Helpful Marriage: Birth Control

New Warhorn Media post by Lucas Weeks:

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I just listened to the podcast, and wanted to bring up a point you did not touch on that is relevant to our Reformed circles.

Doug Wilson’s statement that Christians should only have as many children as they can afford to educate well is a piece of Pharisaism. The Reformed world’s obsession with education and educational methods not explicitly commanded by Scripture contradicts Scripture’s direct and explicit command to be fruitful and multiply. You wanna talk about “binding the conscience”?

At the risk of being imflammatory, God would rather you have 7 children and send a few of them to public school than to have 3 and send all 3 to a private school. Or, God would rather you have 7 children and send a few of them to public school than have 4 children and have an exasperated and overwhelmed mother try to homeschool all of them because homeschooling is the only proper method. Of course I sound like a Neanderthal saying that, and of course there are qualifications that could be made. But the contrast between what people think Scripture expressly teaches and what it actually does teach needs to be brought out. Education is adiaphora. The command to be fruitful is not.

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Great conversation. Reminded me of the time I gave a little talk at church and asserted that married sex today was often essentially sodomy - at least amongst the newly married who were always trying to prevent pregnancy. In less than 24 hours I had an elder file charges against me. An invigorating experience it was.

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This wasn’t Hickey’s church i hope.

Another reason to have churches offer free Christian education K-12 for all tithing (10%) members.

Before my wife and I got married, I had thought that three children seemed like a pretty idyllic number. I came from a family of three siblings; my wife came from a family of two. Having a repeat of my own family dynamic didn’t seem like a bad thing.

When we got married, my wife started on birth control pills – because that’s just the thing you did… No one had ever even exposed us to consider birth control in light of what God has to say about fruitfulness – not our parents; not the churches we grew up in, not the Christian schools we attended, etc. Everyone seemed to simply assume that sovereignty over the family size is something that belongs to parents. “How many children do you plan to have?” is about as far any discussions about children ever went.

A few months into our marriage, my wife had the whimsical compulsion to begin looking into how the pill actually works, and what it does. Her conscience was immediately horrified. When she brought it to my attention, I was equally shocked. It was immediately clear to us that we could not continue with the pill, and we were for the first time in our lives provoked to consider the matter of fruitfulness further.

Fast forward a few years. We’d had two miscarriages, and now three living children. Our oldest was three. We had a dual income – me working in tech support, and my wife doing in-home daycare. There had been a growing discontent in my heart up to that time, as the desires of the flesh to have time and money for my hobbies were directly conflicting with my duties as a husband and a father. We wrestled with the question, “Should we be done?” But the problem I found was that all of the arguments I could make in favor of “being done” came up short in my own reasoning and conscience. Examples:

“We can’t afford any more children,” wasn’t a true argument. What I couldn’t afford was more children plus all the funsies and time I wanted for myself.

“I want to be free to have time to minister in the church.” No you don’t. You’re trying to justify your selfishness by giving it a nice Christian veneer. God is not impressed.

“I want to make sure I am loving my wife well and care for her body.” That’s all well and good. Intimacy is part of loving your wife, and there’s nothing wrong with her body. She’s had three strong births, no C-sections, and cherishes the work of being a mother and a wife. Revisit this objection later, but you can’t invoke it now with any intellectual honesty, and you know it.

It became clear to me, through inward chastening, that I needed to repent of my idolatry of my hobbies, and embrace the good work of being a husband and a father. This was the life I was called to, and I saw that joyful submission to this good lot was really the only way forward if I was to be free of the constant conflict in my soul, the double-mindedness of loving the world and loving Christ. I also considered and gained pity for the fact that it was at this sort of junction that men are tempted with the wicked thought of abandoning their families.

Fast forward a bit more, and we conceived twins. When she was about six months pregnant with them, and feeling very uncomfortable, we sat down at the dinner table one night and decided that it was time for her to be done working in-home daycare and now focus on the care of our children. We weren’t entirely sure how that was going to work out financially, but God had blessed me in my job with promotions over the years, to such a point that we always seemed to make ends meet. So we simply resolved to believe that he would continue carrying us along.

We prayed at the table, beseeching the Lord with these texts in mind:

“I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.” - Psalm 37:25

" Two things I ask of you;
deny them not to me before I die:
give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me,
and say, “Who is the LORD?”
or lest I be poor and steal
and profane the name of my God." - Proverbs 30:7-9

We now have ten children, and he has not ceased to be kind and gracious to provide. My heart overflows with joy as often as I stop to consider his kindness.

Also, we homeschool, and tonight is pizza night. :smiley:

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It’s like God hammers out a Christian testimony in us through forcing us to come to terms with whether we believe Him when He says kids are a blessing.

Praise His name!

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The big caveat always brought up is the question: would Samuel have been better off with more evil sons? I think that’s what driving the stewardship argument from the conservative end.

The response would have to be — who knows whether future children would have been evil or not? We still have the command. That doesn’t mean that you don’t take stock of what you can change to help any future kids along.

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It’s a great argument for burying our talent under a rock, isn’t it? “Lord, you know how unfaithful I am, and I knew it wouldn’t glorify You to raise (more) children in this state, so…”

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Doug Wilson used Samuel’s sons as an example of why we ought to reject having a “have as many children as possible” mindset, in one of his blogs on birth control.

But given how apt we are to study arguments against fruitfulness, as it is after all the water in which we swim as a culture, my reaction to Doug’s warning and to yours is wonder why we’re bringing fire extinguishers to a flood.

It almost seems like we ought to just hold up breeding like rabbits just to restore balance. We should write about this with a No Quarter November kind of air about us. Nuance? Who needs it?

Its not like this sort of writing is unfamiliar to Doug. Or Tim.

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That’s a sweet testimony! Thanks for sharing. What are the ages of your children?

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Our oldest will turn 14 this summer. Our youngest was born last week.

My wife is 36, I’m 35.

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Mazel Tov! That’s wonderful news.

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I reviewed the chapter on birth control in Toby Sumpter’s book on marriage prior to this podcast, and in it he mentions the argument about unfaithful sons:

But I also want to point out in all of this that a pile of kids is not an automatic blessing. The blessings of God are not mechanical. They do not drop out of Heaven like a can of Coke out of a soda machine. The blessings of God must be received by faith and with thanksgiving and in the fear of God. As Pastor Douglas Wilson has pointed out, the High Priest Eli would not have been more faithful had he fathered more unfaithful sons.

(Pages 209-210)

This argument really bothers me. The whole purpose of the example is to caution (scare?) young parents by holding up the example of unfaithful children. The clear message is, don’t be like that! Those examples are in Scripture, and they are there to be a cautionary tale to parents. The problem is that the example is repeatedly brought up in discussions about birth control, and it appears here in a chapter about birth control in a book about marriage. The clear purpose of raising the example of unfaithful children, in this context, is to be an argument in favor of using birth control.

But what is the actual argument here? Use contraceptives because otherwise you might have unfaithful children? I’m sure neither pastor Sumpter nor pastor Wilson would say it like that, but then what is the argument?

At the end of the day, I think that it’s destructive to use this example in the context of thinking through birth control. They should stop using it. The line is memorable, and it has a certain rhetorical flourish, but reduced to the form of an argument, they are arguing against having unfaithful children by arguing for Christian parents to not have children. That’s ridiculous. Instead, we need to call parents to have faith and to do their work of raising their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord.

Both of these men have a long track record of calling Christian parents to be faithful in their work of raising children. And clearly, they teach and believe in the good of having children. But repeating this line when we are talking about birth control is harmful to Christian parents with tender consciences.

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I’m not sure that Samuel’s case is germane in this discussion. He had two children; given likely levels of infant and maternal mortality for the time, probably not a bad showing. The text doesn’t say either way. So:

  • He would only have chosen his sons to succeed him if he had thought they were up to the job.
  • It must have been very distressing to him to see how they then turned out. Why? Because as a boy he had seen what had happened to Hophni and Phineas, and Eli as well. That would have concentrated his thinking.
  • Dealing with unfaithful or less-than-faithful children is a quite separate issue to contraception, I would have thought?

On a sort-of related question to people here, how many couples without children do we have in our ranks, and do we know why?

I think this is true. Yet the issues are conflated with those examples.

clearly, they teach and believe in the good of having children.

No, what they believe in is giving a good education to any children you have, and not having children you can’t educate well. That’s what they say. Why wouldn’t we believe them? Rhetorical flourishes are minced principles. Twelve to fifteen years ago, I called Doug to say (in this precise connection) that I believed education had become one of our principal idolatries in the Reformed church, and we should repent. I gave examples and reasons, and copped to it myself. No love, but that was always the case when I warned Doug, so now I don’t.

Yeah, I get it that Doug gives you all red meat, but often with poison mixed in. He muddies most things he touches, including the Biblical doctrine of fruitfulness. Is now a time for muddying things up, here? Love,

PS: About Eli and Samuel, I’ve often thought about those who warn people against fruitfulness (if they think additional children will make only multiply the parents’ errors) that their assumption is more children won’t help. This is ignorant, not taking into account the sanctifying benefit of older brothers and sisters who help raise you, nor that effect on the older brothers and sisters who are relegated by each successive birth, having to give up their selfishness and pitch in to help. I could go on at length on this theme of the moral and spiritual superiority of large families. They are their own school of godliness, just as the church Herself is.

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Lucas,

You have been clearer and kinder to Doug and Toby than I.

In both of their works, they have praised having children. In their own lives and on the ground in their congregations, having children and more children is the norm moreso than the exception. The culture they’ve created is, in that respect, similar to that of our presbytery.

Yet Doug can’t bring himself to forthrightly condemn the Pill, despite being warned countless times by Tim Bayly, a man he claims to respect.

Doug writes for us, but he also writes for broader evangelicalism, of which he himself is a product. Doug knows where evangelicals are on contraception. He probably knows of couples in his congregation using the Pill for various reasons. He doesnt want to rock the boat.

Some of it comes down to money. Contraception and the Pill are one of those third rails Doug and Toby won’t touch. I would love to be proved wrong.

That’s part of it, I’d guess, but the real issue is that universal habit of pastors today we used to call “friendship evangelism.” If I’m polite and smile winsomely, people will notice and ask me why I’m polite and smile winsomely, and I will answer, “because of Jesus.” Then I can lead them to pray the sinner’s prayer.

No law—only Gospel. No no—only yes. No repentance—only faith.

Follow me here: pastors of the most conservative stripe today only say “no” to all the people outside their congregation. Never to those inside their congregation. Listen to their sermons; the wrong people are out there, not in here. Listen to their Lord’s table exhortations: no Apostolic warnings to examine yourself. Only non-Apostolic warnings cheerfully given to their insiders on the order of “aren’t things wonderful here among us and, by the way, bring your children, too! Yippee!”

This is the church today, And if you know a pastor who still has some vigor for exposing error, what you can count on is listening to him will make you feel superior to those people he’s beating up on. It’s like watching a bull fight. The charade is down there in the ring. The blood stays there.

Brothers, this is the main problem among conservative Reformed pastors today. They never preach repentance to their own sheep, unless it’s the repentance of not believing in God’s good wonderful fabulous grace towards them and theirs enough.

In connection with rendering the marriage bed fruitless, what is needed today is not the blessing of children only, but equally the wickedness of obstructing what God has ordered and commanded.

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That’s right. That’s what they say, and we should believe them.

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