Friday, April 27, 2007

Contraception Debate

I've recently been involved in a debate on contraception in the comments section on another blog, JivinJehoshaphat, with a Protestant fellow who goes by the pseudonym Naaman.

If you go in for that sort of thing, the post is here; just scroll down and open the comments. (Sorry, I can't figure out how to link to the comments directly.)

Since our debate has heretofore been public, so to speak, I've included my latest response herein, as Naaman had suggested we stop cluttering up the blogger's combox.

My Response to Naaman Follows

I realize now that I should have spoken to your claim to be "a sola scriptura guy" at the time you made it, as that is really the larger issue here. I had not intended this to turn into a doctrinal discussion, but had wanted to limit it to contraception (and sexual morality generally); hence, my offering the story of Onan (and not, for example, unanimous testimony from the Early Church Fathers on the sinfulness of contraception, arguments from natural law, etc.) as Exhibit A in an attempt to show why contraception is contrary to God's will.

At the time you made the claim to believe in sola scriptura, I should have pointed out that sola scriptura is a position that is itself not supported by Scripture (cf., for example, 2 Thess. 2:15, 2 Tim. 2:2, Luke 10:16, Rom. 10:17, 1 Pet. 1:25, 1 Cor. 11:2, 1 Cor. 15:3).

After rereading our previous comments, I noticed that you referred earlier to "Good Friday". As an aside, I'm curious: Why do you refer to the day when Christians commemorate the death of our Lord Jesus Christ as "Good Friday"? The term "Good Friday" is nowhere found in the Bible.

I'm also genuinely curious to know how you reconcile the fact that there are millions of Christians worldwide who also claim to believe in sola scriptura, but who hold diametrically opposing views on many issues pertaining to doctrine, practice, and morality.

All parties involved claim to be guided in their interpretation by the Holy Spirit. Who's to say who's right?

In a previous comment, I wrote:

It's unthinkable that the love mutually expressed among the God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit would ever be deliberately rendered sterile. Yet that is exactly what a contracepting couple does.

To which you replied:

Is this the cornerstone of your argument? I really hope not...

Where you've lost me is insisting that fertility be a part of the equation. Because the Trinity isn't fertile, at least not in any human understanding. If God was fertile as you seem to think, then Jesus Christ wouldn't be God's "only begotten Son" (to use the KJV language from John 3:16). There would be lots and lots of little godlings all over the place. Frankly, that argument sounds perilously close to Mormon heresy....

Not really. Not at all, actually.

As I said earlier, the inner life of the Trinity consists of love mutually exchanged among the Three Divine Persons. Wherever love is, life is. Thus, the inner life of God consists not only of love, but of life. It is impossible to separate the two.

We rightly refer to Jesus not only as God's "only begotten Son" (cf. John 3:16), but also as God's "eternally begotten" Son.

The Father and the Son have life in each other, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, who eternally proceeds from the Father through the Son. They do not have life apart from one another, and they do not withhold life from one another; doing so would contradict the Divine nature.

Previously, I wrote:

The one-flesh union speaks a language that is utterly contradicted by contraception. A husband and wife cannot come together in one-flesh union when they deliberately hold back something from each other.

To which you replied:

What language? And who's holding something back? If my wife & I both decide not to have any more kids, then nobody is holding anything back from anybody.

At this point, I need to be clear about some things I've been alluding to, but heretofore not stated directly.

First: The sexual act - or, the marital act or one-flesh union - is a physical expression of a couple's marriage commitment. In a very real sense, when a couple engages in one-flesh union, they are renewing their wedding vows, an essential component of which is to accept children lovingly from God (cf. Gen. 1:28, 2:24; Luke 1:38).

Just as it it wrong for a couple to claim that they can be "faithful" to each other throughout their marriage without each and every sexual act to be with each other, so it is also wrong for a couple to claim that their marriage is open to the possibility of children without each and every sexual act being so.

Previously, I wrote:

Naaman, if you take your argument to its logical conclusion, you would also be compelled to say that Scripture prohibits prolonged separation of spouses for any reason other than prayer.

To which you replied:

Paul didn't say that, and I'm not going to say it either. There are valid reasons for a married couple to temporarily separate from each other. As a trivial example, I'm going on a retreat weekend starting tomorrow, and I won't see my wife until Sunday.

I'll reply to this momentarily, but I first want to juxtapose your comments here to some previous ones.

In a previous comment, I wrote:

Second, I'm trying to get my head around your claim that, "The acceptable purpose for abstinence within marriage is to devote yourself to prayer." Do you honestly believe that Paul is instructing the Corinthians that there is no other acceptable reason to abstain?

To which you replied:

That's what the text says. I believe that all of Scripture is inerrant and God-inspired.

Then, in response to what I wrote:

The mind races with commonsense possibilities here: low libido, illness, injury, the wife has recently given birth, etc., etc. wrote:

Okay, common sense tells us that there are many reasons for a couple to abstain from sex. God's Word says something else.

Sorry, Naaman, but you can't have it both ways. Separation of spouses -- regardless of the length of time or the reason for their separation -- necessarily implies that they'll have to abstain from one-flesh union. You contradict yourself when you say, on the one hand, that the sole reason for couples to abstain is to devote themselves to prayer and, on the other hand, that "there are valid reasons" -- presumably other than to devote themselves to prayer -- "to temporarily separate from each other".

In a previous comment, you wrote:

There are two principles expressed in 1st Corinthians 7:3-5. The first principle is that married couples "own" each other's bodies. My body is not mine alone; it also belongs to my wife. For that reason, I have no right to deny her. "Honey, I have a headache," is not a valid excuse.

First, you're right that a husband and wife have a right to each other's bodies, since, after all, they become one body (cf. Gen 2:24). But let's not assume that the proverbial "headache" is without cause. It seems fairly obvious that when one spouse -- usually the wife -- senses that she is being treated as a means to orgasm by her husband, that she will, at the very least, be reluctant to engage in sex.

For the sake of argument, though, let's assume, as you said in an earlier comment, that prayer is the only valid reason for a couple to abstain. Imagine that in a given marriage, the husband wants to have sex every single day - morning, noon and night - and the wife realizes that the only way for her husband to refrain from initiating foreplay is for her to lock herself in a prayer closet.

Not an appealing prospect, but when one takes an uber-rigorous sola scriptura approach to passages such as 1 Cor. 7:3-5, one is compelled to say that this hypothetical couple is living according to Paul's (and God's) design for marriage.

Context is everything. Chapter 7 of 1 Corinthians marks the second part of this particular epistle. Beginning with chapter 7, Paul replies to different questions raised by the faithful in Corinth ("Now concerning..." cf. 1 Cor. 7:1, 25; 8:1; 12:1). By all appearances, it seems that the question Paul addresses at the beginning of chapter 7 may have been raised by some in the community who, in light of the horribly dissolute pagan environment of Corinth, had a tendency to view celibacy as the way of life *all* should follow, even those who were already married.

This is the situation Paul is addressing in 1 Cor. 7:1-9. For obvious reasons, he dissuades those married couples in the Corinthian church who believe it is necessary to give up marital relations once and for all. He does so by proposing a compromise, of sorts. Regarding continence for married couples, he essentially tells them: "Permanently? Not such a good idea. Temporarily? OK."

You also wrote:

The second principle is that prolonged abstinence is very risky for most people. We have a sex drive. If we don't have an outlet for our sex drive, it will lead us into trouble.

If spouses see each other as an "outlet" for their respective sex drives, what does that say about their marriage?

To be sure, Christians have long understood that one of the purposes of marriage is to provide the spouses what is called "remedy for concupiscence". Concupiscence refers to disordered sexual desires. By itself, it only leads toward using someone else as a means to orgasm.

What "remedy for concupiscence" refers to is the grace that accompanies the sacrament of marriage - provided a couple is open to it - to undergo a transformation in their sexual desires such that these desires become an urge to love and not simply "relieve" ourselves, as if we were scratching a bothersome itch.

In a previous comment, I wrote:

The "creative" ideas you're talking about here -- which, I must say, aren't all that creative -- are even farther removed from the one-flesh union than contraception is. In sexual acts of this sort, there's absolutely no union at all between the spouses; merely using. It may be mutually agreed upon using, but it's using nonetheless.

To which you replied:

While I won't go into specifics, I will tell you that my wife & I have a broad "menu" of loving options. All of the items on our "menu" are wonderful, and each one of them has brought us closer together...

Then, you quoted one of my previous comments:

Remember, the one-flesh union (marital union) is a reflection of the inner life of God, and it is unthinkable that there would ever be any hint of using in the mutually expressed love among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

To which you replied:

The Son willingly sacrificed Himself for the Father. The Father used the Son to pay the penalty for the sins of mankind, and thereby break the power of sin and death. Just sayin'....

Using someone else for something is not a bad thing, as long as that someone else is a willing participant. Have you ever given someone a foot rub? When I rub my wife's feet, I am offering my hands in an act of love to soothe her aching feet. I suppose that you could say she is "using" my hands to take away her pain.

I see no difference between using my hands to soothe her tired feet ... and using my hands (or whatever) to bring her pleasure.

Regarding your comments about God the Father "using" Jesus:

Consider that God created life, the universe, and everything through His word ("God said..." - Gen 1:3, 6, 9, etc.) Further consider that Jesus is God's Word (John 1:1, 14). It's entirely fitting that it would be He (Jesus) who would reconcile the world back to God.

Sorry, but your analogy comparing God the Father sending His Son into the world to a married couple engaging in acts like mutual masturbation and oral sex is absurd.

Was Jesus being "used" by His Apostles when he washed their feet at the Last Supper? Neither is your wife "using" your hands to take away her foot pain when you give her a foot rub.

The marital act is designed by God to be the consummation of a married couple's love for each other. Reducing sex merely to the level of pleasure reduces it to the consummation of nothing.

Naaman, we as married men are called to love our wives as Jesus loved the Church (Eph. 5:25). Jesus loved the Church so immensely that He suffered and died for her. In imitation of Christ, we must be willing to suffer. But when we want the pleasure of sex without the responsibility that comes with it, we are refusing to suffer.

We can't run from the cross of Jesus Christ; we must embrace it.


HisMan said...

"At the time you made the claim to believe in sola scriptura, I should have pointed out that sola scriptura is a position that is itself not supported by Scripture (cf., for example, 2 Thess. 2:15, 2 Tim. 2:2, Luke 10:16, Rom. 10:17, 1 Pet. 1:25, 1 Cor. 11:2, 1 Cor. 15:3)."

The scriptures you list in fact support sola scriptura as they ALL point to the word. I don't suspect that Paul was saying anything different than what he inlcuded in his epistles.

John Jansen said...


Thanks for stopping by.

I haven't the time right now to give anything more than the briefest of brief replies, but I plan to devote a new post to respond to your comment in the near future.

John Jansen said...


If you're still poking around these parts, I've just posted a response here.