May a Christian married couple practice birth control?

I presume you mean artificial methods of birth control. That's one of those issues in Christian ethics where there is serious division in the history of the church. The Roman Catholic Church has taken a very dim view of artificial birth control. Papal encyclicals as recently as the last decade have reinforced the Roman Catholic prohibition of artificial means of birth control on theological grounds.

Protestantism has permitted various types of birth control. Some theologians and denominations allow for the use of almost any kind of artificial birth control, while others draw a line between those that are contraceptive and those that are in fact abortive. Certain varieties of IUDs have been discovered to be not so much contraceptive as abortive inasmuch as they destroy the fertilized egg. That has created an ethical crisis among Protestants who are profoundly opposed to abortion of any type.

The basic issue between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism has focused on what is the legitimate use of sexual intercourse within marriage. Historically, Rome has taken the position that the goal of sexual intercourse and the justification for the sexual act is procreation. So anything that artificially prevents the possibility of procreation changes the intended purpose of the sexual relationship, making it an unnatural type of act.

Protestants, on the other hand, have tended to include in the legitimate use of sex between married people the simple pleasure of the enjoyment of the sexual relationship—the intimacy it brings and the fact that we are physically composed in such a way that sexual intercourse is by natural design pleasurable. Theoretically, God could have invented sex in such a way that it wasn't pleasurable but merely a biological function necessary for reproduction. So, some are saying that we have the right to carry out the mandate of creation, to have dominion over the earth, and if we can plan our families through this, then it's all right. But even among certain conservative Protestants, there are those who raise a question at this level: Is artificial birth control against nature? Does it violate natural law by bringing into the sexual relationship a hindrance to the full expression of it? It's for that reason that many Protestants say that artificial birth control is wrong.

© 1996 by R.C. Sproul. Used by permission of Tyndale.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. ©1982 by Thomas Nelson.
Used by permission. All rights reserved.