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Does discipline really produce godly character…?

I was talking with someone who visited the Assembly once in 1992 with her husband and children. Once, mind you. And that was a long time ago. “We never came back,” she said, “because I just couldn’t make the commitment to raise my children that way. It was too hard.” After that, she felt for years like she hadn’t stepped up to the bar, until she came across the Reflections website and was hugely relieved to learn that, as good as it looked on the outside, the Assembly way of child training was wrong-headed.

Early in the Assembly, Richard and Virginia Fugate’s books and video series What the Bible Says about Child Training were promoted as standard resources for parents. In the 1990s the Assembly began ordering and using the book, To Train up a Child, by Michael and Debi Pearl. These methods have been well-critiqued by many, including Tulip Girl, and Lynn Harris 1 at Salon Magazine.

The underlying principle behind both methods is “first time obedience”. The idea is that the child will be conditioned by negative reinforcement to immediately obey directions. This concept is convenient and useful for parents. Saves a lot of hassle.
The problem is, it’s carried out in the name of God, as if it’s His method of parenting.

But is it? Did God break off a branch and whack Moses for arguing with Him? Was Peter even punished at all for denying Him? God’s methods with his people are instructive, corrective, encouraging, and redemptive. Where is the just consequence for disobedience? It fell on Christ, because in spite of our best efforts and God’s instruction, we are not going to be able to obey perfectly.

Was there an immediate consequence for Adam and Eve for disobedience? Yes. Because the first disobedience brought sin into the world. After sin and death entered the human race, God’s dealings were not punitive, to enforce obedience, but redemptive, because human beings were no longer able to obey. They needed a Savior.

Same with children. They have the same inability we do as adults. No amount of punishment will subdue sin and make them beautifully sanctified. It’s not possible. If you punish children to make them unfailingly and instantly obedient, the result is often Pavlov’s puppies who are conditioned by fear. While they may conform outwardly to your expectations, what you’ve accomplished is actually counterproductive to salvation and sanctification. You produce people who feel that they have to live up to an impossible standard, and have a false image of God as a perfectionistic judge looming with narrowed eyes to pounce on any imperfection.

About Editor

Margaret Irons and her husband Steve and three children were in the Fullerton Geftakys Assembly for twenty years. We left in March, 1990. We are still recovering and learning in Orange County, CA.

2 comments on “Does discipline really produce godly character…?

  1. I remember the Omaha meetings,about 38 yrs. ago. I was spared from getting in to deep, because I guess God was on my side, for the Millers moved to Kansas. I loved that family. However, they were misled…misguided and miserable.
    At the meetings,I was told by some young guy,he was around 21-22, I was never to remarry or ever date again. I was 19, with a small child. My ex- husband was an alcoholic and a philanderer…and left me and my child for a 17 yr old. I was told all of that was my fault. How was that my fault? But he said I had had my one relationship for this lifetime and now I was meant to be alone.
    During Bible study, I, too, was taught to hold my hand over my little ones mouth. I worried about my child being able to breath, as they had a runny nose on one occasion. I was shown how to let them catch their breath in between cries. If you held a dogs mouth shut, people would say stop abusing that dog! Before the Millers moved, I remember Chuck and Mary Ann had sold their televisions(all of their possessions…which if I remember correctly, they were admonished for selling and not throwing/giving away their possessions) anyway… there was a Bible specific program I thought they would find interesting, and I invited them to my parents house to watch. I can see them still, in my mind…such an elegant couple, sitting on the couch.
    They were so gracious. I always looked up to them.
    I lost contact with them after they moved.
    I followed that stupid advice from that stupid group leader for many years. He spoke with such authority and conviction. He was wrong…so deeply wrong. I continued my search for fellowship and Godly people. What I have found is… people have failings. One day while gardening, I was struck with a beautiful truth. It became clear to me,so clear. All
    Things are GOD. Every thing working together and even not working together is GOD. GOD is not a separate being…GOD is a collective of all things. We are all GOD…animals,air, plants, insects, fish all are GOD. I found peace.

  2. Pingback: Does Punishment Really Produce Godly Character? | Why Not Train A Child?

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