Thoughts on Doug Wilson's "11 Theses on Birth Control"

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(David) Doug Wilson has written a post elaborating on things he's said about birth control elsewhere. Overall, Tim and I appreciate the post very much. There are qualifications to two of Doug's theses that I (probably "we") would make, despite our agreement with the post's general thrust, and there is one particular point of agreement that we would emphasize.

Working backwards from Doug's 10th thesis to his 6th (because I suspect our aversion to thinking about birth control stems from a concern that coming to view birth control negatively will require disciplinary action against all who practice it)....

Doug writes in thesis 10: 

Pastors and teachers should take special care to make sure their teaching and their practice of discipline line up. It is sometimes easy to say things in the pulpit which, if taken seriously, would necessitate church discipline for any violators. But to be all bark and no bite is a good way to bring the authority of the pulpit into disrepute. Don't call it something you are not willing to treat it as. But the balance here should be determined exegetically, and not by a pragmatic cowardice.

But of course, no wise pastor seeks to bring the full weight of church discipline, including trials and excommunication, against every act Scripture defines (and he preaches) as sin. Pride is deeply sinful--but also exceptionally difficult to identify objectively. I know of no church which has disciplined a member solely on the basis of pride beyond the discipline of preaching. When pride does lead to further discipline, it's usually a secondary issue behind a presenting sin. So too with birth control. Because the act is inherently private it's unlikely to be dealt with outside a broader fabric of sin.

Then as well, teaching must always precede further steps of discipline, and teaching usually removes the need for such steps. Faithful Christians respond well to Scriptural challenges. We shouldn't shy from preaching on birth control out of fear that preaching might force further steps of discipline. Instead, trust God to work through the preaching of His Word.

Finally, there are many Scripturally-defined sins that we preach against but don't elevate to further steps of discipline for a variety of reasons.

At times, we don't take further steps because we want to win the battle for hearts and minds first. This is often the case when culture vehemently opposes righteousness in a particular area--think of Paul paying for the purification rites of the men in Acts 21.

At times, the believer is so young in faith that trusting God to sanctify is more important than formally disciplining.

And at times, we realize that it's simply not the shepherd's role to be examining every dropping of the sheep for signs of disease. Such signs are there in them and us both, and we look to the grace of God rather than inquiring minutely into why they were absent from church on Super Bowl Sunday--while still preaching resolutely on the sinfulness of failing to hold the Sabbath holy.

The second area where I would qualify what Doug has written has to do with the applicability of Onan's sin to the question of birth control. Doug writes in thesis 6,

The Scriptures do contain one example of birth control (the example of Onan), but this narrative is complicated by the fact that the whole point of a Levirate marriage was the preservation of a deceased brother's name through a legitimate heir. Onan therefore defrauded his sister-in-law through the instrumentality of an act of birth control, which makes it problematic to say that he was struck down by the Lord for the birth control simpliciter

I've written on this in the past, but let me simply point out that the practice of birth control does not have to be the cause, simpliciter, of God's wrath descending on Onan to provide Biblical evidence against the practice of birth control.

Birth control is so central to the passage that to avoid saying anything at all against birth control on the basis of Onan's judgment by God we would have to argue that Onan came under judgment for reasons entirely distinct from his practice of birth control. In other words we would have to make the case that God would still have put Onan to death even if he had not lain with Tamar but had simply refused to take her as his wife in the first place. Yet God does not so punish Judah or Judah's youngest son when they refuse to wed Tamar later in Genesis. 

Allow the practice of birth control through coitus interruptus any place at all in the wrath of God against Onan and you've given up the argument against its sinfulness. And it's very hard indeed to argue that God's wrath at Onan had nothing to do with his practice of birth control.

Lastly, we want to register our strong agreement with Doug in this final area: neither Tim nor I believe that every form of birth control is always and forever forbidden the faithful Christian no matter the circumstances.

This is necessarily a matter of tension and imprecision, but there is a freedom in Christ, through the Spirit, that allows David to eat the show bread, the disciples to harvest grain on the Sabbath, and Samuel to make offerings on high places. Praise God for the grace of Christ, which does not oppose the Law but resides even in the Law, granting us the ability to say amen to these words of Martin Luther:

Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign.  It suffices that through God's glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day.  Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins?  Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.