Friday, June 12, 2009

Why Christians Should Have Large Families

In my last post, I discussed the call of several Southern Baptist leaders for Christians to have larger families. Here is why I agree with them. This list is just a brief introduction to the issues. Much more needs to be said; this is just an introduction.

1. God has never rescinded his command to "be fruitful and multiply." Some say that NT believers are not under this command, since the admitted OT emphasis on the goodness of large families only applied to Israel as a nation. But the Gen. 1:28 command to be fruitful and multiply command is given long before Israel was in the picture and applies to all nations, not just Israel.

2. There are numerous passages in the OT that view children as a blessing from the Lord, eg. Ps. 127:3. Children are a delight and a life devoted to raising a large, Christian family is one of the most valuable contributions a couple can make to their society and to the Church.

3. Contrary to much conventional wisdom, the world's birth rate is declining rapidly and in 59 nations it is already below replacement levels. We are facing first an aging population followed by a declining population. This will have serious implications for the economies of those nations that are on track to have aging populations first (like Japan) and declining populations first (like Russia).

4. Christians have hope for the future because of our faith in God. Many secularists have very little hope for anything beyond this life and so they become self-centered and hedonistic. Christians can make sense out of suffering and self-sacrifice (the essence of parenthood) because they do see a future beyond this life and they have a hope for the future that unbelievers simply find it hard to sustain without faith.

5. All abortion and some forms of contraception should be rejected by Christians. The pill has a lot of side effects and in some cases it may cause early abortions. The IUD certainly does cause early abortions and should be avoided under all circumstances. But even if some forms of contraception for married couples only in certain, temporary circumstances are accepted, it is still critical that Christians not fall into the "contraceptive mentality" in which sex is increasingly detatched from procreation and trivialized as a form of recreation instead of a deeply personal self-giving of the husband and wife to each other.

6. Christians need to submit their wills to God and accept children as gifts from Him, rather than as "projects" or "products" of our own wills. No form of contraception is 100% effective and so any Christian who is married must be open to the possibility of new life at any time. That is what is means to be married and that is why sex is only for married couples. As Christians, we believe that God is involved in our lives and that He will provide for our needs, though not necessarily for our selfish wants. The Church is deeply infected with materialism and hedonism as it seeps in from the culture and spritual resistence is necessary.

A song by Michael Card expresses the nature of the spiritual battle we face eloquently:

The Spirit of the Age (Matt. 2:16ff)

1. I thought that I heard crying coming through my door.
Was it Rachel weeping for her sons who were no more?
Could it have been the babies crying for themselves,
Never understanding why they died for someone else?

(chorus - Jer. 31:5)
The voices head of weeping and of wailing,
History speaks of it on every page.
Of innocent and helpless little babies,
Offerings to the spirit of the age.

2. No way of understanding this sad and painful sign.
Whenever Satan rears his head there comes a tragic time.
If he could crush the cradle, then that would stop the cross.
He knew that once the Light was born his every hope was lost!

3. Now every age had heard it, the voice that speaks from hell."
Sacrifice your children and for you it will be well."
The subtle serpent's lying, his dark and ruthless rage.
Behold it is revealed to be the spirit of the age!

4. Soon all the ones who seemed to die for nothing
Will stand beside the Ancient of Days,
With joy we'll see that Infant from a manger
Come and crush the spirit of the age (Rom. 16:20)

(Note: The author's royalties for this song have been donated to Americans Against Abortion.)

20 comments:

David said...

Regarding this post, what do you think then about the idea of christians using reproductive technologies such as IVF? My wife and I are trying, unsuccessfully, to start a family, and so far have had to rely on Interuterine Insemination at our local hospital. If/when that fails the next logical step is IVF. Short of God sorting out whatever is the problem, is IVF a viable route to take?

Craig Carter said...

David,
The RC Church teaches that IVF is wrong for two reasons. First, it can (usually) involve abortion and embryo destruction as part of the standard operating procedure. Second, it separates conception from the natural embrace of husband and wife and thus turns the it into a human project of production, which depersonalizes it.

The first concern is a strong issue for anyone opposed to abortion (as every Christian ought to be). I am still not sure what I think about the second, but I lean strongly toward accepting the RC view, given the extreme and dangerous implication of separating sex and conception.

In a just society where abortion was not so routine, there would be plenty of babies in need of adoption. That there is not further adds to the pain of infertile couples. I will pray for you as you seek God's will.

David said...

Thank you for your prayers, that means a lot!

Nathan Smith said...

A third point of consideration for IVF is expense. From what I understand, it is a fairly spendy procedure, and some Christians argue that such great sums of money might be put to better use in pursuit of adoption or other good works. David, I too pray that things will work out for you as God intends.

Craig, a couple points:

1. I always read Genesis 1:28 as a blessing and not a command. I suppose that probably does not make much of a difference in the context of your overall argument, however.

3. Suppose that world population was booming and further expansion would be unsustainable. Do you think contraception would be permissible in such circumstances, or do you see it as a general prohibition?

Craig Carter said...

Nathan,
After what has happened in the past 50 years, I am rather cynical about the whole idea of "over-population." It never was a realistic assessment of the situation (eg. Paul Erlich's The Population Bomb). It was actually a manifestation of the culture of death.

Having said that, I believe that as long as the population is being maintained and perhaps increasing slightly (not exploding) then I think it is reasonable to expect that people will limit family size by natural means. I don't think we have to have either wild swings from a population explosion to below replacement and so on. We can't predict infertility rates in the future, which appear to be rising.

I do believe that the rationalistic and technological impulse of modernity to want to have government control fertility represents a very real threat to freedom in the next century.

Pete said...

This sounds like a fairly desperate way for pastors to increase church attendance.

If we take #1 seriously, the Jesus and the Apostle Paul were commandment breakers. Of course, they have many spiritual descendants. So maybe that's a better way to "be fruitful and multiply."

As for #2, the Bible also calls celibacy a gift. Surely spiritual children are also a blessing. And let's not forget, too many children can also be a curse--not only on the mother, but also on society.

As for #3, the world's birth rate is declining largely because of decline in infant death rates and availability of effective contraception.

As for #4, the hope of Christians is no license to be irresponsible. Many of the most selfless and generous people are those that have no children.

As for #5, adoption and safe forms of contraception are a better solution.

#6 makes it sound as if Jesus and St. Paul did not submit to the will of God. If you get pregnant--or if you get someone pregnant--accept responsibility. But also: learn to use effective contraception, and don't use "faith" as a substitute for wisdom, prudence, and responsibility.

Craig Carter said...

Pete,
I have written on this blog just a few weeks ago about celibacy as a gift that bears witness to the coming kingdom. It is still the exception to the rule and just because there are exceptions, does not mean that there is no rule. Not everything Jesus and Paul did is for every Christian to imitate (eg. itinerant preaching). I am talking in this post about the norm for most people.

As for contraception, there is a lot of moral dubiousness about it. I could never just take it for granted as an obvious good as you do. See my latest post on "The Contraceptive Mentality."

Andrew Faris said...

Craig,

Came across this post from James Grant's blog and I have to say that I'm pretty frustrated with it.

I'll go point by point as well.

#1) I'm convinced that, in fact, Colossians 1 does significantly mess with the "be fruitful and multiply" command. That phrase comes up twice in Col. 1:6 and 1:10, both times with the verbs separated only by a kai (the Gk. for "and"), just like in Gen. 1:22 and the following instances. Only in Col. 1, it is applied to spiritual progeny, i.e. those that have been reborn through the spread of the gospel. The physical birth that was supposed to happen for God's people who were to occupy a physical land is superseded by the spiritual birth of those for whom the land will be new creation.

#2) I'm sorry, but I hate this argument for large families. For one thing, it is too easy to take it ad absurdum: we can use your logic to imply that Christians should never stop having kids. 15 kids? Not enough if you can have more, since children are a gift from the Lord.

The problem is that the "children are a gift from the Lord" statement is totally true, but totally not aimed at the goal you're aiming it at. The point is to celebrate children, which we should as Christians, and to recognize God's grace to us in allowing us to have kids and continue our families and so on.

Further, this logic makes it tough to allow room for adoption. If "children are a gift from the Lord" means that we should constantly keep having them, when will we have time to adopt? Or perhaps we should adopt and procreate at the same time? Why not? Children are a gift from the Lord, after all, right?

#3) Really? We should have kids because we need to support national economies since the birthrate is slowing up? Seriously? I don't even know where to start with this one, except to say that the fact that birthrate is declining actually says nothing about whether or not anyone, Christians or otherwise, should have kids.

#4) A true statement, but I have no idea how this possibly means that we need to have large families.

#5) True. So choose contraception that doesn't have an abortive function. Easy.

#6) It's easier, isn't it, to put quotes on words to make someone's position sound foolish than to actually engage with the real position? I'm not so sure that married Christians who are waiting to have kids (of which I am one) have a project/product mentality. I think we're just trying to be wise. My wife and I both work in places that we're convinced God has called us to (I'm an associate pastor, she's a high school teacher in inner city L. A.). We don't have the money for only one of us to work and support just us two, let alone another kid. So we think wisdom dictates that we should wait.

And that's the bottom line on all of this: the call to be wise dictates that some of us should wait to have kids, and perhaps shouldn't feel the need to produce large families. It's that simple.

One last thing: I've written strongly to try to make my points clear, but as always when Christians argue, know that I mean no personal disrespect or anything like that. I just disagree completely!

Andrew Faris
Christians in Context

A Jam C said...

Andrew, you really should do some more research on this subject and ask God to give you a heart that is closer to His when it comes to children.

First of all your third response came off as very uneducated and arrogant. You may not have intended it to be that way, but it appeared that you did not have an actual response to his point and just assumed that you were right. Perhaps you "don't even know where to begin," because you don't actually have an educated point to make. Please do some research before assuming things. Countries like Spain and France are practically begging their people to have more kids. For instance, the birthrate in France is 1.4 children per family. If it remains that way (which it won't... read below as to why it won't), then their economy will absolutely collapse. Maybe it doesn't appear that way now, but it will in the future.

Fortunately for the French (or unfortunately), they have this group called the Muslims who seem to take the command to "be fruitful and multiply" very seriously, because the average Muslim family in France is 6 children per family. As of 2008, Muslims made up 16% of the population. In less than two generations, they are going to be the majority. That's how Muslims spread their faith, and they're very effective at it. Who knows, maybe the Shari'a laws will be implemented in France before the 22nd century...

When looking at the United States, and our declining birth rate, how great of an opportunity do we have to do what the Muslims are doing in France? What if every Christian family started having more kids AND put their primary focus into the discipleship of their children instead of "letting the youth group take care of that." If that happened, along with evangelism, then Christianity in this country would explode.

Instead of that though, faithful Christians with three or more children get looked at with disgust, and stay at home moms are people who "don't have jobs," when in all actuality stay at home moms have one of the most honorable jobs ever... not to say that you disagree with that or anything, but it needs to be said.

The last paragraph of your comment applies to this comment as well. Just be careful, lest you find yourself in the same position as Peter was in when he rebuked Jesus.

One more thing, it would very much be worth your time to listen to this alarming sermon by a godly man named Voddie Baucham. Any response to me will be considered, but it would be best if I cut myself off right here and let him do the talking. http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=5209234630

Andrew Faris said...

A Jam C,

I understand your point (and I've actually listened to Baucham on this before and still disagree), but I still don't think it holds hardly any water.

For one, I'm not concerned about the state of world Christianity vs. Islam. Jesus' words about not letting the gates of hell overpower his Church assures me that it doesn't matter how many kids Muslims have: Christianity will be strong for as long as the Lord tarries.

Second, are you really going to base your theology of children on the declining birth rate? The reason that I didn't respond to #3 much is because it seems so obviously to be a silly premise. Why not instead just pick another gigantic world cause, like the number of unwanted babies in the world in say that it means all Christians must adopt?

More important, if God wanted us to share the gospel by having lots of kids, then why didn't He just say so? That's my point about Col. 1:6 and 10: it seems that in the NT, gospel-sharing is primarily how we proselytize, not having lots of kids.

So the declining birth rate can prove nothing except that there is a supplemental benefit to having lots of kids for Christians. It's nice, and I suppose I'm glad to be a part of it, but I just don't think it can constitute a reason to do it.

The most important issues are the biblical ones, and I say that if you can't come up with better biblical commands than 1 and 2, then I'm not at all convinced.

Andrew

Craig Carter said...

Andrew,
Like many people today, you just have not given much thought to the drastic implications of a society that fails to reproduce itself.

First, get the facts. For 50 years we have had massive propoganda telling us that the population is exploding, the world is running out of food etc. Even today, exporting abortion is a centerpiece of the Obama administration's foreign "aid" policy. Check out my summaries of Philip Longman's book on population decline on this blog. Better yet, read his book.

The problem is that we are told every time we turn around that it is irresponsible to have more than one or two children per family, that to be "green" is to have small families, that people who have more than one or two are stupid and irresponsible. After a while this message wears Christians down and makes them feel guilty. I'm trying to counteract that.

Second, what are the spiritual implications of a society choosing literally to contracept itself out of existence? Is this not collective suicide? Is suicide morally neutral? Is it not despair (remembering that despair is a sin)? Where is the hope for the future?

Ironically, the environmental movement is handing polluters a perfect excuse not to change their behaviour and accept a lower standard of living that is environmentally sustainable. If we just die out as a race, there is no problem. But I think we need to hope and assume that human race is going to inhabit this planet for a very long time - which is an incentive to environmental sustainability.

Third, this problem cannot be addressed through anecdotes or observing the behaviour of us and our friends. We have to look at the macro statistics. And they are very concerning. We have to ask what these stats tell us about the society we have become. And we have to ask what it will take to change.

You write:
"And that's the bottom line on all of this: the call to be wise dictates that some of us should wait to have kids, and perhaps shouldn't feel the need to produce large families. It's that simple.

No, I don't think it is that simple. You are simply adopting the conventional wisdom of secular Western culture because it seems obvious to you. But you are taking a sick society's values as obviously correct.

There is something profoundly important to be discerned in the fact that religious believers of all religions are the ones having more children and Western secularists are the ones not reproducing. This should lead us to ask a lot of questions and it should cause us to be very dubious and suspicious about mainstream Western values in this area.

Finally, I am trying to balance out a set of cultural assumptions that are deeply ingrained and very dangerous. More than anything, my goal is to affirm those Christian parents who do choose to have 4 or more chldren and to say to them that even if much of our culture does not value what they are doing, God does.

Steve Dumas said...

Amen. Amen. Amen. Thank you for this post. "Children are a heritage from the Lord. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them."

Andrew Faris said...

Craig,

I haven't thought a lot about population growth and fall, yes. Although I wonder about that stat in America specifically, especially with immigration from Latin America (esp. Mexico) where I'd be surprised if the birth rate was declining. I know it's a big problem in Europe, but I'm not in Europe. So there is a regional concern.

That said, you didn't address my biblical response at all, which I think is actually the heart of your post (why else have you labeled them reasons 1 and 2?).

You write: "Finally, I am trying to balance out a set of cultural assumptions that are deeply ingrained and very dangerous. More than anything, my goal is to affirm those Christian parents who do choose to have 4 or more chldren and to say to them that even if much of our culture does not value what they are doing, God does."

But I don't see that in your post. If you point is to affirm large Christian families (which is certainly fine with me, and certainly not something I'd look down on whatsoever), then say it. But your wording (your very title, in fact!) sure makes it seem like your point is to say that there is a biblical mandate for all Christians to have large families. If that's not your intent, well then that's pretty unclear.

Andrew

A Jam C said...

Andrew, what I'm gathering from your point on using those Colossians verses is that you view evangelism as the primary way of spreading our faith. That makes sense. I'm not disagreeing with that.

However, not enough evangelism is being done in the United States to keep up with the losses from children of Christian families who grow up, and remain as non-believers. For instance, if there are 10 million Christian couples at a child-rearing age, and they all have two children per family they will have 10 million children. Statistics show that only 1/4 of those children become believers by the time they're adults. So, a generation passes, and this pool shrinks to only 2.5 million. That means over a period of one generation (lets say 25 years), evangelism has to make up for the rest of the 7.5 million people to remain at 10 million.

I don't know about Craig's opinion, but I am an advocate of three things happening for the spread of the faith. 1) Evangelism. 2) The heavy emphasis on the centrality of the home in discipleship. 3) Christians having more children.

So you say, "if God wanted us to share the gospel by having lots of kids, then why didn't He just say so?" I'm not trying to say he wants us to share the gospel by having more kids. Evangelism is a priority (the biggest priority), but it is not the only priority. I'm just trying to say, IF Christians had more kids and saw only their kids come to Christ in their lifetimes and nobody else, THEN Christianity would explode in this country. If you added evangelism to people from non-Christian families into that mix, then it grows even more.

I guess we can just settle on disagreeing about your use of the Colossians verses. To me, it seems like a bit of a stretch to say that Colossians 1:6,10 supercede the command to fill the earth. To use your argument against you, if God wanted it to be that way then why didn't He say so? Surely there's room to say that you could be right with your use of those verses, but it is a bold claim to make when saying that they nullify the command to be fruitful and multiply physically, mostly because of what Craig said in his response to your comment.

But, in response to your response to me...
1) I too am not concerned of the state of Christianity vs. Islam. I mentioned them to point out the fact that birthrates have a huge effect, and so it would make sense that faithful Christian families having many children would have a great effect on this country as well.
2) My theology on children is not on the declining birthrate. How could you say such a sweeping statement like that? I was responding to your response, and I didn't feel the need to give you a summary of my entire biblical basis for having lots of children.
3) I don't think that anyone here is saying all Christians MUST have more children. Personally, I believe that Christians as a whole should have more children than average. Nobody here is saying that every Christian family should have a minimum of four children in it, but it seems like you're taking it that way. And, since you bring in adoption, I'll go ahead and say that not all Christian families MUST adopt, but that all Christian families should at least look at adoption as an option, and consider it.

That's all for now... my words were too strong last time. I apologize. Hopefully you can see the tone in this comment being a little bit lighter, because that was my intention.

Alex

Craig Carter said...

Andrew,
The answer to your point about Col. 1:6, 10 is that these verses refer to the spread of the Gospel around the world by evangelism. They have absolutely nothing to do with procreation. The use of the verb "to be fruitful" is a metaphor using a natural process to describe a spiritual process. Note, that the analogy depends on both being understood as good. After all, the spread of a cancerous tumor would not be a fitting metaphor for the spread of the Gospel.

Andrew said...

I think it would be helpful to qualify the argument to "Why married Christians should have large families". It is a legitimate moral option to be celibate for the Lord, but your moral situation is changed once you've made a vow to faithfully have sex with someone for the rest of your life.

And I'm not sure it's necessary to argue for "large" families as opposed to "small" ones. It's enough to undermine the arguments that it's a moral imperative to have small families, to undermine the general cultural position, I think.

my $.02

Craig Carter said...

Andrew,
Undermining the cultural argument that only small families are moral would be a great start. I guess I just want to place the default setting on large families and treat small families as the exception to the rule. \(Of course, I'm deliberately not defining "large" too specifically. In our context it really could refer to any more than 1 or 2 children. I'm not saying a woman must have 30 pregnancies. That is not necessary; natural family planning works well and should keep that from happening unless the couple (or one of them) are sex addicts or something.)

But I think that even more fundamental than large or small is the issue of not being in control and accepting what the Lord gives. I'm very nervous about the language of "deciding" to have children (or not) or a certain number. That kind of language shapes our thinking and introduces a concept of technological control into human relationships that is dangerous. Likewise, when asked "Are you done having children?" I think Christians should say: "Well, you never know" or "Probably, unless God has a little surprise for us" instead of Yes or No.

Openness to new life is an essential aspect of marriage.

Andrew Faris said...

A Jam and Craig,

Regarding Col. 1:6 and 1:10, I am specifically responding to the first point, namely that the "be fruitful and multiply" mandate was never overturned.

My point is that Col. 1:6 and 1:10 flip that command on its head in a pretty unique way. I don't think it's a coincidence that in both of those verses, Paul uses a Greek translation of those exact same phrases, and he even seems to make a point of phrasing it with those two verbs only being separated by an and, just like Genesis. That's the reason I brought it up.

Which is to say, Craig, that you have actually restated my point: the Colossians texts use the Genesis language to say something about evangelism instead of procreation. Clearly evangelism was not the primary way God's people spread in the old covenant. It is now. We don't go killing off pagan nations and reproduce as our primary means of expanding God's people. We share the gospel and risk our lives. Col. 1:6, 10 purposely play with the Genesis language to communicate something of this idea.

And as for your 3rd point, A Jam, I'll say what I said earlier: then why is the post called, "Why Christians Should Have Large Families"? And that certainly seems to be the point of appealing to the "be fruitful and multiply" passage, right? Craig's argument seems to go with that point that the Bible says to increase, so we need to take that seriously.

I suggest that the Bible is far less clear about that than Craig wants to make it.

At this point I won't restate any of this stuff about population growth, because I just don't think we'll come to agreement on it.

Oh, and A Jam, the reason I made the comment about your theology of children was simply because the only one of my arguments you went after seemed to me to be the one related to Craig's point that was least salient. You didn't go after my use of the Biblical texts, which is what I suppose I would have accepted.

And I too apologize if my tone has been too harsh. I certainly accept yours, A Jam, and I'm grateful that Christians can argue respectfully and still call each other brother!

Andrew

GL said...

Well, I was right there with you until point 5, "All abortion and some forms of contraception should be rejected by Christians."

All forms of contraception should be rejected by Christians.

If serious reasons cause a couple to believe that a pregnancy would be harmful (e.g., the wife would face an unusually high risk to her life should she become pregnant), then periodic or total continence is the only licit alternative. Absent a serious justification, married Christians should be open to life, that is, they should be open to the blessings which God might choose to bestow upon them. It is hard (if not impossible) to reconcile belief in God's word when it teaches that children are blessings from Him and the use of contraceptives.

As to how Scripture should be read in this regard, neither Luther nor Calvin had any problem discerning that contraception was condemned in Scripture, as is shown in their commentaries on specific passages. In many years of studying this subject, I cannot find a single orthodox Christian who held that contraception was permissible until the last quarter of the 19th century. I just don't believe that for nearly than 1850 years, all of orthodox Christendom erred on this very important point, only to be corrected in the last century and a half. As C.S. Lewis observed on this subject when asked by a correspondent for his view, "I shd. not like the job of defending [the use of contraceptives] against almost unbroken Xtian disapproval." The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Vol. II: Books, Broadcasts, and the War, 1931-1949 (ed. By Walter Hooper), HarperCollins, 1st ed. 2004, p. 798.

Matt said...

I think the argument can be settled by stating that God wants souls brought to Heaven, but he must first be able to create those souls. Contraception limits His right to create life and our ability to accept His grace.