A few years back, John Piper was asked this important question: Should married couples consider using birth control pills? Why or why not? Some claim it is still in essence abortive. Here’s what Pastor John had to say.
Abortifacients and Conception Control
Well, we did use contraceptives in the early part of our marriage, and my wife’s father was a doctor and we consulted with him about this. The answer is fairly simple to me at one level. If it is an abortifacient — if the egg is being fertilized and then being destroyed — it is not right.
There is just so much we could say here about the beginnings of life and how you understand the soul, but I’ll try to keep it short and simple. I think a child should be given the benefit of the doubt as to whether he exists or not. And when a child — an egg — has been fertilized, and all the components are there now physically for a human being, we have every reason to treat it as a human being. And so we shouldn’t destroy it. And if the pill destroys it, we shouldn’t use that pill.
“If the pill is an abortifacient — if the egg is being fertilized and then being destroyed — it is not right.”
Now here is where the differences come, I think, because I have had people say to me: “You can’t be sure,” or, “The pills all work that way,” or, “No they don’t.” And so I would just say that families should operate on this principle: I am not going to destroy a fertilized egg. And then do your best, by whatever research and consultation you can, to decide what means of conception control — I am going to avoid birth control; that doesn’t quite say it right — you should use.
Blessings from the Lord
Now that is one level. That is the abortion level. There is another whole level to this issue of people saying, “Well, if children are a blessing from the Lord, why would you get in the way, right? I mean, have as many as you can — fifteen, twenty. Be like Susannah Wesley and her parents.” This is another question, but I will try to give my short answer. I do think children are an amazing blessing from the Lord. I have five, and I am glad I have five, and if I had to do it over again I would have five plus, and I would start adopting earlier, probably. So we had four biological children and then Talitha. We waited perhaps too long to have Talitha. Noël would say we didn’t.
So they are a blessing, absolutely a blessing. To decide when and how many children to have, however, seems to me to be a legitimate kingdom decision. Paul himself said that he wished everybody were single like himself so that they could be utterly devoted to the kingdom. And then he paused and said, “But it is not sin to marry” (see 1 Corinthians 7:36). And he said that — that he wished everybody were single — even though the Bible says it is not good for man to be alone (1 Corinthians 7:7; Genesis 2:18).
In other words, marriage is a proper creation ordinance. Marriage is normal. It is right. It is good. God ordains it. God plans it. And here comes Paul saying we should all be single because you can be really, totally devoted to the Lord that way. And that is Paul, I think, enunciating a qualification of the creation ordinance with a redemption ordinance.
When the fall happened, death spread and lostness spread, and this world isn’t the idyllic world where everybody can be married, have lots of kids, die and go to heaven (or have no death at all). It is now a fallen world. It is a world that desperately needs redemption, and it needs suffering, single people to lay their lives down with no distraction whatsoever to reach certain kinds of people.
“You are not adding dead weight to the world when you bring a child up in the kingdom. You are bringing up servants of the world.”
And so Paul waves that flag. And if he waves that flag and says, “We can not marry for the sake of the kingdom, even though the Bible says it is not good for man to be alone,” I think the same thing has to do with children. Do you see the logic I am using here? God says, “He who has his quiver full of them is blessed. Children are a blessing from the Lord” (see Psalm 127:4–5). And yet, by the same logic, it may be wise to have two or three or four, not ten, if you are going to go to Guinea. In other words, I think about kingdom issues, redemption issues, not just natural issues. We shouldn’t just think in natural terms like, “Children are naturally good to have.” Yes, they are. But there are other issues going on that should be redemptive.
Now, one last comment. That is a redemptive issue, not a lifestyle issue like DINK (Double Income, No Kids) — “Thank you very much, kids get in the way, so I will have my 2.1 children to keep the population afloat so the Muslims don’t take over, but after that I am doing my own thing.”
That is not where I am at all. I am saying that the criterion is not me in my own little world so that I can have a comfortable life. Rather, what are the kingdom issues at stake here in adoption and the kingdom?
One other thing comes to my mind. I was in Germany when we started having a family. This was 1972. In 1972, people my age were saying it is a sin to have more than two kids. Or some were saying it is a sin to have kids because population, blah, blah, blah. And I just thought to myself, “Okay, if you have more than 2.1 kids, you are putting a strain on the planet?” And I said to myself, “I don’t think so, because the kids I am going to raise are going to lift a million burdens.”
You, Christian, have got to believe that bringing kids into the world and bringing them up in the Lord makes them burden-lifters, not burden-adders. They are in the world to lift the world, to save the world, to love the world. You are not just adding dead weight to the world when you bring a child up in the kingdom. You are bringing up lovers of people and servants of the world.