The Christian and Birth Control
Last week I posted a couple of articles dealing with auto-eroticism. I believe there was some useful discussion following those and was glad to hear from people who felt that they benefited from them. Since then I have received a couple of questions regarding my views on birth control (from people who, I suppose, feel that I’m sufficiently brave and/or foolhardy to tackle the tough subjects). I thought it might be interesting to discuss that topic as well and will do so in a pair of articles I’ll post today and tomorrow.
The Bible is silent on any explicit discussion of the subject of birth control. Still, Scripture says so much about sexuality and human life that I feel that we can look to God’s Word to guide us towards principles that will prove useful to us as we wrestle with this topic. We will attempt to see what the Bible says about whether or not Christians can use birth control and, if the Bible does permit it, what methods of birth control are acceptable.
When I say that the Bible has no explicit discussion of the subject of birth control I know that some people will raise the story of Onan. Let me say immediately that I feel that the purpose of this story is not to teach that birth control is wrong. The story of Onan, as recounted in Genesis 38, goes like this: “Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death. Then Judah said to Onan, ‘Go in to your brother’s wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.’ But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his. So whenever he went in to his brother’s wife he would waste the semen on the ground, so as not to give offspring to his brother.” God killed Onan for his disobedience. But God did not kill him because he used coitus interruptus as a method of birth control, but because he refused to fulfill his duty towards his brother and his brother’s family. He made a mockery of the commands of God and did so in outright mockery of the Lord. While this story may not be absolutely irrelevant to our discussion, it is certainly not the place to being a theology of birth control.
So let’s move on. From what the Bible teaches on related topics, we learn that two methods of birth control are clearly forbidden by Scripture:
Abstinence is forbidden - The Bible tells us that spouses are to have sexual relations regularly and are not to deprive each other. The only exception is given by the Apostle Paul who says that we may abstain for a short time in order to devote ourselves to prayer. “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:5). But as a rule, abstinence within marriage is wrong. Abstinence is not to be used as a method of birth control. It seems to be part of God’s plan for sexuality that there is always the possibility that a woman may become pregnant as long as she is physically able to bear children.
Abortion is forbidden - The Bible places great value on human life. Time and again Scripture affirms that we are to treasure and protect life. And hence we cannot destroy life as a method of birth control. I will have more to say about this in our next article.
There are other principles that can guide us as we consider this issue.
Be fruitful and multiply - We were created by God and as one of our primary roles told to “be fruitful and multiply.” It is our duty as humans to procreate and our special duty as Christian parents to attempt to fill the earth with people who know and love the Lord. So God expects and demands that we have at least some children and raise families for His glory.
Children are a blessing - The Bible is clear that we are to regard children as a blessing and not as a burden. Psalm 127 says “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward.” Where our culture too often sees children as a financial, emotional and psychological burden, the Bible tells us that they are a blessing and a reward. We should seek to experience this gift and this blessing in our lives.
Many children is a great blessing - God created us and as one of our primary roles told us to “be fruitful and multiply.” He gave no conditions. He did not say “multiply up to and including eight children at which point you must stop.” At the same time He did not say “be fruitful and multiply until you have exceeded five children.” So there seem to be no hard and fast rules about how many children are appropriate in God’s eyes. We do hear hints, though, that God approves of large families and that many children represent a special blessing. For example, Psalm 127 says "Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them." Not too many people would enter a battle with a quiver “full” of only one or two arrows.
God will provide - God tells us time and again throughout Scripture that He will provide for us. When we faithfully follow Him, He promises that He will provide for all our needs. We are to have confidence that no matter how impossible our needs may seem, He will provide. Thus a family with fifteen children can have the same confidence as a family with one child that God will provide for physical and financial needs.
No God-given birth control - God has not given humans the innate ability to enjoy sexual relations while absolutely avoiding pregnancy. In other words, when a man and woman have sex there is always the possibility of a pregnancy unless they use some “artificial” method of birth control or one of them is infertile or beyond childbearing years.
God opens the womb - God is absolutely sovereign. He has foreordained every pregnancy that has ever happened and that will ever happen. Whether a woman has one children or fifteen, God has decreed the beginning and end of each pregnancy.
No command to use birth control - Nowhere in the Bible does God command that a couple must or should use birth control at any stage in their marriage.
No explicit command against birth control - Nowhere in the Bible does God explicitly command that a couple must not use birth control.
Freedom - Within the boundaries God has created for us, He gives us great freedom. He allows us to spend much of our lives living within the bounds imposed by conscience based on sanctified reasoning. The question that faces us is whether or not the issue of birth control falls within the bounds of Christian freedom. I will turn to that subject (and others) tomorrow.