Martin Luther and Contraception: The Protestant Flip Flop

Today amongst the majority of married Christians, the questions of contraception use is a non-issue; they use it. While it may be true that the majority have no issue with it, even Catholics, the reality is that for all of Christendom the use of contraception was, up until 1930, forbidden. It was at this point at the Council of Lambeth, the Anglican church decided that the use of contraception was permissible amongst married couples. Ironically at the previous Council of Lambeth they condemned the use of artificial contraception. It was just a matter of time before virtually every protestant denomination followed suit (I have yet to come across a Protestant church that explicitly and officially condemns the use of contraception).

Two dogmas of the Protestant churches are Luther’s Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura. He would say that we are saved by faith alone and that the Bible is the sole authority. Interestingly there exists some incongruences in the Protestant understanding Scripture. Claiming the Bible as the sole authority, they teach contradictorily with some claiming that they are eternally secure and others claiming that you can lose your salvation; click here for more on this.

In any conversation with a Catholic, Protestants insist that we are saved by faith alone and not by works. When a Catholic makes reference to the teaching authority of the Catholic Church, right away the Protestant responds that the Bible is the sole authority, not Church, not Sacred Tradition.

If Protestants are so willing to cling to Luther’s teaching on Scripture and salvation shouldn’t they also be willing to cling to his teaching on morality as well? Consider Luther’s perspective on the use of contraception:

This 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 to produce semen and excite the woman, and to frustrate her at that very moment. (LW 7.20-21).

This was obviously not something he was even willing to consider.  But why do Protestants not follow this? Was Luther wrong? If he was wrong about this, then maybe he was wrong about Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura as well. If he wasn’t wrong then it would seem reasonable to embrace this teaching as well. Is their anti-Catholicism so strong that only if the Catholic Church were to teach that contraception was permissible would they then say it is not? Or, are they just shopping at the Dogma Cafeteria picking and choosing the teachings personally accept?

It is refreshing to be a part of a Church whose teachings don’t ebb and flow with the tide of political correctness and the appetites of its members. For instance, in response to the Anglican church’s flip flop on the issue, the Catholic Church in the document Casti Conubii wrote:

6. Since, therefore, openly departing from the uninterrupted Christian tradition some recently have judged it possible solemnly to declare another doctrine regarding this question, the Catholic Church, to whom God has entrusted the defense of the integrity and purity of morals, standing erect in the midst of the moral ruin which surrounds her, in order that she may preserve the chastity of the nuptial union from being defiled by this foul stain, raises her voice in token of her divine ambassadorship and through Our mouth proclaims anew: any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin.

The language of the Church sounds far more like that of Luther than the wishy washy Protestant take on the subject.

Later, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it is stated:

2370 Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality.158 These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” is intrinsically evil:

Some might say that the Church needs to get up with the times and condone the use of artificial contraception. There were a group of Pharisees who thought Jesus should ‘get up with the times’ regarding divorce. However, our Lord and Saviour set them straight, stating that they needed to change their hearts and behave like they were intended to in the beginning. I suspect he would do the same today.

It seems then, that for all Christians to be faithful to Scripture and the moral tradition of the Church, the rejection of artificial birth control is a must.



Filed under Apologetics, Ethics & Morality

5 responses to “Martin Luther and Contraception: The Protestant Flip Flop

  1. Eric

    Interesting article, and good points.

    Some protestants, it should be noted, don’t specifically associate themselves with the protestant reformation or Martin Luther. Lineage and inheritance is of little importance to them.

    Some of these same Christians oppose contraception, quoting God’s condemnation of Onan’s act, as well as the command to “be fruitful and multiply”. They believe that the scriptures speak clearly on this issue and that those who don’t see it do not read them with openness to the Holy Spirit.

    Their faith is an individual one, and so they don’t concern themselves with the problem of schisms and misinterpretations. These individuals may, in fact, be guided by the Holy Spirit, or maybe just their own sense of reason.

    However, it should be emphasized that such people don’t necessarily regard Luther, or any other biblical scholars, as authorities.

  2. cfakeley

    I agree that there are some Christians who personally reject the use of contraception, however I have never come across a protestant denomination that formally teaches that contraception is sinful. They always seem to suggest that it is something that is up to the couple. If churches that are claiming to offer the key to salvation and the afterlife, (something that is supernatural), can’t teach correctly on something like contraception, (something that can be explained naturally), then how can they be trusted? If they can’t teach correctly on the natural world how can they be trusted to teach accurately on the supernatural world? If a math teacher can’t do basic math, can he be trusted to teach accurately on algebra?

    I, for one, would not risk my salvation on the teachings of a church like this.

    Although they may not associate with Luther formally, the teachings popularized by him are ones that they cling to (sola fide, sola scriptura).

    As for authority, they typically suggest that the Bible is the authority, but, hidden behind that claim are the words, “my personal interpretation of the Bible is the authority.”

  3. Eric

    Good point. As you summarized, the one teaching from Luther which churches today have unknowingly inherited is the supremacy of Sacred Scripture – though officially the churches as corporate or institutional bodies admit no authority to interpret them, but is, rather, for the individual to interpret.

    The “elephant in the room”, which you’ve described, is the fact that no two individuals interpret scriptures the same way, and that doesn’t seem to bother anyone greatly. The other curiosity is that no protestant denomination seems to ask why the scriptures can be definitely trusted as divinely instituted and infallible, verbatim.

  4. cfakeley

    The greater irony is that there are good, Christian, life begins at conception, pro-life women out there who are on the pill. They don’t know that the birth control pill has the potential to be an abortifacient. Because the woman’s body is tricked into thinking she is pregnant, the lining of the uterus doesn’t form adequately to sustain the life of a newly conceived human. The fertilized egg then attempts to attach to the wall of the uterus only to be flushed out a short time later. They wave their placards in front of the local abortion all the while flushing their own babies down the toilet.

  5. Darya

    Not all protestant or Lutheran denominations allow contraception. The one I grew up in, it was expressly forbidden. That’s why everyone has such large families; sonetimes up to ten or twelve children!

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