Christians and Birth Control

This Lord’s Day, I taught a lesson on Christians and Birth Control (see all audio for our current series, “God, Marriage, and Family,” here). It was a daunting topic to cover, not only because the use of contraception by Christians is emotionally charged, but because it is complicated by a dizzying array of societal, political, and medical implications. Yet, as we were reminded by the new FDA rule on “morning after” pill, it is not an issue over which Christians can bury their head in the sand.

How are we to approach matters, like the use or non-use of birth control, if they’re not directly addressed in the Bible nor lending themselves to short and simple answers? We must think carefully about what the Bible says and does not say. In other words, proceed with the classic formula of affirmations and denials.

What We Must Affirm and Deny about Birth Control

I see at least 2 affirmations and 3 denials that Christians must make about birth control. On the basis of Scripture, we must affirm:

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  1. Marriage and family are Gods gifts to which Christians must be devoted.
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  3. Abortion is the inexcusable murder of a preborn human life made in the image of God.

And we must deny:

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  1. All sexual intimacy in marriage must necessarily be procreative.
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  3. Any “family planning” is contrary to God’s blessing of children.
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  5. Any natural and/or artificial birth control methods or technologies are prohibited by Scripture.

For an explanation of each these affirmations and denials, please see Christians and Birth Control.

Discussing Birth Control with Humble Hearts and Careful Minds

At the intersection of these affirmations and denials, there remain more than a couple corners at which a Christian couple may choose to sit. But once they have, how can they talk with other Christians about their decision for mutual edification?

This is probably my biggest burden as a pastor. Christians have to be able to discuss birth control, including their disagreements over how they have chosen to apply the biblical affirmations and denials in their own families.

If the use or non-use of contraception is such a caustic issue that any discussion is silenced in the church, all that will issue from it is condemning uninformed Christians to acting in ignorance and, even worse, dividing the Church to the dishonor of Christ’s testimony to the world (see John 13:34-35; 17:11, 21; Eph 4:1-6). Any Christian, or church, who by their formal position or informal practice hinders fellowship over the issue of contraception is sinning. Period.

I would offer two directions for Christians on how to discuss birth control. Neither is ground-breaking and when taken together, simply mean that we have to actually act like Christians.

1. We must discuss birth control with a humble heart.

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  • Do not make assumptions about another couples use or non-use of contraception. Those who refuse contraception are not necessarily uninformed or irresponsible. And just because Christians use birth control does not mean they despise children or God’s honor in the Christian home.
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  • Avoid trite and thoughtless questions / statements. Questions like asking a couple who uses contraception: “Don’t you trust God?” Or “Do you like children?” And don’t ask a larger family: “Are you done?” Or “Did you plan this?” These are really just condescending insults under the guise of inquiry.
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  • Remain teachable to other Christians’ application of the Bible. I learn a lot from those with whom I disagree. No Christian is a paradigm of error. Even if we finally disagree over how we are to conduct ourselves, that is not the same as saying that we have nothing to learn from one another.

2. We must discuss birth control with a careful mind.

Christians ought to be leaders as thinkers, for we have the mind of Christ Himself in His Word (1 Cor 2:16; 2 Pet 1:3). So, we ask ourselves and others questions like:

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  • What non-negotiable biblical truths help us address this issue? The foregoing affirmations and denials wouldn’t be a bad place to begin. To be sure, we will not be renewed in our minds if we reduce Scripture to a slogan-shop. Open the Bible to begin a conversation over it, not to end all thoughtful dialogue.
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  • What are the motivations for how we have decided this issue? Just because someone’s using contraception does not mean that they’ve disregarded God’s Word. And just because they’re Christians doesn’t mean they haven’t. We must prayerfully consider our motivations and lovingly help others do the same.

Unfortunately, many couples think about Gods values somewhat glibly or superficially as they make decisions about family size. Other issues generally receive more attention: convenience, finances, possessions, etc. Gods values should be the fundamental basis for decisions made by couples about having children.

… In areas that are open for disagreement because the Bible does not explicitly condemn or condone something, we need wisdom to conduct our lives for Gods honor. The above biblical/theological values provide the bedrock for our decisionmaking. Issues like convenience or material possessions should not be primary factors. Finances are a legitimate factor to consider, but not necessarily from the perspective of the American dream.’

… keep in mind that biblical wisdom is not driven by materialism, selfishness, and personal convenience. Those mefocused dimensions are part of worldly wisdom, which explicitly or implicitly shakes its fist at God.

My burden is that we avoid acting or thinking like pagans as we approach this question. What are the driving forces behind the decisions we make concerning birth control and family size? Are my biblical values finding preeminence in the decisionmaking process? Am I asking Why not have children?, in addition to asking Why have children?’

(Michael Grisanti, Birth Control and the Christian: Recent Discussion and Basic Suggestions [Master’s Seminary Journal, Spring 2012, pp. 106, 109-10]).

If we ever hope to get to the bottom of these questions, we have to be able to talk about birth control together.

For Further Study

I am happy to hear and respond to all reasonable questions or comments. Feel free to comment to this post or, if you prefer, reach me through the Contact tab.

Admittedly, I am nowhere near being an authority on this issue nor was my lesson exhaustive, by any stretch. So here are some helpful resources to further consider this issue:

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  • Michael Frields, Birth Control: A Biblical Perspective. Dr. Frields is also a brother that I was able to know personally when I lived in Los Angeles. As well as being a Christian who’s concerned with God’s Word and honor, Dr. Frields is an expert in obstetrics and offers a very helpful survey of the biblical and medical issues involved in considering birth control.
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  • “Planned Parenthood?” in Right Thinking in a World Gone Wrong, ed. John MacArthur. Another clear overview in this helpful book covering controversial issues that Christians face.

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of ones youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate (Ps 127:3-5)

13 thoughts on “Christians and Birth Control

  1. Surprised to hear Biblical Christians supporting use of the pill, but trying to remain teachable 🙂

  2. I read the Michael Fields article and this seemed to be the critical thought: “studies have clearly demonstrated that pregnancies conceived while on the pill have no increased likelihood for miscarriage or other pregnancy related problems.”

    If the studies show that a fertilized egg (a human-being created in God’s image) is not killed by the destruction of the uterine lining the pill can be an acceptable choice.

    But Steve this sentence seems to conflict with your thought that we need to evaluate the science and be convinced “Any Christian, or church, who by their formal position or informal practice hinders fellowship over the issue of contraception is sinning. Period.”

    Are you saying that if I am convinced by the science that the pill kills a fertilized egg; I present that evidence to fellow Christians; and they continue to use the pill that I should fellowship with people who murder babies?

    • Thanks, Russell, I don’t see the conflict you see at present. For I would say, in line with resources above and others, that there’s no warrant to the claim that those who use the pill “murder babies.”

      The most that can be said is that the Pill may be a risk, but a potential risk, one that’s yet to be substantiated – Grisanti does a good job of showing the ambiguity of the claim the “Pill” is abortifacient (see pp. 98-100), as well as the “Planned Parenthood?” chapter (pp. 89-104), both of which cite other studies conducted by Prolife doctors and groups.

      So, in short, I’m suggesting that a Christian is not able to be convinced that the pill definitively kills a fertilized egg. Certainly, they may be convinced that it’s a potential risk that they are not comfortable taking, and also one that they may discuss with other Christians as to whether they should be comfortable with it, but a Christian cannot definitively say the pill “murders babies,” for there’s not the evidence to support that statement.

      This may also perhaps touch on the nature of Christian fellowship, which may have more uncomfortable edges than we may often realize and experience, given our many distinctives amongst churches in America, but I’ll leave that for another post / comment.

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  4. I don’t see a conflict as yet either.

    If it is a settled medical conclusion that I don’t need to examine it closely. If it is an open question than declaring it sin if I separate over the issue is premature.

    I read your conclusion that separating over the pill is sin to be a pretty firm conclusion about the science.

    If your position is that the pill doesn’t cause abortions so Christian’s are free to use it- that could have been stated more clearly.

    If your position is Christians should examine the science and form their own conclusions that is fine as well.

    But the idea that Christians should examine the science and if they form a conclusion that the pill causes fetal death their response is limited seems indefensible.

    • Hey Russell,

      You know, what I find distasteful is the suggestion that Christians have a right to separate over the pronouncement of “science.”

      On any conscience issue, there is always the possibility that the one of the parties (usually the weaker brother) is going to consider the other to be in sin for the dictate of their conscience (and let’s be honest, this is a conscience issue…and Paul in Romans 14 is very clear that this contempt is not allowed). We have to be VERY careful about pronouncing a brother or sister to be in sin where there is no clear biblical warrant for doing so, and the pill is a great example of that.

      Given the severe gravity of breaking fellowship (we do it far too frequently and easily), there would need to be nearly incontrovertable proof that the pill is an abortifacient before a believer could separate from another. And given that what science “knows” today is often different than what it knows tomorrow, it seems to me that separation on this issue is what is indefensible.

      • Thanks for your thoughts, Jason. I think the most important point you make is – “the severe gravity of breaking fellowship (we do it far too frequently and easily).” You’re right, which is a concern that transcends even the immediate issue. Lord willing, I’ll expand on it, shortly.

    • Thanks, Russell. I would restate it like this. Whether the Pill is an abortifacient is not an “open question” for people to determine themselves. At present, the abortifacient claim is not defensible. The conscience question that Christians must decide is whether the theoretical potential of abortion or the ambiguity of the medical evidence is enough for them to refuse use of the Pill.

      In other words, is it possible for a Christian to research and decide for themselves that it is definitely an abortifacient? No, because that’s not a conscience issue, that’s a simple question of whether there’s warrant or evidence for the claim. And there’s not. As it is well-put in “Planned Parenthood?,” in Right Thinking (p. 95): “… we would caution well-meaning but under-informed lay people from using emotionally charged speculation to judge others or to stir up unwarranted fears.” The key terms in my mind being “speculation” and “unwarranted.” Dividing with other Christians based on speculation and unwarranted fear is sin.

      To the fellowship question, however, as I alluded in my prior comment, I think this is a more comprehensive issue about the nature Christian fellowship – and the uncomfortable edges of it that we may not be forced to confront in the West, with a church on every corner.

      For example, let’s raise the stakes and discuss issues that are not speculative or unwarranted. Could we have fellowship with Christians who (without question, wrongly and unbiblically) affirm “gay marriage” or the “pro-choice” positions? And would it matter how they hold that position, if it’s owing to biblical ignorance and poor teaching? Would they have “space” in Christian fellowship to discuss these things over the Bible or should we just accost and exclude them right away?

      To put it more simply, how wrong can a Christian be and still be a Christian and, therefore, still welcome to fellowship in Christ even while such important matters remain on the table for discussion and loving debate over the Bible?

      I raise this issue because it seems to me that we may exclude this potential to even have these conversations by making “what a Christian must believe about _________________” a forgone conclusion. Is this appropriate, when what a Christian must believe is about Christ? Do we believe that God can save a “pro-choice” or “gay marriage” proponent? (That’s not rhetorical). And if He does, will they see their error at the moment of regeneration ? A week later, a year later, a decade later? And can we be sure the acceptable timeline for them to come to the right conviction on the basis of the Bible?

      I’ll perhaps write a post elaborating this post more, but in an age of church “distinctives” it’s something we need to consider for the good of the Church – and other Christians.

  5. Thanks for the clarity of thought. I think the clarity of scripture guides the response to the professor. God saves people who abort babies, engage in homosexuality or even worse people like me. John 1 and Edwards “Religious Affections” can give us some help answering the question, Is someone genuinely a Christian?”

    Believers hear God’s voice in scripture and when someone rejects the clear teaching of scripture out of loving concern we should question their profession.

    I have no doubt that God hates worldliness but American Christians are particularly blinded to this sin. The specific manifestations of worldliness are less clear than homosexuality so I have to give more leeway.

    Look forward to hearing your further thoughts on fellowship. I also appreciate your thoughtful leadership as we think through how to live biblically. Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

    • Yes, and amen. Good stuff – especially the reminder about Edwards’ diagnosis in Religious Affections!

      What seems like an important matter upon which we need to clarify as Christians is: “…when someone rejects the clear teaching of scripture out of loving concern we should question their profession,” to which I wholly agree. But what I’m challenged with, especially as an elder/pastor who necessarily has to regularly make such “discernment calls,” is when do we consider someone to have “reject[ed the] clear teaching of scripture” and when do we allow other factors to temper our response to them.

      My hunch is that we (decidedly including me, myself, and I) may often approach errant Christians as though their error(s) are rejecting the clear teaching of Scripture, which hijacks true fellowship, as well as the possibility of sanctifying conversation / instruction from the Scripture. This seems easier for Christians on some “merely theological” topics (e.g., predestination), but less so on social topics (e.g., family issues, birth control, homosexuality, etc., etc.) – is this right? Should we give the “gay marriage” proponent as much leeway as the Arminian? (That’s not rhetorical or suggesting a definitive “Yes,” but an issue to consider with a qualified response). More to come, Lord willing.

  6. Steve, just wanting to highlight something that you wrote. “To the fellowship question, however, as I alluded in my prior comment, I think this is a more comprehensive issue about the nature Christian fellowship and the uncomfortable edges of it that we may not be forced to confront in the West, with a church on every corner.”

    I think it needs to be noted (as you allude to here), that we find separation so easy because such a degree of separation already exists. If I dont like something at RCG, I could go to any number of churches that already exist and that enables my separation. If RCG was the only believing church in Sacramento however, separation would be painful and public. I fear though that because separation is easy to do, we fail to see its gravity…

    • Amen and amen, brother. You hit the nail squarely on the head.

      In fact, I’ve sketched out some thoughts to expand just that idea. I hope it will run, shortly, DV.

      It may surround the question of whether we can really fellowship when we all own cars… something in which you at the DMV have a vested interest. 🙂

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