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Birth Control


"It is better to be single than to be married." Matthew 19:10-12, 1 Corinthians 7:7-8, 1 Corinthians 7:38

Catholics have gone to the extreme of forbidding marriage for church leaders; while Protestants have pretty much ignored this teaching altogether, encouraging their children from an early age to get married and raise a family (possibly assuming that it is the best way to make them dependent on the system). Unmarried pastors are about as rare as are married priests. What we want to do is to get the true meaning of the Bible passages quoted above (which are more or less repeated by both Jesus and Paul, indicating that it is more than just an isolated piece of advice which may have been distorted in the translation or something).

Both Paul and Jesus make the unusual comment that lifelong celibacy is only advised, and that such an ideal is not a rigid law. It is not a sin to marry (or to have children, which I will be discussing a bit more later). By the same token, it is advisable not to. And just because some of us marry (or have children) should not lead us to over-justify our position by ignoring the need to continue advising against marriage.

Next we need to ask ourselves "Why has this advice been given?" The Bible says that it is so that we can be free to work for God.

We are like an army, fighting a war in an alien world. There is often the need to make radical changes very quickly. In the Australian Air Force, single men or women can be transferred any time the commanding officers choose to transfer them. But married couples with children are appointed to a base for a minimum of two years (so as not to upset the routine of the wife and/or children).

Anyone in our community who has ever tried to work out a one-year plan would see immediately how strongly marriage and children affect the plan. If Sue wants to do nursing and Rols wants to distribute, one has to give in. If Chris could do art with fewer interruptions in Australia and Rob is needed to oversee printing in India, someone has to give in. If Dave is free to travel around the world, but Cherry's arthritis makes it unbearable, again someone must give in.

But compared to the restrictions that are placed on a couple after children arrive, just being married is not a big problem at all. I have stated in the past that the handicap Paul and Jesus were talking about was probably not the marriage itself so much as the children which are produced through the marriage; and I have more or less encouraged singles to consider marriage as a compromise as long as they are willing to use birth control to make themselves freer to move around than they would be if they had kids.

But this loophole can gradually become one step in isolation from other steps, all of which result in people having children anyway. Once married, it is so very convenient to have a child; and after having one, it becomes much easier to have more. Soon, the advice about staying single (childless?) seems to be totally forgotten.

Please note: At each stage in what I am saying, we must come back to the original passage and remember that it is not an ironclad rule. It is not a sin to marry, nor is it a sin to have children. But I hope that we can have unity on whether or not it is advisable to have children.

It may become more and more difficult for others to take advice from couples who have not practised birth control themselves. I am not totally opposed to the idea of having children (nor is God). In fact, I could even consider the possibility that God wants us to set aside other projects so that we can concentrate on raising another generation of little prophets who will do what we were not able to do while raising them. (Obviously for those who already have children, this is largely where they stand now.) But we should not overlook what has been clearly stated in scripture with regard to God's preference.

After you marry and after you have children, there are responsibilities associated with those circumstances, and it is group policy that we encourage people to meet those responsibilities. Yet, with regard to knowing God's will about whether or not to have children, it seems we have been leaving it up to each couple to work this out privately. I am suggesting that there should be a little more counsel with regard to these matters, since we are all affected by the consequences.

Is it wise, for example, to use birth control on a hit or miss basis to make it "easier" for God to give you a baby, just in case it's his will? For couples who are faithfully practising birth control, it could seem a bit unfair that other couples just make an arbitrary decision to have kids and then "forget" to take precautions occasionally until such time as "God's will" is revealed.

Another justification for more children is dreams. Each time someone dreams about a baby, does it mean God is telling them to stop practising birth control? I would hate to think where we would all be today if people choofed off to the various countries they have dreamt they were in preaching the gospel. Dreams are sometimes just an indication of our own desires, fears, hopes, etc. and they should be backed up with some other fairly strong revelation before being acted upon in making major decisions.

Making a decision to have a child is one of the biggest decisions you can make in your life. One father left largely because he felt such matters were personal ones, over which he should have absolute control. I could well imagine that others in the community might feel the same way. But perhaps we need to take a long hard look at this with regard to how it affects the rest of the community.

If the rest of us are expected to help out with cooking, cleaning, clothes washing, and baby sitting, as well as doing without the services of one or more of the parents whenever the parents are needed to care for the kids, then the kids do become the responsibility of the entire community. And it just is not reasonable that the rest of the community should be "dictated" to by the biological parents on the ground that they have the final say in matters relating to the family.

I do believe that the biological parents have the final say; but it may be like each individual having the final say on whether or not they want to be in the group. One father is exercising his right to raise the kids the way he wants to; but he is doing it outside of the community because it was becoming too disruptive as far as the rest of the community was concerned.

Marriage is more sacred than the parent/child relationship, since the marriage relationship is for all of life, whereas kids are only entrusted to our care for a few short years.

Jesus asks us to forsake our children for him, and there are many times in a community when this has to be taken quite literally for the good of everyone concerned. I don't believe that our children (Cherry and mine) stayed with us as long as they did because Cherry and I exercised absolute power over them. Rather, I think what made their existence bearable for them was the realisation that Cherry and I could be overruled through appeals to the rest of the community. Any parent who thinks that they can keep their children by squeezing harder, is going to be in for some big disappointments. The only way that family unity will even have a hope of being a reality in today's world is if we parents are willing to let go of it and give our children the freedom to leave or even be kicked out.

I don't think we'll be kicking parents out and keeping their children in for quite a few years yet; but I think that it is a possibility that parents should consider when their children become teenagers... i.e. that if the parents are kicked out of the community, their teenage children should stay on in the community serving God even though it divides the family. Are you willing to make that kind of a commitment with regard to your children? If so, then you should be able to handle the loss of control that goes with letting some members of the community teach your children now (for example) so that you are freed to do more for God. Bear in mind that, as the biological parents, you have more legal and emotional control over your children than anyone else. And this is a privilege that the singles and those who have not had children have chosen to do without... partly so that they will be more free to help out you who have chosen to have children. The privilege that you have must be used wisely and unselfishly, for the glory of God.

I pray that this will not become a source of division within the community, but the problem will only be overcome if we confront the issues now before they are allowed to grow into something bigger.

In conclusion, I should mention the inadvisability of having children during or immediately prior to the Great Tribulation. Jesus prophesied about this time when he said that it would be better not to have children. He said to pray that the Trib will not come when we are pregnant or have small children. All of these are strong arguments for birth control or celibacy. But they are easily set aside if we are not convinced that the Great Tribulation is near. I would imagine that some people in the past have had kids, and then as the kids have grown older without the Trib coming, they have become a bit more numb to the warnings about the Tribulation. Things certainly have not happened as quickly as I had expected them to happen, and so my own fervour with regard to Bible prophecy has dropped somewhat. I still think that it is near.

Perhaps more open discussion amongst ourselves would bring enlightenment with regard to the relevance of those prophecies. What we cannot deny is that even now, as we practise the teachings of Jesus, we become more and more "alien" in this present evil world, making it more and more difficult to raise children without them being affected by our lifestyle (e.g. through frequent moves, pressure from authorities to put them in system schools, problems with passports, visas, etc., claims that we are exploiting them by teaching them to distribute tracts, and just generally a good excuse for vipers to convince themselves that they are acting for the good of our poor children when they persecute us.)

Whether we believe the end is near or not, we need to take seriously the warnings of Jesus about marriage in general, and (by implication) having children after we get married.

(See also Why Communes Fail.)

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