Testimony from Our Forefathers on Contraception or “Child Prevention” Part II: Concordia Seminary Professor John H. C. Fritz’s Pastoral Theology

This is part 2 of 4 in the series Testimony from Our Forefathers on Contraception

John H. C. Fritz served as a parish pastor for over 20 years, including two as the president of the Western District of the Missouri Synod, before becoming a professor of church history and pastoral theology at Concordia Seminary St. Louis for 33 years, 1920–1953. He served as dean of the seminary for twenty of those years as well as editor of Der Lutheraner for five.

 

If you would like to read more about Fritz’s life and work, here is what J. T. Mueller wrote in memoriam in the Concordia Theological Monthly and here are articles by Fritz available on the CTSFW Media Page.

 

What Fritz is perhaps best known for today is his Pastoral Theology. Originally published by Concordia Publishing House in 1932, it was used to train generations of Missouri Synod pastors–and to this day many have it on their shelves. Using C. F. W. Walther’s Amerikanisch-Lutherische Pastoraltheologie as the basis of his book, Fritz wished to produce a faithful pastoral theology in the English language and address topics that Walther did not, or only in passing, covered.

 

Here is some of what beloved, long time Concordia Seminary professor, John H. C. Fritz in his Pastoral Theology had to say concerning contraception and “child prevention.”

 

 

Two things a pastor should impress upon married people: (1) that God would bless their marriage with children; (2) that God holds parents responsible for the Christian training of their children…

. . . man has no right arbitrarily or definitely to limit the number of his offspring (birth control), especially not if done with artificial or unnatural means. Genesis 1:28, Psalm 127:3–6, Psalm 128:3–4, Genesis 38:9–10, Romans 1:26–27…

…Birth control, that is, the frustration of conception or the limitation of the number of children by the use of artificial means, by drugs or unnatural practices, is a sin that has become widespread in modern civilization…

…The real reason underlying birth control no doubt is in most cases the desire to be unrestricted in the gratification of the sexual urge without suffering the inconvenience of pregnancy and childbirth and the care of children, which care to a large extent confines the mother to her home.

…The giving and the withholding of children is God’s prerogative which man should not usurp for himself. Accordingly, the use of contraceptives or the coitus interruptus, Genesis 38:9-10, is not in accordance with God’s will and therefore sinful…

…By the unfruitful periods in a woman’s life God Himself has made provision for the prevention of too frequent conception. However, God did not intend that man should use such limitation for the absolute prevention of childbirth nor to permit parents to determine for themselves how many or how few children they will have.

Under circumstances, such as the illness or weakened condition of a wife, a Christian husband will exercise due self-restraint (continence).

Fritz, John H. C. Pastoral Theology; A Handbook of Scriptural Principles Written Especially for Pastors of the Lutheran Church. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1945, p.161-165.

 

About Pastor David Ramirez

Pastor Ramirez is the pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Union Grove, WI. He is a 2008 graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary-Fort Wayne. In 2009, after staying another year at CTS as the Historical Theology Department’s graduate assistant, he was called to Zion Lutheran Church in Lincoln, IL and ordained into the office of the holy ministry. Some of his particular interests are the teaching of Bible History and youth work.

Comments

Testimony from Our Forefathers on Contraception or “Child Prevention” Part II: Concordia Seminary Professor John H. C. Fritz’s Pastoral Theology — 37 Comments

  1. People really need to ask themselves: Did Scripture change? Or did the culture change? Did pastors change their views because they were convinced by Scripture or because the culture led them to read the Bible in a different way?

  2. Even this revised edition of Fritz’s Pastoral Theology is part of the recent history of change in the LCMS on this issue after Margaret Sanger’s “victories” in the 1930s. The original 1932 edition of Fritz’s Pastoral Theology did not speak approvingly of making use of the unfruitful period “for the prevention of too frequent conception.” Instead, there are three pages of notes from Professor Theo. Laetsch that he used in teaching students in Pastoral Theology against birth control.

  3. I find it interesting that there are over a hundred comments on the BJS letter to the Lutheran Witness, but now that there’s undeniable evidence that this has always been the position of the LCMS, hardly anyone is saying anything.

  4. I’ve read the above Bible references cited for this position and have a difficult time seeing how they definitively support his position. I see no definitive Biblical reason to view NFP any differently than other contraceptives from a moral standpoint. I think it’s also valid to ask what practical options were actually available to people historically speaking and whether this influenced the separation between “natural” and “unnatural” methods. Personally I wasn’t going to comment because none of this even begins to address my criticism of the original article. Aside from which, there is a complete lack of agreement even among those who are critical of contraception on whether or not the distinction between NFP and technological methods is valid or whether ALL methods of contraception INCLUDING NFP are immoral which is in fact NOT supported by the above.

  5. @Pastor Andrew Richard #3

    “always been the position . . . ” This seems a bit much.

    While I have no issue with the history of what is being said and its truth, I think it would be difficult today to find an actual statement on what the position of the synod is today regarding birth control. In the recent text from St. Louis “This We Believe” the first line on birth control says, “The LCMS in convention has not officially adopted a position on birth control . . ” I recognize that our theology does not come from convention, but rather from the Word of God. However, we cannot say without question what the position of synod is when the synod recently has stated it has no position.

  6. Thanks for sending that link over. I had read through it previously (years ago), but could not recall that segment. Did I read it correctly to say it can be okay to use contraception if the family is desiring to focus on the “rearing of their children”? Interesting for sure.

  7. @Brady #5

    “Seems a bit much”?

    Really? Find an example before the 1950s of anyone teaching otherwise in confessional Lutheran circles. I’ll wait…

    We don’t need a statement from Synod on something everyone agreed on…it would serve no purpose. Just like how our Confessions don’t have to mention that there shouldn’t be any women pastors.

  8. “I’ll wait” – that’s cute.

    Pretty sure I agreed with you that we don’t need a statement when we have the scriptures. If we agree on it, then why no comment today from St. Louis? Where is it the statement on lcms.org, why publish information today that says ‘no position’

  9. @Brady #7

    I believe the gist of it is that birth control shouldn’t be used from selfish motives:

    Whatever the particular circumstances, Christians dare not take lightly decisions in this area of their life together. They should examine their motives thoroughly and honestly and take care lest their decisions be informed by a desire merely to satisfy selfish interests.

    With respect to voluntary childlessness in general, we should say that while there may be special reasons which would persuade a Christian husband and wife to limit the size of their family, they should remember at all times how easy it is for them simply to permit their union to turn inward and refuse to take up the task of sharing in God’s creative activity. [pg. 20]

  10. @Brady #9

    No one is saying there’s still unanimity. Just that there was, among Lutherans unanimity on this issue prior to 1950. Since Scripture didn’t change, why is it that Lutheran pastors don’t now teach what was universally taught by our grandfathers? Is the shift based on scripture, or based on culture?

    If we’re publishing information that says “no position.” Does that more likely denote clarity, or cowardice?

  11. The first article had 115 responses. These references were included. Why the repetition?

  12. @Rev. Robert Fischer #6

    Key text from page 19 of the 81 document:

    But, in the absence of Scriptural prohibition, there need be no objection to contraception within a marital union which is, as a whole, fruitful. [footnote 25]

    Footnote 25:
    The case of contraception has been the cause of considerable disagreement within Christendom. The position and the problems of the Roman Catholic Church with respect to this matter have been well publicized, though perhaps not well understood. The teaching of Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae itself largely a rearticulation of the traditional Catholic position, is that “each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life” (Humanae Vitae [New York: Paulist Press, 1968, par. 11]). (We might note that technically, an encyclical is not held to be infallible teaching. From the Catholic perspective the pope here speaks, of course. with great authority, but he does not utter infallible teaching.) Catholic teaching recognizes both the relational and the procreative purposes of marriage and affirms that both are to be fulfilled within marriage. Its position on birth control derives from its insistence that no single act of sexual intercourse can seek to enhance one of these purposes (the relational) while deliberately frustrating the realization of the other (the procreative). It is not enough, according to this teaching, for the marital union of husband and wife as a whole to be fruitful. Rather, every act of intercourse must place no artificial impediment in the way of fruitfulness. From what the Scriptures say about the threefold purpose of marriage, we could judge that such a viewpoint isolates the sexual act from its human. personal context and focuses too narrowly on the procreative function apart from the personal context. This is, in fact. a judgment shared by many contemporary Roman Catholic moral theologians.

  13. @Brady #9

    Read the very first comment on this post.

    The reason the Synod can’t speak to it today is that it’s been influenced by the culture and overall has rejected the teaching of Scripture and of our forefathers in the faith. I’m not sure why this is so hard to grasp.

  14. @Richard Lewer #12

    Because we have yet again, a father in the faith understanding Scripture the same way all Christians did before the 1930s. It shows that there was continuity on the understanding of those passages until recently.

  15. @Greg Grose #13

    Yes, there is much that is wrong in that CTCR document. This is what happens when you accept the teachings of the culture over the teachings of Scripture.

  16. @Brady #17

    Fair enough.

    Several pastors have stated that this was never the position of the LCMS. That the LCMS never taught these things. That it was only a Roman Catholic issue (this, by the way, was how Margaret Sanger got the Lutherans and Protestants to shut up and not teach clearly on the issue).

    So, we can at least say that it is the historic position of the LCMS and of all Christians until about the 1930s (LCMS 1950s). And that it has been the position of all those who hold to the Biblical teaching on the issue.

  17. The historic position of the Evangelical Lutheran Church is the position stated by all our fathers in the faith that Scripture prohibits contraception. Anything to the contrary is of modern origin and falls under the category of opinion, not a doctrinal change. Even the 1981 CTCR document is simply the opinion of that board. It was never adopted by the synod in convention as the doctrinal position of the LCMS. Since it has not been changed, the historic biblical position stands, even though it is not known or taught much today. It has, for the most part, been forgotten that this is the teaching of Scripture and of Lutheranism.

  18. @Brady #5

    The official position of Synod is a moot point. Doctrine does not require an official position of Synod.

    Is is a simple fact that, until the first half of the 20th century, Lutherans, including those of the LCMS stripe, believed, taught, confessed, and preached that contraception is a sin.

    Again, that is fact. The appeal to an official Synodical position is a logical fallacy. Lack of an official position does not constitute doctrinal license.

    The doctrine of the Holy Trinity does not require validation by Synodical edict, fiat, resolution, statement by the Synodical president, etc. in order to be true. The inverse likewise.

  19. @Greg Grose #13

    By the same demonic illogic we might also posit that, since the Scriptures do not explicitly forbid female genital mutilation, therefore it is permitted. Or cannibalizing one’s own flesh, etc.

    The Synod sinned twice re the Human Sexuality document. First, by approving of it the first time. Second, by appealing to it in the “defense” of heterosexual marriage at the last Synodical convention.

    Yes, the Synod sins and continues to sin. It is steeped in sexual sin, chiefly because it caved on contraception.

  20. @Robert #20

    Dear Robert,

    You might note that comments from Brady, both #5 and #9, show that he knows our theology comes from the Scripture, not from Synod.

    But this brings up important points:
    * An official position from Synod can be helpful and useful when it affirms what the Bible already teaches.
    * In the absence of an official position from Synod, it does not follow that the Bible has no position, or is silent on an issue.
    * Even if/when the Synod does have an official position, this too must be held up to the Bible to see if said position is faithful to the norm and rule for doctrine.

  21. Our forefathers believed that the earth was the center of the solar system. Luther rejected Copernicus’ theory that the earth revolves around the sun, and LCMS theologian Franz Pieper was still doing so in 1925.*

    *Franz Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, 3 vols., trans. Theodore Engelder et al. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1950), 1:473-474.

  22. @T-rav #25

    I posted precisely where I wanted to post. My purpose was to demonstrate, by the example provided, how the mere existence of a conviction that has been held for a long time by even esteemed theologians is not a substantive argument for that conviction. That point is clearly applicable to the discussion at hand.

  23. So how do you pastors who reject the use of contraceptives actually counsel the couples in your congregation?

    If you truly believe that couples must eschew contraceptives to be faithful to God’s command, then you yourselves, out of love for them and for God, “must obey God rather than men” and counsel accordingly, regardless of the absence of a position by your church body. Yes?

    So have you counseled against contraception in the theological terms presented here? If so, how have the couples who have received such counseling responded?

    And how do you lead by example? Have you had, or do you plan to have, one child every 18 months (more or less) for 10 or 20 years?

  24. @Carl H #26

    Carl wrote, “…the mere existence of a conviction that has been held for a long time by even esteemed theologians is not a substantive argument for that conviction.”

    Exactly. Esteemed Lutheran theologians were not only opposed to heliocentrism but were also opposed to life insurance, dancing, and the theater.

    VI. 4. Cultural isolation is reflected in the synod’s stand on economic and social questions. Life insurance, dancing, and the theater were condemned.

    We need to be careful in our appeal to human convictions as sources of authority.

  25. @Carl H #26

    However, in doing so you also ignored the Scriptural passages given as if its only an appeal to the Lutheran fathers.

    The argument being presented was: Scripture says X, our Lutheran fathers say X in accord with Scripture. If Scripture didn’t change, what did so that we now say Z?

  26. @T-rav #29

    T-rav, the title of these two threads is “Testimony from Our Forefathers on Contraception or ‘Child Prevention'” [emphasis added]. The argument was not “Scripture says X, our Lutheran fathers say X in accord with Scripture.” Rather, the argument seemed to be “Our Lutheran fathers say X, Scripture says X in accord with our Lutheran fathers.”

    What Carl and I are saying is that the cart seemed to put before the horse.

  27. @T-rav #29

    Actually your argument was that the Scriptures must be interpreted according to what theologians in the past said they meant. It is a circular argument.

    Also used was the straw man that if you use contraception at any time you are not “being fruitful and multiplying” No one was disagreeing with God’s command to have children. No one was disagreeing with the Scripture that, in general, having children is a blessing.

    Also, one could consider whether God’s command is a general command or a command to each individual couple. Could it be that some couples are not suitable to be parents?

  28. @Richard Lewer #31

    @Rev. Robert Fischer #30

    Actually, this is part two of a series that was created based on an original contraception post. The original post (letter actually) cites Scripture and no Lutheran fathers.

    This series was created in response to those trying to argue that the idea presented in the original is somehow “a new teaching” when really they serve to call us to repentance much like some are trying to do in regard to living together before marriage, divorce, etc.

    If I’m misunderstanding, (putting the cart before the horse), then I’ve literally misunderstood every post on this topic during the last week (which is possible, but horribly embarrassing).

    But I understand this to be the often Lutheran approach, “Scripture first, then look at other sources to see how the Scripture is understood/interpreted.”

    Sure, appealing to authority can be an informal fallacy, but so can the fallacy fallacy. Many of these articles comments are saying: “This is what Christendom has believed (not just a few theologians). So why have we changed?” Is that not a legitimate question rather than fallacious?

    This kind of ridicule seems to happen more and more whenever anybody cites something not from Scripture. Are we not CONFESSIONAL (not yelling, I just don’t know how to make it italics) Lutherans?

    Again if ALL of this has gone over my head, I apologize for wasting everyone’s time.

  29. In fact, I’m reading through the Apology. Melanchthon keeps citing Scripture and citing the early Church fathers to show that the teaching is not new. If he shouldn’t have done that, we’ve got a problem. I don’t see how it’s any different than these series of articles.

  30. Maybe some of the confusion is that this is actually the third article this topic and most of the Scriptural discussion was carried on in response to the first article.

  31. My point with Carl was that just because the Lutheran forefathers may err in one area doesn’t mean they err in all areas.

    We don’t toss the Catechisms because of what Luther wrote elsewhere.

    Maybe I don’t know my fallacies well enough but post #24 came across to me as a red herring. Hence my not so humorous after all way of trying to point that out.

  32. @Carl H #27

    Yes. I teach and preach against contraception, gently, realizing that this has been taught wrongly for a long time, but I do.

    I am willing to receive all the children God gives to me as wonderful gifts from God. Which is what scripture says they are.

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