In its early days, Christianity spread as a primarily urban phenomenon from city to city, with a particular concern for raising children to love Jesus. In the Roman Empire during the days of the

New Testament it was common for children to be severely beaten and even tossed into the garbage or dung heap either to die or to be taken by someone and used as a slave, a prostitute, or a gladiator.42 Infant mortality was so high that only half of children lived to their fifth birthday, and less than 40 percent lived until their twentieth birthday.43 Consequently, a family would need to birth five children to raise two and usually waited between eight and nine days after the birth to name the child to see if he or she lived through the first week. Poorer families often bred children to help earn income and later care for their aging parents. Infanticide was common, particularly with disabled children and girls. Methods of infanticide included abandonment in the desert, drowning in a river while tied to a rock, and even suffocation at the hand of a parent.

As pastor of an urban church and father of five children, my desire is for missional Christians to live in cities and have children for the sake of the gospel. Nevertheless, I recognize that there are reasons today why a godly Christian couple might want to consider using some form of birth control—reasons that do not constitute sin or selfishness. I want to offer some practical, real-life examples from people I know personally. In them you will see that while writing books and declaring legalisms is easy, living for God’s glory amidst a fallen and imperfect world is far more complicated.

    • A man married a single mother with rebellious teenage children and chose  to postpone having any children with his new wife for a season while he first pursued a deep heart-level relationship with his adoptive children.
    • A virgin woman who married for the first time in her forties chose to wait to attempt conception until after their first year of marriage. She and her husband had both been single for so long that they recognized they were a bit selfish and set in their ways and first needed to learn to care for one another selflessly.  
    • A woman had a difficult pregnancy that resulted in such great tearing of her body that her organs literally started falling out, so she wanted to wait a few years for her body to heal before birthing again. 
    • A family had a very sickly child who was unlikely to live for more than a few years and required constant medical attention, which prompted the couple to wait before having another child, though they did desire more children. 
    • A husband woke up with a debilitating and painful arthritic condition that kept him bedridden for a few years and unable to work; thus, he and his wife used birth control so that his wife could work to feed their children.  
    • A missionary family took an assignment in a war-torn area that was hit with famine; facing the possibility of starvation, they chose to postpone their childbearing efforts by using birth control.  
    • The mother of small children had been brutally raped and was dealing with such trauma that her husband lovingly agreed to wait to have any more children until she had physically and emotionally recovered.  
    • My wife, Grace, and I met while in high school and were married four years later, in the summer before our final year of college. We chose to postpone childbearing at that time so that I could finish my degree and start my career as a pastor, whereby I would be able to provide a salary and medical benefits to our now five children, in line with 1 Timothy 5:8, which says, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”  

It is true that some people sinfully postpone children for reasons motivated by greed and selfishness. It is conversely true that some idealists have children prematurely, before they are truly able to care for them.

In summary, using no birth control of any kind beyond prayer is acceptable for Christian couples. However, it is sinful when it is imposed upon or demanded of all Christian couples. Many years after graduating from college, my wife, Grace, and I were reunited with a family that we had greatly learned from and enjoyed while students. They contacted us and came to visit us and spend a night at our home—with their twelve children! They are a beautiful Christian family in which the parents have a great marriage, the wife has been able to birth all her children without major physical trauma, and the children all love and serve Jesus. As one would expect, they have had to live simply, as with ten daughters it is at times difficult to meet all of the financial needs. But, to be honest, it was an absolute joy to have their family in our home, and in every way but financial they are one of the richest families I have ever known. Their position is very mature: they are both convicted that God has called them not to use any birth control, yet, they do not believe that is God’s will for everyone, and they do not judge or look down on Christian families who use birth control.