Those who take the Bible as the authoritative, inerrant Word of God are caught between a rock and a hard place:
Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him. Proverbs 13:24
Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him. Proverbs 22:15
Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol. Proverbs 23:13-14
The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother. Proverbs 29:15
And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:5-11
There is little doubt to those who read the Bible that physical discipline is not only permitted, but expected in the raising of children. One who spares the rod “hates” his son. It is through the consistent, loving use of physical discipline that folly, which is bound up in the human heart, is “driven far from him.” By consistent discipline, we can keep a child from embracing folly and “bring(ing) shame to his mother.”
There isn’t much doubt about the biblical evidence here.
The Hard Place:
That is pretty clear as well. Our world is increasingly viewing physical discipline as abusive. Educational and child-rearing experts who do not embrace the authority of God’s word make little distinction between a simple spanking and an abusive “whooping.” To them it is all the same. Put your hands on a child in discipline and you are an abuser.
So, here we are. We believe that the Bible is God’ perfect world and we live in a world in which the teaching of the Word is viewed as heinous abuse. What are we to do?
I can say I am very glad I’m not raising children today. I’m raising grandchildren and my job is to spoil them, not discipline them! I don’t think I can solve all the issues, but I will make some reflections and assertions.
1) Child raising techniques and strategies reflect our theological anthropology.
Do you believe children are naturally good and innocent, and will grow into wonderful adults if we simply don’t get in the way? Then spanking is definitely verboten. Do you believe the Bible? It presents children as not only born in sin but in folly – the tendency to choose the wrong things and wander into the wrong paths. If you believe the Bible, then your role as a father or mother (especially, in the Bible, as a father!) is to drive folly out of your child’s life in an environment of unconditional love and consistent, firm discipline.
I loved (still do) my four children. But I also realized that there was an enemy dwelling in them that would destroy them if I did not do battle against it. If one of my children had cancer, I would have gone all out with every treatment I could find, even if it made the child sick for a time, to see that they got better My children, every wonderful one of them, had a spiritual cancer inside – sinandfollyoma. It was my duty, as a father, to go to battle against that sin and folly that was bound up in my children’s hearts and defeat it.
Theology determines child-rearing strategy.
2) Discipline must be love.
The key to discipline is that it always must be performed for the good of the child. I shouldn’t discipline my children to work out my frustrations or to vent my anger. I only discipline my children for their own good.
3) Discipline has a purpose.
What is the purpose of physical discipline? Proverbs tells us, in general, that life is choices and choices have consequences. Everything we do is designed to attach a sense of consequence to bad choices. Children are naturally wayward – they wander into trouble without considering the consequences of their actions. Discipline is designed to attach negative consequences to bad choices, to help them learn to make the right choices.
My precious 11-month-old granddaughter loves to roll around on the couch. We sit beside her because she has a tendency to dive off the couch for no apparent reason. We catch her to keep her from hurting herself. She’s not a year old yet, so that is necessary. But I’ve seen parents of 13-year-olds doing the same thing. Instead of helping their children to understand that choices have consequences, they shield their children from responsibility. I can remember my dad telling me, when I was headed for school (back in the dark ages, when teachers still used corporal punishment) that I should know that if I “got it” at school I would get it again when I got home. He believed in consequences.
I believe that spanking is primarily useful to attach a painful consequence to a bad decision.
When my oldest boys were 3 and 1 (both were near their birthdays to be 4 and 2) they took our car out for a spin in our neighborhood. Matt got the keys and had figured out how to start the car (he has a post-grad degree from MIT – that kind of thing was his speciality). Matt fired the car up and sent his brother Josh down to the floorboard to work the pedals. They headed out down the hill onto the highway (from then on, every time I saw a logging truck roll by, my knees got a little weak) and turned to the left. They drove down the road a ways (we lived in a parsonage), across the church yard and parking lot and stopped by a tree. By then, some guys from the car lot across the street who saw what was happening had run across the street and took the keys. Matt was mad because he intended to try to park the car to get away with his misdeed.
My two sweet little rays of light did something that threatened both of their lives. This was no small thing. So, I tried to help them remember that driving the car before your 4th and 2nd birthdays is a bad idea. I attached a painful consequence to a bad choice.
Discipline is designed primarily to help children see that life is choices and choices have consequences.
4) Spanking has an expiration date.
When you come to the point at which you can reason with your children and use other forms of consequence-attachment, spanking becomes unnecessary. I don’t think I ever spanked any of my kids after the age of about 6 and seldom by that age. When you consistently and lovingly discipline your children in the toddler years, you have a great head start.
5) Spanking CAN be abuse.
If you spank your children in anger, to work out the frustrations of a long day, it can be abuse. If you take a branch and hit your child 13 or 14 times, that is probably abuse. You don’t need to torture your child, just give them a little bit of physical pain to remember a consequence. If your child has welts and marks a couple of days later, you have a problem. If you spank out of anger, you have a problem.
6) God is smarter than the experts.
I am sometimes amazed at the idiocy that “experts” can recommend. The same educational experts who brought us Common Core math tell us spanking is abuse and it is unnecessary.
Pretty much everything the Bible teaches about home, family, marriage, morality and child-rearing is disdained in the secular world and increasingly even within the Christian world. Some Christians have an insatiable desire to be accepted by popular culture, even if it means compromising what the Word of God teaches. We have to believe that God’s Word is wiser than human expertise. It is!
7) Show some wisdom!
In this world when hostile and over-eager DHS agents are doing foolish things and looking for reasons to intervene in the lives of people who do not share their values. It’s probably best not to spank in public. It is a private matter and is best to be kept there.
There is so much more to say here, but I’ve got grass that needs to be mowed and things to do. I know this is a controversial topic, but are we going to listen to God’s Word or not? Are we going to assume that modern sociological and psychiatric experts have a greater insight into the human condition than the authors of the inspired scriptures?