Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Unpopular, Gadflyish Post

When I started this blog, I said that I would be a Gadfly buzzing around the ears of Confessional Lutheranism.  That I would say things that are unpopular and cut against the grain.  Time for another one.

There is something of an air of idolatry about some of the the whole recent focus on "be fruitful and multiply" kick. The question I ask is... why? Why the push? Is it so that you might abound in love? Is it so that you might have children to love and care for, and indeed let your children have siblings to rejoice with?

No. It's so that we can have political power. It's so that the Institutional Church will look bigger.


How is this not idolatry? How is this not fearing the world around us, loving ourselves, and trusting in the power of our sperm and wombs rather than God?
 There are many things wrong with how American Culture views children.  Abortion is so widespread because we do view children with fear, as a curse, not a blessing.  And it's one thing if you want to argue against this.  It's another thing if you argue against that so hard that you turn blessings from God into a law that you MUST strive for (I'd contend that's bad, legalistic theology, but hey, swinging into a bit of legalism in opposition to people abusing freedom, that's totally understandable).  But then to go beyond that and start promoting kids... not because they are blessings, not even because you think God's Law DEMANDS it... but to outnumber and coerce folks?  To bring in more funds for the Church down the line?
Really?
 So, instead of talking patiently and lovingly with our neighbor, the plan is just out breed them?
"Well, Eric, we are just dealing with Demographic realities here!"  Well, ponder this.  Wasn't David just trying to deal with "Demographic" realities when he did his census - you know, the one that ticked off God?  Why does it tick off God?  Because it puts trust in our own strength or our own plans rather than in God.
 You remember all that rhetoric you used against the "Church Growth Crowd" -- Apply it to yourself now.
This is what sinful man does.  He does not let God's blessings be blessings for his neighbor.  Instead, he wishes to use them to control and berate the neighbor.  Lord have mercy upon us -- and upon us 25 years from now when we have a generation of Lutheran Jerks who think its their god-given task to bully people to salvation and moral living.
 Hopefully that "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him..." section of the Catechism will sink in with them a bit better than it has with our generation!

53 comments:

WM Cwirla said...

"Be fruitful and multiply" is a creative word of blessing not a commandment.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Sinful man always tries to take the blessings of God and turn them as a club wherewith to beat the neighbor over the head.

But you are right, Rev. Cwirla - that's the way a blessing gets turned into a law to be striven for. You forget that it is a blessing and instead think it is about your activity.

The Rev. BT Ball said...

No. It's so that we can have political power. It's so that the Institutional Church will look bigger.

Brother-
that has to be the most repugnant thing I have read in some time about fellow Christians and their desire to have children. Instead of throwing around such a foolish accusation, how about considering that you are being a Lutheran Jerk who is attempting to bully people yourself.
Ben

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

"... the whole recent focus on "be fruitful and multiply" kick."

You're painting with a rather broad and offensive brush there, Pr. Brown. You should know better.

And, Pr. Cwirla, Genesis 1:28 is a blessing and a command. Look at the grammar, for heaven's sake. In fact, "it is more than a command, namely, a divine ordinance which it is not our prerogative to hinder or ignore" according not only to Luther, but all our fathers in the faith until the middle of the last century. The Confessions also clearly state that it is a "command and ordinance":

"God created man for procreation, Gen. 1:28 ... No man's law, no vow, can annul the commandment and ordinance of God." [AC XXIII, Triglot p. 61:]

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Really a very disappointing post.

Rev. Anthony R. Voltattorni said...

Eric,

You have misunderstood your opponents argument possibly more so than I have ever witnessed. Poor form brother.

Anthony

Pr. H. R. said...

Dear Brother in Christ,

I do hope you will reevaluate not only this post but the entire purpose of your blog. Saying controversial things for the sake of controversy does not seem Christlike to me. If you think you have some corrective to provide to confessional Lutherans then you might try saying it with wisdom and kindness. For goodness' sake: look at your "About Me:" "sarcastic and smarmy - very smarmy." This is not only beneath the dignity of the Office, it's beneath the dignity of a serious man of any calling.

As to the point at hand, the Word of God (Ps 127) calls children a heritage of the Lord and His reward. Throughout the Scriptures they are called His blessings. Why we would want to avoid his blessings is beyond me.

Perhaps you are right and the whole Church down to 1930 when the Anglicans broke ranks was wrong. Perhaps you are right and Augustine, Luther, Walther, Pieper, Fritz, Chrysostom, Jerome, etc. were wrong. But to argue against such men you will have to actually engage their ideas in serious and thoughtful ways and laid aside your smarmy and childish method.

+HRC

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Also, Rev. Ball...

Where do I attempt to "bully" anyone? I am confused as to that accusation.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

What I will say is this:

If you have strong, deep convictions that birth control is wrong - fine. I'll disagree.

However, what I have seen recently is an appeal to demographics, to the idea that we must have tons of children, not because it is "good" or "God's will" -- I am not speaking to what Rev. Curtis or Dr. Heidenrich and I have been on over and over. In fact, I specifically speak *not* referring to folks who hold their position. (But then to go beyond that and start promoting kids... not because they are blessings, not even because you think God's Law DEMANDS it... but to outnumber and coerce folks? To bring in more funds for the Church down the line?)

Rev. Ball -- at what point did I ever condemn anyone who wants themselves to have many children? Where? Rather this - when the idea of having children is reduced to simply a matter of numbers, I would say that this is improper.

Rev. Voltannori -- which opponents have I characterized?

WM Cwirla said...

"Be fruitful and multiply" was first spoken to fish and birds (Gen 1:22). Leave it to the old Adam to turn a blessing into a commandment.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Where? Here: "There is something of an air of idolatry about the whole recent focus on 'be fruitful and multiply kick. The question I ask is... why? Why the push?"

You then go on to characterize why the "whole" recent focus on be fruitful and multiply is misguided and legalistic. If you meant only to criticize ONLY those who believe in being fruitful SOLELY for demographic and other misguided reasons, you should have spoken more carefully. Your language painted with broad strokes. It appears you may have misspoke, but if so you should revise your post so as not to be so offensive. Yet, it appears that is your intention and purpose in this blog - to say things that are "smarmy" (i.e. "ingratiating and wheedling in a way that is perceived as insincere or excessive"). I agree with Pr. Curtis, and "I do hope you will reevaluate not only this post but the entire purpose of your blog."

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Ah - by "recent" I meant after Tuesday and the "we had better have more kids so we can outbreed the Democrats".

Which should have been clear if one continued reading.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Also... how is saying that there is an air of idolotry... bullying anyway?

So... saying that someone might be wrong is... bullying?

Good night - the DEMOCRATS REALLY WON >=o)

(see, that was sarcasm, and I'll maintain sarcasm on my own blog, thank you very much)

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

So, Rev. Cwirla, you believe Luther and all your fathers in the faith until Alfred Rehwinkel were misinterpreting Scripture. ...that the Lutheran Confessions misinterpret Scripture? ...that every orthodox theologian in history who spoke on this was misguided and unable to see what this verse meant until the middle of the last century, turning blessing into commandment? Don't you think that's a pretty arrogant position to take? You apparently also do not understand that the commands of God ARE blessings to mankind.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

STOP BULLYING CWIRLA!

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Wait... what am I saying?

"It's CWIRLA! He lives in a blue state! GET HIM!"

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Rev. Brown, would you view this comment by President Matthew Harrison in the same negative "air of idolotry" way?

"The biggest challenge we face is the birthrate. The birthrate of the Missouri Synod that is overwhelmingly white, descendent of European people in this synod - the birthrate of our church body has simply followed, mirrored, the broader birthrate of the United States among descendants of northern Europeans. That's a fact. There's hardly a single family out there that you're related to that has more children in the latest generation than it did in the previous generation. Now, do I expect any wholesale turnaround in this phenomenon? No, I don't. There are all kinds of intense pressures upon us. However, I think it's time for us to preach "Be fruitful and multiply." That's what the Bible says. And we ought to encourage young people and families who have the ability to have families. And encourage them. The church needs to be a place... It's no time to despise family ministries. It's no time to despise those kind of diakonic efforts in the church to care for marriages and families, etc. It's time to redouble our efforts in those areas and it's time to speak clearly that it's a good thing to have a large Lutheran orthodox family. If Muslims are having an average of 4.2 children a piece and we're having 2.1 children a piece, I would say God would be really happy if we'd bump it up to at least 4.2 per family."

Pres. Matthew Harrison, ACNA-LCMS Open Forum, CTS Fort Wayne, Oct. 27, 2011

WM Cwirla said...

"Bullying Cwirla" is an existential impossibility.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...
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Rev. Eric J Brown said...

President Harrison's comment does seem to be based on the fear of being out-multiplied.

Is that fear overshadowing the fear of God? If so, there is an air of idolatry to it. And I think it seeks a simple, earthly problem for a spiritual ill -- and neglects the fact that as we are already losing kids like mad at and after confirmation, simply having larger confirmation classes may not change that.

Children are a blessing, a heritage from the Lord. I am all for encouraging folks to have kids, to delight in large families. I think it is... off... to think this will be the salvation of our synod, our culture, or anything like that. It is the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel which gives growth, not mere fertility.

WM Cwirla said...

I'll take it one step further. Every imperative that you read in Genesis 1 is a creative Word that literally does what it says and is not a "commandment" in the way of the Law. "Be light..." etc. Had God not said it, it would not be, as in "Be fruitful and multiply."

That is all.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

God's Word does in fact create the fruitfulness it commands. This is true and sound theology, and is not denied by those of us who agree with all our fathers in the faith that this is also a command. It is not simply the same kind of imperative blessing as in "let there be light." In the same breath, God commands man to subdue and rule over all creation. There is an unmistakable command nature to the verse. In addition, the command to "be fruitful and multiply" was repeated long after God's initial creative Word which also created and sustains man's fruitfullness. "Be fruitful and multiply" was repeated to Noah in Genesis 9 and again to Jacob in Genesis 35. Hmmm... three times God commanded this - now doesn't that make you think?

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Here's an interesting concept that Luther relates in the Large Catechism on the Fourth Commandment (¶138-9):

Thus experience also teaches, that where there are honorable, old families who fare well and have many children, they owe their origin to the fact, to be sure, that some of them were brought up well and were regardful of their parents. On the other hand, it is written of the wicked, Ps. 109:13: Let his posterity be cut off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out. Therefore heed well how great a thing in God's sight obedience is, since He so highly esteems it, is so highly pleased with it, and rewards it so richly, and besides enforces punishment so rigorously on those who act contrariwise.

It's hard to miss the demographic lesson in that statement in my opinion. Also consider the temporal benefits that Psalm 127 considers regarding fruitfulness.

There are true temporal benefits that come from fruitfulness. Denying this is to deny one of the aspects of the blessing.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Consider this from the Roman Confutation pt. II, art. II, with regard to the marriage of priests:

"At that time a command concerning the procreation of offspring was given to fill the earth, but now that that has been filled so that there is population pressure, the command no longer pertains to those able to be continent."

To this the response in the Apology [XXIII.8] is:

"Our opponents trivialize these arguments. They say that in the beginning there was a command to fill the earth, but now that the earth has been filled marriage is not commanded. Look at their clever argument!"

The Lutheran argument is that Genesis 1:28 is a "command", and that this command is still in force today. To deny this is to deny a key principle in Lutheran theology.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

There is a vast difference between when God commands something into existence (let there be light = and there is light) and a command that is given (come, go, stop, do not murder, etc). The first is creative, the second is an imperative.

Also, I would note that Apology cites marriage and the forbidding of priests to marry. Is a man fundamentally sinning, then, if he chooses not to get married?

Of course, Rome was actively forbidding priests from marrying -- I suppose the accurate parallel would be people being forbidden from having children, which I am of course opposed to.

+ + + + + + + +

Of course there is blessing in having children. However, if that is the reason you have children, is that proper? There is financial blessing in working -- but if you are working simply to procure more wealth... isn't that "greed" and not delight in God given gifts and vocation?

Or, to put it this way - it's one thing to rejoice in the fact that you have lots of kids so you aren't put to shame in the market place -- it's another thing if you want to have tons of kids so you can beat the tar out of the other folks when you go to the marketplace. The first rejoices in God - the second is self serving.

Because that is what I am driving at -- not the act of having kids (as though that is proof of godliness -- apparently the Muslims are more godly than us if it is!) but rather the *why* of the argument. If you do something that is good, yet do it for bad reasons, it is sin. Out of the heart flow all sorts of evil -- and if you do outward righteousness, what good is it if you are dead on the inside -- white washed tombs.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...
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Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...
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Rev. Eric J Brown said...

This is all very nice. I know you dislike birth control. We've been down this path before.

Now, if you want to continue a discussion here, I am going to request that you stick to the point at hand in this blog post -- the idea that I would contend that it is... dubious... to encourage child birth for political or economic reasons.

I do not say that the "temporal blessings" are the "only" reason - but that if that is the reason you point to for why you should have kids, it misses the point.

Consider this blog post by Dr. Veith -- it notes that if one works in order to procure leisure, that misses the point. While leisure is a blessing, if that becomes the focus, it is off.

As a Christian parent, your job and duty is to serve the children God has given you... not seek more children so you can use them as resources. The later approach completely flips our vocation around.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

To reiterate.

I do not wish, in this comment thread to rehash every pro and con for and against the permissability of birth control. I don't.

If you wish to make comments that advance the topic of whether or not children can be viewed merely in crass, economic terms and the impact there of -- fine.

But there are plenty of other places, even in this blog, where I have been told that I am foolish for not agreeing with X or how I have a lousy epistemology or what have you. I remain unconvinced from the Scriptures -- so don't try it again here.

Thanks.

WM Cwirla said...
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WM Cwirla said...
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Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

It is not sinful nor is it a bad motive to do something commanded by God with the intention of bringing about temporal blessing. God even urges such motivation when he commanded: "Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother that it may be well with thee and thou mayest live long upon the earth." The Christian qua Christian does not have temporal blessings as the ONLY motivation for their works. Certainly the primary motivation should be to love God above all things and to love your neighbor as yourself. Still, God's Word and natural law both teach us that there is a wholesome motivation for temporal good in following God's will. Your accusations against others here in this post and discussion wrongly assumes that the temporal blessings are the ONLY motivation for holding to this historic Scriptural interpretation of the church.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Wherefore dost thou say that, "Your accusations against others here in this post and discussion wrongly assumes that the temporal blessings are the ONLY motivation for holding to this historic Scriptural interpretation of the church."

Seriously, I would contend that I say nothing of the sort in my post. Rather this - encouraging children so that we can exercise political power over the neighbor - that goes beyond God's Word, Natural Law, or love for the neighbor.

Let us forget anything with childbirth for a second and consider your own example, the 4th Commandment. You cite the 4th commandment - that it may be well with thee and that thou mayest live live long upon the earth. Very good -- that is a blessing. However, and here is the distinction that I wish to make, that blessing is merely a benefit for yourself, a sheer positive benefit.

The Lord does not say, "Honor your father and mother, so that I will give you victory over your enemies." Nor does he say, "Honor your father and your mother, so that you will win political debates."

*That* is the shift that I worry about -- where instead of seeing and receiving promises of God's care we then move onto a more... aggressive stance where we ourselves will stride forth and make things the way we desire them to be. Our piety will... force God's hand to give us the blessings we desire?

I think your zeal to defend procreation as a good thing (which is indeed zeal for a good thing) has caused you to over look a nuance. Just because one is promoting a good thing, one can still error in promoting it.

Otherwise we should have a "kidnap your neighbor's kids and bring them to church" Sunday. =o)

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

"Otherwise we should have a 'kidnap your neighbor's kids and bring them to church' Sunday."

We may not do evil that good may come. However, procreating for the sake of bringing into this world children who will be raised as Christians and be a blessing to the world as confessing Christians, voting Christians, pastors, teachers, and fellow members of the body of Christ is not an evil, but rather a good.

Such an act and motivation does not seek to "force God's hand to give us the blessings we desire." God creates children, not man. Allowing our marriages to bring forth children according to God's will so that the world will be blessed according to His will cannot be considered "forcing His hand."

By the way, it might help if you were to point to an actual example of someone espousing the viewpoints you are criticizing. At this point, it is beginning to sound like you are arguing against make believe opponents. I know of Pentecostal and Calvinist quiverfillers who talk like that, but not LCMS Lutherans. Who are these supposed Lutheran "Jesus Camp" freaks?

WM Cwirla said...

"Be fruitful and multiply" is a divine ordinance in the same way as the laws of gravity, physics, and thermodynamics. Once spoken, it is forever in force and sets natural forces into motion. This is precisely the argument of the Apology.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I woke up Thursday morning, nice and early, seeing a bunch of Facebook posts about how we need to have more kids so we can out number the Democrats.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

And just other note, look at this paragraph.

"Such an act and motivation does not seek to "force God's hand to give us the blessings we desire." God creates children, not man. Allowing our marriages to bring forth children according to God's will so that the world will be blessed according to His will cannot be considered "forcing His hand." "

This is the thing I tends to annoy me about the rhetoric I hear -- God is in control... but we have to "allow" Him to act? That sort of rhetoric just doesn't fly -- it puts the thrust back upon man. The Will of God is stronger than latex.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Pr. Brown, I really have tried to limit my comments to the topic as you have defined it. However, if Pr. Cwirla is going to be allowed to continue talking about Genesis 1:28, I ask to be allowed to respond. Apparently he and I both find this quite pertinent to the point of your post, since he brought it up in the very first comment on your post. Perhaps as we continue to discuss it you might see the application.

So, at the risk of being deleted again, let me say here that the exegetical conclusion of Genesis 1:28 in the Apology is not simply that this word of God "sets natural forces into motion" that are forever efficacious. While that is certainly true, the application in the Apology is not about the fact that the fecundity of mankind has been set in motion and still is at work today. Such an exegetical conclusion has very little to do with the Lutheran argument about whether or not celibacy can be forced upon someone.

Rather, the application and conclusion in the Apology is that Genesis 1:28 applies to marriage still being a commandment of God for those not given the supernatural gift of celibacy. The language clearly harkens to Luther's lectures on Genesis where he makes it clear that this divine ordinance is not something that "it is our prerogative to hinder or ignore."

"In the third place, from this ordinance of creation God has himself exempted three categories of men, saying in Matthew 19:12, 'There are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.' Apart from these three groups, let no man presume to be without a spouse." [Luther's works, vol. 45, The Christian in Society II, The Estate of Marriage, pp. 15-18]

Your point, Pr. Cwirla, is however the same as the Confessional conclusion and application of Genesis 1:28 in the Formula SD VII:75-76, which cites Chrysostom, arguing that it is the Word of God that is ever efficacious in the Sacrament.

"For where His institution is observed and His words are spoken over the bread and cup [wine], and the consecrated bread and cup [wine] are distributed, Christ Himself, through the spoken words, is still efficacious by virtue of the first institution, through His word, which He wishes to be there repeated. 76] As Chrysostom says (in Serm. de Pass.) in his Sermon concerning the Passion:

Christ Himself prepared this table and blesses it; for no man makes the bread and wine set before us the body and blood of Christ, but Christ Himself who was crucified for us. The words are spoken by the mouth of the priest, but by God's power and grace, by the word, where He speaks: "This is My body," the elements presented are consecrated in the Supper. And just as the declaration, Gen. 1, 28: "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth," was spoken only once, but is ever efficacious in nature, so that it is fruitful and multiplies, so also this declaration ["This is My body; this is My blood"] was spoken once, but even to this day and to His advent it is efficacious, and works so that in the Supper of the Church His true body and blood are present.

It is a very true and important conclusion regarding Genesis 1:28. Nevertheless, these are two very distinct arguments and conclusions, both of which are true and based upon the same text.

The first, which is what we are arguing about, is talking about the commandment to "be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth" still being one that must be obeyed my man (unless he is given the gift of celibacy).

The second is talking about the efficacious nature of God's creative Word, upon which we agree.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

...continued

If "be fruitful and multiply" is ONLY a creative blessing, it would not have had to be repeated to Noah and Jacob. It was still efficacious. Sure, God was reminding them of His continued blessing of fecundity upon them, but He was also reminding them of the purpose for which He created them.

"God created man for procreation, Gen. 1:28 ... No man's law, no vow, can annul the commandment and ordinance of God." [AC XXIII, Triglot p. 61:]

God could have created all men like he created Adam. But, no, he created man with the inherent function and purpose of creating more men, and commanded and blessed him to do so. A purpose for which "it is not our prerogative to hinder or ignore."

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

"The Will of God is stronger than latex."???

In other words, if you use a condom and God desires a child to be conceived, the condom will break?

Can people not hinder God's primary will?

WM Cwirla said...

"The first, which is what we are arguing about, is talking about the commandment to "be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth" still being one that must be obeyed my man (unless he is given the gift of celibacy)."

This confuses a divine ordinance of creation with a commandment of the Law. The divine ordinance "be fruitful and multiply" is a word of creative blessing that causes the natural desire of the sexes and procreation. It is not only spoken to man but to fish and birds as well. Fish and birds do not "do commandments." They simply follow the laws of creation. This is not a moral law but an a-moral ordinance. Our Confession use this verse to establish marriage and to argue against vows of celibacy. Such vows can no more overturn this ordinance of God than we can overturn the laws of gravity or quantum mechanics (which have their origin in the imperative "be light" by the way).

That this blessing is repeated to Noah and again to Jacob makes it no less and nothing other than the word of blessing that it is. The Flood hearkens back to the creation, quite intentionally. The blessing to Jacob is tied to the Abrahamic covenant and the promised Seed.

The citation from Chrysostom in SD VII is precisely the correct understanding of this passage.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Primary will?

I mean this. God is the author of life. He will author life when and where He pleases. We might... end a life by murder, but, no, life is a God thing.

My parents were using "birth control" when I was conceived... their plans were not God's plans. Ditto my wife and her siblings. Birth control fails all the time.

Too much credence and power is given to birth control.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

(And Erich,as you and Cwirla are engaging each other, I'll let you two talk here - play nicely and respectfully... both of you... and that will be fine - but I won't respond to those threads. I'll just listen.)

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Rev. Brown, based on your 6:53pm comment I have decided it is not fruitful for me to continue this discussion. Our first principles are just too much at odds. Peace to you in Christ.

Pr. H. R. said...

God calls babies blessings (Ps 127, et passim.).

In the language of Augustine, babies are "goods." Not in the materialist's sense of "goods and services" but in the philosophical sense. Money is not a good. Land is not a good. A person, though, is a good.

Like truth is a good. Or love is a good.

Can one ever say in holiness: I don't want a good? Can one ever say: Thou, O Lord, call this thing a blessing, but I say that right now it would not be a blessing to me?

You can't say things like that about a good, a blessing from God. It doesn't wash. Try it with truth or love. Won't wash. Human beings are likewise blessings and goods. To engage in the act which God has created to give this good while saying, "But I don't want this blessing!" is, shall we say, problematic.

Or again, the marital unity aspect of the conjugal act is also a good. Would it be moral to take a pill to remove the marital unity aspect from sex if all you wanted from a given act of sex was children? That the obvious answer is no seems clear to me. Reverse the terms and the answer is still no: and this was equally obvious to our fathers.

This is how Christians, and the sons of Abraham before Christ, have understood this. These are the sort of discussions you will have to untangle to undo that understanding. If you are serious about honoring your fathers in the faith, then I would suggest you dig in to Christopher West's works on these topics. He is an attentive student of the tradition.

Finally, and FWIW: I tackled this challenge originally to try to find wiggle room for contraception. But I became convinced of the opposite position. If you will invest the time to seriously investigate the topic you may be surprised at your own outcome.

+HRC

Pr. H. R. said...

Oh, and I should put in here the standard preemptive reply to the questions that will arise in your mind if this is the first thinking you've had occasion to do about "goods."

The standard question is, "Well, then shouldn't we be having sex all the time so we can get this good/blessing from God?"

That's not how goods work. Let's take a look at the good of Truth. That truth is a good is axiomatic. That we should never violate the truth is axiomatic. But it does not follow that we sin if we don't constantly walk around saying "2 and 2 make four!" or some other true statement.

Goods are to be welcomed and received with thanksgiving, they are never to be impeded or rejected.

Or perhaps an even more applicable example to the case at hand is Wisdom. Wisdom is a good, a blessing from God. But that doesn't mean you are sinning if you have to work at McDonald's to fulfill your vocation and can't study the Scriptures all day (the vehicle through which wisdom comes). But if before you sat down to read the Bible you took a pill to remove the possibility of gaining wisdom through that reading, that would wrong. You would be deliberately impeding a good, a blessing from God, in the very act which God designed to give you the blessing.

Seriously, brothers: this is a rich area of our common heritage and there is much to think about here beyond trying to win arguments on a blog. I encourage you to dig in.

+HRC

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

"Wisdom is a good, a blessing from God. But that doesn't mean you are sinning if you have to work at McDonald's to fulfill your vocation and can't study the Scriptures all day (the vehicle through which wisdom comes). But if before you sat down to read the Bible you took a pill to remove the possibility of gaining wisdom through that reading, that would wrong. You would be deliberately impeding a good, a blessing from God, in the very act which God designed to give you the blessing."

I will respond to this because I think it will show why I will come to a different conclusion than you.

I like the example of working at McDonald's. You are fulfilling your vocation - you are acting so as to provide for those whom God has given to your care -- this doesn't mean you despise the blessing of wisdom -- rather, you are simply focused on serving the neighbor.

I will agree with you completely that this is not a disdaining of the blessing of wisdom, nor a belittling thereof.

But here is where I will disagree, or at least go in a different way. "But if before you sat down to read the Bible you took a pill to remove the possibility of gaining wisdom through that reading, that would wrong." That is a poor analogy, or at least not a complete analogy.

Consider a legitimate hard case - whatever you will yield and concede is a truly hard case. If contraception is being used, is that fundamentally a disdaining of a blessing, or is it rather sacrificing something that is good for the sake of vocation.

People make sacrifices all the time for the sake of others. You and I have both given up temporal riches so as to serve in the vocation of pastor. We have given up freedom and opportunities to serve as husbands and fathers. Yet neither of these is fundamentally a disdaining of God's blessings of wealth or of freedom. Rather, we sacrifice, we give up the pursuit of one blessing so as to serve those we have been given to serve.

There are times, when for the sake of one spouse or the other, the blessing of addition children may be given up. In these cases, I see nothing wrong with using a tool to aid in this. That becomes the difference -- I am not defending the wanton disdaining of children (which I this is a sadly too common approach in American Culture) -- I am defending the ability of couples put aside the seeking of more children for the sake of one or both of them.

Now, I'm sure we might argue about what is or isn't a hard case -- I'm actually not as interested in that, simply because I have no desire to exercise such authority over another man to tell him what is or isn't hard, what is or isn't an undue burden.

You write: "Goods are to be welcomed and received with thanksgiving, they are never to be impeded or rejected." I say a life of sacrificial love is a life when one denies himself and gives up many things which are good for the sake of the neighbor and out of love.

Or perhaps to put it this way -- the assumption seems to be that using birth control is always selfish. Many times I find it to be sacrificial. Perhaps misguided, or distorted by societal fears, but sacrificial none the less.

Be well my friend - and my encouragement would be to ponder whether or not there could be such a sacrificial usage as I contend -- for that is where I think the happy medium lays -- let us stand against the lies that treat children as a curse, yet let us also let those who sacrifice for the sake of their spouses do so without heaps of law placed upon them.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

A query. A man is unemployed. He has no job wherewith to support his family. He is offered a job, but he will have to work on Sunday morning. If he accepts the job, is he sinfully disdaining Wisdom?

I say not necessarily.

Pr. H. R. said...

Fr. Brown,

But he would necessarily be disdaining Wisdom if he tried to take his laptop to church and work from the pew during the sermon.

Scripture reading/hearing and Wisdom go together.

I think you can see how this applies. You example argues for the allowance of periods of abstinence, as St. Paul does, not impeding one of the purposes which God has attached to sex.

But seriously: you will learn more by actually engaging the tradition through Christopher West's material than you will from me. I encourage you to take up the challenge and provide us with a review.

+HRC

Pr. H. R. said...

Your longer comment fails to appreciate the nature of a good. Is it acceptable to "sacrifice" truth for the sake of love? Or love for truth? Of course not! You can't play one good off another.

"heaps of law" must needs be placed upon us when we are breaking it. That is how repentance works.

Further, you should not run right away to the hard cases. First, riddle me this: image a normal, healthy Christian couple living in America with an average income. Are they free in your gospel to use contraception because they want only 3 children. Why or why not? Answering this non-hard case will tell us much more about where you are coming from that immediately running to difficult cases.

+HRC

Pr. H. R. said...

Clarification: what I mean to say with the "heaps of law" statement is that you are committing petitio principii. We are arguing about whether or not contraception is godly and lawful. Your comment assumes that I am "heaping law" upon people unnecessarily: but that is what we are arguing about. Your statement assumes your conclusions and is thus not an argument but a petitio principii.

+HRC

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Where in the Scriptures is there this definition of "a good" that you espouse, or is this a philosophic theory that you think I need to hold to?

See, I see a construct of philosophy which isn't intrinsically Scriptural (much more Greek) in your approach. In mine, I see an approach understanding sacrifice for the sake of others, which I would contend is all over the place in the Scriptures.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I will answer your riddle with thusly.

I would say yes, they are free. Because in general, I assume... freedom. Seriously - for freedom you have been set free. As I see no command that they are violating, as I see no prohibition against seeking to limit children (whether via contraception or Natural Family Planning) - they are free.

Now, may that be a wise decision -- I don't know. Is it based off of fears or foolish assumptions, or is it based upon their best understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses, the needs of their family?

+++++++++

You say "We are arguing about whether or not contraception is godly or lawful."

Do you engage in arguments whether guns are godly and lawful? Or whether tools are godly and lawful?

++++++++++

Again, some of this goes to our fundamental assumption. I will say that which is not forbidden is permissible, you tend towards saying that unless something is expressly allowed, it ought be avoided.

I read Paul, I read John, and I see injunctions towards freedom used to love the neighbor. "For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”

That's the standard I hold to - you are free; use your freedom to love your neighbor, to care for them. That's the standard, not some philosophical theory about the goods.