Discipline and Christian Competence

By Kevin Craig (around 1980)

Discipline: an important word; a misunderstood word. Mr. Rushdoony cites the following to test your understanding of the word “discipline.” A pious couple has an erring and seriously delinquent daughter. “Complaining because of her behavior, her unmarried and pregnant condition, and her contempt of their authority, the parents insisted that they had “disciplined” her regularly. She had been deprived of various privileges, and had been frequently slapped and spanked when younger. The girl, almost twenty years of age, was pregnant and in bad company, given to experimenting with narcotics and much else, but she did not know how to sew, cook, study or work, or obey a simple order.”

Question: was the girl disciplined? If you answered “yes,” then you need to pay serious attention to this article. The parents of this girl had chastised her, but she had grown up radically undisciplined. Today, more than ever, Christian school teachers and parents, especially parents, need to understand Christian discipline

Mr. Rushdoony explains the concept of discipline: “Discipline is systematic training and submission to authority, and it is the result of such training. Chastisement or punishment is the penalty or beating administered for departure from authority. Clearly discipline and chastisement are related subjects, but just as clearly they are distinct.” This definition can be clarified by showing why the Christian educator must work to bring about disciplined children, and how he can.

A society is made up of individual men. The character of men determines the character of a society. This is an age of laziness. This is an age of self-gratification. This is an age of disrespect. To understand these problems in society, we must see that they are problems with men who rebel against God. To change society, we must change the hearts of men. This is the task of the Biblical educator.

Man’s basic purpose in life is to exercise dominion over the earth to the glory of God (Gen. 1:26-28). But the Bible is clear: fallen man is no longer Dominion Man. He is Sluggard Man, characterized by laziness, and shunning his work (Prov. 12:24; 18:9; 21:25-26; cf. also Ezek. 16:49).

Since man has declared himself to be his own god (Gen. 3:5), he is thereby concerned only with his own needs, his own desires. His basic motive is self-gratification or self-worship. “If it feels good, do it,” is a popular expression of this attitude. It also implies, “If it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it,” and when it comes to work, study, and self-discipline, fallen man doesn’t—not without pressure.

Finally, because God has ordained structures of authority (parents, teachers, employers, government), and man is rebelling against God, he naturally rebels against these authorities. This is disrespect. Students of past generations rose to their feet when their teachers entered the room (see Lev. 19:32). But this is now the “punk rock” generation.

Modern man: lazy, self-centered, disrespectful. If this is what characterizes fallen men, what do you think characterizes their culture? The productivity of this lazy nation has declined 275% over the last decade. Teenagers who have their desires for instant gratification frustrated, show a high suicide rate, as they wallow in self-pity. Back in the Great Depression, authority patterns constrained behaviour. Today’s poor feel they have the right to loot and riot. In general, the disrespectful age is an age of incompetence. Men who do not obey the commands of their superiors are men who lack discipline. They cannot complete a task. They despise and grumble at an eight-hour-a-day job. As housewives they are unable to patiently and creatively fulfill their duties, and so they retreat into novels and soap operas. As students they cannot compete, and cannot (will not) overcome an assignment without breaking down and crying to parents or peers. Regularly.

Low productivity; self-pity; poor character and incompetence: this is our age in a nutshell. As Christian educators we must come to grips with this profound truth: Only Christian Education can solve these problems. Even more challenging, Any education that is not solving these problems is not a Christian Education. Every Christian school, regardless of size, can and must work to solve these tremendous social problems. Where do we start? We start in the hearts of our students.

First, we must conquer the problem of laziness. We instil in our students’ hearts a desire for godly dominion. Man’s purpose is to work, not to play. Man must exercise dominion over the earth, not retreat from his God-given responsibilities (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:15, 19; II Thess. 3:10¬11; I Tim. 5:13). Not only must man desire to involve himself in God’s glorious creation, to grapple with life, and get his hands into his work (Eph. 4:28; I Thess. 4:11), Dominion Man seeks to overcome sin and the problems and difficulties that tempt us to deny God’s Law (I John 5: 4-5). Clearly, we often fail (the Greek word for “sin” is hamartia, “to fall short of the mark”), but we keep trying. With discipline, the things that beat us yesterday are the things we conquer today. The word we misspelled yesterday is a tool for dominion today, and we both thank the Lord and take pride in the work of our hands. We must develop in our students this godly desire to work and succeed.

The student who thinks only of his own immediate pleasure, however, will not so easily cultivate a godly desire toward work. He sees only the present, and does not understand that hard work today pays off in the future (Prov. 12:24; 22:29). All of our students will be more concerned with play, easy-living, and the way of slothfulness. Therefore, second, we must overcome this commitment to self-gratification. We must instruct our students to obey God, to desire to please Him and not ourselves. We must also pray that God would give them the grace to declare, “My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times” (Ps. 119:20). Christians must find a real joy in their heart to serve with cheerful obedience the Lord Jesus.

Third the solution to an undisciplined, incompetent generation lies with God’s ordained authority, the parents of tomorrow’s adults. Too often, we believe not as Christians, but as the Seneca Indians of the Colonial Era. For these people, “parental tenderness” was carried to a dangerous indulgence. Punishment was lacking, and mothers were quick to express resentment of any constraint or injury or insult offered to the child by an outsider. As Mr. Rushdoony, himself a missionary to the Indians for nearly nine years, has put it, “I never saw a frustrated Indian child.” He goes on to give us some insights into how we must deal with our students, and sometimes with their parents. “I found the Indians a lovable people, of real ability and more than a little charm, but the permissiveness of their society guaranteed their continuing unhappy and low estate.

An unfrustrated child is inescapably in for trouble. It is impossible to live in a fallen world – where conflict of wills is a daily problem, and a minor one in the face of our major world and local problems – without having frustrations. Discipline in childhood is a schooling in frustration and training in patience and work (cf. Heb 5:8). Discipline not only prepares Us for frustration, but gives us the character to work towards overcoming frustration. Permissiveness in child rearing thus avoids frustrating the child only to insure continual frustration for the adult.” (The Chalcedon Report, No. 67, P.O. Box 158, Vallecito, Calif. 95251) If the parents of the children we teach are less Christian and more Seneca Indian, and continually indulge their children by doing their homework for them, or pressuring you to stop pressuring their child, you must counsel them along the lines of this article.

What, then, is the purpose of the Christian educator? Simply, to frustrate children. Sound rather bleak? Then understand that by frustrating the child, we deliver his soul from hell. Proverbs 23:13-14 says that if we do not withhold discipline from a child, we shall do just that. Still unmotivated? Then consider your purpose, first, in light of our fallen students. Our students do not want to read; they do not want to study; they do not want to work they do not want to keep trying to do that math problem until they get it right. They want you to give them the answers. And if they don’t get the answer from you, they’ll go home and ask their parents, who, unless they’re reading this article, will probably give it to them. Sound cynical?

You and I both know it isn’t, because we know ourselves all too well. “One of the problems facing anyone who works with people today,” warns Mr. Rushdoony, “is this radical lack of discipline and the ability to meet frustrations realistically and to overcome them. The desire of most people is to walk away from problems. But nothing does more to increase the problems inherent in a society and constant to a man’s life than the refusal to meet them head-on and then work patiently to overcome them. To ask for a trouble-free, unfrustrated life is to ask finally for death, and, before death, a lower class, slave status.”

As fallen men we all have this desire. Fallen students are no different: they too desire to put aside their responsibilities. As teachers we must frustrate that sinful desire. Our students want the unfallen, work-free world of Disneyland. They won’t get it when they graduate; they’d better not get it in school. For their own sakes.

Look at Proverbs 22:6. Now listen to what Bruce A. Ray has said in his, excellent book, Withhold not Correction. “In the Hebrew text of Proverbs 22:6 the phrase “in the way he should go” is entirely lacking. Rather, the Hebrew says, “Train up a child in his way, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Train up a child in his way…, allow a child to have self-expression, let your children decide what they will and what they will not do and when they will and will not do it, look into the future and you will see those same children unbridled, undisciplined, and unable to bring their bodies into submission to the commands of God. That is a stern warning.”

If you care anything at all about Christian competence, the integrity of the Gospel, and both the present and future Sanctification of your students, then in light of the fallen nature of man, you will make your school tough. It’s that simple; it’s that unappealing; but it’s that important.

Second, consider our obligation to God. Proverbs 23:13 is one of many proverbs that command Biblical educators to frustrate the sinful desires of their students: “Withhold not correction from a child.” The same sinful desires that make the student rebel against your God-given authority make you rebel against exercising that authority. Again, Burce Ray says, “It is natural for us to seek to withhold discipline from our children. It is much easier for us to do something else, or to be someplace else, but God requires of Christian parents and especially of Christian fathers that they administer the discipline which He reveals in His Word. For parents, and especially for fathers, to withhold that discipline is to sin against God….” (cf. Prov. 19:18 and 13:24).

Finally, consider our love for our students. If we love them, we will be tough with them. We will force them to adhere to strict standards of competence and integrity. We will expect them to work hard, to study independently, and to build the character it takes to be a rust-rate soldier of the Lord Jesus Christ. We must be tough. In far, far, too many Christian schools today, the standards of excellence are below those of the public schools. We don’t want monks and nuns. Godly living does not consist merely in the memorization of a few Bible texts. It begins with character. A diligent worker, a Biblical mindset; a respecter of authority: these are the things that please God and convey a fine testimony to the unsaved. Christians must be leaders (Matt. 5:13-16). Christians must be diligent, able to persevere (Prov. 11:27; Rom 12:11).

Christians must be disciplined. It starts with parents, at home. It continues with teachers, in schools. It ends with Christians who are prepared and competent to disciple (i.e., to discipline) the nations (Matt. 28:18-20). Proverbs 13:24 says, “He who spares his rod hates his son.” The teacher who fails to challenge his students, hates his students. A tough program of early reading, mastery of the English Language, and a broad understanding of God’s Law in the home, the government, and in our current economic situation, is indeed tough. But it is not hate; it is love. We want our students to obey God because we love them and we want to see them saved and brought to an obedient walk with, and knowledge of, the Living God.

Be a roadblock for incompetence. When you see your student begin to take the road of easy-living, force him to make a detour onto the harder mad. If he rebels, and stops in his tracks, goad him forward (Ecc.12:11). Develop godly character so that when he finally gets out onto the real mad of life, he will be disciplined: ready and competent (Phil. 3:14).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s