I entitled this blog the same as a popular family planning book because I had some comments I wanted to make about it. Before I do, let me preface my remarks by saying that I have the highest regard for Christian communities that guard the value of large families. I have several Vision Forum resources on my shelves, have known families of seven or nine children, and heard of families with more than that. They are usually some of the most dedicated, hard-working, respectful, and devotional families I have ever come across. I even read their blogs =) I admire the mothers for their patience and resourcefulness, and the fathers for their strength and involvement. They usually surpass, by leagues, the spiritual standards of evangelical kids today. So I am in no way criticizing the promoters of large families when I say what I want to say below.
Which is: that I think there is some leaven in the large family theology that is sometimes promoted in those circles. The teachings I have read or heard usually produce a zeal or pressure that is not of God: namely, that having uncontrolled family planning is God’s only way to have children.
Popular books and internet sites usually quote famous passages such as Psalm 127:4-5
4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are sons born in one’s youth.
5 Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
when they contend with their enemies in the gate.
They usually cite the Dominion Mandate, to go forth and multiply (Gen. 9:7), stressing that you have to have more than two children or else you are just “adding.” And they often cite common arguments against spiritual discipleship (versus natural), the innovations of science, the inordinate concern of finances, overpopulation, statistics, and possible callings of wives other than just motherhood. There are elements of truth in all their refutations.
But while I totally agree that children are in all cases a blessing from the Lord, I do not believe that God is saying we must all have large families. Nor do I believe that God is necessarily concluding that it is wrong for us to plan our families. Like we are unspiritual or falling short of our destiny if we do. I used to be afraid this was true, but I’m not anymore.
The logical fallacy runs as follows: God’s ways are better than man’s ways. God’s way at creation was for the pregnancy process to be unimpeded. Man now impedes pregnancy by taking birth control. Birth control is evil. But this line of reasoning is only true if birth control is truly “control,” and if man’s “control” is fundamentally evil. I think those who believe so are overstating the case.
Now certainly, man’s control can be evil. And birth control can be used to steer the body away from the purposes for which God created them–this is evil too. But if birth control is actually used as a guide, rather than a power trip, I think there is room for it. And if birth control is seen as merely a manmade invention (not evil in itself), then it can be evaluated in a case by case basis, according to principle. In other words, it will be man who is exposed to be evil, not birth control itself. If man’s heart is darkness, his application of the birth control option will also be. But if it is sumbitted to God, then I believe the birth control option can also be. Jesus said it was not went into the man’s body which defiles him, but what comes out–meaning, the heart is the source of evil. And birth control, like television, music, art, or any other thing which man has created, is a vessel that can be used for good or evil, depending on the inclinations of the heart steering it.
Critics will argue back: well, then you are saying that anything man makes is neutral. But what about pornography, or stem cell research, or gambling… can you do those things for God too? Of course not, because those things transgress the moral order of dignity, sanctity of life, and holiness. But the larger sources of those thing—photography, science, recreation—can all be used for the glory of God. Often times, the most conservative of birth control don’t believe this either. There are no televisions in their home, no instruments in their churches, and no manmade or created fun. They have a kind regard for the pre-industrial era and aim to rediscover that ethic as much as possible.
But if you’d accept an IV of fluids if you were hit by a car, I’d say you should reexamine that allegiance.
Critics will then argue: but birth control is not just science It is like stem cell research. It endangers the life of the child. Well, some birth control devices do, and these should never be used. I am totally against the IUD, Pill, or other types of birth control that can be abortifacient. I simply argue that man’s mind—his wisdom and choice-making about how he wants to guide his family planning—can be used in submission to God.
This is indeed the crux of the theology. Often times, strong Calvinist doctrine prevents Christians from believing that they can make proactive decisions in their lives and still honor God. Calvinism has a passive effect on one’s worldview, making one feel like they must not assert their will or desires too actively, or else they will be wresting control from God which He deserves. Being a vessel equates allowing “life” to happen to you, and accepting it as God’s will. If it bad things that happen to you, then it is God’s will and He gets all the glory from your good attitude through it. If it is good things that happen to you, then lucky for you! I do not refute all the good points of Calvinist theology, but I find this one point of hyper-sovereignty to be illogical and harmful.
Of course the only alternative is to dispense some control back into the hands of man… the big risk (and virtue) of republicanism. I believe the Bible warrants us in having some earthly control without it being willful or contradictory to God’s sovereignty. And it is a tricky issue to hand the power of decision back to man, instead of delineating it in clear doctrine. But this is the essence of liberty: we do not restrain freedom just because abuse is possible. Truly, men and women do have bad or wrongful thinking about children, family, and pregnancy. And they will abuse the control process, or use it out of fear instead of faith. But they will have to give an account for this. (i.e. To God, not man). And they will perhaps suffer the consequences of fearful thinking, even if it is just in the form of never knowing what a blessing children, or lots of them, truly are. But the answer is not to say that the Bible (or worse, God) disapproves of their choice by default. We don’t know that is true. We don’t know that God cannot be honored by family planning, just as He can be honored by faithful stewardship over other scientific and technological breakthroughs He permits us to make. Clearly families had unmitigated children for thousands of years, but that does not make it sacrosanct either. Families also died of accidents, disease, and childbirth for thousands of years, but that wasn’t God’s will. He approves of medical technology when it is submitted to Him. Women also matured, married, menstruated, and had menopause for thousands of years differently than we do today. Are we willing to extend our theology to say that God does not approve of us adapting our ways to fit today’s situations?
I do not think this is wise. I think it is a Judaizing error to say God does not approve of our adapting. Furthermore, no previous Christian generation would have said that! It is built in to man to adapt and survive. Even Christian man! This includes careful planning of our offspring and factoring in our ability to take care of them. We should never use the excuse of college to say we can’t have more than one child, but we do have to realize that the forthcoming generation of children WILL NEED to have a bachelor’s degree. It is simply a fact. What about if we were Christians living in today’s Darfur or Communist China? Would we have blind allegiance to the no birth control custom if it truly meant that we or our children would be starved or murdered? I’m not suggesting birth control is the answer to cultural problems, as much as I am asking if our theology would allow us to consider a different route, if our customs and culture forced us to… without making us feel second-rate. Clearly Americans have the luxury to embrace pre-modern or pre-industrial ideals if they want to today because the bulk of America is modernized enough that there is “no going back.” But this is romantic, not wise. Or at best, it is one valid expression of opinion among many. Extreme situations in the Sudan or China make me think that God would honor wisdom, for the sake of raising a Christian hero (even if just one!) in those environments. Our theology must bend to different times, places, and circumstances not just hang onto one that best fits our present ideals or luxuries.
To deny this—to hang onto customs of the more pure era gone by, especially because we deem a certain time more Christian—is a dreadful mistake. It is not good for our consciences, and it is not historically accurate either. As applied to children, we will fall into the Islamic error. God is not pleased because we have a certain number of children, or even because we ceded our bodies to him out of obedience (but were resentful, fearful, or unequipped in the process). The Muslims believe this and enslave their women to a life of radical subjection and childbearing. Actually, many cults and ancient religions have had strange views of marriage and childbearing that are contradictory to conscience. Instead, He is pleased because our hearts are submitted to Him and want to do His will—of which a part is raising children to serve Him. We can raise one or we can raise twenty, but if we can truly say we are not afraid of His call to lay down our lives, childbear, and child train, then we can be confident in our decision.