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    Today we live in a sex-crazed society. From the clothing and entertainment industries, all the way 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 as 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 only right when pursued for procreation. Any sex “which goes beyond this necessity, no longer follows reason, but lust" (Augustine).

    Nearly a thousand years later, little had changed. Thomas Aquinas, one of the most influential theologians and philosophers of his day, condemned all forms of birth control, saying it would evade the true purpose of intimacy. Many church leaders agreed with this position.

    Reflecting on the Middle Ages, ethicists John and Paul Feinberg write, “Engaging in sexual intercourse without the intent of procreation was, therefore, considered sinful. This meant, of course, that intercourse with one’s pregnant wife or with a sterile woman was sinful, because procreation was impossible” (Feinberg 292).

    Interestingly, the Catholic church’s stance on sexuality and birth control has changed very little over the past fifteen hundred years. Rome still affirms the Augustinian belief that “procreation is the primary purpose of marriage” (Feinberg 292). While they do allow its members to use the rhythm method, all other forms, including barrier methods, are still condemned.

     

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…” (NKJV, 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.

    In the New Testament, Paul admonishes the married that their bodies are no longer their own; they belong to their spouse. Thus, they should not withhold themselves from each other except for prayer and fasting (I Corinthians 7).

    One must conclude that 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).

    All throughout Scripture, we see God’s love for children. He defends the orphan (Deuteronomy 10:18), he gives children as an inheritance (Psalm 127:3), and those who hurt children would be better off dead (Matthew 18:6).

    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 (Alcorn). 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 (Mosher 7). 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.

    Interestingly, the Catholic church does not approve of any of the barrier methods because of their understanding of the purpose of sex. As mentioned earlier, they view God’s design for sexual intimacy as primarily reproductive. To use barriers, in their view, is discarding God’s purpose for sex, thus removing the purpose of intercourse.

 

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

    Out of this understanding, Christian couples will navigate the various methods of birth control wisely. They will purpose in their hearts never to use methods that will kill their offspring or will reject the life that God desires to place in their family.

    When couples embrace sex as God’s pleasure-filled, life-destined gift, they 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 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?

 

Works Cited

Alcorn, Randy C. Does The Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions? Sandy, OR: Eternal Perspective Ministries, 2011. Print.

Feinberg, John S., and Paul D. Feinberg. Ethics For A Brave New World. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010. Print.

Holy Bible: The New King James Version, Containing the Old and New Testaments. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Bibles, 1982. Print.

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.

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.

Article written by I.M.

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