Corporal Punishment of Children in the Covenant of Grace (3/5)

Part of the disagreement would be the purpose of parenting, which gives considerable insight into the materialist cause-effect bent in secularism. A secular parenting model has a goal to bringing about healthy, emotionally stable citizens. Christian parents desiring those same goals however realize short-sidedness, for the Christian parent the desire is eschatological life. The discussion is centered around a primary question, “What is the anthropology and eschatology of all humanity?” Both of these parts in of themselves are large questions that certainly deserve careful and thoughtful answers.

Anthropologically speaking Christians have an understanding of human nature from birth. Parents desire to instill in their children love, honesty, mutual respect, integrity and other values that are not arrived at but taught. Christian parents can not think that children will naturally have a desire to serve others but recognize that children left to their own natures desire to serve their own natures. With the psalm writer David, all humanity cries “…Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalms 51:5). Prior to regeneration all humanity is spiritually dead till Christ makes them alive.

The purpose of parenting in covenant homes has a spiritual aspect in parenting but not to the neglect of the physical. Non-Christian research focus on cause and effect as the sole explanation of all behaviors neglecting the spiritual nature of children. In certain contexts physical explanations can be a valid way to address children acting out (physical stress, lack of sleep, diet or genetics). However, discipline must account for the child as a whole being. Christian parents must have a goal to cause Christian children to hate their own sin and desire to live a life of gratitude for the great love they have received in Christ (Rom 5:8). Discipline for covenant children is a tool to curb sin and drive away “folly”. Koelman describes this “rod of discipline” as a tool used to correct disobedience, contempt expressed in words, deeds or gestures.(1)

Eschatologically, the goal of humanity is to find eternal life and as the Westminster Larger Catechism teaches “Man’s Chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.” The Christian home is to lead children into a life of godliness first and foremost.(2) The duty of the Christian is a duty of love. A love for God and also a love for their enemies and those who are in their holy community with them (the church).(3) The basis of children’s interpretation of spiritual instruction is a known love that parents have for them.(4) Their baptism is before the Lord in the Covenant of Grace. A covenant that demands on them of faith and repentance.(5)

The mandate to Covenant homes is clear in Scripture, parents are to discipline children. This discipline is modeled for members of the Covenant of Grace by God himself who disciplines his own to cause a hatred of their own sin and grow them in love for God. Clearly, God doesn’t discipline with a physical rod but as his wisdom genre demonstrates, the Lord chastises his children to repentance (Prov 3:11; Heb 12:5, 7–8). The means of discipline that God uses may be the natural consequences of the world where God as a “mid-wife” brings about the natural consequences. God in his mercy he may spare his children from their stupidity and other times he may allow them to experience the measured consequences of their actions.

The Scriptures principally teach what humanity is to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man (WLC 1). Scripture is not a “how-to” manual telling Christian parents how to discipline, it doesn’t address what this discipline should look like. It is here where the Scriptures are silent but wisdom is clearly given to both Christians and non-Christian alike. This doctrine known and understood as Common Grace allows Christians to carefully consider what experts who are not Christian may have to say. However, even this wisdom must be filtered through the filter of the Scriptures and understanding the premises and points of disagreement.

1 Jacobus Koelman, The Duties of Parents (ed. M. Eugene Osterhaven; trans. John Vriend; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), p 21.
2 Koelman, The Duties of Parents, pp 76-77.
3 Koelman, The Duties of Parents, p 21.
4 Koelman, The Duties of Parents, p 29.
5 Koelman, The Duties of Parents, p 29.