Question and Answer

Christian View of Contraception

Question:

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. Can you help us understand in what ways Lev. 18:19 does or does not apply to us. In short, we are prayerfully considering this issue, but would like to have some guidance on the matter.

Answer:

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 contraception—apparently 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 children—that they should strive not to beget children when their physical, financial and other circumstances do not warrent it—we 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 He—in accordance with His will—be pleased to bless you with children at the proper time, and may they—in accordance with His grace— grow up to love, obey, and glorify Him, following the evident desires of their father and mother.


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