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.