Saturday, January 20, 2007

John Piper: "Non-abortive forms of birth control are permissible"

Now we begin looking at the opinions of evangelical pastors and leaders on the subject. I am only going to present the opinions of men who are solid teachers, who have demonstrated that they take God's commands seriously, who have demonstrated the capacity for wrestling with theological matters.

John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, a well-known author (Desiring God), has written this statement on the subject of contraception:

[Desiring God Ministries] and Bethlehem Baptist have no formal position on birth control, but John Piper and most of the pastors on staff believe that non-abortive forms of birth control are permissible. The Bible nowhere forbids birth control, either explicitly or implicitly, and we should not add universal rules that are not in Scripture (cf. Psalm 119:1, 9 on the sufficiency of Scripture). What is important is our attitude in using it. Any attitude which fails to see that children are a good gift from the Lord is wrong: "Behold, children are a gift of the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one's youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them" (Psalm 127:3-4).

The statement addresses three common objections to birth control:

  1. Is birth control consistent with the truth that children are a gift from the Lord?

  2. Shouldn't we let God determine the size of our family?

  3. Should natural family planning be preferred to "artificial" contraception?

In response to the first point: can be pointed out that the Scriptures also say that a wife is a gift from the Lord (Proverbs 18:22), but that doesn't mean that it is wrong to stay single (1 Corinthians 7:8). Just because something is a gift from the Lord does not mean that it is wrong to be a steward of when or whether you will come into possession of it. It is wrong to reason that since A is good and a gift from the Lord, then we must pursue as much of A as possible. God has made this a world in which tradeoffs have to be made and we cannot do everything to the fullest extent. For kingdom purposes, it might be wise not to get married. And for kingdom purposes, it might be wise to regulate the size of one's family and to regulate when the new additions to the family will likely arrive.

The statement goes on to call birth control a "gift from God that may be used for the wise regulation of the size of one's family, as well as a means of seeking to have children at the time which seems to be wisest."

There's a vigorous denial of the idea that it's more godly to simply let things happen naturally, using the doctrine of providence to point out that God accomplishes his sovereign will through means, including the decisions of couples to use or not use birth control.

(I'm reminded of a coworker who stopped using his alarm clock and decided to trust God to wake him up in the morning. He didn't last long at that job, but I guess it was God's will that he be fired for tardiness.)

Does the use of birth control reflect a lack of faith?

Without regulating the size of their family, many couples would end up having more children than they can reasonably support financially. In response, some argue that we should simply have faith that God will provide the funds. However, we don't use the "God would provide" reasoning to justify going beyond our means in other areas of life. We wouldn't consider it wise, for example, to pledge twice our annual income to missions organizations in faith that God will supply the extra funds. God expects us to make wise decisions according to what he has given us, and not presume upon him providing from out of the blue.

Finally, Piper knocks down the idea that natural family planning is superior to artificial birth control:

Some conclude that "natural family planning" is acceptable but "artificial" means are not. But this seems to overlook something significant: in both cases, you are still seeking to regulate when you have children. And so if one concludes that it is wrong to seek to regulate the timing and size of a family, then it would have to be concluded that natural family planning is just as wrong as "artificial" means.

Piper doesn't address the point that Catholics make to justify their support for NFP and opposition to ABC -- that artificial birth control damages the nature of conjugal sex per se.


AStallman said...

Any comment on the fact that Oral contraceptives work by several means... one of which is to prevent a FERTILIZED EGG from implating in the uterus????

Anonymous said...

I find it amusing that Piper has such a simplistic understanding of this issue. Beyond acknowledging that children are a gift from the Lord, we can know from our observation of nature that it is his plan for a man and a woman to come together, form a family, and have a child every 2-3 years. That's nature. It is not his plan for every man or every woman to do this. That's singleness and is natural for some people,and well within his plan. Contraceptives are an attempt on the part of humans to control, or plan, something that God has already planned in his own way.

If God made it clear through our physical design that he intended for men to have as many wives as possible, and said in his Word that "blessed is the man who has his quiver full of them" (Psalm 127) then we would know that men should have lots of wives. But he didn't make that clear about wives, he made it clear about children. Can Piper explain why he thinks that God designed us to have lots of children and encouraged it in his Word, and yet has no problem with us refusing to live by this plan? Is that a heart of submission, Mr. Piper?

Also, the purpose of marriage is not just for a man and a woman to enjoy each other's company and bodies. The commitment of marriage is vital for the function of raising children. God tells us to "be fruitful and multiply, and inherit the earth." (Gen 1)If a couple is not spiritually or financially ready for children, why are they getting married? So that they can enjoy sex and companionship. Getting the goodies without the burdensome responsibility of kids, for however long. Sounds awfully selfish to me.

How much money is really required to "reasonably support a family?" Does "reasonably" include totally unnecessary luxuries, toys, hobbies, vacations? Are we talking about choosing vacations over extra family members? The truth is, it takes a lot less money to provide the vital necessities for a child than most people think, once you cut out the extra stuff. What's more valuable to you: a human being who is capable of loving and caring for others, or being able to afford music lessons and ski trips?

If you really cannot afford to feed, clothe, and shelter another body, I can understand not wanting more kids, but then there's all those childless couples out there on waiting lists for infants to adopt and love. Maybe God would rather you give them a child than prevent a human life from coming into existence with all of its eternal potential.

If a woman is truly going to die from having a child, that is the only real and irrefutable reason, in our current society, to prevent something that God has clearly shown us, through his design of our bodies and through the affirmation in his Word, that he wants us, under normal circumstances, to do.

Finally, I agree with Piper that it is illogical to say that "seeking to regulate pregnancy is wrong," and then condone Natural Family Planning. It is either wrong to prevent God's reproductive plan for us, or it is not. We are either submitting our bodies to him completely, or we are not.

Artificial means of contraception do have worse hormonal consequences for women, and make promiscuity much easier, but the basic attitude behind them and NFP is the same: "We don't want our sex to result in having a baby, and we don't care if that's what God meant for it to result in during certain stages in a woman's reproductive cycle"

If you use some form of birth control, but still have an unplanned child, just remember as they grow up that if you had had your way, they never would have existed. Ask yourself if you really think that was an attitude that God wanted you to have. Ask yourself if maybe by fighting against God's plan, you're cheating yourself out of some of the greatest blessings of yours, and other people's, lives.

Frank said...

Wow, comment #2 is amazing and hard to refute...

Joneser said...

I humbly submit that Comment #2 is void of Scripture making a plain, clear case against birth control for every human being. Simple.

bendodge said...

Dear Blog Author and Commentators, please take a moment to open the linked article and observe that it was not written by John Piper.