Our lack of gratitude deserves to be reproved

Ecclesiastes 11:5, "As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything."

In mistakenly thinking man can determine by science the exact moment life begins and, therefore, identify a time before which he can insert his will without murdering, we have lost a necessary awe and respect for procreation as the ongoing work of God - a work which defies human wisdom and knowledge.  The growing knowledge of the biological process should only increase our fear and wonder at the miracle of procreation, not increase our confidence in fiddling with it.

"Therefore our lack of gratitude deserves to be reproved. If we believe that God is the efficient and the final cause, should we not wonder at His works, delight in them, and proclaim them always and everywhere? But how many are there who really do this from the heart? We hear that God took a clod and made a human being; we wonder at this, and because of our wonder we regard it as a fairy tale. But that He now takes a drop from the blood of the father and creates a human being, this we do not wonder at, because it happens every day, while the other thing was done only once; yet each of the two is brought about through the same skill and the same power and by the same Author. For He who formed man from a clod now creates men from the blood of their parents." (excerpted from below)

Luther's Works, Vol. 1, Page 120-128:

About the male he said that he was made out of the dust, that the breath of life was breathed into his face, and that all the living beings were brought before him. When Adam saw no help among them, the woman was made—his partner in procreation and in the preservation of the species. God did not want his descendants to originate in the same way in which Adam was made out of earth; it was His desire that man should have the power of procreation, such as the other animals had. ...Thus Adam was created alone; later on the animals were brought to him, and Adam was put to a test whether he could find or see a partner in that group; finally Eve was created. ...For because God had said: “Grow and increase,” it became necessary to describe how the woman was added to Adam, how she was made and was joined to him. 
...But so far as this account is concerned, what, I ask you, could sound more like a fairy tale if you were to follow your reason? Would anyone believe this account about the creation of Eve if it were not so clearly told? This is a reversal of the pattern of the entire creation. Whatever is born alive, is born of the male and the female in such a manner that it is brought forth into the world by the female. Here the woman herself is created from the man by a creation no less wonderful than that of Adam, who was made out of a clod of earth into a living soul. This is extravagant fiction and the silliest kind of nonsense if you set aside the authority of Scripture and follow the judgment of reason. Accordingly, Aristotle declares that neither a first nor a last man can be conceded. Reason would compel us, too, to make the same statement if it did not have this text. If you should reach the conclusion that what the unvarying experience of all creation proves is true, namely, that nothing comes into existence alive except from a male and a female, then no first human being can be conceded.

The same thing would also have to be stated about the world, which the philosophers have, therefore, asserted is eternal. But reason with all its force inclines to this conviction even though proofs founded on reason are thought out by which it is demonstrated that the world is not eternal. How can it take its beginning from nothing? Moreover, if you should say that the world had a beginning and there is a time when the world was not in existence, it immediately follows that there was nothing prior to the world. An endless series of other absurdities follows, and these induce philosophers to conclude that the world is eternal. But if you should say that the world is infinite, then immediately another new infinite will also appear, namely, the succession of human beings. But philosophy does not grant the existence of several infinites, and yet it is compelled to grant them because it knows of no beginning of the world and of men. These contradictions and the lack of clarity gave the Epicureans the opportunity to say that the world and man came into existence without any reason and will also perish without any reason, just as cattle perish, which die as though they had never existed. This leads to another conclusion, namely, that God either plainly does not exist or does not concern Himself with human affairs. Into these perplexing mazes reason is misled when it is without the Word and follows its own judgment.

However, it is useful to realize how it comes about that our reason or wisdom is unable to make a greater advance in understanding the creation. For what, I ask, does a philosopher know about heaven and the world if he does not even know whence it came and whither it tends? Indeed, what do we know about ourselves? We see that we are human beings. But that we have this man for a father and this woman for a mother—this must be believed; it can in no wise be known. Thus our entire knowledge or wisdom is based solely on the knowledge of the material and formal cause, although in these instances, too, we sometimes talk disgraceful nonsense. The efficient and final cause we obviously cannot point out, especially—and this is a wretched situation—when we must discourse or do some thinking about the world in which we exist and live, likewise about ourselves. Such pitiable and inadequate wisdom!

Aristotle declares: “Man and the sun bring mankind into existence.” Well said. But follow this wisdom, and you will arrive at the point where you maintain that man and the sun are eternal and infinite. For you will never find a human being who is either the beginning or the end, just as I cannot find the beginning and the end of my person if I want to gain certain knowledge about this and am not willing to rely on belief. But what sort of wisdom and knowledge is it that knows nothing about the final cause and the efficient cause? So far as our having a knowledge of the form is concerned, a cow likewise knows her abode and (as the German proverb has it) looks at and recognizes her door. This also makes clear how awful was the fall into original sin, through which we have lost this knowledge and have become incapable of seeing either the beginning or the end of ourselves.

Plato, Cicero, and other philosophers who belong to the better sort state in their discussions that man walks with his head erect, while the rest of the beings look at the earth with their heads bent down. To man they attribute reason or the ability to understand; and later they reach the conclusion that man is an extraordinary animal created for immortality. But how tenuous and almost useless this is! All this is based on a knowledge of man’s form. But if you go on to give consideration to his substance, does not reason compel you to declare that this being must again be disintegrated and cannot be immortal?

Therefore let us learn that true wisdom is in Holy Scripture and in the Word of God. This gives information not only about the matter of the entire creation, not only about its form, but also about the efficient and final cause, about the beginning and about the end of all things, about who did the creating and for what purpose He created. Without the knowledge of these two causes our wisdom does not differ much from that of the beasts, which also make use of their eyes and ears but are utterly without knowledge about their beginning and their end.

Therefore this is an outstanding text. The more it seems to conflict with all experience and reason, the more carefully must it be noted and the more surely believed. Here we are taught about the beginning of man that the first man did not come into existence by a process of generation, as reason has deceived Aristotle and the rest of the philosophers into imagining. The reproduction of his descendants takes place through procreation; but the first male was formed and created from a clod of the field, and the first female from the rib of the sleeping man. Here, therefore, we find the beginning which it is impossible to find through Aristotle’s philosophy.

After this beginning was made, there then follows the no less wonderful propagation through the union of a male and female, whereby the entire human race is brought into being from a droplet of the human body. In a similar vein Paul, on the basis of this passage, has a clever discourse among the philosophers in Athens (Acts 17:25): “God Himself gives to all ζωὴν καὶ πνοήν, spirit and life everywhere, and from the blood of one man He makes the whole human race that it may dwell on the entire earth, that they may seek God, if perhaps they may feel Him or find Him, although He is not far from each one of us.” Here Paul is speaking of the propagation brought about by the first man when he says “from the blood of one man.” If, therefore, man is brought into existence from a droplet of blood, as the experience of all men on the entire earth bears witness, surely this is no less miraculous than that the first man was created from a clod, and the female from a rib of the man.

But why does the creation of Adam and Eve seem so unbelievable and miraculous, while man’s propagation, which all men know and see, does not seem so miraculous? Undoubtedly because, as Augustine says, miracles become commonplace through their continuous recurrence. Thus we do not marvel at the wonderful light of the sun, because it is a daily phenomenon. We do not marvel at the countless other gifts of creation, for we have become deaf toward what Pythagoras aptly terms this wonderful and most lovely music coming from the harmony of the motions that are in the celestial spheres. But because men continually hear this music, they become deaf to it, just as the people who live at the cataracts of the Nile are not affected by the noise and roar of the water which they hear continually, although it is unbearable to others who are not accustomed to it. Without a doubt he took over this very statement from the teaching of the fathers, but they did not want to be understood as though sound were given off by the motion of the celestial bodies. What they wanted to say was that their nature was most lovely and altogether miraculous, but that we ungrateful and insensible people did not notice it or give due thanks to God for the miraculous establishment and preservation of His creation.

Thus it is a great miracle that a small seed is planted and that out of it grows a very tall oak. But because these are daily occurrences, they have become of little importance, like the very process of our procreation. Surely it is most worthy of wonder that a woman receives semen, that this semen becomes thick and, as Job elegantly said (Job 10:10), is congealed and then is given shape and nourished until the fetus is ready for breathing air. When the fetus has been brought into the world by birth, no new nourishment appears, but a new way and method: from the two breasts, as from a fountain, there flows milk by which the baby is nourished. All these developments afford the fullest occasion for wonderment and are wholly beyond our understanding, but because of their continued recurrence they have come to be regarded as commonplace, and we have verily become deaf to this lovely music of nature.

But if we regarded these wonders in true faith and appraised them for what they actually are, they surely would not be inferior to what Moses says here: that a rib was taken from the side of Adam as he slept and that Eve was created from it. If it had pleased the Lord to create us by the same method by which Adam was created from the clay, by now this, too, would have ceased to hold the position of a miracle for us; we would marvel more at the method of procreation through the semen of a man. This crude doggerel is right, and there was certainly good reason for composing it: “Everything that is rare is appreciated, but what is an everyday occurrence comes to be regarded as commonplace.” If the stars did not rise during every single night or in all places, how great a gathering of people there would be for this spectacle! Now not one of us even opens a window because of it.

Therefore our lack of gratitude deserves to be reproved. if we believe that God is the efficient and the final cause, should we not wonder at His works, delight in them, and proclaim them always and everywhere? But how many are there who really do this from the heart? We hear that God took a clod and made a human being; we wonder at this, and because of our wonder we regard it as a fairy tale. But that He now takes a drop from the blood of the father and creates a human being, this we do not wonder at, because it happens every day, while the other thing was done only once; yet each of the two is brought about through the same skill and the same power and by the same Author. For He who formed man from a clod now creates men from the blood of their parents.

Aristotle, therefore, prates in vain that man and the sun bring man into existence. Although the heat of the sun warms our bodies, nevertheless the cause of their coming into existence is something far different, namely, the Word of God, who gives a command to this effect and says to the husband: “Now your blood shall become a male; now it shall become a female.” Reason knows nothing about this Word. Therefore it cannot get away from its childish prattle about the causes of such important matters. Thus the physicians, who have followed the philosophers, ascribe procreation to a matching mixture of qualities which are active in predisposed matter. Although reason cannot disprove this (for it sees that dry and cold natures are unsuited for generating, while moist and fairly warm ones are better suited), still they have not arrived at the first cause. The Holy Spirit leads us to something higher than nature, higher than qualities and their proper mixture, when He puts before us the Word by which everything is created and preserved.

Therefore that a man is developed from a drop of blood, and not an ox or a donkey, happens through the potency of the Word which was uttered by God. And so, as Christ also teaches in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9), we call God our Father and our Creator, as the Creed calls Him. When we look at this Cause, then with a chaste and pure heart and with gladness we can speak of those things which otherwise, if this Cause is disregarded, we could not mention without filthiness and indecency.

This discussion also shows how awful the fall into original sin was, since the entire human race knows nothing of its origin. Indeed, we see a man and a woman being joined; we see the woman made pregnant by a droplet of blood; and later, at a definitely fixed time, a baby is brought into the world. These are facts that lie before the eyes of all and are well known; and yet without the reminder and instruction of the Word you have no actual knowledge of the very activity which you are carrying on consciously and with open eyes. The discussions of the philosophers, with which we have already dealt, give sufficient evidence of this. Such horrible blindness and such a pitiful lack of knowledge!

Accordingly, if Adam had persevered in innocence, it would have been unnecessary to instruct his descendants about their origin, just as it was unnecessary to instruct Adam about the creation of his Eve, because the moment he saw her, he himself was aware that she was bone from his bones and flesh from his flesh. That kind of knowledge of themselves and of the remaining creatures would have remained also among the descendants of Adam. All would have become aware at once of the final and efficient cause about which we now have no more knowledge than cattle have.

For the ears of reason, consequently, this is a very beautiful and pleasing fairy tale, which the philosophers enjoyed ridiculing when they heard about it, as some of them did, especially those who had become acquainted with the science and wisdom of the Egyptians. But it is incalculable wisdom for us to know what is taught by this foolish fairy tale, as the world calls it, namely, that the beginning of man’s coming into existence was through the Word, inasmuch as God takes a clod and says: “Let Us make a man.” Later He likewise takes a rib of Adam and says: “Let Us make a helper for man.”


Parish Resource on Contraception

Here is an excellent, informative, 16 page study by Lutheran pastor, Rev. Heath Curtis, on the question: "Should Christian Couples Use Contraception?" - What the Bible, the Church's Witness, and Natural Law Have to Say about Birth Control


In his opening letter for the September 2012 issue of The Lutheran Witness, President Harrison continues his message about the Missouri Synod's low birth rate:
"The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is sorely pressed.  Thirty years ago, when I graduated from high school, the pool of youth in our church body numbered some 210,000.  Today, the number is 90,000.  This is because our birth rate has simply mirrored that of the broader European-descent population, and mission gains have not kept up with the decline in growth by birth."
For previous quotes from President Harrison and for other statistics, see the posts labled "LCMS population decline."


Amish Baby Boom II

Amish enjoy unexpected boom in numbers 

"High birthrates and decline in defections spur growth"

While interesting, this is not "unexpected", nor is a "new" story. It shows up in the "news" every now and then.  For instance, two years ago there was a story about the "Amish Baby Boom".

However you look at it, the lesson is clear in observing both the Amish and the Shakers. "Church growth" by God's appointed means works, while despising children leads to decline or extinction.

You don't have to be anabaptist and reject "hochmut" to increase your numbers and have a high retention rate!

All that is needed is for us to allow God to cause the increase according to his gracious will.  Our vocation is to diligently and lovingly catechize the children he blesses us with, which is the primary calling in this life for parents.

The story also mentions "falling defection rates among adults" as one of the reasons for Amish growth.  I would say that while church discipline is perhaps important on an individual basis, I don't really think it is one of the major reason for Amish growth, and neither would it be in faithful Lutheran communities.

However, not allowing sinful lifestyles to appear acceptable is certainly important. The openly unrepentant (and undisciplined) contraceptive mindset that exists today is a primary example. But, again, this is mostly a vocational matter of faithful preaching and teaching by pastors and catechizing by patents.  At the same time, church discipline must not be neglected.

In Christian churches today, there is a very high "defection rate" from the teachings of the church - a defection of members that isn't even reflected in membership roles because they are allowed to remain as communicant members. Unfortunately, they're not only tolerated. These unrepentant sinners are put high on pedestals and even appointed as pastors. Like soaking yeast in warm water, these deviant lifestyles and heresies are celebrated so as to even more rapidly leaven the whole lump.

Meanwhile, we are falsely accused as haters, legalists, and pharisees for holding fast to the truth of God's Word.


Unbaby.me Facebook

Here's a disturbing story: Baby-picture zapping plug-in is well Liked on Facebook
"Unbaby.me performs the useful social task of removing baby pictures that narcissistic parents post on your Facebook newsfeed. In less than four days, it has 44,000 Likes. Next stop: a reduced birth rate?

"At heart, though, the greatest social service performed by this fine plug-in is to reduce the pressure on those of a fertile, impressionable age to have children."
In other words, it helps shield the conscience from the natural law's guilt of refusing the blessing of children.  This reminded me of a post I wrote two years ago: The Child Catcher.  Of course people have a "right" to exclude kids from whatever they want.  It's a free country.  But this shows the depravity of this free country and our postmodern baby-hating culture.


I just came upon an excellent quote from Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, PhD in an article, but I can't find the original source.  Pacholczyk says, like I have been saying on this blog, that procreation includes not just fertilization but “the entire act of marital self-giving with its attendant pregnancy, leading up to and culminating in the birth of a child.”

Right!  I need to read more from Fr. Pacholczyk.  This is the first time I have heard anyone other than myself contradict the currently popular belief that procreation (conception, the creation of life) occurs specifically at the scientifically definable event called "fertilization."

If anyone can tell me where this quote comes from, or can point me to the best writings of Pacholczyk, I'd appreciate it.  Thanks!

"The four-fold process created by God for becoming a biological family"

In her post, How close can we get, Rebecca Mayes writes:
How can we be certain that our efforts to create a family will be pleasing to our Lord?
The book of Genesis spells it out very clearly as Moses reveals how the first family came about. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh,” (2:24). Marriage came first. Then, in chapter 4:1: “Adam knew Eve his wife,” (sexual intimacy) “and she conceived,” (conception) “and bore Cain…” (birth). There you have it—the four-fold process created by God for becoming a biological family. This is how it was meant to be. Couples who are able to have children in this way need never doubt whether they are acting in accordance with God’s will.
Well said, Rebecca!  Again, I assert my contention that "conception" (procreation, the creation of new life) is a process that begins with the one-flesh union and extends all the way through birth, and that we have no business interfering with God's procreative purpose at any point along the way.  "What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."

When does a soul exist?

Regarding the question of when a human soul comes into existence and the distinction between "contraceptives" and "abortifacient birth control" discussed in recent posts, I found the following Roman Catholic support for my contention that the Church (and Scripture) has previously been silent on the question of exactly when a soul is created. Indeed, the Roman Catholic Church appears to favor my argument that we simply do not know how or when a soul comes into existence. Nevertheless, they (and I) affirm that our moral judgment against birth control (abortifacient or otherwise) remains independent of any such answer. Procreation is a process we have no business interfering with.
Statement 7: In the course of history, the Fathers of the Church, her Pastors and her Doctors have taught the same doctrine - the various opinions on the infusion of the spiritual soul did not introduce any doubt about the illicitness of abortion. It is true that in the Middle Ages, when the opinion was generally held that the spiritual soul was not present until after the first few weeks, a distinction was made in the evaluation of the sin and the gravity of penal sanctions. Excellent authors allowed for this first period more lenient case solutions which they rejected for following periods. But it was never denied at that time that procured abortion, even during the first days, was objectively grave fault. This condemnation was in fact unanimous.
...and Statement 13: "Moreover, it is not up to biological sciences to make a definitive judgment on questions which are properly philosophical and moral such as the moment when a human person is constituted or the legitimacy of abortion. From a moral point of view this is certain: even if a doubt existed concerning whether the fruit of conception is already a human person, it is objectively a grave sin to dare to risk murder. "'The one who will be a man is already one.'"[20]
Endnote 20: Tertullian, "Apologeticum" (IX. 8 PL. 1, 371-372: Corp. Christ. 1, p. 103, 1, 31-36)
...and Endnote 19: " This declaration expressly leaves aside the question of the moment when the spiritual soul is infused. There is not a unanimous tradition on this point and authors are as yet in disagreement. For some it dates from the first instant; for others it could not at least precede nidation. It is not within the competence of science to decide between these views, because the existence of an immortal soul is not a question in its field. It is a philosophical problem from which our moral affirmation remains independent for two reasons: (1) supposing a belated animation, there is still nothing less than a human life, preparing for and calling for a soul in which the nature received from parents is completed, (2) on the other hand, it suffices that this presence of the soul be probable (and one can never prove the contrary) in order that the taking of life involve accepting the risk of killing a man, not only waiting for, but already in possession of his soul."
Pope Paul VI, in an audience granted to the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on June 28, 1974, ratified this Declaration on Procured Abortion and has confirmed it and ordered it to be promulgated.



LCMS Demographics of Birth Control

Note this data: http://concordiatheology.org/2012/06/a-glimpse-into-the-past-and-future-of-the-lcms/
"Throughout the 1950s and 60s we averaged well over 80,000 infant baptisms per year. At the same time we averaged over 30,000 adult conversions. If we had maintained the birth/infant baptism rate we had then, by my calculations we would have approximately 1.1 million more members in the LCMS."



Common Error of Logic Regarding Contraception

There is a very common error of logic in most people's acceptance of contraception. To illustrate this logical fallacy, I will use the LCA's birth control statement from 1968. It is first stated that there are three purposes (or more correctly a "threefold purpose") to the one-flesh union of husband and wife:
(a) mutual help and companionship (Eph 5:25; Gen 2:18);
(b) procreation (Gen 1:28);
(c) avoidance of sexual immorality (1 Cor 7:2).
"Procreation thus cannot be regarded as the only purpose of marriage."

This is most certainly true. However, the LCA follows this immediately with a non sequitur:

"For married couples sexual intercourse, therefore, apart from the purpose of procreation is right and proper."

This simply does not follow. The fact that the purpose is threefold does not lead directly to the conclusion that it is right and good to intentionally eliminate any of these three if we don't want one of them. How can people continually make this error of logic? If there is one subject every educated person should be required to study, it's logic. The fact that there are three distinct aspects to the purpose of marriage does not mean we have the right to frustrate any of them. If it did, we would also have to hold that it would be good and right for either of the other two listed purposes to be intentionally frustrated. When is it "right and proper" in marriage to intentionally avoid mutual help and companionship? And, at what point in marriage would it be right not to avoid sexual immorality?

One might point out that it is still good and right for a husband and wife who have found themselves barren to continue engaging in marital relations. However, even the barren should not intentionally frustrate the procreative purpose of their union. In fact, they probably value the procreative purpose more than those who are fertile. I think of the relationship of the threefold purpose of marriage as similar in nature to the threefold purpose of the law. When would it be "right and proper" to intentionally frustrate any of the three purposes of the law? When a pastor preaches the law, he cannot preach one purpose at the expense of the other two. God decides what purpose(s) His Word will accomplish in every hearer. It is not our prerogative to limit the purpose.

It is then stated:

"It could be a violation of the law of love to bring children into the world without any regard to

(a) the welfare of the mother;
(b) the welfare of the children (e.g. will such children be adequately fed, clothed, sheltered and otherwise cared for without suffering perhaps irreparable harm to their physical, mental, ethical, and spiritual life?); and
(c) the welfare of the community and nation."

This is one of the reasons that I cannot accept the position sometimes put forth by well-meaning Christians that says contraception per se is morally neutral, but is often used for sinful reasons. It leads to the conclusion that the person who uses contraception for a "good reason" does a good work, but people like me are left condemned for not using contraception to these good ends. In other words, I have ignored the welfare of my wife, children, community, and nation. According to this theory, I have violated the law of love, while the contraceptor has done a good work.  But it doesn't stop there...

"6. This means that parenthood will be responsible parenthood. It will be undertaken prayerfully, with full responsibility both toward God and humanity, and joyfully."

Hear that, all you irresponsible breeders? You are NOT being responsible by simply leaving the creation of children up to nature. God wants you to be more responsible toward Him and toward humanity. Simply letting nature take its course is irresponsible parenthood! Of course I inserted the concept of "nature", but it is certainly implied that God is not in control of the natural course of things with regard to procreation, so it's an area we must exercise our "responsible" dominion over.

Also note one important omission in this and in all similar documents which announced the acceptance of birth control. There is never any mention of the actual historic teaching of the church or her consistent application of Scripture to the matter. There is no refutation of the church's unanimous view over two millennia that Scripture prohibits contraception. It is treated as if the church never had a position on this. Or, as we find here in this LCA document, a straw-man is erected by asserting:

"Nowhere in Scripture, however, is there any indication that married couples should produce offspring to the extent of their biological maximum. Nor has the church ever taught this."

Ah, yes, the "biological maximum." What's that, you ask? You know. We hear the arguments all the time. You breeders think we should all be married by the time we reach puberty and have sex every day of our lives (and twice daily during the fertile period) and use every possible fertility increasing trick available and abstain from anything that might have a negative effect on fertility, such as hot-tubs and tight underwear. Breastfeeding? Forget it. Don't you know that cuts into your "biological maximum" fertility?

But then, according to this faulty logic, if you admit this ridiculous position is wrong, then it must therefore be "right and proper" to limit the number of children. Oh, and it is not only right and proper, but truly the only responsible type of parenthood.

What I find is that the majority of Christians think birth control is not only morally neutral, but actually one of God's good gifts, and therefore "right and proper" to use as long as your reasons for using it can be spelled out to read: "responsible parenthood." It really isn't that often that you meet a serious Christian who, when the subject of children being blessings comes up, doesn't give you some "valid reason" they have for limiting the number of children they allowed themselves and the world to be blessed with.

What this leads to is a very subjective legalism. You have to be constantly deciding if creating another child is the responsible thing to do. And those of us who do not exercise this "dominion" or "stewardship" are therefore, even if only by inference, guilty of being irresponsible and unloving toward spouse, children, community, nation, and yes, even the earth!

Even the broader Calvinist or Evangelical "quiverfull" brand gets this wrong. They often have the legalistic position that, "you MUST trust God." You just have to trust God more! Contrast all this to the free and simple Christian position of faith that says, "you CAN trust God." He is trustworthy! Thanks be to God!


The Red Herring of Abortifacients

More thoughts on ethics and contraception... It seems to me that God's law is intended to be something the average person can discern.  Almost without exception, it is only when legalism and Pharisaim are employed that the law becomes so complicated that one needs an expert to discern right from wrong.

If contraception is a morally neutral issue except when it comes to abortifacient means, we have a very complicated situation on our hands.  There are all kinds of methods, and many new ones coming on the market all the time these days.  It takes a scientific mind to understand the processes by which these methods work and discern whether there is abortifacient potential.  Thus we have 2004 LCMS Resolution 6-10 which asked the Board for Human Care Ministries to “review the various birth control products” and clarify which act sometimes or all the time as “abortifacients”.  Their first report was terribly flawed.  Even after a great deal of effort on my part, their final report was still not without its errors.

But, more importantly, who is even going to read that report, and how many who do will even understand it or care?  There is totally conflicting information coming from all directions, even within our synod, posted on the same Human Care "Life Resources" page.  Some even say the "morning after pill" is not abortifacient.

Is God really only against abortifacient means of birth control?  The church for two millennia said no, and taking all the discussions we have had recently about being unable to say with any certainty when ensoulment occurs, I'm not sure we really can identify with accuracy any methods as purely "contraceptive."

If conception is thought of as a term with theological implications, we must use the term as it is used in Scripture.  In Scripture "conception" does not refer to "fertilization" of an egg.  It is much more broad, including begetting - "fathering" - all the way through till at least birth.  It seems to me that even the "Billings Method" of avoiding pregnancy interferes equally with the biblical understanding of "conception", since it seeks to prevent a husband and wife from begetting children.  Do you think Onan would have been spared had he only employed "natural family planning"?

So, I would like to suggest that perhaps "abortifacients" in particular are a red herring conceived by the devil himself.  We are so disturbed by the issue of abortion and abortifacients that we sometimes forget that it is the contraceptive mindset that gives birth to abortion.  The compromise which seeks to at least keep people from using abortifacient methods is like giving condoms to youth.  The thinking is very similar: "They're going to do it anyway, so lets at least give them a safe method."

Of course one will always raise the issue of "extraordinary circumstances."  What if a mother's life is in danger?  Well, obviously a non-abortifacient method would be a lesser evil than an abortifacient method.  I suppose it could be argued that for this reason it is important to identify those methods which are non-abortifacient, but as we all know, there is no method but total abstinence which has a 100% success rate.  If my wife's life was in sure and certain danger should she get pregnant, I could not engage in marital relations with her any more than I could point a gun at her with the safety on, even if I thought there were no bullets in it.


When does life begin?

From a commenter on my most recent post, γεννηθὲν:
"The ESV renders Ecclesiastes 11:5, 'As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.'
"As said above, we should think twice about claiming to know with precision what God says we do not know!"
This has direct bearing on this earlier post as well:  Contraception and Murder.


I have had some discussions recently on how the currently popular notion that life doesn't begin until implantation is improperly centered on the state of the woman - "pregnancy" as signaled by the detectable presence of human chorionic gonadotropin. This made me think about the incarnation. The account of the angel speaking with Mary talks about the conception of Christ, but Joseph apparently doesn't find out about it until Mary shows signs of being pregnant.

I found it interesting that in Matthew 1:20, after Mary is found to be with child, Joseph is told by the Angel of the Lord that "the child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit." Notice that the focus in Scripture at this point moves from the pregnant state of Mary back to the event of conception.

Looking up the Greek on this I was also struck by the fact that what is translated as "conceived" here is a word that is usually translated as "fathered". It seems to read: "the fathering was of the Holy Spirit."

Furthermore, sometimes this word is used in reference to birthing. More and more it seems the whole "conception" process as seen in the words of Scripture is all-inclusive, from the coming together of man and wife to the very birth of the child.

“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

The word translated here as "has been conceived in her" is γεννηθὲν, from the verb γεννάω (gennaó): to beget, to bring forth.
Word Origin: from genna (descent, birth)
Definition: to beget, to bring forth
NASB Word Usage
bear (1), bearing children (1), became the father of (4), became...father (1), begotten (4), bore (1), born (41), Child (1), conceived (1), father (37), Father (1), gave (1), gives birth (1), produce (1).
As you can see, this same word is used for multiple stages and aspects of procreation, lending a greater sense of the whole than modern language and thought.

In contrast, we moderns want to split procreation up into definable steps, each with its own special word and level importance or inviolability. For example, we have gamete formation and the various steps of copulation, fertilization and implantation. Then we have at one point a zygote then an embryo and finally a fetus. And of course we have three trimesters and finally the process of birth.

Furthermore, each of these can be further divided up into other steps and processes, each with its own name. The result is that we lose the mysterious totality of God's fearful and wonderful act of creating a human being.

Is a person formed at fertilization? implantation? the first trimester? the second? at birth? Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes! God creative hand is at work, forming a human being throughout the whole process, from gamete formation, the love of husband and wife, the process of fertilization and all the way through the miraculous process of birth.

As we read in Hebrews 7, "One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him."  And, as the Psalmist sings: "For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well."

And, as a commenter pointed out below, The ESV renders Ecclesiastes 11:5, "As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything."  We cannot claim to know that which God says we cannot know.  Even common sense itself tells us that we cannot observe or define the moment of a supernatural act.  Scripture does not specify the exact moment in the biological process at which the supernatural process of ensoulment occurs.

So, why do Satan, the world, and our sinful nature want to split the whole of procreation up into little definable stages and states of being? Why? So greater or lesser degrees of respect for the inviolability of each step can tempt us into believing we have the "right" to interfere with the miracle of procreation at this or that point. Some people think they have a right to end the process at any point up until the baby's head exits the womb. Some people think the end of the first trimester ought to signal the final opportunity to exert a woman's "choice". Some people think life begins at implantation, and others think fertilization. Some people even think they have the right to decide to only have sexual relations with their spouse when procreation is virtually impossible.

In contrast, the Bible talks about the process of procreation as a unified whole, from the loins of the father to the womb of the mother all the way through birth.  Anything that interferes with God's procreative purpose at ANY point is seen as sinful in Scripture.


For Holy Saturday

This is a post I wrote for the Great Sabbath rest of Holy Saturday.  After having pondered the depths of Christ's Passion which provides us with salvation and life eternal, I thought it would be good to ponder God's entire providence for as we remain in this sinful world.  A proper understanding of Psalm 127 gives me such peaceful rest and contentment in this troublesome world- a world that would have us worry about everything.

In the first verse of Psalm 127 Solomon puts into beautiful simplicity the most important truth upon which a marriage, family, and all that pertains to them depend:  "Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain."

The devil, the world, and our sinful nature do not want us to believe we can trust God to provide "all that we need to support this body and life" - as we confess in the Small Catechism regarding the First Article of the Apostle's Creed.

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
What does this mean?--Answer.
I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my limbs, my reason, and all my senses, and still preserves them; in addition thereto, clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and homestead, wife and children, fields, cattle, and all my goods; that He provides me richly and daily with all that I need to support this body and life, protects me from all danger, and guards me and preserves me from all evil; and all this out of pure, fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me; for all which I owe it to Him to thank, praise, serve, and obey Him. This is most certainly true.

And again as we confess in the meaning of the Forth Petition of the Lord's Prayer:

Give us this day our daily bread.
What does this mean?--Answer.
God gives daily bread, even without our prayer, to all wicked men; but we pray in this petition that He would lead us to know it, and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.
What is meant by daily bread?--Answer.
Everything that belongs to the support and wants of the body, such as meat, drink, clothing, shoes, house, homestead, field, cattle, money, goods, a pious spouse, pious children, pious servants, pious and faithful magistrates, good government, good weather, peace, health, discipline, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.

This is what Christ is explaining to us in the Sermon on the Mount when He says:

“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?

“So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. "

In what follows, Luther masterfully unpacks and explains what God wants us to understand from this simple first half of verse 1 of Psalm 127.  It is an even further explanation of what we as Lutherans confess we believe according the above passages from the Small Catechism.  If you keep this understanding about life on this earth firmly in your mind, you will live in the faith that gives a peace that the world cannot give.  Here is Luther:

Solomon composed this psalm. Not only was he enlightened by the Holy Spirit, but as he daily exercised his administrative functions and mingled with people, he learned from frequent experience how vainly unbelief burdens itself with worries about feeding the belly, when in fact everything depends on God’s blessing and protection. For where God withholds his blessing, we labor in vain; where God does not protect, our worry is futile. And he speaks thus:
1a. Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
1b. Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
2. It is vain that you rise up early,
sit up late,
and eat the bread of sorrow;
for to him who enjoys his favor,
he gives while he sleeps.
3. Lo, children are a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb is a reward.
4. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
so are the children of youth.
5. Happy is the man who has
his quiver full of them;
They shall not be put to shame
when they speak with their enemies in the gate.
First we must understand that “building the house” does not refer simply to the construction of walls and roof, rooms and chambers, out of wood and stone. It refers rather to everything that goes on inside the house, which in German we call “managing the household” [haushallten]; just as Aristotle writes, “Oeconomia, ” that, is pertaining to the household economy which comprises wife and child, servant and maid, livestock and fodder. The same term is used by Moses in Exodus 1[:20–21], where he writes that God dealt well with the two midwives and “built them houses” because they feared him and did not strangle the children of the Israelites; that is, he helped them to obtain husbands, sons and daughters, and enough of whatever goes along with keeping a family. Solomon’s purpose is to describe a Christian marriage; he is instructing everyone how to conduct himself as a Christian husband and head of a household.

Reason and the world think that married life and the making of a home ought to proceed as they intend; they try to determine things by their own  decisions and actions, as if their work could take care of everything. To this Solomon says No! He points us instead to God, and teaches us with a firm faith to seek and expect all such things from God. We see this in experience too. Frequently two people will marry who have hardly a shirt to their name, and yet they support themselves so quietly and well that it is a pleasure to behold. On the other hand, some bring great wealth into their marriage; yet it slips out of their hands till they can barely get along.

Again, two people marry out of passionate love; their choice and desire are realized, yet their days together are not happy. Some are very eager and anxious to have children, but they do not conceive, while others who have given the matter little thought get a house full of children. Again, some try to run the house and its servants smoothly, and it turns out that they have nothing but misfortune. And so it goes in this world; the strangest things happen.

Who is it that so disrupts marriage and household management, and turns them so strangely topsy-turvy? It is he of whom Solomon says: Unless the Lord keeps the house, household management there is a lost cause. He wishes to buttress this passage [Ps. 127:1a] and confirm its truth. This is why he permits such situations to arise in this world, as an assault on unbelief, to bring to shame the arrogance of reason with all works and cleverness, and to constrain them to believe.

This passage alone should be enough to attract people to marriage, comfort all who are now married, and sap the strength of covetousness. Young people are scared away from marriage when they see how strangely it turns out. They say, “It takes a lot to make a home”; or, “You learn a lot living with a woman.” This is because they fail to see who does this, and why He does it; and since human ingenuity and strength know no recourse and can provide no help, they hesitate to marry. As a result they fall into unchastity if they do not marry, and into covetousness and worry if they do. But here is the needed consolation: Let the Lord build the house and keep it, and do not encroach upon his work; the concern for these matters is his, not yours. For whoever is the head of the house and maintains it should be allowed to bear the burden of care. Does it take a lot to make a house? So what! God is greater than any house. He who fills heaven and earth will surely also be able to supply a house, especially since he takes the responsibility upon himself and causes it to be sung to his praise.

Why should we think it strange that it takes so much to make a home where God is not the head of the house? Because you do not see Him who is supposed to fill the house, naturally every corner must seem empty. But if you look upon Him, you will never notice whether a corner is bare; everything will appear to you to be full, and will indeed be full. And if it is not full, it is your vision which is at fault; just as it is the blind man’s fault if he fails to see the sun. For him who sees rightly, God turns the saying around and says not, “It takes a lot to make a home,” but, “How much a home contributes!” So we see that the managing of a household should and must be done in faith—then there will be enough—so that men come to acknowledge that everything depends not on our doing, but on God’s blessing and support.

We are not to understand from this that God forbids us to work. Man must and ought to work, ascribing his sustenance and the fullness of his house, however, not to his own labor but solely to the goodness and blessing of God. For where men ascribe these things to their own labor, there covetousness and anxiety quickly arise, and they hope by much labor to acquire much. But then there is this contradiction, namely, that some people labor prodigiously, yet scarcely have enough to eat, while others are slower and more relaxed in their work, and wealth pours in on  them. All this is because God wants the glory, as the one who alone gives the growth [I Cor. 8:6–7]. For if you should till the soil faithfully for a hundred years and do all the work in the world, you couldn’t bring forth from the earth even a single stalk; but God without any of your labor, while you sleep, produces from that tiny kernel a stalk with as many kernels on it as he wills.

Solomon here wishes to sanction work, but to reject worry and covetousness. He does not say, “The Lord builds the house, so no one need labor at it.” He does say, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” [Ps. 127:1a]. This is as if he were to say: Man must work, but that work is in vain if it stands alone and thinks it can sustain itself. Work cannot do this; God must do it. Therefore work in such manner that your labor is not in vain. Your labor is in vain when you worry, and rely on your own efforts to sustain yourself. It behooves you to labor, but your sustenance and the maintenance of your household belong to God alone. Therefore, you must keep these two things far apart: “to labor,” and “to maintain a household” or “to sustain”; keep them as far apart from one another as heaven and earth, or God and man.

In the Proverbs of Solomon we often read how the lazy are punished because they will not work. Solomon says, “A slack hand causes poverty, but industrious hands bring riches” [Prov. 10:4]. This and similar sayings sound as if our sustenance depended on our labor; though he says in the same passage [Prov. 10:22], as also in this psalm [127:1], that it depends on God’s blessing; or, as we say in German,  “God bestows, God provides.” Thus, the meaning is this: God commanded Adam to eat his bread in the sweat of his face [Gen. 8:19]. God wills that man should work, and without work He will give him nothing. Conversely, God will not give him anything because of his labor, but solely out of His own goodness and blessing. Man’s labor is to be his discipline in this life, by which he may keep his flesh in subjection. To him who is obedient in this matter, God will give plenty, and sustain him well.

God sustains man in the same way he sustains all other living creatures. As the psalm [147:9] says, “He gives to all flesh their food, and to the young ravens which cry unto him” Again, in Psalm 104, “The eyes of all look to thee, O Lord, and thou givest them their food in due season. Thou openest thy hand, and fillest every living creature with blessings,” that is, with fullness and sufficiency. Now no animal works for its living, but each has its own task to perform, after which it seeks and finds its food. The little birds fly about and warble, make nests, and hatch their young. That is their task. But they do not gain their living from it. Oxen plow, horses carry their riders and have a share in battle; sheep furnish wool, milk, cheese, etc. That is their task. But they do not gain their living from it. It is the earth which produces grass and nourishes them through God’s blessing. Christ himself, in Matthew 6[:26], bids us look at the birds: how they neither sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns; yet they are fed by God. That is, they perform their tasks all right, but they do no work from which they gain sustenance.

Similarly, man must necessarily work and busy himself at something. At the same time, however, he must know that it is something other than his labor which furnishes him sustenance; it is the divine blessing. Because God gives him nothing unless he works, it may seem as if it is his labor which sustains him; just as the little birds neither sow nor reap, but they would certainly die of hunger if they did not fly about to seek their food. The fact that they find food, however, is not due to their own labor, but to God’s goodness. For who placed their food there where they can find it? Beyond all doubt it is God alone, as he says in Genesis 1[:29–30], “Behold, I have given to you and to all creatures every growing plant for food.” In short, even if Scripture did not teach this directly, experience would prove it to be so. For where God has not laid up a supply no one will find anything, even though they all work themselves to death searching. We can see this with our eyes, and grasp it with our hands; yet we will not believe. Again, where God does not uphold and preserve, nothing can last, even though a hundred thousand fortresses were thrown up to defend it; it will be shattered and ground to dust till no one knows what has become of it.

Tell me: who puts silver and gold in the mountains so that man might find them there? Who puts into the field that great wealth which issues in grain, wine, and all kinds of produce, from which all creatures live Does the labor of man do this? To be sure, labor no doubt finds it, but God has first to bestow it and put it there if labor is to find it. Who puts into the flesh the power to bring forth young and fill the earth with birds, beasts, fish, etc.? Is this accomplished by our labor and care? By no means. God is there first, secretly laying his blessing therein; then all things are brought forth in abundance. And so we find that all our labor is nothing more than the finding and collecting of God’s gifts; it is quite unable to create or preserve anything.

Here then we see how Solomon, in this one little verse [Ps. 127:1], has solved in short order the greatest of all problems among the children of men, about which so many books have been written, so many proverbs and approaches devised, namely, how to feed our poor stomachs. Solomon rejects them all in a body, wraps the whole matter up in faith, and says: You labor in vain when you labor for the purpose of sustaining yourself and building your own house. Indeed, you make for yourself a lot of worry, and trouble. At the same time by such arrogance and wicked unbelief you kindle God’s wrath, so that you only become all the poorer and are mined completely because you undertook to do what is his alone to do. And if with such unbelief you should succeed anyway in attaining wealth in all things, it would only bring greater ruin to you soul eternally when God lets you go blindly on in your unbelief.

If you want to earn your livelihood honorably, quietly, and well, and rightly maintain your household, give heed: Take up some occupation that will keep you busy in order that you can eat your bread in the sweat of your face [Gen. 3:19]. Then do not worry, about how you will be sustained and how such labor will build and maintain your house. Place everything in God’s keeping; let him do the worrying and the building. Entrust these things to him; he will lay before you richly and well the things which your labor is to find and bring to you. If he does not put them there, you will labor in vain and find nothing.

Thus, this wholly evangelical verse in masterful fashion sets forth faith, as against that accursed covetousness and concern for the belly which today, alas! everywhere hinders the fruit of the gospel. When this verse is fully understood, the rest of the psalm is easy. We will now briefly run through the other verses.

The rest of Luther's exposition of this psalm can be read here:  http://lutheransandcontraception.blogspot.com/2010/09/luther-on-psalm-127.html

God's peace in Christ to you all on this Holy Saturday during which Christ rested in the tomb.



Contraception and Murder

In order to guard ourselves from defending an argument that is possibly based on a false or unverifiable premise, we must always first define and defend the first principles upon which our arguments are based.  In order to achieve this, I often write down my arguments on matters simply for the purpose of discovering the premises upon which they are based.  Online discussions like we have here can serve such a purpose well.  After putting my arguments down in black and white, I often discover assumed premises that I was totally unaware I subscribed to without evidence.  Sometimes opponents make me aware of these wrongly assumed premises by arguing with me.  These hidden premises are, more often than not, assumptions of the secular culture that I have wrongly accepted without criticism. 

The premise I am having the most difficulty with in our most recent discussions on abortifacients is the one upon which the distinction between contraception and abortifacient birth control is based.  Since abortion was legalized just before I began learning about the science of reproduction in public school "sex ed" and biology classes, I simply have always assumed that it was a clear and defensible religious premise that the "conception of life" is the moment when an egg is fertilized.  Birth control was presented as a moral choice, even a social responsibility.  Abortion, being legal, was presented as debatable only from a religious perspective.  Abortion could be considered murder if one believed the religious tenants that "life begins at conception" and "conception equals fertilization"  In fact, birth control was always presented as a way to decrease the demand for abortion.

In recent years, reflecting back on the history of the acceptance in our culture of birth control and then abortion, I have come to believe that the premise that a new soul is conceived at the "moment" of fertilization is guided more by expediency than principle.  Sexual reproduction, and even fertilization itself, is a biological process with many stages.  The Bible indicates that we are sinful from the moment we are conceived, but the Bible is totally silent regarding what point in that biological process a new human soul is "conceived."  Without such knowledge, how can we definitively state that one act is contraception while another is murder? 

Perhaps more importantly, even if we could discern from Scripture, with the help of natural law and human reason, the moment at which this distinction could be made, what is the real difference theologically between contraception and murder?  The laws of civil government, including portions of the Mosaic law, make distinctions of that sort for the purpose of applying secular punishments.  In God's eyes, however, if we despise our neighbor we are just as guilty of murder as if we actually murdered him.  How much more can you despise others than to wish they were never born, or to hope they never will be?

The government should use civil law differently in regard to various criminal acts to address the temporal consequences in a just manner.  However, we do not make such distinctions when it comes to the care of souls.

From a theological or pastoral perspective, actual murder can be a sin that one succumbs to in a moment of rage, just as adultery can occur in a moment of sinful passion.  Often these sins are followed by virtually immediate contrition and repentance.  Contraception, on the other hand, is by its very nature much more premeditated.  One doesn't stumble into a contraceptive act.  One plans it and justifies it. 

Again, I think St. John Chrysostom was right on the money when he stated:
"Why do you sow where the field is eager to destroy the fruit, where there are medicines of sterility [oral contraceptives].... Indeed, it is something worse than murder, and I do not know what to call it; for she does not kill what is formed but prevents its formation." [Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans, 24, A.D. 391]


The Conception of our Lord

Here is one of the most beautiful pro-life sermons you will ever hear on the Incarnation of our Lord, by my faithful pastor, Rev. Roger B. James, of Zion-Marshall, MI. Please listen to all 15 wonderful minutes. I will also post a portion of the sermon text below which is of the most direct significance to the subject of this blog, contraception.

I'm sure I don't need to tell readers here how brave and faithful a pastor must be to preach and teach with such bold and unambiguous truth on the subject of contraception. Thanks be to God for all faithful pastors, and for Pastor Roger James particularly on this day.

All glory, honor, thanks and praise be to God for the incarnation of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary so that He could live, suffer, die and rise again to grant us forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Sermon on the Incarnation, March 25, 2012 
Rev. Roger B. James
Zion Lutheran Church - Marshall, MI

6 minutes and 45 seconds into the sermon, Pastor James continues as follows:
It seems that God goes out of His way to bring trouble on Mary. ...could not God have avoided all of this? Why, for goodness sake, did God not tell Joseph ahead of time? Or, why did God wait until after Mary was discovered pregnant to tell him that the child was of the Holy Spirit? Just think, God could have done it a different way I suppose. They could have gotten married publicly, but refrained from relations, and THEN the Holy Spirit could have come upon Mary, rather than exposing her to ridicule that would necessarily fall upon her. Why, for goodness sake, did God do it this way? Well, perhaps the only answer to that is precisely for GOODNESS sake, for all that God does is good.

However, we today might particularly give thanks that the Heavenly Father DID do it this way, for our NEED is grave. We live in a time in which conception and the life of the unborn is held in contempt. The gift of new human life is set forth as a personal choice, and rarely much more than the personal choice.

Now to be sure we have many personal choices in our lives - some insignificant, some fairly significant. But when we consider another human being to be a personal choice, then we have deviated from the mind of God. It is truly a personal choice, for instance, to carefully consider whether or not I can afford a new car at this time. But, frankly, it is vastly different when considering babies - eternal souls. At least the fact that the Son of God was conceived in the womb suggests that it is different. God became man, the smallest of the small, and by His incarnation He indicates the eternal significance of all people, including the smallest of the small. He proves by his conception that he desires the life of all.


I've been stewing over this question for some time. The question is, "When is it right to prevent life, even the existence of a new eternal soul?"

(Pregnant pause)

Again, "When is it right, or is it ever, to prevent the life of an eternal being created in the image of God who became man - the God who was conceived in the womb?"

Mary said, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word."

God grant us the same faith!

How can we possibly find words to express the relief, and gratitude, and wonder, and delight that we have in our Lord Jesus Christ? Just think, with all of the foresight of His Godhead, the Son of God knew exactly what sort of person I would be. All my sins. All my inexcusable failings. Yet He did not prevent my conception in the womb. He did not cut off my life before my skin touched the air. And He did not snuff me out before Holy Baptism washed me. And you can each say much the same."
Sermon continues...


Wolferinus and the defining of the beginning and end of life


I have a further concern with something we have been assuming in the recent discussions about abortifacient birth control. That is, the definition of a point in time at which "contraception" becomes "abortion" - the specific scientific moment in time when new life begins.

I would contend that we only do this because of the acceptance of birth control. Because almost everyone had already declared birth control to be morally acceptable, the nature of the abortion debate caused us to have to make a distinction of when an act of despising God's blessing of children is "contraception" and when such an act is "abortion." The pro-life side of the abortion debate chose "fertilization" as the moment a person is "conceived." I'm not saying I disagree when forced to choose sides, but I've never been very comfortable with defining things in that way. Contraception is wrong. Abortion is wrong. Why do we need to make such a distinction between the two unless it is to ease someone's conscience or decide what type of criminal penalty (or penance) should be applied?

Do we truly know when a new soul's existence begins? Is this not a supernatural divine event that is unobservable? If so, for what reason do we point to the scientifically observable event of "fertilization" as the moment a soul is implicated in the flesh? As far as I know, Scripture does not answer the question of what scientifically observable event signals the exact moment life begins. If any of you believe Scripture does answer this question, I'm all ears. We have an equally difficult time defining the end of life.

I have briefly voiced this concern of mine before in various discussions and writings, but I believe I may have found a very helpful way of looking at this. I would argue that choosing the exact moments or events in time when life begins and ends is no less problematic than choosing the exact moments or events in time when the presence of Christ's body and blood in the bread and wine begin and end in the celebration of the Sacrament.

Please review the following excerpt from Luther's second letter to Simon Wolferinus, July 20, 1543, with which I'm sure most of you are already familiar:

...such a definition of the action would bring about infinite scruples of conscience and endless questions, such as are disputed among the papists, as, for example, whether the Body and Bood of Christ are present at the first, middle, or last syllables. Therefore, one must look not only upon this movement of instant or present action, but also on the time, not in terms of mathematical but of physical breadth, that is, one must give this action a certain period of time, and a period of appropriate breadth of time, as they say, “in breadth.”

Therefore, we shall define the time or the sacramental action in this way: that it starts with the beginning of the Our Father and lasts until all have communicated, have emptied the chalice, have consumed the Hosts, until the people have been dismissed and [the Priest] has left the altar. In this way we shall be safe and free from the scruples and scandals of such endless questions. Dr. Philip defines the sacramental action in relation to what is outside it, that is, against reservation of and processions with the Sacrament; he does not split it up within [the action] itself, nor does he define it in a way that it contradicts itself. ...

You can see where I am going with this, but let me substitute a few words in this text to make my point crystal clear regarding the problems of declaring that life begins at the union of egg and sperm:

...such a definition of the beginning of life would bring about infinite scruples of conscience and endless questions, such as are disputed among those who approve of contraception but oppose abortion, as, for example, whether soul becomes present at fertilization, implantation, or at the moment when the heart begins to beat, or when the brain cells begin showing activity, etc., etc. Therefore, one must look not only upon a movement of instant or present action, but also on the time, not in terms of mathematical but of physical breadth, that is, one must give this action a certain period of time, and a period of appropriate breadth of time, as they say, “in breadth.”

Therefore, we shall define the time of God's action of creating and sustaining life in this way: that it starts with the conjugal union of husband and wife, and lasts through the entire life of the person created through that act, until the person's heart stops beating, all efforts to resuscitate have failed, and until the loved ones have been dismissed from the deathbed. In this way we shall be safe and free from the scruples and scandals of such endless questions. We must define the creation of life in relation to what is outside it, that is, against the separation of any of the purposes of the conjugal union, because Scripture does not split it up these purposes in a way that it contradicts the nature of the whole. What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.

This is another reason why I believe the question of what is or is not abortifacient birth control is a much more complicated subject than it ever needed to be. What made me start thinking about this is having written a warning to readers of the list of abortifacient birth control that new drugs are always being invented. Fertilization itself is more a chain of events than a single, isolated phenomenon. What happens when a new drug is invented that doesn't prevent a sperm from uniting with an egg (fertilization), but rather inhibits one of the many subsequent cytological events of zygote formation, such as one of the many observable processes before, during or after nuclear fusion?  How would we decide whether that is an abortifacient drug?

We don't have to answer such questions if we understand that it is not our business to be messing with any of it.  What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.

Much more could be said on the subject, but I'll leave that for the comments.


The HHS Birth Control Mandate - a Statement for Study

Here is a statement I have composed for study by my fellow Lutherans.  I welcome your comments.  I hope what I have written makes it clear that this is a much more complicated issue than most of us first thought.  The average Lutheran is totally unprepared to argue and defend any kind of statement about this issue.  In fact, I am not even fully prepared yet to publicly defend my own studied position on the subject.  That is why I am submitting it here for scrutiny from my wise readers.  I do not find this matter of an urgent enough nature that we should be making any statements of a more public nature that we have not fully thought through and that we are not prepared to defend.  I'm not sure it would even be prudent to make a statement about this to the general public once we do reach the point when we are more prepared... but I'll have to address that argument on another day.  So, here you go... pick it apart!

A Statement Regarding the
HHS Birth Control Mandate and Religious Liberty

The recent decision of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandates that nearly all private health plans, including those of religious employers, must provide all prescribed birth control drugs and devices for women free of charge.
"Freedom of religion" extends beyond worship in churches.  We cannot force our religious beliefs on others, but neither should the government expect us to act contrary to our religious beliefs.  Jesus bids us, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's’ (Mark 12:17). We are to pray for and support our government wherever and whenever we can, but our consciences and lives belong to God.
While Christians are called to obey political authorities (Romans 13:1-7), when human authority violates God’s will, Christians are bound to “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:28-29).  The Lutheran doctrine of the two kingdoms does not promote quietism, but affirms that civil government is to be concerned with things other than the gospel and should not exercise its authority in the church (CA XXVIII.11-12), and commands the Christian to use political laws and public redress for the benefit of temporal life (Ap XVI).
It is important, however, to remember as Christians that God does not guarantee us religious freedom in this broken world.  In fact, it has been a common "alien work" of God throughout history to allow religious persecution to draw us closer to Him.  Christianity has often flourished the most during times when the Church has faced her greatest persecutions.  
Our consciences belong to God and cannot be taken captive.  They can jail us and even kill us, but they cannot take Christ from us or force us to act against our consciences.  
Few people realize that this mandate is not about "contraception."  This government mandate requires that nearly all private health plans, including those of religious employers, must provide all prescribed birth control drugs and devices for women free of charge.  What most people do not know is that all of these currently available prescribed birth control drugs and devices for women can act in a way that causes the death of the unborn through silent abortions.  
So, how can the government claim that abortion-causing drugs are not included in this mandate?  Many people define "conception" as implantation rather than fertilization, since "pregnancy" is commonly identified as the point in time when a test detects the hormones which signal implantation. [1]
However, even providing non-abortifacient "contraception" would still violate the consciences of religious people of many faiths. This includes not only Roman Catholics, but many other Christians who retain the teaching that all churches shared until just a few decades ago, that preventing conception violates the divine ordinance to "be fruitful and multiply."  At least until 1959, the majority of LCMS pastors and seminary professors did not deviate from this teaching that it is a faithless act to refuse the blessing of a child. [2] 
To understand that obeying this mandate also would violate the religious consciences of those who have no objection to contraception, it is important to first understand the distinction between "contraception" and "birth control."  "Contra-ception" works "against conception."  According to this proper definition, contraception only prevents the union of an egg and a sperm.  This process is known scientifically as "fertilization". [1] "Birth control" includes methods that not only work as contraceptives, but which can also cause the death of a conceived human being.  Many methods of "birth control" are, therefore, improperly referred to by the general public and many doctors as "contraception."  
This distinction makes it clear that, contrary to the language used in the government mandate, this is not simply about religious employers being forced to provide free "contraception" - although that would still violate the religious freedom of many people.  The broader concern to all religious persons who are pro-life is the fact that ALL of the currently available prescribed birth control drugs and devices for women are also abortifacient.  In other words they all can also act by causing the death of the unborn through a backup mechanism which causes a silent abortion. [3]
Many people are unaware that birth control pills, injections, implants, and IUDs do not only work to prevent conception.  As a backup mechanism, all of these methods can also work after conception to prevent the implantation of an embryo, causing a "silent abortion."  One of the newest drugs called "Ella" can also destroy the placenta of a developing fetus in the womb, like the "abortion pill" ru486.
Do not let the language fool you.  These methods are not just "contraceptive."  A general rule of thumb to help you remember is that all "contraception" (birth control) drugs and IUDs are actually abortifacient methods of birth control.
  If we were to use terms with their literal meanings, contraception = prevention of life before it is conceived, and birth control = the taking of life before birth. Unfortunately, people have come to use these terms interchangeably.  
Here we are using the terms in their literal sense.  But don't let the language of the mandate or the common language used in the media fool you.  This mandate expects religious employers to provide all prescribed birth control drugs and devices for women - all of which can cause abortion.
Pro-life Christians who confess that life begins at conception are, therefore, also compelled to confess that these drugs and procedures violate the commandment of God: "You shall not murder."
Oppose this government mandate and urge all who value religious freedom to contact their elected representatives to urge them to reverse this government action.  Treasure the freedom to put our faith into action in the public square while we still have it and, in response to Christ’s call, demonstrate His mercy through our love and compassion for all people.  And show this love and compassion for the unborn by not being afraid to speak up about the abortifacient nature of all the currently available prescribed birth control drugs and devices for women.  Pray for your government representatives and leaders, for doctors and pastors, for your friends and enemies, and for the unborn.
Most of all, remember that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.   They can jail us and even kill us, but our consciences will always remain free as we continue to profess before the world the joyful good news that Jesus Christ, True God and True Man, conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary, suffered and died on the cross and rose again from the dead on the third day, so that all, believing in Him have forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.  
[1]  Read  Semantics Don’t Change Truth: The social motivations behind new definitions.
[2]  See Genesis 1:28 and 38:9-10, etc..  To learn more about the history and reasons behind this recent change in belief, read Godly Seed - a book published late last year by prominent historian Dr. Allan Carlson; and Birth Control and the Lutherans: The Missouri Synod as a Case Study by Alan Graebner in the Journal of Social History Vol. 2, No. 4 (Summer, 1969), pp. 303-332; and further resources available at the Lutherans and Procreation blog.
There are also many Lutherans who still haven't ever deviated from this teaching, and a growing number of Lutherans from the LCMS, ELS, and WELS returning to this historic teaching. There is a group of almost two-hundred like-minded Lutherans, mostly pastors and their wives, who support each other on a discussion group called "Quiverfull Lutherans."  If you agree and would like to be a part of that group, please contact ehtoothdoctorgmailcom.
[3]  This includes all birth control drugs (preparations commonly known as "the Pill", hormone patches, implants, and injections, and so-called "morning after pills" (such as Plan B and Ella), and all intrauterine devices (copper and hormone IUDs).  Below is a list of currently prescribed birth control drugs and devices for women and the FDA mandated product information statements which clearly point out their abortifacient nature.  We are in the process of updating this to include all the newest formulations, and I will post a new version when we have completed the update.  Keep in mind that drug companies are still coming up with new drugs and devices.  If the formulations are similar to the ones on this list, the same statements apply.  If they are entirely new drugs or devices, read the package insert and/or diligently research the modes of action before ever using them.

(Nota Bene: A few of the phrases above are borrowed from writings on this subject by Pastor Gifford Grobien, Pastor Roger James, and President Matthew Harrison.  Most of the writing is my own, but it became quite difficult with all the writing and editing I've done on this and other statements on the issue to remember exactly what pieces of the puzzle came from where.  It would also be very cumbersome to have footnotes for such citations all over the place, adding to the confusion of the whole issue.  I know Pr. Grobien doesn't mind, and I don't expect President Harrison or my own pastor will either.  I know we're all simply interested in the truth getting out on all this, so everyone else please feel free to borrow whatever you like from what I have written as well. No attributions necessary.)

Abortifacient Effects of Chemical, Hormonal, and IUD Birth Control Products According to FDA Labeling  
Compiled by Ryan C. MacPherson, PhD, July 2008 from:
Physicians' Desk Reference, 62nd ed. (Montvale, NJ: Thompson Healthcare, 2007),
a standard compilation of the FDA-required labels for over 4,000 approved drugs. 
Partially updated by Erich J. Heidenreich, DDS on March 21, 2012

Combination Oral Contraception (COC) Pills [also known as “Oral Contraception Pills” (OCP), all of which are commonly referred to as “The Pill”]
“Combination oral contraceptives act by suppression of gonadotropins. Although the primary mechanism of this action is inhibition of ovulation, other alterations include changes in the cervical mucus (which increase the difficulty of sperm entering into the uterus) and the endometrium (which reduce the likelihood of implantation)” (repeated at pp. 777 [Yasmin], 785 [Yaz], 1046 [Mircette], 1057 [Seasonique], 2402 [Ortho Cyclen and Ortho Tri-Cyclen], 2411 [Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo], and 3367 [Lybrel]).

Brand Name (Manufacturer),  Progestational Component,  Estrogenic Component
Ortho Cyclen (Ortho), 0.250 mg norgestimate, 0.035 mg ethinyl estradiol
Ortho Tri-Cyclen (Ortho), 0.18 mg norgestimate, 0.035 mg ethinyl estradiol
Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo (Ortho), 0.180 mg norgestimate, 0.025 mg ethinyl estradiol
Lybrel (Wyeth), 90 mcg levonorgestrel, 20 mcg ethinyl estradiol
Mircette (Duramed), 0.15 mg desogestrel x 20, 0.02 mg ethinyl estradiol x 20, 0.01 mg ethinyl estradiol x 5
Seasonique (Duramed), 0.15 mg levonorgestrel, 0.03 mg ethinyl estradiol
Yaz (Bayer), 3 mg drospirenone, 0.020 mg ethinyl estradiol
Yazmin (Bayer), 3 mg drospirenone x 21, 0.030 mg ethinyl estradiol x 21

Combination Patch
“Although the primary mechanism of this action is inhibition of ovulation, other alterations include changes in the cervical mucus (which increase the difficulty of sperm entering into the uterus) and the endometrium (which reduce the likelihood of implantation)” (p. 2390).
Ortho Evra (Ortho), 6.00 mg norelgestromin, 0.75 mg ethinyl estradiol
Progestin-Only Pills (POP) (also known as the “mini-pill”)
“Ortho Micronor® progestin-only contraception prevents conception by suppressing ovulation in approximately half of users, thickening the cervical mucus to inhibit sperm penetration, lowering the midcycle LH and FSH peaks, slowing the movement of the ovum through the fallopian tube, and altering the endometrium” (p. 2399). The “failure rate” (i.e., on-pill sustained pregnancy rate) is 0.5% in perfect use vs. “close to 5%” in typical use (p. 2399). Of these pregnancies, “up to 10%” are ectopic (p. 2400).
Ortho Micronor (Ortho) 0.35 mg norethidrone
Emergency Contraception Pills (ECP)
“Plan B® is believed to act as an emergency contraceptive principally by preventing ovulation or fertilization (by altering tubal transport of sperm and/or ova). In addition, it may inhibit implantation (by altering the endometrium). It is not effective once the process of implantation has begun” (p. 1056).
“When taken immediately before ovulation is to occur, Ella postpones follicular rupture. The likely primary mechanism of action of ulipristal acetate for emergency contraception is therefore inhibition or delay of ovulation; however, alterations to the endometrium that may affect implantation may also contribute to efficacy.” (08/2010 FDA approved labeling)
Brand Name (Manufacturer), Progestational Component       
Plan B One Step (Duramed), 0.75 mg levonorgestrel
Next Choice, 0.75 mg levonorgestrel

Brand Name (Manufacturer), Progesterone agonist/antagonist
Ella (Watson Pharma), 30 mg ulipristal acetate
Note:  Ella, Plan B One-Step, Next Choice and generic Levonorgestrel Tablets are the only dedicated product specifically marketed for emergency contraception.  However, Aviane, Cryselle, Enpresse, Jolessa, Lessina, Levora, Lo/Ovral, LoSeasonique, Low-Ogestrel, Lutera, Lybrel, Nordette, Ogestrel, Portia, Quasense, Seasonale, Seasonique, Sronyx and Trivora have been declared safe and effective for use as ECPs by the United States Food and Drug Administration. Plan B One-Step and Next Choice are available over-the counter to women and men aged 17 and older. You can buy these pills by prescription if you are younger. Ella is available by prescription only.
Note: Important information on the deadly effects of “Ella” on the placenta of a developing fetus: http://www.frcblog.com/tag/donna-harrison/
Donna Harrison, MD, is a member of Emmaus Lutheran Church (LCMS) in South Bend, Indiana. She is an OB-GYN and the current president of the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians.  Read her scientific remarks at the FDA hearing on Ella here:  http://www.frcblog.com/2010/06/3487/
Progestin-Only Injections
“Depo Provera … inhibits the secretion of gonadotropins, which prevents follicular maturation and ovulation and causes endometrial thinning. These actions produce its contraceptive effect” (p. 2612).
Depo Provera (Pharmacia; Upjohn), 104 mg/0.65mL medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA)
Intrauterine Devices (IUD)
“The contraceptive effectiveness of ParaGard is enhanced by copper continuously released into the uterine cavity. Possible mechanism(s) by which copper enhances contraceptive efficacy include interference with sperm transport or fertilization, and prevention of implantation” (p. 1052).
“The local mechanism by which continuously released levonorgestrel enhances contraceptive effectiveness has not been conclusively demonstrated. Studies of MIRENA prototypes have suggested several mechanisms that prevent pregnancy [i.e., prevent “clinical pregnancy,” which is not said to be established until implantation in the uterus]: thickening of cervical mucus preventing passage of sperm into the uterus, inhibition of sperm capacitation or survival, and alteration of the endometrium. … MIRENA has mainly local progestogenic effects in the uterine cavity. Morphological changes of the endometrium are observed, including stromal pseudodecidualization [endometrial thinning], glandular atrophy, a leucocytic infiltration and a decrease in glandular and stromal mitosis” (p. 765).
ParaGard Copper T380A IUD, 176 mg copper wire coiled around a polyethylene T-frame
Mirena IUD (Bayer), levonorgestrel (progestational component), released at 20 mcg/day from a polyethylene T-frame