[Editor? Note: This is the first of two articles on this subject. The two articles together constitute a paper delivered by Mr. DeVries, of the Free Christian School bf Edgerton, Minnesota, at a convention of teachers from the schools of Doon, Iowa, Edgerton, and Loveland, Colorado. We welcome this contribution from one of our Protestant Reformed teachers.]
Just what does the word discipline mean to you?
Sadly enough, the word discipline leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many people. This is something that is becoming more and more apparent in today’s permissive society. Even to some Christians the word has to do with a distasteful task which is brought about by the natural perversity of children. To other people the word conjures up such thoughts as punishment or severity, or even hatred.
Another view of discipline is that it is an essential element of childrearing, but that it has little to do with the teachings of Scripture. In this view, discipline means punishment, brought about, however, as nothing more than a chance to get even with children for their faults. Others even use children as objects for getting rid of their own frustrations.
The goal of discipline is often perverted also. Why does the Christian want to have so called “disciplined” children? Do we desire peace and quiet at home or an atmosphere of learning at school? Do we discipline because we want to appear to be a good parent or teacher, as a craftsman is identified with his product? I am afraid that all of us have fallen into these false goals at one time or another. This evening we ought to take the chance to view what God has to say about discipline in His Word.
To offer a contrast to Christian discipline, and also to show that there is a need on our part to understand that discipline, I would like to tell you of a few ideas of modern educators and psychologists. After seeing these ideas we have little difficulty understanding the breakdown of law and order today, the new morality, unrest on college campuses, and the general attitude of rebelliousness.
Some two hundred years ago the French philosopher, Rousseau, reflected the spirit of his times in his writings. He told the world that man is born good, and that his unhappiness came not because of sin, but because of an unsuitable social environment. Man, he said, could be free and happy when he took a full share in his own government. That is to say, man was to be his own authority. His ideas are still in force today and are the basis of our own political documents. Some of Rousseau’s ideas applied, to children are: never command a child; leave children alone as much as possible; allow children to grow and develop according to their own minds and wills. This is the kind of child that will grow into a happy adult.
In modern America, John Dewey taught how we could achieve this social equality and. therefore individual happiness. Man’s problems should be scientifically analyzed, and the solution should be applied to the school system. This would mean that all children and, therefore, in later years, all adults would be happy, well-adjusted persons.
Modern psychologists carry these ideas a little farther when they tell us that our sinless children ought to go through a process of socialization. That is to say, children must be trained by the school system to be well adjusted individuals who can live happily with others. Children rebel, not against God, but only to preserve their own personal identity. All challenges of parental authority ought to be met with tolerance and kindly understanding. Punishment, it is said, will only deepen frustration or cause resentment.
These ideas are carried to the extreme by an English educator named A.S. Neill. He will have nothing to do with authority, claiming that adults are power hungry tyrants in their demand for obedience. Children should be made the equals of adults in all judgments. The object of a person’s life is to find happiness, in nearly any way he pleases. Discipline will bring only guilt feelings, hostility, and hypocrisy, not happiness.
These are the sort of ideas which the Christian parent and teacher must be prepared to cope with and to resist. It is with these ideas surrounding them that Christian children must grow up.
In order for us to define discipline in the light of Scripture, we must look to God’s purpose in placing His people on the earth. We cannot take an earthly definition such as Webster gives, that discipline is training that develops self-control and orderliness. God demands more of us than that we are orderly or have self-control. There is more of a goal in our lives.
Discipline is not a process which again partially or totally restores us in favor with God. This is impossible on the part of man. It is only by God’s grace, and not through our works of discipline, that we or our children are saved.
Today’s worldly definition of discipline cannot be ours. It is not a process whereby a child becomes a good citizen or a person who is free from emotional hang-ups. God’s children are to be good citizens, but this is only a part of their fear of God.
Mark tells us that “to love the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and soul is the first commandment.” I think all of us know what that means. God must be all-important in our lives. Our goal is to serve Him, and to subordinate our own desires to nonexistence. It is for this reason that we are on this earth. Because of sin, we find this goal impossible to meet.
Because of sin we must have discipline, not as a restorative process or to better ourselves in this world, but because God has commanded us to hate sin. God instituted positions of authority before He created the world. Discipline by these authorities became necessary because sin came into the world.
We as authorities, parents or teachers, are to train our children to love the Lord their God. This, then, is discipline: the act of training our children to love God. Only those who love God can discipline, and discipline comes only because of the love of God. Discipline involves instruction in God’s ways and correction for those acts which are not pleasing to God.
I would like to divide the body of this speech into two parts: first, the person disciplining, and second, the person being disciplined.
In order for a person to discipline he must be in a position of authority. Just what is this authority, and where does it come from?
Webster tells us that authority is “the power or right to give commands, and force obedience, take action, or make final decisions.” Scripture tells us that God is the final authority. He is authority by His very nature. God’s authority does not come because He is all-powerful or all-wise, but because He is Lord and Creator of all. He is the Author or Originator. There is no authority apart from God. We must go farther than Webster’s definition and see what God says of His own authority.
When God led His people from Egypt, He said to Moses: Tell the people that I Am That I Am hath sent you. When God gave his commandments to Moses, He established His authority by saying, “I am the Lord thy God.” In these simple statements we understand the profound knowledge that is given in Psalm 103:19, “The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom ruleth over all.” We can understand Webster’s definition in relationship to God by giving capital letters to all the nouns. God gives not just a command, but the Command, takes not just action, but is Himself Action.
God confers His authority to Christ and then to man. God has highly exalted Christ and has commanded that every knee should bow before Him. It is through Christ that the authority of God is bestowed on parents, and from parents to teachers. God has established all positions of authority, and that of parent is most important of all.
It is important that we understand that the authority of the parent is not his own but that he uses God’s authority. A person in authority has no right to demand obedience or respect simply because of superior wisdom or strength. A parent may not make demands because of natural ties between himself and his children or because he is their procreator. These things may go along with authority but are not reasons why a person must be obeyed.
The parent or teacher must establish himself confidently in his God-given position of authority. We may not say, “Child, it is time to go to bed because my experience has told me that if you do not, you will be tired tomorrow.” Rather we say, “Child, go to bed because your parent has said to go.” The teacher may not say to his students, “Obey because I am your physical superior and can punish you.” Rather he must say, “Obey because God has given me the authority over you.” This is not to say, of course, that there is no to be punishment through superior strength, or judgments because of greater experience. These are only earthly reasons why children must obey. The parent or teacher is answerable to Christ for the nurture of children in the fear of the Lord. We must also discipline out of the fear of the Lord. We will see later that it is also the love of Christ which will bring about obedience on the part of children as a result of our discipline.
(to be continued)