Infertility in the Church

Quite a few couples at the church where I pastor have welcomed newborns into their family over the past few months, and there are more on the way in the coming months. It’s a joyful season as these families and our church community give thanks to God for these children.

But I know that amidst the numerous pregnancies, there are couples mourning because they are struggling to conceive, often after trying for over a year. I know they long to celebrate with their friends, but they also struggle to shake feelings of jealousy, anger, and even bitterness. I remember when my wife and I waited for over a year before she could get pregnant, and it was one of the hardest seasons of my life. Month after month, we experienced hope as my wife analyzed how she was feeling only to experience disappointment once again. And I sense that this struggle is often more difficult for women who can sometimes feel alienated from or betrayed by their own bodies. Perhaps this is part of the curse of Genesis 3:16.

The difficulty of infertility makes thinking carefully about modern treatments especially complicated. Many Christians don’t know that some of the medical capabilities we possess to help couples conceive can entail moral problems with which Christians cannot be comfortable. As a pastor, part of my job is to teach, instruct, and guide people to be faithful in suffering, but sometimes, by the time we hear a couple is struggling with infertility, steps are already being taken that are morally problematic.

I can’t and shouldn’t try to tackle all of these in a blog post, but today I came across a helpful little video on The Gospel Coalition blog of a discussion with bioethicist Dr. Megan Best on infertility (find her book on the subject here). I think it’s a helpful video for those struggling with infertility and all of us seeking to care for and walk with the heartbroken in our midst.

I remember that while my wife and I struggled with infertility, I found hope in God’s promise to barren Israel in Isaiah 54:1-3 and to eunuchs in Isaiah 56:4-5 (ESV):

[54:1] “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear;
break forth into singing and cry aloud,
you who have not been in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
than the children of her who is married,” says the LORD.
[2] “Enlarge the place of your tent,
and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;
do not hold back; lengthen your cords
and strengthen your stakes.
[3] For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left,
and your offspring will possess the nations
and will people the desolate cities.

[56:4] For thus says the LORD:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
[5] I will give in my house and within my walls
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.

These verses don’t magically make infertility easy, but they do point us to the faithfulness of God to bring comfort to those who mourn and to bring greater joy to those who persevere in the midst of disappointment.

You can find the blog post on TGC here.

On the Necessity and Importance of Church Membership

Recently, I observed many of my fellow Christians expressing serious frustration and embarrassment on social media regarding a number of public figures (one in particular trumps them all) who self-identify as Christians. To many of my friends, the words and actions of these famous persons who claim a Christian identity not only seem out of step with the Christian faith but bring ridicule and shame upon the Church. My fellow Christians did all they could to signal to others that these people don’t represent Christianity.

This frustration and embarrassment is understandable, but it’s a necessary symptom of ignoring the importance of church membership as most American churches, pastors, and Christians have done. In other words, if we deny the importance of church membership and if we accept the claim that a person can be a Christian and part of the “invisible church” without covenanting with a local body of believers under proper biblical government, then there will always be individuals out there who claim to represent the Christian faith who will deny core doctrines and embrace behaviors out of step with Christ’s kingdom, and we won’t have any basis to deny it.

My point here is this: If you are embarrassed by people who refuse to live repentantly and yet still claim to be Christians, then become a member of a church where church discipline and real membership is practiced. If you float from church to church, if you attend a huge church where there is no possible way pastors can know the sheep and watch over them in any meaningful way, if you are a member of a church that keeps people on its rolls that haven’t been around in years, if your church doesn’t practice restorative discipline, then you are part of the problem and the reason why we will continue to be embarrassed by famous people claiming to represent Christ who will be believed by the world. However, if all of us start taking church membership and discipline seriously, we’ll simply be able to ask such persons, “To which church do you belong? To whom are you accountable?”

When asked if he is a Christian, the famous Neo-Anabaptist theologian from Duke Divinity School, Stanley Hauerwas, has said many times something like this in response: “My friends tell me that I am.” His point in answering this way is to refuse to claim authority as an individual to self-identify with Christ. Hauerwas is getting at the idea that Jesus has given authority to the church to recognize who belongs to him. There is a sense in which none of us has the right to claim to be a Christian apart from baptism and membership in a particular body under biblical lawful government.

With that in mind, here are 6 basic biblical arguments borrowed and summarized from How Jesus Runs the Church by Guy Waters on why Christians must join a church.

  1. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) requires that we baptize people into communities where they continue to learn to obey all Jesus commanded.
  2. Many New Testament commands assume and require membership in a particular and defined church body in order to be obeyed, particularly those “one another commands” and those calling Christians to respect, submit to, and esteem those “over you.”
  3. The teaching of Jesus and Paul on church discipline in which the unrepentant are set outside the community assumes church membership.
  4. The practice of the Lord’s Table requires a concrete and particular fellowship to be a meaningful practice where those who have professed Christ are welcomed.
  5. Many passages in the New Testament, like Ephesians 4, speak collectively of spiritual growth. The body of Christ is to grow up together as members are joined to one another.
  6. Elders are given responsibility before God for a particular group of Christians under their care.