One thing that turned me away from spanking and punitive parenting was the realization that nowhere in the New Testament are we told to treat our children differently than we would any other Christian or non-Christian. While parents are obviously in a position of authority over our children, no where are we told to use unusual methods in exercising this parental authority. The two main “parenting verses” in the New Testament are Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21. Both of them are in a list of other relationships, with no indication that there’s a fundamental change in the relationship between parents and children and that between parents and anyone else.
For instance, Colossians 3:12-17 gives us a whole list of characteristics that’ should be true of the Christian; things like “tender mercies” and forgiving and letting the peace of God rule your heart and “bearing with one another.” Few Christians would argue that these verses endorse the idea of Christians striking one another in discipline – except when it comes to children. How is striking a disobedient child “bearing with” him? It seems clear to me that we must challenge our children with scripture when they go wrong and direct them toward the right, but I can see no justification for forcing them to obey. any more than we would force an elderly Alzheimer’s patient to obey. We may have to remove our children from certain situations or prevent them from doing something harmful, but that is a far cry from forcing them to act as we wish through spankings.
In Ezzo’s essay, “Today’s Child, Tomorrow’s Man” he scoffs at parents who “cry grace, grace, give me more grace” and complains that “We so seldom hear today, righteousness, righteousness, help me make them more righteous.” Perhaps we seldom hear that because the New Testament gives no indication that parents have the ability to “make” their children more righteous through the methods Ezzo advises in his books. On the contrary, the Bible teaches that true righteousness is a gift of God, and not something we can “make” our children do (Rom. 5:17; Phil. 1:11, 3:9; 1 John 2:29; etc.). Ezzo argues that Christian parents fail because “The child is trained to the letter of the law and not the principles of the law” and that the solution is to teach “the ethics of Christ” so the children understand the laws they must obey. But it is not through teaching “the ethics of Christ” that we bring our children to Christ – it is through faith, and “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17)
As 2 Timothy 3:15-17 says: “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” Paul does not praise Timothy’s upbringing because those raising Timothy made frequent use of the rod or otherwise insisted he obey the law – Paul rejoices that Timothy knows the scriptures. Speaking as a former spanker, in the long run it is far, far more effective to teach our children the scriptures and to let God work on their hearts than it is to use the rod to try to force their little bodies into submission.
1 Timothy 2:4&5 tell us that a Christian leader should be “one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence, (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?).” But if the Christian “rules his own house” by striking the children, and he is not allowed to strike his fellow Christians, then the “witness” of his well-behaved children is false. Why would God tell us to look to how a father treats his children to see how he will lead within the church if God intended Fathers to use a completely different system of discipline with their children than they would with church members? To me, this passage clearly implies that we should treat our children as we would treat another Christian we were in authority over.
For some time it was argued that a husband should beat his wife to keep her in line, and there were Bible passages used in support of this. But numerous authors now point out that there is nothing in the Bible telling husbands to force their wives to obey – on the contrary, the wife is directly told to submit. The word translated “submission” in 1 Timothy 3:4 in regards to the children’s relationship to their parents is the same word Paul uses in Galatians 2:5, where he says he would *not* submit. There’s no reason to assume that Paul feels the father should *force* submission in 1 Timothy 3:4 when elsewhere he uses the same word to discuss something he refused to do.
I feel that a lot of Christians have created this weird break in their mind where they’ve put children under the “law” while adults are under grace. Of course some Christians have everyone under the law, and think nothing of arguing in favor of beating and bullying adults. But most of the punitive parents I’ve known are very gracious and show other adults (and even the children of other parents) considerable grace – but when it comes to their own children, it’s law. It’s really strange. Jeff VanVonderen’s “Tired of Trying to Measure Up” has a list of “unspoken rules” common to families that aren’t grace-based, and reading that really got me to thinking about how a lot of Christians treat children profoundly differently than they would an adult, and not in a good way.
I have not run across many discussions of Grace Based Discipline (or what I would call New Testament parenting), but I have seen many debates on Ezzo and on spanking, and going on those experiences I suspect the main reason GBD is condemned within Christendom is that it argues against the idea that parents have a responsibility to force their children into submission. I do not think most people would admit how strongly they feel the parents must rule over the kids – the days when Christian authors cheerfully speak of “breaking a child’s will” are pretty much gone – but that’s the impression I get. I also think for a lot of people their knowledge of Grace Based Discipline is more assumed than real – they don’t know much about what GBD really is, and are rejecting a straw man they’ve been told is GBD. A child who is undisciplined is not being parented with GBD.
by Sheryl Tribble