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.