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Be Fruitful and Multiply. Second Thoughts on Birth Control

Be Fruitful and Multiply. Second Thoughts on Birth Control

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Published by Mark Preus

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Published by: Mark Preus on Feb 05, 2013
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02/14/2013

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Be Fruitful and Multiply: Second Thoughts on Birth Control
 by Mark A. Preus
a paper given at the 2013 North Texas Free Conference, 26 January 2013
*The words bracketed and in italics were additions to the manuscript made during the lecture.[
Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak here today. Before I get to my manuscript I’d like to point out that I disagree with Pr. Galler that all of these topics are comfortable; I think mine is uncomfortable, but it may be that I made it more comfortable today. I’m not dealing with a lot of the controversial issues surrounding birth control, because it can be a very personal issue
.]
Part I: Unless the Lord Builds the House
If there is one thing we can all agree on, it might be that we need more babies. Babies are good.But sadly, this is not something even Christians can all agree on today. It comes down towhether God makes babies or not. Don’t ever take for granted the simplest teachings of theBible. I was teaching confirmation class to some very devout seventh and eighth graders, when Isaid that God makes babies. They laughed at me, and said, “Pastor, we know where babies comefrom.” It took me a good half hour to show them that it isn’t proper to say that we make babies because God makes babies. Now it’s not the time to give a philosophy lecture, but it is a basicEpicurean/materialist way of looking at things which acknowledges only the material cause tothe exclusion of the efficient cause. In layman’s terms, people think only of the means used tomake it, and not the Maker who made it.In the natural relations between a man and a woman, God often makes the expression of their love result in a child. This is a miraculous thing. It is the result of a law God has rooted innature that He at the same time calls a blessing, “And God blessed them, and said, ‘Be fruitfuland multiply.’” (Gen. 1:28) It is so powerful a law that that God even makes children outside of wedlock when a man and a woman do what married people are supposed to do. This is how Godsustains the human race, how the promise of the Gospel is kept alive (Ps. 48:13;127:3; 144:12),how the world continues to be governed.Some people adopt the awful position which says, “If God doesn’t specifically condemnsomething in the Bible, then He has no opinion on the matter at all.” I don’t know who inventedthis way of thinking. It might just be plain laziness. I think it’s a distortion of what Lutheranshave traditionally called
adiaphora
, or matters of indifference. In any case, it is spirituallyfoolish to think that stopping God’s order of creation should be viewed as a morally neutralthing. It is true that we should not weave doctrines from our own deductions apart from anexpress Word of God, since we may not ensnare pious consciences in doubt as to their salvation.
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But the truth remains that God intends for children to be the result of a husband’s and wife’slove. The fact that there are difficult circumstances in which Christians question God’s
1
Cf. Martin Chemnitz,
 Examination of the Council of Trent, part III,
trans. by Fred Kramer 
 
(CPH: St. Louis, 1986), p. 34.
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intention to give children doesn’t give us the right to drop all moral consideration of the issue.
2 
[
 And this has happened to us.
]There is an attitude among us, fostered from a very young age, that we are in control of everything. When I was a child, I remember people marveling that I came from a family of eleven boys and one girl. Christian men and women would ask me, even when I was only 8 or 9or 10, “And how many children do you want?” I was always puzzled by this question, and Ididn’t know how to answer. I didn’t know that I could make a baby at all. My mom and dadtaught me that God gave them the baby, so I just figured that God would decide how manychildren I had.Well, now I’m thirty with six children, and I don’t think I’m any less naïve in the eyes of theworld, nor am I any less confused with the questions I’m now asked as a father of six (the mostnotorious and offensive of which is “are you done yet?”). Christians aren’t very consistent intheir thinking. We all say every day, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heavenand Earth,” but, as Luther says,[W]e all pass over it, hear it, and say it. Yet we do not see or consider what the wordsteach us. For if we believed this teaching with the heart, we would also act according toit. We would not strut about proudly, act defiantly, and boast as though we had life,riches, power, honor, and such – [
 I might add children
] – [from] ourselves…The world isdrowned in blindness and abuses all the good things and God’s gifts only for its own pride, greed, lust, and luxury. It never once thinks about God, so as to thank Him or acknowledge Him as Lord and Creator.People don’t want babies anymore. It’s that simple. Thomas Malthus, who was a rationalist of the late 18
th
/early 19
th
centuries, is most famous for the theory that there are not enough resourcesto sustain population growth. Malthus was a pastor who wanted to alleviate the plight of the poor. He thought this could best be done by providing more resources to them. He thenassumed that a lack of resources was due to overpopulation, and concluded that the populationneeded to be limited. Since his
 An Essay on the Principle of Population
was first published in1798, many thinkers have followed his logic to form their own views on society. Most notably,Charles Darwin claimed to have come upon his theory of the survival of the fittest while readingthis essay.
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“And we say that it takes a bit of moralistic fine tuning (to say the least) to claim that it is a mortal sin to destroythe fertilized egg but that it is a morally indifferent matter to do everything under our power to keep that egg fromever being fertilized, as if man and woman are in control up until the life begins and then we let God take over.”Excerpted from
 And God Blessed Them
, an unpublished essay by Rev. Rolf D. Preus(http://www.christforus.org/AndGodBlessedThem.htm).
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“In October 1838, that is, fifteen months after I had begun my systematic enquiry, I happened to read for amusement Malthus on Population, and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence whicheverywhere goes on from long-continued observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me thatunder these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed.The result of this would be the formation of new species.” Barlow, Nora ed. 1958.
The autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809-1882. With the original omissions restored 
. Edited and with appendix and notes by his grand-daughter  Nora Barlow. London: Collins, p. 120.
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Malthus thought that population might be tempered in a rational, Christian way. Populationcould be controlled if men and women remain single until a man could suitably support afamily.
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The problem with this of course would be the passions of the men and women, whichwould require much diligence in restraining. Good luck with that.From the obvious disgust every Christian should have for Malthus’ rationalism, that he blamesfamine and poverty on God’s creative work through procreation, and not on human greed andselfishness, we can discern the complete lack of faith Rev. Malthus displayed by laying such agreat emphasis on financial stability as a prerequisite for marriage. While I certainly support theidea of a man learning a trade and being able to work to support his family (1 Tim. 5:8), thequestion of how much money is required to raise a family is completely relative to a man’s owntastes and desires, a point that Malthus himself almost concedes.
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 God does not will that a man support his family without working. That is the meaning of God’scommand to Adam after the Fall, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you returnto the ground…” Gen. 3:19. But Solomon writes in Psalm 127, “Unless the Lord builds thehouse, they labor in vain that build it.” We are to work for a living because God commands mento do this, but we are not to think that we deserve a living from God because of our labor. Welook to God for our support, not to our labor. This is a very important point. Luther writes,commenting on this verse,Solomon here wishes to sanction work, but to reject worry and covetousness. He does notsay, “The Lord builds the house, so no one need labor at it.” He does say, “Unless theLord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” [Ps. 127:1a]. This is as if he wereto say: Man must work, but that work is in vain if it stands alone and thinks it can sustainitself. Work cannot do this; God must do it. Therefore work in such manner that your labor is not in vain.
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Your labor is in vain when you worry, and rely on your own effortsto sustain yourself. It behooves you to labor, but your sustenance and the maintenance of your household belong to God alone. Therefore, you must keep these two things far apart:“to labor,” and “to maintain a household” or “to sustain”; keep them as far apart from oneanother as heaven and earth, or God and man.
7
 No doubt these words would have driven a practical statistician like Malthus crazy, as well theyshould. We are speaking here of faith against unbelief, trust versus idolatry, godliness with
4
Malthus calls this the preventative check, “The preventive check appears to operate in some degree through all theranks of society in England. There are some men, even in the highest rank, who are prevented from marrying by theidea of the expenses that they must retrench, and the fancied pleasures that they must deprive themselves of, on thesupposition of having a family. These considerations are certainly trivial, but a preventive foresight of this kind hasobjects of much greater weight for its contemplation as we go lower.” Thomas Malthus,
 An Essay on the Principleof Population
 
), p. 20
5
 
 An Essay
21.
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Consider also Philippians 2:12-13, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God whoworks in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Our work is involved with our salvation, but does notcause it. This point is crucial to our very salvation. It is also crucial to the lives God’s children lead.
7
Luther, Martin,
 Exposition on Psalm 127 
(http://lutheransandcontraception.blogspot.com/2010/09/luther-on-psalm-127.html)
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