As Christians, we have an absolute duty, if married, to obey the biblical mandate to procreate, as given to both Adam and Eve and Noah and his family:
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth. (Genesis 1:28)
Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. (Genesis 9:1-3)
But how many children is too many? And is it immoral to use any kind of birth control? And is it immoral to overpopulate the earth?
1. Do Christians have freedom of conscience with respect to fertility?
The short answer is yes, if you follow the dictum of
In the essentials, UNITY
In the non-essentials, LIBERTY
In all things, CHARITY
Fertility is NOT a central Christian doctrine, and as per the application of Romans 14 to non-essential matters of conscience, we absolutely do have freedom to choose apart from church authority, and still be able to consider ourselves Christian in an orthodox sense.
But this does not make the decisions equally biblically justifiable – in fact, we may argue that certain biblical principles apply, and make some decisions less biblical, and therefore perhaps less moral, than others.
2. Should Christians EVER limit the number of children they should have?
There are more principles at stake than just “be fruitful,” although some would quote the scriptures that indicate that children are to be viewed as a blessing (Psalm 127: 3-5), which is NOT the prevailing selfish, anti-human view, there are a few important balancing principles.
A. The ability to PROVIDE for your children.
While some may want to say “I just trust God for material provision,” there is also the issue of EMOTIONAL provision. Do you and your spouse really have the TIME to be emotionally engaged with your children? Not if you are a two-income family. And even if one parent stays at home, it is hard to be emotionally engaged with large numbers of kids.
I am not saying that parents of large families are being irresponsible, because there are many ways to aid the parenting of many children. This includes the help of extended family, mentors, and teaching the older children to care for the younger, which, if not done in too burdensome a way, actually prepares them well to be parents themselves.
But the opposite must be acknowledged – in light of some parents’ resources, they may NOT be able to faithfully care for more than a small handful of children, given their other responsibilities and resources. Of course, they must consider whether a lifestyle of consumer debt or other poor value system is actually stripping them of the ability to be present for their children, but it is conceivable that some couples may want to limit their family size out of a desire to obey the command to PROVIDE for their families.
B. The mother’s health
One point that should not be overlooked is that child birth is very hard on a woman’s body, and it may be in her interest to stop having children. Not only does this save the woman’s life, but it allows for continued emotional and physical provision for the children.
C. The ability to HELP OTHERS in need, especially other children.
We live in a world where children around the world are not wanted, and die daily for lack of care. We may want to limit our biological progeny for the sole reason that we want to help other children through sponsorship, foster care, or adoption. This care for “orphans and widows” is one of the chief values of Christianity, as declared by James, the brother of Jesus (James 1:27)
D. Overpopulation and world resources
I do NOT believe that this value should be considered as Christian, nor part of a biblical decision to limit the number of children one has, except as it applies to your own ability to care for others (point B above). The reason is, I do NOT believe that overpopulation is the true root of today’s resource issues, and biblically speaking, we see no command or principle governing population limits.
Are there limits? If so, how do we determine them? Does God expect us to increase forever, and allow plague and starvation keep us to the right numbers? Or should we be proactive?
While I think the latter question is the right stance, we should take careful action, acknowledging that our models for living space, lifespan, and food and energy creation and consumption greatly influence our conclusions. And I seriously doubt that population is really the root cause of today’s problems with so many orphans.
As many have argued, the real problem is not overpopulation, but corrupt governments, war, abuse of natural resources, and resource distribution. Also, anti-population gurus often ignore the plain facts that (a) we have not even come close to reaching the limits of agriculture or land use, and (b) they regularly ignore the role that technology plays in making our use of resources more efficient, sustainable, and scalable.
Now, in the short run, we may want to make as much room in our own family to adopt the unwanted, but to say that population is a problem is probably the wrong cause, even if we are employing a valid solution to the real problems of orphans caused by poverty, war, politics, and irresponsible parents.
3. How many children are enough?
While every couple must determine this for themselves, I will offer a number – at least THREE. Why three? While I have no direct biblical mandate, I note that, in order to at LEAST replenish themselves, parents need to have two children. And to be fruitful and multiply (or at least ADD to) the current population? You need one more. As has been noted, we each need to provide about 2.3 children to at least maintain our national numbers.
Interestingly, nations like Germany and France are having failing economies, not just because they run expensive welfare states, but because their shrinking populations (death rate greater than birth rate) are eroding their tax base. Not only does this affect their economy, but it means that they will have lesser prominence in the future world economy, and less influence overall since their lower population will by default mean they represent less of the world population, and so should wield less influence in world politics.
I’d like to say this – that it is not only our duty to provide more children in obedience to God, but it may be our PATRIOTIC DUTY to provide more children to a free America. There, I said it. Now, I don’t really believe that, but it’s worth considering. A better way to provide more freedom-loving Christian patriots, of course, may be to also convert more of the immigrants and unbelievers in our country as well. And with the influx of Catholic Mexicans, this is already half done for us (in that even unredeemed Catholics usually share our values.)
Interestingly, even Al Mohler, who preaches these same ideas, does not put a number to the “how many is enough” question, but he also warns that some types of birth control are probably immoral.
4. What kind of birth control is acceptable, if any?
To be entirely safe, I’d say there are only two, doctrinally speaking – abstinence or sterilization. Many evangelicals are rethinking the ethics and morality of birth control , and I’ve even read lately that some Christian writers are saying that the reason we have been unsuccessful in defeating abortion is that we evangelicals are tolerating birth control, including such know abortifacients as the mini-pill and IUDs.
I am obeying my own conscience by stopping at three children. This leaves me room to adopt in the future, and it also means I have at least replaced my wife and myself. I go for a vascectomy in a few weeks. And I’m going to be able to fully enjoy interacting with my three children. Of course, I’ll teach them to be thinking Christians, and Christian patriots. And Christian parents who have at least three children apiece. :D