Exodus 20:13; Matthew 25:31-46; James 2:14-17; Book of Confessions 7.246
  10. James 5:10,11; Isaiah 53; Matthew 27:34; Romans 8:17,18; Philippians 3:10
  11. Lamentations 3; Romans 5:3-5; Colossians 1:24
  12. Hebrews 5:8; James 5:10; I Peter 4:1,12-16
  13. Job 2:9
  14. Deuteronomy 31:14; Job 14:5; Matthew 24:42-44; Luke 2:26-32; James 4:13,14
  15. Luke 23:43; John 14:1-6; II Corinthians 5:6-8
  16. Matthew 25:31-46
  17. I Timothy 5:8
  18. Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16; Ephesians 6:2
  19. Romans 6:23; 8:1,38,39; I Corinthians 15:22; I Thessalonians 4:16
  20. Philippians 1:21
  21. I Corinthians 15:25,26
  22. Romans 14:10; Hebrews 9:27
  23. Psalm 16:11

(Adopted May, 1991)

Position Statement on Abortion PDF Print E-mail

As Reformed Christians, we rely on God's revealed Word, the Bible, for determining truth, and we look to it as our only infallible guide for faith and action. It is our authority for understanding the distinction between good and evil and for determining what is moral and immoral.

The biblical case for the protection of unborn human life from the moment of fertilization

The position on abortion of Presbyterians Pro-Life is built on Scriptural truths:

1. God places higher value on human beings than on the rest of his creation.

Human beings are made uniquely, in the image of God (1), and are not only distinct from the rest of creation (2), but also are rulers and stewards of everything else created by God (3). Fertilization and the resulting birth of a baby are not simply acts which continue the human race. Rather, fertilization is a blessing of God (4). This fruit of the love between a husband and wife is one evidence of God's love and sovereignty (5). The birth of a baby is a reward; a gift or heritage from God (6).

2. The meaning and purpose God has for each human life begins before birth.

Scripture commonly refers to fertilization, rather than birth, as the moment of our beginning (7). God speaks of us as known, cared for, protected, and loved by Him before birth (8). He often announces His specific purpose for individuals while they are yet unborn (9). The Hebrew word yeled and the Greek word brephos, used to refer to newborns and youth, are used in Scripture to refer to the unborn. This teaches us the continuity of existence before and after birth (10).

The teaching of medical science regarding the unborn is consistent with Scripture (11). Scripture and science both provide us with a clear demarcation for the beginning of human life: the moment of fertilization.

3. God forbids us to kill innocent human life(12).

Scripture makes no distinction regarding our humanness, born and unborn. Therefore, it forbids the destruction of innocent human life including unborn babies. The Westminster Standards, a confessional statement shared by most Reformed churches, includes in the sins forbidden by the sixth commandment "...neglecting or withdrawing the lawful or necessary means of preservation of life"(13), and forbids the taking of innocent life while demanding the preservation of life from the moment of fertilization to natural death:

"The Sixth Commandment requires all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life, and the life of others" (14).

4. God requires us to protect and care for the needy and helpless (15).

The duty to "bear one another's burdens" applies to pregnancy exactly as to every other aspect of human need. It is our task as Christian disciples and servants, even in the most desperate of circumstances, to use the resources God has provided to find solutions to problem pregnancies that allow both mother and baby to live and prosper.

5. God freely offers forgiveness and restoration to the repentant(16).

God is rich in mercy and slow to anger. He offers forgiveness, healing, and new life through Christ. We, the Church, are God's agents of reconciliation in the world, and it is our calling to extend the compassion, understanding, and grace of God both to those involved in sex outside of marriage and to those who have had abortions. We are to make the forgiveness, healing, and restoration available in Christ known to women and men who find themselves in these difficult circumstances, and to lead them gently toward repentance and faith in Christ (17).

6. Scriptural teaching regarding the value of human life and our responsibility to protect and care for innocent life applies in every case(18).

Just as those of us already born who were conceived in incest or rape, or who are handicapped, or who live in dire situations of need are protected from being killed by the injunctions of Scripture, so those yet unborn who are conceived in the same circumstances are protected.

In circumstances where physical complications of pregnancy develop, every attempt should be made to preserve the lives of both mother and child.

The biblical case for decision-making prior to fertilization

Responsible decision-making regarding pregnancies arises from the biblical teaching concerning life and sexuality

A decision to enter into a sexual relationship should be in keeping with the Scriptural teaching regarding chastity outside marriage and fidelity within marriage (19), and it should acknowledge God's full intent for such marriage, including pregnancy and the forming of a family (20).

Because fertilization is the point at which a human life is formed, contraception should act only to prevent fertilization. Contraception that acts to destroy the newly formed life is, in fact, a form of abortion.

The Dangers of Departure from Biblical Guidance on the Sanctity of Life

Many Christian denominations have sought cultural and humanist answers to crisis pregnancies. One of these is The Presbyterian Church (USA), whose policy document adopted by the General Assembly in 1992 (21) says that:

Problem pregnancies are the result of, and influenced by, so many complicated and insolvable circumstances that we have neither the wisdom nor the authority to address or decide each situation.

Presbyterians Pro-Life rejects such a position to be incompatible with Reformed theology because it considers moral judgments to be a matter of each woman's individual interpretation of what is right or wrong in her particular crisis situation, and fails to establish a biblical defense for killing innocent unborn human beings. Any position that departs from the Church's historical teaching on abortion (22) is based on a situational, quality-of-life ethic which is in direct contradiction to the Judeo-Christian tradition. Among denominations in the Reformed tradition, The PC(USA) is in serious moral error in its teaching on abortion.

The goal of Presbyterians Pro-Life with respect to abortion

Presbyterians Pro-Life takes a prophetic and pastoral stance within the Reformed Body of Churches. In our pastoral role, we seek both to aid and equip Reformed bodies in upholding the sacred value of human life and the family. We are a prophetic witness to denominations such as The PC(USA) which have departed from the historic Christian view that God, who made us in His own image, has forbidden us to shed innocent blood. We plead with such denominations to begin to promote the protection of unborn life and to counsel for solutions to problem pregnancies which allow both mother and baby to live and receive the blessing of God.

Our prophetic voice is expressed through the process of appeal provided for by Presbyterian government and by any other means not forbidden by Scripture, church constitutions, or the laws of the land.

We trust that through the mercy and grace of God our witness and work in Presbyterian and Reformed bodies will effect change in the whole society.


1. Genesis 1:27; Job 10:8-12; Ephesians 4:24.

2. Genesis 1:26; Genesis 2:20; Psalm 8:5.

3. Genesis 1:26-30, 2:19-20; Psalm 8:6-8; Book of Confessions, 3.02; 4.006; 6.023; 7.010.

4. I Samuel 1:1-20

5. Genesis 4:1; 29:30-33.

6. Psalm 127:3-5.

7. Genesis 4:1; Genesis 21:2; Genesis 29:33,34,35; 30:7; I Samuel 1:20; Matthew 1:20,21.

8. Psalm 139:13-16; Jeremiah 1:4,5; Ecclesiastes 11:5; Job 31:15.

9. Genesis 16:11,12; Genesis 25:23; Isaiah 49:1; Jeremiah 1:4,5; Galatians 1:15,16; Matthew 1:18-25.

10. Genesis 25:22;I Peter 2:2; Luke 2:12; Acts 7:19; Il Timothy 3:15; Luke 1:41,44; Luke 18:15

11. Human sperm and eggs both have 23 chromosomes. At fertilization, when sperm and egg are united, a single cell of 46 chromosomes is formed. From that point on, all that's added is time and nourishment.

12. Genesis 9:5,6; Exodus 20:13; Ezekiel 20:31; Amos 1:13; Leviticus 18:21; Jeremiah 32:35; Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. 136.

13. Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. 136.

14. Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 68.

15. Proverbs 24:11,12; Psalm 10:17,18; Psalm 41:1; Matthew 18:10.

16. Isaiah 55:7; 1 John 1:9; Apostles' Creed; Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 33, Westminster Confession of Faith; Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 70, Q. 135, Q. 136.

17. 11 Corinthians 5:18.

18. Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. 135, Q. 136.

19. Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. 138, Q. 139; I Thessalonians 4:3-4; Proverbs 6:25-29, 7:25-27; Exodus 20:14.

20. Malachi 2:15; Genesis 1:27,28.

21. Report of the Special Committee on Problem Pregnancies and Abortion, "Do Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly (Micah 6:8)," adopted by the 1992 General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (USA).

22. "...for 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. 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 fetus in the womb before it has come to light."

- John Calvin, Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1950), 3:41,42.

"This Assembly regards the destruction by parents of their own offspring, before birth, with abhorrence, as a crime against God and against nature."

- General Assembly, 1869

"The fetus is a human life to be protected by the criminal law from the moment when the ovum if fertilized....As Christians, we believe that this should not be an individual decision on the part of the physician and couple. Their decision should be limited and restrained by the larger society."

-PCUS General Assembly, 1962

(Adopted June 1988, revised September 1993, November 2015, March 2016)



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