This article is about discipline in parenting and education.

Source: Christian Renewal, 2005. 2 pages.

Love and Punishment

I won't punish my children. I don't think I can. I think I would rather discipline them so that they might avoid punishment.

I was having a discussion about corporal punishment the other day. I was relating that, even though it is legal for a parent or school in Ontario to apply physical discipline, Christian parents are hesitant and most schools, even Christian schools, will not do it. On the contrary, I also know of Christian schools in countries where the practice is against the law, who do use corporal punishment, because they believe they must. I saw the quizzical look on my companion's face so, of course, I kept talking.

Corporal punishment is an awkward term. When you and I think of corporal punishment, we think of the judicious application of physical force for the correction of children. For those around us, far too often, it brings up images of large men with large sticks inflicting large pain on little people. In many cases this has actually been the truth. Perhaps it is this truth that makes the term awkward, even for us.

I have heard the argument made that striking children out of anger only teaches children to strike out when they are angry. The hardest thing about countering this argument is the fact that it is true. The cycle of physical abuse, where children who have been physically abused by parents grow up to physically abuse their own children, is well documented and really not open to honest debate. As long as we attempt to argue this fact, because we do not see that this is not discipline, we run the constant risk of deliberately denying the truth to defend the truth. This may fly in the world, but it ought not fly in the communion of the saints.

If we are to defend the responsibility of the dutiful parent to apply physical discipline, we need to make a clear and early distinction between discipline and punishment. Discipline seeks to convict the individual of the wrong in their actions and turn them toward the proper path. Discipline arises from loving concern for the offender; we are seeking to love our children when we apply discipline. Corporal discipline is a far more accurate term for what is required of us. I will use it from now on.

Punishment is a different animal. Punishment exists where there is not love. Punishment is what the governing authority is called to do in the face of wrongdoing, in as much as it desires to be obedient to the commands of God.

Punishment is one of the few justifiable roles of government. It does not arise from the government's love of the offender; it arises from the government's desire and need to avenge the offended. In this respect, punishment of evil is a manifestation of God's love for the righteous, and judgment on the wicked, not of the state's love for anyone.

The source of strength and rightness for discipline is also one of its most difficult challenges; God placed discipline within loving relationships, it is only appropriate and effective there. Within His covenant with His people, the covenant He made because of His love for us, He has always exercised discipline for disobedience. Within the Church, discipline was instituted to express Christ's love for His bride, that she might be faithful to Him and that the offender might turn and know the grace of God. Within the family, parents are commanded to discipline the children entrusted to them, in a definitely corporal manner, that they might turn from foolishness and receive wisdom and God's blessing.

Punishment comes when the need for discipline is ignored. This is only debatable if you favour ignoring the scriptures. The Christian school, as an extension of the home, should also be a place of discipline. I would argue that in obvious cases the application of corporal discipline is a requirement, not an option. But, and this is a big but, only if the necessary relationship exists. The public school, an agent of the state, can only punish no matter what they do. We must ask ourselves if we truly love the students in our care at the Christian school. If we do not love them, any form of discipline we practice can only be punishment. If we do love them, can we ignore the means to discipline them? Can we continue to be surprised when they are not disciplined?

Love and punishment stand behind similar looking doors. Many parents hand over their children to punishment by their refusal to love and discipline. Each day we choose between discipline now and punishment later.

Do we have the courage to love our children?

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