This is my fourth post in a series about being Christian and ‘childfree’. I’m working through these points.
- Marriage is not about kids.
- The New Covenant people are different to the old. Jesus is the one who fills and subdues the earth through his Church and God’s people are those born of the Spirit. In the Church, ‘family’ has a radical new meaning.
- Christians are free to make wise and loving decisions in the Spirit. This may mean forgoing earthly blessings (even family) for the sake of the Kingdom.
I’m also going to add a final post after this one with concluding comments, responses to readers’ questions and still more questions. A reader introduced me to Christopher Ash’s book Marriage: Sex in the service of God which argues the opposite to me, so I’m also planning on making some comments on his argument.
Christians are free to make wise and loving decisions
Wealthy Christians in the 21st century have a lot more decisions to make than those in the first century. For most people throughout history, your work, your spouse, where you lived was not up to you to pick – so the Bible doesn’t give specific advice on making these decisions (except marry a believer if possible). Now many of us have more technology, more money, better health, better transport and can choose all these things ourselves. We also have very effective methods of contraception and have more control over whether and how many children to have. Obviously the Bible doesn’t consider a situation where you could be married and have control over whether or not to have kids – it’s not a first century question. Like all the other decisions we now make, we need wisdom in this one too.
I argue that Christians are free to make this decision – wisely and lovingly – just as we make all our decisions in life. Firstly a general principle. Christians are never free to choose anything just out of self-interest. We always consider the interests of others as we seek to make wise and loving decisions in the Spirit. So being ‘childfree’ simply to pursue the DINK dream is not likely to be a loving option. That said, it is ok to consider your own happiness in decision-making (1 Cor 7:40). Secondly, just because something is good, doesn’t mean that it’s always wise or loving to pursue it. We see this principle in operation with Paul’s arguments in 1 Cor 7 about whether or not to get married. Marriage is good, but singleness is really good. You can’t be both simultaneously but both options are fine, so we need to exercise wisdom.
If anyone is worried that he might not be acting honourably towards the virgin he is engaged to, and if his passions are too strong and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married. But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin – this man also does the right thing. So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better.
(On a side note – singleness is also transformed in the New Covenant. To even consider remaining single, and therefore rule out having an heir, went radically against 1st century norms but Paul says it’s the better option. The Gospel has totally changed things for families.)
So the question is, can it be ‘good’ to be married without children. Could that be a good option?
I say yes. First, look at Genesis 2. It was ‘not good’ for the man to be alone, but when the woman was formed (a marriage without kids) it was good. I’ve already argued that having children is not the purpose of marriage and that in terms of God’s redemptive plans for the world, the purpose of childbearing is fulfilled in Jesus.
Second, following Paul’s logic about marriage, I would argue, it can be good not to be childless. Paul’s logic can apply to the decision whether or not to have children. It’s the same factors which need to be weighed up. It involves choosing between good options – marriage or the freedom which comes with singleness, having kids or the freedom of not having kids. Paul’s principle is wherever possible to choose your relationship or family status with your personal situation, temperament and what’s good for the Kingdom in mind. However, he does emphasise the benefits of being unattached.
I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs – how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world – how he can please his wife – and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world – how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.
For Paul, the downside of marriage is that it can distract from devotion to Christ, so getting married is a decision one should make with caution. How much more does having children present an opportunity for distraction from devotion to the Lord. A parent’s interests’ are divided again; it’s not just the other spouse and the Lord, but now kids too. If you want to be free from concern, having children is not the way to do it! I would say, according to the logic of this passage, that it might be good for some couples not to have children and so be freer to serve the Lord.
But perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps it is ‘not good’ for a couple to not have children. But even if it were ‘not good’, this would not mean it is out of the question for Christians. Jesus explicitly calls his disciples to put his kingdom before anything else. This could include giving up good things, blessings from God, including even a spouse or kids for the surpassing goodness of his Kingdom. See Luke 18:
‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus said to them, ‘no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.’
Why might a couple decide to go without children?
I don’t want to be too prescriptive here because I want to emphasise our freedom as people under grace to make wise and loving decisions.
What factors might influence the decision whether or not to have children? Children open some doors and close others in terms of ministry. Cross culturally they can help build bridges between cultures, but then again, children’s educational or health needs might put a limit how much cross-cultural ministry parents can do. Some couples may already have responsibilities as carers and not be able to take on parenthood in addition. Some couples may not have children for health reasons. I want to emphasise that their marriage has not failed to achieve its purpose if they feel unable to take on parenthood. Some may want to continue a ministry living an area which is not appropriate or safe for children. You also don’t need much money when you don’t have kids. For me, at the moment, not having children means that my husband are free to be a bit financially ‘irresponsible’ as he trains for ministry. There are many reasons why, for some couples, the wisest, most loving way to serve the church may involve not having children. Indeed, the way for them to be the most ‘fruitful’ might mean not reproducing! I think we can thank God for reliable contraception so that they can make this decision.
Finally, this is not to say that some couples ought not to have children. Having children is never selfish or wrong. I want to reaffirm that children are a blessing. Also, there’s every chance God will send ‘surprise’ blessings – getting married always means being open to the possibility of children. However, the choice to forgo the blessing of children is a valid choice for Christians – it still goes against the grain of our culture as it points to a hope in our heavenly family – so it is a decision we should support and respect.