Skip to comments.Christians examine morality of birth control [Ecumenical/Orthodox Presbyterian]
Posted on 07/27/2010 6:07:29 PM PDT by Brian Kopp DPM
July 23, 2010
(RNS) Is contraception a sin? The very suggestion made Bryan Hodge and his classmates at Chicagos Moody Bible Institute laugh.
As his friends scoffed and began rebutting the oddball idea, Hodge found himself on the other side, poking holes in their arguments. He finished a bachelors degree in biblical theology at Moody and earned a masters degree at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
Now, more than a decade later, he is trying to drive a hole the size of the ark through what has become conventional wisdom among many Christians: that contraception is perfectly moral.
His book, The Christian Case Against Contraception, was published in November. Hodge, a former Presbyterian pastor who is now a layman in the conservative Orthodox Presbyterian Church, realizes his mission is quixotic.
In the 50 years since the birth-control pill hit the market, contraception in all its forms has become as ubiquitous as the minivan, and dramatically changed social mores as it opened the possibilities for women.
No less than other Americans, Christians were caught up in the cultural conflagration. In a nation where 77 percent of the population claims to be Christian, 98 percent of women who have ever had sexual intercourse say theyve used at least one method of birth control.
The pill is the most preferred method, followed closely by female sterilization (usually tying off fallopian tubes).
People are no longer ... thinking about it, says Hodge, 36, who had to agree with a Christian publisher who rejected his book on grounds that contraception is a nonstarter, a settled issue.
People dont even ask if there is anything possibly morally wrong about it.
For more than 19 centuries, every Christian church opposed contraception.
Under pressure from social reformers such as Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, the Anglican Communion (and its U.S. branch, the Episcopal Church) became the first to allow married couples with grave reasons to use birth control.
That decision cracked a door that, four decades later, was thrown wide open with the relatively safe, effective birth-control pill, which went on the market in this country in the summer of 1960. Virtually every Protestant denomination had lifted the ban by the mid-1960s.
Even evangelicals within mainline Protestant and nondenominational churches embraced the pill as a way that married couples could enjoy their God-given sexuality without fear of untimely pregnancy.
It was a reaction to that whole Victorian thing where sex was seen as dirty, says Hodge, who lives in Pennsylvania.
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Official Mormon teaching through the late 1960s was against birth control. But by 1998, the churchs General Handbook of Instructions made it clear that only a couple can decide how many children to have and no one else is to judge.
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There remains one massive holdout among major Christian churchesthe Roman Catholic Church, which expressed its opposition in no uncertain terms in Pope Paul VIs 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae.
To separate the two functions of marital intimacythe life-transmitting from the bondingis to reject Gods design, Paul VI wrote.
The fundamental nature of the marriage act, while uniting husband and wife in the closest intimacy, also renders them capable of generating new lifeand this as a result of laws written into the actual nature of man and of woman, Humanae Vitae proclaimed.
Janet Smith, a Catholic seminary professor whose writing and talks have been influential for two decades, puts it this way: God himself is love, and its the very nature of love to overflow into new life. Take the baby-making power out of sex, and it doesnt express love. All it expresses is physical attraction.
The churchs ban on contraception stunned many, including one of the doctors who created the pill, Harvards John Rock, a Catholic. By and large, Catholics went with the culture rather than the church.
A 2005 Harris Poll found 90 percent of adult Catholics support contraception, just 3 percentage points lower than the general adult population.
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The ban on contraception is completely irrelevant to Catholics, said Jon OBrien, president of the group Catholics for Choice. We know the position the hierarchy has on contraception is fundamentally flawed, and thats why its ignored en masse.
The Rev. Ken Vialpando, pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Ogden, Utah, places much of the blame for Catholics disobedience on priests who are reticent to talk about church teachings on marriage and sex, or who bought into the 1960s notion that ones conscience was a sufficient guide.
What if our consciences are not fully informed? Vialpando asked. How can we fault the people if they havent heard about it and recognize the purpose or meaning of marriage?
Smith, whose recorded 1994 talk Contraception, Why Not? has sold more than 1 million copies, says young adult evangelicals and Catholics, including men studying for the priesthood, seem more open to the possibility that contraception is a sin.
The pendulum may yet swing, she said.
They are going to have a huge impact, says Smith, who holds an ethics chair at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. They already are.
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The Rev. Greg Johnson of Sandy, Utah, who is on the board of the National Association of Evangelicals, says most evangelicals remain firmly in the contraceptive camp, even if some stress that it should not be used frivolously or to avoid children altogether.
A recent Gallup poll of the association, and another of its board, found 90 percent support for contraception.
Such statistics are disheartening for evangelicals such as Hodge and James Tour, a renowned chemist specializing in nanotechnology at Rice University in Houston, who believe contraception is not biblical.
Rather than heeding Christian theology to be agents of life in the world, Christians have largely adopted cultures philosophic naturalism, which considers sex an itch to be scratched, Hodge said.
They have the same view of conception that atheists have.
Evangelicals dearth of understanding about sexuality and marriage explains why they have trouble arguing against gay marriage, he contends. Contracepted sex, in his view, is no different from gay sex: Its not life-giving either way.
Tour, a Jew who converted to evangelical Christianity as a teenager, like Catholics endorses natural family planningavoiding intercourse during the womans monthly fertile cyclebut wonders if Christians ought to forgo even that measure of family planning.
He says young lustful men who have had unfettered access to their wives actually welcome a message of self-restraint.
The women are looking for relief. The men are looking for relief, Tour says. Theyre like, `I want that. I want to live in peace. I want to live in fulfillment.
Throwing out contraception is more trusting in God. It ultimately lets him decide what is the right number (of children), Tour said.
Protestants in 30 or 50 years are going to say, `My God. What were we thinking in those generations??
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James W. Scott
Why do we talk about "birth control"? This expression is a euphemism given to us in 1914 by Margaret Sanger, the leader of the birth control movement and the founder of Planned Parenthood. The real subject is contraceptionthat is, preventing conception.
We don't have space here to sort out all the theological arguments about marriage, sexuality, procreation, and human responsibility that pertain to contraception. But there are several texts in the Bible that may directly refer to contraception.
The first text is Genesis 38:6-10. Onan agreed to have sexual relations with his deceased brother's wife, Tamar, in order to raise up offspring for him. However, Onan prevented conception from taking place by withdrawing from her at the last moment. But "what he did" angered God, who slew him.
What was Onan's sin? Some have said that he sinned by refusing to carry out his duty to his brother. But this "duty" was merely a social custom (called levirate marriage), not part of God's law. Even under Mosaic law, a man could refuse to follow this custom and escape with only a bad name (Deut. 25:5-10). So if Onan had refused to have anything to do with Tamar, God would not have slain him.
But Onan was quite willing to have sex with Tamar. That would have been fine, if he had not prevented her from getting pregnant. It was his prevention of conceptionhis spurning of God's design for human sexualitythat made his sexual involvement with Tamar sinful.
In the Greco-Roman world of the first century, sensuality, perversion, and general decadence reigned supreme (often in connection with worshiping false gods). As a result, contraception (usually the drinking of potions to achieve temporary sterility), abortion (including the drinking of potions to destroy fetuses), and even infanticide ("exposing" infants to the elements and wild beasts, drowning them, etc.) were widespread, facing little moral objection.
The apostle Paul condemned the immorality of his day, but was strangely silent, or so it may seem, on the subjects of contraception, abortion, and infanticide. The reason for this apparent silence may be that these specific practices are included in broader categories. Surely infanticide and at least late-term abortion are included in his condemnations of murder. Does contraception likewise come under a broader category?
In this regard, we need to rethink Paul's condemnation of pharmakeia in Galatians 5:20. Most Bible scholars have uncritically assumed that this Greek word means "sorcery" or "witchcraft" (as translated in English Bibles). But pharmakeia (from which our word pharmacy comes) originally referred to the use of potions, drugs, and often poisons, generally for evil purposes. Since these concoctions were often thought to have magical properties, the word developed the secondary meaning of "sorcery." Both meanings were current in Paul's day; which one fits better in this text?
Galatians 5:19-21 presents a long list of "the deeds of the flesh." These are personal vices, which would be common in the general population. But sorcery was the craft of a sorcerer, not really a common personal vice. The use of potions and drugs for evil purposes, however, was widespread. It makes more sense to find such "drug abuse" listed alongside such things as immorality, idolatry, jealousy, and drunkenness, than to find sorcery on such a list.
This view is strengthened by the position of pharmakeia on the list. Between sexual sins (vs. 19) and sins involving disputes (vs. 20) we find "idolatry" and pharmakeia. Since pagan temples featured "sacred" prostitution, we should think of "idolatry" as attached to the first group of sins.
That leaves pharmakeia. It obviously does not belong with the sins involving disputes, but it, too, can reasonably be attached to the first group. What would then be in view is the evil use of potions and drugs, especially in connection with sexual practices. That would refer to the potions and drugs used to prevent conception and destroy fetuses.
Interestingly, the early third-century theologian Hippolytus, in the first clear reference to contraception made by a Christian in a work that has survived, condemns certain women who are "called believers," and yet use "drugs for producing sterility" (atokiois pharmakois, in The Refutation of All Heresies, 9.12.25).
The same term is used by the early second-century physician Soranos of Ephesus, in his book Gynecology, to refer to both contraceptive and abortive potions. And the first-century biographer Plutarch mentions pharmakeia (without any qualification) alongside other practices (furtive child substitution and adultery) by which a woman might thwart her husband's obtaining of a legitimate heir (Romulus, 22.3).
Thus, there is good reason to think that pharmakeia in Galatians 5:20 refers to the evil use of potions and drugs, especially contraceptive and abortive agents.
There is likewise good reason to find condemnations of contraception (and abortion) in Revelation 9:21, 21:8, and 22:15. In 9:20-21 people are said not to have repented of their idolatry, murdering (including abortion and infanticide), pharmakeia, immorality, and thievery. Once again we find pharmakeia in a list of popular vices centering around sexual immorality. And again we say, this arguably includes the use of contraceptive drugs. The same analysis would be made at 21:8 and 22:15. (At 18:23 there is probably a reference to sorcery, since the passage is not listing personal vices, but describing the evil influence of "Babylon" on the world; cf. Isa. 47:9, 12.)
God has been teaching his church down through the ages. He has endued generation after generation of his people with wisdom. We should therefore respect the long-standing wisdom of our Christian heritage. We should depart from it only if Scripture truly forces us to do so.
It is therefore highly significant that the church down through the centuriesOrthodox, Catholic, and Protestant alikeheld one view on contraception with remarkable unanimity until just recently. It was condemned in strong terms, and contraception was often made a criminal act.
The Westminster Standards do not address the matter, but the early laws of Presbyterian Scotland punished with death "the taking of potions to cause abortion" and also punished "the using such means ... to hinder conception."
However, under the influence of increasingly degenerate secular culture, the largely apostate Protestant mainline churches gradually embraced contraception, especially in the second half of this century. This was not an isolated development. The birth control movement was an integral part of a general cultural movement away from traditional Christian morality. In the pursuit of pleasure without consequences, moral objections to contraception, abortion, homosexuality, etc., had to go.
This historical context alone does not prove that contraception is wrong. However, should we expect an immoral and hedonistic society to come up with genuine moral insight, contrary to nearly two millennia of consistent Christian teaching?
Dr. Scott is a member of Trinity OPC in Hatboro, Pa. Reprinted from New Horizons, December 1996.
I am about to get married and one of the questions that we as a couple had to discuss beforehand was the issue of a Christian view of contraception. We are not the youngest couple (we are both in our 30's) and we are not considering waiting long before we try to have a family, but we consider it wise and necessary initially to get ourselves accustomed to one another in the new situation as a married couple before planning to have a family. However, we are both consciously seeking for ways that would please our Lord and thus we consider many contemporary methods as not being in harmony with the will of God (e.g. IUD).
The natural "rhythm method" does appeal to us despite its reputation for unreliability. However, given that the time frame overlaps with the prohibition in Lev 18:19 we are not so sure about this. Please can you help us understand in what ways Lev. 18:19 does or does not apply to us and give us some guiding principles regarding this.
In short, we are prayerfully considering this issue, but would like to have some guidance on the matter.
The Bible does not, as far as I can tell, give us any proscription or prohibition with reference to contraception. Of course, so called "day after" pills are not really contraception as much as they are abortion. In that situation, such methods (and you are correct: the IUD would fall into this category), would be forbidden and be considered the taking of life, a violation of the Sixth Commandment.
But other more conventional methods, such as the rhythm method, diaphragm, condoms, etc., are not forbidden in the Scripture. In this area I do believe that the Christian has liberty. (Caution: "the pill"an example of hormonal contraceptionapparently can cause abortions, since it can prevent a fertilized egg from implantation. For that reason, it would be good for the Christian to avoid that method of "birth control" as well.)
You comment, "The natural 'rhythm method' does appeal to us despite its reputation for unreliability." Yes, the "rhythm method" does have that reputation. I've heard it thus referred to sometimes as "Vatican roulette" (since it is the only method of birth control permitted in the Roman Catholic Church), but that phrase includes two myths: (1) that it is a method only used by Roman Catholics and not by Reformed Protestants, and (2) that (even when used properly) it is not a reliable method of birth control.
J. Norval Geldenhuys, perhaps best known for his commentary on Luke (Eerdmans, 1951) in the New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT) series, was a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa. He also published a book entitled The Intimate Life (James Clarke, 1952), which devotes a lengthy chapter to "Birth Control." Most of that chapter is an explanation of "periodic abstinence" (the term he uses for the "rhythm method) and his reasons for preferring that method to others.
Is it a reliable method? Geldenhuys claims that "It is as reliable as a physiological law can be" (page 74). What about cases where pregnancy occurs in spite of its use? Here Geldenhuys quotes Dr. Leo Latz, "Theoretically the application appears so very simple that people will not take the trouble to follow directions accurately, and the success of the method depends upon the accurate application of all rules hitherto mentioned" (page 75). Thus the problem is not the method, but "faulty application."
The Intimate Life was published over a half-century ago, and some parts of it are now somewhat out-of-date. But the "rhythm method" (or the method of "periodic abstinence") is today more reliable than ever before (again, if time and effort are taken to apply the principles accurately and consistently in practice). So don't automatically rule it out just because of its (largely undeserved) "reputation for unreliability."
Now, with reference to Lev. 18:19, I do not think that that passage necessarily applies to the Christian under the New Covenant. This would be considered a ceremonial law, not a moral law. So, for instance, within Leviticus you find a number of ceremonial laws that we would not keep today, such as the prohibition against eating pork.
Now, I'm not suggesting that you auomatically go ahead with the rhythm method, as it poses its own disadvantages as well (such as the need for careful application, as I have already mentioned). But all I am saying is that I do not believe the passage you cite would apply (or prohibit you from using the rhythm method) in this situation.
It seems that the standard non-abortive methods that are out there are safe, dependable, and perfectly moral, provided that they are used with proper intentions. And this brings us to an important matter: Scripture regards children as "a heritage from the Lord" and "a reward from him" (Psalm 127:3 NIV). See also the following.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sones born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them" (Ps. 127:4-5 NIV).
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine witrhin your house; your sons will be like olive shoots around your table. Thus is the man blessed who fears the LORD..." (Ps. 128:3-4 NIV).
The same Norval Geldenhuys who many years ago endorsed the use of birth control for Christians in certain situations also gave some warnings against its use in other situations:
"Is birth control permissible? If by birth control is meant that married couples should use their common sense in spacing childrenthat they should strive not to beget children when their physical, financial and other circumstances do not warrent itwe wholeheartedly agree that it is permissible.... When, however, birth control is practiced for selfish reasons and with false motives [such as "loss of wealth, luxury and ease"], it is to be strongly opposed" (page 48).
Here's how Geldenhuys concludes his chapter on birth control:
"In conclusion, we wish to stress the fact once more, that birth control may be applied only in those cases where couples are truly convinced that circumstances demand such a course.... Children are the happiest gifts of the Creator. And the parents who wisely rear a good-sized family are the blessed of the earth" (page 87)
May the LORD be with you as you seek his will. May Hein accordance with His willbe pleased to bless you with children at the proper time, and may theyin accordance with His grace grow up to love, obey, and glorify Him, following the evident desires of their father and mother.
Interesting. I’m in a conservative Presbyterian church and I’ve never heard contraception discussed.
God’s will is not restrained by contraception.
The contraception keeps the egg from being fertilized. Isn’t that restraining God, as you say?
Undoubtedly. A condom may well be 98% effective -- except when God wills otherwise.
But I think that the question the good pastor is asking, is whether or not contraception is (or is supposed to be) restrained by God's Word.
It's a legitimate question, and Protestants should not be shy about examining Roman Catholic canon law on the subject to see how well it accords with the Bible. Heck, the 18th-Century Presbyterian Church went back to Old Testament Jewish canon law in its ruling that Presbyterian women have the right to expect marital intercourse from their husbands no less than twice a week (yes, for married Presbyterians -- sex is not only not forbidden, it's mandatory... albeit not that very many of us resent the obligation). So I don't think it's inappropriate for Presbyterians to study the Bible, as well as Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox canon law, to inform our thinking on this subject as well.
Gods will is not restrained by contraception.
Neither is God’s will restrained by lack of contraception.
A condom could frustrate God's will?
Onan restrained God’s will, so He killed him.
should read Jesus was conceived without any sperm...sorry
Abraham and Sarah were in their 90's, way past menopause, when Sarah was first pregnant.
Sanger felt that in order for women to have more equal footing in society and to have physically and mentally healthy lives, they needed to be able to decide when a pregnancy would be most convenient for themselves. In addition, access to birth control would also fulfill a critical psychological need by allowing women to be able to fully enjoy sexual relations, without being burdened by the fear of pregnancy. --Link.Without being "burdened by the fear of pregnancy." Where have we heard those similar words in regard to the legality of abortion? Barack Hussein Obama says he doesn't want his daughters "punished with a baby." And if women are living "physically and mentally healthy lives," using birth control, why is the divorce rate at 50% on a whole for our country, when those using Natural Family Planning have a divorce rate of around 1-3%? It should also be noted that the birth control pill kills babies, women, and the environment. The Pill Kills. The best information to consider regarding birth control can be obtained through the reading of the encyclical Humanae Vitae.
Tamar got pregnant by tricking her lying father-in-law Judah, and God got the last laugh, so to speak, once again.
I know exactly what he's saying, that's why I no longer buckle my seat belt, look both ways before crossing the road, or researching an investment before putting all of my money into a deal.
On the contrary, the penalty subsequently laid down in the law of Moses for a simple refusal to comply with the levirate marriage precept was only a relatively mild public humiliation in the form of a brief ceremony of indignation. The childless widow, in the presence of the town elders, was authorized to remove her uncooperative brother-in-law's sandal and spit in his face for his refusal to marry her.
So it was not his refusal to provide offspring for which the Lord took his life, but his coitus interuptus.
5 "When brothers live on the same property [a] and one of them dies without a son, the wife of the dead man may not marry a stranger outside [the family]. Her brother-in-law is to take her as his wife, have sexual relations with her, and perform the duty of a brother-in-law for her. 6 The first son she bears will carry on the name of the dead brother, so his name will not be blotted out from Israel. (A) 7 But if the man doesn't want to marry his sister-in-law, she must go to the elders at the [city] gate (B) and say, 'My brother-in-law refuses to preserve his brother's name in Israel. He isn't willing to perform the duty of a brother-in-law for me.' 8 The elders of his city will summon him and speak with him. If he persists and says, 'I don't want to marry her,' 9 then his sister-in-law will go up to him in the sight of the elders, remove his sandal from his foot, and spit in his face. Then she will declare, 'This is what is done to a man who will not build up his brother's house.' 10 And his [family] name in Israel will be called 'The house of the man whose sandal was removed. (C) -Deuteronomy 25:5-10
But those actions may result in death or financial ruin. Are you equating having a child with those?
Your thoughts on posts # 3 & 4? These are from the OCP website.