Testimony from Our Forefathers on Contraception or “Child Prevention” Introduction and Part I: Concordia Cyclopedia

This is part 1 of 4 in the series Testimony from Our Forefathers on Contraception

There has been quite a blustery reaction to the letter sent to the Lutheran Witness that was posted on BJS last Tuesday. The letter, authored by Pr. Mike Grieve and signed by a group of pastors, myself included, expressed great disappointment that the issue of contraception, or the purposeful limiting of children, was not included in the recent “Life Issue” of the Lutheran Witness.

[Letter to the Lutheran Witness: https://steadfastlutherans.org/2017/05/rejecting-gods-gift-of-children/]


Regardless of one’s awareness of the historical facts, the Lutheran Church, as well as the entire Christian Church previous to a mere 87 years ago, had a united position on contraception or “child prevention”. The entire Old Testament and the New Testament Church until 1930 condemned contraception as unbiblical and a sin against God. A pastor who asserts otherwise–that this is not, in fact, the case or that the conversation is somehow “not Lutheran”–is at best uneducated on the matter, at worst a liar, but most certainly ignorant of an unquestionable fact that is not debated by any church historian.


Of late, there has been a growing awareness in the Synod concerning the importance of the issue of contraception. More discussions have been taking place among families and pastors. Papers, books, and presentations on the topic have been fruitful and multiplied. The Synod is discussing this and will continue to discuss it. The tragedy which the letter was trying to alert the Lutheran Witness of was that of an opportunity missed. This was an obvious time and forum in which to address contraception and begin a broader discussion in the Synod.


And “child prevention” must be addressed. Yes, with sensitivity to the fact that it has not been widely discussed, taught, or preached about in recent decades. But we must talk about it. For one, the Scriptures are clear that to purposefully prevent God’s blessing of children is a sin that God condemns. Secondly, this willful separation of what God has joined together–the physical union of man and woman from the conception of children–was clearly spoken against and rejected by all our forefathers in the faith until a mere handful of decades ago.


There are several compilations of resources to study and read up on the scriptural, historical, pastoral, and personal aspects of this topic. One very helpful and handy list of resources can be found here.


The Christian Church, and our Synod in particular, enjoyed for thousands of years incredible unity in teaching and spirit on this matter. Christians were encouraged and were encouraging one another by the Word of God to faithfully believe and act according to the Scriptures that children are indeed a blessing from the Lord Himself.


Many of the Early Church, Medieval, and Lutheran Church Fathers explicitly spoke to this issue. For example, Clement of Alexandria, Hippolytus, Lactantius, Epiphanius of Salamis, Augustine, Chrysostom, Jerome, Caeserius of Arles, Martin Luther, Martin Chemnitz, and Jakob Andrae all rejected contraception, not to mention the chief non-Lutheran Protestant theologians such as John Calvin and John Wesley.


In the Missouri Synod, our founders and fathers stood as an unbroken wall against contraception and “child prevention”. Not only can one see this in the writing of men such as C.F.W. Walther, Franz Pieper, P.E. Kretzmann, John H. C. Fritz, and Walter A. Maier, but also in the official resources of the Missouri Synod–the Concordia Pulpit, The Lutheran Witness, the Concordia Cycolpedia, etc.


The fact which should cause one to pause and critically evaluate the modern attitude and antipathy toward children is this: In America and around the world, the entire Christian Church, Lutheran and non-Lutheran bodies, all rejected contraception as unbiblical until 1930 when the Episcopal/Anglican Church changed its position. (The church, as has been noted, that began in divorce and is ending in sodomy.)


Perhaps a good place to start our catalog of testimonies is a quote close to home. Below is the entry on Birth Control from the Concordia Cycolpedia. The Concordia Cyclopedia was produced by the Missouri Synod and published by Concordia Publishing House in 1927. The editors were Paul E. Kretzmann, Ludwig Fuerbringer, and Theodore Engelder, all long-time professors of Concordia Seminary St. Louis.


Birth Control. A movement to limit the number of offspring by preventing conception or by legalizing abortion, chiefly by the use of artificial means , by medicines, and by unnatural practises. In modern times this movement goes back to Thomas Robert Malthus, an English political economist, whose Essay on the Principles of Population, 1798, was founded on the hypothesis that population increases in a geometrical, while provisions increase only in an arithmetical ratio.

Although this theory is not borne out by the facts of history, the idea was accepted with alacrity, and the Malthusian League has been very active since 1877. The movement has now embodied certain practical features and is known as Neo-Malthusianism, with many adherents in the various civilized countries. In America the propaganda has been carried on with such energy that the Sixth International Neo-Malthusian and Birth Control Conference was held in New York, with social workers, medical men, and political economists from America, England, Austria, India, China, and a dozen other countries in attendance.

The president of the American Birth Control League is Mrs. Margaret Sanger, and she and several of her associates also edit a periodical in the interest of their theories. – The Bible very emphatically does not sanction movements of this kind. Ps. 127, 3-5; Ps. 128, 3; 1 Tim. 2, 15; 5, 14, and other passages are in force today as they ever were. One of the objects of marriage is the procreation of children, and this cannot be set aside by the whim or by the selfishness of men.

In a Christian home, husband and wife will live together according to knowledge, 1 Pet. 3, 7, and each one will possess his vessel in sanctification and honor, 1 Thess. 4, 4. In the case of illness and by the advice of a competent physician, total continence may be practised, but beyond this Christians may not go, especially in advocating the murder of unborn children, for that is what abortion amounts to. Christians must consistently oppose the sinful and destructive character of the modern theory and become more and more conscious of the grandeur and prerogative of marriage and of offspring in marriage. See also Sexual Life. 

Fuerbringer, L., Th. Engelder, and P. E. Kretzmann, eds. The Concordia Cyclopedia. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1927, p. 84.


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.


Testimony from Our Forefathers on Contraception or “Child Prevention” Introduction and Part I: Concordia Cyclopedia — 21 Comments

  1. “Total continence may be practiced.” Clearly contrary to clear Scripture by the Apostle Paul.

  2. One way our minds manifest the corruption of sin is in how quickly and easily we forget. Thank you, Pastor Ramirez, for the reminder.

  3. Pastor Lewer, if it is “clearly contrary to clear Scripture”, why did it take two millennia for the church to realize it was interpreting Scripture wrong on this important point? Until 1930, all of Christianity was united in the belief that total continence was the only acceptable recourse a couple had in difficult circumstances. Are you sure you want to say that in difficult circumstances (such as a wife with a severe illness) that it is contrary to Scripture for them to practice total continence?

  4. @Erich Heidenreich #5

    Unfortunately the situation you describe seems to fit the category of “unable to perform duties/vows.” But continence must be preferable to divorce, in the Lord’s eyes.

  5. I am very heartened to see this article. Pastor Ramirez, I expect that you are going to encounter a Scheiße Sturm of opposition. Embracing contraception seems to me to be one of those changes of synodical teaching that nobody remembers happening, so it’s always been this way, so it must be right. I am reminded that I have two axes to grind, not just one, though they are tied together via american feminism.

    Many years ago, when my wife and I were hoping to conceive (we ended up adopting), I subscribed to what was thought to be a very conservative and traditional email list for home schoolers. I made some comments critical of contraception (even back then the unintended abortifacient side-effects were a topic) and encountered a surprising storm of my own. It was venal enough that I concluded that I had accidentally tweaked some consciences.

  6. When we ask for the top-notch theological work that led to a teaching and practice (doctrine?) change like this, and for the synodical statement of repentance for being wrong (with the entire church on earth) on the issue, we don’t find much.

  7. Great Post Pr. Ramirez. I’m particularly excited about the fact that it says, “This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Testimony from Our Forefathers on Contraception.”

    Here’s hoping that second ‘one’ changes soon.

  8. Sadly, the roll of the otherwise orthodox Dr. Alfred Rehewinkel in aggressively promoting Planned Parenthood in the Missouri Synod is quite incomprehensible and extremely disturbing.

  9. @Rev. Kevin Vogts #14

    Sadly, the roll of the otherwise orthodox Dr. Alfred Rehewinkel in aggressively promoting Planned Parenthood in the Missouri Synod is quite incomprehensible and extremely disturbing.

    I suppose he married the idea!

  10. >>I suppose he married the idea!

    That is often assumed, because his wife was a physician. Though I have not extensively studied the history, I don’t believe he cites her as an influence in this regard. It rather seems he himself had an early, cult-like adoration for Margaret Sanger, which in turn stemmed from an enthusiastic embrace of eugenics. It is inexplicable to me that a man who wrote so strongly against both evolution and the Hegelian dialectic, in the form of Communism, embraced a movement squarely based upon both. It is an outright atheistic lacuna in an otherwise admirably orthodox curriculum vitae.

  11. Thank you for the interesting article, Dr. Heidenreich. However, while she may have had some influence, I still put the onus squarely on him, as both the head of their relationship and a very well informed theologian. Even if he allowed himself to be influenced and manipulated by her, it is still his failure, as both a husband and pastor. But I suspect in this area he didn’t need much influencing or manipulating. It seems to me his position is based more on he himself falling under the spell of the “science” of eugenics, which a lot of intelligent people were suckered into in the early 20th century.

  12. Not sure what to make of the references to Malthus. Out of love for people and for the truth, let us reject any insinuation that every couple’s interest in using contraceptives reflects the influence of a centuries-old Malthusian concern about the planet’s carrying capacity.

    And let us not not harbor judgment about any couple that, in good conscience, has used contraception to limit their family size on account of a reasonable assessment of their health, their resources, the risk of birth defects, and the needs of any children they already have. For even in matters of the Kingdom, Jesus himself depicted as exemplary an assessment of one’s resources before setting out to reach a goal. (Luke 14:25-33) And whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. (Romans 14:23)

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