Birth Control and the Church: Part 1
There was a common theme among the comments to my article on Vasectomy. That theme was that essentially there is no difference between sterilization (vasectomy/tubal ligation) and other forms of birth control. Perhaps you are right that there is no difference. In my readings it is very clear that the history of the church has shown that to intentionally prevent the conception of a child is a sin against the Sixth Commandment. This includes any intentional abstention from sexual intercourse for the express purpose of preventing conception like the rhythm method , or any intentional wasting of the seed for the purpose of preventing conception like coitus interuptus, condoms, IUD’s, the pill/patch/ring or sterilization. This has only changed in the past 100 years or so, with the advent of postmodern philosophy. Perhaps it is a gray area as some readers have suggested…but why has it become a gray area only now and not for the previous 2000 years? I am not going to take a position here, I just want God’s people to really think about these things and not do them simply because “this is how it’s always been done”…I can assure you that argument will not hold up when Christ asks us to give an account. I am simply going to show you what the church has historically said about birth control.
Let’s first look at what God in his Word says about birth control. Genesis 38:9 speaks of the sin of Onan and it is the only place that speaks of any form of birth control. Until about 100 years ago, it was widely held that Onan was killed by God for intentionally spilling his seed upon the ground in order to prevent the conception of a child…essentially the belief was that he was slain for practicing birth control. But in the church, birth control has become tolerated and accepted in the past 100 years. As we see in pre-marriage counselling courses in our churches we are even encouraged to use birth control. Is this not interesting? It is to me, but I am different 🙂 And not surprising, along with this recent acceptance of birth control within the church has come a different interpretation of Onan’s sin… that he was really slain for having refused to raise up seed for his deceased brother. So all this begs a question in my mind. Would God still have slain Onan for simply refusing to raise up an hier for his deceased Brother, had he not spilled his seed and performed birth control? Deuteronomy 25:7-10 tells us the penalty for refusing to raise up a legal heir for a deceased brother is not death, but shame. So I think the answer would be no, he would not have been slain by God for simply refusing to raise up an heir. But what do I know, I am just One Christian Dad.
Let’s take a look at the history of the churches view of birth control:
For it is illicit and shameful for a man to lie with even his lawful wife in such a way as to prevent the conception of offspring. This is what Onan, son of Judah, used to do; and for that God slew him (De adulterinis coniugiis ad Pollentium 1b.IIc.12 (PL 40 479).
The voluntary spilling of semen outside of intercourse between man and woman is a monstrous thing. Deliberately to withdraw from coitus in order that semen may fall on the ground is doubly monstrous. For this is to extinguish the hope of the race and to kill before he is born the hoped-for offspring. This impiety is especially condemned, now by the Spirit through Moses’ mouth, that Onan, as it were by a violent abortion, no less cruelly than filthily cast upon the ground the offspring of his brother, torn from the maternal womb. Besides in this he tried, as far as he was able, to wipe out a part of the human race. If any woman ejects a fetus from her womb by drugs, it is reckoned a crime incapable of expiation and deservedly Onan incurred upon himself the same kind of punishment, infecting the earth by his semen, in order that Tamar might not conceive a future human being as an inhabitant of the earth (Calvin’s Latin Commentary on Genesis 38:10)
Onan must have been a malicious and incorrigible scoundrel. This is a most disgraceful sin. It is far more atrocious than incest and adultery. We call it unchastity, yes, a Sodomitic sin. For Onan goes in to her; that is, he lies with her and copulates, and when it comes to the point of insemination, spills the semen, lest the woman conceive. Surely at such a time the order of nature established by God in procreation should be followed. Accordingly, it was a most disgraceful crime to produce semen and excite the woman, and to frustrate her at that very moment…. He preferred polluting himself with a most disgraceful sin to raising up offspring for his brother.
THE SYNOD OF DORDT
In 1618 the Synod of Dordt commissioned annotations to be written for the whole Bible. In The Dutch Annotations Upon The Whole Bible we read the following comments on the Onan incident wherein Onan‘s sin is likened to premeditated murder: This was even as much, as if he had (in a manner) pulled forth the fruit out of the mother’s womb, and destroyed it.
G. W. DEVRIES:
Two terms have been mentioned so far, family Planning and birth control. Family planning occurs when responsible persons influence the number of children by determining the frequency with which children may be born. Family planning does not mean that one wants to limit the number of children to a certain maximum number. Family planning is based on the desire to have the optimum number of children -as many as possible, taking into account the health of the mother, the possibilities of the family, and one’s responsibility to the Lord.
Birth control means the wilful limitation of children for reasons that are not valid before God. It appears that the whole world practices birth control for the wrong reasons. (Marriage in Honour)
So we can see what the historical view of birth control is. Next time I hope to figure out where the shift occurred from this view to the current one that is held in the church. Obviously my wife and I use some form of birth control, I think that is clear, so I am not judging anyone…but I may incriminate myself in this endeavour. Why do I need to know? That is a good question…I just do! Stay tuned.
Read Part 2 Here