03 September 2009

Love - the Cruciform Foundation of Ethics

Recent discussions have gotten me to thinking more about "ethics" the past few weeks than I normally do. This is not because (in spite of what some people might think) I am an inherently unethical person, but rather because so many of the discussions revolving around ethics seem. . . how to say this. . . overly precise, or even micromanaging in nature. I have very little interest in trying to plumb the nitty-gritty details of the ethical implications of something that is outside my ken - rather I view ethics as the blanket that can be draped over any situation, and whoever is on the spot should be able to see how the fabric falls on their particular situation and say, "Ah, this is ethical! This is not." For an ethical system to be of value, it must be easily applied by the individual to whatever situation they encounter - otherwise we are no more acting ethically than the actor in the play really is King Lear.

As such, I wish to delve into no details here, no specific examples of modern day life. I will not try to answer the ethical issues of the age, and I do not intend to raise any specific issues in this post (although what comes in comments comes). Rather, I would speak to an approach that I think can be applied to any situation or question - I would contend that the key to Christian ethics can be summed up in 2 words - show love.

Now, I'm sure I would not get a lot of flak for summing up Christian Ethics right in line with Christ's explanation of the Law - Love God, Love your neighbor (or, in otherwords, show love). The problem comes in that I think we can blow by this simple foundation of ethics and be so eager to win the point over and against some unethical act that we forget the simple, key fact - if people do not know what it is to show love, they will never act in an ethical matter. The heart of the matter is not abortion, or reproductive rights, or just war theory, or whatever other hot topic comes to the fore this day - those are just the trees; the forest we have forgotten to defend is love itself.

I don't suppose I am saying anything shocking here, but there are a lot of twisted ideas of what love is rummaging around out there in the world. The problem, I think, it that we can assume that people know what love is (he may not be a smart man, but surely he knows what love is!). And flawed, twisted views of love are left in the background of every discussion, and all our wisdom and guile and logic in the specific issues fall flat, for we have given ground on what love is. When people think that 2 is actually 5, you can shout 2+2=4 till you are blue in the face, but it will never make sense.

Now, I would submit, once again in a most unshocking fashion, that if we wish to define what love is, our best way of doing this would be to consider Christ our Lord upon the Cross. Christ's example of the Love shown from the Cross is the prime example of Love - it is the essence of taking up our own Cross and following Him (again, another description of the ethical life). Indeed, the Cross stands over and against the falsely-called loves of the world. So, what do we see and learn about love from the Cross?

1. Love is obedient to God. The first thing we see is that love involves obeying God. Christ our Lord does not enjoy being Crucified, but as it is what the Father wishes, He takes the cup, the Son obeys the Father's will. If there were no obedience, there would have been no Cross. Likewise, if we desire to exercise ethics, there must be a clear focus upon what God commands and what God forbids in His Word.

To forgo God's commands is automatically unethical, because it prevents love from being rightly shown. If God has said, "Thou shalt", we must, whatever the personal cost to ourselves. Likewise, what God has forbidden we must avoid, however fine it seems. We know these bounds that God has placed upon us from His Word. As such, any approach to Scripture which devalues it and contradicts it strikes a damaging blow to any attempt at ethical behavior.

I like to think of the Law of God as being a fence around a yard - the boundaries are set, we cannot go beyond them and be safe. As God is love, to go beyond His bounds is fundamentally to act outside of and contrary to love. In side that yard one may go about one's business, especially tending the specific things which God has instructed you to tend. Anything out side of this is unethical.

2. Love is always focused on someone other than yourself. While there are benefits to Christ in His crucifixion (for indeed, He wins for Himself a holy people), His crucifixion is not done for primarily His own benefit. Rather, Christ's focus upon the Cross is clearly focused upon us, His neighbors. This is demonstrated repeatedly, especially with His words from the Cross.

As such, any approach to ethical behavior must be focused not upon one's own self, but upon one's neighbor. Any decision that is made to benefit one's own self first and foremost is automatically unethical. Now, this makes ethics quite messy, because God in His love and mercy to us has so ordered His creation that many times the love that we show to our neighbor rebounds back to us. This means that in some cases the point of ethics is not simply the act, but the motivation for the act. This is not to say that "good intentions" can make a sinful act good, but rather that a wicked heart spoils even the acts that appear outwardly appropriate and good.

Whenever discussing ethics, the individual's wants, desires, and preferences must be subordinate to showing love to the neighbor, to the person with whom he is interacting, otherwise the act is fundamentally unethical.

3. Love is focused on what is best for the other, not what is pleasing to them. To show love to your neighbor is not merely an attempt to please them. This is demonstrated again by the Cross. Mary and John are by no means pleased on Good Friday as they stand watching our Lord's Crucifixion in unabated horror and sorrow. It is not a pleasant experience. However, it is for their good.

To often we equate showing love with doing that which is pleasing to another. To love someone is not merely an attempt to make them happy - it is to use your abilities for their benefit. The simple fact is that in a sinful world, many of the things which are beneficial for us are. . . uncomfortable, things which we would rather not see. Surgery demonstrates this - the cancer must be cut out, there must be the pain of the surgery, so that the right and proper care might be shown. This is also true in all interactions and relationships. The old adage that the truth hurts is right. We cannot judge whether or not an action is ethical simply by the reaction it causes.

4. Love is bound by office. Christ is upon the Cross because it is His office. He is the Lamb of God, He must be there. As such, no one else can do it, it must be Christ. John can not attempt to take His place. There are two aspects raised here. First, ethics clearly involves fulfilling the duties given to you in whatever your situation in life is. That is clear. However, the second many not be as obvious. You cannot act ethically when performing an act which is not given to you to do. It is fundamentally unethical to take up an office not given to you and to perform its functions.

This is especially vital as, in the sinful world, the exercise of an office often brings pain and suffering upon others. I think now of an example, of the man who slapped the crying child in the store. This man stepped outside his office - and as such, the act was unethical. He abrogated the rights and duties of the parent - which is unethical. Our Lord's Command to us to love is bound and shaped by the offices into which He has placed us. To attempt to step into another's office is to thwart God's order in the world.

5. Love is sacrifice. Christ sacrifices Himself upon the Cross. He takes the chief suffering, so that we may live. Love is sacrificial. It is often painful to the one who loves. As such, if sacrifice is sought to be avoided at the expense of showing love, the action is unethical.

Now, this is not to say that we are to attempt to be martyrs and seek out sacrifices that are not ours to make. Rather this - when there are multiple ways of showing love to the neighbor, we chose the act which shows the most love, even if this involves greater sacrifice on our part. To show a love which is easier or less painful to ourselves, when a greater love is there (albeit more painful or difficult) is fundamentally unethical.

Again, this is not a simple matter, for each of us places a different value upon things in our lives, and giving them up might be a greater sacrifice for one than it is for another. We must be aware of our own wants and desires, and how they might push us away from showing love in ways that are unique to us. Our own desires must be placed below the true needs of another - or as Paul would say, we must submit to each other out of reverence for Christ. Even our desires for that which is a "good" thing, that which is a blessing, must be curtailed if love to another demands it.


These are the points describing true love (as over and contrasted to the selfish sentimental tripe that is spoken of love in popular culture) that I see as derivable from the example of Christ upon the Cross. There are others that one can find in Scripture, but I wished to key in simply upon the Cross today. 1 Corinthians 13 is a great place, but I would argue already that this chapter is nothing but commentary upon the Cross anyway. And no, this post has no conclusion -- because it may not be finished yet.


University Lutheran said...

Great stuff. My head is especially wrapped around #4 after the CTQ about "3 Estates". Thanks!

in Christ,
Pastor Jay Winters

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Yes, it sounds enticing, and there's some truth stated in this post. However, it is noteworthy that Rev. Brown's theory of ethics refuses to state what actions are inherently permitted or forbidden, and instead focuses on fostering a particular "virtue" - in this case, love.

No absolutes.

In this "virtue ethics" one would not necessarily condemn abortion as an inherently immoral or impermissible act in all instances. Instead, one who performs or obtains an abortion is seen as possibly lacking in the virtue of love, depending upon the reason for doing it.

As Rev. Brown quips: "Why condemn a tool?"

This dangerous "virtue ethics" is what allows Rev. Brown to state in the previous discussion:

"There are times when even abortion is justified ... However, I would not say that I am 'condoning' abortion by saying this. Rather, there are allowances for when it can be used."


Chad Myers said...

@Erich: Thank you for your steadfast defense of life.

@Rev Brown: You're obviously someone who cares about ethics, morality, and following Christ. I implore you to reconsider and reevaluate your positions on abortion and contraception.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


There are absolutes there in my system. Point 1 deals with Absolutes. The absolutes are based upon Scripture. I would assume that you are not trying to argue that Scripture is not an absolute =o)

I am doing an overview, so I chose not to delineate all the Absolutes which I would find from Scripture (and I assumed for the purpose of discussion the fact that one cannot violate Scripture should have sufficed). Hence, asserting that the system I have avoids absolutes and simply allows one to define an arbitrary virtue is innaccurate, and it lends itself to a pejorative argument where you bend my words so as to attach a negative label to them.

I will admit that I do not hold to a simple "just do these things on the checklist" style of ethics, because that ignores the ways in which a person might unjustly do things which only appear and seem right under such a system. The person who simply does not kill out of fear of being caught does not meet what I would argue is the Scriptural ethical standard.

Also, I do like calling a thing what it is. If there is a procedure that is conducted with the idea that the life of an unborn child will be ended - it's an abortion. Are there times when such could happen justly - sure. But let's not soft peddled and dance around and change terms to salve our consciences - another life is being ended. This happens in a sinful world - and it's horrid.

What you do is tantamount to a talking head saying, "We aren't engaged in combat, our troops are just in a police action." It makes something sound. . . nicer. No, it is combat, it is dangerous, and we should treat and respect it as such.

Hence, I do not feel the need to change something's name to justify it. I learned the commandment as "Thou shall not kill" - and yet, if you are a soldier and placed into that office, it is right and proper and a showing of Christian love to your family and neighbor to kill. And I would argue that Scripture uses language this way as well.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Also, in case anyone has only read this, and thinks from Chad Myers' post that I am defending abortion rights or some such other claptrap, my apparently horrid and scandalous position is nothing but the standard LCMS position that abortion is permissible to save the life of the mother.

Apparently this is viewed by some as wrong because the procedure in that case is referred to as "abortion" instead of some other procedural name. Also, some would argue that there must be at least an attempt to safely replant any child to at least allow him an chance at survival (which I actually think is a good idea, when the situation allows it).

I by no means support abortion on demand - for I understand, on the basis of Scriptural depictions of life, that abortion is the taking of a human life.


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

"If I am a soldier, I am not taking another life - I am just protecting my nation with the double effect of someone being killed. . . "bah! Humbug! Sophistry! Be a theologian of the Cross - call a thing what it is, and live under God's mercy, confessing your sin!

James T. B said...

Rev. Brown's remarks concerning the stigma of the word "abortion" reminds me of the reason I always differentiate between "ELECTIVE abortion" and other types of abortion such as "SPONTANEOUS abortion" (also known as a miscarriage). I remember the hospital chaplain who supervised my hospital field work at the seminary relating the story of a seminary student who saw the word "abortion" on a patient's chart and began criticizing the patient for having an abortion only to learn later on that it was a spontaneous abortion and the patient was very much in mourning for the death of her baby.

We must allow for those circumstances that force us to choose between the death of two people (mother and child) and the chance that one person (the mother) may live. It is a sad reality in this sin cursed world that not every baby survives.

Chad Myers said...

For clarification (and I realize that my statement wasn't very clear), I do not allege that Rev Brown supports abortion. I apologize for this confusion and especially for the fact that people may have thought worse of Rev Brown because of my lack of clarity.

He made a comment awhile back about there are some extreme circumstances where abortion is necessary. This I disagree with and I was hoping that he would reconsider this position.

Rev. Brown has consistently been pro-life with respect to his statements on abortion and I applaud him for that.

Rev Brown: I am sorry. Please forgive me for the confusion.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


Not a problem - but to clarify - I would not say that (elective) abortion ever becomes "necessary" but allowable. A woman who is told that if she attempts to carry a child to term will die ought not be forced to have an abortion (which would make it "necessary") - although I rarely think trying to carry to term would be a. . . wise, perhaps even ethical decision.

With that amendment, I will say that you have described my position - and does that make my position any more palatable?

P.S. Since you are RC, does that mean I get to assign penance? >=o) If so, read "Babylonian Captivity of the Church" and "On the Freedom of the Christian" by Luther! =o)

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Rev. Brown,

A. I will grant that your theory does not explicitly deny that there are absolutes. However, the end result of your virtue ethics theory does, because it only gives lip service to absolutes, subordinating them to the virtue of love.

For example consider your statement: "There are times when even abortion is justified." You try to appear in other statements that you hold to the absolute that abortion is wrong, but the end result of your virtue theory ethic is that you say it is "justified" if done for the right reason (i.e. the virtue of "love" shown in doing it to protect the life of the mother).

It also reminds me of this exchange from Pirates of the Caribbean:

"Wait! You have to take me to shore, according to the code of the Order of the Brethren."

Captain Barbossa:
"...the code is more of what you call guidelines than actual rules. Welcome aboard the Black Pearl, Miss Turner."

B. In addition to its functional denial of absolutes, your theory also explicitly denies many absolutes seen by our fathers in the faith because it employs Barth's modern "strong divine command theory ethic."

C. Yes, as I pointed out in the other discussion, your position on abortion is the same as that expressed by the LCMS in 1984. I even pointed out that it is included in the most recent synodical explanation to the Small Catechism. Please understand that my criticism is not intended personally against you, but rather is intended to expose how our synod has deviated from the orthodox Lutheran epistemology and ethics. The theories you are espousing are not your own inventions. You are doing an excellent job of illustrating the thinking that currently prevails in the LCMS, and for that I thank you.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

"We must allow for those circumstances that force us to choose between the death of two people (mother and child) and the chance that one person (the mother) may live. It is a sad reality in this sin cursed world that not every baby survives." ~James T. B

I certainly agree. As your comment points out, we also must be very careful what words we use. While the term "spontaneous abortion" is one I would also avoid, at least it describes an unintentional act. It is not even an act of the individual. It is spontaneous and against the will of the individual. An abortion willfully and intentionally performed "to save the life of the mother" is not spontaneous.

The "life of the mother" argument is also based on a false premise. An abortion is NEVER necessary to save the life of the mother. Please read this statement from the Association of Prolife Physicians.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


I will hold to an absolute that voluntary abortion is wrong. I will even broaden that out to say that to kill any life for simple expediency is wrong. To do this clearly violates Scripture.

However, whether you like it or not, the term "abortion" refers to the ending of the life of an unborn child. There are times when such actions (or other actions which will clearly lead to the death of an unborn child) are - let us say "defensible" as that isn't a word with theological overtones.


Okay - now, explain to me fundamentally why the ethical system you espouse is superior. Not that more people historically have held it, not that if you twist the system I describe and are sloppy with it that tomfoolery can result (for that is true when any system is twisted) - but why it is superior? What makes it a better system for a Christian to strive towards?

I like mine. I think it attempts to eliminate my own biases - because the focus of my actions are focused squarely upon the neighbor (I have to assume many things I'd like to do are wrong, even the things that sound "nice" and "pious"). It strives to fulfill the command "love your neighbor". It doesn't let me hide behind mere external acts - "It was legal" or "I was just following orders" won't hold water with what I say. It maintains bounds established by Scripture, which I view as safe bounds. How and why is yours superior? How is it safer?

Simply asserting the traditional view and mandating that we follow it does not persuade me - well meaning Pharisees demonstrate that in our ethical zeal we can create vain rules of our own devising. Demonstrate why your approach is superior, instead of simply crying out "Barth, Barth" and expect me to flee.

James T. B said...


Please refer to the following paragraph in the article you reference:

When the life of the mother is truly threatened by her pregnancy, if both lives cannot simultaneously be saved, then saving the mother’s life must be the primary aim. If through our careful treatment of the mother’s illness the pre-born patient inadvertently dies or is injured, this is tragic and, if unintentional, is not unethical and is consistent with the pro-life ethic. But the intentional killing of an unborn baby by abortion is never necessary.

I take this paragraph to mean that there are circumstances where, in spite of the best efforts of medical science, the treatment of the mother's condition may result in the the baby's injury or death. In such a case, an abortion may occur. All that the LC-MS position does is acknowledge this circumstance and say the same thing that this paragraph says.

Your position comes across as though it is better for both the mother and her baby to die than to apply procedures and / or treatments to save the mother's life even if such treatments run the risk of injuring or aborting the baby.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

"...an abortion may occur. All that the LC-MS position does is acknowledge this circumstance and say the same thing that this paragraph says." ~ James T. B

NO. The LCMS clearly does NOT say the same thing that the Association of Prolife Physicians says. There is an essential difference between an abortion which is intentionally "performed" and a death which "may occur" occurring as an unintentional consequence. Please note the difference in these two statements:

The Association of Prolife Physicians states in the portion you quoted:

"If through our careful treatment of the mother’s illness the pre-born patient inadvertently dies or is injured, this is tragic and, if unintentional, is not unethical and is consistent with the pro-life ethic. But the intentional killing of an unborn baby by abortion is never necessary."

In 1984, the LCMS CTCR stated:

"In the rare situations of conflict we must recognize the permissibility of abortion. Despite the progress of medical science, there are still unusual circumstances in which a mother will die if an abortion is not performed....Even in such circumstances a mother may choose to risk her own life as an act of love, but such an act of self-giving cannot be required. It must be freely given, not imposed."

Firstly, note the fact that the LCMS is working from a premise that the prolife physicians specifically deny as false. The intentional killing of a baby is NEVER necessary to save the life of the mother. You simply muddy the water by calling the unintentional death a "spontaneous abortion". But even "spontaneous abortion" is clearly a different thing than "performing an abortion."

An abortion which is "spontaneous" is not "performed." An abortion which is "performed" (LCMS wording) is an "elective abortion." One elects to have the baby's life ended. This is something the Association of Prolife Physicians states is NEVER necessary to save the mother.

continued below...

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Secondly, center in on the second half of the LCMS CTCR statement which reads:

"...Even in such circumstances a mother may choose to risk her own life as an act of love, but such an act of self-giving cannot be required. It must be freely given, not imposed."

If you grant this language, it would seem to me that even Rev. Brown's virtue theory would teach that the only ethical decision would be to risk one's own life as an act of self-giving. There is "no greater love." By definition, self-sacrifice can only be freely given. If it is imposed, it is not self-sacrifice. If such self-sacrifice is avoided and self-preservation is chosen instead, this would clearly show a lack of the cruciform virtue of love upon which Rev. Brown's ethical theory is based.

I suppose you would consider Luther just as heartless:

"[Rachel] demands offspring so much that she prefers death to remaining sterile. I do not remember reading a similar statement in any history. Therefore she is an example of a very pious and continent woman whose only zeal and burning desire is for offspring, even it if means death. . . Consequently, she determines either to bear children or die. Thus later she dies in childbirth. This desire and feeling of the godly woman is good and saintly. . ." [LW 5:328]

Someone will no doubt argue: "Oh, but there are women who have to preserve their lives or their other children will not be cared for." Oh, really? So, you believe God can only care for children if the parents survive, and thus a woman should kill one of her children to ensure she can survive to care for her other children? We are to preserve our own lives when possible, but not at the expense of another life. We may not do evil that good may come. And, remember, pro-life doctors say it is NEVER truly medically necessary to intentionally kill a baby.

Please now excuse me. This must be the end of my discussion here. I have other matters to attend to, such as caring for my own wife and seven living children, and I'm sure I'm not the only person who can defend orthodox Lutheran epistemology and ethics. I have said more than my share here already, and I know others can probably say it better.

May God bless any continued discussion here to be as fruitful as I have found our exchanges thus far.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I would argue that in the case of a dangerous pregnancy, either aborting or not aborting (or if you prefer, undergoing a procedure which in all likelyhood will result in the death of the child or not undergoing said procedure) could be ethical.

If one chooses not to have the procedure out of love for child and a determination to go to any measure to attempt to bring him to term, I cannot gainsay. If one chooses not to have a procedure out of fear, or out of a misguided sense of guilt (how can *I* live if my child dies) then it is not ethical.

Likewise, if one chooses to have the procedure out of love for the rest of one's family, and in the hopes that God may intervene, I will not gainsay it. However, if one does so flippantly, without respect and trembling and sorrow, I would say that is not ethical.

"So, Pastor, what should I do?" Come not to me, for I am like an Elf, and will say both yes and no. I'm not you, it's your call, and God has given you a mind - put it to use. And remember that in a fallen world all our options stink on ice.

Pr. H. R. said...

I'm catching this debate very late. . . but just to clarify one point of muddle thinking regarding "condemning tools."

That's a bit of begging the question that always seems to crop up in the contraception debate. The line goes: we are to be masters over creation, and contraception is one way of exercising our mastery. It is just a tool to be used, either for good or ill.

That a position that can be argued for - but when the last sentence is used on it's own as if it were argument, it becomes begging the question: assuming what needs to be argued for within the argument itself.

Secondly, there's a bit of muddled thinking in calling contraception a tool. Contraception is an end, not a tool. The took is the estrogen pill, or the condom, or the IUD. Each of those tools can be evaluated and some have good uses - for example, I hear that condoms make excellent water balloons.

However, I would contend that contraception is not a good use of those tools - for reasons I've stated many times before. But to state them shortly one more time: God is love. His love for mankind includes his gift of procreation. He expresses his love for mankind in his first word to them: Be fruitful and multiply.

So be fruitful! That's what love looks like. And that, by the bye, is always the problem with ethics that start with some central concept - love, do no harm, etc. What does love look like? We need God's Law to answer that question. And love does not look like holding back part of yourself in the marital act. Love looks like being open to God's gift of life.

Lutherans have always taught this. All Christians have! It is only in that most anti-life of centuries - the 20th - when Christians (and some Lutherans) began to doubt this. It is not coincidence that the 20th century gave us (in this order): the spreading acceptance of contraception in once Christian nations, the World Wars, female "clergy," abortion on demand, and the more Christian martyrs than another other century.

The spirit of our age is against life - that is, it is contra conception.


Rebekah said...

And the man named his wife EVE, because she would EVEntually become the mother of as many children as they could both agree to have, assuming they hadn't missed their chance during the early years of their marriage which they spent finishing school, getting to know each other, and enjoying married life.

Ok, ok, Sorry So Snotty. But I do marvel that so many Christian men enjoy painting themselves as empathic and enlightened by arguing that God's gift of life-giving, which He bestows singularly upon women, is mostly an annoyance, and that that women's talents are worth less when they are applied primarily to her family and parish. So the one thing I can do that a dude can't he spins into a burden of which I should be relieved. Thanks so much. My hero.

Family Man said...

Rev. Brown: It would help me to follow your line of thinking if you could clarify how far you agree with Fletcher's Situation Ethics and where (if anywhere) you disagree. It might also help you clarify your thinking if you would revisit the articles appearing regularly in various Lutheran quarterlies during the late 1960s and 1970s critiquing Fletcher's emphasis on "love your neighbor" and his departure from any sort of moral absolutes. Note that it is your own apparent departure from moral absolutes that has prompted Dr. Heidenreich to become quite nervous about your proposal to reduce ethics to "show love." And, as for the particulars, Fletcher explicitly argued that "showing love" to a pregnant woman who is emotionally distraught over her situation means to recommend abortion. I therefore find Dr. Heidenreich's negative reaction quite understandable.

Rebekah: As usually, you have defended womanhood quite eloquently. May God bless your womb and all whom you bear.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Rev. Curtis,

On this issue, here's where I see the problem (and lament the condemning the tool) -- if we are agreed that there are times when it is moral and ethical to engage in Natural Family Planning with the express purpose of avoiding pregnancy (and Rebekah, the assumption here would have to include that this is in accord with the wife and not just a one sided "man" decision), I could contend that this is just as much "contra-ception" as using some physical birth control.

If the couple is determined (and let us assume rightly so) to avoid pregnancy, why would a tool to assist in this good and upright goal be wrong? NFP is a tool, it is an artificial approach the normal way the marriage works. What makes NFP okay, but a little piece of latex. . . pernicious?

Now, if you want to argue about culture, and the fact that culture rampantly abuses contraception, I won't gainsay you. However, I don't think the solution to the rampant abuse of a freedom is to remove that freedom.

I also end up worrying about hypocrisy that could result - where a couple that avoids children for a foolhardy reason then act justified because they use NFP and not those evil, dirty condoms.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

As regards Fletcher's situational ethics, the place where I would have qualms is the ease whereby he casts aside the law. My vary first point is that we are bound by Scripture and cannot violate it and yet remain ethical - so by his definition I would be taking a legalistic approach.

My concern, though, within the realm of what is "lawful" is that I would want to make quite sure that if we say "this is the rule" that those rules are Scriptural and God's rule, rather than something of our own devising.

As such, I might be quite critical of what some people attribute as "God's Law" when I think it is not - but I would not be critical of the idea of being bound by the Law.

Does that distinction between myself and situational ethics help?

Also, with Fletcher's example, my counter to that would be to point out (beyond the fact that being made distraught is by no means a justifiable cause for the use of deadly force - but as he himself wouldn't let that argument stand and would dismiss it out of hand, I would move on to the following) that with his advice no love or attempt at showing love is made towards the child. He doesn't even follow through on his own standard of showing love because he ignores one of the involved parties. Hence, rather than really attempting to apply an approach of love, he is placating a person at another's expense.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


I by no means think that the gift of childbearing is to be despised - it is fraught with difficulty, but so is every blessing in a sinful world.

In fact, when I have been approached by a feminist who tells me, "I just can't believe God would just keep half the population from being a pastor", in a most snotty way I will say, "Yeah, well, guess what, I'll never get to carry another living being inside me. God made us different, deal with it."

Pr. H. R. said...

Rev. Brown,

What the Church catholic and our Lutheran fathers taught was that when there was a truly morally serious reason for avoiding pregnancy (severe harm or death to the woman, serious genetic disease the child, etc.), then the answer was bearing the cross of mutually agreed upon celibacy within marriage.

In the 1930's when the Roman Catholic Church began to look at "timed celibacy" (NFP), the Lutherans condemned it. See Fritz' Pastoral Theology's comments against "unnatural practices."

By the time Rome officially approved NFP in the 1960's the Lutherans were well on their way to losing their voice on the whole contraception issue and really didn't consider it formally.

So again - we are back to tools, or not really tools, but what ethicists would call "means." There may be times - truly exceptional, weird, non-normal, uncommon circmstances - where pregnancy should be avoided within a marriage.

But that is only the beginning of the argument. What is the appropriate means to that end? Some means are obviously not OK: killing your spouse, castrating your husband, etc. So not all means are equal.

So just because we might agree on an end does not mean that we agree on the appropriate means.

What are my thoughts on NFP? I've come to think that our Lutheran fathers were right to see Rome's innovation here as problematic. On the other hand, I have seen several couples come to the traditional Christian understanding of sex-marriage-babies through NFP.

But let's not let it cloud the issue. The issue is this: I think that the only time to even have a conversation about avoiding pregnancy in a Christian marriage is during these truly exceptional circumstances. In the vast majority of marriages for the vast majority of time, couples will want to be fruitful and multiply.

If I've heard you correctly, you are arguing for the use of contraception as just another tool to limit family size according to the couple's pleasure, or delay the start of childbearing for years after marriage according to the couple's pleasure, etc.

Along with Luther and all our fathers in the faith, I see that as a sinful breach of God's blessing and command to be fruitful and multiply.


Rebekah said...

Well, sure, childbearing isn't categorically despised. Just despised enough to avoid most of the time. Just despised enough that MY wife, both too smart and too fragile to suffer it more than the culturally conventional number of times, should have to.

I don't mean to be the angry man-demonizing pregnant lady here, as there are at least as many women who make the same nonsensical argument. But it is a perfect violation of the 10th commandment for anyone in the church not to urge women to stay and do their duty, ordained and blessed by God and honorable and indeed difficult as it is. Women don't need authority figures to do us any favors by offering us an excuse to get out of it.

How empty that reply must sound to your feminist friend, coming as it does from someone whose public statements and very life make clear that he does not esteem motherhood above his current comforts. This is not a character attack, just a statement of fact. Even feminists can do some math.

Family Man, thank you.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Rev. Curtis,

I thank you for your honesty and bluntness (I especially appreciate your approach to NFP - it ends up being logically consistent) - even though I disagree with you. It just strikes me as odd to approach blessings with a stick and say, "You must take this blessing, you must, you must!" It rubs me wrong. . . and I worry that it can lead to self-righteousness and judgmental attitudes (see, we're the good Christians because WE accept God's blessings) -- almost like what I hear from the wealth preachers here, except where the currency isn't the Dollar but children.

But, I guess we will just continue to agree to disagree.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


God's blessings to you, and mya you and yours be blessed happily and to your heart's content. And do not let anyone condemn you for your efforts to delight in motherhood.

Pr. H. R. said...

Rev. Brown,

Why do you dislike God saying, "You must accept a blessing."? Is not the whole Law like this? Is not the Law of God good and wise?

You must accept the blessing of other human beings: you shall not kill.

You must accept the blessing of my love: have no other gods before me.

You must accept the blessing of authority: honor your Father and your Mother.

Etc, etc.

The Law of God is good and wise. It is not bad. It is not second rate. It is the expression of God's love and being. It is death to the sinner - but that's the sinner's fault. And that sinner can repent, find salvation in Christ's keeping of the Law, and then go on to live God-pleasing life in Christ. Shall we continue to sin that grace may abound - by no means. . . For anyone who teaches others to set aside one jot or tittle will be called least in the kingdom of God. . .


K said...

["Grave and Serious"]

Paul VI in his encyclical, Humanae vitae (1968), while condemning the use of all contraceptive methods for even grave (gravia) reasons declared licit the recourse to the infertile periods if the spouses have good (just and seria) reasons to postpone even indefinitely another pregnancy. (HV, nos. 16, 10). The language here is similar to Gaudium et Spes no. 10. But first those spouses are commended who, with prudent deliberation and generosity, choose to accept a large family. The spouses are to consider their responsibilities towards God, themselves, the family, and human society. Each of these factors may be taken into account in right order in determining "serious and just reasons."

In other words the spouses are to discern together first, what is God's plan for their family here and now, then, their own physical and emotional resources for accepting another child, the needs of other family members, and lastly the good of the human society in which they live. The pope gives special encouragement to scientists to perfect the natural methods, (HV, no. 24) declaring that the discipline of chastity exercised in periodic continence enhances married life provided the spouses value the true blessings of family. (HV, no. 21)


Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...


Humanae Vitae is a perfect illustration of the fact that even Rome was caught in the momentum of the "Twentieth Century Project".

As John Galvin writes:

"In fact, the encyclical step by step builds a case for birth control. First it discusses the 'serious difficulties' of population, conceding the argument to the population control advocates. Then it speaks of 'responsible parenthood,' commending a decision to 'avoid new births.' Then it evaluates means to achieve this goal, condemning 'artificial methods' while praising 'legitimate use of a natural disposition.'

"The title of the advisory commission is enlightening: 'Papal Commission for the Study of Problems of the Family, Population and Birth Rate.' Family, population and birth rate have now become 'problems'; they are no longer bona, 'goods.' The encyclical starts off with a dire warning about overpopulation, and later refers readers to Pope Paul VI's prior encyclical, Populorum Progressio, where we find even gloomier statements about 'depressing despondency' caused by 'population increases.'

"Section 20 of Humanae Vitae tells us that the job of the Church towards the faithful is to 'strengthen them in the path of honest regulation of birth' while comforting them 'amid the difficult conditions which today afflict families and peoples.' In other words, 'People are miserable, so we will help them regulate births that there might be fewer people to be miserable.'

"This is a far cry from the attitude of generosity displayed in documents from Pope Paul's predecessors, who continually strove to enlarge the appreciation of fruitfulness. Pope Pius XII's 1958 "Address to Large Families," for example, is a masterpiece that every Catholic family should read and ponder. Compare Humanae Vitae's pinched, meager attitude with Pius XII's lyrical poetry in praise of new life when he calls for 'esteem, desire, joy, and the loving welcome of the newly born right from its first cry. The child, formed in the mother's womb, is a gift of God, Who entrusts its care to the parents.'

"The new goal established by Humanae Vitae is 'responsible parenthood' rather than 'generosity towards children.' Living out the message of the encyclical 'undoubtedly requires ascetical practices,' and 'perfect self-mastery,' Humanae Vitae claims. 'Responsible parenthood' means that before deciding to have a child, a couple must 'recognize fully their own duties towards God, towards themselves, towards the family and towards society, in a correct hierarchy of values.' Humanae Vitae offers no explanation of these duties, leaving couples to wonder if adding to population growth could likely be a violation of their obligations.

"No longer does there exist a presumption in favor of fertility, with any type of birth control - even natural means - reserved for extraordinary cases. Now the 'decision to raise a numerous family' must be 'deliberate'; it is no longer a natural and spontaneous outgrowth of the marriage commitment."

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Rev. Brown wrote to Rev. Curtis:

"I guess we will just continue to agree to disagree."

What a perfectly delicious thought-terminating cliché! John Wesley coined that phrase in 1770 to downplay the doctrinal differences he had with George Whitefield, but perhaps we should consider this groovy pop hit from 1977 as a possible theme song for the present state of affairs in Lutheran epistemology:

Been away, haven't seen you in a while.
How've you been?
Have you changed your style and do you think
That we've grown up differently? Don't seem the same
Seems you've lost your feel for me

So let's leave it alone, 'cause we can't see eye to eye.
There ain't no good guys, there ain't no bad guys.
There's only you and me and we just disagree.
Ooo - ooo - ooohoo oh - oh - o-whoa

I'm going back to a place that's far away. How bout you?
Have you got a place to stay? Why should I care?
When I'm just trying to get along We were friends
But now it's the end of our love song...

So let's leave it alone, 'cause we can't see eye to eye.
There ain't no good guys
, there ain't no bad guys.
There's only you and me and we just disagree.
Ooo - ooo - ooohoo oh - oh - o-whoa

Gotta go. See ya!

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Rev. Curtis,

I hesitate to take the command to Adam and Eve (and also to Noah's sons, I believe) and make them a universal - especially as Scripture does speak highly of chastity, which precisely precludes any multiplication.

That's been part of my point - I think on this issue we go beyond what God's Word clearly says.

And no, God's Law doesn't mandate us to. . . let me move off the word "accept" - rather it doesn't mandate us to strive and strive after blessings - there is no mandate to gather more and more, or to make more money, or the like. The idea is being presented as though, "You must have more and more children" rather than "behold the blessings of children that God gives to you." The Law does not mandate us to try to be rich, it doesn't mandate us to be popular, it doesn't mandate us to eat only the finest of foods and live in such a away as to not buy generics.

The only blessings we are told specifically that we are to seek out are the religious blessings of God's Word - at least that's all I can think of. I think placing children in that same category is pushing things too far.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


What? Are you allowed to bow out of a discussion, but I can't? If you have a question or a comment to bring up more conversation - then bring and add. Rev. Curtis brought up a new angle which he and I had not discussed, so I responded. But jumping back into a discussion to chastise me for seeking to leave after you yourself had left is. . . well, kinda low.

Pr. H. R. said...

Rev. Brown,

You would be in a small minority of exegetes if you would not take what is given to Adam and Eve as a universal. Indeed, St. Paul even makes the order of Adam's creation before Eve apply to all of male humankind (I Tim. 2). If Be Fruitful doesn't apply to all married couples, then neither does "have dominion." This would make a mockery of all Christian exegesis of Gen. 3.

By chastity I assume you mean celibacy - but that is a red herring. Be Fruitful applies to all married couples. Celibacy is a special gift and dispensation and is spoken of elsewhere - see Matt. 19.

And who said anything about telling folks to "strive to get as many kids as you can"? That is a crass, if not willful, caricature of the historic Christian position. The historic Christian position is: accept what God gives you. Don't worry about how many or how few kids you'll have. Just be fruitful. Let them come as God gives them.

The historic Christian understanding is so simple: just don't go and try not to be fruitful. Just don't interfere with God's giving. Accept what he would give and don't say, "No thanks. Not now. Only this much. No more."

Those are not words of faith. They are not the words of "gift received with thanks."

And children are not a spiritual blessing? You dare compare them to earthly mammon and wealth? Gads, man: they are the greatest of spiritual gifts for they are spirits robed with flesh!

So repent, dear brother. Be open to life. Be fruitful. Receive what God would give with open arms. Lean not on your own understanding. Listen to Luther and all your fathers in the faith. Leave the spirit of the age behind and see if you are not blessed.


Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Rev. Brown,

I did not (and would not) criticize you for bowing out of the discussion. I didn't even know you were bowing out. Did you bow out? Anyway, my criticism was directed not at you, but rather at your "agree to disagree" comment. I hope you don't mind my jumping back in for a couple comments today. I have continued following the discussion and just happened to have the time to comment today. To be frank, while your statement was just too tempting for me to ignore, what drew me back in today was not you, but my desire to respond to K about Humanae Vitae.


Reformationalist said...

Oh, please! Pr. H.R., your rhetoric is running wild.

In the real, fallen world things are not always that rosy. Take my world, for an example. My wife was 31 when we married. We had three "home brewed" children, interspersed with three miscarriages, one in each trimester, and after the third the doctor said to my wife, "This is a stern warning! There is very high risk that any children you may be carry will be spontaneously aborted, and further pregnancies will threaten your life as well."

So, I suppose that you will recommend songs of celibate joys for us to sing. Sorry we didn't do that. Moreover, though, we adopted three more kids (two as teenagers), become a legal guardian to another, and also boarded at least four more (I tend to lose count) for periods of several months to two years. THAT life filled our hearts with joy and praise to God. And we continued to live as husband and wife -- the estate in which God placed us -- without risking death to either fetus or mother.

THIS is life according to God's Word concerning both the purpose and the fallen nature of human existence, and Eunice and I embrace each other and, by faith, our Savior for this life. It is NOT a life condemned by the Word of God. So, away with idyllic prose that sounds sweet like the Gospel (but isn't) but is rather just rosey-painted condemnation of the Law, and without God's warrant in so doing.



Rev. Fr. Robert W. Schaibley, SSP

Pr. H. R. said...

Fr. Robert,

As I noted in one of my comments above: there are hard cases, they are real and heart-breaking. None of my comments have been directed at those cases - aside from reporting what counsel our Lutheran fathers have given to them.

I am sorry for the crosses you and your beloved have had to bear. But such crosses have not been the main topic of my rhetoric - the normal, average couple living a normal, healthy life has been. If a couple in such a normal, healthy situation declines to have children, or arbitrarily limits the number they will receive with thanks, or delays it until they "are ready" - well, our Lutheran fathers call that sin. Read John H. C. Fritz' Pastoral Theology for the whole discussion.

What do I say specifically to a hard case like that which you and your wife have had to bear? If one of my flock come to me with such a case we would talk over exactly what the doctor said. If the woman's womb had become diseased and disordered to the point where it was a lethal threat to her life, a heart wrenching decision to surgically close or remove that womb might have to be made. Sin and disease being in the world, that's something that might have to happen and would be sad and mournful, but no sin.

But that is a world apart from a two healthy 22-year olds coming in to my office and saying, "We want to get married, but we're not ready to have kids. Maybe down the road sometime."

My comments are directed at those sorts of situations. I am sorry if my failure to make that distinction clearly enough was hurtful to you and yours and I ask your forgiveness.

In Christ,

Kathy said...


I can see what you're saying about Humanae Vitae. In fact I just read something similar from the SSPX splinter group of the Catholic Church.

There's no denying that the Church, well, I won't say the Church, the bishops and priests of the Church, as a whole, have caved to the culture and have not taught today's Catholics why contraception is bad. It's a church full of sinners like everywhere else.

The difference, and what I can always count on, is that the 'gates of Hell will not prevail against Her' so I can trust with childlike faith that what comes from the Magisterium is from the Holy Spirit.

I thought it'd be fun to watch you all for a few weeks and learn more about the Lutheran faith (my in-laws are all Lutheran). I've learned a lot but see now you are all so far beyond me academically, I'll never be able to catch up enough to have any real discussion with any of you.

Please continue with your prayer and studies. I will pray for all of you that, if it be God's will, you all make it home to His Church--the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

God's blessings!
K (wife to the infamous Chad Myers)

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Rev. Curtis,

You wrote" "My comments are directed at those sorts of situations. I am sorry if my failure to make that distinction clearly enough was hurtful to you and yours and I ask your forgiveness."

This is precisely why I fall back on my tool rhetoric -- because simply condemning contraception does not allow for those distinctions that need to be made. In fact, I would argue that it circumvents the distinctions.

Now, as to your other stuff

First, you split the hairs just a different way. You say that "be fruitful" has to apply to all couples, otherwise "have dominion" doesn't apply. But then you say that "be fruitful" doesn't apply to those who are celibate - does that mean that they have no dominion (because you just tied the two together).

You also write: And who said anything about telling folks to "strive to get as many kids as you can"? That is a crass, if not willful, caricature of the historic Christian position. The historic Christian position is: accept what God gives you. Don't worry about how many or how few kids you'll have. Just be fruitful. Let them come as God gives them.

First, I think my crass caricature is sadly what I end up hearing from folks today. There is a. . . shaking of the finger for those who aren't conscientiously trying to have children, and as many as possible. If you are not supporting that, then I agree.

Second, I think your approach is a little too haphazard - we are not to worry, indeed, that I will agree, but that does not mean that we cease being creatures who use their will, who exercise dominion.

This is part of the place where I think Fritz and those before him are wrong. The argumentation you give above is very similar to the argument against having insurance -- there was a time when a Pastor was not allowed to have insurance as that was thought to designate a lack of trust in the provender of God. I think that is an incorrect approach - there is nothing wrong with planning -- however, we must say everything with "if the Lord wills" and then take what what comes.

The use of contraception (or Natural Family Planning) does not denote necessarily a lack of trust in God, nor does it indicate that if God chooses to foil man's plans that the pregnancy won't be welcomed. You make too many assumptions here about the motivation for a couple to use contraception and what their reaction to pregnancy is.

Also, children are spiritual - but they are earthly gifts. My wife is a wonderful gift, she is a creature of body and spirit, but our relationship is simply temporal - same with children.

You have not rightfully bound me - I see nothing of which to repent (if I err, God forgive me!). Besides, why would you think that I would spurn any blessings that God would give me, or that the plans of any man would thwart that which He desires to give? Be not so egotistical in your obedience - His blessings are His blessings, and they come without our merit or worth.

Pr. H. R. said...

K -

Thanks for reading and commenting!

As for the Roman Magisterium and how Lutherans view it - we are apt to point you to Matthew 7:15-23. All Christians have a duty to weight the preaching of the preachers against the clear Word of God. Jesus said so.


Pr. H. R. said...

Rev. Brown,

You wrote,

"The use of contraception (or Natural Family Planning) does not denote necessarily a lack of trust in God, nor does it indicate that if God chooses to foil man's plans that the pregnancy won't be welcomed. You make too many assumptions here about the motivation for a couple to use contraception and what their reaction to pregnancy is."

I assume that by using contraception they don't want to conceive. I think that's a safe assumption. If they "accidentally" get pregnant, I do indeed hope a Christian couple would welcome it.

But that would be a change of heart, a repentance, wouldn't it? Because before they didn't want it, sought to prevent, and now they do want it.

But I'll stand by my call to repent delivered to all Christians who are not living in the extreme hard cases and yet who chose to contracept. I've got no choice unless convinced by the clear Word of God and plain reason that the whole Church catholic got this one wrong for 1,930 years.

Ultimately, the Lord will judge the case, as you rightly note. And if I am in the wrong, I will at least have lots of good company kneeling beside Luther, Augustine, Chemnitz, John Chrysostom, John Calvin, John Wesley, et al., as we seek the Lord's mercy.


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

THERE! You admitted it! You're a Calvinist! Or was that not what you meant =o)

And no, it isn't necessarily a "repenting" - it is a change of timing, perhaps. A change of immediate planning, but not a changing of attitude or mind.

You put so much on man's ability to dictate things to God - man is but mist, like the grass that is here to today and then gone the next.

Gads, you make a lousy Calvinst =o)

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Let me further clarify, so we understand each other -

"I assume that by using contraception they don't want to conceive. I think that's a safe assumption...

But that would be a change of heart, a repentance, wouldn't it? Because before they didn't want it, sought to prevent, and now they do want it.

It's not a safe assumption because you neglect to take into account any sense of time. There is a difference between saying "we do not want more children" and saying "we do not actively want more children at this moment" where there could be plenty of Godly, loving reasons for not seeking additional children at this specific time.

I also think that this is a fine distinction to make, especially given your own words. You yourself agreed that we ought not say that Christians must seek to have more and more children - you say placing such a demand upon Christians is a "crass caricature" of your position.

As such, you assume too much here - there is room for man to think and plan in terms of time, while still doing so in humility. Humility is demonstrated when God's plans trump ours.


There are things we might not plan on having right at the moment, but that doesn't mean we wouldn't rejoice in having them. This is a slightly imperfect analogy, but consider your life as a pastor - you may not be seeking call, nor doing anything to actively promote the likelihood of a call, but that doesn't mean if you receive one it wouldn't be a blessing (of course, you have the option of turning down a call, and you don't with a child - but the idea is that God may spring blessings upon you without your planning or seeking them, and there is nothing wrong with that).

Likewise, should God choose to call a couple to be parents, He can do so in season or out of season, with no regard to our plans. But that doesn't mean making plans or thinking of how you ought approach life is wrong.

The Rev. BT Ball said...

Fr. Brown-
sorry for coming so late to this discussion, but here goes.

I would guess that you would grant that the church catholic was against contraception until the 20th century.

Do you understand those who have gone before us as errorists who attempted to bind the consciences of their hearers or readers; unduly putting them under the law where they should have been free?

Would you grant that your position (as well as a good number of Christians) regarding the use of contraception is a "new" understanding?

Please know that I am not trying to trap you.


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

Here is a temporary aside and a unique manner of support for contraception.

'Contraception cheapest way to combat climate change'
Contraception is almost five times cheaper as a means of preventing climate change than conventional green technologies, according to research by the London School of Economics.

(Of course, it all has to do with the economy. Let the reader note, I am neither buying nor selling this argument.)

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


Chad Myers said...

There's also another aspect: A couple might say:

Deciding whether or not our family has more children is a 3 party decision with God being the most important decider with veto power.

We always recognize this fact and never wish to actively reject this fact or to do anything to thwart or work against God's say in the matter.

Therefore, we resolve never to take active steps to physically block conception or prevent the natural course of the bodies of the man and woman.

We will work within the natural cycle of the body and use what power was given to us, but always be open to allowing God to take control and affect His Holy Will.


This is why I feel that using NFP to naturally avoid pregnancy is not wrong. It is quite different than using chemicals or barriers to damage the body and thwart the natural process.

God gave us the natural cycle, he did not give us artificial means, these were inventions of man.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Rev. Ball,

With a few reservations - I will say yes. I don't like the term errorist - but rather I think an approach which outright disallows for conception falls more into a legalist camp -- it is an example of where I think pious men, in their desire to attempt to regulate God pleasing lives fell to a law in hopes of preventing greater evils.

I cannot say as to whether or not it is "new" because I simply have not studied fully the history of the issue -- I will say that it has become into ascendancy in the past 80 years. Also, I cannot say whether or not any folks within the Church taught this position (this really isn't a huge matter of interest to me, certainly not enough for me to scour the fathers on my own) - but I will grant that it seems to be the apparent consensus of the Church.

I do recognize that if I were to speak this way, say 100 years ago, I would be butting heads with the vast majority of folks and not a minority. However, I am not convinced that the exegesis which I have seen on this issue follows logically - and hence, since I am not convinced by either scripture or clear reason -- I remain dubious and unconvinced - especially given the somewhat obvious tendency of many in the Church to fall into legalistic tendencies regarding issues of human sexuality.

I would also note, however, that the Church has often adopted new positions. We don't have qualms with Christians being actors - and again, that regulation is rightly dropped - the distinction isn't "acting" but participating in ungodly activities in acting. The assumption had been that to act automatically meant that one participated in ungodly pagan rituals. When that was shown to not always be the case, the ban on being an actor fell away.

Perhaps we are reaching a point, given an understanding of how contraception works and how it might be used (especially for purposes which Christians might be able to consider while not violating the law of Christian love - and yes, I'm going to point to love again, for that is the summation of law) which brings about a right and proper reevaluation of these things.

This is not meant to be a blanket approval of how contraception is used (any more that we would think that the fact that the Church allows people to be actors is a validation of the porn industry!), but rather that the sin of society is perhaps not fundamentally tied to the concept of contraception.

Take care and enjoy the Illinois Fall, Pastor Ball -- in Oklahoma we don't really get fall - we jump from 90s to a mild winter here.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


You write: We always recognize this fact and never wish to actively reject this fact or to do anything to thwart or work against God's say in the matter.

I hate to break it to you but saying, "We are not going to have sex" is a pretty active thwarting - physically checking time and temperatures and saying, "Nope, we will not do what we otherwise would" is action. Because if there is no sex, there will be no children. There's only One exception to that rule, and that's a big exception.

Chad Myers said...

@Rev. Eric: Abstaining from sex is not a sin. Timing sex within the natural cycle is also not a sin as it leaves open the possibility of procreation since there are no chemicals or barriers (artificial means) imposed upon the act.

Sacrificing is one thing, indulging in sexual pleasure while purposely denying the procreative aspect of it is a gravely disordered action (along the lines of masturbation) as it seeks to take the gift from God and rip out the worldly pleasing parts and rejecting the otherwordly parts.

Otherwise, by your logic, married couples would be required to have sex as often as possible so as to never miss an opportunity to procreate.

Couples are not called to have sex as often as possible. In fact, historically they're only required to have sex once to consummate the marriage shortly after the wedding and that's it for the rest of their life.

But, if you have sex, you must accept the procreative aspect of it. Timing during the cycle is natural and not disordered as it is consistent with the designs of nature.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

There is a difference between saying "we do not want more children" and saying "we do not actively want more children at this moment" ~ Rev. Brown

So, it's like declining that piece of fresh apple pie after dinner, saying you're too full right now, and you'd love to have it warmed up with a cup of decaf just before you go to bed instead. That's better than telling your wife your not interested in it at all. Right? Everybody's happy.

You accuse Rev. Curtis of neglecting to take this concept of time into consideration. Well, then, let's consider time with regard to the argument at hand.

a) Are you suggesting that we can assume God will bless us with more children later if we reject His blessing at the present time?

b) Are you saying that if we had prevented the conception of one of our seven living children, for example Luke Theophil, that he would have just been conceived later? ...perhaps instead of Grace Katherine?

c) If so, how far can this delaying go on before you become infertile and someone doesn't get to be conceived?

d) I prefer not to think of it, but could it possibly be that contraceptive use at that time would have meant that particular child would not EVER have been conceived, meaning that immortal soul would just simply have never existed? That terrifying thought is what has often prompted our children to thank us for not using contraception.

Please enlighten me, Rev. Brown. Which of the children do you think we would have contracepted out of this picture if we had accepted your premise? Let me give you a hint: More than half!

Now then, what exactly was it you were trying to point out is the difference between saying "we do not want more children" and saying "we do not actively want more children at this moment"?

I'd suggest the selfish word "want" points to the very heart of the problem, making this a distinction without a difference -- that is, at least as far as my little Grace Katherine is concerned.

And, Chad, that goes for NFP too.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


a) I would argue we shouldn't assume either way.

b) Beats the tar out of me. I'm not God. Otherwise I might have to point out the night several years ago when you were just too tired, and your lack of sex prevented SEAMUS RODRIGO from being born! Of course, the next day, because you fell asleep earlier, you were out of the house a minute earlier than you would have been otherwise, so the drunk driver didn't hit you like he would have, which would have made Seamus your last child, born nine months after your demise. Of course, this is to say nothing of the children you slaughtered before they were conceived by not marrying Polly Messersmith - they are all gone now.

Rampant speculation is fun, isn't it? But alas, we are not God, we can't know, and any attempt we make to determine what might have been is fiction. There was a gal in college who I might have ended up marrying if only I weren't a pastor - she's expecting twins now - if we had been married they wouldn't have been here - but who knows who would be?

Seriously - all this beats the tar out of me. Eh, my in-laws were using contraception and my wife came out of it - God has a way with things.

c) Again, beat the tar out of me. That all depends on individual ages and the like. I doubt a few years will render infertile -- of course, I haven't been tested, I might be infertile already. Who, other than God knows.

d) Um - if God knows that they exist, they will be formed in the womb. Whether it's here or there - it will happen. If God forms a person, you aren't going to stop it - he can circumvent you. That is really, really egotistical - as though it all revolves around you? I don't understand that approach. I understand the sense of wonder and awe at the wonders of the individual -- but allow God some control, here.

By the by, lovely pictures - rejoice in what you have. Be thankful to God - but I certainly hope that you don't go around beating yourself up for the children you might not have caused. That's an awful lot of needless law to live under, that's a lot of fear of the unknown.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


On this: "it leaves open the possibility of procreation since there are no chemicals or barriers (artificial means) imposed upon the act." you make a mistake.

If your standard is that there is "possibility" - contraception does not eliminate the possibility of children - it reduces the possibility, just as natural family planning does. As was pointed out somewhere in here NFP is actually more likely to prevent the possibility of conception than some simple barrier methods.

No, the key would have to be that these are "artificial" means. I don't see this assumption that simply because something is "artificial" that it is automatically sinful. That seems to be a logical stretch.

Chad Myers said...

"And, Chad, that goes for NFP too." ~ Erich Heidenreich, DDS

No it doesn't, since NFP doesn't actively block pregnancy. It leaves open the door for natural conception.

Active contraception is an active saying of "NO" and using man-made ways of preventing the procreative aspect of sex.

NFP acknowledges the procreative aspect of sex and allows for it to take place.

Every marital act must be open to conception. Not every marital act must conceive.

Please answer this question: Why did God create a cycle?

Chad Myers said...

@Rev. Brown:

The intent of artificial contraception is to prevent pregnancy for selfish reason (i.e. I want to abuse my wife's body for sexual pleasure without having to worry about a baby).

That it is not 100% effective is accidental.

By your logic, if I point a gun at you with the intent to murder you and I happen to miss, I'm not really a murderer in God's eyes.

The intent with NFP is to say: "to the extent that God involves our will in the procreative decision, we say 'Not at this time', but we acknowledge that God's will is most important and so we will not actively try to thwart it. We will use the cycle he created to avoid it, but are open in any event to conception"

By the very nature of the word, 'contraception' is to STOP/THWART conception.

NFP is not trying to STOP/THWART conception, only avoid it with the power that God has granted us while still being open to the possibility should God choose to do so.

With artificial contraception, conception happens IN SPITE of your will and actions.

With NFP, it happens IN ACCORDANCE with your will and actions.

With artificial contraception, we say to God: I do not want a baby, even if you do, so too bad!

When I practice NFP, I say to God: I want a baby if you want me to have a baby, but I'm not going to go out of my way right not to make it happen. Please go ahead if you will it, Lord.

NFP is tantamount to Christ in the Garden asking God to remove the cup from him, but accepting it obediently anyhow.

We are allow to ask for things contrary to God's will, but must accept them if God chooses so.

Artificial Contraception would be tantamount to Christ running away from the Garden or purposely chaining himself to a tree to prevent his removal from the Garden.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


So, if I read you rightly, you claim:

1 - If someone uses "artificial" contraception it is automatically selfish.
2 - Contraception is tantamount to spousal abuse.
3 - There is a vast logical difference between attempting to avoid pregnancy, and stopping it from occurring, and "avoiding" is the good one.
4 - If one becomes pregnant while using NFP, it actually is what you wanted and is in accord with your will.
5 - If one becomes pregnant while using contraception, you are automatically upset with God and defiant.
6 - Then there are the Christ in the Garden analogies.

I'm sorry Chad, I can't buy these. Logically, they don't work. From experience, they are often false. In some cases they are true - but I've known couples using NFP who were mighty ticked when another bambino came along, and couples who were using contraceptives who were surprised and delighted when a child came along.

Too much here, too much.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

I wrote: "...could it possibly be that contraceptive use at that time would have meant that particular child would not EVER have been conceived, meaning that immortal soul would just simply have never existed?"

Rev. Brown replied: "If God forms a person, you aren't going to stop it - he can circumvent you. That is really, really egotistical - as though it all revolves around you? I don't understand that approach. I understand the sense of wonder and awe at the wonders of the individual -- but allow God some control, here."

Now who sounds like a Calvinist?

Do you really believe God, in his sovereignty, circumvents the use of contraception and creates all the children He desires anyway? Or is it only if he "really, REALLY" wants to create a particular individual He will circumvent man's will, as if some individuals are more valuable than others?

In any case, we should instead be thinking about the fact that each child God wishes to entrust into our care through the miracle of procreation has a grand purpose in this world. When man contracepts, he is not simply making a personal choice about how big a family he wants. He is making a choice that robs the world of a person whom God intended to be a "little Christ" to others.

Listen to Luther chastise parents whose only crime is preventing the formal academic education of their children in favor of a purely vocational training:

"Suppose God were to address you on your deathbed, or at the Last Judgment, and say, 'I was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, imprisoned, and you rendered me no service. For in that you have not done it to people on earth and to my kingdom or gospel, but have helped put them down and allowed men’s souls to perish, you have done this to me. For you could have helped. I gave you children and material means for this purpose, but you wantonly allowed me and my kingdom and the souls of men to suffer want and pine away—and you thereby served the devil and his kingdom instead of me and my kingdom. Well, let him be your reward. Go with him now into the abyss of hell. You have not helped to build but to weaken and destroy my kingdom in heaven and on earth; but you have helped the devil to build and increase his hell. Live, therefore, in the house that you have built!'" [LW 46, 251]

And that is just for preventing the formal academic education of children. How about preventing their very existence??!!!

Oh, yes, I forgot. God is sovereign, as you pointed out Rev. Brown.

So, go ahead and limit your family size. God will make sure that the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, and imprisoned are served without your help. God will "circumvent" all your evil actions so you will have nothing to answer for on the last day.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...


With all due respect, you and your wife are wasting your time here as Roman Catholics, and simply confusing the important epistemological and ethical questions we are investigating as Lutherans.

Your arguments are predicated by something NONE of us will accept: Papal authority.

If not, then show me how NFP gets around the argument found in my latest comment above.

Chad Myers said...

Why do you put artificial in quotations? Are not manmade devices and chemicals not artificial? Is not the woman's cycle natural? Already you have twisted my words and ignored the meaning.

1.) If couples wish to keep having the pleasure of sex without accepting the gift of conception, it is selfish.

2.) Artificial contraception abuses the bodies of the male and female and reduces sex to merely an exercise in pleasure and mutual stimulation and blocks its primary unitive aspect. At this point, why is sex with devices or chemicals any better than other non-intercourse acts whose sole purpose is merely selfish genital stimulation? Am I not abusing my wife if I seek to use her body merely for my own selfish pleasure? If no, would you consider that love/charity?

3.) There is a vast logical difference between thwarting conception and not thwarting it. Timing sexual relations with the normal cycle CAN be sinful if done for the wrong reasons and with the wrong intent, but is not automatically so unlike artificial man-made contraception.

4. Yes, this is true. You purposely did not block the conception and were open to it. That's the whole point of NFP. You're not actively TRYING to get pregnant, but you're open to it if it happens. Perhaps this is why you and Erich do not understand NFP correctly.

5. Possibly. If you really wanted to get pregnant, why were you using contraception in the first place? You defiantly told God that he will not be allowed to conceive a child in the woman, but He did it anyhow. Why wouldn't you be upset with Him?

6. ... which are entirely appropriate as both have to do with the reluctant acceptance of or the absolute defiance of responsibility.

Should not have Christ jumped up and been overjoyed with God that the Fathers will would be carried out through Him (Christ)? Why did Christ ask to not suffer the cup?

Reluctant obedience is still obedience.

"I've known couples using NFP who were mighty ticked" ~ Rev. Eric Brown

So then we should throw out NFP because one couple used it defectively and/or didn't understand the theology?

In that case we should throw out the Bible because many people don't understand or use it correctly either.

Your anecdotes, while poignant, don't reflect the majority case nor the proper understanding of either NFP or artificial contraception.

I know Muslims who are really good God-fearing people. Should we all become Muslims now?

Chad Myers said...

One other thing, speaking of logical pretzels, isn't the assertion that if God really wants you to conceive, he'll bypass the artificial contraception devices sort of like saying:

"I want to murder this guy, so I'll shoot him with a gun and if God wants him alive, God will deflect the bullet"

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


You miss something that Luther has God saying, "I gave you children and material means for this purpose."

God gives. That's simply the way it is. I feel sad for the amount of fear and burden you seem to place upon yourself. Do you think God is so powerless as to let you prevent the existence of one whom He desires to exist? You deal with too many hypotheticals and what-ifs instead of recognizing that we live in a concrete world with concrete realities. Children are not some ether-based "what might have beens" or "what could have beens" -- for if you worry about that, then every single time your wife could have become pregnant and you did not impregnant her, you caused someone not to come into existence. That pushes things logically way too far.

Also, note - this type of language (So, go ahead and limit your family size. God will make sure that the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, and imprisoned are served without your help.) is precisely why I noted to Pastor Curtis above that there seems to be an attitude that one has to have as many children as possible. Again, you go too far.

All that being said, I appreciate the zeal you have to provide and care for the wonderful family that God has given you. Care for them, show them love, rejoice and delight in them. I think you misapply this zeal with your comments here.

Chad Myers said...


My NFP and contraception arguments are not from Papal Authority, though I could make those arguments as well. They are from a natural law and basic moral standpoint.

As a side note, it's curious you reject the notion of Papal Authority arguments and then immediately turn around and start quoting Luther as an authoritative source: Pope Luther I.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


God does hinder the plans of murders - quite often before the even get to shooting the gun. Or more likely even before it gets to the point.

This is why we have rightly prayed many times "Deliver us from evil." That is precisely what we pray for with this petition.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...


I would like to apologize for saying your participation as a Roman Catholic is "wasting your time." That was uncalled for. I should have chosen a better phrase to make my point. Please understand that I did not mean to imply that all your contributions to this discussion are useless. I do believe some of the points you and your wife have made depend on a premise of papal authority, thus leading to conclusions which do more to confuse than enlighten this discussion. However, your comments which do not depend upon this premise have been quite valuable. In any case, it is not my place to render judgment upon the value of your participation here. Please accept my apology and forgive me.

As for quoting Luther, I would happily quote the Popes to support my arguments wherever they have been right and said it well, just as I quoted that with which I agree from the Latin Mass magazine above. Please understand, then, that I appeal to Luther's fine presentation of certain arguments, not to his magisterial authority.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Rev. Brown,

The historic Christian position on this is that one should not intentionally take actions against nature for the purpose of preventing conception.

This is much different from saying one must do everything in their power to maximize their fertility and procreate as many human beings into existence as is biologically possible.

My arguments here do not inevitably lead to the latter, but rather fully support the former. Why? Because "be fruitful and multiply" should not be seen as a "command" per se, but rather a divine ordinance. Be what God has ordained you to be as husbands and wives, doing what husbands and wives do according to their created nature, and leave the question of how many children result up to God.

Luther's exposition on the meaning of the words "be fruitful and multiply" are very instructive on this point:

“For this word which God speaks, 'Be fruitful and multiply,' is not a command. It is more than a command, namely, a divine ordinance which it is not our prerogative to hinder or ignore. Rather, it is just as necessary as the fact that I am a man, and more necessary than sleeping and waking, eating and drinking, and emptying the bowels and bladder. It is a nature and disposition just as innate as the organs involved in it. Therefore, just as God does not command anyone to be a man or a woman but created them the way they have to be, so he does not command them to multiply but creates them so that they have to multiply. And wherever men try to resist this, it remains irresistible nonetheless and goes its way through fornication, adultery, and secret sins, for this is a matter of nature and not of choice.

". . . from this ordinance of creation God has himself exempted three categories of men, saying in Matthew 19:12, 'There are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.' Apart from these three groups, let no man presume to be without a spouse. And whoever does not fall within one of these three categories should not consider anything except the estate of marriage. Otherwise it simply impossible for you to remain righteous. For the Word of God which created you and said, 'Be fruitful and multiply,' abides and rules within you; you can by no means ignore it, or you will be bound to commit heinous sins without end."
[Luther's Works, vol. 45, page 15 ff]

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...


Likewise, the assertion that, God will bypass your use of NFP if He really wants you to conceive is sort of like saying:

If I neglect to provide my neighbor that which he needs to live, God will find another way to provide for him if He really wants him to live.

Or, more specifically, if I hate my brother the five days out of every month by neglecting him when he needs me most, this is erased by the fact that I love him the other 26 days of the month when he doesn't really need me. See how loving I am! Whenever I pay attention to my brother, I love him deeply and give him everything he needs at that time. Therefore, God doesn't hold me accountable for those times when I have put him out of my mind, even though it is those times he needed me most.

Anyone who has used NFP knows that it forces a man and wife to stay apart when God's created nature calls them the most strongly to come together.

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

My involvement in this discussion is only indirect but I appreciate the Catholic participation and contributions.

As to the question of "Papal Authority", which is another topic, there is no church body, denomination, confession, sect or individual who does not follow their own "papal authority." I think Luther said that we are all popes unto ourselves. We are half a millennia from the Reformation. What do we do today if the Pope and the Catholic Church teach justification by grace through faith in Christ Jesus and the many protestant groups, with their varieties of interpretations and authorities, teach nothing beyond how does God or Jesus make you feel? This may or may not always be the case but a flat rejection of papal authority raises the question if the teaching of justification is really bothering us in our relationship with the Catholic Church.

This is whole different topic. Thank you for your patience.

Chad Myers said...

@Erich: No sweat, no need to apologize. I certainly was not offended and am hard to offend and don't carry grudges easily.

As far as I can recall, at least in the context of contraception, I have not tried to make an argument from "because the Pope said so."

If I have quoted, say, Humaae Vitae, it was from a 'here are some good arguments' approach, not from a 'because the Pope said so' approach.

I have understood your citations of Luther to be from the same position. I am not appealing to Papal Authority, but to a fellow Christian who made some decent arguments that we should all consider. This person just happened to be the Pope.

I do consider, from a scholarly perspective, the Magesterium to be a respectable authority on the subject since they have been very consistent in the opposition of contraception from the very beginning in the same way that Luther was consistent in his opposition of it.

Both of them make compelling arguments that no Christian should easily dismiss.

Chad Myers said...

@Rev. Eric Brown:

I agree that God does thwart the plans of sinners from time to time. He thwarts the plans of murderers just as he thwarts the plans of couples artificially contracepting. NOTE: I am not comparing contracepting couples to murders except to say that both are sinful (to various degrees).

The point is, we shouldn't murder and we shouldn't artificially contracept (or contracept in any form) and put God to the test.

One final point on this matter, my wife pointed out that there are indeed faulty, selfish reasons for using NFP which makes it also sinful.

However, on the scale of more sinful or less sinful, NFP, even at its worst, always has the door open to conception. While the intent my be wrong, it is not a total rejection of God's providence.

Artificial contraception attempts to shut the door completely and is a total rejection of God's providence in the procreation of children. God can overrule, sure, just like he can deflect bullets.

NFP, at its worst, is still open to life. Artificial contraception, at its best is not open to life.