One of the hot questions at Coram Deo’s recent Raising Godly Kids conference had to do with birth control. Should Christians use it? Should we not use it? As one conference attendee phrased it: “Does our church have a stand/opinion/viewpoint on the use of birth control?”
To answer directly: it would be saying too much to say that Coram Deo has a stance on birth control. For our elders, this is a “live” question – one we’re sorting out and praying about and reading on. So what I offer in this response is less of a “position” and more of a “research brief” – a set of thoughts and questions and partial conclusions on the matter. It’s a huge topic – one worthy of an entire position paper – so this post won’t do justice to all the nuances. But at least it’s a start.
No Explicit Scriptural Teaching
To begin with, we must acknowledge that there’s no explicit Scriptural teaching on the subject of birth control. There are verses and passages whose principles apply to the issue, but no direct teaching on the matter. So we must use induction (reasoning from the general principles of Scripture’s teaching on marriage, family, and sexuality).
At the same time, we should lament the shoddy way in which Protestant theologians have thus far approached this topic. Evangelical theologians have said little more than, “We can’t find any verses on the subject, so husbands and wives should pray together and do what seems right to them.” This position values the role of the Holy Spirit and the conscience, but it slights the great wealth of biblical material on marriage and sexuality. Surely the Bible has more to say on an issue so central to human flourishing! Since the days of Fundamentalism, this simplistic biblicism (“If there’s not a verse for it, we can’t really say”) has hindered evangelicals from speaking with depth and persuasiveness on these matters. We long to see this remedied.
Our comrades in Rome are closer to a remedy. Though we may not agree with all their conclusions, our Roman Catholic brethren have outworked us theologically on this topic. Most people only focus on Rome’s prohibition of artificial birth control methods. But behind that prohibition lies a rich repository of theological work on the nature of the human body. Over the past few years we’ve studied Pope John Paul II’s teaching on the theology of the body – specifically what’s summarized in Christopher West’s little book A Theology of The Body for Beginners – and we’ve found it provocative and meaningful. I would recommend every thoughtful Christian couple pick up this little book and read through it. Until our own Protestant tradition shows itself capable of more nuanced theological work on the body and human sexuality, John Paul’s work leaves us much to ponder.
A Few Principles
Some Methods Are Not an Option. Though the medical research is often suppressed, some methods of birth control – specifically, many birth control pills – are abortive in nature. They don’t merely prevent conception; they also prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. Because Christians believe that life begins at conception (Psalm 139:13), we are vehemently opposed to any and all such forms of birth control (which obviously also includes all the “morning-after” pills). Women currently taking birth control pills should do the research to understand exactly how their medication works, and should strongly consider discontinuing use of the Pill altogether. Randy Alcorn’s work on the subject is a great start – you can read a summary here, watch a video interview here, or download a full-length book here. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but as my wife and I did our own research, we were amazed at how well the culture-shapers suppress this information. The Pill, after all, is one of the Great Triumphs of feminism and of the sexual revolution; to question it is to question the foundational assumptions of our postmodern culture. And since pharmaceutical companies make huge profits selling the Pill, they’re not anxious for you to doubt it. The medical research is out there – but you’ve gotta be persistent in chasing it down. (By the way, if you’re a doctor, nurse, or med student with access to primary sources (academic research journals) – I’d be very grateful for copies of whatever additional monographs you can find on this subject).
Children Are a Blessing. The biggest lie our culture tells us is that children are a commodity – something to be “planned” and fit into our already-existing life patterns and dreams and desires. Do you want a career? Don’t let kids keep you from it. Do you want a sexy body? Don’t let pregnancy ruin it. Do you want a pristine house, a cadre of hobbies, complete autonomy in how you spend your time? Don’t let being a mommy or daddy get in the way. Christians must reject all these cultural lies – and sometimes that takes some work, because they’ve trickled down deep into the fabric of how we see ourselves and how we see the world. We must replace them with the biblical truth that children are blessed gifts from our Father who loves us (Psalm 127); that children are to be received and welcomed, not managed and put up with (Matthew 18:1-6); and that they are eternal beings who bear the image and likeness of God and will exist forever (Genesis 1:26-27).
Christians Ought to Cherish and Nourish Life. The biggest issue with artificial methods of birth control is that, by nature, they work against life. Their goal is to create an environment that’s NOT conducive to life. Rather than cherishing and valuing and nourishing life, they oppose and devalue and diminish life. In Scripture, there’s one spiritual being who’s a Destroyer, opposed to life – and it’s not God! Christians must ask: do we truly and accurately reflect God’s image when we oppose life? Can we, in good conscience, intentionally create conditions that work against the creation of life, while at the same time gathering each Sunday to worship the One who created life and has given us new life in Christ?
Natural Methods are Available. The common objection to what’s been said so far is: “Should we just have as many children as we can, then?” Some will answer “Yes” – and I think we owe them a debt of respect and honor. But others opt for natural methods of family planning that fit with Christian conscience, that honor life, and that work WITH the design of the body rather than against it. You don’t have to choose between The Pill or the Duggers… you can choose to practice Natural Family Planning, or NFP for short. This God-honoring, biblically sound method of family planning has enjoyed a surge of research and development in recent years, and you’ll find a wealth of tools, training, and information online.
Freedom of Conscience. Even as we have these conversations and challenge one another, we need to remember that God grants Christians freedom of conscience in non-moral decisions. We don’t have the right to prescribe how many children a couple ought to have, and (in contrast to our Roman Catholic friends) we would even refrain from specifying particular methods of birth control. “Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls“ (Romans 14:4). But – for those who would be tempted to use freedom of conscience as an excuse for laziness – keep in mind that freedom of conscience begins where the clear teaching of Scripture ends. Christians may not say, “We’re not having any children;” the Bible commands otherwise (Genesis 1:28). Christians may not say, “We’re knowingly using an abortive method of birth control;” the Bible commands otherwise (Exodus 20:13). We draw firm lines where Scripture does; and then we use the light of reason and conscience to fill in the gray areas.
Let us do this wisely and humbly, knowing that in the end, we will stand before Jesus and give account for every deed done in the body – including the things done in our bedrooms (2 Corinthians 5:10).