Sunday, December 01, 2013

How NOT to train up a child - Michael Pearl

I read about this sad story recently about a well-known but dreadful book by Michael Pearl. Training a dumb animal is nothing like bringing up a child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. The rod cannot be used without reproof. Our discipline must be limited by what a child can properly understand--otherwise it is not spiritual discipline, just senseless violence. Also just as we ought to flee temptation, we ought to keep our children away from temptation, not put stumbling blocks in front of them.

To be honest, I would not let people like that even train my dog (if I had one). 
"A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel." - Prov. 12:10.
As for Christ's little ones: 
"And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." - Eph. 6:4.
"Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged." - Col. 3:21.
"The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame." - Prov. 29:15.
The goal of discipline administered by Christian parents ought never to be to train children to achieve some kind of outward show of absolute obedience. It ought to be spiritual discipline to aim at a child's sanctification. That is what it means to nurture them in the Lord: they are like little olive plants that are weak and need to be carefully and lovingly nurtured (sometimes pruned) to become strong (Psalm 128:3). Not to tear them down, but to build them up. If it is to be spiritual then it must necessarily come with the Word of God - otherwise it is worthless because all our growth in grace comes by the word, and there is no edification without understanding (I Cor. 14:9ff), therefore the child must be taught to understand the Word of God. Also since the goal is the sanctification of the child, that means that children may only be chastened for sin (not for accidents, mistakes, weakness, etc), and the chastening must be appropriate and proportionate to the sin.

God's Fatherhood of us is our model. That God wills us always to be assured of our salvation (Rom. 8:15-16; Gal. 4:57; etc), teaches us that we too must always assure our children of our love for them, especially as we seek their salvation, to lead them away from sin and temptation, to lead them with us to Christ for forgiveness daily, and this means too that since it is sinful for them to disobey us, we ought not make the temptation more difficult for them by laying down burdensome and overbearing commandments on them. Instead we need to be gentle, knowing that they are weak vessels like us, yet even weaker. And unless we know in ourselves our own weakness as deeply as we ought, we will not be as gracious with our children as we ought to be. Who is sufficient for the heavy responsibility to be a father to one these little citizen's of Christ's kingdom. Considering the task, I would despair except that I trust that if God has entrusted one of His beloved elect to my care, then He will also work by His grace in me as an instrument in His hand for their benefit - because I know that God works all things for the good of His elect. 

By the way, I don't believe in presumptive regeneration. But I'm not a Baptist either, so I don't believe in presumptive un-regeneration. I believe we ought to view and treat all the children of believing parents as everyone else in the church; elect and beloved, etc (even though we know that just as there will be hypocrites among confessing adults, there will be reprobates among the children - in other words, that is not a sufficient reason biblically to view either an adult or a child in the church uncharitably). 

A friend directed me to this review. I want to highlight a very important that Rachel Miller makes in that review article - children have emotional needs. In fact, if I have learnt anything as a parent, it is that we can never know exactly what the reason for a child's crying might be. They might be crying because they are hungry, or thirsty, or too cold, or too warm, or a bit sick, or a bit uncomfortable, or because they want someone to talk to them, or to be with them, or to hold them. It is very likely that they themselves very often don't know what they are crying about, and maybe often they just feel a need to cry for no real reason other than that. And whatever the reason may be, even if they do not know themselves, unless they can tell us, then we cannot know.

But are we not the same? Do we not sometimes feel like we don't know what is wrong, and just want to cry to our heavenly Father? He is always ready and willing to hear our cries, no matter how often or how loud and fervent they might be. To bring our cries before God is not at all the same as murmuring and complaining against Him and His good providence - His fatherly kindness. It is an act of worship when we bring our cries before Him, because in doing so we confess that He alone is the one who always hears us and ultimately from whom all our comfort comes no matter what may be the reason for our cries. I don't have a lot of experience as a parent (one year today), but I guess that one of the richest experiences of any parent is when a child seeks their comfort from you, and I believe that God, who comforts us so that we can comfort others, works through us parents to comfort His children.

Ultimately our cries to God are a manifestation of this: "And not only they [the brute creation], but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body." (Romans 8:23). And in this is our comfort; the Spirit expresses far more deeply to God what cannot express rightly (because of our sin, and more simply our weakness, and limited nature): "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." (Rom. 8:26-28). And since Christ knows the mind of His own Spirit dwelling in us, so He knows exactly how to intercede for us. And so we have the knowledge that everything is worked out by God for our good, because of His eternal love for us in Christ.

We will continue to offer up cries to God until our final redemption at the coming of the new age, and then there will be no more crying and our Father will have wiped away every tear from our eyes: "And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." (Rev. 21:3-4).

Isn't this the kind of fatherhood that we ought to try to emulate: to wipe away the tears of our children, by giving them the comfort of us being with them, and them with us?

To presume that their crying is some kind of sophisticated sinful manipulation is not only absurd (from the point of view that even though their fallen human nature is utterly depraved, its expression is nevertheless restricted by their lack of development in strength, intelligence, etc), but also, and more importantly it is fundamentally uncharitable, and therefore un-Christian. It comes from a radically wrong mindset. Christian love demands this: "Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth..." (I Cor. 13:4-8). If we would desire that people be charitable with us in all our weaknesses, should we not be charitable to others - especially our own children? If we do not provide a living example of Christian love to our children, they will not learn it from us.

And even if it was only ever sinful crying, that would not change our responsibility as parents. We may never accuse another (whether our children or otherwise) of lying when we do not really know. The unregenerate wicked only ever sin, and yet they often speak truthfully in their sinning if it will get them want they want. Yet as Christians, we may not even presume that our children are unregenerate. I would guess in the theology of the Pearls however, they do presume this. And they propose a very different unbiblical way of the salvation of infants and children - salvation by physical discipline through the efforts of parents, rather than by grace through faith in Christ.