Procreation and the Nurture of Children
Marriage is purpose-driven, that is to say, driven by God’s design from the beginning. After the majestic words introducing the origins of marriage, there follows a statement of its “causes” or purposes.
The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind was ordained by God: for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord; for their mutual joy, and for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and to maintain purity, so that husbands and wives, with all the household of God, might serve as holy and undefiled members of the Body of Christ; and for the upbuilding of his kingdom in family, church, and society, to the praise of his holy Name.
We can summarize these purposes simply:
- Bearing and raising children – and grandchildren, I might add
- Loving one’s husband or wife for life through thick and thin
- Channeling sexual desire toward one person only
- Serving God’s greater purposes by keeping one’s vows
The purposes are not numbered. They do not represent a descending or ascending set of values. Rather, they are like facets of a jewel, each with its own luster.
The first purpose mentioned, in the Bible and the liturgy, is the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord.
In procreation, God invites a man and a woman to participate in a miracle, the ongoing miracle of God’s creation. When two bodies come together, it is for a moment of pleasure and then they separate; when a child is conceived, a new body and soul come to be, with equal DNA from each parent, and this child will someday pass on that genetic heritage to another generation. The embryo encodes this surprise: the child is either male or female (with the XY or XX chromosome). Hence the exclamation at birth: “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!”
The sexual union of husband and wife necessarily entails the possibility of conception and birth of children. While the Anglican church does not teach that every sex act must be equally “open to reproduction” – that is Roman Catholic teaching – it does say that marital sex is inherently procreative and that abortion is immoral and contraception is acceptable only in family planning and not in family prevention.
Later in the marriage service, the congregation prays: “Bestow upon them, if it be your will, the gift and heritage of children, and the grace to bring them up to know you, to love you, and to serve you.” Children are a spiritual and generational gift to husband and wife, to be received with joy and gladness. They are also a burden and risk, calling for sacrifice of time, effort and even untimely death. It is a sad sign of our Western decadence when couples conclude that the burden and risk outweigh the joy and terminate a pregnancy in the womb.
While having children is God’s general mandate, the Bible affirms that there is a divine mystery to conception, such that some couples experience difficulty or inability to conceive and others experience surprise bundles of joy. There may also be rare cases where for reasons of age, medical condition, or special vocation a couple choose to remain childless or to adopt.
The procreative purpose is only half-baked without the education of children and young people. The Bible makes clear the need to “train up a child in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:9). Parents and godparents, and indeed the whole congregation, promise in baptism to see that the child is brought up in the Christian faith and life. Hence Christian formation and education is an essential responsibility of the family and the church and is especially relevant in a society where skepticism and overt anti-Christian views are found in schools and the media. For this reason, many Christians in the West are considering private or home-schooling alternatives or supplemental catechetical programs.
While godly children are a blessing, the same is true for godly parents. So St. Paul instructs the children: “‘Honour your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land’” (Eph 6:2).
Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways! You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD. The LORD bless you from Zion! May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life! May you see your children's children! Peace be upon Israel!