25 August 2009

Dr. Dean Wenthe on ELCA

67 comments:

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Imagine Dr. Wenthe substituting the issue of "contraception" for the issue of "homosexuality", chastising our own synod instead of the E?CA in this address. I believe the message would be equally compelling.

As Dr. Wenthe states: "For it is really sectarian to depart from the clear word of Scripture and the clear position of the Christian community throughout history.

In the words of Christ:

“Those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:4-5)

Think of logs and specks.

This past Sunday's pericope is eerily more condemning of the LCMS (who gives lip service to the Word and yet ignores its teaching) than it is of the E?CA.

In the words of Rev. Robert C. Baker: "The 'log' that needs removing from our eye is the strong divine command theory ethic (of Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth), that was swept into the Missouri Synod in the 1930s in reaction to Liberalism. We have yet to be untangled from this detritus."

Lord have mercy on us!

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Imagine Dr. Wenthe substituting the issue of "contraception" for the issue of "homosexuality", chastising our own synod instead of the E?CA in this address.

If he had done that, he would have unjustly bound consciences by forbidding what Scripture does not forbid. =o)

For Christ also warns us treating the traditions and commandments of men as of those from God.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Rev. Brown,

It is the modern approval of contraception that is a commandment of men being taught as if it is from God. Prior to 1930, it was the unanimous testimony of Christendom throughout history that Scripture condemns contraception. What changed?

What changed is not what God's Word says, but rather our way of looking at it. We "conservative Lutherans" have a log in our eye that is keeping us from seeing what our fathers in the faith saw clearly for thousands of years.

Here is a brief description of a big part of that log.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

How is it a commandment of men? Whose conscience does contraception bind? If one were to say, "A good Christian must use contraception to avoid overpopulation" I would say that is a commandment. Even the modern praise for contraception and dependence upon it for solving all sexual issues is wrong. However, the abuse of a tool does not invalidate right usage of that tool.

This ends up being the question - if Scripture does not speak to a specific issue, do we speak or remain silent? Scripture does not speak to contraception. It speaks against murder, so we may safely speak against contraceptives which in fact are not contraceptives but an abortifacient.

Even with Onan, that is not a case of mere contraception, but theft, covetousness - it was an attempt to steal. There was an obligation to produce an heir, and that obligation is what was violated.

And yes, there is the command to be fruitful and multiply - however, the application of that command to every individual is problematic. Scripture also commends chastity and abstinence (which is about as opposite of multiplying as you can get) - if we are going to say that multiplication is mandatory, then we must condemn all who do not seek to have children (even those who abstain from marriage), which pushes well beyond the bounds of what Scripture teaches.

This is not to say that contraception-culture isn't problematic - there are tons of issues that are exacerbated by approaches to contraception that are wholly selfish and vile. However, that doesn't deny that contraception could rightfully be used. I would contend that if we are listing the woes of the society that come out of the 20th Century, many of them can be placed at the feet of the automobile - yet I would not say that it is unchristian to use a car.

The rule I will follow is that which Paul gives - "For you were called to freedom brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another." Do not try to bind my freedom, rather encourage me to act in love.

The cure to antinomianism which ignores the Word of God is not a legalism which extends beyond it.

Rev. Jacob Sutton said...

I found it interesting that quite a few preachers and others within the Historic One-Year Lectionary were quick to make the point that we in the LCMS could be equated to the Pharisee pointing at the poor ELCA Tax Collector. It is as if that in order to be allowed to criticize the actions of the ELCA, we must self-denigrate ourselves as LCMS members for our own sins, in order to rightly preach the Law to someone else who needs the Law preached - unrepentant sinners like the leadership of the ELCA.

Do I have to always qualify everything I preach in so far as the Law is concerned in the pulpit, or as I counsel those living in some sort of sin - "now I admit that I'm just as guilty of being a sinner... logs and specks and pharisees and tax collectors and all that... BUT... (fill in the Law)..."???

So yes, the LCMS has many problems. Not perfect. Could easily turn into a pharisee. Has a few logs in her eye.

But the ELCA is by no means the humble, repentant Tax Collector, who wants the Lord to make atonement for his sins! Not their leadership, not their convention! NO WAY!

I say, thank you Dean Wenthe and to the Seminary, for this clear confession of the faith, for calling sinners to repentance. It would be wonderful to hear even more messages like that over time, and ones even more bold and assertive. I'd love it if we would see such bold speaking out on theological errors of all kinds, not just on ones relating to moral/social issues.

But in this case, a home run is hit, no need to apologize for it. The ELCA needs to repent and turn back to Christ and His Gospel, as a church body, as all sinners do.

Chad Myers said...

All you need to know about sex is in Genesis 1: Be fruitful and multiply.

Not "... but only if your conscience tells you it won't overpopulate"

Not "... until the world is 'full' and you humans can determine what 'full' is"

Not "... unless its inconvenient"

The myth of overpopulation is as bogus as it is ridiculous. Ever family in the world could live in an area the size of Texas comfortably. Drive from Texarkana to Mephis some time. You'll see just how empty the world really is.

Artificial contraception is a sin and a grave violation of the marital covenant.

Read "Humana Vitae" and John Paul II's "Theology of the Body" as they are wonderful works on the subject of why contraception harms or gravely retards the relationship between man and woman and puts a huge barrier (literally) between Man and Woman and Couple and God.

You know it in your heart. You know it's wrong, but your pride and selfishness prevent you from admitting it. I say this speaking from personal experience as I once agreed with artificial contraception and practiced it. I am shamed and my relationship with my wife permanently harmed and forever retarded because of it.

We now practice the sympto-thermal method of natural spacing of children. It always leaves open the option for providence should God decide we need another child.

There's nothing wrong with planning your family, what's wrong is when you preclude God from the planning. Your marriage is between you, your spouse, and God, not just you and your spouse.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

You know it in your heart. You know it's wrong, but your pride and selfishness prevent you from admitting it.

I appreciate your zeal - although I do think it is misguided here. I do not know in my heart that birth control is wrong; my conscience has not once been pricked over it. (If yours is, by all means, never use, and never let anyone tell you that you should - go not against your conscience!)

However, as my heart does not speak thusly to me, and I tend not to trust the desires or fears of my heart anyway (for often my heart is stupid. . . I'm a Cubs fan; the folly of my heart's desire is clear every cold and sad October) -- I will instead rely upon the clear Word of God - and where it speaks, there I will hang my hat.

+++++++++++

One other thing -- it is utterly sad that you feel that your relationship with your wife has been permanently harmed and forever retarded -- what I would counsel you on that idea is as thus: Our God is a God of healing and forgiveness. If you both agree that you have harmed each other, confess your sins and be absolved. Forgiveness heals, and the harms that we cause in our folly are healed. Let it be a learning experience, and grow together in Christ and in love for one another.

As to what was retarded in your relationship - do not put a burden upon yourself assuming that your past use of BC somehow thwarted God. If you had not used BC then, you may not have had children any sooner - or you may have. You cannot know either way - for you are not God, and God was still in control even in the days of your youth. To claim that you have forever retarded this gift of marriage which God has given to you and your spouse overstates your ability to tarnish the gifts which God gives to His children and cleanses with the Blood of His Son.

What is past is past, confess, be forgiven, and rejoice in the abundant gifts God continues to provide whatever the folly of youth may have been. God be with you and your family in the years to come which God grants to you.

Chad Myers said...

Rev Brown:

I appreciate your words of consolation and comforting. They do stir my soul and it is good to feel the love from a fellow Christian.

While my relationship with my wife is wonderful, I believe that the actions we take are their in alignment with or against God's will for us.

To the extent our actions are against God's will, we harm ourselves. Of course God is forgiving and loving as you pointed out (which is important always to keep in mind, thank you!), the damage we do to ourselves will prevent the original plan God had in store for us from going forward.

In that respect, every sinful decision I make ultimately thwarts God's Good Will for me. My relationship with my wife, with this mind, will never be as good as it COULD have been had I followed God's will originally. He will take it different places and correct the wrong, but it will never be as good as it could have been.

For a deeper examination of why contraception is so harmful and deeply contrary to God's Good Will for us in the sexual union of marriage, Christopher West does a decent job of explaining it:

http://www.christopherwest.com/page.asp?ContentID=97

I encourage you and everyone here to browse through some of his other articles which delve deeper into other areas of human sexuality and the marital bond:

http://www.christopherwest.com/page.asp?ContentID=15

You may not agree with everything, but much of it is beautiful and helpful for anyone who may be counseling engaged couples or couples having problems, etc.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Wow--Jacob, you expressed my thoughts perfectly. I think that it is a total misapplication of the text. It is nothing but sentimentalism, a "bleeding-heart-ism" that does not really fit in my opinion.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Rev. Brown,

You wrote: Scripture does not speak to contraception ... Even with Onan, that is not a case of mere contraception, but theft, covetousness - it was an attempt to steal.

While the account of that scoundrel Onan is only a small part of the Biblical case against contraception, it serves as a perfect example of the point I am making here.

My point: Yours is a novel interpretation, Rev. Brown. You will not find any theologians (prior to the last few decades) that agree with your interpretation of Genesis 38:10. On the contrary, orthodox theologians throughout history have consistently seen Genesis 38:10 as a clear condemnation of contraceptive intercourse.

Augustine had this to say about Onan's sin:

And why has Paul said: 'If he cannot control himself, let him marry?' Surely, to prevent incontinence from constraining him to adultery. If, then, he practices continence, neither let him marry nor beget children. However, if he does not control himself, let him enter into lawful wedlock, so that he may not beget children in disgrace or avoid having offspring by a more degraded form of intercourse. There are some lawfully wedded couples who resort to this last, for intercourse, even with one's lawfully wedded spouse, can take place in an unlawful and shameful manner, whenever the conception of offspring is avoided. Onan, the son of Juda, did this very thing, and the Lord slew him on that account.

Luther:

Onan must have been a malicious and incorrigible scoundrel. This is a most disgraceful sin. It is far more atrocious than incest and adultery. We call it unchastity, yes, a Sodomitic sin. For Onan goes in to her; that is, he lies with her and copulates, and when it comes to the point of insemination, spills the semen, lest the woman conceive. Surely at such a time the order of nature established by God in procreation should be followed. Accordingly, it was a most disgraceful crime to produce semen and excite the woman, and to frustrate her at that very moment. He was inflamed with the basest spite and hatred. Therefore he did not allow himself to be compelled to bear that intolerable slavery. Consequently, he deserved to be killed by God. He committed an evil deed. Therefore God punished him.

Lukas Osiander:

[What he did] which was an abhorrent thing and worse than adultery. For such an evil deed strives against nature, and those who do it will not possess the Kingdom of God, 1 Cor. 6:9-10. And the holier marriage is, the less will those remain unpunished who live in it in a wicked and unfitting way so that, in addition to it, they practice private acts of villainy.

If those citations are not sufficient for you, I can provide a lengthy bibliography for you upon request.

What changed that brought modern theologians to see this verse and others so differently? What makes those of us who happen to be alive and walking about believe we are so much wiser than all our fathers in the faith who came before us? What brought about this radical change in thinking? Why did God leave Christians in the dark for thousands of years about this freedom to contracept?

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

The Erich with the extra "h" in his name asked:
What changed that brought modern theologians to see this verse and others so differently?"

I would submit two things, both which end up coming into the fore more in the early 20th Century.

First, note where Luther says, "Accordingly, it was a most disgraceful crime to produce semen and excite the woman, and to frustrate her at that very moment." This relates something that is vital to Luther's theology regarding marriage and children that we play lip service towards today but don't consider fully. The child that Onan was to provide was for this woman's support - and in violating the order of nature (Not order merely in the fact that sex begets children but also the natural order that children support their parents in the parent's old age) Onan is a thief and (I would surmise Luther would say) a murderer of the woman, by removing from her her hopes of support and livelihood.

More can be found on these attitudes in the things where Luther writes on divorce - and also where he counsels the one nobleman that Poligamy would be preferable to divorce - for then at least the first wife is still provided for. Part of the care for a woman was providing her with children (which is why a woman could divorce her husband in the middle ages if he did not provide her with children).

We talk about children being a blessing, but in the past this was not merely some sentimental "my children are a joy to me" idea, but that literally they were the means by which God maintained people in their aged years. This is also why Luther states that to divorce a woman is tantamount to turning her into either a beggar or a whore - either she will remain virtuous and starve or ply a vile trade for the support of her flesh.

I bring this up because (for good or for ill) modern society has lost the concept of children supporting their parents (like wise, with alimony divorce doesn't make a woman destitute - hence this probably accounts for a relaxation of attitudes towards divorce, again for good or for ill). As such the tie between sex/children and support has been loosened. To prevent children was not just a matter of preventing children, but condemning and slaughtering the parents who had no children as well.

Second, also playing in on this issue would be the change in the understanding of what semen is. Classically speaking, the thought was that the semen was life, was "seed" and that the woman simply provided a place for that seed to root and grow. Therefore, each waste of semen was viewed literally as killing -- the distinction between contraception that would prevent the creation of a new life and an abortifacient would have been completely beyond the ability to comprehend.

Given the advances in understanding the working of God's creation, we can conclude that the destruction of semen by whatever means no more violates the 5th commandment than getting your legs waxed would (although both might happen for fool hardy reasons).

As such, the simple act of prevention conception lost the thrust of killing the child -- a classical thinker could look at what Onan did and say quite literally, "Onan poured a child on the ground to die." We could not say that anymore. Did he prevent (literally go before) a child - yes - but he did not kill. That is a distinction that has changed between now and then.

+++++++++++++++++

As such - show me a place where contraception is forbidden, and thus bind my conscience. Otherwise, let me be. I will not deny that children are blessings, indeed in a multitude of ways. I will not disagree that many times contraception is used for selfish reasons. But with both of these, the sin is the disdain of children and selfishness - not the tool used as a result.

To rail against contraception is akin to preaching against knives because a man was stabbed to death.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Chad,

You write:
In that respect, every sinful decision I make ultimately thwarts God's Good Will for me. My relationship with my wife, with this mind, will never be as good as it COULD have been had I followed God's will originally. He will take it different places and correct the wrong, but it will never be as good as it could have been.

And yet Paul would have us know that God uses all things to our good, and as we see from the story of Joseph, even that which is intended for evil is brought around for the good of God's children.

This is not to say that sin is indifferent or unimportant - or even that it has no consequences. Rather this - even in spite and through the temporal consequences we face as a result of sin, God blesses us in ways we could not understand. While there are things that could have been that now will never be, there are also things that you have now that you never would have - repentance drives us towards God and provides a fertile place for growing in wisdom.

Worry not about how badly you mess with God's plans - He is well practiced at overturning the wickedness of the world, and His righteousness and wisdom far exceeds our wickedness and folly.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Rev. Brown,

Your answer unwittingly provides a perfect illustration of the Twentieth Century Project at work.

Chad Myers said...

Look at the motivations for contraception and there you will find why it is sinful.

Avoiding contraception is a choice we are allowed to make either by abstaining or by attempting to naturally time copulation. The later still allowing God providence in the marital act should he see so fit.

The marital act is a full coming together, a full sharing of each other, a full bond of man and woman. To place a barrier between that is to tell the woman that she is not fully woman and cannot be fulfilled and to tell the man that he is not fully man and cannot be fulfilled.

More importantly, it blocks God from the equation. Each marriage is a reflection of the Trinity and should be in full love with each part therein. To place barriers blocks the flow of love between the three parts and leaves only earthly pleasure and ultimately unfulfilled desires and later resentment.

All proper love, as demonstrated by God, has fecundity. It is greater than the sum of its parts and produces even more love miraculously.

The marital act is designed to be the highest fulfillment of that miraculous love and it was designed by God to produce far more than its component parts.

Lastly, up until the 20th century, children have always been the primary source of wealth and seen as the supreme blessing from God and the ultimate fulfillment of the Human journey.

Then something evil and insidious changed that and made selfish desires, lust, licentiousness and personal pleasure the primary goal.

The final outcome of that line of reasoning is skyrocketing divorce rates and terrible depression and anxiety because people are not being fulfilled and know deep down that they are not living in accordance with their nature -- God's will for their ultimate happiness.

One last thought: God has so much more in store for us. Properly disposed marriage and the marital act is but a tiny glimpse of amazing love and ultimate joy we will see in heaven. To pervert it here on Earth is a terrible offense to this wonderful gift God has given us.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Chad,

You write:
Avoiding contraception is a choice we are allowed to make either by abstaining or by attempting to naturally time copulation. The later still allowing God providence in the marital act should he see so fit.

Actually, I would argue the opposite position. My wife was conceived while her parents were using birth control. If they had purposely avoided intercourse when conception was likely, that would have completely and totally prevented her being conceived.

Sometimes I think we can overbuy the hype of birth control. It fails. It isn't always effective. The most "effective" ones still have around a 1%-3% fail rate (meaning that a person using them has around a 1%-3% chance of becoming pregnant over a year's time) - that is for IUDs. In fact, according to

http://contraception.about.com/od/birthcontroldecisions/p/effectiveness.htm

The "fail" rate is actually higher for those using condomns rather than Natural Family Planning (12-22% for NFP, 15-29% for barrier methods). The assumption that NFP allows God to act while contraception doesn't is false.

And while I will agree wholeheartedly that there is much greed and lust involved in many usages of birth control, that isn't true in every case. The problem, then, is the lust or greed, not the use of a tool (any more than using a thermometer in Natural Family Planning would be wicked).

So understand that I am not condoning every usage of contraception, but rather asserting that it may be used rightly. The abuse of a tool doesn't mandate its ban.

+++++++++++++

Erich,

I couldn't find any other references to the TCP other than your link. As such, I am not overly familiar with this analysis, can't really find more than the site you've sited twice, and while Rev. Baker is a fine scholar, simply responding by shoehorning me into his terms (in apparently a perjorative or admonishinatory way. . . look there, you're talking like a TCPer) does little to nothing to sway me.

I care not if one says that I sound "Barthian" or "Schliermachian" (Although, I don't know which category you would say my argument falls under -- I'm not basing my arguments on human experience like Schleiermachians would, nor am devaluing natural law or human reason a la Barth. I would contend that I am following a rather straight forward Historical-Grammatical approach, paying attention to the Historical data we have and focusing on the clear Words of Scripture). Rather this - refute the argument.

Show me where on the basis of Scripture where you may bind me to this law which I do not see present.

Other than that, I will act like neither Barth nor Schleiermacher and say:

"Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason-for I can believe neither pope nor councils alone, as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves-I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God."

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Rev. Brown,

You are confusing the point I am addressing in this discussion. I am not trying to convince you that contraception is inherently sinful. That discussion is for another time and place. The point I have been addressing here is that the LCMS is headed down the same path as the E?CA because the approach used to address these questions of "sexuality" is based upon the same faulty theology -- the same theology that allowed this change in teaching on contraception and a host of other issues -- the same theology you have given a clear illustration of in your replies here (no shoe horn necessary) -- a theology which is not based on exegesis, but eisegesis, reading modern scientific and sociological principles into the text, and dismissing the unanimous 2000 year history of interpretation handed down to us by our fathers in the faith as being in error because our fathers were ignorant of these enlightened modern sources of knowledge and understanding.

It is what brings people to say: "If I don't see it clearly stated in Scripture, I am not bound by it, even if my fathers in the faith unanimously saw it as clearly taught in Scripture for 2000 years."

K said...

I have to say my peace on this whole contraception debate (this one irks me because it's so obvious).

The Bible may not explicitly say that artificial contraception is bad, but the Bible does say over and over that children are a blessing. People who are infertile think they've been cursed. Full quivers and all of that. We should all desire to have a house packed full of smiling, albeit noisy, children.

Will there be exceptions--sick moms, poverty, etc. where avoidance of a pregnancy might be in order. Of course, but the woman's body naturally provides quite a few unfertile days a month where intercourse will not create a new life, but the possibility is there should GOD decide it should happen.

As for letting our consciences decide. My conscience might tell me lots of things that I shouldn't listen to. Usually things that my will desires that aren't necessarily things I should be doing. I think too many of our consciences have been formed by the culture we live in, rather then a thorough thinking through of these choices and lots and lots of prayer.

And a final note, off the religious topic and purely biological. What other part of our body, when working perfectly well, do we attack with drugs or otherwise mortify? Do we stop our heart when beating? Puncture perfectly good lungs? Cut off limbs that are working? No! The only system we hurt is our reproductive system because we don't like the consequences. We somehow no better than God his design for our bodies.

The whole contraceptive mentality is no different than abortion really. One doesn't want the child after it's been conceived, the other doesn't want the child before.

Thanks for letting me vent.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

I think this last comment is probably one of the wisest of the bunch. First, the point that God has "built in" an infertile time every month, or at least a time when fertility is much less. He has also built in a natural spacing mechanism called "nursing." Ideally a married couple would forgo all forms of contraception, even artificial spacing methods, and rely solely on the providence of God to give or not to give children. My wife and I were too weak to trust in this at all times, though we did give birth to three lovely children (and she was pregnant four other times that we know of).

The other point that was made is also a good one: why damage or hinder something that is working the way it is supposed to be working? These are very cogent arguments in my opinion.

I understand human weakness. We are, after all, but dust. Those who struggle with this are to be pitied, not brow-beaten in my opinion. This is where we have to recognize that though by faith we are total saint, and justified in God's sight, we still have that Old Adam that hangs around us and we are not yet perfected in our sanctification. This doesn't mean that we should just say "to hell with it" and not even try to live in the new obedience that the Gospel requires (Gospel in the wide sense here), only that we can take some comfort in the fact that our righteous standing with God is not based on our refusal to use contraception.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Erich,

The thing is in a Theological discussion, history is always only a secondary locus of support, never the primary. You cannot win a theological discussion by arguing from history - the discussion has to be focused on Scripture. Again, this is what Luther does - he does not yield simply because of what Popes or councils say, but rather the key issue is whether what they say align with Scripture? I am simply holding to that same standard.

Also - to say that you are not trying to say that Contraception is sinful is. . . confusing. If it is not sinful, why would we ever say it is? (Like my mom said, if everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you as well?) That is another point you cite where people have wrongly departed from what should be taught. As such, whether or not it should in fact be taught is vital.

Bear in mind - I am not trying to be the champion of contraception. If I were living over in Ireland, I'd be perfectly content with it being illegal (there is no divine right to contraception). But rather this - it is wrong to go beyond Scripture in what we either mandate or forbid. We can encourage many things, we can and ought sacrifice our own desires for the sake of the neighbor, but we dare not bind what Scripture does not bind. I see some of the reactions to contraception as moving towards an undue binding (if you say something is "sinful" you bind it).

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K,

You write:
Will there be exceptions--sick moms, poverty, etc. where avoidance of a pregnancy might be in order.

Precisely my point. If there are points where the avoidance of pregnancy may be in order - why should we castigate a tool used for that purpose? All that does is bind consciences when people are already in rough places.

To say, "Contraception is wrong" unduly binds consciences. Now, is this to say that birth control should be encouraged, promoted, or exulted? By no means! Does this mean that I think that there isn't a disdain of God's gift of children in society - by no means! But the activity of the wicked should not be used as the impetus to deny God's people the use of a tool - anymore than the fact that people commit murder with guns means Christians should never own one.

Rather than focusing on the tool, we need to focus on the attitudes that lead to the abuse of that tool. Otherwise we go run off after a Red-herring.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Let me reiterate a bit more on one point.

If I were living over in Ireland, I'd be perfectly content with it being illegal (there is no divine right to contraception).

I mean this with all sincerity. If there were a discussion where someone were to argue that Christians MUST have access to contraception and that laws against them violated Scripture, I would argue against that position just as vehemently.

I care little for the specific topic (other than the fact that the issue of contraception does impact people) - but rather to hold fast to Scripture alone - and as something is being bound that is not bound in Scripture, holding fast to the idea of Christian principal.

I think reading Luther's "On the Freedom of a Christian" is something that should be done much more often - especially in a democratic society where we are used to imposing our wills upon other via the vote.

K said...

Rev. Brown,

I guess this is the big area where we differ. I don't see contraception as a tool. It stops the possible formation of a new life or in the case of the pill, often aborts a newly conceived life.

God gave us a natural way to space babies. Thank you Rev. Beisel for reminding me of the child spacing provided by nursing on demand (you'd think I'd remember that as I sit here nursing my 21 mo. old).

For those hard cases, I truly feel for those people. Extended abstinence can't be fun, but I don't think carrying your "cross" was ever meant to be fun. I don't think excluding God from the marriage bed is ever right. He should be the center of everything a married couple does.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

K,

First, let me second my old friend Rev. Beisel in saying that you do make some fantastic arguments and appeals. Especially the question of why damage something that is working (the only example I can think of would be where a surgery is done - you have an incision in the skin to reach some other part of the body. Ideally, you would never slice open the skin, but in response to a greater misfortune, the lesser misfortune of the incision is done)

But even with other "natural" methods of prevention conception (be it NFP, or nursing), there is still a matter of a human decision, and exercise of individual will, to attempt to avoid conception. In those cases, deciding to prolong nursing or to abstain are both tools being exercised to avoid conception.

One could have the most vile, self-centered reasons for avoiding child-birth and use NFP. Another could have quite legitimate reasons for temporarily avoiding child birth and use a contraceptive. I would contend that the first person is the one in error. By focusing on method, we end either ignoring or making assumptions about the desires that brought about the act, and it is the desire that ought to be examined.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Rev. Brown,

You wrote: "Also - to say that you are not trying to say that Contraception is sinful is. . . confusing."

It would be, but I didn't say that.

I wrote: "I am not trying to convince you that contraception is inherently sinful. That discussion is for another time and place."

I do believe contraception is inherently sinful, but it is not the purpose of my comments here to convince you of that. I have an entire blog devoted to that subject.

Please understand. There is a big difference between taking issue with the logic of an argument or the validity of the premises, and taking issue with the validity of the conclusion. One can have a valid conclusion, yet arrive at it with invalid reasoning or premises.

You fail to see that my point here is not to argue about whether or not contraception is inherently sinful, but rather to expose the destructive influences on our theology that ushered in this progressive abandonment of the Biblical ethics our fathers in the faith believed, taught, and confessed.

Something radical happened in the past century that turned Christian ethics upside down. I believe Rev. Robert C. Baker has begun to clarify this in a way that all of us would be well-severed to pay attention to.

This is not just a Lutheran problem, but spans all Christian denominations. Even Roman Catholicism was influenced by the Twentieth Century Project, as this article on Humanae Vitae chronicles.

Another aspect of the Twentieth Century Project pointed out by Rev. Baker is that "classical Lutheran ethics embraced lex natura, the natural law; its abandonment by some Lutherans in the 20th century has impoverished Lutheran contributions to the field."

For an recent explanation of the proper place of natural law in Lutheran ethics, see Gifford Grobien, "A Lutheran Understanding of Natural Law in the Three Estates," Concordia Theological Quarterly 73 (2009).

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Erich,

In linking me with TCS you are barking up the wrong tree - I'm by no means a modernist -- if anything I fall into a "Postmodernist" camp (ack! gasp! shock! horror!) -- not in the crass "There is no truth" American libertine sense, but more along the lines of Foucault, where the contention is made that things which are assumed to be true may in fact not be true.

Basically, I will contend that many things which are perceived or assumed to be true (normally on a cultural basis) are not necessarily true. It is one thing to say, "X is wrong, see all the folks who have said that it is wrong." I will respond "show me the work that proves it to be wrong." I want to see why we must come to a certain conclusion if we are to remain faithful, not just evidence that this has been the historic assumption.

As such, my reasons for questioning opposition to contraception have nothing to do with modernist agendas or a denial of natural law. Rather it is from fear that we have fallen into assumptions about what is proper and according to God's Word rather than actually seeing that what we say is what God says. If we have fallen to assumptions, then we have fallen into the ancient trap the foe has lain for us, teaching the commandments of men as the commandment of God.

One final note, I just got my copy of CTQ and look forward to reading Rev. Grobein's article.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Erich (and Rev. Grobein, if you are reading this),

I just finished reading my old friend's excellent essay. I think he is spot on, and I will use his essay to demonstrate precisely why I have problems with blanket assertions that contraception is intrinsically wrong or sinful on the basis of natural law.

Rev. Grobein writes, "The natural law, by definition, is general. It does not give commands or require precise codes of conduct. It says merely, 'Love'." (pg 220).

I would assert that blanket condemnation of contraception ignores natural law by substituting an artificial code of conduct. The question should be considered how Husband and Wife can show love to each other as spouses and also to their children as parents. In some cases, the best showing of that love may involve contraception. By making a code of conduct which prohibits this, the natural law is in effect kept from being up held.

Rev. Grobein also states in the section on marriage and family, "Thus, marriage, in this very concrete, bodily, and established manner, serves men and women in obeying the divine law by putting sexual urges in their proper place of procreation, nurturing, and serving." (223) I wold note that there are three aspects there, not just the act of procreation. There are times when, in a sinful and fallen world, when these may be set against each other - where it may be a matter of nurturing or service to temporarily avoid procreation. To treat procreation as the end-all of the sexual relationship, that which it can not be used without, denies the place of nurturing and service that are also part of it. Indeed, as Rev. Grobein points out, "To avoid satisfying this urge [towards sexual relations] or to satisfy it in ways other than marriage is to go against God's created ordinance" (223), and even Paul warns that husband and wife are not to deprive each other of themselves (1 Cor 7:5). A loving decision to attempt to avoid procreation should not trump and remove the nurturing and service of intercourse - for to assert so does violence to the gift of marriage.

Here I am aware that I am not following a line of argumentation that the Church had traditionally followed (Luther would have found this to be a foreign line). However, I do believe this argumentation is faithful to natural law, to Christian freedom, and above all, to Scripture.

Finally, Rev. Grobein notes, "Because the stations are lived out in time, unique circumstances, and various relationships, the responsibilities of those serving in these stations can never be delineated in advance with precise detail." (226) I would contend that prohibiting contraception is exactly such a delineation which fails to take into account unique circumstances.

I would also contend that for too long the Church, on this issue, had fallen into assumptions which ended up slicing across the right exercise of natural law.

Granted, this deals more on the conclusion side, (and Gifford, if I just ran with your paper in a way you completely disagree with, I apologize, but I believe my argumentation here to be sound) but I write this just to reiterate my point. Even should I concede that poorly done arguments and motives toppled the position on birth control (I don't know), that doesn't mean that it shouldn't remain toppled, or that a re-assertment of the natural law means that we must also reassert an anti-contraception stance (which is what your first post seemed to state).

Rev. Gifford A. Grobien said...

I will only try to respond to two points, the two which I think will be the most helpful in perpetuating reflection on this topic, which is unlikely to be resolved in this forum.

Firstly, because my article demonstrated how the natural law corresponds to Lutheran theology, specifically in relation to the estates, it was necessarily general with respect to casuistry. Therefore, I would urge caution in drawing conclusions about contraception from the article directly.

Nevertheless, while it is true that fundamentally the natural law is general, that doesn't mean precepts of the natural law cannot be established for applicable circumstances. Thus the natural law prohibits murder, applicable when someone kills without authority or without just cause. The natural law is the basis for some rather general commands. In fact, one of the points of the article was to show the circumstances in which we all live, relating to others in the household/economy, political sphere, and church, so that we would have a greater understanding of our universal context in which to apply the natural law.

I also want to clarify that where Rev. Brown interprets the various aspects of sexual relations (termed "procreation, nurturing and serving" in my article) to be separable should they be set against each other because of sin, that the natural law would not see them as separable. It is probably clearer to term these aspects procreation, loving union, and satisfaction of sexual desire, and the natural law can see no separation of these. If serving any one of these things would be detrimental for whatever reason, then the whole sexual act should be refrained from. That is, at least, how the natural law has been traditionally understood in the church.

Rev. Gifford A. Grobien said...

This leads to my second point, and the main point of disagreement between Rev. Brown and Dr. Heidenreich. Dr. Heidenreich is correct in his account of the history of interpretation of contraception, but Rev. Brown challenges the validity of this interpretation because he does not see the argument in Scripture. The two gentlemen thus have not merely different opinions about contraception or the interpretation of this or that passage of Scripture, but they demonstrate epistemologies at odds. The interpretation offered by Dr. Heidenreich is a classical interpretation that operates out of ontological assumptions: what a creature does is related to who or what it is, and who or what it is is not simply the observable properties and characteristics, but the purpose for which the creature exists and the relationship he is engaged in. When purpose and relationship is assumed, then attributes are less likely to be seen as independent and incidental, but integrated with each other attributes and with other creatures. In other words, for human beings, because semen is emitted through sexual excitement which deepens the emotional bonds between the male and female, sexual relations are for procreation, satisfying sexual urges, and building loving unity. They all go together, and cannot be separated in an independent way, as if each aspect was unimportant for the flourishing of the other aspects.

The interpretation offered by Rev. Brown, on the other hand, even if he does not like it, is a modernist one. Yes, the skeptical aspect is postmodern. But what is fundamental is his move away from a holistic understanding of purpose that relies on ontology and relationship, to a subjective perspective that analyzes act and function as relatively independent from any metaphysical essence and purpose of the creature. Relationships and purposes may even be thought to be unchallenged presuppositions, and therefore should be discarded for a truly proper interpretation of a creature or action. From this perspective it is more difficult to make inferences and draw implications. So just because semen is emitted, and one is sexually aroused, and emotional attachment deepens in sexual relations doesn't mean that these cannot be sharply distinguished or even separated when it comes to consideration of the integrity of the act or the complementarity of the aspects. Thus one would also be in greater need of explicit commands or passages from whatever one's authority is (in this case, the Scriptures) for determining the integrity of the act and what is allowed or prohibited.

So I suspect that you are at an impasse until you address this epistemological difference. Most people don't think the way Dr. Heidenreich is arguing, which I think was his point in the first place.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Yes, Rev. Grobien, that is precisely the point I was trying to make, but you make it so much better than I can. Thank you! I am so encouraged about the future of Lutheranism when I listen to you, Rev. Baker, and others like you explain these matters. Thanks and praise be to God for your wisdom and insight!

This important comment last night by Rev. Robert Baker over at Lutherans and Procreation is also very helpful in clarifying the epistemological differences we are discussing:

"...at the turn of the last century many Christians were divided over the issue of evolution, the purpose, role, and authority of Scripture, etc.

"The world was changing. Because believers also use the language of the world, which brings with it ideas and concepts foreign to the faith, they begin to reflect and write on their faith in a different way. Some believers followed after the Princeton theologians and accepted Fundamentalism. Others, following Kant and Schleiermacher, accepted Liberalism. When you are accused of being a Fundamentalist, or a literalist, or a traditionalist, for example, most likely the person making such an exaggeration is operating from a Liberal set of beliefs, whether or not he or she is aware of it.

"In addition to Fundamentalism, another reaction to Liberalism came through the teaching of Swiss Reformed theologian, Karl Barth. Barth denied natural law and taught a strong divine command theory ethic, which means that the only commands that are valid for the Christian are those that are recorded verbatim in Scripture. If you cannot find a Bible verse specifically condemning any activity, then you are free to do that activity.

"I find this line of reasoning being utilized, with no apparent credit to Barth, by Missouri Synod theologians beginning in the 1930's, about the same time as when Barth was having his famous debate with Emil Brunner.

"The strong divine command theory ethic is why, in my opinion, that modern Lutherans accept contraception (because it is not specifically condemned in Scripture), whereas orthodox Lutherans (Luther, Melanchthon, Chemnitz, Gerhard, et. al.) condemned it as violating the first, fourth, fifth, and six commandments. This method is also why "conservative" Lutherans are unable successfully to address current moral crises today. To wit, most current condemnations of the ELCA's decision to allow same-sex unions and the ordination of gays and lesbians highlight that these are condemned in Scripture.

"True, but same-sex attraction and activity also violates the moral law embedded in human nature. Even without Scripture, these folks should know better. If you don't believe me, ask St. Paul.

"For more about my views, log on to bioethike.com.

"Blessings,
Robert C. Baker"

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Rev. Grobien,

Excellent posts, and thank you (I figured I might be going a slightly different way than you). And I see and understand the distinction that is being made.

That being said - I am still dubious of an approach that places its final stand on something other than the clear Word of Scripture and interpretations that flow directly therefrom. Otherwise what defense do we have from a Pharisaical system - for it was very holistic as well - where thing that are wise and pious are twisted into mandates and laws that are not Godly?

While a holistic approach is good, I don't think it can be mandated - it can be a rule but it must allow for exceptions, because that happens in a sinful world. Rev. Grobein notes, "If serving any one of these things would be detrimental for whatever reason, then the whole sexual act should be refrained from" but then also notes that there is a connection of many things within sex. "So just because semen is emitted, and one is sexually aroused, and emotional attachment deepens in sexual relations doesn't mean that these cannot be sharply distinguished or even separated when it comes to consideration of the integrity of the act or the complementarity of the aspects.

It is not that I see these as being fundamentally unrelated - they are and ought to be, but that doesn't mean that it should be an "all or nothing" proposition. Should a wife who for what ever reason (assume a godly reason) cannot have another child be denied a closer relationship with her husband for the sake of an ideal? Even if another child is not an option, should the satisfaction of sexual desire in a God-pleasing estate be denied? St. Paul warns us against this.

The holistic approach is a wonderful ideal - it is the one I encourage myself - but it is an ideal, and there are exceptions to it that I do not think we can say are fundamentally unpleasing. More over, I worry about binding the conscience of those who cannot meet those ideals, adding to the cruelty of their situation. One can fight the ills of society and modern disdain for children without additional burdens upon people.

++++++++++++++++

I also would contend that God is a God of freedom - His law tends to say, "don't do X, Y, and Z, but as for the rest, go have fun" much more than, "you may only do this and this." Go eat from any tree in the garden, except this one.

Likewise, Paul affirms our freedom, only do not use your freedom as an occasion to sin. The realm of freedom is much larger than that which is curtailed due to being sinful. I think in striving for an ideal we select one option amongst the free options God gives and say "this alone is clean". Sets my legalist radar all aflutter (which comes from my old Ohio Synod heritage).

Finally - no, I'm not a modernist, I'm a Post-modernist. I'm not using Modern categories because I like them, but in reaction to them (which is the Post-modern approach; rather than trying to return to a point before the modern categories are introduced, I skewer and break down lots of modern thought -- rather than trying to put the cat back in the bag, I'm more interested in shooting the cat. . .)

GL said...

This insistence on finding an explicit condemnation of contraception in order to condemn it is not only a break from historic Christian and Lutheran hermeneutics, it is logically inconsistent with other condemnations which are accepted. Let's apply it to two other issues and we can see its flaws.

First, take polygamy. Polygamy is nowhere explicitly condemned in Scripture. Its practice is certainly not a salvation issue, as King David practiced it, as did Jacob, and Scripture gives every indication that both are counted among the Saints. St. Paul makes clear that a man with more than one wife may not serve in a pastoral office. That injunction, however, could be read as implicitly condoning the practice among the laity since he never explicitly condemned the practice per se. A Fundamentalist cannot, therefore, condemn polygamy while condoning contraception and be consistent in his approach hermeneutic. He must deduce the condemnation, as do we, from what Scripture teaches about the nature of marriage as God created it. Yet, Scripture also shows that God created marriage to be procreative and that fruitfulness within marriage is blessing from Him, while barrenness is a curse. The same hermeneutic which is used to condemn polygamy leads to the condemnation of contraception.

What of abortion? The pro-life Fundamentalist will assert that the explicit command not to murder applies to this sin, and I would agree. Unfortunately, for the Fundamentalist, he cannot find an explicit teaching as to when a conceived human reaches a state of development that calls into operation that command. We can deduce that it comes into operation at conception from a variety of Scriptural passages, but none are explicit. One often cited is Jeremiah 1:5:

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations."

But this creates real problems for the anti-abortion, pro-contraception Fundamentalist. God says that He knew the prophet BEFORE He formed Him in the womb, not afterwards or during or, even, when He began to do so. Yet, God begins to form us at the moment of conception. If God knew Jeremiah BEFORE He formed Him, He knew Him before Jeremiah was conceived. This supports the anti-contraceptionist.

Take another frequently cited verse employed by anti-abortion, but pro-contraception Fundamentalist, Deuteronomy 30:19, which reads:

"I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live."

Again, this highlights the inconsistency of the Fundamentalist. God commands us to choose life, yet contraception is an explicit attempt to reject life. God's Word repeatedly calls fertility a blessing and barrenness a curse, yet contraception rejects the blessing which God has set before us and, instead, chooses the curse.

It is, in short, impossible to be consistent in one's hermeneutic and at the same time condemn abortion while condoning contraception. Such a person is neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm. Better be the liberal, who at least is consistent in his rejection of the clear meaning and necessary implications of God's Word.

Luther, Melanchthon, Chemnitz, Gerhard, Walther, Sr., et al. were not ignorant of Scripture nor were the defective in their hermeneutic when they condemned contraception. When one's understanding differs completely from the great fathers of the Faith in an important matter, he should carefully consider whether his approach to Scripture is sound and, in humility, consider the reasoning of his ancestors in the Faith.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

GL,

There are times when even abortion is justified - ectopic pregnancy for one. Yes, it is killing - there are times when in a sinful world one life is ended so that another may live.

However, I would not say that I am "condoning" abortion by saying this. Rather, there are allowances for when it can be used. Likewise, I am not arguing that contraception should be used willy-nilly, but rather that blanket condemnations of a "thing" do nothing to address the sinful desires that would bring about its abuse.

I would also note that you do push the desire for a Scriptural condemnation a bit too far as regards the issue of abortion - I do not need to look to Scripture to define an unborn child as yet a child (however, one can look to several places to show that this is how Scripture deals with the issue) hence the command against murder clearly applies to all humans, regardless of age. You set up a false distinction there with the demands that are placed upon Scripture there.

As to polygamy - it's illegal, we are bound by the state. If it weren't illegal -- I would say that it is highly foolish and I would never counsel for it, not only for the fact that it would be horribly messy (as the example of the patriarchs demonstrate), but also that it most likely would be highly offensive to many others. Therefore, out of Christian love it is to be avoided.

Also, as regards Deut 30:19, if you wish to define choosing life as simply doing actions which bring about procreation, you would be arguing that anyone who remains celebate is de facto choosing death as well. As Scripture does not condemn celibacy, I think you push your interpretation of that verse too far.

Again, let me reiterate - if anyone is distressed by contraception, by all means, use it not! Avoid it like the plague! But we should hesitate to bind people - even if it has been a way in which people have been bound historically. I live 5 miles from a town named after Menno Simons - we can in our zeal to be godly push entirely too far.

GL said...

Rev. Brown,

Let's take these in order:

You write, "There are times when even abortion is justified - ectopic pregnancy for one."

Let's take that statement as given (even though Catholic moral teaching would assert that the while the baby will certainly die as a result of the surgery necessary to save the mother, he may not be killed directly). If contraception can be justified in exigent circumstances (a position which I will not oppose), what circumstances would justify its use? I assume the risk to the life of the wife would be one and I won't debate that. Are there any others? And, if avoiding pregnancy is licit under some circumstances, does that justify any means which will achieve that in or are some means licit, while others are not and, if the latter, how do we decide which means are licit and which are not?

You write, "I would also note that you do push the desire for a Scriptural condemnation a bit too far as regards the issue of abortion - I do not need to look to Scripture to define an unborn child as yet a child (however, one can look to several places to show that this is how Scripture deals with the issue) hence the command against murder clearly applies to all humans, regardless of age."

Please cite the explicit Scripture which supports this position. I can deduce that, of course, but then I don't insist on explicit commands. Others will point to the treatment of a man who causes a miscarriage as refuting your position. (While I disagree with that reading, it does require some showing that the prohibition on causing the death of a human applies to the unborn.)

(To be continued due to character restrictions.)

GL said...

(Continued from above)

You write, "And yes, there is the command to be fruitful and multiply - however, the application of that command to every individual is problematic. Scripture also commends chastity and abstinence (which is about as opposite of multiplying as you can get) - if we are going to say that multiplication is mandatory, then we must condemn all who do not seek to have children (even those who abstain from marriage), which pushes well beyond the bounds of what Scripture teaches."

Of course not. Our Lord was celibate. Celibacy is not a sin. The teaching is that one may not engage in completed sexual acts in a manner which by their nature cannot be procreative or which are deliberately rendered sterile. Luther was by no means alone in calling such acts sodomy, but was echoed by such Lutherans as Abraham Calovius, Conrad Dannhauer, Christian Gerber, and Johann Gerhard.

And this is also the answer to your remarks about Deut. 30:19. Sex has been given to us by our Creator as a gift which we may use as the means by which He may, if He so chooses, bless us with children. If we use it in other ways, we seek to separate what God has joined together, rejecting the blessing of life and choosing the curse of sterility instead. In so doing, we in effect call God a liar, declaring, by our actions, that children or more children or children now are not a blessing.

Have you read what these men, and such other Lutherans as Johannes Brunneman, Franz Delitszch, John H.C. Fritz, Johann K.F. Keil, Paul E. Kretzmann, Theodore F.K. Laetsch, Herbert Carl Leupold, Walter A. Maier, Sr., Wolfgang Musculus, Johannes Olearius, Lukas Osiander, the Elder, and J. Heinrich Richter, wrote on this subject?

Absent some exigent circumstance which might otherwise justify the use of contraception (e.g., life of the wife), why, other than rejecting the repeated teaching of Scripture that children are a blessing from God, would one use contraception? I honestly have never been able to find any other logical explanation for its use absent some extreme exigency, which (just as with the exigency of life of the mother in the case of abortion) is not the primary reason for which contraception is used.

I cannot help but recall the reply of Walter A. Maier, Sr. to those in his day who promoted the then novel view that Scripture was silent on the matter:

"The majority report of the Committee on Birth Control appointed by the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America states that the Church and the Bible are 'silent upon the subject.' This is a bold statement. When the first human parent pair was created, the divine commandment enjoined: 'Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth.' (Gen. 1:28). After the Deluge, when the world was to take its second start, the blessing for Noah and his sons again required them to 'be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth.' (Gen. 9:1) In Ps. 127:3 we read: 'Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord, And the fruit of the womb is His reward.' The picture of the ideal home is described in Ps. 128:3: 'Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house, Thy children like olive plants round about thy table.' . . . In spite of extended argument not a single passage can be adduced from Scripture which in any remote way condones birth control; and no one acquainted with the Bible should hesitate to admit that it is a definite departure from the requirements of Scripture. See Gen. 38:9, 10."

Given that so many Lutheran fathers explicitly identified contraception as sodomy and is a sin against one of the very purposes for which marriage is ordained, this topic relates directly to the actions taken by the ELCA and whether or not more conservative Christians have a log in our in eye which must be removed so that we may clearly see how to help remove the speck from the eye of our brothers.

Does it not give you pause that so many respected Lutheran fathers were so certain and adamant on this issue?

GL said...
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Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Rev. Brown wrote: There are times when even abortion is justified - ectopic pregnancy for one. Yes, it is killing - there are times when in a sinful world one life is ended so that another may live.


Whoa!!! Hold it right there! I once fell into this same error in thinking, and believe me, such a statement is a horrible mistake. This goes to show just how far this faulty modern epistemology has taken us. This is one of the most egregious errors modern theologians of the Missouri Synod have fallen into.

It is never, I repeat NEVER, justified for us to take it upon ourselves to end one life so that another may live. However, the death of an unborn child may be a tragically unavoidable byproduct ("double effect") of medical procedures necessary to prevent the death of the mother. It is absolutely crucial, though, to distinguish any such procedures from "abortion" because it is not the intent of any such procedure to kill the baby.

This important distinction will seem too subtle for many without further explanation of the "Doctrine of Double Effect".

The Doctrine of Double Effect would, for example, justify the common practice of continuing to give pain relief medication to a terminally ill person near the end of life, even though such medication may hasten the death of the individual through suppression of respiration, etc. We would never equate such end-of-life medical care as murder. My sister has been in this situation as an intensive care nurse too many times to count.

To borrow a brief explanation from a very instructive Roman Catholic explanation of this issue:

However, if medical treatment or surgical operation, necessary to save a mother's life, is applied to her organism (though the child's death would, or at least might, follow as a regretted but unavoidable consequence), it should not be maintained that the fetal life is thereby directly attacked. Moralists agree that we are not always prohibited from doing what is lawful in itself, though evil consequences may follow which we do not desire. The good effects of our acts are then directly intended, and the regretted evil consequences are reluctantly permitted to follow because we cannot avoid them.

The example of "abortion" being justified in the case of ectopic pregnancy is horribly wrong. The Doctrine of Double Effect would justify a salpingostomy, which restores the fallopian tube by re-sectioning the obstructed portion which is in danger of rupturing and causing the mother to bleed to death. Ideally this would also include an attempt to implant the embryo in the uterus at the same time. A salpingostomy aims at preserving the mother’s life (the desired effect). Although it almost always results in the loss of the child’s life (an undesirable second effect), it does not use the destruction of the child’s life as an evil means toward the good end of preserving the mother’s life.

Now, contrast this theological perspective with the LCMS CTCR opinion from 1984. The influences we have been discussing in this thread are painfully obvious in that horribly flawed statement. This erroneous theological position is even perpetuated in the most recent Synodical Explanation of the Small Catechism:

"Since abortion takes a human life, it is not a moral option except to prevent the death of another person, the mother."

This is a HORRIBLE error. The "life of the mother" exception is used to justify countless abortions.

For more on this see these links:

Touchstone: Abortion & the Mother’s Life


Association of Prolife Physicians

Realchoice: Reality Check

GL said...

Finally, you wrote, "Again, let me reiterate - if anyone is distressed by contraception, by all means, use it not! Avoid it like the plague! But we should hesitate to bind people - even if it has been a way in which people have been bound historically."

Indeed. Are you declaring that this is what was done by such Lutheran fathers as Abraham Calovius, Conrad Dannhauer, Christian Gerber, Johann Gerhard, Johannes Brunneman, Franz Delitszch, John H.C. Fritz, Johann K.F. Keil, Paul E. Kretzmann, Theodore F.K. Laetsch, Herbert Carl Leupold, Walter A. Maier, Sr., Wolfgang Musculus, Johannes Olearius, Lukas Osiander, the Elder, and J. Heinrich Richter and, indeed, Luther himself? What if they all are right and you are wrong?

I am reminded of Christian Gerber, who, when writing on this very topic, said,

"Preachers do not like to talk about it from the pulpit and therefore seldom do so. But to that extent these abhorrent sins take the upper hand . . . . Now what these old theologians have done stands free also for me and other faithful preachers to do, especially since many are not so pure from Sodomitic atrocities. When in the year 1687 I came to speak with the deacon there in Toeplitz in Bohemia, I met with the same rebuke: did we not instruct our people all too little so that the common man often did not know what was a sin?"

GL said...
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GL said...

Rev. Brown,

I forgot to address one objection you raised which I intended to address:

You wrote, "As to polygamy - it's illegal, we are bound by the state. If it weren't illegal -- I would say that it is highly foolish and I would never counsel for it, not only for the fact that it would be horribly messy (as the example of the patriarchs demonstrate), but also that it most likely would be highly offensive to many others. Therefore, out of Christian love it is to be avoided."

First, the use of contraception was illegal in many states in the United States during much of the 19th and 20th century. And it was illegal to use the U.S. Mails to promote it for many decades. In 1965, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down such laws as unconstitutional in the case of Griswold v. Connecticut. In that case, for the first time, the Court (Justice Douglas wrote the opinion), found a "right to privacy" which allegedly is to be found in the penumbra emanating from the Bill of Rights. That case only applied to the use of contraceptives by married couples. During the next decade, the Court first extended it to unmarried adults and then to minors. In 1973, it used this newly found right (citing to Griswold) to strike down the laws against abortion in the case of Roe v. Wade. In 2002, the Court relied on this same "right to privacy" (again citing Griswold) to strike down the laws against sodomy in Lawrence v. Texas. Coincidently, while Justice O'Connor agreed with the result, she disagree with the reasoning, instead, relying on the equal protection clause, noting that while heterosexual sodomy and contraception were once illegal, they no longer were and that certain acts performed between two men or two women could not be made crimes while the same acts performed between a man and a woman were not. Justice Scalia dissented, declaring that such reasoning as the Court used would lead to same-sex marriage. And just a few months later it did, when the Massachusetts Supreme Court, citing Griswold and Lawrence, struck down that state's restrictions of marriage to one man and one woman.

As with the theological argument, so with the legal one. By changing the hermeneutic to justify contraception, the whole cloth began to unravel, leading first the the acceptance of abortion (both by churches and by the law) and then sodomy (by churches and the law) and now sodomitic marriages (by churches and the law). Polygamy will be next. Legal scholars are already busy building the case which flows inevitably from the hermeneutic. Expect churches to do the same.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

GL,

Your last comment also illustrates the fallout from the first point of Rev. Baker's comment I shared above:

"The world was changing. Because believers also use the language of the world, which brings with it ideas and concepts foreign to the faith, they begin to reflect and write on their faith in a different way."

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

P.S. The church co-opting of the "life of the mother exception" I spoke of above is also an example of the modern theologians speaking the language of the culture, bringing with it ideas and concepts foreign to the Christian faith.

Chad Myers said...

I'm still reeling from the "God is a God of freedom" comment.

I dropped my jaw on that one. Sure, God has granted us Free Will, and he delights in our activities but they must always be aligned with His Will and with the purpose of Glorifying him.

Anything else is pride.

Let me put it this way: Why makes you think you have the right or the power to take on the decision of procreation for yourself?

God put you on this Earth, God gave you a wife or husband, God gave you sex, God COMMANDED you (the FIRST commandment, no less) to be fruitful and multiply, yet, we Americans and Europeans think that we have this notion of 'freedom' (libre) that we can determine our own fates.

While contraception may violate many other commandments, it all flows from the first sin of pride: That I am 'free' to assume for myself these decisions and my will before God's.

When the serpent told Eve "you will be like God", this is what he meant: You will presume your will before all others. Except God is entitled to that, you are not.

The Evangelicals say, "Christ is my personal Lord and Savior".

Indeed many wish Christ to be their savior, but few with him to be their Lord.

Christ as your Lord requires obedience, even unto death (even death on a cross -- the worst kind of death -- if necessary).

Many are given huge sexual crosses to bear (the heavy burden of homosexual tendencies, the heavy burden of hypersexuality, etc). That healthy, fertile couples complain that they can't have 'freedom' to commit sodomy in defiance of God and to insult and defile one of the most gracious and amazing Gifts He gave us, is an insult to all those suffering including, and especially Christ himself.

He did not save us and free us from the pains of Death only so we could impose our own will upon our lives.

Chad Myers said...

(ack, sorry for all the typos, perhaps I was a little too heated when I wrote that. I'm actually capable of writing properly, I promise!)

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

There is far to much to go over - and I think this will be it for me here - if any of you wish to continue privately you may, but I think we've hit the end of the rope here.

I still contend that God is a God of freedom - Galatians 5:1 - For freedom Christ has made you free. We are free to show love in a multitude of ways which are pleasing to Him.

Yes, the errors of society are horrible, but we are not to respond to that by circling the wagons around a standard of our own devising, but rather hold fast to the clear word of Scripture.

Chad Myers said...

Paul meant free from the wages of sin (he calls 'bondage') and also free from the obligations of the Mosaic Law.

He did NOT mean we're free to do just whatever we want according to our own conscience. In fact, he frequently told his churches to obey the things he taught and the traditions he told them.

It's also interesting that you quote Galatians 5 because later in that verse he lists off several mortal sins which include several sexual sins of which contraception could be considered part of.

He also talks (not in this book, but in Romans and Colossians) about concupiscence which is what sex using contraception (even within marriage) is.

Sex purely for the purpose of pleasure (even with your spouse) is deformed and not properly oriented with the full plan of God in the sexual union of man and wife.

We have never been given free license to use our own will for our own purposes and will be in accordance with God.

To achieve full peace and happiness, we must align our wills with God's will for us and only then will we find everlasting peace and true joy. God has clearly laid out this will for us and written it into our hearts and into the Natural Law all around us. We may choose differently and act so, but it represents a departure from God's will and therefore ultimately thwarts our relationship with God and with each other: Sin.

Christ is our LORD. We must OBEY and FOLLOW HIM. Carrying our cross, giving of ourselves COMPLETELY even if it means death, unto death takes us finally.

Christ did not exercise his free will other than the frequently reaffirm his intention to unite his will to the Fathers.

"Not my will be done, but yours"

We say it (at least) every Sunday in the Our Father. Yet you still argue that you have freedom to follow your own will even contrary to God's?

Chad Myers said...

Point of Clarification: Good ol' Wikipedia made me aware that Catholics and Protestants (not sure if that includes Lutherans -- sometimes they mean Evangelicals/Baptists, etc when they say 'Protestants') have different definitions of the word 'concupiscence'. I'm using the Catholic definition of it:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concupiscence

GL said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
GL said...

Just a brief comment: Christians have a duty to seek the will of Christ (i.e., form our conscience) and to do His will (i.e., follow our conscience as so formed). See e.g., Matthew 7:21. May God continue to open our eyes to His will and to conform us to it.

GL said...

I just happen to be reading Professor Charles E. Rices's 1979 book, Beyond Abortion: The Theory and Practice of the Secular State. Thirty years ago, Professor Rice wrote the following, after demonstrating how acceptance of contraception led to acceptance of abortion and, ultimately, early chemical abortions which would be confused with contraception (a prediction of our own so-called "emergency contraception" or "Plan-B" or "the morning-after pill"):

"The 'legitimization' of homosexual activity is also predictable in a contraceptive society, which cannot say that homosexual relations are objectively wrong without condemning itself. . . .

Homosexual activity is a dramatic example of the separation of the unitive and procreative aspects of sex. . . .

The point is that legalization and social approval of homosexual activity are inevitable in a society which is positivistic, denying objective moral norms; which is secular, denying God; and which is contraceptive, denying the intrinsic relation of love to life."

That is, thirty years ago, Professor Rice warned us where our acceptance of contraception would lead. We are now at the place about which he forewarned us.

How can we condemn the ELCA for going where our own reasoning inevitably led?

Rev. David A. Kind said...

Jumping in very late with regard to the sin of Onan - There are Christological implications in Onan's sin, and I think this is the main issue with Onan, not necessarily contraception itself.

Onan was not slain merely because he pulled out, but because he was interfering with the covenant and the Messianic line. His action is much more than a rejection of natural order (as Augustine and Luther say), but a rejection of the Faith, of the birthright, of the covenant, of the promise, of Christ Himself. This is why you don't find God striking other men dead who didn't complete the act; but Onan He kills for it.

GL said...

I certainly don't disagree with Rev. Kind's analysis, as far as it goes. That analysis, however, does not address the question of whether the sin which he committed in so acting was contraception. It can hardly be proven that it was not merely because he was struck dead and others who committed the same sin were not.

First, the penalty for murder in the OT was death. Yet both Moses and David committed such acts (Moses directly and David indirectly), yet neither suffered the death penalty as a result. The penalty for adultery in the OT was death, yet David and Bathsheba committed adultery, yet neither suffered death as a result. Further, to my knowledge, Onan's act of coitus interruptus is the only contraceptive act recorded in Scripture. As a result, we have no examples from Scripture of where it would be punished by death or otherwise or left entirely unpunished.

Second, Luther, Gerhard, et al. would undoubtedly agree with Rev. Kind as to the Christological implications of Onan's sin and yet they also condemned his act when performed by others in their own days, when it certainly could not have the same Christological implications. Therefore, they did not view it as simply an isolated incident in the ancestry of Christ, but also as having ongoing importance in how we exercise the gift of marital sex.

Third, I have been completely unable to find even a single example of an orthodox Christian pastor, scholar or theologian who denied the account of Onan's sin stood as condemnation of the act of contraception prior to the 20th century. I have looked. I would welcome any such citation. If none is available, it appears to me that one must make a rather convincing case that Luther, Gerhard, et al. should be rejected on this point, an understanding which they shared with other orthodox Christians back to the earliest days of the Faith. I have yet to read or hear any convincing argument that they were wrong.

Fourth, the Onan incident does not stand alone in Scripture in condemning contraception. As Luther himself noted, Scripture is replete with examples where fertility and children are called a blessing from God and barrenness is called a curse. And lest there be any doubt about it, Psalm 127 declares that the man who has many children is particularly blessed. Thus, John Chrysostom called the use of contraceptives "contemning the gift of God" and Luther harshly condemned the lack of trust in God and denial of His Word exhibited by those who use contraceptives.

Finally, even if we admit that avoiding conception may be justified in some exigent circumstances, we must then address at least two questions: 1. Under which circumstances is taking affirmative steps to avoid conception justified (i.e., licit)? 2. What means are licit to use when it is justifiable to avoid conception? In this regard, I recommend T.S. Eliot's 1930 essay, "Thoughts After Lambeth" in which he applauded the decision of the bishops of the Anglican Communion for voting to permit contraception, but criticized their not giving guidance for when it was permissible, demonstrating his belief that it often is immoral to use contraception and explicitly declaring that the laity required clerical counseling in deciding whether they could licitly utilize contraceptives.

Too often, we assume contraception is licit without addressing head on the condemnation of the practice by the fathers of our Faith, both Lutheran and pre-Reformation. If we claim to adhere to the same faith they handed down to us, we cannot skirt this issue.

Bad Ice said...

I don't see contraception as a "grave sin". I think that calling it such binds consciences. One commenter is actually ashamed to have loved his wife while using contraception. That's too bad and a good waste of guilt. (dude, feel guilty about fishing with buddies till 2am while wife is left at home with nutso kids. Don't feel guilty about time spent with her.)

I would guess most Christian women actually appreciate contraception so they can establish themselves financially, physically and mentally.

Contraceptives are a gift from God to Christian couples so they can be fruitful and multiply and enjoy each other and their children to the fullest.

My two cents…
Pete

Fr. Timothy D. May, SSP said...

The argument against contraception will not have much impact among Lutherans since it is so common that people have forgotten the bigger questions surrounding it and simply accept it as a part of life.

Having said that, I do believe contraception is "man-made" and that procreation is God's gift and plan for sexual union. This is a creation of His love and is one part of the love he provides for between a man and his wife.

I did not seriously consider this question until after marriage. When challenged with the thought of it, I had to ponder it philosophically first before opposition to contraception made sense to me. After that it was not difficult to see how contraception gets in the way of what is divinely revealed concerning creation, love and many other aspects so adequately described and defended in Scripture.

Finally, some contraceptives may also be considered abortafacients. There is much out there one can find on this topic.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Fr. May,

Yes, the acceptance of the world's attitude toward contraception is, as you say, "so common that people have forgotten the bigger questions surrounding it and simply accept it as a part of life."

The same will soon be true (if it isn't already) with regard to the acceptance of homosexuality.

Bless you for your faithful confession of the truth, Fr. May.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Except that Scripture clearly condemns the practice of homosexuality. You have to do a few more exegetical gymnastics to conclude that Scripture condemns the use of contraceptive. Yeah, yeah, the sin of Onan. "Be fruitful and multiply." But no, "Thou shalt not..." At least with homosexuality, Paul calls it "dishonorable," an "error," and "shameful." You don't see such words applied to contraception. (p.s. don't quote me all the usual Lutheran theologians who speak against contraception. I've seen them about a zillion times.)

Chad Myers said...

I encourage you all to read Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul VI (no, it won't turn you Catholic ;), most if it appeals and applies to all Christian denominations)

Here's a good take on its bold and dark predictions:
http://www.nd.edu/~afreddos/courses/264/popepaul.htm

Pope Paul VI concluded his predictions by saying that contraception would lead to an unwillingness to confront any sexual deviancy which would give rise to Homosexuality, and eventually all manner of perversions.

It would lead inevitably to the notion that people have full control over their bodies to do with what they will (more to Rev. Eric Brown's comments on 'freedom' and Bad Ice's unfortunate misguided understanding of 'spending time' with ones wife).

Eventually this would lead to sex change operations even more crazy alterations like multi-sex operations or mutated genitalia, or even other monstrous, hideous alterations.

I predict that this in turn will lead (or is already leading) towards the notion that my right to sexual pleasure and debauchery applies not just to my own body, but perhaps to my loved ones or to other people around me. This will be the argument pedophiles use to justify their action.

Eventually, nothing will be prevented and the innocent will suffer, as they always do, in the end.

The door that opens and allows all this evil to gather is the door with a sign on it called "License" which is scratched out and has the word "Freedom" scrawled underneath it.

It represents people's misguided understanding of 'freedom' and 'rights' which are really just 'license'.

Christ spoke of licentiousness and so did several of the Apostles.

God never gave you freedom over your body to do with what you will. He gave you freedom only over your heart to either love God or not.

If you choose 'love God', then you must live according to the wonderful framework of happiness and joy he placed before you.

This includes a proper respect of sexuality and its proper use for procreation and mutual respect.

By placing barriers between each other or by castrating themselves, men and women deny their Godly image and seek only to demean themselves with sexual pleasure and not the joy of total, consummative union between man, woman, and God.

When they place these barriers, they take upon themselves their own will and seize their body from God. They realize now that they cannot impose any will or judge the actions of others because they themselves are malformed. So they no longer speak up against homosexuality and other perversities because they know it would be supreme hypocrisy.

If you love your Wife or Husband, give yourselves to them COMPLETELY. To withhold the possibility of procreation is to withhold the very essence of yourself and to deny the God in the greatest gift he gave humanity.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

But no, "Thou shalt not..." ™ ®

This is the trademark expression of the Strong Divine Command Theory Ethic patented by "conservative" Lutherans -- a classic example of Barth's legacy in the LCMS that we have been exploring in this lengthy thread.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Chad,

Even Humanae Vitae is infected with this modern epistemological problem we are discussing. Read this brilliant critique and you will hopefully understand that what I am talking about is not just a Lutheran problem. It is not even limited to those who have fallen into the same errors as the E?CA and the LCMS. This problem extends across all of Christendom.

The problem is that most see the E?CA as having fallen only into a hermeneutical problem. Sola Scriptura, a Lutheran principle adopted by evangelicals, did not seem to be sufficient in such circumstances. An authoritative tradition of interpretation of the Bible seemed to be essential. More was needed than the Word alone. Protestants seem to lack such an authoritative tradition so they fight and split. In this situation the option of swimming the Tiber seems all the more tempting to some, a temptation you yourself have succumbed to.

But this is working from a false premise. This "sola (nuda) Scriptura" principle adopted by evangelicals and treasured by so-called "conservative" Lutherans is simply NOT Lutheran. This leads some, perhaps such as yourself, to believe the solution is an appeal to an authoritative interpretation from someone like the Pope.

Pr. Beisel wrongly believes I am simply making an appeal to authority.

No. Brothers, please realize that we have no choice but to admit the errors of the past century of modernism and return to the full complement of orthodox Christian epistemology.

Yes, the "democracy of the dead" is certainly a valid component of that epistemology, as it should be according to the Fourth Commandment, but another big piece of the puzzle that has come up missing is natural law. There are other missing pieces as well, such as a proper anthropology that begins with the image of God rather than "Cartesian assumptions cobbled together with Scripture passages to prove a middle-of-the-road point."

Chad Myers said...

@Erich:

I'm scratching my head. You make an argument from Tradition (arguing that Sola Scriptura is not enough, we need Tradition) -- which is essentially the fundamental basis of the Catholic Church since day 0 -- a basis that Luther soundly rejected. You appeal to Luther and other early Lutheran theologians, but then say I shouldn't appeal to the Pope (which I don't, I appeal to the Magesterium, which is quite different).

You make a papist argument, but then deny the Pope.

You make an authority argument, but then argue that the only clear authority isn't, and that this sort of muddy water collection of contradicting theologians in the early days after the Lutheran revolt is a somehow clear authority.

Sirs, I respect you, and love you as Christian brothers, but this argument makes no sense.

The clear authority argument is why I 'succumbed' (reverted to proper faith teaching and clear tradition, is a more accurate description).

When Luther cast off the bonds of authority and took it upon himself, he opened the door for everyone and his brother to 'interpret scripture'. Which is why we have 35,000 (and growing) Christian denominations today -- every one claiming authoritative teaching inspired by the Holy Spirit through the written word that Catholics wrote and preserved through the ages only to have Protestants get confused by it and ignore it's proper interpretation. Either the Catholic Church is right and always has been, or the Holy Spirit is incredibly confused.

When I read documents on this blog that cite Luther as some sort of authoritative source, I scoff because you might as well call him Pope Luther I at this point because if you replace the word "Luther" with "Magesterium", you have Papist-style Tradition arguments and authority citations. When you have done this, then theology presented is merely a thin shadow of the proper Roman Catholic theology which has a clear line of succession and the Promise of Peter -- something the Lutheran nor any of its progeny have the ability to claim.

No, my 'temptation', as you call it, was merely a call from the Holy Spirit back to the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. I said it every week in the creed, but realize now I never meant the "one", nor the "Catholic" nor the "Apostolic" part, because Lutheranism is neither One, nor Apostolic, nor Catholic (big C nor little c). Now I can truthfully say I mean all Four Marks of the Church (especially the 'Apostolic' part which Lutheranism cannot accomplish by virtue that Luther was only a priest and not a Bishop).

Throughout this whole thread I have resisted bringing up the huge and breadth and depth of the Catholic theology which has been entirely consistent within the Church since day 0 w/r/t sexual matters. This time that you folks call "pre-Reformation" which is the same as "post-Reformation", only Luther threw most of it away.

In conclusion, proper Christian theology, as contained in the Roman Catholic deposit of faith, has always been consistent on this teaching. It is the Lutherans who are drifting around on this one, conflicted and inconsistent. There has not been, nor is, nor ever will be an error in the Catholic doctrine because Christ promised it so. Please do not slam the Catholic Church because you must realize the entirety of your theology has been delivered to you and preserved for you by the Doctors, Saints, Popes, and Bishops of the One True Church through the ages, only so Lutherans could rediscover and cherry pick the parts they desire from this Holy Treasure.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Chad,

You wrote: I'm scratching my head. You make an argument from Tradition (arguing that Sola Scriptura is not enough, we need Tradition)

That is not my argument. I was pointing out that the protestant "sola Scriptura" argument leads either to the ultimate rejection of Christian doctrine or to a return to an appeal to authority. Then I pointed out that both of these are in error because the protestant "sola Scriptura" argument is a false premise.

Barth's "strong divine command theory ethic" allowed this false "nuda Scriptura" principle to supplant orthodox Lutheran epistemology. Ultimately, what comes in to fill the void is a capitulation to the culture and/or an appeal to authority. In Roman Catholicism, both happened in the example of Humanae Vitae. Just read the article I suggested above and you will see what I am talking about.

If you think I am making an appeal to authority, Chad, you have misunderstood most of what I have written above. That is not the epistemology I am suggesting we return to. In fact, it is the very thing I am arguing against. Both Rome and the E?CA work from an appeal to authority. For Rome, the authority is the Pope or "Magisterium" - for the E?CA, the authority is the culture or "majority vote."

GL said...

As I have said before, it is unfortunate that the Reformers used the phrase "sola Scriptura" to describe that particular aspect of their reforms. It has come to mean "nuda Scriptura" in the hands of many, when even a passing understanding of how Luther and the other magisterial reformers (Lutheran, Reformed and Anglican) worked will quickly reveal a heavy reliance upon and citation to earlier generation of Christian pastors and scholars. I believe "prima Scriptura" would have been a better description (though it would have prevented a reference to the five solas -- four solas and one prima would have been better, I think.) Just as with Luther and the other magisterial reformers, we are too look to Scripture as the sole mandatory authority, but we can and should look to earlier generations of Christians as secondary and persuasive or explanatory authority, not binding in and of itself nor equal to Scripture, but as a tool to understand how orthodox Christians everywhere and always understood Scripture on various topics.

Rev. Beisel may ignore the Lutheran theologians I cited if he chooses, but he cannot erase them. His reasoning has the effect of accusing them along with the early Fathers of "exegetical gymnastics" on this subject. That leaves others to accuse them of the same on other topics, such as the Real Presence, baptismal regeneration, the means and method of how we are saved, and the condemnation of polygamy, to name a few. Rather, I believe, it is "exegetical gymnastics" to accept a position on a subject (such as contraception) for which one cannot find even a single orthodox Christian theologian or pastor from the first 19 centuries of the faith. (If anyone can cite me to an orthodox Christian theologian or pastor who condoned the use of contraceptives before the last quarter of the 19th century, I would heartily welcome it. I issue a challenge to do so.) We are warned in Scripture against moving the landmarks set by our fathers for a reason: unintended consequences. The unintended consequences of moving the contraception landmark set by our fathers are high levels of out-of-wedlock births (40% last year), cohabitation out-of-wedlock, high levels of promiscuity, high levels of divorce, widespread use of pornography, degrading of women, and widespread acceptance of sodomy.

In the end, we accuse people of binding others when they call a particular act or failure to act a sin when we approve of that act or failure to act ourselves. On the other hand, we accuse people of antinomianism when we consider a particular act or failure to act to be a sin while others approve of it. The terms "binding" or "legalism", on the one hand, and "antinomianism", on the other, are means of begging the question. They are conclusory assertions and nothing more unless backed up by a case to support them.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

GL et. al.,

I have no quarrel with the views espoused against contraception/birth control. It is quite true that one must turn his back on hundreds of years of orthodox Christian teaching and practice on the matter.

What I find utterly lacking in these discussions, in whichever forum they take place, is any sense of compassion and mercy towards those who have not lived up to the standards that are being espoused, or those who out of ignorance have "taken matters into their own hands." That is what raises my ire. There is no acknowledgement of human weakness in a fallen world, and the way these precepts are presented almost always suggests that those who use contraception are going to hell for unrepentant sin.

Hell, even divorce (which the Lord hates) was permitted under Deuteronomic Law in order to avoid adultery. It wasn't ideal, but it was allowed because of the hard-hearts of the Israelites.

What irritates me to no end is how some folks make contraception the "article upon which the Church stands or falls." Do I think it is a blind spot in our theology and preaching today? Yes. But have some pity, for heaven's sake! I know someone who from their first pregnancy had to have a C-section, and subsequently had two more children like this. Would I want to have a fourth by C-section? Hell no. They might as well just mutilate the person's belly. Did she choose to have a C-section? No. It was a medical necessity. To tell someone like this that they are sinning against God by using contraception is to unnecessarily bind their conscience. This is pure and utter Pharisaism.

To me it is all or nothing. If you think that contraception is a sin, then you'd better not try to use any child-spacing techniques either. You'd better go "whole hog!" Otherwise, you are telling God when you want a child and when you don't.

I would counsel a Christian couple to simply trust in God and put things in his hands when it comes to how many children they have. I would put before their eyes all of the important Bible passages, and tell them that they should not try to take matters into their own hands. I would present them with the ideal. And when they fail to live up to that ideal, I will quote Psalm 103:13-14: "As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust."

GL said...

If you read my earlier posts, you will see that I am not attempting to address cases of couples who face exigent circumstances. Indeed, I suggested earlier that the questions which need to be addressed are: (1) Under what circumstances is it licit for a married couple to avoid conception? and (2) If licit under given circumstances, what means are licit for such couples to use?

If one denies that contraception is ever sinful, then those questions have no meaning or utility. If one concedes that avoiding conception is normatively sinful, then those questions become vitally important. The Catholic Church has addressed these questions, though I believe it has failed to provide clarity on the first one, only requiring that couples have some serious justification for using the only licit method (abstinence for sexual intercourse, either total or during periods of likely fertility) without giving any real guidance on what circumstances might be sufficiently serious to justify such an approach.

Further, if artificial contraception is always or sometimes sinful, shouldn't couples be made aware of that fact? I don't see how Christians can avoid considering the questions contraception raises and, at the same time, take seriously our call to seek His will. It most certainly is not the article on which the faith rises or falls (and I don't believe I ever in anyway intimated that it was), but that does not mean it is not a matter requiring serious attention.

I am leaving this conversation now. May God bless all of you.

Chad Myers said...

Abstinence is not sinful as a general rule. It is a form of contraception, in a way. Avoiding fertile times is also contraception and is natural and still open to the possibility of life.

What is sinful is ARTIFICIAL contraception. That is deliberately taking upon oneself the entire responsibility of choosing the time of procreation while still enjoying the pleasure benefits of gift the martial act.

Choosing personal pleasure over God's will is why it is sinful. It is particularly insulting and offensive to God since sex is one of the greatest gifts He has given us.

Putting personal pleasure over sacrifice and service is a form of pride and is, as they say, one of the deadliest sins.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Abstinence is not sinful as a general rule. It is a form of contraception, in a way. Avoiding fertile times is also contraception and is natural and still open to the possibility of life.

A few things:

1 - Paul tells us not to withhold ourselves except for times of prayer. I don't think the prayer of "Oh, let me not be pregnant" is the sort of prayer Paul was trying to describe. It fundamentally is God's will for spouses to give pleasure to each other, and as such help each other to avoid temptations towards lust. He says so clearly in His Word.

2 - The use of a contraception does not mean that one is any more unopened to the idea of having another child if God gives one than a person using natural family planning. Both abstinence and physical contraception are conscience acts of will attempting to avoid pregnancy, and both can be undertaken allowing for God to overrule the plans of men.

3 - Why condemn a tool? Do we condemn people who drive to work instead of using the natural means of their legs or a horse? Do we condemn the woman who has a c-section instead of a natural birth? This seems like a way of shifting focus off of the heart (and the reasoning why one might not want more children) and onto the method used. This is the exact same thing for which Christ condemned the Pharisees and the traditions of men which they followed.

4 - Why do we suddenly become enthusiasts when it comes to childbirth? God uses means to bring about children, He uses human agents to have this happened. As such, human will and plans are involved. I note the contrast that John makes in chapter 1 between the way we come to faith (via God) and the physical birth - "who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man". Human will is involved in child birth.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

In response to Rev. Baker's numbered points:

1. God also makes it clear in His Word that it is a fundamental purpose of the one-flesh union to be fruitful and multiply. NFP is fundamentally different in that it does not allow the act of sexual intercourse to be enjoyed while intentionally thwarting this purpose. This is why artificial contraception is historically equated with sodomy and adultery.

2. I agree. But abstinence is not inherently sinful in and of itself, while contraceptive sex is.

3 - Why NOT condemn a tool? There are acts which are inherently sinful and forbidden. See the failure of your virtue ethics here.

Continued...

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

4. You note John 1:13 "who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man." Even though the will of man is involved in procreation, we must seek to conform our will to the will of God. This will is not only stated in Scripture, but firmly established in human nature (i.e. natural law). Here is Lenski's Commentary on this verse:

"The subject of v. 13 is the Logos, who constitutes the beginning, middle, and end of the entire prolog and thus needs no formal mention as John proceeds to describe his human birth. This birth was οὑκ ἐξ αἱμάτων “not due to bloods,” i.e., the mixture of blood from two human parents as in cases of ordinary human procreation. “Blood” is the material substance from which the human organism is formed. The plural “bloods” is the more necessary in the Greek, since the singular might be misunderstand. For the human organism of the Logos actually began with a bit of blood in the womb of the Virgin Mary; it was thus that she “conceived in the womb,” Luke 1:31. The explanation of the plural from the analogy of other Greek expressions must be dropped. Blood that is shed in drops or in streams, animals that are sacrificed, wounds and the slain in battle, murderous acts and the like, justify the use of the plural in the Greek but are no analogy for the generation of a human being. Where a real analogy occurs, as in the reading of some texts in Acts 17:26, the singular is used in the Greek, “hath made of one blood.” When the Logos became man, this was not due to, did not start with (ἐκ), the blood from two parents.

"From the act of procreation in which the blood of man and woman join so that the blood of both flows in the child’s veins, John advances to the impulse of nature which lies back of this sexual union, “nor of the will of the flesh.” The term “flesh” denotes our bodily nature as God made it, male and female, adding the blessing, “Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth.” “The will of the flesh” is thus the natural urge and volition implanted in our bodily nature to beget and to rear offspring. Like “bloods” this “will of the flesh” includes both man and woman. It is true that our blood as well as our flesh and the will of our flesh are now corrupt because of sin and death, yet this corruption is not stressed. The human birth of the Logos is not due to our nature either as it now is or as it once was. The will to beget children, implanted in man by God, had nothing to do with the incarnation. A far higher, an entirely different will, brought that about.


quote continued below...

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

"Yet the decisive will in the act of procreation is that of the man not that of the woman, hence John adds, “nor of the will of man,” using ἀνήρ in distinction from γυνή and thus not to be identified with ἄνθρωπος, the generic term for man as a human being including both male and female. The three phrases used by John in stating how the birth of the Logos as man was not brought about are not coordinate, merely placed side by side; nor should we subordinate the second two phrases and regard them as merely defining more closely the first phrase. These phrases are like a pyramid, one placed on top of the other. They are like three circles, the second being narrower than the first, the third narrower than the second. Thus the first phrase includes the other two, and the second includes the third. Beyond the final, most precise specification John cannot go and need not go in his negations. The Logos was born entirely without a human father. In his conception no male parent was active. The detailed history of this conception and birth John’s readers know from the records of Matthew and of Luke, which John also takes for granted. Neither v. 13 nor v. 14 can be properly understood without the other two Gospels. What John here does is to restate with exact precision the vital facts contained in the full historical records of the other Gospels."

Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The interpretation of St. John's gospel (67)

This verse of Scripture is an amazingly holistic and ontological concept as explained by Lenski. In contrast, Rev. Brown sees this as a verse that justifies "the will of man" intentionally thwarting the procreative purpose of God inherent in the one-flesh union of husband and wife.