“May Christians use birth control?” That is our question for tonight’s question box. I take it for granted that this question has married Christians in mind; to ask this question in any other context is to presuppose sin. So, may Christians who are married use birth control without sinning or otherwise dishonoring God? This is an emotional issue to many people, so I will try to be especially sensitive in my handling of it.
We always want to start by seeking out direct commands and other biblical statements that deal directly with the situation. Here we want to start with the sixth commandment, “You shall not commit murder.” Does birth control, therefore, constitute a violation of this commandment? There are, of course, numerous views regarding when human life begins. I, for one, cannot see how we can draw that line any later than conception, that, is at fertilization. I realize that fertilized human ovum often fail to attach in the proper places and go on to birth, but from my perspective that is God’s business. Therefore, any birth control device that works by keeping fertilized ovum from proper implantation ought to cause more than a problem to a Christian's conscience. Such devices are tellingly called “abortifacients,” and I believe that Christians must shun them out of respect to the sixth commandment.
Another verse that enters the discussion is Genesis 1:28, God’s command to Adam, “Be fruitful and multiply.” This is often called the cultural mandate and it calls us to more than the propagation of children, although that is the most central aspect of this command. It is true that we are to be fruitful on this earth, but I don’t think that statement can be generalized to every instance where a decision is being made about whether or not to try to have a baby.
There are no direct biblical citations that deal precisely with this question, “May Christians practice birth control?” Therefore, we are going to have to employ sanctified reason and practical application of a biblical perspective. Perhaps a good way to move forward is to provide two extreme positions.
Consider, for example, a married couple who practice birth control. Perhaps the wife uses the very common birth control pill. Although they would not say so, the reason they like this is that it allows them to pursue material affluence and exciting careers, to enjoy marital intimacy and sexual joy, all without the hassle of having to worry about producing kids. Kids, after all, have been known to cause spouses, usually wives, to leave their careers. They have been known to cause premature aging, marital stress, and a general financial impoverishment. With all that in the bargain, the pill seems like a good idea.
I think it is very evident that it is this kind of reasoning that has made birth control, and especially the birth control pill, so popular. Ours is a self-absorbed, narcissistic generation. Having children gets in the way of our self-love, it forces us to grow up, it makes us stop being so self-centered in our habits, our living, our buying, and our marriage.
You probably can tell already what I think about this. This simply is a far cry from the biblical perspective on life. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk. 9:23). If you think that sounds like a bad idea, then you probably don’t want to have kids, or at least not many of them. In short, as birth control is one of many means towards a self-centered view of life it is not appropriate for Christians principally because of the end it serves.
Let me give you another view on birth control, one that is distinctively Christian. A couple might refuse to practice any form of birth control because they think it is wrong altogether. The creation of life is in God’s hands. Furthermore, Scripture says, “children are a reward from the Lord… Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them” (Psalm 127:3-5).
I have a great deal of appreciation for this view, and have often espoused something close to it. What I particularly like is that it respects God’s sovereignty. Who do I know how many children I should have? Won’t God provide the means for the children He gives? Is this a responsibility I want to take? This is a view that takes a high view of our dependence on God, and it is a view of birth control that has produced a great many children.
There is one point we want to be careful of, however. That is whenever we discuss divine sovereignty we want to be careful not to set aside human responsibility. We may not want responsibility over a great many things, but if the means are placed in our hands by God then the responsibility is there. It is impossible for us to be relieved of responsibility when we are making choices about our behavior with the knowledge of the potential outcomes of that behavior. Whether or not we are using contraceptive device or pill or are simply keeping an eye on the calendar, and even if we are not, we are making choices that have outcomes. We therefore have to be responsible for those outcomes when they ensue.
For this reason I draw back from a view that says birth control is altogether inappropriate to Christians. We are required to be stewards of many things. God has laid a call upon our lives, in many cases we have a very clear conception of what it is. We may not be good stewards of that call if we chose to engage in behavior in such a way that we are likely to have children. I can think of a couple who believe God has called to a hardship missions setting. It may not be the most responsible thing for them to pursue children, particularly if they will not be able to care for them. We always want to make room for the leading of the Holy Spirit in individual lives, for individual Christians to have a sense of God’s leading through prayer, Bible study, and the counsel of others in the church. Married couples therefore should not feel guilty if they believe they should not have children, or if they believe a certain size family is best for them as God is leading and directing their lives. Nor should they be treated as second-class Christians. Our church has plenty of children for them to love and serve; in fact, many of the couples who have chosen not to have children serve quite diligently in just such a way.
Children are a blessing from God, and the family with a full quiver is blessed by them. It is no surprise that Christian churches are often filled with children, because people who are being shaped by the values of the Bible will rate them higher than fancy cars, expensive vacations, and prestige carriage houses. Christians have optimism about the future, because we know a God who is in control of history. Therefore, we are not afraid, and people without fear are far more likely to have children. Furthermore, Christians are able to act in the face of uncertainty with confidence because they have a God to turn to. Where will the money come from? How will I ever be a mom or a dad? Those are often good questions, and they are far more easily answered when we know that God is sovereign and good and full of power. Jesus, as we know, loves the little children, and so do the people of God. And for that reason alone our choices will be different from those of others. But choices they are, and if we know the difference between when we are trusting in God and when we are not, we will be able to assess the decisions we make in this matter as in others.
© 2022 Tenth Presbyterian Church.
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For Internet posting, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Tenth Presbyterian Church.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Rick Phillips. © 2022 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org