Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Great Thought From Sally Clarkson

Read this on Sally Clarkson's old blog. Excellent thoughts: 

"When we appeal to our children’s hearts for excellence and choices of good behavior, then we are giving them the will and desire to be excellent all for themselves. Their desire comes from within and their motivation is from their heart. But if we train them behaviorally by always forcing them to do what we want them to do because they might get a spanking, or another kind of threatened discipline, then their motivation is to avoid spanking or harshness but not to please God or to please their parents, by having a good heart and responding in obedience."

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Is Spanking Biblical? Part 2: Hebrews 12

Before I delve into this passage, I would like to point out that discipline and punishment are not synonymous. And contrary to popular Christian thinking, discipline and spanking are not synonymous.

I have posted on this difference before, but I would like to review the difference between discipline and punishment briefly. "Discipline" in the Bible comes from the Greek word "paideia." "Paideia" was actually a common term when the New Testament was being written. According to wordiQ.com, "paideia" meant the following to the early Greeks: "the process of educating man into his true form, the real and genuine human nature." The Blue Letter Bible Lexicon defines "paideia" as "the whole training and education of children." Other ways that the term "paideia" has been translated are "chastening," "nurture," "instruction," and "chastisement." Another definition of "chastening/paideia" by Vine's Expository Dictionary is that chastening "denotes the training of a child, including instruction;" hence, "discipline, correction," "chastening," Eph 6:4, RV (AV, "nurture"), suggesting the Christian discipline that regulates character; so in Hbr 12:5, 7, 8 (in ver. 8, AV, "chastisement," the RV corrects to "chastening"); in 2Ti 3:16, "instruction."

Discipline involves training, nurturing, correcting (chastising). It does not involve inflicting pain on a child in order for him/her to learn; this is punishment. Here is another difference between discipline and punishment from Danny Silk's book Loving Your Kids On Purpose: “Discipline works from the inside out, while punishment tries to work from the outside in. The parent who is bringing learning to a child is not going to try to control the child, but is skillfully going to invite the child to own and solve his or her own problems.” (160) 

Here is a further illustration of the difference between the two from a blog I read recently: "There is a huge difference between punishment and discipline.  Punishment is all about behavior change.  It works on the outward behavior first and foremost.  The hope is that enough punishment for bad behavior will force the child into a pattern of good behavior. Punishment can be delivered without any love at all.  In fact, it’s meant to be rational, impartial, and free of emotion.  Take the criminal court system as an example.  The judges, jurors, and jailers don’t make the laws (legislators do that).  They don’t enforce the laws (policemen do that).  They punish lawbreakers who have been caught by the law enforcers.  The goal of the justice system is to objectively apply a punishment to fit the crime.  It’s about destroying the will to do that negative behavior again." The problem with punishment is that it really only works on outward behavior. A child who is punished may be very obedient to their parent's commands, but they still struggle with inward sin. Worse yet, they will likely become sneaky, afraid to share their struggles with sin with their parents because they know that, like a  perfectly fair judge, their mom or dad will always meet out a punishment.

The focus of discipline, on the other hand, is to nurture children. It is to teach them, actively, how to behave correctly. It maintains relationship while still upholding a standard. It is grace-based; it is relationship-oriented. It does not pit the parent against the child...it puts the parent on the same team as the child.

Judging by these thoughts, would you label a spanking as "discipline," or as "punishment."

I urge you to carefully consider this difference.

Now, if you would like to see an excellent example of discipline vs. punishment, read Hebrews 12. I urge you to read Hebrews 10:32-39;11-12 several times before continuing to read my post. Here is what my husband and I noticed when we were studying this favorite passage of Christians who advocate corporal punishment of their children.

  • Who was this book/passage written to? Believers. What was going on in their lives? They were enduring/about to endure some heavy persecution for their faith.
  • Never once is it stated or implied in these chapters that "you better behave, or else God is going to discipline you!"
  • Hebrews 12 was intended to be an encouragement to these early believers. Would you be encouraged if someone told you that "you better not sin, or else God is going to come down hard on you, and punish you?" The book of Hebrews, in fact, is all about the great High Priest, Jesus, who died for their sins, so that they would not have to endure punishment for said sins.
  • Is Hebrews 12 prescriptive or descriptive? Is it showing how God deals with His children, or is it giving us commands as to how to raise our children (I am not saying it is not a model for us; what I am saying is that it would be wrong to teach this passage as a parenting text)? 
  • If you use this passage as a justification/prescription for spanking, where are those three, four, or five steps that Christian parenting experts tell you you should take when you spank (explain the reason beforehand, hug afterward, don't use your hand, etc.)? If those steps are so essential to take so that the spanking is done in love, why aren't they in this passage, or even in the Bible for that matter?? I realize that many of these experts use the phrase, "and scourges every son whom He receives" as justification of their idea that we, too, should spank our children...but if you are going to follow this passage as a law, you had better "scourge" then. This would mean that you would use a very large whip, and you would beat your child with it until he/she bleeds! "Scourge" does not mean a few swats with a stick. 
  • Jesus was scourged for our transgressions. He is the perfect Son whom the Lord received. Because of Him, we are all able to be received by God as sons. At the beginning of Hebrews 12, the author urges readers to consider Jesus, who endured hostility from sinners, so that they do not become weary (vs. 3). The author goes on to point out that they have not had to shed their blood yet, as Jesus did, in their struggle against sin (better translated "sinful men")! The author is clearly encouraging them to press on through the persecution, knowing that Jesus had also endured the same harsh treatment.
  • Read Hebrews 12, inserting the word "punishment" every time you see the word "discipline." Is this comforting to you? Because this passage WAS intended to be comforting. Now, insert the word "train" into every place you see the word discipline, because this is what paideia actually means. Is that comforting? It should be!
  • Point of Hebrews 12: You are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who trusted God in all circumstances. Do the same! As you go through persecution and hardship, realize that God is using it to train you, because He wants you to mature; you are His sons.
  • Notice that when the author of Hebrews refers to parents who discipline their children, he contrasts these parents with God. They disciplined "as seemed best to them." This actually connotes parents who discipline for their own selfish reasons...God does not ds
  • Finally, did you know that the Greeks also had several different terms they used when referring to children. Here are two that I would like to point out: "Teknon" means child, and is often used to describe believers, who are all children of God, and "Huios," which means son, and connotes maturity. "Huios" is the term that Hebrews 12 uses when it illustrates that God deals with us as "sons." This passage is talking about how God trains mature believers. Interesting, considering that somehow this passage has been construed to mean that we should take a small switch or wooden spoon, spank our small, immature children with it, and then have them give us a hug in order to train them.
Friends, please ask yourselves if this passage really teaches spanking. Read it over and over again! In a further post, I will talk about how life and hardship does indeed train our children, but first I wanted to address the issue of this passage and whether or not it is commanding parents to spank their children.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Is Spanking Biblical? Part 1: Proverbs, CONTINUED

Since I posted on Proverbs and the spanking issue, I remembered a few more things that I would like to add.

In my last post, I addressed the implications of taking Proverbs literally and applying it to your life as a believer, especially the literal meaning of the "rod" verses. I would like to add another implication of reading and applying these verses literally: the rod you would need to use is a "shebet." This is not a small stick, a wooden spoon, or a paddle. The Hebrew term "shebet" is used many times throughout the Old Testament. It is translated many different ways. Here are the ways, according to Strong's concordance:  

Strong's Hebrew Lexicon #7626:
rod, staff, branch, offshoot, club, sceptre, tribe
a. rod, staff
b. shaft (of spear, dart)
c. club (of shepherd's implement)
d. truncheon, sceptre (mark of authority)
e. clan, tribe From an unused root probably meaning to branch off; a scion, for example literally a stick (for punishing, writing, fighting, walking, ruling, etc.) or figuratively a clan.

The Shebet is not a small instrument. A shepherd's staff was a thick, long rod. If you were to literally beat your child with this, on the back (as this is what is literally indicated in the Proverbs), you would likely kill him/her. Recently, a little girl was killed because here parents spanked her with a small switch over and over again. Her internal organs failed, and she died. These were supposed loving, Bible-believing parents! I will post more on this story later. If a small switch can kill a child, imagine what a literal rod could do!! 

Exodus 21:20 warns about the use of the rod: "And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished." This verse is speaking about an adult being smitten with a rod, not a child. And an adult smitten with a literal rod could die!

One more thing I would like to address: Proverbs is a book of Hebrew poetry. This is an important contextual fact to look at when you are interpreting those pesky "rod" verses. If you look at Proverbs as poetry, you will see that the "rod," or the "shebet," is a symbol of authority. When the Hebrews read the term "shebet," they would have had in mind the leader of a tribe, a shepherd's rod (which, incidentally, was never used to beat the sheep. Sheep are very timid creatures, and will not trust a master who raises his hand against them), a king's sceptre, or the shaft of a spear. "Shebet" would have meant authority to them. In the New Testament, believing parents are encouraged to nurture, admonish, train, correct their children: clearly, they are to be in authority over the, so this is a New Testament principle as well.

I would like to explain what I mean when I say that we should not apply Old Testament rules to our lives as believers. When I was a young woman, I used to read Proverbs 31 and feel incredibly guilty because I didn't measure up. I tried to be like her, and I failed. Then I began to learn that I do not have to use the Old Testament as a law by which to live my life. I can read about that woman, and see a picture of someone who is godly, but I do not need to read Proverbs as a rule-book for my Christian life. I learned that I could walk by the Spirit, and that God would then work through my individual personality to be the woman He created me to be! Because I have the Holy Spirit, God Himself, living in me and working through me, He can use me to accomplish greater things than this woman ever did. So, when I realized this, I did not have to compare myself to anyone else; I just needed to stay plugged into Christ. As Christian parents, we need to walk by the Spirit. We do not have to follow rules and regulations in order to be godly parents...we need to walk with God; He will show us how to parent.



Thursday, July 22, 2010

Is Spanking Biblical? Part 1: Proverbs

Let me begin by saying that each and every one of us parents before the Lord. Read what I say with open ears and a grain of salt, bring it before God, study the Bible for yourself. In this post, I will discuss what my husband and I have learned through our study of the Bible. In later posts, I will discuss other reasons why my husband and I have decided never to use spanking as a tool.

Proverbs 23:1-2 reads: "When you sit down to dine with a ruler, Consider carefully what is before you, And put a knife to your throat If you are a man of great appetite." I would ask you to ask a few questions about these verses:
  1. Is this verse meant to be taken literally? Or are we supposed to gain a tidbit of inferred wisdom from reading it?
  2. Is this how we as Christians are told to deal with sin in our own lives? Are we to hold a knife to our throats, literally or figuratively, when confronted with temptation?
    •  The answer to this question is found in Romans 6-8. The way a believer avoids sin and escapes temptation is by realizing that we are dead to our old sin nature, and that we have a new nature that is alive because of our co-crucifixion with Christ. The Holy Spirit empowers our new nature to stand against sin.
    • I will let these verses speak for themselves: "If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 'Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!' (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)--in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence....Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry." (Colossians 2: 20-23; 3:5).
So, what is my point with this? I am not saying that the book of Proverbs is not inspired wisdom. However, we need to keep in mind when reading Scripture the dispensational context of any given passage. Proverbs was written by King Solomon, who was living under the law. Christ had not yet come, died for sin, and given every person the opportunity to trust Him, be born again, and be empowered by the Spirit in their new natures. As believers, we do not deal with sin by exerting self-control to resist temptation--we realize that we are free from sin (though we can still choose to walk in it), and alive to God, and that we must walk by the Spirit. We read Proverbs the same way we read Deuteronomy: we realize it is inspired wisdom, we see God's character through it, but we also read it knowing that we do not have to follow the laws/prescriptions in these passages.  It is not that God has ever changed, it is just that we are under grace, whereas the people in the Old Testament were under law.

Here is a bit more context that is important to understand when you read the book of Proverbs: First, Proverbs was written with a specific audience in mind. King Solomon was addressing his son. Verse 8 says: "Hear, my son...". As you continue to read Proverbs, you will be able to guess at the age of King Solomon's son: he is clearly not a little boy. He is at least a teenager/young man, as Solomon instructs him regarding harlots!

Let me get a little more technical. The passages in Proverbs that Christians hold to as advocating spanking (Proverbs 13:24, Proverbs 23:13,14), are not talking about a young child, but a young man!! The Hebrews used specific words when referring to the different ages of children. I am going to quote from a book by Samuel Martin, who has a BA degree with a special focus on Middle Eastern studies, and who has worked closely with two Hebrew professors in Israel on an excavation trip and a survey trip. That is to say, he has studied Hebrew culture and language extensively. Here is a quote from his book concerning the the number of Hebrew terms for child, each describing a certain age/stage (nursling, young woman, weaned one, etc): "...As mentioned earlier, the Hebrew terms that refer to the phases of life are “yeled,” “yonek,” “olel,” “gamul,” “taph,” elem,” “na’ar,” “bthulah,” “bachur,” “ish” and“ben.”" (Thy Rod and Thy Staff They Comfort Me). The specific stage "the rod" verses in Proverbs are focused on is "na'ar." Now, Proverbs also uses the word "ben" in some verses. "Ben" refers to a boy of any age. Considering the context and the specific use of the term "na'ar," however, one can infer that where "ben" is used it likely refers to a teenage son. "Na'ar" refers to a young man, who is ready to be free of his parents, a teenager approaching adulthood. Here is what Samuel Martin points out: "The word that we find used in three of the verses that advocate smacking in Proverbs is “na’ar.” The phase of life associated with the “na’ar” (which means the“one shook lose”) is that of young adulthood or the teenage years. This is significant. Based on this evidence, it is safe to say that all of these texts in the book of Proverbs have no application to anyone less than about ten to twelve years of age." Woah! Shocking, considering most parenting gurus advocate beginning spanking at toddlerhood, or even before!

Another interesting point to consider: the terms used to describe small children are not used in the book of Proverbs in reference to the rod. It would be a stretch to say that Proverbs advocates spanking small children.

So what has been my husband's and my conclusion? Proverbs was written in the Old Testament. That means that its writer was writing as one under the law, and we need to be careful to read Proverbs with that focus in mind. If you are going to follow the Proverbs explicitly as a believer, you had better hold a knife to your throat, or at least threaten yourself, when you are eating with a ruler! Furthermore, if you are going to follow the book of Proverbs as though it is a book of commands for believers, you had better also follow the other laws in the Old Testament. Let me quote one here for you. Deuteronomy 21:18,19;21a: "If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them, then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gateway of his hometown...Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death...". When I read this, I wonder if that is perhaps what Solomon meant when he said that if you beat your son with a rod, you will save his soul from Sheol (or death). Perhaps he had in mind a rebellious teenage son (his sons certainly were!), and he was thinking of beating his rebellious sons to keep them from being stoned to death!!

When Christian parents approach the book of Proverbs, I hope that they will pay attention to historical, dispensational context, as well as to the intended audience of Proverbs, including the age of the "child" that is referred to in the book, as they prayerfully consider whether or not Proverbs is telling them that they must spank their young children. I will address the New Testament passages commonly used to advocate spanking next.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Life Lessons

Little man lit a match last week. It surprised him, and it surprised me! I was watching him nearby, so I was able to put it out before he started a fire. It stayed lit long enough to feel hot to him, though. Now, when he sees us lighting a candle, he exclaims "tot! (hot!)" and takes a step back. My husband and I were talking about the incident and how it illustrates something that we feel strongly about as parents: when at all possible, allow your child to experience the real world, even if it is painful or difficult. The lessons learned by experience stick so much better than the lessons that we try to hammer into our children's heads verbally. Also, when a lesson like this is learned, there is no need to give a lecture, an "I-told-you-so," or to reiterate it in any way. It sticks on its own.

Ryan and I have just seen too many Christian kids who are ready to leave home and do not know how to make decisions, think for themselves, problem solve, trouble-shoot, handle money, etc. This is because their parents, though well-meaning, protected them from learning by experience. Interestingly, these are also often the parents who were "heavy handed" when their children were toddlers, spanking them for touching or trying things. Their children learned, "play it safe, stay out of trouble," early on. By spanking and otherwise punishing, these parents actually shield their children.

I propose that we let our toddlers explore as much as possible, unless something they are playing with is life-threateningly dangerous. There are some things I tell Aydon a firm "no" about. This would be such things as knives. But when I tell him "no," I also try to tell him why. "Aydon, no, you may not have the knife. It is sharp and could cut you. When you are bigger, I will teach you how to use it." Then, I put the knife out of sight. Sometimes, I redirect activities that could make a huge mess to a cleaner area: he is only allowed to dump and pour in the sink, not on the floor. He likes to smell spices (yes, my child for sure), so he sits at his table to do this.

God created toddlers to explore. It is how they learn. If we are looking towards their future, we need to allow them to explore and experiment as much as possible. We need them to experience the cause/effect relationships intrinsic to life, and then give them time to absorb it on their own, without us trying to turn it into a lesson. Christian kids should leave home ready to face the world, able to stand up for the truth because they personally believe it, able to make right, wise choices on their own. My husband and I firmly believe that the way we deal with our toddler gives him a foundation that will help carry him into maturity.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Judgementalism

I have been thinking a lot lately about my heart attitude as a Christian. It is because I am reading yet another Donald Miller book, and it really has me thinking about how haughty I tend to be. In this book, he points out that people seem to find their value by comparing themselves to others. They feel good about themselves as long as there is someone "beneath" them, whether it be socially, economically, physically, or in any other way. He also points out that we were designed to find our worth outside of ourselves, from God and who He says we are and how He loves us, but in our fallen state, we look to others to define us instead of to God. And that is why we so often find someone to condemn or look down on; it helps us to feel like we are "ok".

I started thinking about Christian teens that I have worked with through the years. There is always a very small minority who seem to care less what others think of them, but most Christian teens act just like non-Christian teens: they worry about what others think of them; no matter how "liberal" they are, they always find someone who "sins" or does stuff that they would never do.

That being said, we need to think long and hard about what we are teaching our children. Are we teaching them to be good, moral, and kind in their own strength? Are we communicating to them that in our eyes they don't, and will never, measure up? That they are a disappointment to us? Are we comparing our children, holding the "better behaved" ones up as "examples" for others to follow? As long as our goal as parents is to have "good" Christian kids, we will hang onto all sorts of behavior modification techniques to get them to behave the way we want them to. They will learn early on that to be acceptable, they just need to do what we tell them, when we tell them to. They will, I can guarantee, then becomes very outwardly good, or they will rebel. Either way, they will also be very judgmental, seeking their affirmation in the fact that they are better than at least some of their peers (yes, even the rebellious ones).

What we fail to do as parents is to look at the big picture of Scripture. It is the story of a perfect God who wanted people who could be in relationship with Him. These people betrayed His love in the garden. Ever since then, they have tried to find out "who they are" apart from him, from those around them. Then this wonderful, perfect God, filled with love for his runaway bride, died so that that relationship could be restored. And he wants those who have been redeemed to find their wholeness, their meaning, in Him. Are we presenting a portrait to our children of this incredible love and grace that God has given us? Or are we raising them to find their acceptance in good behavior? God knew something that we fail to realize: genuine love invites people, including children, into relationship where they are perfectly accepted based on no merit of their own.

Donald Miller aptly states: "It makes you feel that as a parent the most important thing you can do is love your kids, hold them and tell them you love them because, until we get to heaven, all we can do is hold our palms over the wounds. I mean, if a kid doesn't feel he is loved, he is going to go looking for it in all kinds of ways...Give a kid the feeling of being loved early, and they will be better at negotiating that other stuff when they get older. They won't fall for anything stupid, and they won't feel a kind of desperation all the time in their souls. It is no coincidence that Jesus talks endlessly about love. Free love. Unconditional love." (Searching For God Knows What).  I would add that we should invite them to walk in a love relationship with their Heavenly Father, who knows all their needs, and loves them.

When I look into the loving eyes of my Father, when I cling to His unconditional grace towards me, all haughtiness melts away. I am defined by Him, found in Him. Nothing can separate me from His love. Our children should grow up with the security of unconditional love. We need to invite them to partake of a relationship with God together with us.