Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Contraception Error

Did Christians give away marriage? That is the provocative title of a column by Anthony Bradley. He actually dares raise the contraception issue. He does it by quoting others rather than owning the notion that breaking the link between sex and children has basically conceded the central point of the debate over marriage. It is a hard truth to contemplate. That evangelical Christianity made a bad call when it accepted contraception. That led to increases in divorce and premarital sex. That leads to "the reduction of marriage to a mere contract between consenting adults has stripped marriage of its sanctity and its family-forming utility."

Why is this such a hard truth to contemplate? If it is a mistake it is a huge mistake. How much spiritual damage has been caused by the sexual revolution? Christians were fighting it but were they fighting it with the fullness of truth? If they were not teaching God's plan and living God's plan for marriage and sex then Christians have to look at themselves as being responsible for the excesses of the sexual revolution.They were poor witness to the world.

A mistake that large and that damaging to society has to make you look at how you made that mistake. Protestant leaders got caught up in the culture of the day and embraced what they thought would be a morally permissible technological advance. There was debate for a while but they pretty much all ended up in the same spot. That does not happen often to protestants but it did this time. But why? Why did everyone abandon a moral teaching with so much Christian tradition behind it? Basically there were 3 reasons:
  1. Christians wanted it. The idea of having more sex and less self control within marriage appealed to Christians as much as it did to anyone else.
  2. The biblical data was not all that clear. You have the sin of Onan and a few words from Paul that might be referring to contraceptives but there is no strong proof-text.
  3. New technology. People were able to convince themselves that the moral questions around birth control were somehow different in modern times then they had been for the rest of Christian history when every Christian tradition condemned it. 
Of the 3 main reasons I would say #1 was most important. If you think about abortion, which many protestants continue to say is immoral, it is easy to see that #2 and #3 apply to the issue of abortion. Just read what liberal theologians say on the subject. But most Christians gain no personal benefit from abortion. The leaders who make the doctrinal decisions are almost all married men. They are faithful to their wives. So #1 does not apply for abortion.

So what does this say? That protestants can make huge errors that are not from willful disobedience but from more subtle causes. Causes so subtle that almost nobody in any of the major protestants traditions pointed out the error for decades. Even now, with the consequences moving from bad to catastrophic there are only a few protestants willing to even talk about contraception as something that might need to be re-examined.

What it means is we have a system failure. Everybody followed Sola Scriptura in good faith. Yet we didn't end up in controversy and stalemate like we normally do. We ended up in false teaching. So even when Sola Scriptura does give you a definitive answer it can be definitively wrong. So the stakes are high. Saying contraception is immoral makes it very hard to stay with bible-only Christianity.

The good news is that God is real. Even when Christians have embraced false teaching and society has seriously come off the rails as a result God is still there and He can still fix it. How? What church has not broken from the historical Christian teaching on contraception? That is a hint. More than 95% of Catholic couples have not lived the teaching. So what? That just makes it all the more amazing that the teaching has remained firm.

It is the opposite of what happened in the protestant world. In the Catholic church you did not have people doing everything right. They don't read scripture. They don't seem to live their faith. Most of them anyway. So how did they get it right? Their system works. Even when there are many bad Catholics. Bad Catholics succeed where good protestants fail. How does that make sense? It is called grace. It is not about our goodness but God's goodness to us.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great article and an example of where "where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more," because as Protestantism has caved into society, the Catholic Church is left as the last man standing, clearly showing itself to be the true Church. Once a Protestant "sees" this fact, their converted inwardly.

    Bryan Cross had a good post on marriage and divorce, which also ties in here, where he showed that from the start the "Reformers" and Protestantism saw divorce as acceptable and just as important they didn't consider marriage a sacrament but rather a purely human contract of sorts.