One of the quirks of being a Christian minister associated with an historic building like St Michael’s Wollongong is that I end up officiating at a lot of weddings. However I recently attended a wedding as a guest with no official capacity. It was full of joy and wonderful testimonies to the grace and love of God through his Son Jesus. But I noticed something strange: throughout the wedding, from the processional to the final speech at the reception, no mention was made of children at all. Not once.
Now I don’t think this omission was deliberate. I have no reason to think that the couple are averse to having children, nor that the minister in charge of the service tried to leave out any reference to them. I think it was just an oversight in the wedding planning process. Furthermore, the reason that I noticed it is not because I’m particularly astute or virtuous; rather, it’s because I’m an Anglican minister who has done lots of weddings, and I am required by denominational laws to raise the subject of children at every wedding I perform.
The Book of Common Prayer mentions children twice. The introduction to the wedding states that the growth of godly offspring is one of God’s purposes for marriage. Later in the service, the prayer book explicitly encourages prayer that the couple might enjoy God’s blessing of children.
In hindsight, as I reflect more on the biblical teaching, it seems to me that the Book of Common Prayer is spot-on, and the fact that children were not mentioned at all in the wedding I attended was a serious oversight. In the Bible, children are always seen as a blessing from the Lord, and childlessness in marriage is always a cause of grief. The command in Genesis 1:28 is just the beginning of a consistent biblical theme: marriage is for children, God loves children, and God’s people are to reflect God’s attitude:
And God blessed them [i.e. man as male and female]. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen 1:28)
I’m not talking here about the details of family planning and contraception; I accept that different families will have different capacities, timings and situations. Nevertheless, the consistent biblical teaching is that marriages should have a warm and welcoming attitude to children, for this is one of the primary purposes of a marriage. It follows that in a wedding ceremony, the bearing of children should not simply be assumed, but should be given a prominent and explicit place.
It has become an accepted argument in recent times among some Christians that today’s world is different from biblical times, and that the world is so overpopulated now that the second part of God’s command in Genesis 1:28 (to “have dominion”) actually negates the first (to “multiply”). We have come to a point where there are simply too many people in the world, and any more ‘filling’ will mean that we aren’t taking care of the world properly. We have already completed our obedience to God’s command to “fill” the earth; now we can stop procreating.
However, it’s not really true that overpopulation itself is causing the strain on the earth’s resources. What is causing this strain is a much more basic problem—a problem that Francis Schaeffer identified way back in the 1960s, and a problem which the Bible talks about again and again: human greed (e.g. Exod 20:17, Rom 1:29, Jas 4:2-3). It’s not that there are too many people, it’s that certain people (especially in the West) are insatiably consuming more and more resources. Think of the majority of Australian households. We happily use up oil to get ourselves around more conveniently. We utilize more and more land almost without thinking; fewer and fewer people are now living in bigger and bigger houses. And, of course, there are the extra costs in electricity for heating and lighting. The strain on the earth’s resources would be stopped overnight if we all became content with what we had, and were happy to live with larger families under one roof.
Food resources provide another example. To quote a statistic I heard recently, there are now more obese and overweight people in the world than there are malnourished people. (That includes countries such as China.) That statistic means that there is more than enough food for everybody many times over. It’s just that it’s not being distributed properly—because of corruption and greed. Overpopulation isn’t the problem; it’s the age-old problem of greed.
In fact, I reckon a better way for western Christians to combat the problems that are so often blamed on overpopulation would be to have more children—providing that they are committed to seeing that all of their children are “Christianly and virtuously brought up”. For if this happens, there will be more and more people who have been brought up to be less greedy, more patient and more generous, to use less resources, and therefore to effect a good and lasting change in our world.
The Bible teaches that marriage is good, and that one of the indispensable reasons for marriage is children. So if you notice references to children being marginalized or omitted at a Christian wedding in your church, perhaps you could have a quiet word with your minister and politely ask them why.