Birth Control Series [Part 2]: Marriage and Children
Rev. Robert Fleischmann, National Director, Christian Life Resources
This is the second installment of the CLR series addressing the Christian viewpoint of birth control and contraception.
Married couples have at their disposal the ability to control childbearing. To some degree they can control when children are born. They can, with some success, control the number of children to bear. They can even take measures to prevent bearing children or increase the chances of bearing children. Wow!
It is easy to get lost in the technology. Like the ancient builders of the tower of Babel, people quickly presume a status and right for themselves that must be challenged. This article tackles the “basics” of childbearing. Specifically, the role of children from a Christian perspective will be examined, letting God provide the direction to make various applications about childbearing, birth control and contraception.
Marriage and Our Culture
Our Christian perspective compels us to recall again the role of marriage as it applies to childbearing. Consider some alarming U.S. Census Bureau statistics about marriage:
- In 1970, 36 percent of Americans were unmarried.
- In 1980, 39 percent of Americans were unmarried.
- In 1990, 41 percent of Americans were unmarried.
- In 2000, 44 percent of Americans were unmarried.
[SOURCE: Marital Status of the Population 15 Years Old and Over, by Sex and Race: 1950 to Present, U.S. Census Bureau, 2001]
That same census data reveals 9.7 million Americans are living with an unmarried different-sex partner, and another 1.2 million Americans are living with a same-sex partner. Eleven percent of unmarried partners are same-sex couples.
It is clear society no longer holds a high level of esteem for traditional marriage. Morals are changing, and laws on the state and federal level are following those changes. Live-in relationships are tolerated. In some areas, live-in relationships enjoy identical benefits (i.e. insurance, taxation, estate planning) as those given exclusively to married couples.
At one time live-in relationships were viewed as a stepping stone to marriage. While controversial in its time, this approach is no longer considered extreme in our culture. Today, for the most part, live-in relationships are entered without any definitive plans to involve marriage. With divorce rates skyrocketing, the world seems to equate an ended marriage with a fizzled live-in relationship. In the eyes of a secular world, marriage involves little more than living together.
Once society removes the commitment component of marriage and simply treats it as a social state between two agreeable people, the status of children is endangered. Sexual relations become more important as acts of pleasure than procreation.
A Christian enters marriage understanding the three Cs: companionship, chastity, and children. In marriage the Christian finds a lifelong friend, a means to stay chaste, and a relationship in which to have children. Today, “partnering” (as opposed to marriage) replaces the three Cs with the three Ps: pleasure, passion, and presumption.
The Three Ps
Because marriage is now reduced to a social institution, relationships are also redefined. Dating becomes a full-blown expedition into all practices formerly reserved for married persons. Pleasure becomes premier. Sexual satisfaction becomes a critical, if not a primary, component into a long-term relationship. It is about pleasure!
Passion is the name of the game. The “love generation” of the 1960s used the term, “lighting the fire.” Even Christian authors wrote about ways to “keep the fire burning” in a Christian marriage. Commitment became subordinate to the “I think we click” mentality. The idea of “dying devotion” to the other was usurped with the notion of lifelong compatibility. In other words, if in time the couple no longer seemed “compatible” (i.e., devoid of passion), then the marriage could simply end for “irreconcilable differences.”
Finally, live-in relationships inaugurated a presumptuous component into the relationship. In a Christian marriage we recognize the triadic arrangement of one man, one woman, and God in which God’s will is foremost on the hearts of the couple. The question regularly asked by a married Christian couple is, “What would God have us do?”
Today in married and live-in relationships we presume to decide when the relationship is on and when it is off. We choose whether and when to have children. We decide what we think is best. Children become a casualty to the presumption that God has little or no say in what happens.
What of the Children?
God’s command regarding children is clear – have them. The command at creation was simple: “Be fruitful and multiply” and included the expressed purpose to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). This command to “fill the earth” was repeated after the Great Flood (Genesis 9:1) when nearly all mankind was destroyed. Even after the global flooding, the assignment to bear children included the accompanying concept to subdue the earth. God’s Word states, The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands (Genesis 9:2).
Bearing children was an act of obedience from God in the twofold task to “fill the earth” and “subdue” it. By their nature these directives involved an endpoint – namely, there comes a time when the earth is filled and subdued by mankind. Some Bible scholars note Genesis 1:28 is the only assignment from God that mankind has kept.
Also, with regard to bearing children, it is God’s will that they are born to a married couple. While this directive is less direct than the one to bear children, it is clearly derived from Scripture.
The Commitment Component
Over time, a type of “formality” to marriage developed, notably in the matter of courtships, engagements, and lavish ceremonies. When Adam and Eve were united, no indication is made of any formal ceremony to mark their marriage. Rather, the marriage ceremony was arranged by God. It contained that critical and foundational element of “commitment” which is the earmark of marriage (Genesis 2:23-24).
From this “one flesh” commitment known as marriage, children were to follow in order to fill the earth and subdue it. Sexual relations, for the purposes of having children or otherwise, were to be confined to a married couple (1 Corinthians 6:18; 10:8; Ephesians 5:3; Hebrews 13:4). Central to this issue is the biblical concept of commitment. The ”two becoming one flesh” was just as much a sexual description as it was a description of commitment. As the single flesh of the body cannot act against itself (1 Corinthians 12:14ff), so also a man and woman have between them a unified condition of flesh and spirit. They move and act as one.
Childbearing and marriage are naturally tied together, because marriage is supposed to include the sexual relationship that complements the “one flesh” nature of the union. The benefit of bearing children within this marriage union is found in the parents’ collateral responsibilities to raise children in the ways of the Lord (Proverbs 22:6). Children are in turn to find in the relationship with their parents the proving ground for their obedience to God (Deuteronomy 5:16). Failure to obey parents is comparable to failing to obey God (Romans 13:2).
What Scripture demonstrates is that children are to be born within the marriage relationship. To then insist that children must occur or be attempted in order to validate a marriage is faulty logic and not supported by Scripture. Limiting children for selfish reasons is wrong (1 Corinthians 10;31; Philippians 2:3.) Limiting children for reasons consistent with God’s Word is permitted. Such permitted reasons might be to protect a mother’s life (1 Peter 3:7) or to maintain a God-pleasing balance in the management of exissting blessings (1 Corinthians 8:1ff;10:23,24)
In summary the following points can be stated clearly:
- We live in a society that demonstrates an increasing rejection of God’s institution of marriage. We must guard ourselves against accepting that mentality.
- Marriage, established by God, is centered on the concept of commitment. As such, sexual relations are the exclusive components of the marriage relationship.
- The commands for sexual purity demonstrate that God intends for all children to be born within the marriage union.
- Marriage provides the setting for parents to teach children the things of God and for children to practice their obedience to God through the obedience they show their parents.
- God commanded mankind to bear children to fill and subdue the earth. Mankind has demonstrated that the earth is filled and is subdued by man, the supreme creature of the earth.
- Children are God’s gifts to people. The decision not to bear children is a conscious decision to refuse God’s gift. As such, this decision is to be made with great caution, sound judgment, fervent prayer, and a resolve in which all motives are consistent with God’s Word.
In the next installment we will delve into the reasons to control the number of children that are born.