Section 13B... Social Issues/
Birth Control


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Should Christian Couples Use Birth Control?

Dan Vander Lugt

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The issue of contraception raises legitimate controversy among Christians. At one time all Christians were unanimous in opposing it. However, advancing technology has made artificial contraception {1} so safe and convenient that opposition has diminished. While Roman Catholic teaching remains in opposition to it, {2} Protestant leadership has tended to approve artificial contraception with little public expression of reservation. In spite of Catholic teaching, many Christian couples today—both Catholics and Protestants—tend to view birth control as a modern necessity. But at the same time, there is an enduring minority of sensitive Christian couples who remain uneasy about artificial contraception and prefer such natural forms of family planning as the “rhythm method.”

Whether or not we consider artificial contraception a necessity reflects our view of the purpose of human sexuality. What do we consider to be the purpose of sexual intercourse? Certainly, its most obvious and natural purpose is to initiate conception and affirm our commitment to children and family and the future of the race (Genesis 1:28).

But there are couples who are unable to conceive or who are past their child-bearing years. If it is impossible for them to have children, should they abstain from sex? The Bible doesn’t even hint that this is the case. Nothing in Scripture implies that it is sinful for married persons to have sexual intercourse without the possibility of bearing children. Sex within marriage is pure and honorable, even when conception cannot occur. This is because marriage is an expression of the deepest intimacy possible between two people, {3} an intimacy so deep that Paul uses it as a symbol for the love of Christ for His church.

Why, then, would there be any question about the use of artificial contraception within marriage? Isn’t all sexual intercourse between a husband and wife made honorable and pure by the nature of their matrimonial commitment? Isn’t the position of the Roman Catholic Church regarding artificial contraception and the reluctance of many sensitive couples to use it based upon an unbiblical asceticism and an unhealthy if not morbid view of the body and sexual function?

There doubtlessly has been an element of unhealthy asceticism in the view that many Christian people have towards sex. The Christian church has also fallen into the error of asceticism. {4} But Catholic opposition towards artificial contraception is based upon something much more profound than asceticism. It is based upon a sense of the sacredness of sexuality and the mystery of human love. It is also based upon an awareness that sexuality can easily be misused, profaned, and twisted into something ugly and destructive.

When we perceive human sexuality with a proper sense of wonder and respect, we don’t view its physical and emotional pleasures as ends in themselves. Rather, we see them as byproducts, refined and enhanced by the extent to which we submit our own sexual activities to God’s moral law.

The greatest thrill of sex is its breathtaking intimacy, but our ability to experience intimacy can only occur within certain boundaries. First, we don’t experience real intimacy with one we don’t cherish and honor. Our ability to cherish and honor is directly related to the degree of our commitment to our beloved. Second, the degree of our commitment to our beloved is related to the extent that we are both committed to God and to His will for our lives.

The modern “sexual revolution” has lost track of the relationship between personal responsibility, commitment, self-control, and intimacy. It has tried to cheat natural moral law by “cheap intimacy.” This is why so many modern people pursue sex as an end in itself, coupling with no commitment, {5} little sense of responsibility, and no more self-control than necessary to move from one orgasmic “fix” to the next. This kind of “cheap intimacy” is worse for the human spirit than junk food is for the human body. It replaces healthy sexuality with sexual addiction, producing a craving for more and more with no possibility for true satisfaction.

Even within marriage, artificial contraception can easily be used for the narcissistic goal of seeking sexual pleasure as an end in itself. A healthy marriage is built upon deep understanding and intimacy that includes but transcends sexual intercourse. Rather than encouraging a husband and wife to cherish each other on many levels, artificial contraception can easily undermine the development of real intimacy by impairing self-control and putting too much emphasis on easy, superficial eroticism—thus increasing the quantity of sexual contact while weakening the quality of the relationship.

The use of artificial contraception is certainly within the bounds of Christian liberty. However, like many things within those bounds, it is capable of being badly misused.



1. Artificial contraception relies upon medication, a device, or surgery to reduce or eliminate the possibility of conception.

2. The Catholic Encyclopedia states: “Birth control is the willful perversion of the natural gifts of God for the engendering of children, whereby conception is prevented; by interrupted or arrested coition, by contraceptive instrument, or by surgery that prohibits the function of otherwise healthy organs, or by medical or chemical means. The effects of such actions are to limit the number of offspring, to prevent births, and often to escape the responsibilities of parenthood. It is essentially wrong because: to employ the sexual function for self-gratification in a manner to prohibit the natural purpose of that function is to pervert the function; to defeat the primary purpose of the marriage relation without serious reason is to oppose the divine will. The committee of the bishops of the United States stated the position of the Church in a statement of Jan. 30, 1922: ‘The Church condemns all positive devices and methods of birth control as necessarily immoral because they are perversions of nature and violations of the moral law. Moreover, they lead inevitably to weakening of character, degradation of conjugal relations, decline of population, and degeneracy of national life. As a remedy for social and economic ills, birth control is not only mistaken and futile, but tends to divert attention from genuine methods of social betterment.’” (Roman Catholic teaching doesn’t prohibit family planning based upon use of the rhythm method and other means of avoiding pregnancy in a natural way.)

3. Scripture clearly prohibits sex apart from marriage. Where marriage isn’t possible, the Scriptures require each of us to “possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor” (1 Corinthians 4:4). Further, numerous passages clearly state that one of the purposes of marriage is emotional satisfaction and fulfillment of sexual passion (Proverbs 5:18-19; 1 Corinthians 7:2-9; 1 Timothy 4:3). [Also See Section Premarital Sex]

4. “Asceticism in general is a rigid outward self-discipline by which the spirit strives after full dominion over the flesh, and a superior grade of virtue. It includes not only that true moderation or restraint of the animal appetites, which is a universal Christian duty, but total abstinence from enjoyments in themselves lawful, from wine, animal food, property, and marriage, together with all kinds of penances and mortifications of the body. . . . The ascetic . . . tendency rests primarily upon a lively though morbid sense of the sinfulness of the flesh and a corruption of the world; then upon the desire for solitude and exclusive occupation with divine things; and finally, upon the ambition to attain extraordinary holiness and merit” (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. II, p.388).

5. Certainly there can be a degree of tenderness and intimacy between two people who aren’t committed to each other. But much of the tenderness and intimacy in such an uncommitted relationship flows from the longing (even if unconscious) for a personal connection that is enduring. If that longing is never realized, a person becomes jaded and disillusioned. Seeking intimacy apart from commitment degenerates into drawing narcissistic pleasure from the power to use other people to pleasure ourselves.


Contemporary Social Issues