The Church and Bioethics: Birth Control

Below is a summary of a sermon I preached on April 17, 2016 at Graefenburg Baptist Church concerning birth control and bioethics. The intent of these sermons is not to tell people what bioethical decisions they should make, but to help us think biblically and think well about the issues at stake. 

Four questions to answer concerning the Church and birth control:
1. Is the Creation Mandate of Genesis 1:28 a universal, ongoing command that requires all Christians to bear children?
2. What are the gospel implications of the Creation Mandate?
3. How does having dominion over the earth apply to birth control?
4. What are some warnings?

Is the Creation Mandate of Genesis 1:28 a universal, ongoing command that requires all Christians to bear children? We argued that the answer to that question is “no.” If we believe the mandate of Genesis 1:28 to multiply and fill the earth (that is repeated in 9:1, 35:11, etc), is still binding for all individual Christians today, then that would have obvious implications on how we would think about birth control, especially for couples who have decided never to have children. But we do not hold that position. The New Testament and the coming of Jesus Christ has a significant impact on our understanding of procreation. Jesus himself was childless, and yet remained the perfect fulfillment of the Law. Jesus has positive things to say about those who purposefully choose to be a eunuch. Paul endorses singleness, and thus childlessness, as a positive status for those who are able. Barrenness is never viewed as a curse in the New Testament for married couples, so those who struggle with infertility today should have no reason to think they are breaking a command of the Lord that says every Christian should bear children.

What are the gospel implications of the Creation Mandate? We should not assume the above position means the Creation Mandate is no longer a critical part of Christian practice today. On the contrary, there are several significant gospel implications:
1. God delights in children because children are image bearers who reflect the radiant glory of God. God desires Christ-honoring image bearers to fill his earth, not dishonoring idol worshipers. Thus, when Christian parents bear children and raise them in the fear and admonition of the Lord, God is greatly glorified by this act. This powerful means of bringing glory to God and good to us should be a factor when considering birth control and long term decision making for having children.

2. God used the Creation Mandate of Genesis 1:28 to fulfill his promise of the Seed of the Woman crushing the Seed of the Serpent. This is one reason why barrenness in the Old Testament was such a curse, and why God reminds Sarah and Rebecca and Rachel in their barrenness that He was the God of salvation and the God of the means of salvation, namely through the successful lineage up to Jesus Christ. When Jesus comes in the flesh, this critical application of the Creation Mandate came to a close, for the eternal purposes of God were now revealed in the death and resurrection of Christ. The Seed of the Serpent has been crushed by the new and better Adam.

3. The New Testament points us to another mandate that is, in fact, binding on all Christians. We call it the Great Commission. This also involved filling and multiplying the earth – with disciples of Jesus.

How does having dominion over the earth apply to birth control? Although we may at times wonder if technology, in all its forms, is helpful or harmful, we can nevertheless appreciate the giftedness God has given to doctors, engineers, scientists, and others who have used the earth’s resources for the betterment of humanity. That is a clear application of having dominion and subduing the earth. Modern medicine that is able to fight back against disease and death is a benefit to all humans and is consistent with the mandate of Genesis 1:28. The same principle is true for birth control, insofar as it falls within the category of subduing and having dominion. That does not mean that all forms of birth control, or all applications of birth control, are equally valid or morally acceptable, but it does mean that Christians should be careful to not dismiss the technology out right.

Finally, what are some warnings? We conclude from the above comments that birth control does not explicitly contradict the Creation Mandate, nor is it inherently contradictory to God’s design and commands for his children. There are moral and ethical considerations where a married couple would be wise to hold off on childbearing for a period of time, or even indefinitely, and birth control would make these wise and morally correct choices a possibility. In that way, artificial contraception can be used for the glory of God.

But we must be careful. There are moral and ethical considerations where a married couple would be acting against the character and commands of God by using birth control. A few examples are:

Greed. If a primary catalyst for preventing children is so we can fill up our barn houses with wealth, then we need to repent.  The riches of children far outweigh the riches of a bank account.

Selfishness. God desires his children to be concerned with others, to be servants to others, and to lay down our lives for others. Welcome to the definition of parenthood! Children are a beautiful way God cultivates the fruit of righteousness in husbands and wives. If our motivation for keeping children out of our lives is so we can fulfill selfish ambitions apart from being distracted by others, then we are on dangerous ground.

Fear. Will I be a good parent? What if I make the mistakes my parents made? Will we have enough money? There may very well be times when it is appropriate to wait and use birth control while you build character for godly parenting. There may very well be times when a significant debt, such as large tuition payments, need to be covered before you can have children. There are many situations where wisdom and stewardship would direct couples to wait before having children, or even decide to not have children at all. But, we will never be fully prepared in our character for parenting. Our bank account will never be rich enough. The brutal aspect of fear is that it is used by the evil one to immobilize us, to keep us stationary, to prevent us from experiencing the fullness of God’s design. Parenting, like every other part of Christian living, depends on the power of Christ in us. And the power of Christ in us develops character, such as courage, to do what scares us most for the glory of God.

In conclusion, we learn that God does not command or require every Christian to bear children, that birth control has legitimate, Christ-honoring uses for married couples who are thinking biblically, wisely, and with good Christian stewardship about children, and that birth control can become self-exalting if we use it for inappropriate reasons. A question every married couple should ask themselves is, “Why do we not want children?” and then how will the answer to that question impact our ability to serve and glorify God? That question, I think, will take us far.