Christian Couples and Birth Control
Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.
- 2007 Jan 23
Should Christian couples practice birth control? This topic is receiving more press in a variety of circles for divergent reasons. Part of the dialogue on the subject is being fueled by the "Quiverfull Movement."
ABC News online highlights Ken and Devon Carpenter along with their eight children as representative of Christian families that have become part of a movement that takes its name from the Scriptures: "Happy is the man who has a quiver full of [children] Ps. 127:5." "Quiverfull followers believe that all forms of contraception, all forms of birth control and any form of family planning goes against God's plan."
"If there is a grandmother to this movement, it's Nancy Campbell. Her magazine has been advocating this lifestyle for decades. Campbell explained why followers even have a problem with natural family planning or the 'rhythm method.' 'When we really stop and think about it, it's not natural,' she said. 'We have to go against the way that God designed our bodies. He designed them to be fruitful, so if a couple [doesn't] want to have children...they've got to do something to their body so it doesn't work the way God planned it."
Campbell's argument is logical. But, does it necessarily square with Scripture? I commend her and those committed to such a position and lifestyle. However, as I have been asked about this particular issue a number of times by couples who sincerely want to follow God in this area, some brief biblical balance is in order here.
First, this issue is one that falls into the category of liberty of conscience as no absolute command concerning the subject is given in the Scriptures. Certainly Christians must apply the whole of Scripture to their marital lives and glean principles that impinge upon specific issues even in an indirect way. In this instance, there are no principles which would mandate a "no birth control of any kind" position. Regarding the issue of liberty, Paul asked, "Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand (Rom. 14:4; see 1-7 for context)."
Second, as a related issue, because God is the Creator of all things and because His creation is good, Christians are not obligated to reject something simply because the world has abused it, distorted it, or co-opted it. Certainly we may never cause others to stumble in the exercise of our liberty, but, the false dichotomy between flesh and spirit has its root in Gnosticism and is not biblical. Therefore, if God does not forbid all forms of contraception, and He doesn't, then some forms of birth control are permissible. Paul said, "I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteems any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean (Rom. 14:14)."
Third, to buy into the guiding principle of the Quiverfull Movement is to focus on one purpose for marriage alone to the neglect of others. Yes, Christians are to bear godly offspring, but marriage is not solely for the purpose of procreation.
For example, marriage is a picture of Christ and His relationship with His bride, the church (Eph. 5:22f). Among other dynamics on display in Christian marriage is the headship of Christ, the love of Christ for His bride, His servant leadership, His sacrificial love for His bride, the church's loving submission to her head, and the process of sanctification, etc.
Further, in marriage, a man and woman are brought together to complement one another (Gen. 2:18). They are to share life together for the sake of the gospel as fellow heirs of the grace of life (1 Pet. 3:7). They are to be partners in life. God brings a man and a woman together in marriage for mutual companionship. Indeed, it is not good for man to be alone (Gen. 2:18).
Of course, Paul is very clear that one of the primary purposes for marriage is sexual fulfillment (1 Cor. 7:1f). Paul speaks of desire, duty, and regularity in this area. While making an allowance for the cessation of conjugal relations in marriage for a brief period of time for the purpose of prayer, Paul gives a positive affirmation of conjugal relations in marriage. In light of his practical comments, one may not overlook the fact that it is not always practical, that is beneficial, to cease from those relations. As married couples engage in proper relations they display their faithfulness to one another, fulfill their duty toward one another, submit to their proper authorities in this context (one another), avoid temptation, and in so doing glorify God.
While other purposes for marriage could be listed, the point is that bearing children is not the only purpose. A woman nursing a couple of babies with another on the way would be hard pressed to fulfill her sexual responsibilities to her husband let alone enjoy them at that point.
Fourth, some object to contraception arguing that it is unnatural. The obvious response is that we do many things that are unnatural and not sinful. We wear clothes to keep us warm; we remove diseased organs from our bodies; men shave their beards and women shave their legs, etc. In some of these cases we are preventing our bodies from doing what they do naturally. But, these things are not sinful.
Fifth, others object to contraception citing the case of Onan in Gen. 38:7-10. Not only has this text been abused in other ways, the reality is that this text is not dealing with the issue of birth control. Among other things, Onan was guilty of and condemned for sexual immorality, self-focus, and failing to fulfill a Levirate obligation (Deut. 25:5-10).
Sixth, still others object to contraception saying that it demonstrates a lack of trust in God. The biblical response here is that we trust God, but we trust God as we fulfill our responsibility before God. If this logic were applied consistently to every area of life we would not purchase insurance, have surgery, or even go to work.
Seventh, it must be said that certain forms of contraception are indeed sinful. Any abortifacient would be prohibited. The unlawful taking of another person's life is an attack on God Himself and is a violation of the sanctity of human life (Gen. 9:6). Further, because life is the result of the creative act of God (Ps. 139:14) and because life begins at the moment of conception (Ps. 51:5), among others, those contraceptives that prevent the fertilized ovum from implantation are abortifacients and therefore prohibited.
Eighth, Christian couples should indeed take seriously the command of God to "be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:22)." While this command to fill the earth has specific application to our first parents, Adam and Eve, and may not legitimately be used as a command to every married couple or even every Christian, married couple, there is a general principle in the command. One of the purposes of marriage is propagation of the species and the dominion or cultural mandate in connection with it. Moreover, as the Quiverfull Movement declares, children are indeed a blessing from the Lord (Ps. 127:5). It may not be in God's providence for a particular Christian couple to have children, but, no couple may be cavalier in their attitude toward children. All Christian couples should pray and seek the Lord's will for them in this area.
Ninth, believers must always check their motives and make sure they are not being conformed to this world but that they are being transformed by the renewing of their minds (Rom. 12:1-2). A self-centered focus is not in keeping with Christlikeness. The pursuit of wealth and material possessions combined with the eschewing of personal responsibility characterizes the spirit of the age. Children are often seen as a hindrance to our own fulfillment as defined by the world. It was the Lord Jesus Himself who said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me (Lk. 9:23)." When couples avoid having children for selfish reasons they are not being biblical nor are they glorifying God. Practically, they are actually missing out on a better and more joyful way: God’s way.
Tenth, in the end, we must rest in the sovereignty of God. Not only does God withhold children from some who desperately want them, He gives children to others despite the most effective forms of birth control being in place. In all things we must be content and find our joy in Christ and His sovereign will for our lives (Phil. 4:13).
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