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Viewing Fertility through a Biblical Lens
Fertility is rarely talked about in modern evangelical Christian circles unless it is to address the political topic of abortion. Fertility for Christians is considered to be a private topic best navigated by personal conscience and preferences rather than the authority of God’s Word. I believe this lack of teaching has been to our detriment in the church. In fact, I believe it has led to a type of inconsistency in our position that presents a hurdle in our fight against the pro-choice movement. I pray that this lack of teaching will be rectified by faithful pastors and teachers in the coming years. If the Bible is our primary authority for all of life, then what it says should also influence our thoughts and practice concerning the multiplication of life and the suppression of fertility.
Conception Control vs. Birth Control
I will be making a distinction between conception and birth control, because we will be discussing those methods that are meant to stop an egg from being fertilized (conception control) in contrast to those methods which are meant to keep an already fertilized egg from implanting, growing, and ultimately being born (birth control). I am going to assume that if you are reading this article you are a Christian and therefore do not believe that abortion, the murder of a pre-born life made in the image of God, is a justifiable method of birth control. There are more methods beyond surgical and chemical abortion, however, that cause the same outcomes, the destruction to a fertilized egg. These possibilities are rarely discussed in Christian circles or preached against by Christian pastors, yet entirely destructive to life within the womb.
It is important to make the distinction of when life begins. Life begins at fertilization, and not post-implantation. This is because the DNA of both mother and father come together at the time fertilization of the egg occurs to form a new life, a completely new set of DNA. At this moment the zygote has its own unique genetic makeup unlike the mother and unlike the father. A new life is formed at the time of fertilization. Implantation is just part of the rapid process in the growth of that new, unique image-bearer.
This distinction is also important to make because pharmaceutical birth control pills, shots, patches, implants, etc. are designed with three different modes of action. What are also called contraceptive drugs, can also act as abortifacients because if their primary functions fail to keep a pregnancy from occurring, they are designed to keep a pregnancy from progressing.
Birth control’s three modes of action are as follows:
- The first way that pharmaceutical birth control works to keep a pregnancy from occurring is by suppressing ovulation (conception control).
- It also changes the consistency and acidity of the cervical mucus to create a hostile environment discouraging the sperm from reaching the egg in order to fertilize it successfully (conception control).
- Finally, it changes the lining of the uterus, the endometrium, to make it an inhospitable environment for the already fertilized egg to implant (birth control).
The mode of all birth control pills, shots, patches, implants, etc. administered by pharmaceutical companies today is to either suppress the creation of or to kill new life created within the womb. Conception control can be considered an ethical option for Christians, but Christians cannot tolerate options that might cause the loss of pre-born life.
> For a more thorough evaluation of this information check out this article by Randy Alcorn, author of "Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions?"
Up to this point we have primarily been discussing those things that impede pregnancy and birth such as birth control pills, shots, patches, implants, etc. which carry the possibility of keeping a fertilized egg from implanting. However, I would like to add one more thing for you to consider when it comes to causing a pregnancy. The process of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) is a medical procedure where an egg is fertilized by sperm in a test tube outside the body and then implanted into the woman with the hope of causing pregnancy. This practice is often done by taking many eggs to fertilize and then only implanting a few while freezing the rest of the fertilized eggs in case the first try fails and more are needed. For those who believe that life happens at conception, when an egg is fertilized and not following implantation, IVF is not an option. To fertilize and store image bearers who may never be given the chance to live is not an ethical practice.
Feminism and the Desire to Control Fertility
Conception control and birth control have been around since ancient times. I am not making a case that this is a new thing. I am only making a case that there was a not so subtle shift in the modern evangelical church not having an opinion on the matter coincidentally starting around the same time feminism was creeping from the culture into the pulpit. Listen to the Reformed Faith and Family Podcast, Episodes 12 & 13, for more discussion on this topic.
Women began working outside the home more frequently in the mid-twentieth century, so it quickly became convenient to control both the family size and timing. Lucky for them, Margaret Sanger had already been spearheading the birth control movement for decades in order to provide cheap contraceptives and a Planned Parenthood on every corner, especially in the more ethnic neighborhoods. She definitely didn’t want any babies in different shades. Sanger would be so proud to know that due to more than a hundred years of propaganda and favorable legislation, contraceptive drugs and the abortion industry are a thriving business that most Christians don’t even question, because the church abdicated its post long ago when it came to speaking on such private matters as fertility. The absence of truth being spoken in the face of evil, is exactly how evil gained a foothold.
The Error of the Modern Church Avoiding the Topic of Fertility
Have you ever heard a modern sermon on God’s command to married couples in Genesis 2:18, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth”? If you have, was it nuanced in such a way to make sure that singles who want to be married, those who struggle with infertility, and those who may be divorced or widowed didn’t feel left out? By the time a sermon is nuanced to death it often loses much of its power. This scriptural mandate is a pre-Fall, Creation command from God, very different from Levitical ceremonial laws that no longer apply to Christians under the New Covenant. This same command and phrase is also repeated many times in God's Word (Genesis 1:28; 9:1, 7; 17:20; 28:3; 35:11; 48:4). Coupled with the well-known command in Deuteronomy 6, we see God's desire for His people is that they would seek to leave a legacy, future generations who love the Lord.
The Bible has a lot to say on the bearing and raising up of children. The idea that this would be left up to personal preference is both not biblical and also a historic novelty. Martin Luther said, “The purpose of marriage is not to have pleasure and to be idle but to procreate and bring up children, to support a household. This, of course, is a huge burden full of great cares and toils. But you have been created by God to be a husband or a wife and that you may learn to bear these troubles.” As Christians we are meant to be Kingdom-minded in all that we do.
How many Christians do you know that decided early on in their marriage that they would have two kids and went on to get a vasectomy or had tubes tied after they hit that predetermined benchmark? Like Voddie Baucham sarcastically jokes, “One for me, one for you, praise the Lord! Now we’re through.” Whether the method is chemical to delay pregnancy from occurring or surgical to secure a more final end to fertility, the idea that “God could perform a miracle if He really wanted to,” said through stifled laughter is a bit tongue in cheek.
Christians are just parroting culture without so much as referencing the Bible, praying about it, or seriously discussing the merits of their decision in light of Scripture with a trusted Christian friend or church elder. Negligence of pastors to preach on this matter from the pulpit, and the apathy of individual Christians to seriously consider the consequences of manipulating their fertility does not just affect the individual, but has direct repercussions on the Body of Christ and society at large.
Approaches to Fertility in Christian Circles
There are two ditches the modern Christian falls into on this matter. One ditch is that all conception control methods are permissible and the other ditch is that no conception control methods are permissible. Would it surprise you to know that an all or nothing approach to having children is not the biblical model? Playing little god with your fertility and behaving as though you have sovereign control to decide how many children you have and when they will come does not reflect a spirit willing to accept God’s blessings on His timeline. On the other hand, believing that it is your sole purpose to give birth to as many babies as possible is a form of legalism that often breaks God’s commands in other ways. It may be ignoring the command to care for your neighbor by allowing your wife to crumble mentally, physically, and spiritually under the unnatural burden of an inordinate amount of pregnancies. It would also be a dereliction of duty to sire so many children that you cannot properly disciple them in the Word of God. We are told to raise arrows, not children for destruction.
Striking a Balance
Right next to God’s command in the garden to “be fruitful and multiply” is to “take dominion of the earth and subdue it.” Christians are called to be good stewards of the blessings God graciously gives them. This applies to every area of life in both the great and small things. We ought to make intentional decisions that honor God to the best of our ability. This includes decisions concerning one’s physical health and fertility falls under that umbrella. You are called to take dominion of it, but only insofar as taking dominion aligns with God’s Word.
In Philip Kayser’s book, Conception Control: Avoiding Antinomianism and Legalism. He makes a convincing and balanced case from Scripture concerning the need for Christians to start recognizing it as a blessing when they are “multiplied exceedingly.” Instead of viewing this blessing as a burden, Christians ought to desire to “outnumber the Egyptians.” Kayser reiterates this is a biblical viewpoint and one which should be preached as the norm even if there are exceptions. Married couples are meant to bear children to the glory of God. Obedience must be followed through in other areas as well concerning nurturing the wife, giving rest when appropriate, protecting her life, providing for the family, and discipling the children. To properly fulfill all of these responsibilities, a couple may need to space the timing of children, delay children, or stop having children altogether. This is not something that is decided on a whim, but determined through prayer and godly counsel.
Often when couples make this decision on how many children to have, however, it is based on fairly frivolous and material data such as “can we afford to put them all through sports?” or “will we be able to afford the house and vacations that we desire?” When really the heart of these so-called needs are often selfish and vain and with a little attitude and budget adjustment one can make do very contentedly with much less. Expectations might need to be reassessed, but God’s Word still stands. For the Christian married couple, children ought to be seen as a blessing they desire.
Is conception control part of the Dominion Mandate? If so, are there limits to man’s dominion? In what ways did the Fall impact the conception portion of the Dominion Mandate? In what ways does Redemption impact conception? May a couple seek medical help in order to conceive? Are there limits to what medicine can ethically achieve in conception? Are there sexual practices within marriage that the Bible prohibits? How does one’s view of conception control and birth control impact other areas of life?
We didn't agree with everything in this book but still believe it to be a valuable resource in ones library as they try to ground themselves in what God's Word has to say on this matter.
The Devastating Impact of Infertility
This truth is why infertility is so painful. The natural order of things is to get married and have children. When that natural order is disrupted, and a husband and wife are restrained from being able to bear biological children, it is devastating. I do believe that there is a plague of infertility in this nation due to the genocide of abortion and rampant sexual perversions. We have seen infertility rates on the rise for some decades now and this corresponds with the growing sin in the culture at large. In the Bible, infertility is often used as a judgment from God against unrepentant nations, but individuals, especially Christians, should not take this as a personal judgment from God. The Bible talks about our world groaning under the weight of sin, waiting for Christ’s return. The consequences and corruption of sin have permeated every part of Creation. In so many ways we suffer the consequences of sin in the world that aren’t direct consequences from personal sin. Infertility is one of those ways in which our broken bodies display the impact sin has had on our world, but we are not without hope! We have many examples biblically of faithful godly women like Hannah and Sarah who were barren and God used in extraordinary ways to glorify His name. As a church we weep with those who weep, and should pray for and walk alongside those in our midst who desire a child yet have not had their womb opened.
>> Read our three-part series on Viewing Adoption through a Biblical Lens here.
God Is The Author of Life
God is the one who opens and closes the womb. If we believe that God is sovereign, the idea that we would not affirm and welcome His divine will in the giving of children as Christians should be appalling to us, but it is exactly the attitude many Christians have. The fact that pastors choose to only graze the surface of this topic when discussing the issue of abortion is why so many individual Christians are so ill-equipped to properly discern between culture and Scripture on this matter. The principles ought to be taught from the pulpit, even if the decision is ultimately between God and his individual people.
The Fight Against Abortion
How does the lack of teaching on biblical principles pertaining to fertility hurt our position in the fight against the abortion industry? By excising the discussion of abortion from the overall teaching on childbearing from a biblical worldview, we have promoted logical inconsistencies that weaken the church’s position. God is the author of life. Children are image-bearers from the moment of conception. When the church speaks against the heinous practice of abortion, but refuses to deal with the issue of abortifacient agents being used freely among Christians, our armor of integrity weakens.
A pastor ought to be preaching multiple truths simultaneously. God is sovereign. Children are a blessing. Children must be discipled. Married couples ought to desire and seek to have children and leave a legacy by God’s mercy and to His glory. A pastor that asks his parishioners to believe all these things, but does not also teach them the difference between what it looks like to be a good steward of God’s blessings vs. what it looks like to play god in order to control God’s blessings, is not teaching the full counsel of God and he is robbing both individuals and the Body of Christ of God’s good blessings.
This is a Kingdom issue. By intentionally limiting the number of children we as Christians bring into the world, we inadvertently weaken our numbers. We are building the Kingdom of God, not just trying to barely make replacement rates alongside secular society. Christians should desire to “outnumber the Egyptians” as Israel did. We are not militant, but we are to be discipling the next generation. Leaving a legacy is a gift! We should hope to leave the next generation in a more godly society than what we have. The easiest way to grow the Body of Christ is to populate it with lots of covenant children.
The Cost of Fruitfulness
Ultimately, the size of your family is not a measure of your righteousness. As always, it is about the heart and our desire to obey the Lord, not about just the act itself. I love this quote from Michael Foster of East River Church in Batavia, Ohio, “I do not see a moral obligation in Scripture to have as many kids as you possibly can. But I do see in scripture a clear call to treasure children and an emphasis on the duty of discipling them into godly adults. These two things are to be held in tension. You should love children and prize fruitfulness, but you also should possess an attitude that understands the gravity of the work that God gives to you with each child brought into your home. There is a cost to be counted with the addition of each child. It’s true. I say this as the father of eight. With our culture rejecting the blessing of children in favor of a life of barrenness, it’s real easy for us to overcorrect and become cavalier about the challenges of raising a lot of godly children into adulthood.”
The Reformed Faith and Family Podcast: Fertility Series
The Bible makes it clear that children are a wealth to their parents, not a drain on resources as our world would have us believe, so how should Christians approach their fertility? Are we allowed to control our fertility to finish college or space our children as to not be overwhelmed? How should a Christian view permanent measures to control fertility outcomes? All these questions have biblical answers and they may or may not be what you think. Listen in as Caleb and Lindsey share where their own deep dive into this important topic has brought them.
Don't miss this two-part series on thinking about fertility like a Christian!
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Lindsey Stomberg is wife to Caleb Stomberg and co-author here at Reformed Faith and Family. She is a work-from-home, homeschooling mom of seven children. Lindsey has enjoyed blogging for over a decade. Lindsey is the former owner of The Road to 31 Blog and author of The ABC’s for Godly Children Bible Curriculum. She enjoys reading, writing, and graphic design. Her favorite pass times are family read-aloud time, snuggling with her babies, and going on walks with her family.