Sunday, November 06, 2005
Family planning issues
Inspired by the conflicting comments on Bunnie Diehl's post regarding Christian and birth control, I am exploring what scripture, as well as the confessional Lutheran church, says on this topic. I've even learned a new word, traducianism, which is the word to describe how Luther believed new souls were created. Amazing idea! Below are three WELS.net Q & A articles which helped me to understand these issues better. My synod, as most, does not have a formal position on these matters other than to refer people to scripture and their pastors. That's a wonderful position to take! The questions below are asked anonymously by email and are answered by a panel of WELS pastors from the Seminary and synod headquarters. I am studying this topic and welcome any thoughts, however any disputes with the WELS answers should be directed to them or other theologians of confessional Lutheran synods and not me.
Use of birth control
Question: I was reading some of the past answers given in the Q&A about birth control and just had a couple of questions. I appreciate your responses. Why has the church made such a stand on end of life issues I am confused by the concept of right and wrong motivation for having children in marriage. It seems like the WELS comes across as saying the only justified reasons for not having children are extreme financial difficulty and medical problems that would endanger the life of the mother. Even if a couple has a generous income, good living conditions, and the woman is in good health, aren't there still other good reasons to avoid having children?
What if the woman feels she would be a better steward of this world by spending her time pursuing a career or higher education? What if she isn't comfortable being around children or blessed with patience and parenting skills? Or just doesn't have any desire to be a parent? And, of course, what if the man agreed with her and felt the same way? Are these still selfish motives for a couple?ves are devoted to reflecting our love and appreciation to God. We do this by obeying his commands (1 John 5:3) and pointing to Him for hope and salvation (Matthew 5:16).
Answer: While we talk about “our lives are in God’s hands” (which most closely reflects the sense of Deuteronomy 32:39 and Romans 8:28) the passage loosely paraphrases the passage which says, “My times are in your hands” (Psalm 31:15). This passage refers to lives devoted to serving God and lives that pass each moment confessing “thy will be done.” It is a surrender of our will to God’s will. It is not a surrender of responsibility. We are still directed to be responsible stewards of our blessings and resources.
We are to take care of our lives as well as the lives of others (Leviticus 19:16; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Intervening is not a challenge to God’s providence but an act of stewardship to care for the blessing of life. When you face the end of life you make decision about your health care, always seeking to do God’s will. This is responsible stewardship over the life that God has given us.
In this same way a Christian couple seeks out God’s will as they make decisions regarding the beginning of human life and contraception issues. If using such contraception or birth control violates the will of God (i.e., is used for sinful purposes, is used at the harm of others, etc.) then it is sinful. It is not, however, contrary to God’s will to practice a form of family planning so long as the motive is correct and the same spirit of surrender to God’s will is there, as it is in making end-of-life decisions.
When illness and calamity come into our lives a Christian will intervene to protect and preserve life. At times, God graciously allows the intervention to take its course and healing comes. At other times God rejects the intervention and increased illness or death occurs. The intervention does not fail to let God be God in His authority over life and death. The action taken is to act responsibly to care for the blessing of life, to the best of our limited abilities.
In the same way when a Christian married couple makes the soul-searching decision to use contraception, they seek to prevent the beginning of life. They do not desert their conviction of God’s authorship of life and accept His will when He chooses to do give them a life despite the contraception. Properly motivated, using contraception is an act of stewardship and not defiance to God’s providence.
Question: I recently referred a friend to some of the excellent answers this forum has provided regarding birth control and people's motives, because I think they are very well stated.
While reviewing the answers, I noticed that discussions of birth control methods tend to rely on correlating Scripture with a largely biological definition of life. For example, "God-pleasing methods would be those that prevent conception rather than those that end the life of a human being, either in its embryonic or fetal stage of development. Life begins when a new life is formed. Usually this takes place when sperm and egg are joined together and form an embryo (Note: Cloning would be an exception)." See also pages 4-7 of "The Moral Implications of Attempts to Control Human Reproduction" by John W. Covach (WLS library).
Why does there appear to be a greater emphasis in this matter on a biological approach than on the transmission of souls? While Lutherans may not be able to "establish traducianism as the clear doctrine of the Bible" (David Wietzke, Theologia, Vol. 2 No. 3), it is the theory "most widely accepted by orthodox Lutheran dogmaticians." The list of orthodox Lutherans who accept it includes Luther himself (Cf. Chemnitz, Loci Theologici, p. 291) and the author(s) of the WELS Q&A: "[That the soul of the newly conceived child is somehow derived from that of the parents] is what is taught at the seminary and by nearly all Lutheran theologians. We can say God creates our soul but he creates it as he creates our body--through our parents, not by direct creation."
I ask this because I'm wondering if, when it comes to examining birth control techniques, an overly biological emphasis may provide a false comfort that is not justified on the basis of our uncertainty regarding exactly how God accomplishes the transmission of souls. Has any WELS author directly addressed the issue of how what we know and do not know about traducianism might affect an evaluation of birth control methods?
Answer: Creationism and traducianism are two views on how the soul comes to the human being. In creationism the position is held that each soul is created by God. In traducianism the view is that each soul is generated or derived from the parents. Martin Luther adopted the view, or theory, of traducianism primarily because it best accounts for the transmission of sin from the parents to the child (i.e., original sin, Psalm 51:5; Ephesians 2:3).
Scripture does not definitively say exactly when and how the soul is joined with the body. What can be said with certainty is the inherited nature of sin (i.e., original sin) and that the soul is distinctively equated with life. Even at the point of conception there is already accountability for sin (Psalm 51:5). And, when the soul of a human being is taken by God there is no life. It is logical to assume that where there is accountability for sin there is a soul and we can idtenify that point to be as early as conception.
A creationism view of the soul, as an alternative to traducianism, is troubling because of the doctrine of original sin. Sin is the aberration of man not of God. For that reason inherited original sin makes the theory of traducianism the more palatable in explaining how the soul comes to the body. It comes "from the two becoming one flesh" with flesh being the communicator of inherited sin.
Because in procreation every human being, at its very essence, is composed of the contributions of male and female (even in cloning the biological mix is still present), there is a natural concern about biology in ascertaining the beginning of life.
We are not aware of any extensive writing on this topic within the WELS or elsewhere with special application to the beginning of human life and birth control methods.
Natural Family Planning
Question: With regard to birth control, does WELS' teaching back Natural Family Planning? My wife and I have disagreed with regard to use of birth control. In 1Corinthians6:19-20 it says"You are not your own. You were bought with a price. So glorify God in your bodies". I have tried to explain to my wife that I would bet WELS backs Natural Family Planning. I would argue that use of birth control does not demonstrate faithfully living out the lordship of Jesus Christ.
I would say the primary end or purpose of the marriage act is the procreation of children. When a couple thwarts that end, aren't they acting contrary to natural law?
I believe that there is a godly way to experience the act of marriage and to be prudent in serious circumstances by practicing continence during times of mutual fertility. If WELS backs NFP, do they offer any classes? If not, would they consider offering such courses in the future?
Answer: There are two important issues that come to bear on the birth control question. The first is motive and the second is method.
Your concern about God’s Word is crucial in assuring the correct motive. We learn in His Word that He wishes children to be born of a husband and wife. We also learn that children are considered blessings in a marriage. They are not entitlements, expectations, prerequisites, or validating components of a marriage. They are blessings. As with all blessings, they can be pursued and must be cared for by Christians with the understanding that as blessings, they are dispensed according to the will of God.
What this means is that in the practice of responsible stewardship a Christian couple may wish to seek many or few children depending on circumstances that often vary greatly from one couple to the next. Because the heart is something known only to the people and to God, their reasons for having more or fewer children lie before the Perfect Judge to whom we must all give account.
Appealing to some sort of a “natural law” as an endorsement of NFP is problematic. It is the act of the will in birth control that is the primary determinant of its correctness. In other words, if limiting the size of the family is done out of false motives, it is wrong whether using the NFP method or an artificial method.
That being said, when the motive is correct NFP and barrier methods of birth control are considered the methods most acceptable as they do not endanger new life or bring any health consequences to the user(s).
Christian Life Resources, which is an agency affiliated with the WELS and ELS, specifically focuses on life and family issues. In that capacity they have available a concise booklet that discusses all birth control methods and, most importantly, our motives in practicing birth control. That booklet can be purchased through their store website at: www.CLRStore.com or by calling 1-800-729-9535. You can also search their website at www.ChristianLifeResources.com for related information on this topic.
Question: I am confused by the concept of right and wrong motivation for having children in marriage. It seems like the WELS comes across as saying the only justified reasons for not having children are extreme financial difficulty and medical problems that would endanger the life of the mother. Even if a couple has a generous income, good living conditions, and the woman is in good health, aren't there still other good reasons to avoid having children?
What if the woman feels she would be a better steward of this world by spending her time pursuing a career or higher education? What if she isn't comfortable being around children or blessed with patience and parenting skills? Or just doesn't have any desire to be a parent? And, of course, what if the man agreed with her and felt the same way? Are these still selfish motives for a couple?
Answer: Someone once said that even a Christian’s most sincere tears shed in penance are tainted with sin The point is that because of our own imperfection and sinfulness even our most noble intentions are tainted. Even cases of “extreme financial difficulty” or “medical problems” are open to considerable interpretation with many opportunities for bad motive to creep in.
The matter raised in this question goes to the heart of Christian living. How does one ever really know that his or her motives are right before the eyes of a perfect God? First of all, we must agree that the right motive is of paramount importance. Scripture makes this point abundantly clear (Acts 17:28; Romans 14:23; 1 Corinthians 10:31; 2 Corinthians 13:7; Colossians 3:23-24; Hebrews 11:6).
Secondly, because of the impurity of our hearts, we must candidly accept the reality that our motives are suspect (Isaiah 64:6; Mark 9:24; Romans 7:14-25; Galatians 5:17).
Thirdly, God’s Word is the only reliable standard of what is right and wrong and helps us judge the roots of our own motives (Psalm 119:105; 1 Corinthians 2:4-5; 2 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 4:12).
Fourthly, while God’s Word is the only reliable measure of right and wrong, we are victims of our own ignorance of what that Word says, our own sinfulness that prompts us to “hear” the words we want to hear (2 Timothy 4:3), and an emotional bias the skews our reasoning. That is why pastors and doctrinally sound Christian friends are so important. Pastors are valuable because they are expert in God’s Word and also because they are accountable to congregations and to God for their work (Hebrews 13:17). Christian friends are valuable because as Christians their first allegiance is to God and as your friend, they look out for your welfare.
The challenge with judging motive is that we are too biased to rightly judge our own motive with purity, and others are too ignorant to know all the components that go into a decision. Yet, with imperfect people trying to make perfect decisions the best advice still comes from Scripture, and that is to search your heart (Psalm 4:4).
God’s Word tells us that in the end we must each give an account of our own actions and decisions (Romans 14:12). Because of the serious nature of sin it may be prudent to err on the side of caution (1 Peter 3:17) but we also wish to be careful not to bind consciences (Galatians 5:1). It is sometimes a very fine line.
Practically speaking, it is not possible to draft an absolute list of justifiable reasons for or against the use of birth control. Where God has not definitively spoken we must allow for the exercise of Christian freedom. To help assure that we do not allow our freedom to be a license to sin (1 Peter 2:16), we need to continue to search our God’s Word, talk candidly about these matters with God’s servant (the pastor), and have soul-searching conversations with sound Christian friends. And when we have committed ourselves to a plan of action based on biblical principles, we need also to turn in faith to the gospel of forgiveness in Christ for the assurance that if we have erred in our judgment, he also has paid the price of that sin.
While this question has focused exclusively on motive a caution should be expressed about the methods of birth control that may be employed. Some forms of birth control do or have the potential to destroy life developing in the womb. Therefore, even with a correct motive we must take care not to use the wrong method and thereby sin by destroying life.
For a continued study of this matter you may search the Christian Life Resources website at: www.ChristianLifeResources.com or contact Christian Life Resources (800-729-9535) and order the booklet entitled, “The Christian and Birth Control” which is also available on-line at: www.CLRStore.com