Sunday, October 14, 2012

Birth Control: A Five Hour Discussion with Five Christian Ladies

About a year ago 4 ladies and I got together for a miniature conference on birth control and God's will for childbearing.  It was not a "church-sponsored" event.  We gathered together in a home and let our kids play together while we sat in an adjacent room and opened our Bibles together.

Our questions were these:  How many children does the LORD want a man and his wife to have?  Is any kind of birth control a sin?

Three ladies came from the perspective of believing that any form of restricting the conception of a child between a man and his wife was not an expression of trusting in God.  Their main verse was the command given to Adam and Eve to "be fruitful and multiply."

One lady came to sit and listen because she wasn't sure exactly how she believes about the issue.

I represented an alternative position.  I'm not sure what to call my position, but I intend to use this post as a way of outlining what I believe the Bible says about children and therefore paint an alternative perspective on the will of God for women as mothers.

With Love and Respect

I don't believe as the other ladies do but I want my readers here to know how much I honor the women who shared their stories with me.  I hope that everyone would emulate their faith.

I walked away totally blown away by the servanthood of the three ladies who represented this conservative view on birth control.  One lady's inspiration is Katie Davis, an American woman who at the age of 18 knew that she was called to adopt children and live in Uganda with them.  She at the age of 22 has I believe 14 girls who she has now adopted and raises as her own.  How does she get up and have the strength to do what she does?  Only by the amazing power and love of Jesus Christ!  This lady shared for the group her own story of having deep faith in Jesus for her own family.  She has 4 children and is expecting her fifth at this time, and she also credits Jesus for her strength to serve and love her children.  I am humbled by her faith and by the example of Katie Davis.

I believe that these ladies are called to serve Jesus Christ by opening their hearts and their homes to as many children as the LORD will give them.  I applaud their faith and their testimony of God's power.  However I am at the same time sure that not all married women are called to glorify Jesus in this same manner.

Birth Control Methods

We all agreed at the forefront that any kind of contraception that harmed a fertilized embryo was not a reflection of God's heart.  So off the top we skimmed out a discussion on the pill, Plan B, IUDs, etc.  But that still leaves at least two methods of contraception to use that do not harm a child: abstinence, which 1 Cor. 7 prohibits except in mutual agreement for a short period of time so that a couple may pray, and NFP.  Natural Family Planning (NFP) is a method similar to the Rhythm Method, but it claims a higher success rate of 99% contraceptive effectiveness.  NFP uses no chemicals nor physical barriers.  It monitors cervical mucus and the woman's body basal temperature to pinpoint when she is ovulating so that for only 6 days out of the woman's 28-day cycle she must abstain from intercourse in order to avoid conception of a child.

Should married couples use something like NFP to control how many children they conceive?

Some families are actually incapable of having children.  Are they not obedient because they have not multiplied?  These ladies say, "no, of course not.  They are operating by faith in God to give them as many as He has planned for them, even if it is to have no children."  Some families only want one, two or three children.  Once they reach a certain dynamic in their family they do not want to have any more children.  If they should prevent further conception, are they in sin?  These ladies say, "Yes they would be.  That is, assuming they are capable of having more children and they take it out of God's hands and into their own."

This is an important issue in my mind because it gets to the heart of our purpose as Christians.

What do you think?

The Scriptures

The three ladies representing this most conservative take in opposition to birth control believe that no efforts should ever be made to limit the number of children born into a family.  They see so much of God's character and lovingkindness through trusting Him to give them exactly what they can handle.  They trust God completely and so they believe that using birth control would be an expression of doubting God's plans for their lives.

A central supportive text the ladies used was the story of Tamar and Onan.  The account is in Genesis 38:9.  Onan was punished for refusing to conceive a child.  My response is as follows: I am not sure the story of Onan is prescribed for every man and wife everywhere, especially for the Church.  What was Onan's sin, exactly?  Was it disobedience of the command in Genesis, "be fruitful and multiply?"  Onan was not hardened against conceiving children generally but he was hardened against producing an heir on behalf of his deceased brother.  Birthright and inheritance was traditionally a battle between sons.  The law of levirate marriage was also supposed to provide for Tamar in the loss of her husband.

I believe that "be fruitful and multiply" is inextricably linked with Spiritual dominion, not merely an earthly and physical dominion.  Producing physical children is not the picture of holiness God expects of Christians.  Remember that John the Baptist said in Matthew 3:9,
and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.

The Jews looked to their physical birth as some sense of accomplishment of God's purpose.  But because there was no righteousness in God's people, God could not accept them as His children (Rom. 9:7) on that standing alone.  It is not all Israel who are of Israel (Rom. 9:6), and they were cut off from the LORD (Rom. 11).  He wanted a physical descendant, yes, for salvation is through the Jews (Jesus Christ).  But He also required a righteous-acting descendant.  Let's go back to the garden of Eden.
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”  So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.  Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Not only did God want them to multiply physically, but moreover He wanted them to have dominion.  Dominion means that God wanted humanity to have spiritual control over this earth, and this spiritual power wielded by mere men would come through walking in fellowship with God.  Psalm 8:3-8,
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained, What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him?  For You have made him a little lower than the angels, And You have crowned him with glory and honor.  You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, All sheep and oxen— Even the beasts of the field, The birds of the air, And the fish of the sea That pass through the paths of the seas.
That means man was born to rule spiritually, having all his supply to rule righteously from intimacy with God.  Through faithfully practicing dominion, a life's stewardship would be rewarded by inheritance of the earth.  In the end, the faithful Church will have dominion with Jesus on the earth because Jesus took dominion back from Satan.  Satan controlled it temporarily only because man abdicated his own seat of power.  Until Jesus, there was no one who had righteously managed the reins of dominion given to Adam and Eve.  Jesus took the keys of dominion back from Satan's grasp when He offered Himself as a sacrifice for sins at His own adoption, perhaps His seal, His certification of son-ship, His "adoption, indeed" in Hebrews chapter 1, verses 3-4; 9,
...who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.  ...  You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness more than Your companions.
"Here I am, and the children whom God has given Me." Heb. 2:13
At His resurrection, Jesus inherited that over which he faithfully practiced dominion through the supply of His heavenly Father.

We the Church are meant to have dominion now in this life, with the expectation of inheritance in the next dispensation (Psalm 8, Revelation 2:26-27).  It is possible now not only because it was originally a gift of dominion handed to Adam and Eve and their descendants, but most especially because Jesus Christ overpowered the enemy who overpowers us, and is graciously supplying it through faith alone as King of his brother partakers.

It is important to note that even though God could raise sons of Abraham from mere stones, God has not planned to accomplish His will in such a way.  For us to seek to be spiritual descendants to the point of despising Christians who create physical descendants is to go the way of Gnosticism, and I do not suggest such a preoccupation.  There is nothing wrong with pursuing the physical and earthly, the bodily.  Having children is one of the most satisfying blessings God gives to the living.  I am only suggesting that bearing children not be elevated to a holy work without bringing forth righteousness as well.

Be Fruitful and Multiply

God said "be fruitful and multiply" to Adam and Eve.  Does this mean that He commanded the Gentiles as well as Israel to produce children?  Is this command for all humanity?  I would like to suggest that this command was not for Gentiles in Old Covenant times.  It is for Israel, proto-Israel, and in a Great Commission sense, the Church.

If God wanted Gentiles to multiply and have children, someone must explain why God looked with grief at humanity's first grand corruption, their choice to do evil in Genesis 6.  God decided to wipe out humanity forever with the flood.  Why did He want to destroy them all?  Was it because of their failure to have physical children?  No!  They were plenty multiplied.  It was because they were not righteous!  But Noah was righteous.  And he and his family found favor in the sight of the LORD and they were spared.  The flood is sure evidence that God does not desire ungodly people to bear children!  God wants a righteous descendant, not only a physical one.
righteousness will protect our children

The covenant with Noah prevented any subsequent flooding as His way to deal with unrighteousness.  His promise is that no future grand corruption of humanity will affect nature and result in our immediate physical death.  As God commanded man to have dominion in connection with the land of the earth, so God would no longer destroy the earth immediately because of wickedness.  God's promises to people are tied to land.

Since Noah, as Jesus teaches in the Gospels, God causes the rain to fall on the just and the wicked (Matt. 5:45).  He's spending His grace in a pay-it-forward sort of manner.  In the end we will be consumed just like Genesis 6, this time by fire.  There will be wrath, but for now it is being stored.  At judgment we will have no excuse for the way we have chosen to spend this life which has been relatively wrath-free because of the covenant God made with Noah.  God uses his wait-till-judgment-day-to-settle-accounts, pay-it-forward grace as a model (Matt. 5:45) for how we ought to make disciples of all nations.

"Be fruitful and multiply" was brought up by the ladies as a command reiterated by God throughout the Old Testament.  It's true, it is indeed spoken by God more than just in Genesis 1.  However, in every case where God gives this command, He gives it to those who are already His people, and He gives it to those who are already in fellowship with Him.  This command was not only pointing at the physical; God was pointing at us to replicate a people who would be taught how to walk in fellowship with God, who would be taught to practice true righteousness.  He wanted a people who could inherit the earth through practicing spiritual dominion in this life.  I do not believe we can believe as Christians that because we bear children, we therefore please God.
"fruitful" in the NT refers to discipleship not babies
"Be fruitful and multiply" was only spoken to Israel, or proto-Israel (the fathers of those who became Israel; Adam and Eve and Noah).  "Be fruitful and multiply" is never repeated in the New Testament.  Can a Christian be certain we are commanded today by God in this age to bear children or else be counted disobedient?

A Woman Will Be Saved Through Childbearing

These ladies also make a scriptural case by 1 Timothy 2:15,
And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.  For Adam was formed first, then Eve.  And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.  Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.
Childbearing, they say, produces tests and trials which refine and grow our faith in God.

It is always a good idea to interpret obscure verses in light of clear Biblical truths.  We know that a woman is not granted eternal life by works of any kind including childbearing but by faith alone in Jesus Christ who gives it freely as a gift to anyone who will trust Him.  We also know that a woman or a man is not sanctified by childbearing per se, but more Biblically by obeying the Word of God.

I do agree with the Ladies, that having children certainly is a sanctifying force in my life.  It causes me to need God in such a bigger way, it helps me to understand the sin nature and how important grace is.  It helps me to understand the role a Father plays with His children in all its facets such as withholding blessings for the sake of not spoiling a child, and why discipline is absolutely necessary to raise a child to be happy.

But God does not need me to have children in order to sanctify me.  The only pictures of Christ sanctifying me through others is the husband toward the wife, which is a picture of Christ and the Church.  That is the relationship designed for a woman to have a partner with which to grow in the LORD, along with a community of believers in the local church.

What is Family in the Kingdom of God?

Jesus taught very clearly on who we should count as our family in this life as well as the next.  He said in Matthew 12:46-50,
While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him.  Then one said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.”  But He answered and said to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?”  And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers!  For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.
The Family that endures eternally is not necessarily the one that lives with you in your home as you read this post.  I mean, read it and flame this blog post all you want but Jesus is the audacious one to say such a thing.  He doesn't wait till the resurrection to call disciples His true family.  He says, "Here" these disciples are His mother, His brothers, His sisters.  So here is what I as a Christian lady ought to be asking myself: Is my husband Jesus' brother?  Are my children, Jesus' brothers and sisters?  I certainly want them to be.  All my faithfulness and unconditional love are a picture of this hope for them.

In fact, the quintessential heart-test Jesus gave for discipleship was forsaking the orientation of our earthly family.  Luke 14:26,
“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.  And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.
I truly hope that Christian women everywhere see the importance of making their children into disciples, not simply making children, as God's heart for families.  As much as it pains a parent if our children should not choose to follow Jesus (and I can understand this pain), the truth is He will not recognize the resemblance of God in them when the Kingdom is ushered in.  What can I do to give them life in Jesus?  As a mother I must do everything I can to teach my children to forsake the natural orientation of our family, as good as I think my lifestyle happens to be.  I want them to count the cost of offending me as a parent and find Christ for themselves, seeking the Kingdom of God first.

Children who Inherit their Parents' Faith

These Christian ladies truly hope to make disciples of their children in their home.  I can attest to this because I know their children and how they raise them.  They hope that multiplying and adopting children who inherit the Christian faith is a way to transform culture around them to be Christ-followers.  But is physical descendancy the model of multiplication given by the New Covenant?

Israel needed physical and righteous descendants.  They got that through Jesus Christ.  No Jew is going to top that.  What is left of "be fruitful and multiply" that means anything left to await fulfillment?  This is why that command for physical birth was only used in the Old Covenant.  Jesus' New Covenant was targeted to the Gentiles; strangers to the physical family of God's people.  He is calling a people who were not once His people, a people who are not related to Him at all by blood.  I know that I, Michele Painter, cannot trace my lineage back to Jesus Christ or Abraham.  I'm not a Jew.  Birth by blood is not the course of the New Covenant.  It is Spiritual birth that matters.  In order to see and enter the Kingdom of God, Jesus said in John 3:7,
Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'
The word "born" in that passage also means "citizenship."  This is a fulfillment to the prophecies about Zion.  Psalm 87:5-6,
And of Zion it will be said, “This one and that one were born in her; And the Most High Himself shall establish her.”  The Lord will record, When He registers the peoples: “This one was born there.”
The Spirit and all his ridiculously rich wealth of grace is now poured into a Gentile's account by faith.  So why should I be preoccupied to think that the Christian heritage is going to be primarily transferred through physical relatedness?

Let's Crunch the Numbers

It takes 20 years to raise a maximum of say 20 children in your home.  Conversely, let's take 40 Christians who commit to disciple 3 strangers into the Kingdom of God.  They do disciple those 3 people each, and then require one thing of them: that they go and in like turn, disciple 3 additional people into the Kingdom of God.  Guess how many repetitions are needed to disciple the entire United States?  Only 25!  It takes more or less about 1 year to disciple a person.  And each Christian believer can disciple 3 people at once.  That means 25 repetitions to disciple our entire nation!  It would take only 37 years to disciple the entire world!  That's it.  Which is more effective for creating a righteous people on the earth - physical descendancy or church planting?

What do you believe the LORD's will is for a married woman regarding childbearing?  I do believe that God works with us all according to conscience where Scripture doesn't give us detailed answers.  Some of us need to exercise faith in God through opening our homes to as many children as God would give.  Some of us have handicaps whether they be emotional, physical, or whatever it may be.  I believe that if we do not feel equipped to bear endless numbers of physical children, God knows our condition and has grace for us.  In the end, I believe the question of "how many" children is not terribly relevant.

However, it is clear that a Christian woman's purpose is to multiply in Spiritual births.

Luke 11:27-28
And it happened, as He spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!”  But He said, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

1 comment:

Allan said...
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