Complementarianism vs. Egalitarianism: there aren’t just the two positions
As my wife and I have been facing big decisions over the last few months, it’s been neat to see the way God has transformed our marriage from its fledgling stages to something a little more beautiful.
It’s also got me thinking about the whole complementarian/egalitarian debate, and how my views over the years – though still complementarian – have shifted from a kind of misogynistic immaturity to what my wife and I both perceive to be a more Christ-like model.
It’s made me realize there aren’t just two positions on this: egalitarianism and complementarianism – and when people are arguing against one or the other, they’re normally arguing against a flawed diversion, rather than the real thing.
That being said, let me lay out a few different options.
MISOGYNY: The husband asserts his desires, the wife submits.
Though this is what chiefly comes to mind to those in the egalitarian camp, this is the furthest thing from the biblical picture of complementarianism possible. Unfortunately many, wounded from a history of misogyny, reject all hierarchy within families whole-sale based on their experience.
If I’m honest, both my wife and I came into marriage with a subconscious commitment to this kind of relationship, and the results were not only personally devastating, but anti-gospel. Jesus never asserts his personal desires over and above his bride.
MATRIARCHY: The wife asserts her desires, the husband submits.
Though I doubt any would publicly subscribe to this, it is, unfortunately, a settled pattern in many Christian homes. In this model, the husband mistakes weakness for meekness and, rather than honoring his wife, becomes bitter and distant (in effect dishonoring her).
Jesus was not weak, he was meek – he asserted his bride’s good, he didn’t passively give into it.
PRAGMATISM: We both assert our desires, and we both win.
The reason this sounds so ideal is that it is so idealistic. The truth is, we don’t have the time, energy and resources to try and make “win-wins” out of every minute situation in life. Nor, I might add, does this sound much like the Christ who called us to marriage.
Jesus didn’t come to earth saying: “You get what you can out of this, and I’ll get what I can.” Pragmatism (a focus on what works), is a denial of the purpose of marriage – the point of marriage is not to do the greatest good to the greatest number (both of us, in this case), but to assert the image of Christ and the church to a watching world (Ephesians 5:23). So “work”, in this case, is contingent upon a definition of marriage’s purpose which goes little beyond realizing my own, personal desires.
Besides, if “work” means, “does what it’s meant to do,” then pragmatism, in that sense, doesn’t “work.”
NAIEVETY: We’ll never disagree.
Point 1: Okay, sure.
Point 2: Jesus called us to be peacemakers, and that in the church. This assumes there will be conflict, and it assumes a non-passive approach. We’re not called to be peace keepers, but makers, meaning: we have work to do.
A quick read through the New Testament ought to wash us clean of this one. Jesus had (has) conflict with his bride, and he’s perfect. So, to put it strangely – if there’s no conflict, something’s wrong.
DEMOCRACY: We both assert our desires, and someone wins.
The truth will out, is the thought here. Except, there’s no real “truth” to whether we ought to go out for ice-cream or pizza. No argument can solve it. There’s no “right” answer to whether we should move to California or Timbuktu – these are morally neutral issues. In fact, let me be controversial: there’s no real truth as to whether the house should be clean or messy. We attach virtues to these things because we inherently view our personalities like good Pharisees – we make rules from them, and work outward.
Besides, this looks nothing like Christ and the church. Notice I’m not saying that we shouldn’t communicate our desires to one another: communicating our vulnerability is actually an investment, not a withdrawal. It’s a compliment to say, “I need you.” But saying, “Therefore, you must do this” is patently wrong on every account.
COLDNESS: Neither of us assert our desires, and no one submits.
Clearly, when you’ve reached this point, there’s bitterness and the whole operation’s gone amuck. Jesus communicates his desires toward us, and he invites us to communicate our desires to him. So – this is radically anti-gospel as well. This is a roommate scenario, not a Song of Solomon one.
ABSURDITY: Both of us assert the others’ desire, and no one submits.
This is the closest to true complementarianism, but its only flaw is that it’s absurd. I believe it is in The Four Loves that C.S. Lewis points out that two people sitting at a dining table insisting that they pour the others’ tea has less to do with love and more to do with absurd false-humility. The beautiful thing about complementarianism is that it’s just like this, without the absurdity, which leads us to…
COMPLEMENTARY: Both of us assert the others’ desire, and the wife submits.
In a recent decision my wife and I made, it became clear that our desires were in conflict. The position being offered to us would have been a wonderful fit for one of us, and a terrible fit for the other. Sparing you the details, it became evident to both of us the beautiful irony of the situation: my wife was insisting that we do things my way. And I was insisting we do things in a way that was best for her.
And because we are complementation, I “won out” in the end: I asserted her desires over mine.
That is a long and winding journey, but I think it’s good for many of us to hear, on every side of the debate. While we think we may be in one camp, we may actually be in some permutation of it that is actually unrecognizable from its original intent. The truth is, the real model is like two people leaning toward one another for balance – it’s a total act of trust on both parts, and it requires an “all in” approach, not something half-baked.
But when we both lean in – curiously – it forms something like a steeple.
Nicholas McDonald blogs at ScribblePreach.com where this article was first posted. It is reprinted here with permission.
The surprising secrets of highly happy marriages
What research and the Bible say about the best marriages **** Marriage is meant to mirror Christ and the church. One can scarcely imagine a higher c...
Gender roles, Marriage
Men and the Marriage Dance
Maybe I have been looking in all the wrong places, but in my ten years of being a Christian, I seem to have heard an awful lot more on the subject of wives being in subjection to their husbands than I have on the subject of husbands loving their wives. In the interests of redressing the balance, I wish to focus on the other side of the marriage bond. Love before submission One of the first things to notice about Paul’s teaching on marriage is that although he mentions wives before husbands in both the Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 passages, the onus is clearly on the men to act first. Husbands are told to: ...love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her (Eph. 5:25). Elsewhere in Scripture we are explicitly told the order of Christ/church relations: “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). So if the husband/wife relationship is to look anything like the Christ/church relationship, it is very much the responsibility of the husband to first ensure he is loving his wife before he starts worrying about whether his wife is submitting to him. Sacrificial headship In Ephesians 5:22-24 we read a passage that many a man loves for all the wrong reasons. Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Some husbands, while properly recognizing that this passage is about headship, conveniently ignore the fact that it is about sacrificial headship. Their thinking goes something like this: “Christ commands his church, right? And his church is meant to be in subjection, right? That’s what Paul says, isn’t it? So if the marriage relationship is meant to be like the relationship between Christ and his church, then clearly I get to decide everything and you must obediently follow.” There are two big problems with this type of blockhead masculinity. The first is that although Christ commands His church and His church is called upon to submit to Him, He commands her as a sinless, spotless head. Which means that all of his commands are made in love, righteousness, and truth, and that nothing he has commanded to his church is dictatorial, and that nothing he asks his bride to do is necessarily grievous. Sure, the church disobeys and acts like these things are grievous, but that is because the church is stuffed with sinners, not because her Husband is in the wrong. The second big problem with this way of thinking, is that even Christ – though He had every right to just command and expect submission – had to die sacrificially in order to win His bride. His headship is not one of mere headship – I command and you obey – but rather a headship that is born of giving Himself, at great personal cost, for the bride that He loves. Any husband who just commands and expects submission is therefore wronging his wife in expecting her to obey whilst he himself fails to obey the command directed to him. He is failing to understand the import of Paul’s command, which is not to just assume headship, but to assume it in a self-denying and sacrificial way. Four different dances I tend to think that what Paul has in mind is something akin to a dance. Now in any really good male/female dance that I’ve ever seen, the man leads and the woman follows. Yet the man does so in a way which is firm and masculine, rather than authoritarian, and the woman follows in a way that is neither overbearing on the one hand nor a pushover on the other, but rather firm in a feminine way. But let’s just play around with this analogy and see what happens when we add various factors into it. Picture the scene: a husband and wife are about to begin a dance upon a high stage with no barriers surrounding it, set to a Strauss waltz. 1) The modern couple Now into this scene steps the modern couple. The way they do this “marriage dance” looks, shall we say, a little different to what Paul had in mind. Instead of a graceful scene of husband and wife dancing in unison, with the man gently but firmly leading his wife while she gracefully and willingly accompanies him, many modern marriages look like the two spouses just doing their own thing on separate corners of the stage. Maybe he’s making one last attempt over here to perfect his breakdance technique before middle-age sets in, while she’s over there doing her twerking thing. The two of them are utterly independent of each other, and it is no surprise when they split, citing irreconcilable differences. And poor Strauss carries on in the background, treated in much the same way as that beautiful gold ring on the end of the pig’s snout. 2) The feminist dance Then there is the feminist dance. You know, where the powerhouse woman tries to lead the man around and he either willingly submits and the dance ends up looking plain silly, or he resists and they end up pushing each other over the edge. 3) The apathetics Or there is dance of the “apathetics.” This is where the performers are so floppy and without backbone, especially the man, that you wonder whether they are actually trying to dance or to do a distinctly underwhelming impression of two octopi skulking across the sea bed. 4) The cro-magnon But what of the over-bearing, authoritarian, she-ought-to-submit-to-me-because-that’s-what-Paul-says dance couple? What does their dance look like? It looks like a man dragging his wife rather than leading her, and then when he starts veering too far toward the edge of the stage and his wife tries to pull him back from the brink, he gets mad, accuses her of not being submissive, and carries on doing his thing until they both fall over the edge. Such a guy thinks he’s doing what God commands, yet is in far more danger of disobeying Paul than his wife is. The dance done right So what will the kind of dance envisaged by Paul really look like? As with a beautiful waltz to a bit of Strauss, it will look like the man leading his bride gracefully but firmly around the stage, with his wife gladly following his lead. It will look like him making sure he does nothing to grieve her or put either her or the both of them in jeopardy. So he will not only be aware of his steps, but will be aware of her steps too, and of both their steps together. If he happens to wander too near the edge and his wife gently pulls him back, he will not accuse her of being unsubmissive, but rather will accept the reproof and adjust his ways accordingly. In practical terms, there is no thought in this type of dance of a man commanding his wife regardless of her feelings and opinions, and her being expected to just submit to everything he says. Rather the thought is that the kind of man Paul is thinking of will always take his wife’s desires and opinions into account. If there is disagreement about a decision that needs to be taken, yes it is ultimately the man who is called upon to make that decision and the wife who is called upon to submit. But if the man has not first spoken to his wife, sought her opinion, taken it into account, considered whether maybe she is right and he wrong and that perhaps he needs to die to self before making the decision – unless he has gone through those steps – he is not leading his wife in the dance the way Paul says he ought. Conclusion Now, this piece doesn’t address difficulties and problems, such as, “what if a woman is married to a husband who is a blockhead. How far should she go in obeying him?” That’s really not an easy question. Suffice it to say that when Paul teaches headship in Colossians 3, his command for wives to “submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord” suggests that this is by no means an open check, and that there are limits to her submission, as when Abigail didn’t just go along with her fool of a husband, Nabal. However, difficult as these questions are, a good place to start in addressing such issues would be for more and clearer teaching on the role of men. This is the surest way of warding off problems and creating the beautiful marriage dance envisaged by Jesus Christ, the true sacrificial head. “So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself” (Ephesians 5:28). Rob Slane is the author of “A Christian & an Unbeliever Discuss: Life, the Universe & Everything” which is available at Amazon.ca here and Amazon.com here. This first appeared in the January 2016 issue which you can download here. ...
Is the Proverbs 31 wife an unrealistic supermom?
In his article "On being a Titus 2 young woman" Rev. Bouwman made a statement that likely had some readers blinking in surprise. He said of the Proverbs 31 woman: "This woman is not the proverbial 'super-mom' but simply a God-fearing woman..." Not a super-mom? Simply a God-fearing woman? Really? That runs counter to the popular understanding of her as so pure, so selfless, so hard-working as to be a completely unrealistic example of what godly womanhood looks like. Sure, it'd be great to be like her, but then again it'd be great to be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. But is either goal attainable? So who has it right? Is this woman simply unreal, or "simply a God-fearing woman?" To find an answer it will be helpful to grab our Bibles, turn to Proverbs 31 and then look at the passage in a more modern light. We could ask, "What would the Proverbs 31 wife be up to if she was around today?" and update the many tasks she takes on. If we do that, then what we find is a wife: who has her husband's trust at home and in business matters too (vs. 11,16) who honors that trust (vs. 12) who knows how to use a sewing machine (vs. 13) who makes regular trips to Safeway and Costco (vs. 14) who rises each morning, and before her kids are even awake, making their lunches and getting breakfast ready (vs. 15) who has arms grown strong from scrubbing pots, cleaning floors and hauling her children in and out of car seats (vs. 17) who has her own Etsy store, selling good she makes in the evenings (vs. 18-19,24) who makes meals for those in need and, after her kids were all in school, began volunteering at the local crisis pregnancy clinic (vs. 20) who finds good clothing for her family, for every season, and who dresses herself attractively (vs. 21-22) whose hard work makes it possible for her husband to have the time to be an elder or deacon (vs. 23) who is wise, and confident about the future because she recognizes God is in control; and she is able to share her wisdom with others over coffee (vs. 25-26) who manages her household and doesn't spend her afternoons watching the soaps (vs. 27) whose children and husband can't contain their pride in her (vs. 28-29) who is praised not for how she looks, but for the God-fearing woman she is (vs. 30-31) This is certainly a remarkable woman. But doesn't she sound familiar? Isn't this someone you know? While this woman is amazing, we shouldn't dismiss her as unrealistic. That would be a mistake for two reasons. First, because it would be ignoring the God-pleasing example He outlines here – this is an example given precisely for instruction. That Christian women will regularly fall short of this standard doesn't mean it can be ignored. It only means that they – like their husbands – need to regularly go to God in repentance, and ask Him to continue to mold them and shape them to better take on the good works He has laid out for them to do. And, second, dismissing the Proverbs 31 woman as unrealistic would be to overlook what God has given us in the many women we know who bear a striking resemblance to the woman of this passage. As we read in verse 10, their worth is far beyond jewels! So we should never overlook the enormity of the blessing God has given us in these women! Jon Dykstra is the father of three and the husband of one, who is worth far more than jewels....
Angry? I'm not the type....right?
"Angry? No, not me. I’m not an angry sort of person.” Actually, I suspect very few of us think we are. So allow me to share a story. Bob had been gone for some days, and couldn’t wait to see his wife again. On the ride home from the airport, he could already hear her enthusiastic hello, relish her eagerness to hear all about his experiences, and taste the tea and favorite bit of baking she’d prepared for him. He hopped out of the car, dashed up the front steps, pushed open the door and hollered eagerly, “Lauren, I’m home!” Silence. He walked down the hall, looked around the corner, and there she was, ticking away on her laptop. Enthusiastically: “Hi, Lauren! I’m back!” Response: a mild, “Oh, hi, Bob” and her fingers kept tapping the keys…. Response You’re Bob. How should Bob respond to this bucket of ice? How would you? Bob could blow his stack and let Lauren know in no uncertain terms that this is no way to welcome your husband home. Bob could remain very calm, and admonish her that the Lord is not pleased with her coolness to his return. (And, for the record, I’d argue there’s ample justification in the Bible that she ought indeed to welcome her husband with much greater enthusiasm.) Bob could turn his back, disappear into his man cave, and bury his head (and his pain) in his project. “Be like that, then! See if I care….” When a good buddy phones to welcome him back, he could let on that he feels badly hurt by his wife’s coldness. He could even suggest that his buddy try to get his wife to have a chat with Lauren and make clear that her behavior just isn’t acceptable. Losing it, righteous instruction, sulking, slander, manipulation: which response is acceptable? For that matter: is there a common denominator under all five? Disclosure I didn’t make the above story up. I actually heard it at a conference hosted by the Christian Counseling Center. Robert Jones came up to Ontario from the Carolinas to talk about anger, and somewhere in his presentation he told this story. We were asked to consider where the problem was in relation to Bob. Was he justified in giving Lauren a piece of his mind? Was he right to tell her what the Bible says about how she ought to welcome her husband? Was he justified in retreating within himself? Or in sharing his hurt with another, let alone gently manipulating another to set Lauren straight? The thing is, of course, that each of us can relate quite well to every aspect of Bob’s response. That’s because anger is much at home in the heart of every sinner. Really? I’ll admit that when I entered the doors of the conference building, I tended to define the term "anger" as a burst of outrage, be it slamming the door, pounding the table, shouting, and the like. But our speaker made clear it that this was far too limited an understanding. The rage and the slamming and the pounding and the shouting are, in fact, expressions of an irritation rooted deep within the heart. That irritation is awakened by events (or words) that strike you as unfair or wrong or insensitive, etc. You can give expression to that irritation in various ways, be it blowing your stack or retreating within yourself, or slandering the perceived wrongdoer to your friend, or manipulating a third party to influence the wrongdoer, etc, and etc. Anger is, biblically speaking, not first of all an action but is, instead, an attitude of the heart. Some bump in the road, some irritation, will cause the anger inside to express itself in some particular action...including Bob’s various responses as outlined above. All are expressions of inner anger. And since inner anger is wrong, all these expressions of anger are wrong. When Jesus Christ was angry I was surprised to learn that the gospels record three incidents – yes, only three! – when Jesus became angry. That’s when Jesus healed the man with the shriveled arm (Mark 3:1-6), when He received the little children (Mark 10:13-16), and when He overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the temple (John 2:13-17). We might expect Him, instead, to become angry when they sought to stone Him, or when they associated Him with Beelzebub, or when they ridiculed Him. We’d expect Him to be angry when He was arrested, mocked, spit upon, and crucified. But there’s nothing of the sort in His reactions. The Scriptures tell us that He went like a lamb to the slaughter. As to the instances when He did become angry, in each instance God’s name was blasphemed through the hardness of human hearts, and that’s what triggered anger on Jesus’ part. His anger, then, was in tune with God’s holiness and in step with God’s own anger against sin. Never did the man Jesus become angry in response to feeling slighted or being sinned against. That’s highly instructive, given that the child of God is meant to imitate Christ Jesus (cf Ephesians 5:1). Bob's anger So where’s the wrong in Bob’s situation? Could Bob rightly point a finger at his wife and insist the wrong lay fully and only with her? Could he plead that his response was a justifiable and righteous response to her failure? Our speaker asked us to consider Mark 10:45: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Here is the driving thought behind Jesus’ conduct in life, and this is to be the driving thought in the lives of all His people. The application for Bob? He let his thoughts on his way home be self-centered, and so he expected his wife to be there for him. Since she didn’t satisfy his expectation, he became angry, and that anger received expression in, well, any of the options listed above. Had Bob, on the other hand, approached home seeking not to be served but to serve his wife, he would have been in the right frame of mind to reach out to her and perhaps support her in some burden unknown to him. Such a mindset would reflect the Lord Jesus Christ. Back to Christ But, we protest, we can’t always give! Our speaker did an excellent job of drawing out that we, in fact, have all we need in Jesus Christ. He mentioned 2 Peter 1: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (vs 3), and asked us to contemplate the force of the word "all." In Christ we actually have all things that we require for this life! We say: but I need that kiss, that show of affection, that attention, that promotion, that…. And when we don’t get it we get annoyed, exasperated, frustrated, irritated – all expressions of anger…. In our anger is an implicit criticism of God; He’s not truly giving us what we need. Paul responded differently. He wrote his letter to the Philippians while he was imprisoned (perhaps in Rome). But from his cell he wrote: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (4:11). “In whatever situation”?? Yes, he says yes. “I know how to be brought low and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (vs 12). What is the secret?? “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (vs 13). So he tells the Philippians: “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (vs 19). Note the word “every need.” Irritated at a slight? Upset at a knockback? Peeved because you didn’t get what you thought you should? Livid at a demotion? Anger will never do, because Jesus Christ gives me all I really need. The question is: do I believe that? Or do I, in fact, believe that I actually need people’s approval, because... well because the Lord, you know, actually disappoints…. Entitlement?? One little tangent before I sum it up…. The thought is alive and well in North American culture that we’re entitled to happiness, satisfaction, accolades, etc – and actually entitled to our own definition of happiness. Because North Americans are not getting what we think we deserve, we end up with more and more frustrated and angry people across our continent. But that has enormous – and very devastating – social consequences. Behind marriage failure is the anger (or irritation, or frustration, or mention whatever parallel word you would) that results from not getting what we think our spouse should give us. But the Christian may not think in terms of entitlement. If anyone had an entitlement, it was the Lord Jesus Christ. But He did not cling to His divine glory, nor insist on what was His. He gave it all away, to redeem the undeserving. That’s the Christian’s example. As Jesus Christ did not come to be served but to serve, so the Christian does not think in terms of being served, but thinks in terms of how he can serve the other. That fight against selfishness will put a huge dent in the anger that stays too close to our hearts. And our culture needs guidance and encouragement in that fight. That’s the task (in part) of the Christian. I’m grateful for the work done by Christian Counseling Center. It’s good to be reminded that anger (be it quiet or loud) is actually an ungodly response to what the Lord puts on our path. With the exception of “righteous anger” – where one is angry because God has been blasphemed – anger is in fact sin, and so it needs repentance and then resistance. That will be ongoing work for us all. Robert Jones’ book on the topic, entitled "Uprooting Anger," published by P & R Publishing, is available in Christian bookstores or from Amazon. Rev. Clarence Bouwman is a pastor in the Smithville Canadian Reformed Church....
A careful look at the issue of birth control
Children: a calling and a blessing **** God calls the Reformed husband and wife to bear children. Just as marriage is a creation ordinance, so God’s calling to bear children is a creation ordinance. Strikingly, the first thing God says after He creates the woman for the man is that together in their marriage they must bear children: “Be fruitful, and multiply”(Gen 1:28). This command necessitates a link between marital intimacy and the begetting of children (if God in His Providence grants that possibility). For the Reformed couple, this calling intensifies as they see from Scripture that God is pleased to carry on His covenant of structured fellowship also with the children of believers (Gen 7:7, Acts 2:39). Due to this promise, the Scriptures lay further weight upon God’s people to bear children (see Malachi 2:15 “And did not he make one?...And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed” and also 1 Timothy 5:14). Not only is bearing children a calling, but the Reformed couple also gleans from Scripture that children (many!) are a blessing from God (Psalm 127:3-5; Psalm 128:3-4). When the Lord grants little ones to His Church, their presence stands as a reminder of His love and favor and covenant promises. This does not mean the bearing of children is easy. God’s curse for sin affects all things, and this aspect of life in particular (Gen 3:16-19). While God has not made bearing and raising children itself a curse, His curse affects the bearing and raising of children. God has, due to sin, greatly increased a woman’s sorrow in bearing children, and at the same time increased her ability to bear them. The curse has also affected the husband’s calling to support those children. The creation from which he must derive their support works against him instead of with him. REGARDING THE USE OF BIRTH CONTROL GENERALLY The first two truths (that bearing children is both a calling and a blessing) almost put the issue of birth control to rest for God’s people. Indeed, some couples will conclude it is best to never prevent or plan the conception of children. If these couples faithfully raise all the children they bear unto the Lord, then the whole Church is thankful for their godly example and prays for more of their kind. However, as much as we want to caution against its use, we would argue that the reality of the curse of God for sin may allow for the careful use of (some forms of) birth control in some cases. But because selfishness can quickly exploit even that statement, we begin discussing this matter by addressing the heart. Why would we prevent the birth of children? Birth control broadly defined is anything that can prevent the birth of children. There are ethically legitimate and ethically illegitimate methods of birth control. However, even if one allows for the use of ethically legitimate methods of birth control in some cases, he must recognize they can be and often are used wickedly. The issue begins in the motives of the heart. The great question everyone has to ask (including newly married couples who are expected by so many to wait at least a year or two to have children) is: “Why? Why would I prevent the birth of children into my covenant home?” And the Reformed couple must answer this question honestly, for we easily deceive ourselves (Jer. 17:9). As the Reformed couple engages in this heart-probing, consider that the very origin of chemical birth control was the constant push for sex without responsibility in society. It’s not just necessity, but the desire for pleasure, that is the mother of invention. Google a chart of birth rates in United States history, and you will see that the line plummets after 1960 when chemical birth control went on the market, and that the line continues to steadily drop until it arrives at its lowest point in 2016. The ever-increasing desire for pleasure combined with the ever-decreasing desire for responsibility in the world can affect us as Reformed Christians too. So as you answer “why would we prevent the birth of children?” consider the following kinds of questions: Do we seek a standard of living that far exceeds even that of our parents and grandparents in their child-bearing years (not to mention that of the vast majority of the rest of the world)? Have materialism, worldly comforts, and extravagant vacations clouded our thinking? God doesn’t desire that His children be at ease, but that they joyfully and self-sacrificially serve Him by raising children, all the while detaching from the things of this world. Are we selfishly guarding a worldly notion of marriage? Are we stingy with respect to our time? Children require a tremendous sacrifice of time and energy – often around the clock. This sacrifice means less time fishing, hanging out with the guys, or sitting in front of the television or computer. Wives, is your view of physical beauty defined by the world? For a woman having children involves a sacrifice not only of her time and personal desires, but also her very body. After several children, she may look in the mirror and feel embarrassed about the dramatic changes she sees. Husbands, do you assure your wife that she has not been “ruined” as the world would say, but that she is beautiful with a beauty that the world cannot see? We can’t say for another couple That said, there is no biblical rule as to when each couple’s quiver is full, and due to the reality of the curse upon life in this world, there are factors that a couple may legitimately consider in thinking about family planning. A mother may face health issues, even ones that can endanger her life and lives of future children (just a few examples include multiple c-sections, extreme diabetes, and cancer). The mental and emotional health of especially the mother may have to be considered (taking care not to cover up selfishness). Postpartum depression is a real issue. In addition, some women are simply physically and emotionally frailer than others. Maybe there is a child (or children) with special needs requiring a great deal of time and energy. Maybe the house is full and teetering on the edge of Mom and Dad’s ability to faithfully rear the children. In these cases (and perhaps others), we believe God’s people have to make judgments with much prayer and soul-searching. This matter is intensely difficult, especially because the old man inside us can be so deceptive. Even sincere Reformed believers may disagree. We must all use sanctified wisdom and live coram Deo (before the face of God). The rule we believe is biblical is that we ought to have as many children as we are able to have, understanding “able” to mean not merely as many as we can have without cramping our lifestyle, nor meaning necessarily as many as we are able to physically produce. Rather, “able” means, able to faithfully raise in the fear of the Lord. Each couple must stand before God. If a couple’s honest answer to that is three, so be it. If it is fifteen, or as many as we are physically able to bear, so be it. The key principle is that we are honest with ourselves before God and are vigilantly on the lookout for selfish motives hiding under the pretense of spiritual ones. And we ought to pray that the preaching ever warns us of that possibility. WHAT BIRTH CONTROL IS ETHICALLY PERMISSIBLE? If a couple before the face of God honestly believes they ought to use birth control at a certain time in their life, what forms are ethically acceptable? All Reformed couples ought to personally research the matter in order to make God-honoring decisions. Here is what we have discovered in our own research. “Emergency contraception” First of all, we must begin with the conviction that life begins at conception. So many doctors (some Christian ones too), speak of life beginning at various other points in the growth process of the fertilized egg. What one says about when life begins will determine what one says about what forms of birth control are ethically permissible. All forms of chemical birth control that are taken after intercourse, such as the “morning-after pill,” RU-486, “emergency contraception,” etc., are abortifacients (drugs which induce abortion). Using these drugs after intercourse, and if you have conceived (which one does not know) it is no different from going into an abortion clinic to kill your child a few months later. It is murder. Other forms of chemical birth control Regarding chemical birth control one takes regularly, such as the birth control pill (whether combined or progestin only), shots, and IUDS, the Reformed couple must be aware of the facts. According to the recently published God, Marriage, and Family these common forms of chemical birth control work to prevent the birth of a child three ways: The first is by preventing an egg from being released. The second is by thickening the cervical mucus so that the sperm cannot reach the egg if an egg is released anyway (which some experts estimate happens as often as 50 percent of the time). The third is by making the lining of the uterus incapable of supporting the life of a newly conceived child given the first two methods fail. There is no ethical issue in itself with the first two actions of the pill. But the third causes an abortion. So the question becomes, do the first two methods of the pill ever fail? We quote from the book mentioned above: Statistically speaking, when taken as directed, these various types of hormone-based birth control methods are effective (in their first two lines of defense—that is preventing conception CG) 99.5 percent of the time…. From this fact, one can know for certain that while “the pill” is effective in preventing ovulation and preventing fertilization, it does not prevent all fertilization. While there is no statistical data to indicate how many births are terminated by the third mechanism, one can be assured that it does occur. Though admittedly, the possibility of breaking the sixth commandment here is small, it is still a possibility, and therefore chemical birth control ought not be used by the child of God. This leaves only three ethically legitimate methods: natural family planning, barrier methods, and surgical sterilization. CONCLUSION As with every matter in the Christian life, obedience begins in the heart. A heart that responds to the gospel of redeeming grace is filled with gratitude. Gratitude needs a riverbed to flow into. That riverbed is the law of God. We hope we have given some help in determining what God’s law is and is not in these matters, and in setting forth the principles by which we may live in godliness. May God bless us as we live before His face as husband and wife, and as we bring up the godly seed He so graciously gives us. ENDNOTES This is not the only purpose of marital intimacy as the Roman Catholic Church wrongly teaches (among other passages see 1 Corinthians 7:5 and The Song of Solomon). Otherwise, a couple who could not bear children would be required to abstain from marital intimacy. Neither does it imply that every act of marital intimacy must have the possibility of conception. However, it does mean a couple must seek to bear children in their marriage. The argument to the contrary from the case of Onan in Genesis 38 does not take into consideration the issues of levirate marriage involved in that passage. This includes everything that prevents conception, to the murder of children conceived but not yet born. 1.8 children per woman, and it’s only that high because of the Hispanic population. We understand even the question of what it means to faithfully raise children in the fear of the Lord will garner disagreement. This aspect too bears serious consideration and discussion as each couple stands before God. It would be worthwhile to read a portion of the book God Marriage and Family we refer to a few paragraphs later. Pages 123-129 are germane. Another worthwhile resource is the book, Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions? by Randy Alcorn. In addition to those sources, we have conferred with believing doctors we know personally. This is another article, but the main reason for this position is conclusive. At the moment of fertilization there is a complete genome (determining gender, eye color, height, body type, etc) in the new being. Therefore, the new being is another individual life separate from that of the father and mother. If an individual being with a complete genome, separate from the life of the mother and father is not a separate life, then what is it? If you ask a doctor (even some Christian ones) if a particular form of birth control causes an abortion he may say no, but that may be because he believes life does not begin at conception. He may also further confuse the issue by stating that this particular drug cannot terminate a pregnancy. This is because he may define pregnancy as beginning later than the moment of conception. The authors cite their credible medical sources. Kostenberger, Andreas J., and David W. Jones. God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation. 2nd ed. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010. 337, footnote 29. Print. There are some Christian women who take birth control pills as medicine for other physical maladies. If that is you, then you ought to also use barrier methods of birth control to prevent the possibility of breaking the sixth commandment. We are not now saying anything about whether or not these should be used in any individual case, we are merely stating that these are the only ethical forms to use. This article was originally published in the April 15, 2016 issue of The Standard Bearer and is reprinted here with permission. Rev. and Mrs. Griess live in Grand Rapids, Michigan....
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