Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Children. . . bane or blessing

Martin Luther would not feel at home about many things that have become common place among Christians today.  He would not understand the aversion to children that has become rampant in our culture and whose echo has become the norm from many churches.  On the one hand, Luther never knew contraception as it has become today - cheap, easy, and private.  On the other hand, Luther would also not understand the technology to undo what many have worked so hard to do -- prevent children -- and create children as the ultimate designer accessory.  But Luther would not have been alone in this shock.  Calvin would be shocked, too.

Aversion to contraception was the norm until the 20th century.  In fact, no church approved contraception until 1930 and every church condemned contraception until that year. In 1930 the Lambeth Conference of Anglicans first gave cover to contraception.  No Protestant reformer or theologian prior to that year gave sanction to preventing pregnancy.  Since that year, contraception has steadily gained approval until modern day when nearly every advance in the science of it has been matched by a theology suggesting that it is the only responsible choice.

Read Luther in his own words:

Today you find many people who do not want to have children. Moreover, this callousness and inhuman attitude, which is worse than barbarous, is met with chiefly among the nobility and princes, who often refrain from marriage for this one single reason, that they might have no offspring. . . .  Surely such men deserve that their memory be blotted out from the land of the living. Who is there who would not detest these swinish monsters? But these facts, too, serve to emphasize original sin. Otherwise we would marvel at procreation as the greatest work of God, and as a most outstanding gift we would honor it with the praises it deserves. (Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 1-5, 1536; Luther's Works, vol. 1, 118; commentary on Genesis 2:18)

The rest of the populace is more wicked than even the heathen themselves. For most married people do not desire offspring. Indeed, they turn away from it and consider it better to live without children, because they are poor and do not have the means with which to support a household. . . . But the purpose of marriage is not to have pleasure and to be idle but to procreate and bring up children, to support a household. . . . Those who have no love for children are swine, stocks, and logs unworthy of being called men and women; . . . (Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 26-30; Luther's Works, vol. 5, 325-328; vol. 28, 279; commentary on the birth of Joseph; cf. Luther's Works, vol. 45, 39-40)

But the greatest good in married life, that which makes all suffering and labor worth while, is that God grants offspring and commands that they be brought up to worship and serve him. In all the world this is the noblest and most precious work, . . . Now since we are all duty bound to suffer death, if need be, that we might bring a single soul to God, you can see how rich the estate of marriage is in good works. (The Estate of Marriage, 1522; Luther's Works, vol. 45, 46)

You will find many to whom a large number of children is unwelcome, as though marriage had been instituted only for bestial pleasures and not also for the very valuable work by which we serve God and men when we train and educate the children whom God has given us.  (In Ewald M. Plass, What Luther Says, an Anthology, two volumes, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959, Vol. II, #2834)

Nobody in their right minds wants to bring up contraception in churches today.  It has become normal to prevent pregnancy and all kinds of reasons are given to suggest that the only responsible choice is to plan the family and therefore prevent pregnancy until it fits the plan.  What is missing in all of this discussion is an evaluation of the plans of people and whether or not their plans are based upon Biblical and legitimate reasons.  It sounds positively medieval to the modern mind that children would always be welcome to a marriage and a family.  It sounds positively misogynistic to suggest that women should not be in control of their own bodies and that choices have to be made.

My point in all of this is not suggest that we dismiss out of hand every decision not to have a child.  Even natural family planning provides a means as well as a rationale for limiting when to have a child and when not.  My point is how easy it is for us to leave far behind what we once believed as normal and how adaptable Christianity has been to advances of the technology that has made things like contraception quick, easy, and cheap.  In the space of three or four generations the first nod toward contraception has become the only reasonable, rational, and responsible opinion.  In the space of three or four generations children have gone from blessing to bane.

The big question is why we are so susceptible to the changing opinions of the world around us and why we are always changing our minds instead of changing the minds of the world around us with the Word of the Lord?  Contraception is but one of many issues in which Christians have surrendered their once inviolable convictions in order to better fit the landscape of our changing world and its values.  The change has come quickly and has become normative for most Protestants and even for a goodly number of Roman Catholics whose official stance is one of the few holdouts to wholesale Christian caving to contraception.  This is not simply one issue but as an issue is tied to many aspects of morality.  Unless we begin to recognize how we have changed our tunes and why, we will find Biblical doctrine, theology, and morality eaten away by the voracious appetite of modernity to chart its own course and make its own decisions independent of God and His Word.


Carl Vehse said...

The drop in the number of children per family may not be blamed exclusively on contraception, which was practiced well before the pill became available.

The Pew Research Center's figure shows Americans' views on the ideal family size, from 1936-2013. In the late 1960s there was a sharp switch of an ideal of four children and an ideal of two children. Those holding to an ideal of three children stayed relatively constant. This corresponded to the rise in the marriages of (at least female) babyboomers (as well as to the pill becoming available). It also corresponded to the first generation raised on television, space age education, and the huge increase in the percentage of women going to college, leaving less time for women to have children.

Another possible factor in having fewer children is the significant drop in infant mortality in the U.S. between 1915 and 1965. No longer, after the 1918 influenza pandemic, did couples have to consider that they might expect to lose one or more child to sickness or disease.

Also in the 60s, along with the civil rights movement, and the Vietnam War (and its associated protests), there was also the rise of political feminism. None of these movements were conducive to encouraging families to have more children.

David Gray said...

The point is less about the use of contraception than the theological corruption of the churches of the Reformation in embracing contraception which is less than a century old. God says children are a blessing and He doesn't qualify it by saying that children are a blessing until you have three or more. Rome has been, during the last 90 years, more faithful than the churches of the Reformation, on this issue. We have great room for contemplation and repentance.

Carl Vehse said...

Hence the title, "Children. . . bane or blessing," rather than "Contraception. . . bane or blessing."

Anonymous said...

The Roman Catholic Church officially forbids any form of contraception.
However over 85% of the RC laity do not obey their pope in this matter.

Bottom Line: What a denomination teaches and what the laity practice
are not always the same thing.

Kirk Skeptic said...

There are women for whom pregnancy is a medical risk, thus making contraception preventative health care rather than a means of shirking responsibility. Such women, though, are the exception rather than the rule, but nonetheless shouldn't be looked down upon by the church.

David Gray said...

Yes, but that really isn't our problem. That's like warning Sodom against not being open to physical sensation. Our society and our churches are swarming with people who are hostile to women who don't use contraception, not those who do for medical reasons.