Family Planning: For Christians?

Sex on Stage

Today we live in a sex-crazed society. From the clothing and entertainment industries to the education sector, sex permeates our senses at every turn. As the western culture casts off all moral restraint, the church faces ethical issues on many fronts. With abortion, divorce and remarriage, and homosexuality on center stage, birth control has often been relegated to the sidelines. Some consider the topic to be a distraction from the more pressing issues at hand.

The wise Christian will seek to understand God’s purpose for sex before confronting any of these hot-button topics. And when one understands God’s design, birth control can no longer be ignored.

The Early Church and Sex

Since the church’s earliest days, Gnosticism has subtly distorted Christian ethics. The early church fathers valiantly opposed its teachings, which took on many shapes and sizes. Basic Gnosticism labels all physical matter as evil, which implies that the body and its natural functions are evil.

Unfortunately, this greatly impacted the early church’s view of sexuality. Augustine, a prominent theologian of the fourth century, believed that sex was right only when pursued for procreation. Any sex “which goes beyond this necessity, no longer follows reason, but lust” [1].

Sex Designed for Pleasure and Unity

When Adam saw Eve for the first time, he was visibly moved. “This is now bone of my bones,” he exclaimed, “and flesh of my flesh…” (Genesis 2:23b). God’s perfect couple was naked and unashamed.

Immediately following, God revealed His purpose for man and woman: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). One may conclude that becoming one flesh refers at least in part to sexual intercourse. Paul confirms this when he writes that going into a harlot is becoming one flesh with her (I Corinthians 6:16).

Perhaps the most vivid example of God’s delight in marital lovemaking is the Song of Solomon. The writer minces no words when he paints graphic images of a married couple’s sexual love.

God designed sex for pleasure within a marriage relationship. Unfortunately this function has been stifled and even condemned across the centuries.

Sex Produces New Life and Responsibility

Having children is an important aspect of marriage and must not be ignored. God commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28). The Psalmist rejoices in the beauty of new life when he writes, “I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well” (Psalm 139:14).

Materialism has greatly altered society’s view of children. In contrast with the eastern mindset that views children as assets, the western culture counts children as financial liabilities. Couples entering marriage must renounce this mindset and embrace children as priceless gifts from God.

When children are viewed as gifts, parents will embrace the huge responsibility to provide and care for them. This includes not only their financial needs, but also their emotional and spiritual needs. Parents must prepare their children in every way possible to serve God and love others.

Possible Reasons for Birth Control

After one establishes a biblical perspective on sex and children, one may consider possible reasons for family planning.

Birth control grants young couples more time to prepare financially, emotionally and spiritually for raising a family. When the wife struggles with health, she might need a substantial gap before she can handle another pregnancy. Couples with a growing family may use it to avoid greater responsibility than they can handle. In fact, Paul writes to Timothy, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (I Timothy 5:8).

Before marriage, couples must come to an agreement on if they will use any form of birth control, and if so, what form of birth control they should use. A Christian couple seeking to honor Christ will need wisdom as they consider the available options.

Birth Control Methods

Medical

The pill has been a topic of much controversy. Since 1960 when the first pill was approved by the USFDA, millions of Christians have used the pill without really understanding how it works. While its main function is to prevent ovulation (the formation of a woman’s egg), it has a backup function that few know about; it thins the uterus wall so that the blastocyst (fertilized egg) cannot implant, thus resulting in an early abortion.

Pharmaceutical companies have effectively hidden the pill’s abortive capabilities. Christian author Randy Alcorn shares his extensive research on the pill in the booklet “Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions?” He concludes that the pill, while not primarily designed to cause abortions, does function as an abortifacient when prevention fails [2]. It is sobering to consider how many Christian couples have unknowingly killed their children by using the pill.

Surgical

According to an extensive survey, 23% of sexually-active couples have been sterilized [3]. It now ranks as the most common form of birth control  and is intended to be permanent. This involves a basic surgery, either performed on the man or the woman, to sever the tubes in one’s reproductive organs. For the man, his semen will no longer contain sperm. For the woman, her egg will no longer enter the uterus where it would be fertilized.

Undoing sterilization is possible, but cannot be guaranteed. Successful reversals may pose significant health risks during future pregnancies.

Disabling one’s God-given reproductive system carries major implications. It permanently states that new life is not welcome. It takes the womb into one’s hands while removing it from God’s. Except when extreme health issues may require it, sterilization should not be considered by Christian couples.  

Barrier

The barrier methods are less controversial and have been proven to work fairly well at prevention. Simply put, these methods prevent fertilization by barring semen from uniting with the egg. Unlike the medical forms of birth control, there is no possibility of abortion using these methods. The main ethical issue is whether prevention is right or not.

Natural Family Planning

The biggest advocate for natural family planning is the Catholic church. The commonly used rhythm method tracks a woman’s cycles, signs and body temperature to determine when she is fertile. When fertility is determined, the couple may either abstain from intercourse or use a barrier to prevent fertilization.

Conclusion

History is an insightful teacher. It reveals error that springs from a wrong understanding of sex. It challenges the contemporary Christian to view sex through a Biblical framework. God designed marriage unity for pleasure and delight. He purposed that it would result in new life and responsibility.

Based on this understanding, couples must seek God’s leading for family size. Some might surrender all use of birth control. In such cases, they will need encouragement, and at times, financial assistance. Others may use family planning and must not be judged too quickly.

Christian couples should navigate the various methods of birth control wisely, purposing in their hearts never to use methods that will kill their offspring.

When sex is embraced as God’s pleasure-filled, life-destined gift, Christians will be able to make wise decisions on their use of birth control.

A few questions for couples to consider before using birth control:
  1. Why are we preventing?
    Do our motives stem out of selfishness or care?
    Do we view children as liabilities or assets?
  2. How are we preventing? Will we risk aborting our own child by using the pill or other medical means? Will we use a natural method such as a barrier or the rhythm method?
  3. When will we allow children? Will we just wait for an “accident” to happen or will we be intentional about allowing life to come about?
A few questions for couples who will not use any forms of prevention:
  1. Are we (both husband and wife) convinced that this is how God is leading?
  2. Are we committed not only to receive the children God sends, but also to care well for each one?
  3. Do we look down our noses at those who seem to be using some form of family planning? Will we extend grace towards those who come out at a different place in regards to family size?
Ian Ian Miller lives in Brooklyn, NY and volunteers full-time with a non-profit organization. He is earning his BA in English through College Plus, which he hopes to use to teach ESL, both at home and abroad. He is passionate about urban, cross-cultural church planting, and verbal, personal evangelism.

Works Cited:

1. Of Hippo, Augustine. “Of the Good of Marriage.” Church Fathers: Of the Good of Marriage (St. Augustine). N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.
2. Alcorn, Randy C. Does The Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions? Sandy, OR: Eternal Perspective Ministries, 2011. Print.
3. Mosher, William D., and Jo Jones. Use of Contraception in the United States: 1982-2008. Hyattsville, MD: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, 2010. Center For Disease Control and Prevention. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.

15 thoughts on “Family Planning: For Christians?

  1. Great topic!

    As one who was not in any form raised or was a Christian prior to just over 4 years ago, I can attest to the mental pain of choosing a medical method (vasectomy in my case). I waited a year after our third daughter was born, and now after 5 years I regret it. Currently I seek God’s wisdom before I will have a refersal. I did not know Him when I had it done, but now that I do I question taking once again action into my own hands without clear leading. I know God is bigger than my medical procedure so I also pray for that.

    But my warning whether it be the pill, a medical sterilazation, condoms etc or even rythym is as a couple pray and pray long, maybe fast. Just make sure BOTH are in agreement and make sure God is leading.

    For as one who now reaps a decision before knowing God, I can attest that had I known Him, I would not in my case have had the surgery. But this may not be the case for everyone.

    Quit possibly more than anyone needed to know about me, but I would rather expose my personal life and help a brother or sister than sit back and not share and be ashamed. Because I am ashamed of my decision yet I know God is bigger than my decisions if it be His will.

    Blessings!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “laddn,”
      Thank you for sharing your personal journey! I especially appreciate your challenge to prayerfully consider any decision regarding family planning. This is advice that I want to take to heart!
      Ian

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  2. Thank you so much for such a gracious approach to a potentially divisive topic. John Piper comes out almost exactly where you are. He would add that children being blessings does not obligate the Christian to abandon family planning; God also created marriage, marriage is a blessing, and yet God does not command every one to marry. But he, like you, brings up the heart issues.

    Another note: Why do we, as Christian couples, typically not enter marriage expecting God to ask us to care for the orphans? Would it not be wise to expect God to require that of us, and wonder if He does not, than to assume that the orphan is someone else’s problem and not consider adoption seriously unless God closes the womb?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Rhoda,
      Thanks for the encouragement!
      You ask a really good question, “Why do we, as Christian couples, typically not enter marriage expecting God to ask us to care for the orphans?”
      This is something that I have thought about before as well. If the home, and not an orphanage, is God’s original design for raising children, would we not consider adoption as the most effective way to care for the orphan?
      I have not read John Piper on birth control. Do you have any links you could share?
      Blessings!
      Ian

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    2. Rhoda, your thoughts about orphans resonate with me. I’ve always had a soft place in my heart for children who need a home, but I did not pay much attention to it until I knew I could not have more biological children. I’m ashamed of that. Now my husband and I are taking foster classes, and waiting to see what God wants from us. We are discovering that the needs are huge–and I wonder how I was so blind before. If we Christians believe in the value of children, let’s not be selfish about which children are part of our family.

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  3. Ian, well done. As I read this article I was expected to find it to be another guest post from someone perhaps in their 50s or more. 🙂 Bless you for combining good research, orderly analysis, mature assessment, tasteful specificity, and biblical values in your writing here.

    I would add my voice in affirming natural family planning (some methods are better than others) assisted by barrier methods as a good approach for Christian couples to consider.

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  4. I affirm the overall thesis, Ian, and bless you for addressing the topic. But let me offer a few points.
    First, the use of I Timothy 5:8 is problematic. While it’s true that men are to be providers, that verse is surrounded by the context of caring for widows in the church.
    Second, Scripture is clear that God is the one who “opens or closes” the womb. Therefore children are not really ours, but His. Our experience as a family is this; God pays for what He orders.
    Yes, our children (especially the older ones) did without some things their peers had, but I don’t believe there’s any lasting scars from that. Relationships are the most important part of any family; starting with Mom and Dad and extending to the children.

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    1. J. Mark,
      Thanks for your input in this discussion. Having been raised in a large family, I definitely can testify that the relationships far outweigh the material “sacrifices.”
      I would like to discuss a few other points with you via email.
      Blessings!
      Ian

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  5. Thanks for the practical, well-written article. I’m not sure how I knew, but a couple paragraphs in I thought, “I wonder if this is Ian.” A couple more paragraphs and I had to scroll down and see if I was right. Your articles are always very informative, and they engage me from the beginning.

    I found it interesting to consider gnosticism’s role in our view of sex, and I appreciated your point about the beauty of sex and the blessing of children. Just today in my public school classroom, we were reading about crocodiles mating. An ESL student pulled me aside and asked what “mating” meant, and I explained. Another ESL student who overheard said, “We’re reading about that nasty stuff!” I responded something about sex being a good thing….but it is interesting to see how sometimes our mindset is to view sex as negative.

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    1. Tabitha,
      Thanks for the encouragement!
      It is interesting how our view of sex is often negative – even within the church. The topic seems to be avoided far too often.
      It’s neat to hear of your recent opportunities to counter that negative view.
      See you next week :-).
      Ian

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  6. Thank you for the thoughtful, grace-filled post. I was encouraged simply reading it — not something that always happens when we are talking about challenging issues. The questions for both sets of couples were also excellent.

    For couples out there, I’d simply echo the words of this article — value children, love each other, and seek God’s wisdom and guidance…. Two other examples that are worth mentioning:
    * I know one family that chose to space children for the sake of the mother’s health, but they still had 12 children. Family planning doesn’t *have* to mean planning small.
    * I know of examples where people have chosen smaller families for the sake of the Kingdom because of where they were called to serve. While this is not something to do glibly and it is a genuine loss, there may be times when it is appropriate.

    And in all of this, we treasure children, we treasure Christ, and we treasure brothers and sisters who think differently than we do. Thanks for leading the discussion with both a clear Biblical perspective and with clear Biblical grace! 🙂

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