3.27.2012

Contraception and Murder

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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]

42 comments:

Gregory K. Laughlin said...

Excellent.

One of the ironies of the debate over abortion is that it is (among others) deniers of God and religion who assert that theirs is the rational position based strictly on objective materialism who take a position which is in its essence based on metaphysical and non-materialistic premise. Personhood is not an objective material concept, it is a metaphysical one. We can debate it because there is no purely material evidence by which the prove it. Pro-life believers, on the other hand, need not rely so much on metaphysics to make our argument. We can point to the object fact that a conceptus is a one-celled organism with solely human DNA who will develop, if nature and man cooperate, into a multi-celled walking, breathing human life. The material and objective evidence is conclusive that the conceptus is a human life. Our position can, therefore, be that it is immoral (an admittedly metaphysical concept) to ever kill another human life whatever stage of development he or she is at without regard to resort to the metaphysical concept of personhood.

As to contraception, another verse to rely on is 1 Timothy 5:8, "But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." Obviously, this verse is used in another context, but what is contraception other than a failure to proved the prospect of life to one who would be a member of ones household but for the successful use of contraception. And, indeed, it was the unbelievers of St. Paul's day who practiced contraception, abortion and infanticide and whose practices were opposed by the early Church. I am not asserting that this verse was being applied directly to contraception, only that the premise it is based on applies to the use of contraception.

Anonymous said...

"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?"

Is to contracept necessarily to think this way? If so, why? If I say "no thank you" to the chance to adopt a child (because I think it would be too much for me to handle), is even this despising that child?

Note that I'm sure that there are a few things that Chrysostom said that I'm sure we would not agree with as well. The question, ultimately, is how his remarks stand up to Scripture, and I think pointing to Onan as the clincher is a bit much.

+Nate Rinne

Anonymous said...

"me to handle"

That is "us". Ahem.

By the way, if anyone chooses not to contracept, I cannot sing their praises enough. That is awesome.

+Nate Rinne

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Thanks, Greg. Now, I hope you will take this in the simple sense of seeking truth in which it is meant. I'm not sure the material and objective evidence is conclusive that a human soul exists even at the "conceptus" stage.

"Conceptus" is a scientific term that denotes the embryo and its "adnexa" (appendages or adjunct parts) or associated membranes (i.e. the products of conception). The conceptus includes all structures that develop from the zygote, both embryonic and extraembryonic. It includes the embryo as well as the embryonic part of the placenta and its associated membranes - amnion, chorion (gestational sac), and yolk sac. [Dorland's Medical Dictionary]

I have a feeling that you did not mean "conceptus" but rather, perhaps, the "fertilized egg" stage known as a "zygote". A zygocyte, is the completely formed single cell which results after all the various stages of "fertilization" are completed, and just before cell division begins. In multicellular organisms, it is the earliest developmental stage of the embryo. In single-celled organisms, the zygote divides to produce offspring, usually through meiosis.

Whether we're talking about the "zygote" or the "conceptus", what is the material and objective evidence that a singularly unique new human soul exists at either point? Why this point and not another point prior to or subsequent to this point?

You seem to answer this question by stating: "We can point to the object fact that a [zygote] is a one-celled organism with solely human DNA who will develop, if nature and man cooperate, into a multi-celled walking, breathing human life."

Actually, both the zygote and the conceptus have the ability to divide into what will become two completely separate human souls, called identical twins. In fact, identical quadruplets are even possible, though rare. No doubt science (if given enough time) will at some point be able to cleave these embryonic stem cells into what could become an infinite number of human beings.

If the creation of a new human soul is signaled by the stage at which there exists a single cell with a unique set of human DNA which can develop into a unique human being, then I would consider it logical to hypothesize that there really is such a thing as soul-mates, or multiple individuals who share the same soul.

Please understand that my point is simply that, as far as I know, there is no material and objective scientific evidence from which to definitively conclude that a new human soul exists even at the "conceptus" stage. Actually, that isn't even it. My point is that this is a mystery of God, and that we shouldn't even be asking these questions.

We would not be asking or attempting to answer these questions were it not for our sinful desire to define a moment in time before which we are free to interfere with God's creative process.

Gregory K. Laughlin said...

"I'm not sure the material and objective evidence is conclusive that a human soul exists even at the 'conceptus' stage."

Agreed, Erich, but that just gets back to the distinction I was attempting make. The existence of the soul is a metaphysical concept, not an objective material one. Many proponents of the right to choose deny there is such a thing as a soul. It cannot be proven scientifically. All that can be proven by science is that life begins at conception and that based on that life's DNA, his or her parentage and his or her path of development if not terminated, such one-celled life is objectively human. Whether or when it is ensouled or becomes a person is a metaphysical concept. To rely on those occurrences is to concede ground to the pro-choice advocate which we need not and should not concede. First, if the argument is over when a life becomes a person, it accept their metaphysical construct. Second, if the argument is over when a life becomes ensouled, it demands that they accept our metaphysical construct.

If we stick to the objective, material evidence that life begins at conception and that the conceptus or zygote of human parents is itself a human life, then the debate is over purely scientific evidence without resort to metaphysics. Then, we can argue that to provide protection to such life at any stage after conception, be it after the first trimester, quickening, birth or self-awareness is to adopt a metaphysical construct which is really outside the realm of science and is either based on faith (which they themselves would argue cannot be used in a pluralistic, secular society) or some other non-objective basis, which is the functional equivalent of faith. At a minimum, one can demonstrate that unless they believe other human life can be terminated at the will of third parties at any and all stages of life, any line other conception which they advocate must come from other than purely metaphysical presuppositions with no basis whatsoever in objective, rational science. That is, they are put in the position in which they seek to put us, defending metaphysical beliefs which cannot be proven by the scientific methods upon which they so often claim to rely.

I understand that the division of a single zygote into two identical twins creates issues as to how many souls or persons are present before such division, but, again, that is a metaphysical question. The scientific fact is that the undivided zygote is a human life and when divided, from that one human life there are now two. Avoid the metaphysics and I believe our case is all the stronger and cannot be attacked as based simply on our faith, which they reject, but upon the scientific facts which are objective and provable. They may well reject the argument, but that does nothing to weaken the argument.

Gregory K. Laughlin said...

Anonymous,


I assume Erich can and will provide a better answer than I can, but here is my response:

God’s Word tells us clearly that children are blessings from Him (see, for example, the many times that God blesses someone or a group of people with a blessing to be fruitful and multiply — Genesis 1:28, Gen. 9:1, Gen. 17:6, Gen. 17:20, Gen. 35:11, Gen. 48:4, Leviticus 26:9, Psalm 105:24, Jeremiah 23:3, Ezekiel 36:11), that the man who has many children is particularly blessed of God (see, for example, Psalms 127 and 128 and 1 Chronicles 25:5) and that God gave us marriage because He is seeking Godly offspring (Malachi 2:15).

Why do married couples use artificial birth control or engage in completed sexual acts other than coitus with the intent to avoid pregnancy? Absent some serious and unusual situation (for example, a medically diagnoses that pregnancy poses a grave risk to the wife's life), isn't it because we reject God’s word that children are a blessing from Him? Don't we use artificial contraception in the vast majority of cases because we disbelieve His word that children are a blessing or that more children are a blessing? And in doing so, don't we deny God the Godly offspring for which He gives us marriage?

John Chrysostom said it best when preaching against contraception, “What then? Do you contemn the gift of God [children], and fight with his laws? What is a curse [infertility], do you seek as though it were a blessing?” Artificial contraception is a sin because it is the means by which we reject the potential of God’s blessings and show our contempt for this particular gift from Him.

This was a teaching that was accepted universally among orthodox Christians until the last century. The Catholic Church taught it (and still does); the Orthodox Church taught it (and many Orthodox pastors still do); Luther and the churches named for him taught it until well into the 20th century; Anglicans taught it and did until 1930; Calvin taught it and Reformed and Presbyterian churches taught it until well into the 20th century; Baptist taught it; Methodists taught it; etc. (See, for example, Allan Carlson’s “Godly Seed”, David Kennedy’s “Birth Control in America” and Kathleen Tobin’s “The American Religious Debate over Birth Control, 1907–1937".)

I will not address "hard cases". I believe that there are hard cases. But I also believe that such cases represent a very small percentage of circumstances under which couples use contraception. If we are honest, those of us who have used contraception (and my wife and I did until we studied the issue and repented) do so because we reject God's word that children are a blessing from Him and that many children are a particular sign of His favor and blessing. Contraception is the means by which we reject what His word says repeatedly and unequivocally are His blessings. It is, I believe, an act of cruelty to those who have hard cases to use their unfortunate circumstances to justify our acts when we do not have such circumstances.

I don't know your circumstances and so pass no judgment on your actions. I am speaking about what must admittedly be the vast majority of cases, cases without hard circumstances which represent our acting upon our disbelief of God's own word. I will say, however, that even under circumstances in which it might be licit to avoid pregnancy, the ends do not justify the means. I believe Erich disagrees with me on this, but I believe in the vast majority, if not in all such cases, continence, periodic or absolute, is the only licit means to achieve the justifying end.

Gregory K. Laughlin said...

I won't correct all my typos, but, my response to Erich should have read, in part:

At a minimum, one can demonstrate that unless they believe other human life can be terminated at the will of third parties at any and all stages of life, any line other than conception which they advocate (be it some trimester, viability, or birth, for example) must come from purely metaphysical presuppositions with no basis whatsoever in objective, rational science. That is, they are put in the position in which they seek to put us, defending metaphysical beliefs which cannot be proven by the scientific methods upon which they so often claim to rely.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Nate Rinne,

You ask: "If I say "no thank you" to the chance to adopt a child (because I think it would be too much for me to handle), is even this despising that child?

1) We are not talking about the option every married couple has of adoption. Adoption is not commanded in Scripture. The question is whether or not it is consistent with God's Word for the conjugal union of marriage to be enjoyed while deliberately thwarting the natural God-ordained procreative purpose of that union.

2) If I say "no thank you" to God blessing my conjugal union with my wife (because I think it would be too much for me and/or her to handle), is even this despising that child?

Yes. It is despising a child God may desire to bring into this world and draw unto Himself. Of course we are talking to some degree of hypothetical children. To make it more real for those who have a problem thinking about "what ifs", if a child is born as the result of a "failed" attempt to contracept or abort, what does that say about your love for that child?

It is also unloving to rob your neighbor of the help he would receive from such a child. It is also denying that God will always provide all that you need for this body and soul, including being able to "handle" that which your sinful human nature feels is "too much."

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Greg,

Your point is well-taken that in the abortion debate we are dealing with metaphysical concepts which are at odds. The metaphysical concept is, for both sides, the point at which a "person" exists. The concept of "personhood" is extremely subjective as evidenced by its historical and cultural variability and even the controversies surrounding its use in some contexts. You are right to point out the fact that the abortion advocates employ metaphysical arguments at the same time as they dismiss our arguments as not being based in science.

However, we run into just as much difficulty in appealing to non-metaphysical scientific definitions of life, as I have tried to point out above. The scientific definition of when "life" begins is also subjective and impossible to define in a way that is universally accepted. In fact, even the definition of "life" itself is impossible to obtain universal agreement on.

Sperm can satisfy many of the criteria some use to define life. There is a sense in which it can be said I existed in my fathers loins prior to my conception. (See Hebrews 7:10 as well.) Even my unique DNA existed in an egg and a sperm before they ever joined together.

Sperm are motile creatures you can use "spermicides" to kill! If you can "kill" something, it must be "alive" in some sense. Of course, you can kill plants too. We are talking about human life. What makes a human alive in a way that a plant is not?

Again, these sound very much like our opponents' arguments against us, but there is some validity in them if we demand there is a scientific definition of human life that everyone must agree on. There isn't. Even if we got our wish that everyone agree for the sake of expediency that life begins with the existence of a single cell with unique DNA which has the potential to develop into a complete, conscious, human being, then we are going to have many problems with that definition as well.

The problems with this are not just with the fact that there could be many different sources of such single cells. The problem extends to trying to define what a "complete, conscious, human being" is. You yourself made an unintentional error in saying the following:

"We can point to the object fact that a conceptus is a one-celled organism with solely human DNA who will develop, if nature and man cooperate, into a multi-celled walking, breathing human life."

Must the resulting "human life" be able to breath? Must he be able to walk? You see my point.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

‎While it is not possible to make an exact determination as to what moment in time draws the line between the two, there is a definite metaphysical distinction between the concepts of contraception and abortion. One is dealing with what could have been and one is dealing with what is. There are important theological errors which must be avoided when we hypothesize about "persons who might have been."

However, we must not deny that our actions directly effect the future. What "could have been" can, and indeed SHOULD, be confessed if we are careful in how we phrase it and if we deny the false beliefs which it could lead others into (for instance, the preexistence of souls). Who can deny that there are fewer people in the world today than there would be if people didn't use contraception? Is not the failure to accept the blessing of a child a sin of omission? Sins of omission are about what "could have been" and are just as important to confess as sins of commission.

I posed the question: "What is the real difference theologically between contraception and murder?" Notice the word "theologically." Perhaps my point would have been more clear if I had said "pastorally" instead of "theologically." But there is no sound theology that is not, by definition, pastoral. If theology were to go beyond any pastoral purpose, it is no longer theology but philosophy.

Philosophically or metaphysically there is a clear difference between murder and contraception. The victim of murder exists, while the hypothetical victim of contraception does not. It is, indeed, a very difficult thing to discuss metaphysically without falling into theological errors.

I hope it is clear that I was not posing that question in a metaphysical sense, but rather in a theological sense. When it comes to defining "contraception" in a metaphysical sense we cannot call it murder. However, there is a definite theological (i.e. pastoral) sense in which it is most definitely the equivalent of murder.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Rev. Robert Baker (formerly Senior Editor of Adult Bible Studies at CPH, now a philosophy professor after finishing his masters in ethics) made the following comments I find very much worth sharing:

[Dr. Heidenreich]: "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?"

This is entirely correct. Post-Enlightenment, we approach both Scripture and science deontologically, looking for clear-cut, easy-to-obey rules, and precise, biological demarcations.

Yet, the Ten Commandments express God's will in ten words, summarizing God's Law on a particular topic. And human biological life is an organic process.

Following our Master, Luther, Melanchthon, Chemnitz, Gerhard and the Christian Church have taught that sin flows from our corrupt, human hearts.

It's not that the Fifth Commandment forbids only the act of premeditated murder, it condemns the very thought that initiated that act--and every sinful act in between. Not only that, in the Fifth Commandment God demands that we fully affirm and support human life. No exceptions, except those God Himself has allowed.

This is the authoritative teaching of the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions.

Luther (LC, The Fifth Commandment): "Now this commandment is easy enough, and has been often treated, because we hear it annually in the Gospel of St. Matthew 5:21ff, where Christ Himself explains and sums it up, namely, that we must not kill, neither with hand, heart, mouth, signs, gestures, help, nor counsel. Therefore it is here forbidden to every one to be angry, except those (as we said) who are in the place of God, that is, parents and the government."

Again: "Secondly, under this commandment not only he is guilty who does evil to his neighbor, but he also who can do him good, prevent, resist evil, defend and save him, so that no bodily harm or hurt happen to him, and yet does not do it. If, therefore, you send away one that is naked when you could clothe him, you have caused him to freeze to death; if you see one suffer hunger and do not give him food, you have caused him to starve. So also, if you see any one innocently sentenced to death or in like distress, and do not save him, although you know ways and means to do so, you have killed him. And it will not avail you to make the pretext that you did not afford any help, counsel, or aid thereto, for you have withheld your love from him and deprived him of the benefit whereby his life would have been saved."

"Finally: "Therefore it is God's ultimate purpose that we suffer harm to befall no man, but show him all good and love; and, as we have said, it is specially directed toward those who are our enemies. For to do good to our friends is but an ordinary heathen virtue, as Christ says Matt. 5:46.

"Here we have again the Word of God whereby He would encourage and urge us to true noble and sublime works, as gentleness, patience, and, in short, love and kindness to our enemies, and would ever remind us to reflect upon the First Commandment, that He is our God, that is, that He will help, assist, and protect us, in order that He may thus quench the desire of revenge in us."

Robert C. Baker

Anonymous said...

Gregory,


“Don't we use artificial contraception in the vast majority of cases because we disbelieve His word that children are a blessing or that more children are a blessing? And in doing so, don't we deny God the Godly offspring for which He gives us marriage?”

I can only speak for myself. Perhaps I am deceived, but I believe a) children are a blessing and more children are a blessing and b) that we sometimes, for various reasons, say “no” to gifts/blessings (and this may or may not indicate a lack of trust in God)

Erich:

“Adoption is not commanded in Scripture”

Oh, I disagree. Taking care of orphans means adoption, which means love. I don’t think the early church ran orphanages, or am I wrong?

“To make it more real for those who have a problem thinking about "what ifs", if a child is born as the result of a "failed" attempt to contracept or abort, what does that say about your love for that child?”

I don’t find this compelling at all. To contracept, I suggest, is to say “no thank you” to God (and may indeed indicate a lack of trust in His good provision). Where as to abort is clearly to murder, clearly not to love.

“It is also unloving to rob your neighbor of the help he would receive from such a child.”

No doubt this could be right.

“It is also denying that God will always provide all that you need for this body and soul “

Again – I think that this is most likely always true. This is a perpetual problem we have. Re: contraception, I know that almost, if not every time it comes up in the early church, (not sure just how often that is) it is condemned, usually with a reference to Onan (I'm sure you know the arguments vs. that position). Still, it strikes me that contraception has been available forever, and there is no explicit condemnation as such. I admit that I see both polygamy, for instance, and contraception as being similar things in that each of them seems to fall short of the ideal in a fallen world, but neither is ever really called sin or condemned as such (yes, I understand your point about the word adultery and its implications). Both seem to involve elements of power, lust, and fear - yes, a lack of trust that God will provide... I can run most of the Pentetuch through the descriptive/prescriptive thing (i.e. its mention does not mean its endorsement), but its harder to do that when the Song of Solomon, for instance, talks about polygamy....

“In fact, even the definition of "life" itself is impossible to obtain universal agreement on.”

I wonder if this is really true. Some want it to be true. I think that we could, if we were being reasonable, define life, even if we could not agree on what life is valuable… I know. You will tell me to “try”. I would, but am out of time for now.

Thanks for the engagement,

Nate

Anonymous said...

Oh - it might be a while before I can respond again.

-Nate

Anonymous said...

"(yes, I understand your point about the word adultery and its implications)."

I'm sorry - I copied and pasted some text from another conversation I had and left this in...

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

It's pretty difficult to engage in discussion if you aren't going to have time to. Therefore, I will keep my response brief. You seem to have a well thought out opinion on why YOU think contraception is wrong.

You say "I can only speak for myself. Perhaps I am deceived, but..."

I believe this is where you are perhaps allowing yourself to be misled. We are not here for discussing issues of adiaphora that are rightly left to personal opinion. We do not consider contraception to be adiaphora. The church speaks on the issue, and always has. Unfortunately, the Lutheran church has presented less and less of a united voice on this and other ethical issues since the middle of the Twentieth Century. This has left many people in the position of making private, personal decisions on ethics without the guidance of the church and her leaders.

For those who have the time to research these questions in the historical writings of the church, it becomes immediately apparent that the church was never as silent and unresponsive on important ethical questions as it is now.

The purpose of this blog is not to argue over personal opinions on ethics and personal interpretations of Scripture, and see whose opinions win in that debate. The primary purpose of this blog is to revive the consistent historical teaching of the church on the doctrine of procreation. I would hope that this is also the purpose of all who come here to discuss and debate these matters.

Gregory K. Laughlin said...

Nate,

So, are there any other blessings which God describes in Scripture which you take affirmative steps to reject? This is my problem with your argument: I've never heard anyone say that prosperity or homes or meaningful and rewarding work are blessings from God, but I'm taking affirmative steps to reject those blessings. Indeed, the only time I've ever heard this argument is as a defense to contraception. No offense, but I believe that is very telling. In any event, doesn't taking affirmative steps to reject any blessing from God presume that you know better what blessings from God you need and in what amount than He does? Is there anyway to make this argument without at the same time saying that you do not completely trust in God?

As to adoption, Scripture does not present the modern concept of adoption at all, that is, an adoption in which a child is removed from his biological family and placed in the home of complete strangers, where he is reared without any contact whatsoever with his biological family. In Scripture, care for widows and orphans is most commonly presented as care for them as a family unit, not as individuals. That is, the father dies, and the people of God care for his widows and orphans as a family, not as separate individuals. First and foremost, if possible, the extended family is to provide such care. The Levirate law contemplates a close male family member of the deceased husband marrying the widow to provide the deceased with heirs if he had no children at the time of death. If extended family is not available, the Church provides such care.

There are a few examples of adoption in Scripture, but none of them really support the modern concept. Moses was adopted by pharaoh's daughter, but that was hardly presented as an ideal. And, Moses' biological mother acted as his wet nurse and it is clear from the Genesis account that Moses was aware of his biological family. Jacob "adopted" Joseph's sons just before his death, but this appears to be more as a means by which Joseph would receive a double portion of the inheritance, as Joseph alone among his brothers became the progenitor of two, not one tribe. Joseph's other children were to be "named" in the tribe of one of their two older brothers.

Adoption is referenced in the New Testament as well, but this almost certainly related to the adoptions known in the Roman Empire, in which adult males were adopted by older, established men, to receive the inheritance and take the position in the family and state held by the adoptive father. This was quite common among the emperors, but was also common among other leading Roman families.

I do not relate this to condemn modern adoptions, but only to point out that modern adoptions have no continuity with the ancient practices. I will add, however, that much of need for modern adoption arises out of the rejection of openness to many children. Orphaned children from large families were historically placed with aunts or uncles or with older siblings. Small families and the rejection of children born out of wedlock are the primary reasons why modern adoption exists in the West. China's one-child policies and similar practices in places such as India in which girls are not wanted are why modern adoptions from those countries exist. May God bless the adoptive parents who step in and rescue these rejected and orphaned children, but this is not the ideal solution which is presented in Scripture, in which orphans are reared within their extended biological families.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Ryan,

Also, if you think that God commands every married couple to adopt children, you are very much mistaken. He commands the church as a whole to be concerned with the care of widows and orphans, but He does not call every individual Christian with this particular vocation.

Gregory K. Laughlin said...

Let me add, that both of my paternal great-grandparents were orphaned as a result of the Civil War and both were reared in their extended biological families, families in which there were many children. My great-grandmother was an only child, as her father died two months before her birth. Her mother remarried and had at least one other child before she herself died in her early 30s. However, my great-grandmother was reared in the household of one of her mother's siblings, of whom she had four. I'm not sure who reared my great-grandfather after his father's death from unhealed wounds from the Battle of Antietam, but he was one of nine children and his father was one of seven children. His mother remarried and appears to have given birth to at least two more children. There was, therefore, many family members to care for the orphaned children of my second-great-grandfather without the necessity of adoptions outside of the family. I do know that my third-great-grandfather lived with my great-grandparents at the time of his death, that is, in the household of his grandson, who had been orphaned with the death of his son, his granddaughter-in-law and his great-grandchildren. That's consistent with the pattern described in Scripture, but not with our modern practices of adoption by strangers.

Again, modern adoptive parents are doing a good work when they adopt orphaned and abandoned children, but this is not the pattern called for in Scripture. That's not the fault of adoptive parents, but the societal circumstances which create orphaned and rejected children with no extended family to care for them.

Anonymous said...

Erich and Gregory,

Trying to make time to talk (other vocations suffering a bit!). On some blogs, I have conversations that have gone on for months, with each person weighing in when they have time, over extended intervals of time. So it is a preference thing in some cases.

Erich: I understand. You see your blog as a summons to repent. This is the unbroken, historic teaching of the Church from the earliest days. Scripture supports this view and does not undermine it. Etc. I see your blog as a summons and invitation to reflect and prayerfully consider. I believe I am very open to believing as you do. In the Old Testament we see how far from God His people got to be. I do respect you for holding tenaciously to your views. Again, let me be clear that children are always a blessings and reward - never a curse. I look at a family like the Duggars and cheer them on.

Gregory, you say: “So, are there any other blessings which God describes in Scripture which you take affirmative steps to reject? This is my problem with your argument: I've never heard anyone say that prosperity or homes or meaningful and rewarding work are blessings from God, but I'm taking affirmative steps to reject those blessings.”

You have articulated a challenging question/argument – and I appreciate the opportunity to consider it. First of all, I think if we are going to talk about rejection of blessings, let’s not talk about property: homes, cars, cattle, money, etc. These are things which can be given away to others to help the neighbor. Ownership can be readily transferred. It is not so easy in the case of people, or at least some people (I also do not think that slavery, like polygamy, is necessarily sinful). Therefore, I think that it makes sense here to talk about the willing rejection of “person” blessings. You talk about taking “affirmative steps” to reject these things. If a couple consistently and persistently does this, failing to consider whether God wants to give them children, there is no doubt that this is against His will. We can agree on this. However, with many couples, this is not the case. Each time they are intimate, they may ask themselves whether or not they should contracept. In other words, they realize that there is the possibility that God wants to give them another person (He’s really the only one who can do this) to love, care for, be committed to, etc. What might be some relevant analogies? Well, again, adoption. Gregory – your points about adoption are very interesting and informative. Thank you – and still, I do not know how much they change things here. We are simply moving the question into the realm of the extended family. Here, each member of the extended family should realize that there is the possibility that God may want to give them another person, namely a nephew, niece, grandson/daughter, etc., in the tragic event that both parents die. Now, if this does occur, and brother 1 (this implies there are others, and there are) and his wife are asked to take in their niece/nephew – and they refuse, or say they would rather not – do they necessarily thereby sin? I would say “no”. Likewise, let us say that a person who is single has close friends or family who are willing and eager to “set them up” with good people they know. Here again, there is the possibility that God may want to give them another person – one they could love, care for, be committed to, etc. If this person rejects even the possibility of meeting another person this way (taking “affirmative steps” to do so!) are they necessarily sinning? Again, no. Likewise, the man who realizes that he could indeed be married to a certain person does not sin by failing to marry the virgin (no “soul mates” here)

...

Anonymous said...

...

Erich, you said:

“Also, if you think that God commands every married couple to adopt children, you are very much mistaken. He commands the church as a whole to be concerned with the care of widows and orphans, but He does not call every individual Christian with this particular vocation.”

I do not think that God commands every married couple to adopt children, as is now clear from my example above. Nor, do I, at this point, think that God commands every married couple to have as many kids as is *naturally* possible for them (and obviously, there is something that does not seem quite right about any idea that would be focused on maximizing the wife’s output – though I am *not* saying that you are saying this, nor am I equating a view like this with the simple hope that a couple might have as many kids as is naturally possible for them, i.e. that God would desire to give them). Side note: Prolonged breastfeeding also can prevent additional pregnancies, as we have found out: you need to be consistently breast-feeding though, including during the night, for this to work (I think few people know this: if this could happen for a woman, it will only happen if she is consistent in her breast-feeding – no long breaks)

Gregory: “Is there anyway to make this argument without at the same time saying that you do not completely trust in God?”

Probably not. I see all of this in the wider context of the fallen world though, where the ideal is not always attainable, and the non-ideal is not explicitly labeled “sin” by God, even if he would work for the elimination of these things. Therefore, things like polygamy, slavery (note that it is Rome, and not us, who says these things are necessarily sin) and contraception are all less than ideal (obviously, the desire to do all three of these things may readily be associated with fear, a lack of trust, and sexual lust), and while though while not being explicitly called “sin”, God is working, through His Church, to eliminate such things.

Erich: “This has left many people in the position of making private, personal decisions on ethics without the guidance of the church and her leaders.”

I agree. If what I have said above (or something like it) is not actually the teaching of the ancient Church, though perhaps only implicit through all these years, than I am wrong and need to repent. My opinions be damned. I am checking out this book to see if it might offer some insight: http://clicnet.clic.edu/record=b1846880~S1 Surely what the rabbis were saying, if anything, in Jesus’ day, might have some relevancy to this topic.

Blessings to you – will check again on Monday.

+Nate

Gregory K. Laughlin said...

Nate,

Thank you for your very thoughtful reply. I would like to address a few of your comments:

"Here, each member of the extended family should realize that there is the possibility that God may want to give them another person, namely a nephew, niece, grandson/daughter, etc., in the tragic event that both parents die. Now, if this does occur, and brother 1 (this implies there are others, and there are) and his wife are asked to take in their niece/nephew – and they refuse, or say they would rather not – do they necessarily thereby sin? I would say 'no'."

I would say, absent extraordinary circumstances which would make it impossible for them to care for their younger sibling, grandchild, nephew or niece, etc., absolutely they sin. Cain asked God, "Am I my brother's keeper?" St. Paul provided an answer thousands of years later, "[If] anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." The Levirate law was premised on the duty which extended family owe to their needy members. I could write a much more extensive Scriptural defense for my affirmative answer, but this will have to suffice give space constraints inherent in blogs. Let's just say that I doubt you would find much debate on this topic when families were large. It was the common way such circumstances were handled until the last century or so. I'll answer other aspects of your reply in separate post for the same reason.

Gregory K. Laughlin said...
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Gregory K. Laughlin said...

"You have articulated a challenging question/argument – and I appreciate the opportunity to consider it. First of all, I think if we are going to talk about rejection of blessings, let’s not talk about property: homes, cars, cattle, money, etc. These are things which can be given away to others to help the neighbor. Ownership can be readily transferred. It is not so easy in the case of people."

Giving away property to help others is not a rejection of a blessing; it is a God commanded use of a blessing. Refusing prosperity, homes, etc. would be an entirely different matter, so your answer evades the question. Pick some other blessing, a meaningful and rewarding vocation, health, you name it? Please identify any other blessing which you would take affirmative steps to reject in toto or for a season when offered by God at a particular time or in part, when God offers more of the blessing than you want. How many people say, "Well good health is a blessing from God, but I don't want good health, so I'm going to reject that blessing?" or, "I don't want a terminal illness, but if God offered me complete healing or a partial healing which would leave me still debilitated, I'd prefer the latter and so will take steps to reject the former?" Now folks certainly engage in unhealthy behavior, but is that with the deliberate intent to reject good health or is because of sinfulness, an inability to resist the temptation of gluttony or drunkenness, for example? Or when do we say, "Well, I would welcome your gift of healthiness in the future, but right now, I choose to remain in ill health?" Please.

I've asked the question many times and I've never had anyone give me even one other blessing of God mentioned in Scripture which they admit that they take affirmative steps to reject. It is only with the blessing of fertility that I've ever read or heard of this defense. What that tells me is that the respondent doesn't really believe that a houseful of children is really a blessing. They, instead, consider it a hinderance to pursuing the good things they want (prosperity, homes, career, etc.). That is, they want to choose the blessings and the degree of blessings which they receieve "from God" rather than allowing Him to do so. And to the extent that a person has prosperity, homes, career, etc. by rejecting fertility, one has to honestly ask himself whether those things are blessings from God or temptations from the Evil One, who promised our Lord the world and its kingdoms if He would bow down and worship him. One cannot worship both God and Mammon.

Gregory K. Laughlin said...

"Again, no. Likewise, the man who realizes that he could indeed be married to a certain person does not sin by failing to marry the virgin (no “soul mates” here)"

He would if he had a duty to marry a particular woman. Under the Levirate law, men did have such a duty. The penalty was a slap in the face with a sandal by the rejected woman. To have a duty, but not to fulfill it to the best of one's ability is a sin. We have all, I am sure, sinned by failing to meet our duties. I know I have. So, the question is whether one has a duty to care for his brother's orphaned children. As a Christian, I'd say yes. See, for example, St. Paul's first epistle to St. Timothy. Or what of Luther's Small Catechism:

The Fifth Commandment.

Thou shalt not kill.

What does this mean?--Answer.

We should fear and love God that we may not hurt nor harm our neighbor in his body, but help and befriend him in every bodily need [in every need and danger of life and body].

Gregory K. Laughlin said...

Gregory: “Is there anyway to make this argument without at the same time saying that you do not completely trust in God?”

"Probably not. I see all of this in the wider context of the fallen world though, where the ideal is not always attainable, and the non-ideal is not explicitly labeled “sin” by God, even if he would work for the elimination of these things. Therefore, things like polygamy, slavery (note that it is Rome, and not us, who says these things are necessarily sin) and contraception are all less than ideal (obviously, the desire to do all three of these things may readily be associated with fear, a lack of trust, and sexual lust), and while though while not being explicitly called 'sin', God is working, through His Church, to eliminate such things."

Well, here the question is whether taking affirmative steps to reject God's blessings is a sin. Contraception is not a sin in itself, but it is the means by which a sin is committed. The sinful thought or temptation is not trusting God and His word that children or more children or a child at this time, would be a blessing. Contraception is the means by which the blessing is rejected.

(I am excluding cases in which a pregnancy is a serious, diagnosed health risk so that it is the health risk which is the reason to avoid the pregnancy, not the resulting child. In such instances, I believe continence, period or absolute, is permissible, but that is another issue and, frankly, one with which I am still struggling.)

Likewise, hate for one's brother is a sin and a temptation to murder. Using a gun to shoot one's brother is the means by which the murder is committed. Using contraception is a means to sin, just as using a gun to shoot one's brother is a means to sin. It is true that condoms, the Pill, IUDs, etc. are not explicitly condemned in Scripture, but neither are guns. It is no defense to the sin of murder that using guns to shoot someone is never explicitly identified as a sin in Scripture. Lifewise, it is no defense to rejecting God's gift of fertility that the use of condoms, the Pill, IUDs, etc. is never explicitly identified as a sin in Scripture.

I look forward to continuing this conversation when you are able to do so. It took me a long time to reach the understanding I now have and, like all fallen men, I am still seeking edification.

In Christ, Greg

Anonymous said...

Gregory,

I is a pleasure... (taking a couple minutes here...)

"I would say, absent extraordinary circumstances which would make it impossible for them to care for their younger sibling, grandchild, nephew or niece, etc., absolutely they sin."

Yes - if there are no other relatives who can do it and they still say "no". Or, if they are the only remaining relative and they say "no".

"Giving away property to help others is not a rejection of a blessing; it is a God commanded use of a blessing. Refusing prosperity, homes, etc. would be an entirely different matter, so your answer evades the question."

No, you are not understanding me. Only rejection of these things would be rejecting such blessings. I was saying that with these property blessings it would certainly make sense to take them even if you were not going to use them yourself, but for others. We would be foolish to not accept good health, because by this also, we serve our neighbor.

"And to the extent that a person has prosperity, homes, career, etc. by rejecting fertility, one has to honestly ask himself whether those things are blessings from God or temptations from the Evil One, who promised our Lord the world and its kingdoms if He would bow down and worship him. One cannot worship both God and Mammon."

I agree.

....

Anonymous said...

"I've asked the question many times and I've never had anyone give me even one other blessing of God mentioned in Scripture which they admit that they take affirmative steps to reject....The sinful thought or temptation is not trusting God and His word that children or more children or a child at this time, would be a blessing. Contraception is the means by which the blessing is rejected. "

I gave you two solid examples (about adoption and single people) and I think they stand in spite of your criticisms.

"Well, here the question is whether taking affirmative steps to reject God's blessings is a sin."

It would be a blessing to receive your deceased brother's wife. If one was married already, that would be polygamy. Is polygamy a blessing, and if so, in what way? In a fallen world only perhaps (in *some* circumstances).... but it is not ideal, for Jesus made this clear. Again, it would be sin if other family members could or would not do it. If in your culture this was the firstborn's responsibility, I don't see how one could avoid doing this, as much as it might bother wife #1, or brother, who would like to take the words in Genesis seriously like Jesus did.

"Using contraception is a means to sin, just as using a gun to shoot one's brother is a means to sin. It is true that condoms, the Pill, IUDs, etc. are not explicitly condemned in Scripture, but neither are guns. It is no defense to the sin of murder that using guns to shoot someone is never explicitly identified as a sin in Scripture. Lifewise, it is no defense to rejecting God's gift of fertility that the use of condoms, the Pill, IUDs, etc. is never explicitly identified as a sin in Scripture."

This is not about Scripture's teachings on guns and condoms. This is about Scriptures teachings about murder (i.e. actually intentionally killing another human being) and its teachings on whether or not it is permissible to reject God's gift of fertility without necessarily labeling it "sin".

"I look forward to continuing this conversation when you are able to do so. It took me a long time to reach the understanding I now have and, like all fallen men, I am still seeking edification."

Me too Greg.

In Christ,
Nathan

Gregory K. Laughlin said...

Nate,

First, it is my pleasure. I appreciate and am edified whenever I am able to have an honest discussion of such issues with other committed Christian. Thanks.

Second, I agree, it would only be a sin if someone in the family who could, even if at considerable sacrifice, didn't come forward and take in the orphaned children of a deceased family member. Naturally, if one household in the family took on the children, no other would need to. However, depending on the circumstances, it might be the duty of those who didn't take on the rearing of the orphan to help in some other way, such a financial. Since yesterday, I've remembered yet another situation in my family history related to this. My father had some older cousins whose father died when they were quite young. My great-grandparents (the orphans grandparents) took in the orphans and reared them, at least for a time. These are the same great-grandparents whom themselves were orphaned and reared by extended family members.

Third, I did misunderstand your point as to houses, etc. Thanks for correcting me. However, taking your point as I now understand it, wouldn't being open to life also serve our neighbor. Indeed, I'd say that doing so does in many ways serve our neighbor. First, the children themselves can be blessings to others in a variety of ways, giving pleasure to aging grandparents, creating wealth which is shared with others, providing assistance to others (including, again, perhaps caring for widows and orphans), etc. Indeed, one of the most pressing problems with low fertility rates is that it leads to an insufficient proportion of working age people to the aged, a problem even no plaguing Japan and much of Europe and which is almost certain to grow worse. Then, also, every couple who could have more children, but doesn't, makes it more difficult economically for those who do have more children. The former often have both spouses working outside the home, giving them more income, the spending from which drives up prices for everyone, including the larger family. Further, the increased number of workers drives down average wages per worker. This, not some right-wing conspiracy, is the explanation for the nearly 4 decade-long stagnation in real wages for men, the expansion of the labor force at a rate greater than the expansion of demand for labor. Indeed, I can think of no greater benefit to ones neighbors both immediate an into the far distant future, than openness to life which spans the generations.

Gregory K. Laughlin said...

And this brings us back to the story of Onan. This is a point I made earlier. Tamar was an ancestor first and foremost of our Lord, but also of Jesse, King David, King Solomon and the entire line of kings who followed them. Onan's acts of coitus interruptus, had God not struck him dead, would have deprived future generations of the leadership of the house of David and humanity of its Savior. Of course, man may not thwart God's plans, but that did not make Onan's sin any less sinful. Onan's act would have, if permitted to continue, deprived his neighbors (that is, future generations) of many good things. Onan cared nothing for his neighbors, neither his deceased brother, to whom he owed a duty of providing an heir, nor to his wife, Tamar, who desired children, nor to future generations who would receive great benefit from Tamar's many descendants, most significantly our Lord.

Again, on this point, consider how C.S. Lewis dealt with this issue both in The Abolition of Man and That Hideous Strength.

In the former, Lewis observed,

"By contraception simply, they are denied existence; by contraception used as a means of selective breeding, they are, without their concurring voice, made to be what one generation, for its own reasons, may choose to prefer. From this point of view, what we call Man's power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument."

In That Hideous Strength, Merlin condemns the contracepting Jane as

"the falsest lady of any at this time alive . . . . For, Sir, it was the purpose of God that she and her lord should between them have begotten a child by whom the enemies should have been put out of Logres for a thousand years."

Ransom, the leader of the resistance against the evil threatening England, replies that Jane is only recently married and so may still have children, to which Merlin responds:

"Be assured that the child will never be born, for the hour of its begetting is passed. Of their own will they are barren: I did not know till now that the usages of Sulva [that is, the use of contraceptives] were so common among you. For a hundred generations in two lines the begetting of this child was prepared; and unless God should rip up the work of time, such seed, and such an hour, in such a land, shall never be again."

No, our rejection of God's blessing of children is at least as a sin against our neighbors as our rejection of prosperity, homes, etc. would be were we to in fact reject those blessings (which, again, we don't).

Gregory K. Laughlin said...

Now for a personal note. I am well aware that my own sins in this area will harm the children I now have. My wife and I used contraceptives early in our marriage and while we ceased doing so well before our first one was born and had difficulty having children at first, it was ten years from the time that we married before our first child was born. After her birth, we no longer had the same difficulties in getting pregnant and God gave us three more living children (we believe we lost two through miscarriages early in pregnancies), though we did for a short time resume the use of contraception after the birth of our second child before coming to understand the sinfulness of our doing so and repenting. Now you may say, "Well, see, it worked out fine. You have four living children, twice the number of the average couple." For that, we praise God. But, now to the harm I have done the children he did give to me.

Our third child is special needs. Indeed, she has significant disabilities. At age six, she has the development of a two year old. She cannot speak; she is not toilet trained (though, praise God, she is making progress in that area). She is unstable when she walks and frequently falls down. She has a very short attention span. Caring for her is a burden which my wife and I readily accept. But someday, we will no longer be able to perform such care. Then, her care will fall to her three siblings. We pray that they will each share in that responsibility and are doing what we can to rear them to do so. But had we been open to life from the beginning of our marriage, our three children might have had more and older siblings with whom to share the burden, lessening such burden on the three of them. Because we were not open to life early in our marriage, we almost certainly increased the future burden on our other three children. Those are not would-have-been descendants whom we harmed by depriving them existence; those are real flesh and blood humans, our children (and very likely their children) who will carry greater burdens later in life because of our sin. No, our rejection of God's possible blessing of other children early in our marriage harmed our neighbors, our own children. There is no way to escape or explain away that conclusion. It is a fact. All we can do is repent of it and pray that He forgives us (which we have) and aid our other three children in carrying the burden which we made harder by our sin.

You see, none of this is theoretical or an abstract academic discussions with me. I know my sin and I know at least some of the harm it has done not just any of my neighbors, but my own children and likely grandchildren.

Gregory K. Laughlin said...

"I've asked the question many times and I've never had anyone give me even one other blessing of God mentioned in Scripture which they admit that they take affirmative steps to reject....The sinful thought or temptation is not trusting God and His word that children or more children or a child at this time, would be a blessing. Contraception is the means by which the blessing is rejected.'

"I gave you two solid examples (about adoption and single people) and I think they stand in spite of your criticisms."

No, I'm sorry they do not.

Adoption is not an either/or proposition. One with biological children can adopt. Indeed, I know a family with three biological children who have since adopted two children with Down Syndrome and are in the process of adopting at least one other child with Down Syndrome, and considering adopting a fourth. Now you may say that that is wonderful, but not everyone can afford to do so and that one should be free to choose whether to have their own biological children or to adopt. I see no warrant for that in Scripture. The person who chooses to marry and forego children (or limit the number of children he has) so that he can afford to adopt is substituting his judgment for what would be best for God's judgment. God's word is very clear: children are a blessing from Him; He opens and shuts the womb; He gave us marriage for the procreation of Godly seed. Nowhere in His word does He authorize us to marry and be intentionally infertile so that we may do some other good work (as we see it) than the work He gives us to do in marriage, be open to life.

As to singleness, that is a blessing from God (though many don't see it that way). Jesus said that not all are given that gift. God, not we, decides which blessings He chooses to give us, singleness or marriage. If the former, we must not fornicate; if the latter, we are commanded to have sexual intimacy and God wills for most of us that we be fruitful and multiply, with His deciding, not us, whom He will bless with children.

Gregory K. Laughlin said...

"This is about Scriptures teachings about murder (i.e. actually intentionally killing another human being) and its teachings on whether or not it is permissible to reject God's gift of fertility without necessarily labeling it 'sin'."

Indeed it is. Luther taught that it was a sin, as did the following Lutheran pastors who came after him: Abraham Calovius, Conrad Danhauser, Franz Delitszch, John H.C. Fritz, Christian Gerber, Johann Gerhard, Johann Karl Friedrich Keil, Paul E. Kretzmann, Theodore F.K. Laetsch, Herbert Carl Leupold, Walter A. Maier, Sr., Wolfgang Musculus, Johannes Olearius, Lukas Osiander, the Elder, Heinrich Richter, among others. Nor was this the understand of Lutherans alone, Calvin taught the same, as did Daniel DeFoe, Jeremy Taylor, and many other Protestant pastors. And, of course, it really is indisputable that the ancient Church taught the same, with sources too numerous to cite here. Now, these are all just men and they could be wrong, though it would be a serious error on their part as they all so taught their flocks, laying upon them, if you are correct, burdens which God did not.

I have asked many times for a single citation to an orthodox Christian pastor who wrote before the last quarter of the 19th century who ever condoned the use of contraception. I have never, not even once, received back a cite to such a source. If you can provide one, I would greatly appreciate it. I can cite score of examples where it was taught to be a sin, including detailed citation to Scripture. Luther wrote on the subject several times, condemning it every single time he addressed the subject.

Is using contraception a sin? Until the late 19th century, all orthodox Christians who wrote on the subject answered with an emphatic "yes". None denied it. Not a single denomination held otherwise until the Anglicans did so in 1930. My conclusion is that those respected pastors were correct and that we err greatly to remove the markers they laid down for the first 19 centuries of the faith.

Gregory K. Laughlin said...
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Gregory K. Laughlin said...

As to marriage, I think you know that I am not advocating polygamy. Indeed, I am not advocating Levirate marriages at all. My point in answer to you was that it would be a sin not to marry a woman if the man had a duty to do so. If one is already married, by definition, in our Christian faith, he would not have such a duty. Are there circumstances today in which such a duty to marry does exist?

Interestingly enough, however, it was not that long ago in our culture that a single man who impregnated a single woman was held to have such a duty. Indeed, it was very common in early America for the bride to walk down the aisle with her first child in utero to wed the father of her child. (Some scholars, looking at genealogical records, have concluded that as many as 1/3 of brides on colonial America were pregnant at the time of their marriage.) That is, whether there was a Scriptural obligation for such a man to marry the single mother of his child, there certainly was a cultural one. And, frankly, it is, I believe, a grave lost to our society that such is not still the case. In a nation in which 40% of all children born are born out-of-wedlock and more than half of all children born to mothers under the age of 30 are born out-of-wedlock, one can see the grave consequences to mother and children by the abandonment of this culturally imposed duty.

However, that really wasn't the point I was making. There is without question a duty explicitly stated in Scripture for Christians to care for their relatives. That is a Christian's duty. It is not the duty of strangers and certainly not a duty that Christians should expect or desired to be met outside of the Church. Modern adoption is a necessary accommodation to a widespread failure in our world for extended families to fulfill their duty. Such adoption are not once mentioned in Scripture. There is a reason for that. Modern adoption laws only developed in the last couple of centuries, the result of the decline in extended families, which resulted in far more orphans and abandoned children without extended family to care for them.

I really don't know how such children were cared for by early Christians, though they certainly did take in such children who were often abandoned at birth by the pagans among whom the early Christians lived. I am unaware of any record of the method used in such cases, but would be very interested in an references to sources which discuss it. Legal adoption was likely not available, but perhaps something akin to foster parentage was utilized. However, without sources, I would hesitate to speculate.

Anonymous said...

Gregory,

Again, a pleasure discussing these things with you. At this point, I'd say we've had some good discussion. I will continue to read the comments, but may not comment again (time is short for me - must be doing homeschooling lessons in addition to 50 hour work-weeks), though I would like to. If I do, it will probably be a week or 2 or 3.

“Thanks for correcting me. However, taking your point as I now understand it, wouldn't being open to life also serve our neighbor…. I can think of no greater benefit to ones neighbors both immediate an into the far distant future, than openness to life which spans the generations.”

As regards your points there, we are in complete agreement, but as I said, the difference is that we can’t talk “ownership” (“property”) here, with easy liquidity of “assets”. Speaking from a this-world perspective, people are indeed assets, investments, etc., but they are of course more than that.

“Onan's acts of coitus interruptus, had God not struck him dead, would have deprived future generations of the leadership of the house of David and humanity of its Savior.”

Yes, that was indeed his sin. He did not provide Tamar with the children she desired and needed (back then, children were, rightly, not seen as a liability, but as the long-term blessing that they were). But to go from this to the point that all contraception within a marriage is sin seems to me a stretch. Further, when Lewis talks about “selective breeding” in that first quote, it seems that the wider context for this quote is eugenics. Few if any married Christians who practice contraception have that in mind. As for the others, I agree: if we contracept, the hour of begetting may indeed pass. One particularly blessed individual may not be granted to us – but then again, we do not want to fall off the other side of the horse here, as we value all children, and should, equally.

Regarding your personal story, you have my sympathies. Our first son has Asperger’s Syndrome (born when we were in our late 20s), but that is not close to what you deal with. I am aware that in the later years the chance for genetic deformities and the like increases. When I talk about deliberate perpetual childlessness being a sin, that kind of statement would be said in conjunction with a charge to conceive earlier, not to wait until later, as many sadly do. By the way, we have 4 boys, with another child on the way in September. We are both in our late 30s now.

I said: “"I gave you two solid examples (about adoption and single people) and I think they stand in spite of your criticisms."


....

Anonymous said...

...

You said: “No, I'm sorry they do not.”

Well, I still think they do. You confuse the issue with your example of the couple you know with 3 children and 4 Down’s adoptees. My point is that they are not obligated to adopt any of the Down’s children and if they have a Down’s child in their extended family that needs adoption and they have the most means to do so, they are still not necessarily obligated to be the ones to do the adopting if others in their family are willing and able. As to singleness, it is a blessing from God, but in the example I gave, the person does not necessarily need to be one who is given the gift of celibacy. Any person, I said, may, without being accused of sin, reject offers from friends and family who desire to “set them up” with dates (or whatever) with these persons.

“Now, these are all just men and they could be wrong, though it would be a serious error on their part as they all so taught their flocks, laying upon them, if you are correct, burdens which God did not.”

Yes – I note that though there are citations from a few early church fathers on this topic, it does not seem like it was a frequent topic in their writings. Why that is the case is a good question, and again, I think the book I linked to earlier should be considered.

“My conclusion is that those respected pastors were correct and that we err greatly to remove the markers they laid down for the first 19 centuries of the faith.”

I understand. It is a respectable tradition. However, as a Lutheran, ultimately we rely on the Scriptures. Something like infant baptism may not be explicit in the Scriptures, but, after one is aware of the teaching, it can certainly be seen to be implicit – and clearly implicit – in the Bible. I suggest it is not the same with contraception, and where Scripture refuses to explicitly speak, so should we. My take on it is that if this matter were as important as you make it out to be, the Apostolic injunctions would have been clearly preserved and safeguarded in the word. Most all of your observations (and this blog’s) about contraception and its effects I will agree with. The difference for me is, as I have said, God does not always call “sin” our failures to achieve what is ideal and certainly possible in a non-fallen world. He has always made provisions for “hard hearts” (that would be all of us) and continues to do so, even as He is active in His work to eliminate these things… I do not necessarily see polygamy, slavery, or contraception as sins, just as I do not necessarily see all divorces as sins (where the divorcer certainly is not fully trusting God). Nor do I advocate such things in saying this.

“That is, whether there was a Scriptural obligation for such a man to marry the single mother of his child, there certainly was a cultural one.”

Interesting point. Another one would be whether the bride is obligated to marry the man (seems to be at issue today: many woman just want the baby). I think you can make a case that persons engaging in the sex act are participating in the act that actually consummates marriage. Can they be separated? I’d say no, really. As a Christian parent, I certainly would expect my children to marry the first person that they sleep with – especially if they are impregnated. This is why I will be arranging my children’s marriages to take place when they are 14-15 years old. Just kidding. But seriously….

Again, I appreciate your points about adoptions.

Blessings in Christ,
Nathan

Gregory K. Laughlin said...

Nathan,

I appreciate your replies. I see no benefit in replying in kind. To me, the Scriptures are clear: fertility and children are blessings from God; contraception is a means to reject those blessings. I side with the consistent teaching of all orthodox Christian pastors and teacher who wrote on the subject until the last century or so who believed that contraception is a grave sin and who believed Scripture supported that teaching. You reject that. What else could I possibly say that would be of benefit?

May God bless you.

Anonymous said...

Gregory,

Yes, and I believe that those pastors were wrong about this issue as they were others.

I will "not go beyond what is written" and leave it at that.

In Christ,
Nathan

Anonymous said...

Gregory,

By the way, I say this as someone who is also quite disturbed about the rampant antinomianism in the church:

http://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2011/01/10/we-are-all-antinomians-now-except-the-babies-part-v-of-v/

+Nathan

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Nathan,

You wrote: "Yes, and I believe that those pastors were wrong about this issue as they were others."

I'd be very interested in knowing what other important moral teaching you think the church and all her pastors and teachers were unanimously in error about for two millennia.

Anonymous said...

Erich,

Your question is an interesting one (its not quite what I said though: I do not think the validity of my position depends on being able to produce what you have asked for), and one that I hope to look into more. Thanks for the question.

Erich - so you know, I do believe I am open to persuasion here. Of course, if you are right (about this being a salvation-level issue - for all unrepentant sin is absolutely deadly to us), I may well need shattering, not simply persuasion (which I believe the Holy Spirit also does, with reason and evidence, as well as the Word). "Is the Word opposing contraception God's Word that shatters"?

That, I think, is the question.

+Nathan

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

An anonymous commenter on a later blog post, γεννηθὲν, wrote:

"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!"