Fanisi Kalusa in her wildest imagination could never have considered that she would become known world-wide.1 In fact, her life centered around her tiny little village of Margoli, eight miles above the equator in western Kenya. She would, however, become known for her desire to have 20 children, as she was the central subject of a documentary on world population. (The money had been provided by the United Nations, the World Bank, and private donors.) Fanisi’s village was located in “the middle of the most crowded farmland of the fastest growing nation in the history of the world.” Her desire and her situation were perfect to portray what Robert McNamara described as the “rampant population growth (that left humanity) more certainly threatened, than it has been by any catastrophe the world has yet endured.”
The question arises whether children should always be reared or may sometimes be exposed to die…. there should also be a law, in all states where the system of social habits is opposed to unrestricted increase, to prevent the exposure of children merely in order to keep the population down. The proper thing to do is to limit the size of each family.2
This quote from Aristotle shows that concern about population growth is an old phenomenon. Perhaps it received its greatest momentum, however, when Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) made his “objective” studies and predictions about the sufficiency of the earth to sustain the physical needs of his projected numbers. His conclusions and those of modern population planners, however, depend upon many assumptions and distortions. To complicate matters, eugenics in this century has become linked with concern about population growth. Additional impetus came from the increasing materialism that focuses on the “good life” when children absorb large sums that could be used for personal pleasure. Unfortunately, many Christians have adopted these secular attitudes. We must, therefore, see what the Bible says about these matters.
You might ask, “How is population control related to medical ethics; isn’t it properly a topic for social ethics?” Medicine is the means (birth control measures) to the end (population control). The ethics of such measures must be analyzed from two perspectives: from population control as a goal and birth control methods as medical practice. This chapter and the next are a unit, dealing with these two subjects respectively.
Fallacies of the Population Doomsdayers
First, predictions of future population numbers are extremely inaccurate. Malthus’ initial projections have proved false.3 He maintained that the population of the earth would double every twenty-five years. If his predictions were correct, the world’s population would be sixty billion, nearly ten times what it actually is! Since 1973, the world’s growth rate has slowed to 1.7 per cent (two per cent prior to that time) as fertility rates have dropped sharply in Asia and Latin America.4 Colin Norman, a population expert, doubts that the world’s population will ever double again, a position that contrasts sharply with that of United Nations planners.5 Causes for his position include increased death rates from war, famine, poor farming and fishing practices, as well as increased use of birth control measures (including abortion).
Second, the potential food supply of the world is far greater than was previously realized. Colin Clark estimates that the world could sustain 35 billion people on the “over consumptive” American diet and 100 billion on an “adequate” Japanese diet.6 Malcolm Muggeridge said that the arguments and data in Clark’s books are “unanswerable and have never been seriously challenged.”7
Third, the most serious hindrance to maximum food production are man’s individual actions and national culture, particularly is determined by his religion. Historically, famines are caused by war, the prevention of cultivation, the willful destruction of crops, defective agriculture, governmental interference by regulation or taxation, and currency restrictions.8 It should be noted that natural causes are the exception rather than the rule.
The recent famine in Ethiopia is an example. Traditionally, Ethiopian farmers had stored food for the future years of crop failure that they knew were inevitable.9 Under the present government, however, those who continued to store food were accused of “hoarding” and executed. When others tried to transport food, they were accused of “exploitation” and their goods confiscated. Sometimes, they were imprisoned or executed. Many young, able-bodied men were forced to leave their farms. Entrepreneurial incentives were dashed by widespread looting, confiscation, and expropriation. Both individual and business bank accounts were raided. Farmers were forced into collectives and associations. No plans were made to replace the former storage of food for future years or transportation to move food to those parts of the country that needed it. Even the massive giving of other countries did not get food to the people. It rotted on docks, was diverted to those in power, or was used to manipulate the populace.
The situation in other countries also shows that the major problem is inherently individual, social, political, and religious. Dr. J. S. Kanwar of the Indian Agrarian Research Institute, has concluded that modern methods of agriculture in two of the Federal States in India could produce enough food for the entire country. Then, if the entire country used such methods, one-third of the crop would exceed the country’s need and could be exported. Throughout the world the typical work day varies from 45 minutes to seven hours.10 Obviously, longer working hours would produce a great deal more. Over fishing, overgrazing, deforestation and over ploughing are additional problems that reduce productivity through the destruction of basic resources.11 Further, the lack of productivity in the tropics has been attributed to the people who live there and is not due to the heat and humidity per se.12
Fourth, productivity is not necessarily limited where people are closely populated.
There is an interesting theory according to which, from an economic point of view, countries can, on a certain level, be “overpopulated,” then, within the framework of a more developed economy, become under populated, and with additional industrialization again become overpopulated, and so forth (his emphasis).13 This phenomenon may account for the fact that in the West “the birth-rate began to decrease a generation or so after the death-rate decreased without any help from contraceptives, abortion or other forms of birth-control.”14 (It is doubtful that abortion is effective as a birth control measure.15)
The Netherlands and Japan, two of the most densely populated countries in the world have had to import workers to meet their productive capacity.16 Tyrol, a federal state of Austria was Central Europe’s “poor-house,” in 1898 unable to employ and feed its population.17 Emigration was high. Today, the lifestyle in a Tyrolean village is quite similar to that of the United States, a most remarkable reversal! Taiwan, two-thirds the size of Switzerland but with sixteen million people, has the second highest standard of living in Asia (behind Japan, another densely populated country).
Fifth, cultural upheavals have been caused by population planning because its acceptance and practice is uneven. Europeans, North Americans, Australians, Japanese, and South Africans have been practicing birth control, but few other countries have done so to the same extent. The net result is that the “white races” and the Japanese face a declining percentage of the world’s population.18 “Genocide is now the fashion … (of these regions) in an undeclared warfare vis-à-vis an unborn generation.”19 In the Netherlands the Catholics “overtook” the Calvinists as the 20th century began because the latter used contraception and the former did not.
It would take us far a field and require a lengthy treatise to discuss the morality of these demographic changes. It is sufficient here to note that major shifts take place when population controls are attempted.
Sixth, food production has increased more rapidly than the population on a world-wide basis.20 This fact substantiates the above observation that the major problem lies with people and their culture, not food production per se.
It appears never to have occurred to them (the advocates of controlled population development) that the logical way out of the chronic situation in which there are more hungry people than food is not by way of reducing the population, but rather of increasing the production of the means of subsistence.21
Even in the United where large surpluses of food are produced almost every year, more could be produced were it not for government controls. Often, the problem of insufficient food is its delivery to the people (see Ethiopia above). Such transportation problems have to be addressed, as well.
Seventh, how can any “optimum” number for the population of a country or the world be determined? What objective standards could be used? How much land space, food, and other material goods should each person have? The ultimate question is who will make these decisions? The answer of the population planners is always the “wisdom” of an elite group, usually scientists who are quite willing to use their “expertise” from the “objective” (meaning amoral) world of science to answer these far-reaching moral questions. It is fascinating, although nonetheless dangerous, that strong advocates of pluralism are quite unwilling to determine answers to these dilemmas rather with a pluralistic approach. Such unwillingness clearly shows their authoritarian philosophy that includes coercive tyranny to achieve their ends. (So much for pluralism!)
Eighth, it is not universally true that large families are “unwanted.” The clear desire of many peoples to have large families has caused a prominent feminist, Germaine Greer, to “change her tune.” From a tour to rural villages in India she was deeply moved by a culture in which there were no “unwanted children,” in which family life was strong and sex regarded as something other than an “indoor sport,” in which the women’s role in family and village life was important and honorable.22
Ninth, both the rich and the poor need their children to provide for them in their elderly years and to continue the economic development of their country.23 Allan Carlson has calculated that the loss of 17 million children in the United States (who become producing adults) through abortion to be $1.45 trillion in national income, of which $291 billion would have been federal income tax. Consider this amount relative to the current budget deficit of $150-$200 billion dollars a year.24 He has called this loss, “The Malthusian Deficit.” His calculations include many assumptions, but the value of his work is to give some objectivity to the enormous potential “wealth” to our country from larger families.
Julian Simon has briefly summarized other arguments.25 His answers to the question, “Why is population rhetoric so appealing?,” includes: short-run vs. long-run costs, apparent consensus of expert judgment, population as a cause of pollution, judgments about people’s rationality, media exposure, money, and standards of proof and rhetoric. To the question, “What are the underlying reasons for doomsday fears and rhetoric?,” he answers: simple world-saving humanitarianism, taxation fears, supposed economic and political self-interest, fear of communism, dislike of business, belief in the superiority of “natural processes,” religious antagonisms, racism, the belief of the more educated that they know what is best for the less educated, lack of historical perspective, and fitness of the human race.
In conclusion numbers per se are not the disease, so birth-control (especially abortion) is not the cure. The fact is that the cure is worse than the problem. There are hidden agendas, motives, and severe distortions of the facts. Allan Carlson calls us to action. Christians … face a special imperative in ending the Malthusian charade. Its core assumption — that man alone is vile and nature alone is holy — represents a corruption of Christian truth.26
The Creation Mandate
“And God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth …” (Genesis 1:28a). This directive is one of seven given to Adam and Eve prior to their Fall: the replenishing of the earth (Genesis 1:28a), subduing of the same (Genesis 1:28a), dominion over the creatures (Genesis 1:28b), labor (Genesis 2:15), the weekly Sabbath (Genesis 2:3), and marriage (Genesis 2:24-25). They are called “creation mandates” by some theologians and “orders of creation” by others. Our focus is on the command to procreate. It is inseparable from the seventh.27 When God limited one man to one woman and vice-versa, He limited procreation to this union. In the next section we will explore what that union means relative to the family.
Since these mandates are not taught widely today, many Christians will not be familiar with them. Likely, however, you will recognize principles that Scripture presents elsewhere. Also, you may recognize general principles that seem to issue from “Christian” responsibility, but had not yet been crystallized in your mind. Too many Christians have been “brain-washed” by the population myths and birth control advocates. The creation mandate is the basic principle by which to place these distortions in their Biblical perspective.
Some may wonder whether these mandates continue since the Fall wreaked havoc with the whole cosmos (Rom. 8:20), including its perfect moral structure. That these mandates need some modification seems necessary from Jesus’ allowance for divorce (Mt. 19:1-12). First, He states the creation mandate for marriage (v. 4-6). Then, He upholds the allowance for divorce under Mosaic law, ” … because of your hardness of heart” (v. 8). Again, He states the creation mandate, “but from the beginning it has not been this way” (v. 8). Finally, he re-states the Old Testament sanction for divorce when adultery has occurred. It seems that Man’s sin has made divorce a practical necessity for cases of adultery. (Paul added desertion of an unbeliever as a cause for divorce later.)28
Since Jesus modified one creation mandate because of man’s sinfulness, it would not seem inappropriate to expect some modification of the command to “be fruitful and multiply.” Helmut Thielicke apparently takes this position when he says that this command is “confronted with concrete situations which resist its realization.”29 We should not, however, be too hasty. Concerning divorce we have an explicit modification made in the Bible itself by our Lord Himself. There is no such explicit modification concerning our being “fruitful.” Most assuredly, Christians do not have the prerogative to modify God’s commands without His own explicit instructions.
Further, we should not have to resort to the choice of “lesser evils,”30 where the situation seems to offer only choices that are each evil. Dr. John Jefferson Davis calls this principle, “contextual absolutism.”31 It “holds that in each and every ethical situation, no matter how extreme, there is a course of action that is morally right and free of sin” (I Corinthians 10:31). That is not to say that such situations are not extremely difficult, but Dr. Davis calls us to the “cost of discipleship … in the twentieth century American church, where believers are all too often tempted by the comforts and compromises of the surrounding culture.32
Thus, the creation mandate remains in effect.33 Its repetition after the Fall and after the flood clearly underscores its continuance. It applies to both believers and unbelievers since it was given to the natural father (Adam) and mother (Eve) of the human race. Since unbelievers are not likely to respond to biblical authority, the conscious fulfillment of this creation mandate falls to believers. There are many reasons why believers should be concerned about its fulfillment. We will review some of those reasons after we develop a biblical concept of the family.
The Biblical Concept of The Family
We start with “the beginning.” In Genesis 2 the purpose of marriage is clearly stated, “…it is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him!” (v.18). Then, God made Eve to complement Adam in every way, “meet” meaning “appropriate to, corresponding to or approximating at every point.”34 That is, the man would be lonely and incomplete without his wife. She is his “companion” (Proverbs 2:17) and he is her “companion” (Malachi 2:14). Further, that “… the two shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24) indicates the unity of this companionship since “flesh”35 refers to individual persons (Genesis 6:17, 7:22, 8:21; Acts 2:17). Thus, “become one flesh” means that the husband and wife become one person: physically as they live together and enjoy a sexual relationship as they care for each others hurts and needs, intellectually as they share and complement each other’s life. The “two persons begin to think, act, feel as one”36 Thus, marriage is primarily a functional and physical companionship in all the endeavors of both “till death do you part.” (It is an earthly unity, not an eternal unity, Luke 20:34-36).
The strength of this companionship is emphasized in its designation as a covenant (Malachi 2:14). God chose the covenant as the means by which He would establish His relationship with the nation of Israel (Genesis 17:1-14) and spiritual “Israel” (all believers, Gal. 3:29). Thus, marriage is a covenant that reflects God’s plan of salvation. Even further, marriage reflects the relationship within the Trinity (I Corinthians 11:3). John Calvin commenting upon Mt. 19:5-6 states, “…whoever divorces his wife (or husband) tears himself in pieces, because such is the force of holy marriage, that the husband and wife become one man”37
A secondary function of this unity is the propagation and rearing of children. The Roman Catholic Church and some Protestants are wrong to teach that procreation is the primary purpose of marriage. First, children are a temporary part of marriage because they eventually leave home, whereas, marriage continues for the lifetimes of the husband and wife. In fact, the children are instructed to “leave” (separate) from their parents and “cleave” (join) themselves to their spouses (Genesis 2:24). Second, marriage is not necessary, biologically, for the propagation of the human race. The prevalence of illegitimate births and the reproductive techniques clearly cover this reality.
The sexual relationship is secondary, also. Obviously, marriage is not necessary for the act of intercourse, but marriage is the situation that God designed for its fullest and only means of expression. Sexual fulfillment flows out of the companionship of the husband and the wife. In this context of fulfillment and commitment children are conceived. It is not, however, the only dimension of the physical relationship. Couples who are unable to have sexual intercourse can still have a deeply physical relationship through their touches, embraces and other physical contact. It is the erotic focus of our society that centers on marriage as a sexual relationship. The Bible does not place the emphasis on sex even though it is not embarrassed by the pleasures and ecstasies of sex, as vividly portrayed in the Song of Solomon.
Finally, marriage is the basic unit of society and the smallest unit of government. Education, discipline, and justice, health, and economics are administered there. A man’s ability to govern his family is a prerequisite for his governing the church (I Tim. 3:4-5) and by implication, any other social sphere.
In conclusion, marriage was instituted of God as a lifelong design, primarily for companionship and complementary work. It is a covenant of companionship. A man or woman is incomplete until he or she has married (unless gifted by God to serve Him without a spouse, Mt. 19:12, I Corinthians 7:7). Children and sexual fulfillment are functions of this unity, but a marriage can be fully complete without either. The marriage and the family form the basic unit of society and government; any enhancement or disruption of the family multiplies far beyond itself for this reason. All medical ethics to be biblical, must incorporate this companionship concept of the family.
Implications of the Creation Mandate and the Biblical Family
Bob’s problem (he had come alone) was unusual for me as a pastoral counselor: his wife did not want children at this time. He had been married to Jane for six years and until the last few months, both had agreed not to have children. He had been in school most of that time and she had worked to support him. Now, they were both working, their debts were paid, and he wanted children. Jane, however, seemed to enjoy buying the things for the house that she had always wanted and knew the expense of a baby would interfere with her plans. Bob was concerned that they may wait too long since Jane had two medical problems that could interfere with conception and decrease their chances of having any children at all. As I gathered more data, it was apparent that the presenting problem reflected other problems in the marriage.
Since this type of case was the first for me, I made some usual suggestions to improve their communication, partly to buy time for me to talk over their situation with other elders. They were both to come for the next counseling session. As this case turned out, I never saw them again formally. Evidently, his visit was the stimulus for Jane to re-think her position. Within a few months she was obviously pregnant and they now have two children.
Involuntary Childlessness Because of Physical Inability
As we have seen, physical inability to have children does not detract from the primary purpose of marriage so the fullness of the husband-wife relationship is not necessarily diminished. Further, even though the couple is not able to obey the creation mandate, their situation does not involve sin because personal sin is never ascribed when failure to fulfill a biblical command is completely beyond personal responsibility.
A different situation is the couple who voluntarily chooses not to have children. Such is a violation of the creation mandate. Thielicke states that such a marriage should not take place.38 A man and woman who contemplate marriage without the intention to have children, even though it may be rare, have insufficient biblical grounds for the marriage. Although they could still fulfill the primary purpose of marriage, they could possibly be in continual violation of the biblical command to procreate.
Some qualifications, however, are in order. Thielicke names several “exceptional” cases: severe illness of the mother, severe hereditary affliction, economic circumstances which will not permit the rearing of another child even with the greatest frugality, early marriages (that is, by students), housing difficulties, and job situations.39 The most valid is that of severe illness in the mother. In this situation, the choice is actually one between the new life of a child and the life of the mother. The choice is similar to the one that is faced when a mother’s life is threatened if her pregnancy is continued.40 Other limitations on this creation mandate also apply.
Arbitrarily, I will divide this limitation into three categories. Into one category falls the couple whose first child unexpectedly has a genetic disorder or congenital abnormality (a problem or set of problems that occurs during the development of the baby in the mother’s womb or the birth process, and is not an inherited condition.) The difficulty that such a child places on the couple financially, physically, socially and spiritually may be sufficient to limit their having additional children. This limitation is strengthened if there is a high probability that they will have another defective child. If, however, it is virtually certain that additional children will be normal, they may want to have more.
The second category involves the couple who have not yet had children, but know that they have a very high probability of having a genetically defective child. This second category as a limitation is not as strong as the first because the above couple has already acted upon the creation mandate. Usually, the stress of genetically-defective children is outweighed by unexpected benefits, as with Down’s syndrome children. We do not want to say categorically, however, that this second couple should have a child. Paul Ramsey, however, believes that they should not.41
A third category is an older couple who is at an increased risk of genetic aberrations in their children because of their age. These rates are commonly given according to the age of the mother, although the age of the man is a factor in genetic abnormalities, as well. When the woman is 35 years of age, the chances of a “clinically significant abnormality” is 0.5 percent (5/1000 births); at 40 years 1.5 percent (1.5/1000); at 45 years 5.0 percent (50/1000); and at 49 years 13.0 percent (77/1000).42 For the couple who does not have any children, these “odds” would not seem to warrant childlessness. These “odds” are considerably less than those inherited abnormalities that may affect 25-100 percent of the offspring. Of course, all other factors that we are discussing here would have to be considered. Having children at older ages should certainly not be undertaken lightly.
There are too many variables to cover every situation. Most genetic abnormalities are not severe. In fact everyone has several hidden genetic defects. It would seem that the expected disorder would have to be severe (multiple organ systems affected) to prevent the couple from having children. The couple would have to consider their own physical, financial and spiritual resources. They should talk with other Christians who have these children. Most importantly, they should seek the counsel of their local church officers who are their God-ordained spiritual advisors.
Certain situations may require postponed childlessness. 1) A year is needed to allow for a new husband and wife to begin to learn to live together (Dt.24:5). Although this passage has to do with military and civil duties, it probably represents a general principle that allows a new husband and wife to enjoy and get to know each other without excessive demands that interfere with their relationship.
2) Immediately successive pregnancies may be difficult for some women both physically and spiritually. It would seem appropriate that some spacing between children be planned, but this decision seems to be one that each couple is entirely free to make as they consider their abilities and resources.
3) The loss of a job or other financial loss may temporarily reduce a family’s means to have another child. Again, this decision is one that couple’s are free to make. Many relevant factors vary considerably from family to family, so their choices here will also vary.
4) A modern limitation is the time needed to complete lengthy educational requirements, especially those that require several years in addition to the usual four years of college. For married couples this situation usually requires one spouse to work, thus effectively preventing the financial or spiritual requirements to raise children. Surely, the better choice is to marry and postpone children than to be sexually frustrated (I Corinthians 7:9b). Couples should be careful, however, that careers do not continue this situation indefinitely. They should also be aware that ten per cent of married couples have physical difficulties that may inhibit conception. To wait may decrease their chances to have any children at all.
How Many Children?
How many children should a couple have? Likely, two are insufficient for most Christian couples without clearly limiting factors. The word, “multiply” (Hebrew, rabah), is used in the creation mandate. It means “to multiply, become numerous, become great ….” Basically, this word connotes numerical increase.”43 I am tempted to say that “multiply” means a greater increase than simple “addition.” The impression is one of large numbers. Even so, large numbers of people may be achieved by increasing life expectancy or by large numbers of children. So practically, “multiply” does not help to determine the number of children that a couple should have. It does, however, seem to imply several.
Psalm 127 implies the same. A “warrior” is not likely to have only 1-2 arrows and say that his “quiver is full” (v. 5). Further, he would probably not go into battle or to go hunting with only one or two. Another element in the psalm is the blessedness of many children. Certainly, this description of children is far removed from them as “burdens,” as the description used by many population planners.
Two conclusions seem warranted. First, Psalm 127 emphasizes the expectation and blessedness of many children. Second, the population experts have concluded that two children will not result in numerical growth. Putting these two conclusions together (with far more emphasis on the first than the second), we would say that at least three children are expected of God’s people who otherwise do not face the concrete limitations that we have outlined. What is necessary is that this Psalm be contemplated personally and prayerfully by each couple as they decide what number God would expect them to have. In addition, substantive reasons call for large families.
1) Every society needs the morality of children raised in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). For sure, Christian children are not always raised in that manner, but a recent increased interest in biblical principles for the home and in Christian education gives us hope for improvement. Truly, today’s emphasis on birth and population control is a great opportunity for the advancement of Christianity. With larger families Christians can become a larger percentage of society, and with proper biblical training, advance the Christian worldview that has given rise to the greatness of the Western world. At a lesser level large families are necessary for Christians to defend themselves against staunch and widespread opposition to the Bible as a basis of morality and law.44
2) God’s primary fulfillment of the Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20) is through the family. The marital institution is sanctified by the forces of redemptive grace to such an extent that it is made one of the main channels for the accomplishment of God’s saving purpose in the world.45
The application of the following Proverb seems appropriate to this purpose.
In a multitude of people is a king’s glory
But in a dearth of people is a prince’s ruin. Proverbs 14:28
Christians who are not familiar with Covenant Theology may not know that God’s promises in the Old Testament were covenantal. That is, He made covenants with certain people and their “seed” (Genesis 9:9, 17:7, 35:12). The inclusion of the children is also clear in the New Testament (Acts 2:39). Certainly, the discipleship inherent in the Great Commission has the potential to be most thorough for the children of Christians.
3) Parents can be more easily cared for by several children if they become unable to provide for themselves. This biblical picture seems foreign because our culture has distorted the continuing relationship of the extended family, and placed the responsibility on the federal government (e.g. Social Security).
4) Advantages exist for the children as well. Children learn to share of necessity and to have fewer “things” in large families. They have to interact more frequently and with more personalities in close situations. To have spending money, they have to earn more of it for themselves. With this training, after they leave home they will have more potential resources for help in difficult circumstances. Since children have sinful natures that must be trained. I am aware of the difficulties that will occur with more children. I contend, however, that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
Myths against large families
The arguments against large families are largely a result of our non-Christian culture. First, there are already or soon will be too many people on the earth. This argument has been dealt with at length already. Second, raising children is prohibitively expensive today.46 There is some truth to this argument, but it assumes a great deal. Basic necessities are food, clothing, shelter and education (the training of children to provide these things for themselves in the future). The expenses of children, however, do not increase proportional to numbers. Clothes can be handed down. Two or more children can share the same room. Food is proportionally less expensive when bought in larger quantities and the more expensive foods are not necessary for balanced nutrition. College education may be desirable, but many trades and other jobs do not require a college education. Children can also earn a large portion of (if not all) these costs themselves. Certainly, some lifestyles would have to be radically altered, but what is our standard: our culture or God’s word? If children are a gift and blessing from the Sovereign Lord, does it not stand to reason that He will provide for them?
Many Chinese families demonstrate that large families can meet these challenges. Brought to this country as manual laborers, they became entrepreneurs, developing small, successful businesses primarily within family units and have provided their children with excellent educations, including college and graduate school in many instances. They are able to distinguish between “wants” and “needs,” a trait that is almost foreign to our materialistic culture.
The local church is an untapped resource. The biblical order of responsibility is first for one’s family (I Tim. 5:8), then for other believers (Gal. 6:10), and then for the remainder of society. The family is not an isolated unit but a part of the larger body that is the local church, primarily, and the universal church, secondarily. Certainly, a mature local church is rare.47 The removal of our materialistic orientation and the development of vital local churches would provide those necessary resources for greater numbers of children in Christian families.
Third, we are fooling ourselves with the notion of “control” and “planning.”
… the attempt to control our reproductive capacities without controlling ourselves is based on self-deception. For there are all sorts of possibilities beyond our capacity to predict, let alone regulate. The financial drain anticipated from the birth of a child may be bypassed or surmounted by an unexpected promotion, a change in jobs, or a son’s decision to become a policeman instead of a Ph.D. Or the undreamed of, unexpected rewards of child-rearing may more than reconcile the parent to a flatter billfold. Or it may be as bad or worse than anticipated. But how does one know beforehand? How does one ever know?48
We wonder whether our technological age has blinded us to the reality of God’s ultimate and final Sovereignty. He “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11) and He controls the affairs of nations (Ps. 2:1-12). As Christians, He even “causes all things (that includes our sins and failures) to work together for (our) good” (Rom. 8:28). Certainly, planning is proper Christian stewardship, but we have seen that in birth control we have tended to leave out God’s commands and His ultimate control. Even so, whether from teaching or the Sovereign movement of God’s Spirit, it is my observation that Christians are presently having many more than the “allotted” 1-2 children.
It would be impossible to deal particularly with all the relevant decisions that couples face. I can, however, develop some general principles for use in particular instances. First, any couple who marries and chooses not to have children, even though they are physically able or do not have a severely limiting situation, violate God’s creation mandate. On the one hand, contraception is never forbidden in the Bible. On the other hand, the emphasis of the Bible is the identity of God’s blessing by the provision of children. Second, one or two children are probably insufficient to fulfill the biblical expectation. “The burden of proof rests, then, on the couple who wish to restrict the size of their family.”49 Third, any limitation of children should not be made without counsel from one’s local church. The final decision rests on the family, however, not the church.50 The church is then to advise, not to dictate. Fourth, the responsibility to procreate was given to the family. The state therefore has no authority to set any limits whatsoever on the size of families.51
Conclusions: Biblical Perspectives
The creation mandate is consistent with the principles and facts of those who oppose population control. Although clear biblical teaching does not need outside support, such consistency gives additional assurance that our interpretation is correct. Science and Scripture ultimately cannot conflict.52 Such consistency also provides non-biblical answers for opponents who do not believe that the Bible has valid arguments.
The creation mandate is a position of faith. In spite of the evidence that the world can support 35-100 billion people, the hypothesis remains untested. We would not be honest if we did not consider that the population controllers might be right. Our assurance does not come from our own “planning” and calculation, but from the trustworthiness of our God.
Such trust has two applications. First, His laws and principles in general cannot be compromised because of any personal or social situation. For example, induced abortion can never be justified for any reason because it violates the 6th Commandment.53 Individual families, however, may have limiting factors. Second, God will make provision at the appropriate time for the fulfillment of His commandments. One conclusion of our study is that population growth is quite unpredictable. Further, food production can be markedly increased by current methods and future technology is likely to cause further increase.
We frequently overlook the fact that we live in a universe were primary reality is supernatural. The Trinity and created spiritual beings preceded this universe and will continue to exist after it is gone or changed by fire. Certain conditions are predicated on God’s supernaturalism. One example is the Sabbath. As Christians, we almost entirely associate the Sabbath with Sunday, our day of worship and rest, but the concept of the Sabbath also concerned rest for the fields (Lev. 25:1-22). American farmers confirm that land will produce a greater harvest in the year that follows its lying fallow. There is no naturalistic explanation for this phenomenon.54
Another example is the relationship of the physical world to man’s sin (Rom. 8:20-22). On this basis of natural effect by supernatural cause, is it not logical that God will provide for the fulfillment of the creation mandate? Again, this position is one of faith, but one that has “evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). It is not a blind leap, but a conclusion based upon the character of God and His activity in the affairs of men and nature.
The “bottom line” is that man believes that he is able to plan the growth of the world’s population better than God. This deception is one aspect of God’s supposed “foolishness” and man’s “wisdom” (I Corinthians 1:25-31). When placed in this perspective, the truly foolish thing to follow is man’s wisdom.
The perspective is clearer when the population and birth control planners are placed within their own worldview. Ultimately, they are the advocates of state coercion and death (by abortion, infanticide and euthanasia) as a solution to social problems (see our Introduction). Their practical solutions represent a philosophical (religious) system that is entirely opposed to the biblical worldview. There are only two such systems.55 As Harry Blamires has said, there is a “gigantic battle between good and evil that splits the universe.”56 The population debate is one “front” of that battle.
The family was given responsibility for the fulfillment of the creation mandate. This principle alone is sufficient to counter any argument that any government may mandate or even encourage birth control of its citizens. It is a family responsibility over which the state can claim no control. Later, we will see how this principle applies to those who carry genetic diseases and who are mentally incompetent. That population planners would advocate such state control is, however, consistent with their worldview that is not only anti-life, but anti-family (in their advocacy of heterosexual activity outside marriage and homosexuality). It is no accident that legally minor children do not need their parents permission to receive birth control prescriptions, to be treated for sexually transmitted diseases, and to have an abortion. These practices are possible only where the family and its procreative task is denigrated. It is the imposition of man’s design over God’s design.
Evangelicals must see population explosion as evangelistic opportunity. Today, we have more means than ever to proclaim the Good News worldwide. Directly, we have seen that God’s primary means of evangelism is the family. Indirectly, we have evangelism outside the family. An increasing number of people is an increasing number of people for God’s Kingdom. The greatest blessing associated with many children is for them to realize their salvation in Jesus Christ.
The euphemism, “wrongful birth,”57 illustrates the anti-life and anti-family sentiment of our day. Mostly, this change has taken place within the last twenty years. The attitude has shifted from children as blessings to children as wrongs to the degree that tort damages are sought for both healthy and “defective” children.58 In fact, courts have ruled that wrongful birth can result for eight different reasons: “failure to fill a birth control prescription, an unsuccessful sterilization, an unsuccessful vasectomy, inaccurate pre-pregnancy counseling, inaccurate pregnancy counseling, the failure to diagnose a pregnancy, the failure to offer amniocentesis to a woman whose age makes her a “high-risk” pregnancy, and… unsuccessful abortion.”
These “successful” court cases contrast with one that occurred in 1934. A man underwent a vasectomy to prevent the conception of another child after his wife had “substantial difficulty” with her first pregnancy. When his wife later conceived and had a normal, healthy child, he sued for damages from the physician who had done the vasectomy. He lost the case because a vasectomy was against public policy (how times have changed)! In 1967, a couple sued their doctors on the grounds that they were negligent to inform them of the possible harmful effects of German measles on the unborn child so that they could have had an abortion. This couple lost because the intangible, immeasurable, and complex human benefits of motherhood and fatherhood … (weigh) against the alleged emotional and money injuries …. substantial public policy reasons prevent this Court from allowing damages for the denial of the opportunity to take an embryonic life (to have an abortion). Today, the mother has the legal right to “take an embryonic life!”
If the concept of wrongful life continues, it will take its toll on human values. 1) Increasing pressure will be exerted on women over 35 years of age, whose babies have a increased likelihood of genetic problems, to have amniocentesis for all pregnancies to evaluate the quality of the fetus and to abort those in which genetic “defects.” 2) Infanticide will become the “solution” for those who are born in spite of attempt to detect and to prevent their births. 3) The effect may be severe in the child who becomes aware that his birth was “wrong.” 4) Benefits for handicapped people could deteriorate. 5) Physicians could lose their legal right not to participate in or perform abortions.
6) The astronomical awards of these suits are already raising the costs of malpractice insurance for obstetricians and gynecologists so high that some are leaving their practice. To continue to deliver babies, they must raise their fees to cover this “overhead.” The problem is extending to midwives, so the availability of professionals to manage pregnancy and deliver babies may become inadequate. 7) A larger dimension of the same concept is that children have the “right” to sue their parents. That is, wrongs between parents and their children may be addressed in courts of law (as if courts have all the answers). Although such action is just beginning in this country, it is already widespread in Sweden.
From a biblical perspective the concept of a wrongful birth is foreign to God’s creation mandate, His blessing through children, and His design for the family. The concept of wrongful birth is another heinous side of eugenics. The corresponding breakdown of the family in which a child can sue his parents for such reasons, is barbaric.
Sexual Research and Therapy
Christians lack of response to sexual research and therapy reveals the depth to which we have been influenced by modern society. Under the guise of “desensitization” video presentations at medical and other professional meetings would be “XXX-rated” in a movie theater. The overflow crowds that attend these showings are evidence that interest is more than “academic.”
The first such “research” to achieve scientific status was the Kinsey Report in 1953.59 It is still quoted as a factual source, but rarely is it scrutinized to determine how its “facts” were obtained. Dr. S. I. McMillen is one exception.60 He outlines the extreme bias present in Kinsey’s work: 1) the ratio of single women to married women was three times greater than the general population and 2) the only participants were those women who were willing to report the intimacies of their sexual experience. Yet, from this study norms were established for sexually “fulfilled” women.
Today, the most prominent sexual researchers are the husband and wife team of William H. Masters and Virginia Johnson. Their, research is immoral since it includes the study of sexual partners who are not married to each other. Even a husband and wife who are willing to be studied under the scrutiny of others violate the intimacy that God has directed for marriage (Heb. 13:4). A morality that allows unmarried partners to engage in sexual “research” is nothing less than a perversion.
Before going further, you should be aware that the Bible is not prudish about sexual thoughts or behavior. The Song of Solomon is quite descriptive of intimacies between two lovers. A recent book has explored the various sexual themes of this book of the Bible in some detail.61 In this biblical light the Puritans have been wrongly maligned for their restrictive attitude toward sexual behavior. In fact, this view ascribes to the Puritans what actually reflects the Victorian era. God does restrict sexual activity to marriage, but the design for the fullest and most joyous expression of sexual fulfillment is not restrictive!
Evidence for the association of a strong religious commitment and enjoyment of sexual intimacy comes from an unlikely source, Redbook Magazine.62 In its first report all age groups of “strongly religious women were the most likely to describe their marital sex as `very good.'” In its second report women were “asked about religious feelings in a more complex way,” but the results confirmed the first report that no other group had better sexual relationships than those who were “strongly or moderately religious.” On the opposite side “the women with strong feelings against religion were the likeliest to have unhappy sexual relationships.”
Two characteristics of these studies should be noted. First, “religious” people in the United States are predominately Christians in spite of our increasingly religious pluralism. Second, Redbook Magazine, as it promotes the modern “sexual ethic,” would not likely try to refute the long-held view that strongly religious women are sexually “up-tight.” Thus, the source gives greater credence to the validity of the study and credits them with honest reporting.
Unfortunately, some evangelicals have adopted an importance for sexual activity within marriage that reflects secular, rather than biblical thinking. Dr. Robert Smith’s review of one such book illustrates this situation.63 Although he makes a thorough review of the book to show many biblical and unbiblical principles, we will only examine two problems that are especially serious. First, the title of the book, The Act of Marriage reflects the authors’ perception that sexual fulfillment is the central focus of marriage. Dr. Smith correctly states that
the act of marriage is the binding of two people together in a lifelong companionship, and as a result of that bond the sexual relationship will be a very vital part of their life.
Second, the authors use “lovemaking,” “make love,” and “loving” to identify sexual activities. This selection of terms is a serious limitation of the biblical concept of love. Agape, the predominant word in the New Testament for love, is used of the relationship of God to man (John 3:16), man to God (Mt. 22:37), man to man (Mt. 22:39), and spouse to spouse (Eph. 5:25). Certainly, within marriage one expression of agape is sexual, but the breadth and depth of the word is lost when it is limited to the sexual part of marriage. Philos is used much less often that agape, but is a synonym of agape if one considers that both are used similarly in various contexts.64 The Greek word, eros, that is sometimes use to denote sexual love, is not present in the New Testament.
The virtual identification of “love” with sexual behavior is a secular concept, probably Freudian in origin, that should be avoided by Christians. Anyone experienced in marriage counseling knows that sexual problems are almost always secondary to other problems. Undoubtedly, this reality reflects the biblical concept that sexual behavior is an expression of marriage, not its central feature.
The biblical standard is seriously lacking in every area of medicine and sexual research/therapy. We do not question that sexual problems within Christian marriages need to be addressed and counseled, but biblical principles and definitions must control both analysis and direction. The current knowledge that has been gained from sexual research should not be ignored, but it must be carefully scrutinized because of the immoral situations from which it was derived. At the same time further research in this area must be condemned. Sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage by the One who instituted marriage and to those believers whom He has given gifts to counsel such problems. It is a fallacy of modern thinking that we must have greater knowledge in every area than was available in the past in order to” cope.” We have the same promise to us that God gave to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (II Corinthians 12:9a).
- Tierney, “Fanisi’s Choice,” 26. In an about face from previous positions that generally opposed “pro-life” positions, this magazine presented an excellent article that pointed out many fallacies of the population planners.
- Aristotle, Politics, 327.
- Thielicke, Theological Ethics: Sex, 215.
- Tierney, “Fanisi’s Choice,” 32.
- Norman, “Will World Population Double?”
- Clark, Population and Land Use. (page number not given)
- Muggeridge, “The Overpopulation Myth,” 117.
- Chilton, “Planned Famine,” 1.
- Carlson, “Famine 1985.” All the information in this paragraph comes from this reference or Note 8.
- Finkelstein, “Hard Work.”
- Norman, “Will World.”
- Kuehnelt-Leddihn, “Some Reflections,” 77.
- Ibid., 74.
- Scorer, Life in Our Hands, 96.
- On an average 2.4 abortions must be done to prevent one live birth because the woman will be returned to the fertile state sooner than if she had completed the nine months of pregnancy. She will also not experience the relative infertility produced by breast feeding (see Chapter 2). Experience in several nations is consistent with this fact. Further, it is likely that the widespread availability of abortion reduces the effective practice of contraception because contraception is no longer the “last hope” to prevent the birth of an “accidental” pregnancy. (Potter, Additional Births,” and Brackett, “Effects of Legalizing Abortion.”)
- Kuehnelt-Leddihn, “Some Reflections, 72.
- Ibid., 74.
- Ibid., 71-72.
- Ibid., 78.
- Kazun, “The Population.”
- Thielicke, Theological Ethics: Sex, 217.
- Young, “Literature, Literacy,” 50-51.
- Dyck, On Human Care, 48.
- Carlson, “The Malthusian Budget,” 43-46.
- Simon, “The Rhetoric of Population.”
- Carlson, “Famine 1985.”
- Murray, Principles of Conduct,45-46.
- The importance of these verses and those that Jesus had in mind relative to the subject of divorce should not be underestimated. The rampant divorce among Christians has been further aggravated by misinterpretation of these and other relevant passages. The clearest and most thoroughly biblical treatment of this subject is found in Adams,Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage.
- Thielicke, Theological Ethics: Sex, 203.
- Packer, “Situations and Principles,” 164-5. Also, see “Voluntary Childlessness” later in this chapter.
- John Jefferson Davis,Evangelical Ethics: Issues Facing the Church Today, Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1985, pp. 14-16.
- Ibid., p. 14.
- Murray, Principles of Conduct, 78; Thielicke,Theological Ethics: Sex, 202.
- Adams, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage, 16.
- “Flesh” has other meanings in other Biblical contexts.
- Adams, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage, 17.
- Calvin, Harmony of the Gospels, Vol.2, 380.
- Thielicke, Theological Ethics: Sex, 205-207.
- Ibid., 203.
- See Notes 31 and 32.
- Ramsey, Fabricated Man, 35-36, 56-59.
- Hook, “Chromosomal Abnormality Rates.”
- Unger, “To Multiply, Increase,”Nelson’s Expository, 254-5.
- Schaeffer, The Christian Manifesto.
- Murray, Principle of Conduct, 79.
- “The Cost of Raising Babies,”Perspective, 1-12.
- Its function in the provision of health and healing has been developed in Payne,Biblical/Medical Ethics, 127-138.
- Wilson, “Mother Didn’t Know,” 31.
- Montgomery, “How to Decide”, 10.
- Payne, Biblical/Medical Ethics, 63-64.
- For a description of coerced birth control, including abortion, in China, see Mosher, “Forced Abortions.”
- Schaeffer, No Final Conflict.
- Even where the life of the mother is endangered, the goal is to save both lives if possible not to assure that the unborn baby dies (often by lethal injections), as is the current practice of induced abortion.
- Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, Vol. II, 203.
- Payne, Biblical/Medical Ethics, 11-26.
- Blamires, The Christian Mind, 70.
- All information in this section is from Eastland, “Who Put the Wrong.”
- Kinsey, Sexual Behavior.
- “Wrongful life” generally refers to a lawsuit brought by a child (or his or her legal representative) born with birth defects who alleges that the physician was negligent to advise the mother of the possibility of birth defects or failed to perform the tests that would have disclosed their presence. “Wrongful birth” refers to similar conditions except that the suit is brought by the parents rather the child. “Wrongful pregnancy” or “wrongful conception” refers to a lawsuit brought by the parents of ahealthychild whose pregnancy should have been prevented by a sterilization procedure or abortion.
- I am lumping these terms under “wrongful birth” to avoid too much technical jargon and, more importantly, to focus on God’s Sovereignty in every birth regardless of the number or severity of defects.
- McMillen, None of These Diseases. 1st Edition, 45-51.
- Dillow, Solomon on Sex.
- Levin, “Sexual Pleasure;” Philip and Lorna Sarrel. “The Redbook Report on Sexual Relationships,”Redbook MagazineOctober 1980, pp. 73-80.
- Smith, Robert D., “Book Review:The Act of Marriage.
- Clark, First John: A Commentary, 69.