Contraception, Round Two

My friend, the good deacon Dana, posted a link to an article by a Protestant essentially espousing the Roman Catholic view of contraception. The following is my initial response.

First, I am absolutely in agreement with Elliot Bougis’ conclusions. Second, I am not so sure about his premises. He makes lots of plausible connections, but I’m finding it hard to see the cause-and-effect relationships.
For example (and this may be the biggest), because contraception was invented, homosexual sex is thought by Christians to be no big deal. That’s acceptable as far as it goes, but it says nothing about Christians using contraception. The misuse of something (or its idea) does not negate its use. That’s a simple principle that should be always taken into consideration in areas such as this.

Bougis and Steve Kellmeyer, whom he quotes, like this one a lot, and they argue against Christians who do not stand up against homosexual marriage because they, apparently, use contraception. They don’t quote any of these people to this effect, but, again: what does this prove, except that certain people who (supposedly) use contraception are not angry about something they should be angry about? But this is not necessarily the case. What about the people who use contraception and are out gathering signatures for constitutional amendments?

Some other problems.
Where is the Scripture? Judging by the article, there is no Scriptural support for the position, only repeated assertions of “what God intended.” (Certainly I think that God did intend much of what is asserted, I just want some proof for the position.)
Mr. Bougis’ explanation of why he personally opposes contraceptive use: (1) Tradition. He says (rightly, as far as I know) that the vast majority of Christians (including, of course, Martin Luther) were against contraception. But what kinds of contraceptives were our Christian fathers against (I’m assuming things more violent then those today)? I don’t know; I’m asking.
I’m a big proponent of tradition, but tradition does not win all arguments. For example, I’m wondering if Mr. Bougis has any car, school or home loans? Or any credit cards? Because all of the people he lists were probably against usury (charging interest) as well. But it would be nearly impossible to buy major things in the United States without being very well-off or taking out a loan. Lutherans were against insurance for a very long time as well; now we have our own insurance company!
(2) Contraception as “sexual deception.” “Contraception is saying ‘I love you’ with your fingers crossed. A condom does not simply put a physical barrier between a couple; it puts a spiritual barrier between them as well.” Basically, if you use contraception, you are denying to your spouse part of you. I don’t necessarily disagree with this, but does this raise it to the level of something you must do, every time?
(3) Contraception as “denying what sex is really for.” “Sex is a reproductive act of pleasure; sex is a pleasurable act of reproduction.” I am not disagreeing with this either. However, convince me that Scripture defines sexuality in these terms only. (Please, not “be fruitful and multiply,” unless someone is going to defend exegetically the claim that this does not apply only to Adam and Noah.) If this is true most of the time, must it be true all of the time? And, simply because some people take this to the extreme of “sex for pleasure only and always,” does that mean that Christians do this when they use contraception? I think not.
(4) And this brings us back to contraception causes apathy toward homosexual behavior. Yes, yes, bad things have come from the sexual revolution (of which widespread contraceptive use is a part), but how does that prove an absolute, God-intended prohibition on all contraceptive use by Christians? Should Christians see sexuality as something to use selfishly for their own pleasure alone? Should Christians use and abuse their spouses for their own selfish gratification? Should Christians decide that they simply don’t want to have children because they are an unwanted burden? Should Christians restrict their passionate love for each other only to “the moment” of sexual intercourse? It should be obvious that the answers to all of these questions is “NO!” But is contraception necessarily and without qualification answering these questions with a “Yes”? That is where I have not been convinced. If and because the widespread use of contraception has led to our pornography-saturated society, no-fault divorce, sexual promiscuity and immorality, abortion on demand, and the lack of outrage at the existence of homosexual marriage in Massachusetts (coming soon to a state near you), does this mean that it is off-limits for Christians? Show me the Scripture.

He does not address the ministerial use of reason in this area. I am sure the naysayers will be out in full force saying that I am exalting human reason over God’s Word if I claim that we might decide when and when not to use non-abortifacient contraceptives, but stating something does not make it true. Further, the whole article is an exercise in human reasoning, since there is no Scripture cited.

To be clear, I have not decided one way or the other (although I lean in the direction of adiaphoron, to be decided between spouses). Thus, this is an invitation for more discussion, which should lead to deeper understanding.

Timotheos

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18 thoughts on “Contraception, Round Two

  1. Tim wrote: “For example (and this may be the biggest), because contraception was invented, homosexual sex is thought by Christians to be no big deal.”

    That wasn’t my take on it, Tim. I believe the author was stating that the IDEA behind contraception, that is, sex without children, is the same idea behind allowing gay “marriages.”

    Once Christians have accepted the IDEA children do not have to come into the picture in order for sex to be valid, gay sex becomes easier to justify.

    I think it’s a good point, and one worth further contemplation.

  2. As Jack Preus is fond of saying, “What’s the question behind the question?”

    Here I would ask, politely and with due respect, Why would you want to?

  3. For various reasons, but what we do is not really the issue; rather, is it immoral for Christians to use birth control at any time? The article says yes, I say, I can find no Scriptural basis for saying that. Really, I think the primary issue is whether or not this is an issue to be decided by Christians’ sanctified reason, instead of by ecclesiastical fiat, as in the Roman church.

    Tim

  4. Thanks, Tim.

    Appreciate your civility, and your patience with me as I also work through this issue. Contraception is a hot topic among Lutherans these days, as you well know.

    Here I would ask if you have gotten yourself into a false dichotomy. Either contraception is an issue of Christian liberty (adiaphora), or it’s an issue of Church law (command), so which is it?

    Perhaps it’s one or the other, both, or neither, logically speaking.

    Detective: “So, Mr. Smith, are you an thief or a robber?”
    Frightened Man: “Actually, I’m with the IRS.”

    I would suggest that, logiically, contraception could be viewed outside of the two constructs you have presented (adiaphora and command).

    Perhaps my earlier Confessional quotations on the Birth Control thread would be of help. One was:

    “Marriage, because it has Word of God, which promises many blessings attached to it, can be called a sacrament: Apology XIII, 14 (K/W p. 221)”

    I believe in order to get at the root of the matter, we must first define marriage, and discuss having children as part of marriage.

    Perhaps then we might achieve greater clarity.

    God’s blessings to you, brother, as you work through this issue as well.

  5. Good point about defining marriage. That would certainly help with this issue. But I’m not sure we have a specific definition in Scripture. To be sure, many aspects of an ideal marriage are described (i.e., children are a blessing; a good wife is a blessing; commands against divorce, adultery, fornication, etc.). But are those things enough to give us an absolute command for or against contraception? I suppose that is the question every person must answer for him/herself.
    As for adiaphora/commands: if something is not commanded or prohibited, it is an adiaphoron. Does that mean one can, without qualification, do it? Of course not. As Dr. Charles Arand has pointed out, all adiaphora are not created equal. So, while something may not be spoken directly for or against in Scripture, that does not mean it is automatically beneficial for Christians. I do not think something can be both adiaphora and command. If it is adiaphora, it is not commanded; if it is commanded, it is not adiaphora. You suggest it is beyond both, but, by nature, if it is beyond command it is adiaphora.
    As for marriage as a sacrament: I cannot find your quotation, although I find the section. I see all the words, but not in such a phrase. It says, “[Marriage] has the command of God as well as certain promises that pertain not properly speaking to the New Testament [important] but rather to the bodily life.” And: “But if [big ‘if’] marriage acquires the name ‘sacrament’ for the reason that it has the command of God, other walks of life or offices, which also have God’s command, may also be called sacraments, as, for example, the government” (K/W, 221:15). Melanchthon is not going to have marriage as a sacrament simply because it has God’s promise in the O.T. If this were so, everything that had God’s command, including government (and no one will call government a means of grace most of the time!) would be a sacrament. He also clearly excludes marriage from the same category as the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. (I’m sure you know this.)
    But whatever marriage is, I am convinced birth control, if licit, would only be for use within that relationship, not elsewhere (as in, for simple convenience of fornication without consequences).

    Tim

  6. Thanks, Tim.

    It is interesting that you support the FMA, which defines marriage in secular law, but you do not find marriage defined in the Bible.

    Is your support for the FMA–which says that marriage is between one man and one woman–derived from natural law, since there is no Biblical definition of it?

    I would suggest that the Biblical aspects of marriage which you have detailed (children and a good wife are blessings; commands against sin, etc.) are part of the definition of marriage.

    Perhaps you will find Jesus’ definition of marriage in Matthew 19:4-6, portions of which are quoted in the Lutheran marriage rite, acceptable.

    You write, “Melanchthon is not going to have marriage as a sacrament simply because it has God’s promise in the O.T. If this were so, everything that had God’s command, including government… would be a sacrament.”

    That is exactly Melancthon’s point. And to government Melanchthon adds ordination (AP XIII:11), marriage (:14) and prayer (:16).

    For the purposes of rebutting the Roman Confutation, Melancthon in Article XIII is simply distinguishing Baptism, Communion, and Absolution, which proffer divine grace and the forgiveness of sins, from the other Words and promises of God including…marriage.

    I would discourage you from the following. Unfortunately, there is a tendency, even among some teachers, to use the following line of reasoning:

    *There is no single passage of Scripture which specifically answers the question at hand.

    *Therefore, this must be adiaphora.

    Which, when followed, would rule out infant Baptism, closed communion, and the Holy Trinity, all of which, due to the gracious perspecuity of Scripture, are derived deductively from numerous passages of Scripture, and not necessarily one single verse.

  7. The definition I am talking about is what a faithful Christian marriage looks like, and whether that can include limited use of contraception. I take it for granted that a marriage is defined basically as between one man and one woman, thus my support for the FMA (and because I think the government should be a tool in God’s left hand to restrain sinners).
    Perhaps this is splitting hairs, but it seems to me that Jesus is saying what is happening spiritually and physically between a man and a woman when they are married, not what a faithful marriage will look like once they are joined. That is where contraception enters in.
    Also, I am not saying (regarding contraception) that just because there is no single verse commanding or prohibiting it that it is adiaphora. I’m saying that I can find no verses dealing with it directly at all. Everything that has been argued so far has been from various other aspects of marriage (with which I completely agree) and applying those to the contraception argument. And my point is, I don’t see that those arguments necessarily exclude contraception by a faithful Christian couple (some will argue that point) at limited times.

    Tim

  8. Tim, thanks for yours.

    You wrote,

    “The definition I am talking about is what a faithful Christian marriage looks like, and whether that can include limited use of contraception.”

    I agree, although I would say that we need to include in our discussions an unlimited use of contraception as well. However, I will concede to your qualification of “limited use” for the sake of argument.

    You also write,

    “…it seems to me that Jesus is saying what is happening spiritually and physically between a man and a woman when they are married, not what a faithful marriage will look like once they are joined. That is where contraception enters in.”

    Here I would argue that, according to Jesus, what happens spiritually and physically between a married man and woman specifically defines what a marriage will look like when they are joined.

    That is, unless one asserts one or both of the following:

    * The physical/spiritual aspect of marriage, defined by Scripture (specifically Christ) has no bearing on what we do in marriage

    …which divorces “faith” from “life”; and/or

    * By definition marriage is a voluntary contract between two persons, male and female, excluding all others

    …which goes against Scripture, natural law, and common sense.

    You also write,

    “Also, I am not saying (regarding contraception) that just because there is no single verse commanding or prohibiting it that it is adiaphora. I’m saying that I can find no verses dealing with it directly at all.”

    Here I would answer: You will also find in Scripture no verses specifically mentioning abortion, the personhood of a fetus, or the moral terpitude of either in vitro fertilization (specifically the inevitable discarding of unimplanted embryos) or using fertilized embryos (babies!) for scientific research.

    And yet, I would presume, you are pro-life.

    You also write,

    “Everything that has been argued so far has been from various other aspects of marriage (with which I completely agree)…. my point is, I don’t see that those arguments necessarily exclude contraception…”

    Question: From those other aspects of marriage, do you find anything to support it?

  9. First, if once an unborn baby is admitted to be a person, You shall not murder covers all of the circumstances you mention. Second, I do not find anything directly supporting contraception either. This is exactly why I suggest it is adiaphora. If there was something one way or the other, it would not be so. Third, yes, if marriage is defined spiritually and physically as Jesus defines it in Matthew 19, that does give insight into what a marriage between two Christians will look like, namely (for example), what St. Paul tells us about Christian marriage in his epistles. However (and this was my point with that), this still, in my opinion, does not say anything about limited use of contraception. I know what you are getting at: contraception interferes with that physical and spiritual relationship instituted by God.
    Maybe I’m too sin-blind to see it, but I have not experienced that. And, I could even grant that no contraception at all, ever, might be the best way. Well, never smoking a fine cigar or never drinking a good beer is probably better for my health in the long run, but are they pleasures the moderate use of which is acceptable for Christians who are justified by grace and not by laws? (Oh man, here it comes!) Many Christians would find those words sacrilegious as well. (I am not here calling contraception a “pleasure”; just making a possible comparison.) Similarly, could contraception be something which, if not given by God, at least something which might be used profitably at certain times by Christians? All I am trying to discover is whether contraception, like other forms of medicine, is an area governed by sanctified reason.

    Tim

  10. Thanks, Tim. Appreciate your further reflection. BTW, happy 4th!

    You wrote,

    “First, if once an unborn baby is admitted to be a person, You shall not murder covers all of the circumstances you mention.”

    Precisely. One must first accept the proposition that a baby is a person. This can be done by Scriptural proofs. Thus, while Scripture does not mention abortion per se, one may logically reason on the basis of Scripture that abortion is morally wrong.

    Which proves that, on the basis of Scripture, one may argue about moral evils syllogistically.

    For example, from Scripture we can argue:

    * A fetus is a human life.
    * Murder is the immoral taking of a human life.
    * Abortion is the immoral taking of a human life.
    (Taking human life is allowable under certain circumstances, i.e. in defense of one’s country or life [self-defense], or by the state when executing justice; none of these apply to abortion.)
    * Therefore, abortion is murder and is forbidden.

    This covers your second point, and implies there is more to the contraception debate than a simple decision to label it adiaphora.

    From your point three:

    “I know what you are getting at: contraception interferes with that physical and spiritual relationship instituted by God. Maybe I’m too sin-blind to see it, but I have not experienced that. And, I could even grant that no contraception at all, ever, might be the best way.”

    That’s what we’re trying to figure out together. But here I would ask, aren’t we all so sin-blind that we do not (rather, choose not) to see the truth? As we grow spiritually, don’t we begin to see things differently? Certainly we become more cognizant of sin, even little sins. Likewise, we become more confident in God’s grace.

    You also write,

    “All I am trying to discover is whether contraception, like other forms of medicine, is an area governed by sanctified reason.”

    Here I would respond, isn’t medicine supposed to cure or alleviate illness and disease?

    Contraception is exactly what its name implies: contra (against) conception.

    Why would God give us contraception in order to prohibit Him from giving us children?

  11. My thought goes like this: if at certain times God wishes for us not to have children, could it be that He allows us to use humanly devised means to accomplish His will (at that time)? Isn’t this what He does all the time, using weak humans and human things to carry out His will? I am not saying this must be the case with contraception, only asking if it is a possibility. If contraception is immoral, then it is not a possibility.

    Tim

  12. Time wrote,

    “My thought goes like this: if at certain times God wishes for us not to have children, could it be that He allows us to use humanly devised means to accomplish His will (at that time)? Isn’t this what He does all the time, using weak humans and human things to carry out His will?”

    I’ll respond from natural law:

    “It [miscarriage] has been estimated to occur in 15 to 30 percent of all pregnancies.

    “More than 50 percent of miscarriages in the first trimester are caused by chromosomal abnormalities.”

    Source:
    http://health.yahoo.com/health/centers/pregnancy/504

    “…infertility affects about 10 percent of couples of childbearing age.”

    Source:
    http://careconnection.osu.edu/diseasesandconditions/healthtopics/womenshealth/infertility/

    It would appear that God already has a means of expressing His will that we not have children.

  13. Sorry.

    The above statistics would indicate that approximately 25 to 40 percent of potential pregnancies do not result in live births.

    That’s amazing; nearly half!

    Think of all the childless couples who would love, and who often try desparately, to have children.

    Amazing.

  14. Although God is sovereign, I’m not sure I want to attribute miscarriage and infertility directly to Him (as if that was His original intention for how to reduce the number of births in the world), nor do I think the couples afflicted by such things would see it that way. Those are consequences of the sinful world we live in. Contraception, although used to sinful ends, does not fit in that category.

    Tim

  15. Tim,

    You wrote,

    “Although God is sovereign, I’m not sure I want to attribute miscarriage and infertility directly to Him…Those are consequences of the sinful world we live in.”

    The point is God does allow miscarriage and infertility to happen in the sinful world we live in. Just as, for His own reasons, He allows murder, rape, disease, etc.

    Nothing happens, not even the deeds of the devil, without God allowing it. See Job.

    Certainly it was not His “original intent” for such things to occur, but I wonder…could the same be said for contraception?

    The reason I provided the statistics is that you had written,

    “My thought goes like this: if at certain times God wishes for us not to have children, could it be that He allows us to use humanly devised means to accomplish His will (at that time)?”

    My point was, if prohibiting children from being born is His will, then it looks like He’s already doing it quite well without our “help.”

  16. Chi Chi,

    Thank you for putting forth the question, “why would God give us contraception in order to prohibit Him from giving us children?”

    I believe this is an issue where our culture has really clouded or even blinded our views. The church needs to discuss this issue once again.

  17. Thanks, Becker. Hope you had a good 4th!

    I agree, and think the underlying problem is that we, and here I mean Christians “thinking” in the American/Postmodern cultural milieu, have succumbed to a refined Gnosticism.

    That is, accepting a gross separation of “things of the spirit” from “things of the flesh” (created order).

    That old saw was resolved long ago…in the Incarnation.

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