Update: There are some significant edits to #4-5. Just so you know.
Yesterday a friend called to chide me (in a friendly way) for the way in which I have not come down definitively on the question of birth control. My reason for this has been that when it comes to families and the size of them, we have more important things to talk about, but I have also recognized that I have had to say something and have done some of that in a couple of my books. But sometimes you have to say something more. So here goes.
1. The rise of our birth control-friendly culture and our abortion-friendly culture happened as twin parts of the same zeitgeist. This was all part of our cultural apostasy, and our rejection of the Christian view of marriage and family.
2. Notwithstanding, the Scriptures say nothing definitively about birth control considered as such. Despite the anti-family bias that created the default assumptions of the world around us, we still have to be careful not to go beyond what is written. We especially have to take care not to go beyond what is written. Slavish following of the world is bad, but so is knee-jerk reaction to it.
3. In making the previous point, I recognize that I am departing from the historic Christian tradition on this issue, both Catholic and Protestant. This means that I differ, not only with the pope, but also with Calvin and Luther.
4. At the same time, because of the world’s bias in favor of birth control, the world’s representatives are not too scrupulous about distinguishing between forms of birth control that are abortifacients and those which are not. This unfortunately includes some Christian medical professionals who have gotten their training from a medical establishment which doesn’t give a rip as to whether the method prevents the implantation of a fertilized egg or prevents the fertilization itself. This is the evil lurking behind the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology redefinition of conception as “the implantation of the fertilized ovum.” What this means that someone can now sincerely say that a particular method isn’t an abortifacient, although by the older definition of conception, it was. Beware of being misled — a culture that has killed more than 40 million infants thus far is not going to scruple about a few altered definitions.
5. This said, Christians also have to recognize the intent of a procedure, and not build a dogmatic case on statistical likelihoods alone. It is true that some methods might make it less likely for a fertilized egg to implant in the uterine wall, but it is also possible that other daily activities might do the same thing. Jogging? Weight loss? Oil of Olay? Beats me, I don’t know. We need to trust the Lord, and not the periodic worries caused by the great baal of statistics.
That said and acknowledged, all hormonal methods of birth control are known to work in one of three ways. Here they are, from most to least common: (a) suppression of ovulation, (b) obstruction of fertilization, and (c) prevention of the implantation of the fertilized ovum on the uterine wall. Many Christians know that the IUD is an abortifacient (using the older, un-tinkered with definition of conception). But primary intent notwithstanding, there are also dangers with the hormonal methods (the Pill, Emergency Contraceptive Pills (ECPs), Plan B, etc.), dangers that do not exist with barrier methods like the condom, diaphragm, and spermicide. These don’t place unborn children at risk of an inhospitable welcome to their first bed.
6. The Scriptures do contain one example of birth control (the example of Onan), but this narrative is complicated by the fact that the whole point of a Levirate marriage was the preservation of a deceased brother’s name through a legitimate heir. Onan therefore defrauded his sister-in-law through the instrumentality of an act of birth control, which makes it problematic to say that he was struck down by the Lord for the birth control simpliciter.
7. While the Scriptures don’t say anything definitively about birth control as such, they do teach an enormous amount about the blessing of faithful covenant seed. This is one of the three main reasons for covenant marriage — the begetting of a godly seed (Mal. 2:15). This should be taught and emphasized in the church, and is the only really effective way to counter the world’s anti-child bigotry. If this is effectively done, visitors to your church will think you must teach against birth control, and they will think this because of the large teeming population at the three foot level that they can see during fellowship hour.
8. More is involved in raising up a godly seed than to have a man with dogmatic convictions about birth control, matched only by his unwillingness to feed, read to, educate, pay tuition for, bestow upon, and love the results of his dogmatism. There are no promised covenantal blessings for the self-absorbed proprietors of stud farms.
9. Children are a blessing from the Lord, but not an automatic blessing from the Lord. They are a covenant blessing, which means the terms of the covenant must always be believed and remembered. A man with a lazy son is ashamed (Prov. 10:5), and it should be obvious that he would not be more greatly blessed if he had five sons sleeping through the harvest.
10. Pastors and teachers should take special care to make sure their teaching and their practice of discipline line up. It is sometimes easy to say things in the pulpit which, if taken seriously, would necessitate church discipline for any violators. But to be all bark and no bite is a good way to bring the authority of the pulpit into disrepute. Don’t call it something you are not willing to treat it as. But the balance here should be determined exegetically, and not by a pragmatic cowardice.
11. As each married couple make their decisions about this, and as pastors help them, they should take care to make careful distinctions with regard to motive, as well as a sharp distinction between principles and methods. We must learn to distinguish between a couple postponing fruitfulness for no reason other than that the worldlings told them they should spend some time surfing together in Argentina first, and a seasoned married couple with six kids who stop having them because their covenantal hands are quite full. It appears that the former do not understand the creation order at all, and that the latter don’t have any problem at all understanding it. To focus on birth control in isolation interferes with such essential distinctions from being made.