Introduction to Part 2
In my previous article, I began a Review of the practice of spanking from my seemingly unique perspective. I am a Reformed Baptist. I am a Libertarian. As a Reformed Baptist, I believe that the Scriptures clearly teach that spanking is a necessity in parenting. As a Libertarian, I believe the Scriptures clearly teach that coercive aggression is a sin. I therefore find myself in the crux of a difficult dilemma. These two truths that I hold seem to be in direct conflict. So I have been seeking for a satisfactory resolution to this dissonance. Since these things have been in my mind, and since I recently came across the article I critiqued in Part 1, I have embarked on this series to discuss my thoughts on the matter.
Part 1 covered the ground of most primary importance: What does the Word of God actually say about spanking? It took the form of a rebuttal to an article which attempted to reinterpret the Biblical teaching on the subject. I interacted with the arguments and believe that I have shown definitively that the Word clearly teaches spanking.
In today’s installment, I seek to answer the generically foundational question: “What is the goal of parenting”? This will influence our choice of methods and naturally lead us to “When do we spank?” and further to “How do we spank?” which will bring to light some critical misunderstandings about Biblical spanking which will begin to set the stage for Part 3.
In Part 3, I plan to bring this all together and attempt to resolve this apparent tension between the Non-Aggression Principle and this seemingly coercively aggressive abuse.
What Is the Goal of Parenting?
There are many ways to summarize it. Ephesians 6 says to “bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” One of my Elders likes to define it as “raising a godly seed”. But what does that actually mean? Let’s look a little more closely at what the Word teaches.
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, The LORD is one. (5) You shall love The LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (6) And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. (7) You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when they sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise… (10) And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you[…] (12) then take care lest you forget the Lord […] Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. (14) You shall not go after other gods […](15) lest the anger of the Lord your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth.
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Deuteronomy is Moses’s farewell address to the people of Israel before he passed on and the people enter the promised land. In it, he reminds them of the covenant The Lord made with them and issues them a challenge. In summary form, the covenant goes like this:
I am The Lord your God who delivered you from slavery in Egypt and have brought you to the land that I have sworn to give to your fathers and their descendants. When you come into this land, if you obey me and worship me alone, I will make my dwelling with you and will bless you as my covenant people. But if you turn away from me to worship idols, I will curse you.
Moses’s challenge is summarized near the end of the book in Deuteronomy 30:19
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live,
At stake was the people’s ability to live in covenant community with God which required exclusive devotion to him and obedience to his commandments. If the people were obedient, they would receive God’s blessing. If they were unfaithful, they would receive God’s curse. Moses puts it to the people that they have the opportunity to choose how things will go for them and challenges them to choose life.
Of course his challenge also mentions offspring. Critical to the continuance of this blessing beyond the immediate present was the training of the next generation to be faithful to The Lord. This is why Moses gave special instruction in Deuteronomy 6 for the Israelites to teach these things to their children and followed that up by underscoring what’s at stake. If the next generation is faithful, they will be blessed, but if they or the following generation or the one following that or so on is unfaithful, they will be cursed. Of course, if we go on to study the rest of the Old Testament, we will see the many failures of the Israelites to do this diligent teaching and the ultimate results of exile. The Lord knew that this would happen and so instructed the people to teach their children.
So what does this have to do with us? Things are somewhat different for us today, aren’t they? We are not Israelites, we are Christians. We are not an ethnic people-group occupying a geopolitical nation, we are a spiritual body of believers called out from every nation, tribe and tongue. We were not at Sinai, and are not under the Old Covenant, but under the New … Covenant, Administration, Dispensation even… Call it what you want, the result is the same: We are not under Law, but under Grace. It would seem that we are not under the same arrangement as those to whom Moses was writing. Or are we?
The specifics of our covenant are different, to be sure, but we do have a covenant, don’t we? Here is our covenant in summary form:
I am The Lord, the God who made heaven and earth and all that is in it. I made you in my image to be holy as I am holy, but you have rebelled against me in your sin. But I am a merciful God who has made provision for your sin in the death of my son, Jesus, on the cross. Now therefore, if you will repent, turn from your sin, and follow Christ, I will put my spirit within you and write my law on your heart and make a place for you to dwell with me forever, but if you harden your heart and reject me, I will cast you into the lake of fire forever.
So, yeah, the specific details are different, and what’s at stake is not our national blessing in the earthly promised land, but this covenant is very real to each of us, and like the Israelites, we bear the responsibility to pass this covenant on to the next generation.
We see a connection between these realities in Ephesians 6, when Paul reminds children of the promise of the 5th Commandment: “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land”, this is a paraphrase of Exodus 20:12 “that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”
Now, connect the dots with me here. Why might an Israelite child’s enjoyment of long life in the land be dependent on honoring father and mother? Wasn’t the real condition to love the Lord and keep his commandments? Well we know that it is not the natural state of sinful man to do this. We must be taught. Where do we get this teaching? Ideally from our parents.
Deuteronomy 6 bears this out. Moses stresses the importance of constant instruction in the Law of God so that the next generation will keep it. It seems clear to me, then, that the primary meaning intended by the Lord in the phrase “honor your father and mother” in the 5th Commandment and Ephesians 6 is that of heeding your father and mother’s instructions in the Word of God. For if a child heeds his father and mother’s instruction in God’s Word, he will be faithful to The Lord and enjoy the blessing of covenant relationship with him. For the Israelite, that involved peaceful and prosperous occupation of the land of Canaan. For the Christian, that means fellowship with God both here on earth, and in heaven for all eternity.
So to summarize: what is the goal of parenting? To make disciples of our kids. To do this, we must instruct them in the Law of God, reveal to them their sin, help them understand that their sin is more than just a list of things they have done wrong but is actually a disease that infected their hearts at conception, bring them to the cross, plead with them to repent, and then instruct them further in what it means to follow Christ as a disciple so that they may grow in their relationship with him.
What’s at stake here is no longer a national or corporate peace in the land of Israel, or any other land for that matter, but there are still personal, eternal ramifications for each individual child. And because we know that our children were made by God in his image, we know that they were designed for fellowship with him. We therefore know that they will never be their happiest and most fulfilled selves apart from him, and that even if they do run after the sinful desires of their hearts and find temporary happiness in forbidden things, these pleasures will be fleeting and will one day bring the great displeasure of the fires of hell. Knowing these things, we have a serious charge laid before us as fathers (and mothers) when the Word says “bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”
Where does Spanking Fit In?
So knowing then what our goal is, we must now consider the question, “What are the tools at our disposal”? There are two main ones. The first, and I believe primary, is communication. Deuteronomy portrays training as an ongoing discussion in the Law and ways of God that happens in the midst of everyday life. God’s word should so saturate our lives that it just naturally pours out of us, and so as life goes on, parents constantly engage with their children, helping them think biblically about every situation they find themselves in. We ought to be training our children to love God and love neighbor in every context, which means constantly reminding them of these responsibilities and helping them know and understand what the Word of God has to say about each situation and what applications can be made. Through all of this we teach our children that they do not exist unto themselves, but for God, and that they need to live every moment of their lives to worship him, and when they don’t, they are turning away from him to worship an idol of their hearts. Through constant discussion of the Word and dialogue about its application to every situation, we reveal this reality to our children and urge them to repent.
Without having read the bulk of Nost’s work (L.R. Nost wrote the book from which the article I critiqued was an excerpt), I trust that this kind of communication is primarily what she advocates. And if that is the case, then good for her. This is an important point that begins our segue here. To hear opponents of spanking talk, you get the sense that they believe that those who teach spanking advocate spanking to the exclusion of all other tools in parenting. This could not be further from the truth. Communication is the primary tool for this parental discipleship, and in a perfect world it would be all that is needed. Buy Nost and others seem to believe wrongly that our children’s only problem is ignorance. This is not what the Word of God teaches. As we examined in our previous study, our children have a much deeper and more deadly problem: depravity. Proverbs calls it the “folly of the heart”. Have you ever observed a child show no regard for one thing or another until you tell them that they must not touch it, only to find that this thing that a few minutes ago they probably didn’t know existed they suddenly can’t keep their hands off of? This is the folly of the heart at work. This is Romans 7:7-8 being played out before your eyes:
What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.
Man’s sin nature is such that when he receives instruction and commandment from authority, he wants to disobey. And do not be deceived: this folly is bound up in the heart of your child, and if it is not dealt with, your child will never have a relationship with God, will never heed your instruction, and will ultimately suffer the consequences.
It is for this reason that The Rod exists. Or if, for the sake of clarity in our discussion, I cede the term “Rod” to the opposition and allow it to be a generic term for parenting in general, I mean specifically that subcategory of parenting known as spanking. What is wrong with the parenting philosophies advocated by Nost and others is not that they want us to be doing bad things. No, what they advocate is probably very good. The problem arises in that they want us to be doing them to the exclusion of spanking. Unfortunately, the reality of a child’s depravity is such that he is not receptive to the instruction we give them in communication. Because of this, no amount of communication can deal with the folly of the heart. It’s like trying to put out a grease fire with water. Actually, it’s worse: it’s like trying to put out any fire with gasoline. The Rod exists so that the child’s stubborn, rebellious rejection of our authority (which is really a rejection of God’s authority) and instruction may be confronted so that they may submit to us so that the instruction they desperately need communicated to them may be received.
So When Do We Spank?
As I said, spanking is not a tool for every little thing. There are two categories that a child’s “undesirable” behavior may be broken up into. The first is basic maturity level childishness things: silliness, childish tastes for food and art, lack of physical coordination and dexterity, ignorance of certain facts, etc. On their own, these are not sins. The second category, however is sinful behavior. But this category may be even further broken down into two categories. The first is a lack of character in which the child’s primary impetus is selfishness. The second is a lack of submission in which a child’s primary impetus is rebellion. It is for this last category, and for this category alone that spanking is applied.
This is an important point, because I get the sense that Nost and her like think we spankers do nothing but spank. Indeed there are many who think they are doing biblical spanking but are really abusing their kids by violently smacking them for every little thing they don’t like. This is wrong. It is abusive to the child in three ways. First, it is directly coercive aggression against their person. Second, it distorts the authority relationship and twists the portrayal of God that we display to our kids, ultimately teaching them that might makes right. Third, it tragically creates a low signal-to-noise ratio that prevents spanking from being an effective tool of diagnosis and correction for rebellion. For this reason, spanking ought only ever to be done for things that are clear and obvious incidences of rebellion. Examples include displaying anger toward mom and dad, resisting mom or dad’s care of them, commanding mom and dad, showing disrespect for mom or dad, refusing to come when called, refusing to listen when being given instruction, disobeying a direct command, and breaking an established rule. These things are rebellious rejection of mom and dad’s authority and must be dealt with as such.
What’s Going On When We Spank?
Important to remember is that spanking is not about coercing behavior. It is a rescue mission. What do I mean by that? Remember the sheep analogy that I drew in Part 1? This is such a great analogy. I use it with my kids all the time. It is another way of talking about the circle of blessing that the Tripps talk about, though when I talk to my kids about such abstract concepts, I often get confused looks, so I use the sheep analogy, and it communicates really well to them. We frequently have discussions along these lines:
Where is a sheep safe?
With the shepherd.
Is the sheep safe out in the woods?
What’s out in the woods?
Wolves, lions, bears, etc.
What happens to the sheep if he goes out into the woods?
He gets eaten.
When you disobey mommy and daddy, you are like a sheep that goes out into the woods. Mommy and Daddy are your shepherds. We are here to take care of you, but when you disobey, you’re saying, “I don’t want a shepherd. I want to be my own shepherd.” and you go off into the woods. What is going to happen to you out there?
That’s right! Now I’m not saying that if you disobey mommy and daddy that a wolf is going to come and eat you [have to avoid those superstitions after all], but if you grow up disobeying mommy and daddy, there are a lot of bad things that will happen to you, and the worst of all is that you will grow up disobeying God. God says that if you obey mommy and daddy, he will bless you, and you will be safe, but what will happen to you if you grow up disobeying mommy and daddy and disobeying God?
Go to hell. [Yes, we talk about this with our kids.]
That’s right. Mommy and daddy don’t want that to happen to you. That’s why we spank you. It’s like if we saw you walking out into the street where a car is coming, what do you think we would do?
Come get me.
That’s right! Mommy and daddy don’t want you to get run over by a car. We don’t want you to get eaten by a wolf. And we don’t want you to grow up disobeying and having to suffer the consequences.
It takes a while for these things to really sink in, but eventually they do.
How Do We Spank?
So keeping in mind that spanking is an instrument of rescue and not of coercion, how is it to be used? There is, of course, more to spanking than just the “when” of it that can distort it into abuse. There are many things that must be kept in mind when it comes to how we spank in order to minimize the emotional and physical damage to the child. The goal is not to brutalize them, but to give them a brief emotional and physical sensation of pain that will alert them to the danger ahead. It is a signal to them that they are heading out to where the wolves are, like the pain we feel at touching a hot surface that signals to us that we should pull our hand back before suffering real harm. There are several key things about how we spank that I just want to briefly highlight. For the sake of length, I won’t go into detail. If you want more detail, I strongly recommend reading Tedd Tripp’s book Shepherding a Child’s Heart.
The first thing is that we must never spank in anger. To do so makes the spanking about us. Spanking is not about us, it is about the child and his relationship with God. Spanking in anger also puts us at risk to misunderstand what is going on and spank for something that doesn’t require a spanking. When the child does something that appears to require spanking, establish a protocol to signal to them what is going to happen (we have them sit on their bed) and then first get a hold of your heart and your emotions to make sure that you are actually addressing rebellion, and not just something that annoyed you, and that you have all the facts.
The second thing is that we must help our children understand what they did and why it deserves a spanking. This is probably the hardest one. Older children will be more able to understand than younger children, but even with younger children, we have to establish a pattern of going through some kind of discussion about what they did wrong and try to get them to acknowledge that it was disobedience. For many reasons this acknowledgement and understanding may not be possible, but we need to at least establish a pattern of making the attempt every time so that eventually it will sink in.
The third thing is that we must be gentle. I’m lumping several things in this category. Pick an instrument that will give more of a sting without needing to wail on them with a lot of force and will be less likely to bruise. Again, we want the experience to be painful but temporary. A two-by-four is probably not the best instrument. I bought a couple little plastic school rulers from the store that had some flex to them. This allows us to get a good whack without leaving a mark. If at all possible spank on the rear end. God gave them extra padding for a reason. Spank in private so they aren’t embarrassed. You want the experience to be emotionally and physically painful, but temporarily so rather than permanently traumatic.
The last thing is that we must comfort and restore after the deed has been done. When the child is crying over the pain, comfort them. Help them understand that you are not here just to beat on them, but to help them. Talk to them about how sin comes from their heart and they need Jesus to save them. Have them seek your forgiveness and give it readily, making sure they know that now that this has been dealt with, you both can put it behind you and move on. Talk to them about how our sin breaks our fellowship with God like disobeying breaks fellowship with mommy and daddy, but when it is taken care of, fellowship can be restored. Go back to the sheep analogy and lay before them the wonderful truth of Isaiah 53!
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Because Jesus took the “spankings” from God that we deserve, we can be forgiven and have relationship with him! How wonderful an opportunity for the Gospel this is in our children’s lives! Let’s not miss it. Without this, we stunt our children’s ability to enter into that relationship with God, jumping right to the discipleship phase aimed and growing the relationship that isn’t even there yet!
The Fruit of Spanking
If spanking is done right, then by the grace of God, it will yield children who have come to grips with the sin in their hearts, have begun to seek the Lord in repentance, and are ready to begin developing the character of a disciple of Christ. They will now be receptive to your instruction, open to correction, eager even to hear the Word, and obedient to your commands. Confrontation of rebellion needs to start as soon as it begins to manifest, and if it is confronted faithfully, the fruit will be a child who, by five or six, seldom requires any spankings. This does not mean that he never does anything wrong. He won’t be perfect. He probably won’t be nice to his sister. He will still be a selfish idolater who needs continual instruction and discipleship, but he will be decreasingly obstinate, stubborn, rebellious, and resistant to your instruction.
I have been taught this by Elders in my church who have raised multiple children without having to deal with teenage rebellion – at least not as a prolonged ongoing season. The Lord is faithful. If rebellion is dealt with early, it can be taken care of. Obviously this requires God’s grace. Nothing we do in parenting can ultimately affect any change in our children apart from his grace, but he is faithful to his children who follow his word, is he not? If we are faithful to obey him, will we not receive his blessing? Why not put him to the test? I intend to. My oldest is six and already showing fruit of submission. No he’s not perfect. Yes he still disobeys at times and we have to do rework from to time to time, but we are seeing it happen less and less and we are seeing rebellion being replaced with submission. We are certainly not perfect. We probably were not as on top of things with him early as we could have been, but God has blessed us with his grace in this endeavor, and I have confidence that he will continue to be faithful.
Does this mean that if you just beat on your kids enough, you’ll reach a point by five or six where everything is perfect and nothing ever goes wrong? Absolutely not. But it does mean that if you are faithful to confront your children’s rebellion, then by God’s grace, the rebellion in their hearts should be driven from them by five or six and you will have cleared the way for the “real” parenting to begin: the communication we talked about.
I hope this has been helpful in understanding the Biblical goal of parenting and the important part that spanking plays in it. I would encourage you to take some time to prayerfully consider these realities, and please don’t let my words be the rule of authority for you: please engage with the Scriptures.
And please stick around for part three where I hope to satisfy the atheists who reject all of this and call spanking coercive aggression! That should be fun!