J.W. Montgomery on "How to Decide the Birth Control Question"

In preparation for the Apologetics Academy in Strasbourg, I've been cramming the reading list for the course. One of the books I picked up in the final hours before leaving is "Slaughter of the Innocents: Abortion, Birth Control, and Divorce in Light of Science, Law, and Theology" (1981) by John Warwick Montgomery, founder and instructor for the Academy. His personal website is: http://www.jwm.christendom.co.uk/.

Dr. Montgomery resists a blanket condemnation of birth control but restricts it to marriage and the couple's consideration of their own physical, emotional, financial, and spiritual situation. "However he is led to fulfill his personal responsibility before the Lord of the church, the Christian stands free from the shackles of legalism and from the chaos of libertarianism. He suggests we present our bodies in a reasonable act of worship.

On the whole, Montgomery is condemning of both Rome for its view of marriage as "a means to the end" of procreation, and also of liberal Christianity which views marriage as "an end" unto itself.

Understood in the light of New Testament fulfillment [Eph 5:22-33], marriage cannot be regarded as simply a means ("Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth") or unqualifiedly as an end ("They shall be one flesh"). Rather, it is seen as an analogy - indeed, ss the best human analogy- of the relationship between Christ and his church... When, and only when, marriage is viewed as the type of which Christ-and-church are antitype can we avoid the Hegelian-like dialectic extremes of the Roman and liberal Protestant views of marriage and birth control."
To summarize, his following points highlight how Christ-and-church antitype inform the type of marriage. Namely:
  1. Marriage is not viewed as simply procreative. Birth control can aid in "subduing the earth". Yet, NFP is rejected for its Manichean and Neoplatonic depreciation of the flesh and the psychosomatic wholeness of marriage and the woman's cycle.
  2. The human love relationship is not an end in itself. "The love relationship between male and female must never be absolutized. It is truly meaningful only insofar as it reflects the Christ-relationship. Apart from this it becomes idolatrous, taking on demonic quality despite its lack of genuine ultimacy."
  3. In light of the divine analogy, children are central to the marital union. "As the union of Christ and his church does not exist for its own sake, but to bring others to spiritual rebirth, so the marital union is properly fulfilled in natural birth. And since natural birth precedes spiritual birth, as creation precedes redemption, so the Christian home can be the greatest single agency for nurture in the twofold sense... The burden of proof rests, then, on the couple who wish to restrict the size of their family; to the extendt possible and desirable, all Christian couples should seek to "bring many sons unto glory."" (25)
  4. "Sexual relations outside of marriage are unqualifiedly to be condemned, not for naturalistic (and logically questionable!) reasons... but because they violate the high analogy of Christ-and-church.
While we may find his permissive approach to birth control objectionable, Montgomery is right to caution against the extremes of legalism and libertarianism. Montgomery urges us to not condemn those who reject the antitype of Christ-and-church where they honestly believe it will afford a better human relationship, either in the family or community. (He has here in mind overpopulated areas though not in Malthusian terms.)

Yet, He states we should encourage couples to do all they can to make their marriages "evangelistic- generatively and regeneratively." Rightly, he encourages adoption, not at the expense of childbearing. Here the infertile couple is offered "a superlative privilege and opportunity." (27)

The text is an interesting read and worth the trip to the library.

  • Montgomery, John Warwick. Slaughter of the Innocents: Abortion, Birth Control, and Divorce in Light of Science, Law, and Theology. Westchester, Ill: Cornerstone Books, 1981.


Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

While I do not have Montgomery's book, his treatment of birth control is also found as an essay in an appendix to: Birth Control and the Christian, January 1, 1969. This book was the result of a Protestant Symposium on the Control of Human Reproduction, held in 1968 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and sponsored by the Christian Medical Society and Christianity Today.

While I certainly do not disagree with everything Montgomery says, his stand on the subject on birth control is quite novel. I have never encountered such a position from any other theologian - historical, modern, Lutheran, or otherwise. He himself appears to realize the novelty of his thinking, and explains it away by saying:

Christians have often manifested strange blind spots in dealing with the theology of marriage, and current discussion of birth control by both Roman Catholics and Protestants is the unwitting manifestation of a theological perplexity that extends far beyond specifics such as the "rhythm method" or "the pill."

I guess Montgomery would have us believe that no one has ever properly understood or taught on this subject but him. Scripture has finally been opened, after more than two thousand years of ignorance and false teaching.

GL said...

Thanks for this review. I have not read this book. A few thoughts come to mind:

1. In accepting birth control, does Montgomery deal with the church fathers and earlier Lutheran pastors and theologians who condemn the practice?

2. If your description of his treatment of the Catholic teaching is correct, Pr. Montgomery appears to not really understand the Catholic teaching. Marriage and marital intimacy is not viewed by the Catholic Church merely as a means to an end. The potential of procreation is, rather, an inseparable part of marriage and marital intimacy. It is not procreation per se which is deemed an essential part of marriage as an openness to procreation and the integrity of both the state of marriage and the marital act. It is deliberately making the marital act infertile which separates what God has joined together. One cannot separate any of the integral part of marriage and the marital act without doing damage to the whole.

3. Again, if you correctly describe Montgomery's view, I'm at a loss as to how he can square his view on birth control with his view of Christ and His Church. Would the Church be justified in limiting its evangelization efforts for some other good. Just as openness to fruitfulness is integral in the marriage of Christ and His Church, so is it integral to the marriage of men and women.

Robert said...

If we are working with the analogy of marriage/Christ and the Church, when, if ever, would the Word of God be contracepted from impregnating Baptismal water? What would be the occasion for the Lord to encourage His Bride to disobey His Father's will?
Herein lies the dangers of arguing in systematic categories, part of the disastrous Twentieth Century Project, that I discuss at bioethike.com.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Excellent analogy, Rev. Baker! Thanks. Now that you mention it, the "Twentieth Century Project" nature of Montgomery's arguments seems obvious.

Anonymous said...

Reading GL and Robert's comments, I can certainly think of a form of Lutheran "contraception" in the marriage of Christ and His Church. It occurs every time a pastor denies our Lord the opportunity to share His Supper with us in a Divine Service of Word and No Sacrament on Sunday.

Jeremy Frim

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I'm slow on the uptake; but, with respect to Rev. Baker's comment of July 4th, I don't understand the analogy. What is meant by: "... when, if ever, would the Word of God be contracepted from impregnating Baptismal water?"

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

It is a rhetorical question whose answer is "never". The analogy of marriage is Christ, the bridegroom, and His bride, the church. The church conceives and gives birth to disciples through the giving of the Holy Spirit in baptism through the spoken Word. God would never have a baptism in which the Holy Spirit (and therefore life, and salvation) is not given, in which the Word is prevented from reaching its goal.