Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Off the Cuff - On Biblical Discipline

***Off the Cuff means just that--this post is written off the cuff. There may be references to something I read somewhere or saw somewhere, and I will try to give as many specifics off of the top of my head as possible, but this is not a research paper. If I quote someone, I will cite it. But this is not intended to be a thorough examination of a topic. Rather, a way for me to get some thought rolling from my head and onto paper. Generally my "Off the Cuff" posts will be something that I am currently researching or planning to research more thoroughtly, and I will hopefully post a more thorough "research paper" on the subject when a conclusion is reached.***

This is by NO means a post of guidance for others searching out methods of biblical discipline. Rather, these are some ramblings from when researching other methods of discipline. I just like to put my thoughts on paper, so I'll just ramble here. :)

The methods of discipline that I grew up under are a far cry from the methods of discipline that I want my children to be guided and trained by. There is no need for yelling, abusive-like hitting, name calling, grudge-holding, day-long fighting/arguing, or anything else so extreme. One might say that if there were day-long arguments ensuing between parent and child, that I obviously was being disciplined or trained properly. But I disagree. Arguing and challenging authority was exactly what I was being trained to do, while being disciplined for it at the same time. I also submit that to punish and to train are two different things, and that to discipline and to train, while they often do go hand-in-hand, are not synonymous terms.

I think first, what needs to be determined is the purpose for training. There are numerous books on parenting, each giving a method of disciplining and training a child. But why do we train our children? I'm sure all parenting books written from a "Christian" perspective will claim that their purpose is to help you lead your child to Christ. And afterall, isn't that every Christian parent's ultimate goal? But how many parents think of the word "train"? Don't most think that to punish? Isn't every young parent told by their parents, their peers, their pastor, and even by books that they need to: "Spank that child (more)", "Let that baby cry it out", "Don't be afraid to let them know who's the parent!" How many young parents stop and ask, "What is the purpose of what I am doing to my child?" Do they stop to think, "Am I doing this so that my child does what I want?" Or do they ask themselves, "Is this going to help my child know and understand the love of God?" As Christians, our purpose should be to train our children in the ways of God. With this in mind, I believe our care and training of our children should reflect the way that God cares for and trains us.

Once you've determined your purpose for training, you might better be able to determine your method of discipline. It is important to note that the Bible does not give a fool-proof method of child rearing. So for one method to claim to be the biblical way is dangerous, because the Bible is overly clear on one right way. This leaves it up to the parent, in wisdom and through God's guidance, along with a healthy relationship and knowledge of the child, to decide what is best for the parent, the child, and the family.

Many books, though not said in so many words, conduct a parent to train a child for selfish means. Some parenting books will guide a parent to repeatedly spank or whip child until the child bends to the parent's will immediately upon a command being given. The one example that I have is the book, To Train Up A Child by Michael and Debi Pearl. It has been several months since I began reading their book. (I never finished it because I disagreed with it. But I do plan to go back and finish it for the purpose of research.) I remember a part of his book where he suggests whipping a child until the child has no more breath with which to cry or complain. How anyone can read this and not have warning bells of "this sounds abusive" ringing in their heads baffles me! I believe his methods of parenting to be very selfish. There was another point in his book where he uses an example of a mother telling her children to go play, and even one child had been hurt, the children knew not to come for the mother because that would be disobeying. How selfish of a parent to train a child to not be an inconvenience! And that is exactly what his book guides parents to do. He doesn't say as much, because then a parent wouldn't follow his teaching. We are God's children, and he most certainly does not treat us like we are an inconvenience. And going back to the example of the hurt child, God wants to hear from us. But this child knew that at that moment, her mother didn't want to hear from her. How sad. Pearl suggests in his book that his methods are a necessary key for leading a young child to know God. But just by this one example, how did that parent teach her child the love of God? All that mother has taught her child is that God is a God of convenience and judgment (for judgment would have ensued for that little girl had she disturbed her mother when she had been directed not to.) In my opinion, the Pearl methods show one side of God: judgment.

On a flip side, there is another method of parenting which I have recently been introduced to called Grace Based Discipline (GBD). I have been reading some about this on Gentle Christian Mothers (GCM). I haven't read too much on this site, but it is an anti-spanking philosophy. I know, nearly every Christian reading this just started shaking their heads and saying, "Well, that's not biblical." But I attempted to be open-minded while reading the Pearl's book, and I am attempting to be open-minded while reading through this site. However, while I disagree with the Pearl's method of all-judgment, from what I've read so far on this site, it seems to be a method of all-grace. It almost seems like a totally opposite extreme. But, I'm still not completely ruling it out. God is neither just judgment or just grace. He is both, and I think this needs to be considered when trying to use training to mold our child's character as well as leading our child to Christ.

Another site that was shared with me is I Take Joy. (I confess that I hesitated to look at the sight because the title so closely reflected the name of the Pearl's ministry.) I have enjoyed what I have read so far on this site, but I've only just begun. So far, she seems to be more along my practical, logical way of thinking. Still of a GBD mindset, but her articles at least are written with more common logic and from a less defensive stand point that some of the ones I read on the GCM site.

I know that I've already tuned a lot of people out just by suggesting that spanking may not be biblical, or at least the only or preffered option of discipline and correction. But just remember, these are just the ramblings of a person who is looking and learning. Also remember that just because it's been done before (and just because it's worked in the past) doesn't mean it's right. I believe the Pearl's (or other punitive) method to be pragmatic. One word that I've always remembered for a highschool Bible lesson was pragmatism. The definition our Bible teacher gave us was, "The end does not justify the means." You can lead people to Christ by holding rock concerts and throwing out Bibles, does that make it the right way to go about doing it? Sure, you may be able to lead your child to Christ by whipping them into shape, but where is the love in that? You're not loving the child, and you definitely aren't demonstrating God's love for that child. (I also contend that that child, if he really comes to Christ, has the wrong view of God and His grace.) The next time your child squirms in his seat after you told him to be still, before you take that child over you knee and blister his poor little bum, stop and think about the last time you got distracted from what God had told you to do and how lovingly God guided you back to the way He called you to.


  1. You raise many good points. My father was unsaved and his spankings came from his temper like a flash of a sudden thunderstorm. There was no instruction, no loving and making things right afterward.

    That's one extreme that shows no grace, but on the other hand, I don't think as Christians we can really escape spanking. I'm sure you know the related verses in Proverbs. Hebrews 11:12 says, "Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous" there is something very unpleasant about it.

    For our family, we saved spanking for deliberate, willful acts of disobedience, where we knew they did wrong knowingly. If there was any doubt, we gave them the benefit of the doubt and explained what was wrong. Even when we did spank, which wasn't often, there was much discussion, prayer, and assurance of love.

  2. Barbarah,

    I appreciate your point here, but I think it is a common misunderstanding, and often eisegetically reading spanking into the text to say that chastening = spanking.

    Rather, I think it would be more accurate to look at this text and say, "as a Christian we can't really escape *chastening*." Chastening may include spanking to some people, but it most definitely does not *equal* spanking. And you can chasten without spanking. You can discipline without spanking.