May a Christian Couple intentionally limit the amount of children that they can possibly have? Can there be such a thing as “Christian Family Planning”? If I as a Christian who is opposed to everything abortionistic, am I guilty of eliminating an unwanted child if I have a vasectomy? Let’s be honest: Any kind of prevention of the union between sperm and ova is an intentional attempt to either space out the children or limit the amount of children a couple is capable of having before her “baby-producing clock” has ticked its last tock, whether through abstaining from intimacy or surgery or other means. If you space out your children by 2 or 3 years, you are intentionally limiting the amount of children you are capable of having; there are just so many years available to get pregnant. As a father of three grown children, a pastor of young couples in their child-bearing years, and a grandpa, I’ve had ample opportunity to reflect, discuss, and apply a settled conviction: I believe a couple may limit the amount of children that they are capable of having. Clearly, most Christians who are against abortion are none-the-less doing something to keep their brood below 15. However, But, Not so fast, Moreover, and Furthermore . . . I counsel couples with a few things to consider:
1. Let’s consider Selfishness that is rooted in love of money and love of independence. Selfishness permeates our culture. More and more children are brought up as the center of their world. It’s no wonder then that more and more 20 and 30 year olds who are married, refuse to have children because, though they would not admit it, they are self-centered. A couple should ask themselves, and possibly their closest friends, “Are we postponing children because we so love our material life and our independence – are we selfish with our lives?” If every young Christian couple acted like this, would there be a generation to pass the gospel along to, so that they might be salt and light to the next generation?
2. Let’s consider Fear of Parenting. There are many reasons that a couple can have trepidation and apprehension when it comes to bringing children in the world. But God has accounted for every one of them by assuring that whatever grace you need to love and raise a child, he will provide. A couple should therefore ask themselves, “Are we postponing children because there is some inner fear of failing to be the perfect providing parent or some other reason that reveals our lack of trust in God?”
3. Let’s consider Medical/Emotional Reasons. God is sovereign over our whole being but this does not nullify wisdom and responsibility to make choices that properly take care of our bodies. We are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves. If there are real health issues at stake for the body and mind of a wife, she is not obligated to subject herself to what has proven to be a serious threat to her well-being. Notice I said, obligated. She may in fact want to risk her health – mind and body, maybe even her very life, to bring a child into the world. Well and good. But she is not obligated to. Why not? Because the assumption behind the 2nd Great Commandment is that for the same reason she would not want harm to come to her neighbor’s body and would want every reasonable measure taken to protect her neighbor’s body, she is permitted to likewise do the same for her body. Her concern for her neighbor’s body flows from the same concern for her own.
On this point I have encountered over the years numerous real-life situations where a wife simply cannot risk having another child for her own health and well-being. Adoption seems to be the best course to take, or to branch out and “mother” children in unique settings of need. I have also come to understand why a wife does not want to get pregnant four months after giving birth, though she wants to have more children; her body and mind cannot take that kind of stress – it’s too soon to get pregnant. So between the couple, they do things that postpone a potential pregnancy a few more months down the road.
4. Let’s consider Stewardship. This has to do with knowing whether or not you are ready to complete the task. Jesus used a proverb like this to describe what it meant to follow him (Luke 14:28-30). But it was a proverb in general that taught consideration of stewardship before one begins to commit to a responsibility. On this point there is something right to say: “You should think twice about having another baby right now if you are on food stamps and about to be evicted because you’re three months late on your rental. Let’s talk about these things.” Or, “Are you wanting to get pregnant to fill a loss in your life?,” or, “Are you wanting to get pregnant out of jealousy, even revenge against your last boyfriend?,” or, “Are you wanting to get pregnant because you need a tax-deduction and government aid, or because your self-worth is dependent upon giving birth?” All I’m saying on this is that discernment is to be applied. Can you reasonably provide for another child?
But let’s be careful here. Some couples don’t have children because they can’t provide top name-brand clothing, annual trips to Disney Land, and a 4 year college degree. They think that they have to have the means to provide this stuff in advance before they feel like they are being good stewards. Nonsense! They are wanting to use their children to boost their own poor self-worth. I’ve seen it so many times. Yes, you can always have more money, more time, more education, and a more reliable life-setting to bring children into the world and provide for them. But on this point I have seen firsthand that Unbelief in God has more to do with postponing children than not having the means to provide. Just ask the previous generation if they were rich enough to have children? True, the inflation of goods and the devaluing of the dollar has made things different in terms of what it costs to raise a child. But most of us parents need to lower our expectations of what is a must-have-it for our children.
5. Let’s consider your beliefs before you got married. When a couple comes to me to discuss this subject, I have learned to ask these questions: “Did you talk about this before you were married? If so, how did the conversation go – what did you agree/disagree on? If you did not talk about this before marriage, why not? Were you afraid of talking about this? Why?” It is helpful to look into what luggage the couple brought into this marriage that they did not feel safe to open before marriage.
6. Let’s consider your conscience. According to Romans 14, if there is reasonable disagreement on a subject that scripture does not explicitly prohibit or command to the contrary, then make your decision without defiling your conscience before God. It is possible to make a choice that is sinful because you are going against what you know to be wrong (vs. 23). The question is not: “Is is right or wrong but rather, what are our convictions of conscience?” But couples can have sinful motives either way. They choose to have no children because they love their freedom too much. Or they choose to have lot’s of children because they love the praise of man. (I admit that I have a certain admiration and applause for a husband and wife who multiply above average:) Conscience is marginally helpful. It is not ultimate.
7. Finally, Let’s consider Intervention of God’s Natural Law. Since pregnancy is a natural consequence of intimacy between a husband and wife, may a Christian couple intervene and circumvent what would naturally have happened as a part of God’s design for reproduction? Let’s ask this question: If God has by natural law (keep in mind that for now, all of God’s natural laws are bound to a cursed and broken world) closed a womb through hereditary, birth-defect, or physical malfunction of some sort, may a couple intervene with what God has dealt them, and through modern medicine become pregnant, of course, without aborting a whole petri dish of impregnated eggs or eliminating frozen embryos? Pregnancy, gravity, light, air, water, energy, food from the earth, and animal population, all have built-in laws that flow in a natural direction which God has given man to rule and manage these things according to what will produce a healthier and safer world.
To the best of my knowledge, no scripture can be taken to press the command: Thou Shalt Have As Many Babies As You Are Capable of Producing. I believe God has given us discretion and discernment in how much we multiply, but not whether we should multiply. Let us have babies to the glory of God, with what range of abilities God has given us, and raise them up to be salt and light, lovers of Christ for the sake of the world.