Principles for Flourishing
As with so many aspects of the Christian life, the question of contraception requires wisdom.
We've already considered different views of contraception, and argued that contraception is only permissible when biblical principles of human flourishing are applied within the context of the biblical paradigm of marital fruitfulness. We discussed that paradigm for fruitfulness in another post... but what are biblical principles for human flourishing?
It is clear that the basic assumption of the Bible is that Christian marriages will be fruitful marriages that produce godly offspring. However, the Bible gives other specific principles of human flourishing (in relation to sex, stewardship, and the value of life) which must be prayerfully applied within this basic biblical paradigm. A careful consideration of these principles can help to guide Christian couples in knowing if and when they should consider using contraception.
While there are no doubt many relevant truths, three specific principles for human flourishing which must be considered are the Bible’s teaching that: 1) Sex is a multifaceted gift, 2) Stewardship is our calling, and 3) Life is precious.
Principle #1: Sex is a Multifaceted Gift
This first principle addresses the question: does sex have meaning beyond procreation? While the Christian tradition has unanimously (and rightly) maintained that one of the purposes of sex is procreation, the Bible presents a fuller and richer picture. Physical intimacy in marriage cultivates emotional and relational intimacy (Song of Songs 2:3-6), provides for the consummation of the one-flesh bond of marriage (Genesis 2:24, Ephesians 5:31), gives the gift of pleasure to one’s spouse (Proverbs 5:18-19), and offers protection from sexual sin and temptation (1 Corinthians 7).
Sex is multifaceted, and it has various purposes. While it would be wrong to artificially remove procreation from this list because of personal preference, that doesn’t mean that procreation is the primary (or exclusive) purpose of sex. If this were the case, then couples who are unable to procreate would be forbidden from enjoying sex (this could exclude sexual intimacy for couples with damaged reproductive systems, sex during pregnancy or menstruation, or after menopause for older couples). Because of this broader view of sex, there is at least a possibility for physical intimacy to be enjoyed even when procreation is not in view in “each and every marital act.”
Principle #2: Stewardship is our Calling
This second principle addresses the question: why might parents choose to prevent pregnancy? In the very same verse which contains the command to be fruitful and multiply, God also establishes humans as stewards over creation (Genesis 1:28). This stewardship requires a wise use of the resources of creation for the protection, preservation, and cultivation of that creation. The goal is flourishing, and the means of pursuing that goal is stewardship. This means that the view which goes no further than to restate the truth that God is sovereign over conception doesn’t go far enough. It would be equally true to say that God is sovereign over the amount of rainfall that farmers receive, the length and health of our days, or the amount of money we will earn in our lifetime, but those truths don’t relieve men of the biblical responsibilities to care for the creation, preserve their health, or plan for the future. God’s sovereignty must not be disconnected from man’s stewardship and responsibility.
1 Timothy 5:8 connects this truth to the situation of family life when it commands believers to “provide for their families.” The call to Christian stewardship and the command for prudence and planning (Luke 14:28) suggests that questions of physical prudence (i.e. considering the health of both the mother and possible children) and financial ability are relevant in considering how many children a family is able to support. Of course, this principle of flourishing must be applied within the context of the biblical paradigm of marital fruitfulness. This means that the relevant financial question before conception is: can we support the life of another child? Not: can we support our lifestyle if we have another child? Where health is concerned, the question is: will another pregnancy pose a significant threat to the health of the mother and/or child? Not: will another pregnancy make demands on my physical state and lifestyle?
Principle #3: Life is Precious
This third principle addresses the question: how might parents prevent pregnancy? Human life is consistently portrayed as having intrinsic value in the Scriptures. Because people bear the image of God (Genesis 1:27) human life must be treated as precious in God’s sight. In terms of contraception, this means that even if a couple finds themselves in a position where it might be permissible to use contraception, that does not give permission to use contraception which does damage to life. Specifically, this means that abortion or abortifacients are never legitimate methods of contraception for Christians. Even methods like sterilization should be embraced with caution, because it permanently eliminates the possibility of procreation. This is one of the key conditional elements in determining when contraception may be permitted. If it harms life, it is off-limits.
In a culture which views contraception as absolutely permissible (and even as a positive necessity for public health and personal choice) the Christian’s caution regarding contraception will seem strange. Nevertheless, God gives His people a clear paradigm of fruitfulness in marriage to guide their understanding and expectations for the typical family. Children are a blessing, and God delights to use children as agents of sanctification in the lives of believers. While contraception is not explicitly condemned or absolutely prohibited, the use of contraception for believers is tightly constrained by the broader teaching of Scripture. Even in situations where contraception is used, its use should be for the goal of fruitfulness and flourishing. When these biblical principles of flourishing are applied in the context of the biblical paradigm of marital fruitfulness, then Christians are equipped to make wise decisions for the glory of God and the growth of His people.
Ben Franks is an MDiv student at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. A native son of the PCA, he has done mission work in England with the EPCEW and served with churches in the PCA and OPC. He studied at Patrick Henry College and completed his B.A. in Classical Christian Education through Whitefield College. His writings have been published in the Puritan Reformed Journal, the Confessional Presbyterian Journal, and the Banner of Truth Magazine.
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 These are the “conditions” referred to in the view that holds contraception to be conditionally permissible.
 These purposes are very lightly adapted from the excellent article by Dennis P. Hollinger, “The Ethics of Contraception: a Theological Assessment.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 56 no. 4, (2013): 693-696. He concludes: “Contraceptives can be allowed because there are multiple purposes of sex, but the multiple purposes of sex can never be isolated from each other.” Hollinger, The Ethics of Contraception, 696.
 To use the language of Pope John Paul, Humanae Vitae, 11.
 This is an important caveat and it must be applied carefully. It is quite common for people to interpret the biblical provision for stewardship and planning as a “loophole” to allow parents to prevent pregnancy for a range of reasons. To prevent pregnancy simply because a father thinks more children would increase his stress or because a mother doesn’t want to regain the “baby weight” she just shed from her last pregnancy are probably not legitimate reasons. It is impossible to give absolute rules for every case, but Christian wisdom should be sought and applied in determining if or when preventing or delaying conception is permissible.
 While these procedures can sometimes be reversed, this is far from consistently successful. Of course, a distinction could and should be made in cases when sterilization is performed with the intention, not of preventing life, but of preserving the life of the mother.
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