There’s a Christian T-shirt that has a picture of a cross with the slogan: “A blood donor saved my life.” It’s a light-hearted way of drawing attention to a heavyweight Christian doctrine. The New Testament is very clear that it is only through Jesus’s sacrificial death and blood shed on the cross that our sins could be forgiven and we can be saved.
It is the uniqueness of the death of Christ that makes many nervous to make any connection between the giving of our blood or organs to offer life to others and the finished work of Jesus. It would be as insulting as someone declaring on a Remembrance Day parade that just as soldiers sacrificed for us by laying down their lives for us, so we now sacrifice for them by laying down our wreaths. There is no parallel in scale, no analogy of cost. But one could say that just as the Remembrance Day commemorations are a way of honouring and celebrating what others have done for us, so giving blood or offering organs for transplantation is one of many ways we can act in remembrance or in worshipful response to what Christ has done for us.
In fact this is exactly what Christians are encouraged to do in Romans 12:
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is true worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2)
In light of what Jesus did for us, Christians are urged to consider how we use our bodies to worship God. For a long time the church has been wrestling with these verses as we begin to break down the sacred/secular divide. Worship is more than just our prayer times, our personal devotions or singing in church services. Romans 12 teaches us that everything we do at work, in our family life, in our engagement with neighbours and culture; everything we do physically, emotionally and mentally – all of this is part of our true spiritual worship.
If what we actually do with our physical bodies is also seen as part of our spiritual worship, then blood and organ donation can be offered as part of our worship response to the mercy that God has shown us.
There are a number of interesting ways the Bible engages with the subject of transplantation. As the medical technology was not available during biblical times, blood donation and organ transplantation are not handled directly, yet there still remain some interesting hints that seem to affirm worship through transplantation. Adrian Warnock writing for the Christian Medical Fellowship helpfully highlights some of these:
1. Horticultural metaphors
In Romans Paul uses the metaphor of Jews and Gentiles being grafted into one tree – which is a horticultural equivalent of transplantation. Warnock observes, “Romans 11 is an important piece of Paul’s discussion of the Church in relation to Jews and Gentiles. In it he describes Gentiles as being grafted into a tree which represents Israel. Here the emphasis is not on the transplant saving the life of the recipient, but the recipient providing the life for the transplant which would otherwise die.”
2. Body of Christ
In the New Testament becoming a Christian is described as being part of the body of Christ. Gifted individuals are even described as different organs in the body. Warnock writes: “As Christ’s body is formed by spiritual transplantation, is it not possible that we can view physical transplantation in the light of this? As biblical writers can conceive of Christ giving life to us as we are transplanted into his body, can we not also see that physical transplants can legitimately grant life to their hosts?”
3. Hyperbolic illustration
Paul describes the fervency of the affection that the Galatian believers had for him to the extent that when he was ill they…
“… did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. What has happened to all your joy? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me.” (Galatians 4:14-15)
Paul uses hyperbole to congratulate the Galatians on their previous affection for him and asking them to renew it again. Surely if this is used as a positive affection when the possibility of organ donation was not available it is not too great a leap to think that under the right circumstances now that organ donation is possible, this level of generosity is to be commended.
Jehovah’s Witnesses argue that the laws forbidding the Israelites to eat blood would imply that blood transfusion and organ donation should be prohibited.
“But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting.” Genesis 9:4-5 (See also Leviticus 17:11-14)
These commands are not generally accepted by the Church to be still in force for believers for the same reason that eating pork is not banned. In the new covenant separateness for believers is not maintained through food laws, as in Acts God appears to Peter in a dream specifically to declare all foods clean. We can surmise that the Bible does not prohibit blood and organ donation but instead lays a reasonable conceptual framework that would allow Christians to pursue it.
Here are three further reasons why Christians might consider offering blood or organs for transplantation.
1. The body matters to God.
Jesus went around physically healing people’s bodies. His was not a purely “spiritual” salvation or a spoken ministry. There is a very physical element to God’s plans for humanity – that is why not just Jesus’ resurrection but the general resurrection of the dead is so important. Bringing physical healing to people’s bodies is a way that we, like Jesus, can offer a taste of the kingdom breaking into our world.
Gilber Mileander warns “our society’s attempt to find ways to live longer should not be allowed to override a deep-seated and difficult to articulate sense of the importance of the body, even the dead body”. He goes on to warn against the “dehumanising tendency to regard our bodies as collections of alienable parts” and to beware of approaches to organ transplant that were really “a noble for of cannibalism”. So the way we treat the body even beyond death is important – we must be careful to be respectful and honouring and consent becomes a vital way we can safeguard against dishonouring the body.
2. Prolonging life for the sake of evangelism
Helping people to live longer gives more opportunity for them to hear and respond to the gospel. And the very act of donation by Christians may prompt the recipients to ask questions and begin a journey to faith. Peter instructs Christians to “live such good lives among the pagans that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven”. By stepping up to meet this need the Church has an opportunity to model generosity and kindness that can act as a prompt for others to seek God.
3. It is the right thing to do
Jesus tells us to love our neighbours and to love our enemies. He presents a role model in the parable of the Good Samaritan who met the practical and physical needs of a stranger. Part of our worship to God is to show compassion and mercy to those in need that we come across. Our society has presented a very clear need and so we should be willing to respond.