More thoughts on parental discipline

If you didn’t get them, here are the parenting books I recommended during yesterday’s sermon on the Grace of a Parent’s Authority:
  • Everyday Talk, by John Younts
  • Instructing a Child’s Heart, by Tedd & Margy Tripp
  • Kid’s Need… Lot’s of Love and a Spanking, by Jamie Pritchett
  • Humility, by C. J. Mahaney 
The last one is not a parenting book per se but there are some great gospel parenting tips in it. 

Some of you loved the sermon and some of you didn’t.  I know not even all believers are fans of parents using physical discipline, but I don’t think there’s a way to get around that it’s biblical.  Or that it has massive spiritual significance.  At the cross, the Father applied all the punishment for my sins and yours to the body of Jesus Christ.  Not only made Him bear that physical punishment, but in the most gruesome way ever devised by which to kill someone.  The Father planned it and saw that it happened (Acts 3:18).  If in Christ He suddenly grew adverse to physical punishment, why not find another way, a less gory way to atone for our sins?  

Because Jesus atoned for the sins of others, we call His work the “substitutionary atonement” (1 John 4:10).  Because God punished someone innocent–and perhaps because He did it physically, even some in the “Christian” world ridicule the substitutionary atonement as “cosmic child abuse” by the Father.  I find this awful/awesome work stupifying, precious and worthy of worship.  

Most of the “expert” voices opposing physical discipline look to the social sciences as authoritative, not the Bible.  (As one opponent complained, “The Bible frequently condones practices that are outrageous to modern sensibilities.”)  Physical discipline is blamed for everything from lowering a child’s IQ to leading to violent behavior later in life.  But the #1 charge is that the spanking parent will eventually abuse.  It’s almost inevitable, some say.  If you discipline with a paddle (what the Bible calls a “rod” in Proverbs 13:24, 22:15, 23:13-14, 29:15), you will sometimes abuse your child.  Or make it more likely that your child will abuse his child one day.
This argument is based on a logical fallacy that anything that can be distorted or perverted must be wrong in its original form.  Critics who object to the idea that God established husbands as leaders in their marriages use the same argument.  16 years ago someone gave me a book that basically said that just believing this is God’s will turns men into abusive tyrants.  I will be the first to admit that there are professing Christian men whose “leading” consists of little more than terrorizing their wives.  But that’s not Bible.  It’s an aberration of what God says.  In the same way, there are parents beating their children with fist or paddle who never ever arrived in the vicinity of discipline; it’s all abuse. 
The irate mother who slaps her son in the face in the jeans aisle at Wal-Mart isn’t disciplining him.  Nor is the father who refuses to paddle his daughter but often yells at her.  The child whose mother says, “one…., two…, two and a half…” is not being disciplined.  Nor is the child who is being told, “You make me sick!”  Discipline’s objective for the believing parent is to cooperate with God to make a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Therefore it is done as an act of worship, done with great love for child and God, and done diligently.  And no, not harshly.  

In an anti-authority age, I suspect we need more authority in our homes, but not more authoritarians.  More moms and dads with the spiritual spine to lovingly establish expectations and enforce them.  And be able to say to their children, “I’m sorry sweetheart, what I said to you was wrong.  Will you forgive me?”  Both will help the gospel make more sense to our children. 

Gospel Hope for the Abuser

On Sunday I preached that a wife should submit to her husband.  (We do things like this from time to time to keep attendance levels manageable.)  Near the close of the message I addressed several questions wives might have in the “What if…?” department.  What if my husband’s passive, or is a tyrant, or fails anytime he tries to lead, or abuses me; am I still to submit–and what does that look like?  

Tuesday morning I got awake early thinking about this blog and out of left field God brought an incident to my mind from about 37 years ago that I’d just as soon forget.  I couldn’t go back to sleep and for the next hour and a half lay there (hey, it was my day off!) thinking about that awful day, with a growing and disturbing suspicion I was to write about it.  

Betty and I had been married about a year when we took a trip to the ocean with some friends.  We stayed in a boardinghouse and did the typical ocean things: get burnt on the sand, eat junk on the boardwalk, shop.  We were with the other couple some, but sometimes by ourselves.

Without going into detail, I’ll just say that I wanted Betty to do something one way, but she did it another way.  When she came back from a walk with the other woman and I found out what she’d done, I remember raising my hand to strike her while she cowered with her hands raised over her head for protection.

With my hand in the air, I willed it not to go further.  Later my rage was replaced by shame.  Maybe Betty’s fear was replaced by denial because she does not remember the incident.  Until several years ago we never talked about it and I never threatened her again.

As I said Sunday, it is Islam that lets a husband threaten and hurt his wife, not Christianity.  While the Qur’an counsels a husband to lock his recalcitrant wife in a room, deprive her of sex, and even whip her, the Bible tells a husband to love his wife like Christ loves the Church.  It infuriates me when I hear of a man who says he loves Jesus yet hurts his wife, but I know all too well how deep the root of sin runs.  Apart from God’s grace, I am that abuser.  

Back then, I was religious and churchgoing but not a Christian.  Once God saved me He began a work in my heart as a husband that I cannot thank Him enough for.  I am still on the way, but at a Keystone marriage conference a dozen years ago when Betty said publicly that I was the most gentle man she’d ever met, it was one of the high points of my life.  Only God could have changed a man who saw marriage as something for me to see it as something for Him–and us.  

Even abusers can find hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  He saves the repentant and trusting sinner from hell but that’s not all He died for; He died to save us from the poison of sin’s power–in all its forms.  With Jesus, even the abuser can change.  His sanctifying power is available to those who will humble themselves enough to admit their sin, and ask the Lord, his wife, and Christian brothers, for help. 

the gospel matters most

Tim Challies is a Canadian blogger and church elder.  Last weekend Christian luminaries like Leonard Sweet, Shane Claiborne, Wendy Gritter and Peter Rollins swept into Tim’s hometown of Toronto for an emerging church conference called “The Eighth Letter”.  Each presenter had 15 minutes to share what they thought God’s most urgent message would be today if He addressed one to the North American church and added it to the 7 he wrote to Asia’s churches in Revelation.
Facing something of a lion’s den at the podium, Tim passionately insisted that getting the gospel right is the most urgent thing for the church.  Every other good thing pales in comparison.  It’s worth a listen for every Christian.  It’s about 2/3 of the page down on the 10/6/2010 entry.