Moving the Ancient Boundary Stones Whilst Burying Some Talents

There is a cost to holding inside yourself a good thing the Lord has given you to share with others.  What was meant to foster flourishing life and prosperity to the world and even nourish your own soul  brings inward putrification instead. It also makes  a flickering flame of your Spirit. You were meant to fan some flames, and instead you become yourself that smoking flax, that growing darkness. This irony is great.

English: Cover of Birth Control Review magazine

We must beware of refusing the Lord. Like the ‘child-free’ Christians who have buried in their consciences the Creation Mandate of Genesis 3,  who are alluded to in Kathleen Nielson’s essay at the Gospel Coalition.  Who have buried in their consciences a clear word of the Lord, as Paul writes in Romans 12:1-2 , urging us to “offer up our bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to the Lord” — and I don’t think Paul made an emendation anywhere excising the reproductive organs from this appeal –and  we refuse this spiritual service to the one who paid the ultimate price for our souls at great cost to ourselves, and risk a growing darkness  in our lives.  We  also conform ourselves to the pattern of this world.  Child-frees say it is a hard God  who demands them to bear children when circumstances are so limited — and such a hard master is not the kind of God they serve! They picture childbearing the way Margaret Atwood does, in “The Handmid’s Tale.”

But the God I serve does not rule such a dystopian kingdom. Yes, the Lord gives to each of his servants a different measure of talents and gifts –and in a corresponding way, a differing number of children — and  some of his servants who grieve that they are unable to bear children, he sometimes grows their their families by adoption, and to these I am not speaking  at all — if you decide not to adopt, Romans 14 certainly applies to you. If God gives you liberty then in your childless state to devote yourselves completely to missions or even serving children in the worst of circumstances, be free! Matthew Henry says of these kinds of servants’ and thir freedom,”Hast thou faith? It is meant of knowledge and clearness as to our Christian liberty. Enjoy the comfort of it, but do not trouble others by a wrong use of it.” Those servants  so disappointed by their childless state should not morph themselves into the unbiblical category of ‘Childfree’ — there would be less confusion and consternation when that connubial state is rightly condemned as unscriptural.

These newly branded ‘Childfree’s’ face the prospect of bearing children in difficult circumstances —  a world that is in turmoil,  a bad economy, their own history of mental illness … so they dispense with the whole business  out of fear, and they put an end to their fertility. But fear is not faith, and whatever is not of faith is sin. (Again, if you have faith that your circumstances are excusing you from this kind of investment in childrearing, such as the risk of death to a mother, Romans 14:23 certainly applies to you! And we are not  to judge another’s servant.)  Even in the most difficult cases of childbearing, it is best to believe this business is the Lord’s prerogative, it is the Master who gives, or takes away or closes the womb — we must not constrain it ourselves.  It is not our place to decide where we invest,  and the manner of  business we do for Him. He says “go” and we go.

But increasingly, Christian couples are simply selfishly refusing to invest at all in the messy business of  childbearing. They are burying their talents with a clean conscience. They call themselves “child-free Christians.” And since  Jesus himself was child-free, so they too are freeing themselves from any encumbrance to full ‘missional’ living. They reason that they are just following in the footsteps of the Master! Another way they  rationalize their disobedience is by twisting the plain meaning of Malachi 2:15,

“Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union?
And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves
in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your
youth.

Childfree’s quite novel interpretation of this verse is that this Scripture speaks to the division of Israel, not to divorce, and has nothing to do with marriage at all, this clear desire of God for a couple to produce fruit from their coming together as husband and wife. What a danger, to read the word with such darkness of eye! Childfree’s will also argue their point of view using the sovereignty of God, saying the Lord will work out his plan regardless of our choices, and I agree.  He can use another means. But  when you think the Lord demands a hard thing of you, and you refuse his will,  and go and bury your talent, this disobedience comes at a great cost to your soul.  For there is an unalterable principle in the Christian life: When you sow to your flesh, you reap corruption.  When you bury your talent, it is indeed given to another. But you are risking outer darkness.

I felt called to speak against this growing darkness. I said at the TGC website  that the use of birth control in the church seems to have an ‘Overton window of acceptability’ going on a trajectory, moving in an inexorable direction — and it speaks clearly to me that the wrath of God abides on it. Because we have Christianized the ‘a child is a choice’ thinking. Look at the comment thread– this is  baldly stated there. I respond to it, here:

Proposing the use of artificial means of birth control was unthinkable in the Church a century ago and now it is unthinkable not to make use of it! And we see in this thread the normalization of ‘Child-free’ — because Jesus was ‘Child-free’ too, you know! Must be acceptable! What is next for the quote unquote evangelical church is unthinkable. But what is unthinkable is now an outlier in the evangelical church — the window of “children are a choice” is indeed moving like a juggernaut.  Observe a pastor like Chuck Smith, the founder of Calvary Chapel, who believes Jesus will look the other way, citing the case of the woman caught in adultery, in giving counsel to a woman tempted to abort co-joined twins.  Chuck Smith, counseled a distraught woman in a difficult pregnancy that, “in a case like this where the life expectancy is just, you know, is so bleak, and all, that I’m sure that the Lord would not condemn her if she went ahead and had an abortion at this early stage of the development of the fetus.”  This same kind of pragmatic  thinking that Smith later defended as “reasonable” is at the heart of the Christian use of birth control. It accuses the Master who brings or seeks to bring forth life in difficult circumstances of being hard, and unreasonable.

But God has done a work of grace in my life that has perfectly answered nearly every objection to childbearing some made — and believe me, it is all of him, and none of me! I said in a comment about “counting the cost of having children..and what it takes to raise a child “properly”:

I am one with a history of PTSD — because of mental illness in my family of origin, and a medical history of pre-eclampsia and bedrest in pregnancies. And we all live pretty near the poverty line in a tiny house with one bathroom in a city notorious for evil, that has more dogs in it than little children…And then there is this huge thing: https://thenface2face.wordpress.com/2011/12/03/out-of-darkness-light/
Yes, how could I have neglected to mention that postpartum psychotic break of fifteen years ago — from which I am fully recovered? That is a huge blot on the good-parenting record. But to list all the reasons why I am completely incapable of raising children *properly* well, “if every one of them were written down…

And I think the church where we attend agrees with me, that my eight children are amazing to have survived the trauma of having me for a parent! And that they are continuing to follow Jesus and love to serve the church we attend has nothing at all to do with me, or my shoddy parenting skills, it has everything to do with the grace and mercy of my faithful God.

But I am being misunderstood and mis-characterized–and yes, part of that is my own fault. Sadly,  I made a mess of it, and got in the way of the message.   “Pharisee” …Fertility Cult”…oh dear! What a terrible chastisement from the Lord, for my untamed tongue.

I did want to run away and hide my talent. I had some sleepless nights, I had to seek forgiveness and  fall at the foot of the Cross. But once that temptation towards either passivity or self-vindication was done away with, I could be more effective — and soon I was full of joy at obeying the Lord. I did not bury my talent. I spoke what I sensed the Lord wanted me to speak to the people at the Gospel Coalition — that the Lord detests those differing weights the church uses to measure out its use of birth control. The women of TGC are getting together soon to study the book of Nehemiah — will they honestly survey this particular gate, which plainly has broken down and  has been set afire?

It is hard to be an ineffective instrument, and then be spoken ill of. But this morning I had great comfort in the word of God. My heart exults in God my Savior! God is my judge. I could not bury that testimony, that talent the Lord had given me to invest in Kingdom work for the prosperity of another’s soul. He has been so good to me, how could I say that what He was asking me to do was too hard a thing to do?

“But  my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.” (Hebrews 10:38)

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3 Comments on “Moving the Ancient Boundary Stones Whilst Burying Some Talents”


  1. Seems to me this emphasis on reproduction is closer to an Old Testament belief system. A different view can be found among Early Church Fathers (though I wouldn’t go as far as them) e.g.

    http://www.katav.co.uk/files/Chapter_5_McKeown_PhD_Thesis.pdf

    • Karen Butler Says:

      Thanks for your comment, and the link to your interesting thesis. Sorry for not moderating earlier, but I was a bit traumatized by that whole discussion! I especially appreciated getting a greater understanding of the genesis of Augustines attitude toward the marriage bed — as a response to the Manicheans.

      I haven’t emphasized reproduction at all in my life. I have simply offered up my body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable which is my reasonable service — a completely New Testament belief system. (Romans 12:1)

  2. Karen Butler Says:

    A comment I made on this blog, in answer to this interview with Jennie Allen, a young woman who is heading up the megaconference, “If”, with her friend Jenn Hatmakera :http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2014/01/28/restless-for-more-of-god-jennie-allen-on-holy-discontent/?comments#comments#comment-117695

    Jennie eloquently said, and I wholeheartedly believe this:
    “The scariest and safest thing I have ever done is to finally and completely surrender my rights—to hand complete control of my life and my dreams over to my God. How it practically plays out involves a thousand little deaths…For me, the most common form of surrender is in letting go of playing it safe and starting to risk comfort for God’s glory and the good of others.”

    I pushed back, a little bit:

    Sometimes I wonder, when we are all passionately praying, “Take all of me, Lord! I surrender it all” if the reproductive organs of all those young women with their hands raised high are included in the “all of me” God is invited to take?

    I wonder, whether they are childless or blessed with many, is it all given over to him, after all? Or are these women still holding that part back, morphing themselves from childless to childfree in their disappointment. Or tired of the rigors of childbearing, and wanting to bust out of ‘baby prison’ for good ( that’s Jenn Hatmaker’s description of sleep deprived nights — coined in her book, “7”)


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