Isn't having lots of children an Old Testament thing?

(Tim: under an earlier post, I responded to a dear brother who asked the same question we all have--namely, isn't being fruitful and multiplying more an Old Testament than a New Testatment command?)

Dear Brother, don't be dismayed. About 99.999% of Reformed officers in America today--in fact, 99.99% of any Reformed officers since Margaret Sanger (founder of Planned Parenthood) engaged in civil disobedience and got the Supreme Court of these United States to reverse our nation's Comstock laws last century--have believed what you articulate. Here's a more crass way of puting it:

We've been fruitful, so let go of this Old Testament patriarchal take-woman-into-the cave-and-have-your-way-with-her neanderthal mindset. It's so demeaning to women. Haven't they suffered enough already? Do they have to spend their lives at home making babies, cooking, and changing diapers? Would any servant leader do that to his wife?

Please don't be offended. I know this is not how you put it. But having known and loved many Reformed officers over the years, this is a pretty accurate summary of the state of our obedience. We've evolved. We've learned scientific truths the Reformers didn't know. We need to focus on the quality--not the quantity--of our childrearing. We need to educate our daughters as well as our sons, and give them a chance to live...

life to the fullest (which of course, means have them in possession of as many formal degrees as their husband will have).

But putting aside the particular nuances of this or that man's thoughts on birth control, we must face the fact that the Reformers didn't agree.

Rather, as the Church speaks with one voice condemning rebellion against other Order of Creation laws instituted by God such as life-long, monogamous, heterosexual, patriarchal marriage, she also speaks with one voice concerning this other Order of Creation law that obstructing fruitfulness in the marriage bed is sin.

That's what wounds my conscience when I simply tell my congregation that fruitfulness is a blessing that should be welcomed and every decision to use birth control is a spiritual decision--never simply a pragmatic one. To most, even that sounds monstrous. But to me, even that sounds cowardly. This voice keeps awakening my conscience to the fact that, prior to 1950, Protestants were as opposed to birth control as Roman Catholics.

And as I said to a dear elder brother of mine who thinks even what I teach creates unreasonable difficulties for our young couples, what do we do with the universal understanding of the Church? Just kiss it off?

Someone help me, brothers. How can we say, let alone believe, that just at the time when the Western world threw out every other Order of Creation truth concerning God's gift of sexuality, true reform hit us in birth control and we learned we were always wrong?


How do you describe the difference between a "spiritual" decision and a "practical" one?

>>How do you describe the difference between a "spiritual" decision and a "practical" one?

A practical one is made without God and His Order of Creation and Word as the foundation. Rather, it's utilitarianism: what's right is what leads to the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people. It's the reigning ethical system of most session meetings, although typically Reformed men wouldn't put it so directly as I have above.

There's not right or wrong so much as best and second and third-best.


Do you believe that women should not be educated?

>>Do you believe that women should not be educated?

Dear Karen,

If you rephrase your question showing you have read what I wrote, I'll be happy to answer it. I don't mean to be rude. What I'm pushing you to do is to read words and extrapolate from them something akin to what they say, rather than what they don't say.


Sigh. Here we go again . . .

I have always wondered why we as parents would not want to give birth to, and raise, as many of the Elect that we can, as a matter of glory to God.

It takes faith to believe that fruitfulness is a blessing and submit the size of your family to God, and there is nothing more discouraging (and confusing!) than a "well intentioned" person kindly alluding to the fact that we don't really have to put ourselves through all that anyway. So when you talk about the elder brother who thinks you might be creating unreasonable difficulties for people like me, I would say that your teaching actually does the opposite.

Great work brother. As one wise theologian has often said, with respect to theological orthodoxy, if you have embraced a position that no one in the history of the church embraced, chances are pretty good you are wrong. The same is true with respect to orthopraxy. What great new exegetical insight have we learned in the last 75 years that the church missed for the first 1900 years? The Bible hasn't changed. The world has. If the church has, it's because it is following the world rather than the Word.

Then, too, are we not to judge something by its fruit? If we look at the fruit now ripening in those Christian denominations which first embraced the use of birth control, we need only look as far as the Druid now residing in Lambeth Palace and the state of his communion.

When we found we were expecting our fourth child and we wanted to share our joy with our immediate family we had at least one member, who confesses Christ, react by beginning to offer condolences until I said that "God says children are a blessing and we believe God." It surprised me a little and it was just a sad thing that rather than embracing the joy of such news they thought it was a problem, presumably because it would interfere with our ability to consume goods predominantly made in China. At least to that person's credit once I laid that out they did their best to come around. But still remarkable in a sad way.

So, what is the correct response to couples who use birth control? Should the pastor or elder confront them?

May favorite "piece of advice" (and we readily got this from family members when we were pregnant with our first son in my husband's first semester of law school)is: "It really is the 'responsible thing' to do to wait until you're financially secure before having kids." Funny. I can't tell you how many thirty and forty-somethings I know who have 3 or 4 kids, terminal degrees, and if you peel away their stuff and nice houses, you'd find that they are financially in the red.

Oops..."my" favorite. Dangit.

Do we have any numbers - or even anecdotes - as to what the change has been over time in the average size of Reformed families?

I would also concur with the point made at #11 ... but of course, how would we know unless the couple concerned were asked directly about it?

I guess the question is, is any attempt by a person to control or manage that fruitfulness sinful? Does the use of birth control to plan the size of families and the timing of pregnancies constitute a failure to trust in God's providence and a violation of his will, or is it possible to use birth control as a tool to steward and manage the gifts we have been given? I am thinking only of committed, married couples using birth control, not of course the widespread use of birth control to enable fornication and adultery. Also, with the full text being "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," you could make the case that the Lord has told us why we are to be fruitful and multiply, and we have definitely filled the earth and subdued it.

" … we have definitely filled the earth and subdued it."

This is not true, for either agenda.

Filling the earth: Nope. Not even close.I was in high school when Paul Ehrlich was broadcasting his apocalyptic prophecies of human extinction because of overpopulation, warning that humankind was teetering on the brink of disaster from famine. ""India couldn't possibly feed two hundred million more people by 1980," or "be self-sufficient in food by 1971" are typical bon mots from this esteemed scientist.

The earth's population in those days was a little over 3 billion. Today it is about 6.5 billion. I couldn't put my finger on India's population in 1980, but today it's one of two countries (the other China) with a population in excess of one billion. Neither country is experiencing famines of the sort Ehrlich forecast.

Subuing the earth: Ever heard of earthquakes? Famines? Volcanos? Winter storms that plunge entire continents into the deep freeze? Pandemics?

An earth that was subdued and filled would appear to us as Manhattan would to a Neanderthal crawling out of a cave.

Roger: What makes you think we have filled the earth and subdued it?

I live in a country in central Africa and there are vast swaths of the nation that are uninhabited. They even discovered a tribe not too long ago (15 years) that we never knew about.

And in what sense have we subdued the earth? Malaria still ravages our continent and kills lots more people then does AIDS. Aren't there floods in Australia right now, killing people, ruining homes, causing families to flee?


Fair enough, although since God providentially uses famines, floods, etc., I doubt we will ever be able to subdue those things, especially since after Genesis 3 we don't have the same capabilities as a species as we did in Genesis 1. Retracting my fairly shallow reading of Genesis 1:28 though, I still have the question- and I sincerely have it as a question, I've been debating both sides in my head all morning- about whether or not managing family size and pregnancy timing is a failure to trust God's providence or more akin to a farmer choosing when and how to plant his fields to best steward his gifts. Any thoughts on this?

On practical / spiritual:
A woman is married at 18 and has 4 children under 5 by the time she is 23. She is frazzled and exhausted, and hasn't sat through a complete sermon in 4 1/2 years. I agree that the force of culture swings hard in the other direction, but all the same, what decision should her husband make? I don't see the sin in saying we're going to wait a few years before we have more.

Perhaps her husand should see to the children so she can sit through a church service, including the sermon, once in a while?

To J. Kru,
While it is certainly true that having children (especially lots of little ones) places great demands on your time and energy, I am becoming increasingly aware that my state of "frazzled" has more to do with my expectation that "I deserve" 2.5 hours of uninterrupted "me time" each day, regular visits to a spa, weekly ladies' lunches and other things that women are told they cannot find fulfillment without. God gives loved ones sleep (a seemingly odd transition in the "Children are a blessing" psalm, but one that makes complete sense to anyone who has lived with a newborn) and equips us for the tasks of each day.
On a flip side, in all the large families I know, the husbands are conscientious to ensure that their wives are given times of rest and replenishment, both practically and spiritually. And, I am certain, these times of rest are the more precious because they work so hard otherwise.

Even with closely-timed children, the years of high-demand, extremely hard, exhausting work are, in perspective, few. Consider though, the years of blessing a mother and father receive in a loving band of godly covenant children (and grandchildren). If God desires to bless a couple in this way, who are we to tell him, "Thanks, but no thanks." It's a bit like someone who receives for free many acres of land and the material enough to build a mansion, but who chooses to live in a tenement all their lives because they didn't feel at the time like putting in the work to build.

>what decision should her husband make

He could, amongst other things, be obedient to the scriptures and ensure he is providing his wife with proper instruction in the home.

If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

There is also this gem from our confessionally orthodox friend Doug Wilson:

Many of you are here as parents of little ones and, in some cases, many little ones. For you, the worship of the Lord is a far more arduous task that it is for the rest of us. All of us are engaged in the work of worshipping the Lord, but you are carrying young ones in your arms as you perform the same labor that we do.

The work includes great things, like keeping everyone in fellowship throughout the whole service, and trivial things, like finding your place in the psalter. The work is daunting, and it is sometimes easy to forget why you are doing it. There are three things for you to keep in mind as you continue

The first is that while you sometimes need to be reminded why you are doing this, God knows exactly why you are doing it. Do not grow weary in doing good. God sees, and your labor in the
Lord will bear good fruit. Your labor is before the Lord—He sees, and He rejoices. When you need to be reminded, there is one who can always remind you. You are here with your little ones because God calls you to worship Him together with all the children He has given you.

This means, secondly, that God receives, as true worship, every distracted shush, every spilled cup of wine, every dropped hymnal, and every time you have to take your child out to have a little word with him. You are not taken away from true worship by these things, but farther into true worship than most of are privileged to go. If Christian discipleship consists of "my life for yours," what is worshiping with four to seven little ones?

Third, do not think of this time as the time of distraction, but rather as a time of fruitful planting, and trust God to be kind. He will bestow a time of fruitful harvest. The sun is hot and the soil is hard—but it will all come back to you, thirty, sixty and a hundred fold.

Posted by Douglas Wilson - 11/7/2009 4:42:55 PM

The comments by Tai and Doug Wilson are inspiring to me. Thank you to both of you (or should I say to you, David Gray) for strengthening my faith.

>>whether or not managing family size and pregnancy timing is a failure to trust God's providence or more akin to a farmer choosing when and how to plant his fields to best steward his gifts. Any thoughts on this?

And Roger, I think this is the question we all have. We live in a day when pragmatism/cost benefit analysis/utilitarianism is our only moral compass. Hence, it's almost impossible for us to conceive of living by faith except where we have no other choice. Then it's "Oh well, I guess I'll have to pray and trust God. Sigh."

No, I'm not saying that we should never count the cost. Our Lord Himself told us to do so. But when it comes to counting the cost of adding sons of God to our household, it should give us pause that both childbearing and evangelism have always been viewed as unqualified good, unmitigated blessings, by the Church through the ages. There are good reasons not to evangelize. There are good reasons not to bear children. Think of the work. Think of the mess. How many people can our church do a good job of catechizing and discipling? Can we really afford more children in the nursery? Do we really want more opinions in our congregational meetings? Who wants the train wreck kids of the new believers in with our classically educated wonks when our family-centered church families are sitting around talking after our covenant feasts?

As I face my own faithlessness in the matter of fruitfulness, I've found it helpful to do two things: first, to look at fruitfulness broadly and to note how fecund, fertile, fruitful families also give birth to fecund, fertile, fruitful churches; and second, to keep in mind that the Scriptures never exhort us to keep a careful watch on how many children we can raise well in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Some would argue there's a distinction between spacing childbearing and obstructing childbearing. Maybe it's a valid distinction--as valid as the Roman Catholics' distinction between coitus interruptus and timing by ovulation.

Big picture, though: in the matter of the marriage bed and fruitfulness, Christians today ought to be moving in the direction of life by faith. Generally speaking, utilitarianism doesn't yield dependence on our Heavenly Father.

When Jesus told us to count the cost, He wasn't making the case that the costliest option was foolish.


>>When Jesus told us to count the cost, He wasn't making the case that the costliest option was foolish.

That is excellent.

It is always those who haven't actually cared for little ones (like the BB) who recommend others have more of them!

Scripture says to multiply.

Having 2 or 3 is multiplying.

End of story.

Janine obviously doesn't read much of this blog. "JJ" apparently can't do math.


Dear Tai -

Thank you for your tranparency concerning your selfishness. However, the women I'm thinking of have never been to the spa and their husbands are in Afganistan. somthese things are a little more complicated. It's can be like someone who receives a bunch of land and materials, but they can't afford the taxes and they have no idea how to build a house, not did their parents ever swing a hammer.

A few things need to be considered:
How many kids do you have? How old were you when you had your first? How long does it take you to conceive? Do you have family or friends nearby? Is your family trustworthy? Would your own sin unduly impede your motherhood? Are you in a small or large church? How many hours per week does your husband work? Do you have the sort of personality that can handle a big group? Do you have any special needs children? Do you own a car or take the bus? Does anyone help you financially? how healthy are you? How difficult were your pregnancies? Any chance you'll need to be on bedrest? What sort of responsibilities do you have in your church? How strong is your marriage? how many siblings did you have? Have you ever known anyone with a lot of children? Do you have a culture of big families? Are you homeschooling?

Have as many children as you can, and then have one more. But let's please not look down on familiar

Sorry, cut off. ... Look down on families who might choose differently for some reason, at least until you know what that reason is.

Dear brothers,

I can't get it out of my head that such questions are exactly right but equally applicable to every matter of obedience (which is to say love) of our Heavenly Father. Rejigger them for fidelity in marriage and they work just fine; for speaking only truth and protecting the unborn and working six days a week and resting the seventh and making disciples of all men and...

But when all the questions have been asked, keep in mind that, in fruitfulness as in most everything else, we don't understand so we may obey so much as we obey so we may understand. To refuse to obey until we understand, until we see how God will provide, until we are certain God won't have to provide, etc. is not to walk by faith.

Our Lord told us, "My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples" (John 15:8), and the greatest number of souls for His Kingdom have always been evangelized by His placement of them in Covenant homes. Both prophylacting Presbyterians and discontinuity Baptists need to be reminded of this regularly.

Yes, there are homes where pregnancy would jeopardize the life of the mother, leaving her children and husband bereft and pitiable. In such cases appropriate steps should be taken to protect the mother's life, but such cases are exceptional.


Some of you will have noticed that I've pulled a nasty comment written by "Charles."

"Charles," "Janine," and "JJ" appear to be the same man/woman commenting from the same IP address. I've told him/her that I won't publish his/her comments until he/she identifies himself/herself.


"But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint." 1 Timothy 2:15

Though some days I feel like bearing my children is killing me, it's really saving me. I think my greatest need is to keep hearing that truth from my pastors, especially you, Tim. Keep telling us to have babies, and keep on teaching me how to continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.

And if, in a way, bearing children is killing me, it's the kind of death I want to be dying. "And from the ground there blossoms red..."

WRT to your last paragraph:

What about mothers who have serious mental or physical health conditions that may not threaten their lives, but having more children would likely jeopardize their ability to raise the children they already have. I know this is not common, but from the mothers I know I would guess it's not exactly rare either.

For example, I have a friend with bipolar disorder. When she and her husband had two children almost 30 years ago. She was stretched to the max to be a good wife to her husband and mother to her 2 children, along with dealing with her illness. After much prayer and consulting with their clergyman, she and her husband decided limiting their family size was the most prudent thing to do in this situation. In no way was it a way to stop having children so they could have nicer cars, vacations, etc.

In the Bible, we see fruitfulness of all kinds: spiritual (God giving a harvest of souls, spiritual fathers, etc.), crops, flocks, herds -- and human fruitfulness. Scripture speaks of all these kinds of fruitfulness in the same way. Yet in our day while we still agree that great fruitfulness is a blessing in almost all these cases, we make a special exception of human fruitfulness. I've wondered, in the same way that it's impossible to love God without loving our brother (rather our lack of love for our brother proves our lack of love for God) -- is it any different if we say we want great spiritual fruitfulness but in our hearts we don't even believe physical fruitfulness is a blessing to be desired? Is it not a contradiction that rather demonstrates that we don't really believe spiritual fruitfulness is to be desired? In other words, aren't we the same way with Jesus?

I've expressed my question as a poem. I hope it may further the discussion. The poem is titled "Please wear a condom, Jesus" Granted, it’s grotesque – it’s offensive – it’s just wrong. But this is the point: we say its physical counterpart is perfectly fine? How can this be?

Please wear a condom, Jesus

We want union with you, Lord Jesus
A closer walk
More intimacy
We’re dry
It’s been so long
You seem so far away
Draw near to us, Jesus
Don’t send us souls yet though
We know it’s important
We’ll be open to that soon
But not yet
Please wear a condom, Jesus

We’re not ready
Our house is not in order
New souls are messy
They cry out
Even while we’re trying to worship You
We’ll get less sleep
We want to be faithful
With the souls You’ve already given us
It would be wrong to bring more souls in now
Wouldn’t it?
Please wear a condom, Jesus

What does reproducing have to do with union?
They are two separate concepts
Union is necessary often
Openness to new souls though–
Must we really be open to that every time?
We love union with You
We really don’t care about souls
Maybe a few
Maybe someday
Please wear a condom, Jesus

I love how when subjects like this come up, the exceptions always try to trump the norm: "Well, what about...?" OR "But what if...?" I don't think we're ever in danger of always being the exception. Please. That is such an old, tired, ineffective argument.

Regarding what it takes to "multiply," given that about a third of adults don't manage to have children at all (some by nature, some by choice), the actual number of children to have before you start "multiplying" is three or four.

Moreover, if we understand the implications of 1 Cor. 7:4 applied 18 centuries before contraception became possible and accepted, we have to assume that early believers were effectively told to "be fruitful and multiply", if not in as many words.

Mark Steyn is just about the only commentator I know who regularly writes about the way that Western Civ is effectively committing demographic suicide by refusing to reproduce at even a minimal replacement level. Italy, the Netherlands, Russia, and Japan are well established at a level where demographic implosion cannot now be reversed. The effects of China's "one-child" policy now guarantees that its economy will face geriatric collapse within a single generation.

Post-Mil Presbyterians ought to be in the vanguard of those urging Christians to have families as large as they can possibly achieve! But, I never hear that note in their otherwise triumphalist gospel.

Why is that idea missing from their message? Or, am I just reading in the wrong places? Why is it that the only ones on whom ordinary people might pin such a policy are Benedict the 16th and his predecessors?


You write as if the couple were on their own dealing with the wife's disorder. Where is the rest of their family? Where is their Church, the body of Christ?

Having children isn't the problem, doing it alone is the problem.


Slightly in reply to Kamilla's post, I'll add that I bet there are a lot of unmarried brothers and sisters who would bring a lot of help to a family if they were invited into it. I have to add though that a family going it alone seems to be not uncommon in today's church.

Well, in reply to this general thing of the bipolar wife/ mom- this raises an interesting question- at what point do we accept that there are issues in the lives of our brothers and sisters that we don't fully understand? And what, in our covenant church lives (sorry, I know that's one of those phrases :)), do we treat as private family business?

My thought regarding the bipolar wife is the Titus 2 woman, and the more general thought of sharing burdens with each other. We're not meant to struggle through this alone, are we?

Now there may be some biological issues for mental illness--postpartum depression is a famous one--but all in all, I'm convinced that if we work as a Biblical church, it's going to be a LOT more manageable.

Thank you for this blog! This is a teaching that the Church sorely needs, and folks who are trying to be faithful in fruitfulness are blessed by the encouragement.

Speaking of the pastoral aspect of this, please let me offer a strong caution - if you're not a pastor, it's not your issue.

If you don't know what goes on in another marriage bed, keep your nose out of it. You just see a childless couple with time and money that you never seem to have. You don't see them praying for children, you don't see the wife weep every month when she's reminded that she's not pregnant. You don't know that her husband feels like she'd be better of if he were dead and she were with a real man who could give her babies.

If you're close enough to someone that they tell you what's going on in their bedroom, then you have some room to give them Scriptural guidance. If you're not, leave that job up to the elders and the conviction of the Spirit.

Don't be too discouraged. This post-mill Presbyterian is joyfully the father of eight, and the planter of a post-mil Presbyterian church in which my family with eight children puts me roughly in the middle of family size.

Respectabiggle, your caution to not barge in is well taken, but does not Titus 2 suggest that older women in the church ought to know the younger women well enough so that they naturally find out when a younger woman is having trouble in this or that area? My take here is that women naturally talk about these things--my wife mentions it often--and hence the Biblical struggle is not to fence off these issues "for the pastors and elders to handle," but rather to encourage the women to handle them in a Biblical way, instead of falling into the all too common trap of gossip.

Put differently, I'm not quite sure what you're trying to achieve, but your words could easily be interpreted as an encouragement for laymen to allow the pastors to handle everything--and that's simply not Biblical.

Kamilla ... I've been studying for an exam most of yesterday, helping my husband with his computer problems, spending ~5 hours attending and commuting to class today, and I'll spend most of tonight still studying for the exam I'll take tomorrow.

I wasn't ignoring you. I haven't had the time to reply to your post in a thoughtful manner yet, which I'll do some time tomorrow.

Bike Bubba,
You're quite right. That's what I was trying to say by, "If you're close enough to someone that they tell you what's going on in their bedroom". I should have been more clear.

My point of view came from seeing very close friends deal with this sort of trial - and watching their fellow congregants puff themselves up about how full their own quiver was. When you're working hard to manage a house full of kids, it's a tempting thing to take the conviction that (at no little sacrifice) you're doing the right thing and turn it into a stick to beat other folks with.

Thanks for helping me clarify.

#42, 46 Concur. As 2 Cor 10:7 reads, in a somewhat different context, "you are looking only at the surface of things".

It would not be at all pleasant for a Christian couple who couldn't have children, to have others who do have children judge them; when those doing the judging simply don't have a clue as to what's involved in that situation.

And yet in most Protestant churches it those willfully saying no to children who judge those who do not say no to God regarding children.

Kamilla et al.,

WRT to my friend the mother and wife with bipolar disorder (I will call her C, and husband, D.

AFAIK, C's parents lived about 100 miles away when they were deciding to have additional children. C's youngest sister was probably still in college, and I don't know where her middle sister was at the time.

They attended a theologically orthodox Episcopalian church at that time (many, many Episcopalian churches had not fallen off the deep end yet), so their priest probably counseled them from both medical, Bible-based, and orthodox Christian views.

I don't know how active C&D were in their church at that tine. Unfortunately, Episcopal churches have the stereotype as God's "frozen chosen" so it may have been difficult to make close friends in their parish at that time (speculation on my part).

For those of you were around to remember the early 80's the stigma of mental illness was much greater than before, although you probably now it still exists today. C (and D) may have felt uncomfortable to disclosing C's illness to church friends they might have (as well as non-church friends. And if they did, they probably couldn't have been assured that their friends may have been scared off.

In addition, as I understand it the number of meds available to treat bipolar disorder back then were few and not as easy to live or effective than the with the newer ones for the most part. (C. told me she's doing so much better on the newer drugs than on lithium, for example). I could say more on that line, but have already said enough.

Finally, even if C&D had very good friends (church or otherwise) into your home to clean, cook, take care of your children for a while, cut your grass, etc., it would take a lot of trust (& energy) for C to see this person at her worst -- lying listlessly in her living room sofa in the midst of a depressive cycle or rearranging her future in a manic mode.

It seems that we all agree on the following:

-Fruitfulness is a blessing and a commandment for those who are able
-Having children is a big deal and a life-changing decision
-Exhorting people on the topic one way or the other should probably be limited to pastors, elders, and lay members who have taken the time to get to know the people in question.


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