Friday, March 23, 2007

Love-Based Discipline

Love-Based Discipline
a Scriptural Alternative to
Grace-Based Parenting

There is a movement afoot in some circles (circles that call themselves Christian) that refers to itself as "Grace-Based Parenting." This movement is evil for at least four major reasons: it perpetuates a confused view of grace, it prohibits what God commands, it adopts modernism over Scripture, and it implicitly calls God's Holiness into question.

The view of grace in "Grace Based Parenting" movement is a typical anti-Calvinist view of grace. It disassociates favor from the basis for bestowing the favor. As a result, it condemns Biblical forms of discipline (e.g. chastening and rebuke).

The error seems to spring from an unscriptural world-view in which God is portrayed as an omnibenevolent Santa-Claus who begrudgingly and with tears flowing down His cheeks punishes those who force Him to do so.

When you look to what Old Testament believers thought Scriptural discipline was, you'll see what was practiced among the Puritans. Check out, for example, Sirach 30:1-13 (in the King James Version or Geneva Bible, some of the other versions number differently). It's not the Bible, but it is a good historical view of the sense of Proverbs' child-rearing instructions that was held by historical believers.

Praise be that our Father is not loathe to chasten us!

What I propose as an alternative to so-called GBP is love-based discipline. Love-based discipline includes nipping the seed of wickedness in the bud. When a child disobeys, the child is punished. The severity of the disobedience dictates the severity of the punishment. The punishment should not be overly austere, but it should be physical and it should be unpleasant. It should not be disfiguring. As a child grows in understanding, a word of rebuke may be sufficient, but it would be foolishness to treat infants as though they are wise. Care should be taken to impose such physical instruction out of love for the child, not out of anger at the personal offense caused by the disobedience. When possible, the physical instruction should be performed by the father. Because Scripture is clear that parents are to love their children, and because Scripture is clear that physical instruction is to be an expression of that love, loved-based discipline should - in its generalities - bind the conscience, and is an appropriate basis upon which to judge whether a man, a father, is qualified for the office of bishop/elder or for the office of deacon.

1 Timothy 3:5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)

Now, let us examine the four great evils of GBP.

I. GBP Confuses Grace

GBP issues from an anti-Calvinist view of grace. Note that I do not mean to suggest that the people involved are themselves all anti-Calvinists. I means that the so-called "Grace-based Parenting" movement springs from that mindset.

The grace of God restrains the wickedness of man, and it does so using both external and internal means. The outward and ordinary means is by which the grace of God restrains the wickedness of men is fear of punishment, as taught by Romans 13:3.

Furthermore, it is not God's love per se that changes the heart: but God's regeneration.

Nevertheless, when we sin God chastens us. Paul tells us so.

Some GBP supporters claim that they are modelling God's grace, revealed in the New Testament. This is mistaken. God's grace is based on Jesus being beaten (and ultimately killed) in our place. Unless a GBP supporter is planning on receiving beatings in the place of their child, they cannot accurately model God's grace for them.

I bring up the crucifixion, because God's grace is without cost to us, but it is not free to God. Grace is on the basis of the agency and instrumentality of Christ ("in Christ" as Ephesians 1 puts it). Someone suggested that we are to model God's grace: but I doubt that they meant they will punish their first born child for the errors of all of their after-adopted children, or bear the sins of their children for the children (as Christ suffered and died in our place "for us").

Furthermore, it should be noted that it is because of the crucifixion that God treats us like children: with love spanking us - not for his own gratification or for the redemption of sins, but for our benefit and sanctification. After all, exercise of the rod teaches obedience to the fifth commandment, as Scripture teaches in Hebrews 12:9.

Indeed, a proper model of Christ's work must include the substitution of a victim for the sinner.

One GBP supporter wrote:

I don’t know what you believe, but I believe that Christ’s work on the cross paid the price for all those whom God has chosen to be his children. To even suggest that my children’s sins need to be punished when Christ has already atoned for them is heresy.

This GBP supporter is mixing the metaphor/simile. If they are modeling God's grace, they are God and their child is the sinner, but (in Isaac's words) where is the lamb? We both know the lamb is Christ, but there is no analogy to the Lamb of God in the GBP model.

My point is that they are not modeling God's grace - they are imatating the favourable treatment God gives to those whose sins are covered (which is only one part of the whole picture).

Furthermore, God still disciplines his children (even as he chastened the elect nation of Israel in the Old Testament) for their sanctification, as Paul clearly teaches. Whether we refer to that as punishment or discipline may be an important distinction, but call it whatever you like, it includes chastening/scourging according to Paul. It is not for God's satisfaction - He is satisfied by Christ's work - but for our benefit. If we want to model the grace of God, we can do so by following His example of chastening/scourging the children we love. That is why I refer to loving discipline that includes, when appropriate and as appropriate, both rebuke and chastisement.

If you check out the commentaries of John Gill and Matthew Henry (both of whose writings are freely available), I think you'll find that argue that the way grace is taught is by the law (i.e. the rod teaches children their need of grace, and is a means of grace toward them): we receive punishment for doing wrong, and it helps us recognize our depraved condition, our inability to satisfy divine justice, and our need for a Savior.

Furthermore, covenant children, as part of the visible church, ought to receive loving discipline, which is one of the blessing of the covenant.

Based on the covenant, one may have hope for one's children's salvation. Nevertheless, one must recognize that one's own faith is no absolute guarantee that one's physical children are numbered among the 144,000 (look at Abraham).

Surely the GBP supporter must have meant something else by their comment regarding whether their children have Christ as Redeemer. I am also confident that they would not charge me with heresy for suggesting that anyone who is not trusting in Christ alone for salvation should be in fear of hellfire on account of their unjustified state.

GBP Prohibits What God Commands
Also note, that I trust that the Reformed folk reading are involved are capable of reading the various Scriptural instructions on the topic of child-rearing. I have yet to see any Reformed exegete arrive at some other view than that chastening and rebuke are mandatory aspects of loving parenting.

Indeed, if fathers do not chasten/scourge their children, they are acting as though those children have some other father. This is reasonably inferred from Paul's comments. Those children are being denied the full blessings of the covenant.

Some GBP supporters make a cultural objection. These objectors seem to suggest that the "rod" comment in Proverbs may be culture-bound. However, they also typically recognize that spanking is part of our culture today (after all, that's why their movement exists, to spread what they like to term "positive discipline") . Thus, their culture-bound argument fails at its core.

In another sense, though, they may be right. I doubt many would suggest that Proverbs means we must use a rod as the implement and that - say - a belt, wooden spoon, or open hand is inappropriate; just as most would likely permit the Japanese to greet each other with a Holy bow, and us with Holy handshakes (and increasingly, I've noticed, hugs). The accidents may change, but the concept of unpleasant (to the recipient) corporal discipline remains the same.

Another GBP support noted that Islam supports bodily discipline and even discusses it at great lengths. One would assume that any Reformed person would understand that spanking is not made wrong because it is practiced (to an extreme) by some Muslims any more than that modesty is made wrong because it is practiced (to an extreme) by some Muslims.

That is not to say that the only aspect of discipline is physical instruction. If the reader comes away thinking that my position is discipline = spanking (i.e. that there is nothing else to discipline except spanking), it is only because I am responding to the error of GBP that excludes spanking from discipline. If one reads more carefully, one will see that I include other things, such as rebuke, in discipline. Furthermore, though I do not discuss it at length here, there is a priori instruction that is part of discipline. Nevertheless, the departure from orthodoxy that GBP presents is the denial that spanking is part of discipline.

GBP Is Modernism not Adherence to Scripture
I openly challenge any GBP advocate to provide either (a) anyone who viewed the Scripture this way more than 150 years ago, or (b) a consistent exegesis of Scripture that arrives at the GBP view from Scripture, instead of attempting (as a few web sites do) to impose the concept on Scripture.

One supporter of GBP wrote:"I also disagree with your assumption that spanking is a Biblical norm. A modern American Christian cultural norm, but not a Biblical one."

It's not, however, an assumption. There are some rather explicit instructions in Scripture, as virtually all GBP supporters know.

Furthermore, there is nothing "modern" about spanking. As I pointed out, we can confirm from Sirach that those passages were historically taken at face value (i.e. beat with a rod means spank). We can also readily confirm the practice of such discipline in the NT in Paul's writings. We can also see it in the "common law" era of England (post-Runnymeade). I'm abundantly confident that a study of medieval history would turn up the same results in the interim.

Nevertheless, my challenge for the GBP is to find a full Scriptural exegesis for bucking the traditional view of Proverbs 23:13-14.

Just because all believers everywhere for the past 2500+ years (it's a little hard to date Sirach - it claims to be written about one generation after Solomon = 27 generations before Christ) have viewed Proverbs 23 one way does not make it right. Scripture, not tradition, should be our guide.

So far, though, I haven't seen any reason to depart from the teachings of Reformed notables, such as Gill and Henry who view Proverbs 23 in the traditional way, or from Calvin who calls spanking the "common practice of men."

I'm frankly not aware of any Christian author from more than 100 years ago (Reformed or Arminian) who had a different view than that corporal discipline is proper, but should not be done in unrighteous anger, with undue violence, or in an excessively austere manner. If you respect Calvin, I can point you to Calvin. If you respect Wesley, I can point you to Wesley. Name me a respected theologian (even one whose soteriology is a bit out of whack) who has been dead for at least 100 years, and I am confident that I can show you that - if he treated the subject - he did not forbid spanking or stern rebuke.

I challenge anyone who supports the "Grace Based Parenting" movement to show that it is not a modern phenomenon.

Yes, Scripture must be our authorative source of knowledge. Nevertheless, I challenge the GBP movement to show whether there are any Reformed theologians (even today, and even marginally reformed) who support the Grace-Based-Parenting movement with any kind of Scriptural exegesis that I could evaluate and respond to.

Some objectors will point to a discussion by Charles Hodge regarding grace as alleged support for the GBP movement. The typically cited portions of CH do not make any mention of spanking. Furthermore, in CH's Systematic Theology, discussing the fifth commandment, CH points out that capital punishment for disobedient children is no longer required. This would be the perfect place for CH to mention that the historical practice of spanking was also no longer required and/or contrary to New Testament principles. Nothing of the kind can be found.

Nevertheless, we are not left only with an argument from CH's silence. In discussing punishment in his Systematic Theology, CH writes:

It is of course to be admitted, that the good of the offender is often the ground or reason why evil is inflicted. A father chastises a child in love, and for its good. And God, our heavenly Father, brings suffering upon his children for their edification. But evil inflicted for the benefit of the sufferer, is chastisement, and not punishment. Punishment, properly speaking, is evil inflicted in satisfaction of justice.

And in the section on the general offer of the gospel, CH writes:

God pities even the wicked whom He condemns, as afather pities the disobedient child whom he chastises. And as the father can truthfully and with a full heart say that he delights not in the sufferings of his child, so our Father in heaven can say, that He delights not in the death of the wicked.

Hodge speaks for himself and he is right on the money, fully on board with God-honoring love-based parenting. Far from endorsing the GBP rejection of spanking, Hodge maintains the orthodox position that chastening is an essential part of discipline. Hodge does mention other aspects of parenting, but his words should not be wrested from their original sense in attempt to back an innovative departure from orthodoxy.

Some objectors have even claims that the Westminster standards are opposed to physical instruction of children. The Westminster Larger Catechism, however, is pretty clearly pro-chastisement with the question/answer pair 129:

Question 129: What is required of superiors towards their inferiors?

Answer: It is required of superiors, according to that power they receive from God, and that relation wherein they stand, to love, pray for, and bless their inferiors; to instruct, counsel, and admonish them; countenancing, commending, and rewarding such as do well; and discountenancing, reproving, and chastising such as do ill; protecting, and providing for them all things necessary for soul and body: and by grave, wise, holy, and exemplary carriage, to procure glory to God, honor to themselves, and so to preserve that authority which God has put upon them.

Some have apparently disagreed that "chastisement = spanking" in the WLC. Unless such a person means only that there is not a precise identity relationship between the two terms (which is a trivial point), such disagreement is not founded on an historical understanding of the document.

One objector wrote:

What I am trying to say is that just because someone chooses not to use physical punishment or possibility any punishment at all does not necessarily mean that they do not *discipline* *chastise* *correct* *rebuke* *train* or whatever word you want to use.

I respond:

"Chastise" can only still be achieved using some kind of figure of speech, along the lines of "When Tom came back from chasing the chickens around the yard, his mom gave the little rascal a tongue-lashing." No one imagines the mom actually applying her tongue to Tom's back.

Nevertheless, that figurative sense of "chastise" needs to be recognized as figurative. As for the others, yes, there are other wrenches in the tool kits of discipline, correction, and training. Using "rebuke" for physical instruction would seem to be a figurative use in the opposite direction (and not one that I've ever seen).

The objector continued:

Those words are not synonymous with punishment.

I respond:

My point is that godly admonition has a physical component, and that if we omit that component we are not loving our children, but hating them.

The objector further stated:

I am not even trying to say that there is never a time for punishment, maybe even physical punishment but punishment is simply a tool, and far from the only tool, that parents can use to *discipline* *chastise* etc. etc. their children.

I respond:

"Maybe" even physical punishment? Is there any question at all that the verse above is talking about often using physical instruction in a loving way to sanctify our children?

It would be hard for me to imagine an honest, sober exegete answering the question with, "yes, there is doubt."

GBP Implicitly Attacks God's Holiness
When we sin, God chastens us. Paul tells us so. Those who fault chastening as unholy implicitly attack the holiness of God, who chastenes and scourges every son that he loves.

Praise be to our Father in Heaven, whose name is Holy!


Objections Answered

Objection One: Seeing Spanking in Scripture Requires Eisegesis

One objector stated: "to read chastisement in the Bible and come away with the concept of hitting a small child on the bottom and/or legs with the hand and/or implement, is doing [sic] reading our own definitions into Scripture, instead of reasoning from Scripture to come to our understanding."

This accusation is way off base.

First, what is clearly taught in Scripture is that is important to discipline children through infliction of physical pain. Any allegation that this is not clearly taught in Scripture should be laughed to scorn.

Second, that the appropriate place to inflict pain is a place that will not cause disfigurement is taught less clearly, but is still taught. Note the teaching in Moses regarding the fact that a master must free a slave whose eye or tooth is lost as a result of physical discipline. Also note that Scripture speaks of the rod being for the back (not face) of a fool.

Third, that the discipline should not be excessively austere is taught by the maximum lash count provision in Moses.

Fourth, young children are not exempt from the general provision. Although care should be taken with respect to application of force to young children (note that circumcision was postponed to the eighth day), there is nothing to suggest that a father is exempt from physically disciplining children of tender years.

An anti-Calvinist mindset might suppose that young children are incapable of actual sin, and, thus, consistently exempt them from sanctifying discipline. However, those who read the Bible will see that the wicked come forth from the womb speaking lies.

Indeed, because they lack understanding, physical discipline is especially appropriate for younger children:

Proverbs 10:13 In the lips of him that hath understanding wisdom is found: but a rod is for the back of him that is void of understanding.

And because we know that children are born depraved, we should realize that their hearts are initially not pure but corrupt, thus physical discipline (chastisement) is especially appropriate for them:

Proverbs 22:15 Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him. Fifth, as for the implement being an open hand, a rolled up newspaper, a shepherd's crook, a pvc pipe, a brush, a razor strop, a belt, a thin flexible piece of wood, or whatever other instrument is it hand, I suspect most would view "the rod" as being metonymous for any suitable instrument, in view both of "rod and staff" in Psalm 23 and "chastens and scourges" in the New Testament.

Thus, there is no excuse for a godly man to refuse to follow God's example (and the example of all Christians everywhere prior to 150 years ago):

2 Samuel 7:14 I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men:

Objection Two: Louis Berkhof taught a view of grace that supports GBP

As for Berkhof's work, given his view of common grace, I seriously doubt that I will find anything in Berkhof but support for the godly exercise of spanking when appropriate. Nevertheless, I will go back and check what he wrote, and report back.


Let me distinguish:

First) there are some who claim that is not honoring to God when we physically instruct our children. Those people have departed from the historic understanding of Scripture, and have not, as far as I have seen, presented a Scriptural defense of their condemnation of physical instruction. Their views are clearly heterodox.

Second) There are those who simply are saying that there are lots of ways to discipline your children and that physical instruction is not the only wrench in one's Biblical toolkit of discipline. That group is well within the boundaries of orthodoxy, and it would be a rare Christian (historically speaking) who would disagree.

Third) There are a few who say that while we CAN physically correct our children, it ought to be rare and a last resort. This view is tempting, because it seems very gentle (and we Christians are gentle). However, Proverbs instructs us contrary to that:

Proverbs 13:24 He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.

Betimes literally means "early" and here it conveys the sense of "often" or "immediately."


P.S. Thanks to Centuri0n, I found this timely article on the subject:

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