Let's Get Physical

This would hardly be the preferred way to spend time with one's spouse - together, yet not quite. So close. Two-made-one, yet a two-made-one divided by millimeters that might as well be miles.

The Roman Church teaches/confesses a Theology of the Body. What we do with our bodies and how we use them speaks something - confesses something.

As Lutherans this makes sense to us too, even though we have seldom applied it to discussions in this area. After all we too hold to the Creeds whereby we confess the Creator of a good but now fallen creation, the Incarnation of Christ, and the resurrection of the dead in Christ Jesus our Lord. We believe, teach, and confess these very physical realities by the Word of God.

Yet, when it comes to the Theology of Marriage, and talk of contraceptives and the avoidance of children I so often run into Lutherans (prominent professors and others) who suggest that what is really important here is the motive of the married couple.

Now let me first say, lest anyone misunderstand, that motive/goals/ends sought after are important and should be brought up in pastoral care and Christian conversation on these topics. (I do, however, believe that a majority of the motives held even in Christian marriages for not having children are illegitimate and ill-conceived - an argument for another day and another post).

What I do argue here is something we all know: Motives/goals/ends don’t justify means. And in this case when we relegate ourselves only to talk of the married couple's motives to the exclusion of talk about the means we place ourselves and our marriages on shaky ground.

Therefore, when the question to contracept or not to contracept arises, we cannot simply stop our discussion at motives. We must also consider the means that we will use. In this context, any talk of means of contraception is also talk of the Theology of The Body within the context of a Theology of Marriage.

In the Temple, the physical curtain/the veil spoke something about the reality of the relationship between God and His people. This changed in Christ Jesus.

In the picture above, the glass speaks something, confesses something about the reality of the married couple who meets there once a week – staring each other in the eyes with pupils dilated, speaking sweet-nothings – a very intimate setting save for the thin glass that so profoundly separates the two-become-one.

If I were to go to kiss my wife and at the last second I slipped some plastic wrap between our lips she would be surprised and ultimately offended. I could explain to her that it is the height of could and flu season and my motive is to protect her/me from me/her. She might understand the motive but I guarantee that she would not give assent to the physical means. Why? Because the means unnecessarily and offensively separate the two-become-one – a marriage that is to be an icon of Christ’s mystical, sweet, un-separated, communion with His bride the Church.

If a little plastic wrap, a little glass, a little linen speak so much, how can a little latex speak so little to so many?


Eric Phillips said...

You know, the example with the plastic wrap and the kiss doesn't ring true at all. It would be silly to do it just because it was flu season, but in my experience, people who are actually sick routinely refrain from kissing their loved ones for the duration of the illness. Kissing with plastic wrap would probably be a preferable solution. And if kissing were half as important as sex, it would unquestionably be preferable.

Jeremy said...

Would your wife be offended if you only agreed to kiss her on certain days of the month? Sorry, couldn't pass it up.

Caspar said...

Good and valid point, Jeremy! Hey, is your wife ready to deliver yet? Remember, 36 weeks is considered full term! We had two of our six at that gestation.


Sarah said...

While I am not particularly pro-contraception and don't use any, I do think that a little latex is a lot better and different than a drug that completely alters chemical processes in the body rendering a woman unable to conceive, and should she, unable to carry it out. I get what you are saying about "means" though and they are just as important as motives.

"The road to hell is paved in good intentions..."

Pr. David Rufner said...

Jeremy, welcome to the blog. Good question - and I can't blame you for not passing it up. Would she be offended? Simply put, YES. Unless one of the other of us were sick and we did refrain from smooching in order to protect each other (as pointed out by Eric). That is the very point where the analogy, as also pointed out by Eric, breaks down - and beautifully so if you ask me. I rightly protect my wife from sickness. But her fertility can hardly be seen as sickness or something that we would do well to "protect" each other from. Yet contraceptives confess that very thing: a need to protect ourselves and our marriage from each other and that which our Lord has called very good.

Caspar has very helpfully pointed out more than once on this blog, and on his own blog that we may in extreme instances use contraceptives when forced to pick the "lesser evil". What we see in fact, is a commendation for the married to use contraceptives for their perceived greater good.

Eric, I agree that the example ultimately does not ring true but hold that where it does break down it does so beautifully. The example was just that, however, an example. What of recapturing a Theology of the Body, and an examination of the means we use to serve our stated goals within our marriages that already profess a particular Theology of the Body?

Jeremy said...

We are 6 weeks, 1 day from the due date. It's getting pretty exciting around here. We're both a bit nervous.

Finally! Somebody in the blogosphere who can take a joke. I half-expected an angry retort to my comment. Of course, that probably means I shouldn't have made it.

I guess I just going to have to be patient until you all get to point 3 and make the case that NFP and contraception are different. I just don't see it.

jconner said...


Thanks for you post. You have brought up the key to this discussion. The question is not simply “What is the motive?” (although this is obviously important), but “What means are used?” as well.

I see a great difference between the means of barrier methods and the means of NFP. Yes, the end result may be the same: a child is not conceived, but the means to that end are quite different.

When a couple who is contracepting engages in sex, they actively separate the procreative good of marriage (and I would argue the “unitive” good as well) from sex. A couple using NFP, however, does not actively separate the procreative good of marriage from sex but, simply abstains from sex. Again, the end result may be the same (as may be the motive, which must be addressed later), but that’s not the point of discussion right now. In other words, the reason people use NFP or contraceptives is not being discussed at this particular point. The point for now is the means. The means used matters. This is what I meant in an earlier post when I said _ NFP (as a means) is never contraceptive_.


Eric Phillips said...


Even if it breaks down "beautifully," it ends up not working. You can't maintain the argument in this post. If you want to argue that fertility isn't something we should be protecting ourselves from, go for it, but that's a different argument, and even if you can prove it, it won't prop this one up. Whatever differences there are between preventing a cold and preventing a pregnancy, there is a similarity that remains: the barrier is used to prevent a result that husband and wife agree they do not currently desire.

Elihu, the young said...

If true good works are about motive, then woe to us. I'd rather be judged on my outward deeds than on what's in my heart. And twice be that woe to the pastor who says "God looks at the heart" as if it were a word of Gospel, for in the heart of man is little other than deceit.

Lutheran theology is strong in good works precisely because it recognizes that in the end, motive is meaningless dribble. True good works serve the neighbor, regardless of the heart's intent, even in spite of it. They should be done because good is good, and as Christians, we are redeemed into the righteousness of God, no matter how Adam's heart might feel about it at the moment.

*If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.* James 2:15-17

Pr. David Rufner said...

Othniel, Thanks you for your contribution and welcome. I hope we will be hearing more from you and all others in the future.

Eric, the weight of the post was the following... "When the question to contracept or not to contracept arises, we cannot simply stop our discussion at motives. We must also consider the means that we will use. In this context, any talk of means of contraception is also talk of the Theology of The Body within the context of a Theology of Marriage."

And why must we consider means? Because in this case they speak/confess something. In the comment I made the further implication that what they speak is that fertility is something to be protected against. That was not, however the main argument of the post.

The plastic wrap was simply an example. It is not, however, the main argument itself. So let's talk about the main argument. What of a Theology of the Body? I see it severely lacking - a dangerous thing.

Othniel pointed out to us the danger of relegating the discussion simply to a talk of motives. I would further argue that relegating a Theology of Marriage simply to the realm of motives (even supposed right and wrong motives) is itself a form of neo-gnosticism where we elevate the mind/spirit/conscience/motives over and above the body.

Eric Phillips said...


I have never heard anyone suggest that motive is the only thing that matters in this discussion. People who say that it comes down to a question of motive say so because they have already considered the question of means, and found the means to be innocent.

Eric Phillips said...


Lutheran theology recognizes that our good works are only relatively good, and never sufficient in themselves to please God. This recognition does lessen the importance of motive, as it deprives it of soteriological significance, but it hardly turns motive into "meaningless drivel." You're exaggerating so much that you've ended up saying something patently untrue.

What does that hymn of Luther's say? "Works serve our neighbor and supply the proof that faith is living." You've amputated the second half. A drug dealer who feeds a street urchin on a regular basis so that the kid can serve as a lookout to warn him when the police are coming is NOT doing the same good work as a charity that feeds him for Christ's sake.

Caspar said...


That's not Luther's work. It's by Paul Speratus: Salvation unto Us Has Come. I think you should read the whole thing.


Elihu, the young said...

Towards Erics comments, for the sake of others who might be reading:

Actually, the hymn completley supports my point. It is works that are the proof, not the motive of the heart. I've not amputated the second half, but lifted it up over and against pietism, which insists on pure motives with good works.

That doesn't mean that the good work the drug dealer DOES do of FEEDING a POOR kid makes the guy a Christian. Good works don't make faith. That's completely backwards. In this sense, the metaphor is a straw man, because we are talking about Christians, not drug dealers, or at least...I am.

For Christians, good works indeed show that faith is living, but Eric's view would have each work strive to be "really a good work" by including a good motive. Certainly, good motives are nice, but frankly, sinners just aren't good at having good motives. There's not much you can do to "make" emotions. They just happen.

However, like Wesley, Eric's view would tell you again and again to strive for those pure motives anyway. Even though you pleaded with tears that you could not be pure enough, because you always held some lingering grudge against the kid or his folks or the drug dealer who also feeds him or someone, Eric would insist that you must believe you are pure enough, because grace covers the gap (something like "Do what is in you," if you are familiar with that medieval Roman phrase.) He would tell you that your motives are therefore "pure enough," because "Lutheran theology recognizes that our good works are only relatively good" and that "you're just being Reformed," or such he has told me in the past.

Meanwhile, you would know your own sin full well and have no where to turn for comfort. You might even stop doing the good works because what's the point if they're not really "for Jesus," right?

Back to Eric's metaphor: the works done "for the sake of Christ" might actually be WORSE than the drug dealer's works. The drug dealer has no intention of justifying himself in any manner before the Living God, whereas works done "for the sake of Christ," run that risk quite frequently. Actually, doing works "for Jesus" has little chance of being anything other than idolatry. Jesus doesn't need our good works. He doesn't want them. He wants us to give them to other people.

(This is very different than the spiritual reality that when we do good works, they are done for Jesus, as taught in Matthew 24-25. If you read carefully, anyone who ever does any good works "for Jesus" in those texts, doesn't know that's what he's doing.)

In converse to the Wesleyan/Roman view, Lutheran teaching insists that *true charity* born of faith just *feeds the poor kid,* irreguardless of motive. As Luther's hymn states clearly: "works serve our neighbor." The heart might be a million miles from the deed, but the Christian does the deed anyway.

Eric: When you disagree with me in your next comment, please do so with the understanding that I will not be taking the time to respond again. Your disagreements with me are very wearisome, as you almost inevitably fail to read me for what I've said. I don't know if you do this on purpose or not, but it is quite frustrating.

I don't mean to be rude. Really, I don't. I don't know how to say something to you without it being misunderstood. I do know that until you understand Romans 7 in a Lutheran way, (mabye read Luther's works on that one if you want to try...) I doubt that you will ever agree with me on much of anything. It's a fundamental theological foundation to the Lutheran understanding of everything. Until then, we just have to disagree.

Enjoy your advent!

Jenna said...

I just wanted to leave a note to say that I am enjoying your posts a great deal. :)

jconner said...


While I have no illusions that you will agree with me, I will respond once more to your post for the benefit of others who might be reading.

First, I said _I don’t understand how a couple can honestly say, ‘We’re open to children, but we’re doing everything we can to prevent them.’”_

You responded _ It's not hard. There are plenty of bachelors, for instance, who avoid the social situations where they might meet women, but would still happily fall in love if the opportunity reached out and grabbed them by the back of the neck._

Your response introduces an entirely new situation which completely distracts for the issue being discussed i.e. a married couple and sex.

Nonetheless, your example makes little sense. If a bachelor is open to falling in love with a woman in principle, but does everything in his power to avoid having contact with women, it speaks against his openness. Principle must agree with reality/practice. Unless you expect God immaculately to conceive of the perfect woman for this man and bring her to him.

Second, I referenced Janet Smith’s comment _ “If you don’t want to go to Cleveland, why are you on the train?”_

You responded _ Um... Maybe because the train also goes to Columbus? Or Toledo? How many goods of marriage are there again?_

As stated before, I accept all three goods of marriage. In other words, I’m on the train because I am willing to stop at Cleveland, Columbus, and Toledo. In other words, I accept ALL three goods of marriage without actively thwarting one of them (i.e. procreation) and elevating the other two above procreation (which would be a hierarchy of goods, which you have rejected in theory/principle, but practice in reality).

So back to the train. Your response actually speaks against your position. Let’s say this train stops (as you suggest) at Cleveland, Columbus, and Toledo. You’re on the train and you know it stops at Cleveland, but you don’t want to stop there. So, in order to prevent the train from stopping there, you actively thwart its natural end (i.e. stopping at Cleveland) by forcing the conductor to skip that stop.

Let’s also say that the majority of the time (let’s say roughly 27 to 28 days of the month), the train doesn’t stop at Cleveland and you are aware of this. If you don’t want to stop at Cleveland, why are you on the train? Why don’t you just ride it one of the other 27 to 28 days of the month instead of actively thwarting the conductor from stopping at Cleveland?

And finally, I will again attempt to get you to focus on NFP as a means and not as an end. I said _ NFP as a means is not contraceptive. When a couple using NFP wishes to delay pregnancy, they abstain from sex. In order for a means to be contraceptive, a couple has to engage in sex. Therefore, NFP as a means is not contraceptive._

You responded _ And again, you inistence that the means of NFP are not contraceptive makes no sense at all. I don't even know what that statement could mean. Contraception is an _end_, not a _means_. If your intention is to avoid children, then you are contracepting plain and simple, no matter what method you're using to achieve that result._

It is obvious to me that you _don’t even know what that statement could mean_ because you have yet to respond to it. Your response is totally focused on the ends. I agree that NFP as a means can be used to achieve an inappropriate end i.e. no children. I am not arguing the end result at this point, that will come later. At this point, I am discussing the means to the end. NFP is a good means; it is not contraceptive. Again, in order for a means to be contraceptive, a couple has to engage in sex. Couples using NFP who wish to delay pregnancy, don’t have sex during that period (they don’t ride the train when it stops at Cleveland).

Contraception, on the other hand, is a bad means because it actively thwarts one of the natural ends of sex and separates one of the God given goods of marriage from sex.

I welcome other people’s comments on this. I realize this may be new for some people. It was new for me just a couple years ago, but I have been open to ideas and other people’s positions and because of this I have arrived where I am today. Please ask questions if I have not been clear.


Caspar said...


The word "contraception" means "against conception." When NFP is used to prevent the conception of a child, it is "contra-ceptive." If it doesn't prevent conceptions, then why do people use it? It is one of the earliest forms of contraception known to man. The Manichees advised this method, which St. Augustine condemned. I will not deny that NFP is somewhat different than other contraceptive methods, but it is still contraceptive.


Jenna said...

Hmmm... I don't know that it makes sense to call abstaining from sex "contraception". If that were true, wouldn't every person not engaging in sex be considered to be using a form of contraception? There are many teenagers who do not wish to be having babies, and so they refrain from sex. Does that mean that they are then using contraception? *scratches head* It just seems like a misuse of the meaning behind the word.

Devona said...

Just for the record, I am in total agreement with Caspar.

Lauren said...

I appreciate your honesty in stating that NFP is contraception. There are barriers of time AND space, so whether you use a condom or wait until your wife's not fertile, it's still a barrier used to prevent a pregnancy. Thanks!

Eric Phillips said...


Yes, that's contraception too. The reason it seems different to you is that unmarried couples are not expected to procreate. On that one, the World actually agrees with the Church (though not for all the same reasons) that it is not good for them to do so.

Eric Phillips said...


If it helps any, I'm just as confused by your inability to understand what _I'm_ saying.

The hymn most definitely is _not_ on your side of this discussion. If there is no difference between the work done by the drug dealer and the work done by the Christian, then the work done by the Christian can't _prove_ anything.

Othniel writes,
"However, like Wesley, Eric's view would tell you again and again to strive for those pure motives anyway."

And here the ludicrous guilt-by-association begins. Guess what? "Like Wesley," I also believe in the Trinity and the Deity of Christ. Why didn't you say "Like St. Paul" ("Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned"--I Timothy 1:5) or "Like St. Peter" ("Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently--I Peter 1:22)? Oh, right... because then you couldn't paint me as a Wesleyan. Nice um... tactic. Of COURSE we should strive and pray for purity of heart; "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." The fact that it is CHRIST'S purity that enables us to see God, and not our own, hardly excuses us from the pursuit of holiness.

Othniel again:
"Eric would insist that you must believe you are pure enough, because grace covers the gap."

Er, no. Eric wouldn't insist on that at all. Thanks for the caricature, though. At least this time you mentioned a doctrine that Wesley _doesn't_ share with the Apostles.

"Actually, doing works 'for Jesus' has little chance of being anything other than idolatry."

Boy, someone definitely should have warned St. Paul about THAT danger, before he went around giving advice like, "Study to show thyself approved unto God" (2 Tim. 2:15), "Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me" (Rom. 15:30), and "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service" (Rom. 12:1).

I mean, how confusing. Embarrassing for the Apostle, really.

Eric Phillips said...


You write,
"If a bachelor is open to falling in love with a woman in principle, but does everything in his power to avoid having contact with women, it speaks against his openness."

Sounds like you weren't a bachelor for very long.

As for the train that mysteriously confines itself to stops in Ohio, the fact that 27 days out the month it doesn't even _go_ to Cleveland demonstrates quite conclusively that the equal importance of Cleveland among the three goods of marriage (a wonderfully twisted metaphor this is) does not depend on the frequency with which one visits it. As long as you go to Cleveland eventually, procreation is going to make itself a very large part of your marriage indeed.

Now, back to this strange idea you seem to have that "contraception" is a "means" and not an "end." Contraception _can_ be a means to a child-free life, a higher standard of living, whatever; it _cannot_ be a means to avoiding children, because contraception IS BY DEFINITION the purposeful avoidance of children. Caspar broke the word down for you, and he couldn't be more right.

If the end we are talking about is a higher standard of living, or a child-free career, then contraception can be a means to that. However, since the end we are actually talking about is avoiding children, contraception IS the end, and condoms, the pill and NFP are all just alternate (though not necessarily morally equaivalent) means to arrive at it.

Olivia said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Devona said...

Hey, Pr, Dave

I just accidentally posted under my daughter's blogger ID. So don't allow Olivia's comment to come through. Oops!!!

Anyway, what I was going to say, but instead I had Olivia say it was this:

Jenna, what you said maes sense, but I didn't see it before I posted my original comment.

I think the difference between an abstaining teenager and an NFP practicing couple is that the teenager is not sexually active, so they aren't capable of conceiving ever. The NFP couple has an attitude of contraception, because though they are sexually active, they are specifically avoiding conception.

I think that these are all terms that have been ineffectively defined by our culture and language, so it is very difficult to discuss these issues. We all mean different things with the same words.

Caspar said...

Yes, abstinence in unmarried people IS "contraceptive" in the strict sense of the word. But, when unmarried people abstain it is not against God's will. God condemns fornication. His divine ordinance to be fruitful and multiply is meant to be achieved through marriage.

Unmarried people are contracepting against God's will if they are postponing marriage because they don't want to have children yet. God intends all but a few people to get married and, for those who marry, to conceive and care for as many children as he blesses their natural union with, or calls them to adopt. Obviously you must wait until you find your mate.

Contracepting within marriage is against God's will, but so is contracepting in fornication. The contracepting of those with the gift of celibacy (in this case, abstaining) is not against God's will. There are few, however, who are truly called to a celibate life. Contracepting (unreasonably postponing or despising marriage) by all other unmarried persons is against God's will.

Listen to Luther:

"For this word which God speaks, 'Be fruitful and multiply,' is not a command. It is more than a command, namely, a divine ordinance which it is not our prerogative to hinder or ignore. Rather, it is just as necessary as the fact that I am a man , and more necessary than sleeping and waking, eating and drinking, and emptying the bowels and bladder. It is a nature and disposition just as innate as the organs involved in it. Therefore, just as God does not command anyone to be a man or a woman but created them the way they have to be, so he does not command them to multiply but creates them so that they have to multiply. And wherever men try to resist this, it remains irresistible nonetheless and goes its way through fornication, adultery, and secret sins, for this is a matter of nature and not of choice.

In the third place, from this ordinance of creation God has himself exempted three categories of men, saying in Matthew 19:12, 'There are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.' Apart from these three groups, let no man presume to be without a spouse. And whoever does not fall within one of these three categories should not consider anything except the estate of marriage. Otherwise it simply impossible for you to remain righteous. For the Word of God which created you and said, 'Be fruitful and multiply,' abides and rules within you; you can by no means ignore it, or you will be bound to commit heinous sins without end."

--Martin Luther [LW 45, p. 18]

In the age we live in, self-seeking, self-esteem, self-gratification and self-fulfillment are the highest "moral" goals. One is supposed to "find themselves" and get ahead in their career before even thinking of getting married and certainly before having any children. How sad.

Matthew 10:39 - Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

The "rugged individualism" of this postmodern world has caused the destruction of marriage and the family.