Generation Cedar

It may surprise you to know that the accepted practice of birth control is relatively new; and before it was a generally accepted practice, it was considered the gravest of sins, by all Protestant denominations, not just the Catholic church.

It’s interesting to me how we are so prone to tip-toe around this issue, afraid of making an emphatic statement. We want to leave room for personal preference and decision, and we are afraid of offending. This article claims that the purposeful preventing of children is as grave a sin as adultery, sodomy, etc., and should be treated as such.

I’m off the hook on these bold statements, since I did not write the article or speak the quotes. 🙂


The following are some quotes by a few Christian giants of the past…the rest of the article can be read by clicking on the link below:

Augustine wrote in 419,

“I am supposing, then, although you are not lying [with your wife] for the sake of procreating offspring, you are not for the sake of lust obstructing their procreation by an evil prayer or an evil deed. Those who do this, although they are called husband and wife, are not; nor do they retain any reality of marriage, but with a respectable name cover a shame. Sometimes this lustful cruelty, or cruel lust, comes to this, that they even procure poisons of sterility [oral contraceptives]” (Marriage and Concupiscence 1:15:17).

The apostolic tradition’s condemnation of contraception is so great that it was followed by Protestants until 1930 and was upheld by all key Protestant Reformers. Martin Luther said,

“[T]he exceedingly foul deed of Onan, the basest of wretches . . . is a most disgraceful sin. It is far more atrocious than incest and adultery. We call it unchastity, yes, a sodomitic sin. For Onan goes in to her; that is, he lies with her and copulates, and when it comes to the point of insemination, spills the semen, lest the woman conceive. Surely at such a time the order of nature established by God in procreation should be followed. Accordingly, it was a most disgraceful crime. . . . Consequently, he deserved to be killed by God. He committed an evil deed. Therefore, God punished him.”

John Calvin said,

“The voluntary spilling of semen outside of intercourse between man and woman is a monstrous thing. Deliberately to withdraw from coitus in order that semen may fall on the ground is doubly monstrous. For this is to extinguish the hope of the race and to kill before he is born the hoped-for offspring.”


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4 Responses

  1. Thanks W.W. I’m glad that you brought up the example of Onan, as I held the the same common misunderstanding of that passage until recently. Onan’s sin wasn’t necessarily that he “spilled his seed” to prevent fertilization. The sin was deception. Although there was an expectation for Onan to marry his late brother’s widow and concieve children to raise up in that brother’s name to be his heirs, it wasn’t required. For example, see Ruth 4:4-9. Boaz only got to marry Ruth because her “closest relative” said no thanks. This was important enough that Boaz called “the elders and all the people” as witnesses to the right forfeited to him (v.9). So Onan presumably agreed to marry his late brother’s widow, took the effort to go and enjoy her, but refused her and his brother their heirs, as he was contracted to. It seems to me this was Stealing! So God struck him dead. It was at the least a deception in a sacred institution, marriage. This is comperable to the story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-10) who sold all their goods, then kept a portion on purpose, and placed the remainder before the church leaders claiming that they gave all. God did not strike them dead for not giving all, but for saying that the did while knowing they didn’t. It was a decepion, and to God’s sacred instituion, the church. As both marriage and the church are images of Christ’s body and bride, it stands to reason that these evils were attacks on God’s image. It seems that to say that Onan’s destruction was simply because of birth control may be over-simplifying the issue.
    I think a very helpful reference to birth control in marriage is available in Douglas Wilson’s book, Reforming Marriage, chapter 8, “Multiplying Fruitfully”. He also discusses Onan (p.127). He goes on,”But it takes a good deal of ingenuity to make a connection between this evil motive of Onan’s and the motive of a godly couple who pracice birth control to space their children in order to maximize the number of children they can have (e.g., because she has to deliver by Caesarean section). So when there is no clear teaching in the Scripture on a subject of moral and ethical behavior, it is necassary for us to be silent. We may not condemn something as sin in itself simply on the grounds that most people who do it are sinful in their motivations” (p.127,128). And incedentally, he does denounce abortive forms or birth control as the evil they are. He also addresses those sinful motives for refraining from multiplying.
    Regarding the author’s reference to church fathers, well, to point out the obvious, church fathers are often helpful, but not divinely inspired.
    P.S. I love big, beautiful, godly families. I hope and pray for one myself.

  2. By the way, I may be mistaken in this, but it is my understanding that until fairly recently in history, many Western peoples believed that all sperm were actually little embryos, some even going so far as to postulate that the little boys came from one gonad and little girls from the other. Which would explain beliefs such as “this is… to kill before he is born the hoped-for offspring.” The way we view “Plan B”. Any historians care to address this for me?
    I apologize if I shouldn’t have said certain words. But since we are talking about sexual reproduction it seemed appropriate.

  3. Isn’t it ironic how we’re afraid to have strong conviction these days, and dance around moral relativisim and ‘individual personal truths’? I say: no more. Let us love and understand every human with his flaws and sins, but let us not be afraid of acknowledging them as sins.

  4. Hello. I am new to your blog, and have not read everything you posted as yet. It seems to me, as “Got another on the way ” says that “church fathers are often helpful, but not divinely inspired.” Church fathers have been wrong about a great many things. It seems wise to consult scripture on these issues, but on issues that it does not address clearly, it is better for us not to produce an official church stance. Opinions are fine. We all have them. And as more information becomes available they often change, if we are willing to be influenced by accurate information.
    It seems to me that “Got another on the way ” is correct in her assertion about why Onan was wrong, but at the same time goes on to give her opinion as to appropriate reasons to use family planning methods- so as to maximize number of children. I think that there are other times when family planning may be acceptable. While children are certainly a gift from God (I have 5 of my own) there comes a time when you are simply tired. Yes, God lifts us up and helps us, but he also gives us wisdom. If we cannot afford another child, if we cannot give another child the attention that they would need, or would sacrifice the care of another child in order to have a new one, if our husbands are working overseas, etc. It seems to me that utilizing the wisdom that God has given each of us in order to plan our families in such a way that makes sense is a good and responsible choice.
    None of us wants to be “that family” that makes believers look bad because our families are out of control or we are unable to support them. We need to recognize our limits and prayerfully plan accordingly. Not that God doesn’t sometimes do things differently than we’d prefer or that we should not be open to that.

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