The Effect of the World’s View of Discipline

Andy is a member of Hudsonville Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan. This article was written as a 2001 Protestant Reformed Scholarship essay.

“We believe that discipline makes children miserable without offering them any genuine benefit, because punishing children whose behavior is out of control actually interferes with their ability to learn self-governance”1

Parents of the world understand that disciplining children can be a difficult and confusing task so they seek out the advice of experts to help them in this job. There are many places to turn for advice because there are nearly as many child-rearing methods as there are doctors and psychologists who study children. Each doctor has his own idea of the most successful way to discipline so it seems there is no end to the advice that parents can get when raising their children. However, most of the advice boils down to the quote given above. The worldly psychologists and doctors come to the conclusion that a child will naturally turn out just fine if only the parents will keep their big, bumbling selves out of the way.

How strange that the people who have devoted their whole lives to studying children can come to the conclusions that children are naturally good and that children aren’t sinners! Even the world’s parents and the world’s teachers see that children are plagued with sin. They see the heavy, rusty, abrasive chains of sin that shackle their children. What is more, they understand that those same chains shackle themselves. So it’s no wonder that they deny such chains exist. To admit that a child is a sinner worthy of death is to admit that they are sinners worthy of death. In order to remain blind to their own sin, they must make themselves blind to the sins of their children. So every time a child sins, the sin is explained away as a mere phase that the child is going through and will soon outgrow. By passing the blame for sin away from children to phases, the world fools itself into thinking that children are free from sin.

This view is really a denial of total depravity. The world maintains that children are born good and it scoffs at those who hold that children are born polluted with original sin. The world scoffs at this confession that we make in the Canons of Dordt:

All men are conceived in sin, and by nature children of wrath, incapable of saving good, prone to evil, dead in sin, and in bondage thereto, and without the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit they are neither able nor willing to return to God, to reform the depravity of their nature, nor to dispose themselves to reformation (Heads III & IV, Article 3).

Children are born naturally evil, not naturally good! But the world wickedly denies God and His Word and continues to pass the blame for sin away from children and away from themselves.

This takes away any need to discipline as well, since misbehavior and sin are simply indications of a certain phase in the child’s life. If a child throws a tantrum when Mom or Dad says “No,” parents are advised to speak more and more gently until the child is willing to listen to reason. No discipline is to be administered because the tantrum is just a phase and you can’t very well discipline a phase. When the child bears no responsibility for sin, parents are unable to discipline. So parents are advised that their role is to “be there” for their child to help him or her through the phase but not to discipline their child.

This view of worldly psychologists and doctors about how to discipline a child is a plague on worldly parents who take their advice. The result is unruly children who refuse to accept responsibility for any of their misbehaviors and sins. But not only parents trying to raise their children are affected by this view. The church suffers from the same tendency to shy away from discipline. Individuals who live in open and unrepentant sin are allowed to remain members in good standing in the church. This is a plain failure of the office bearers to “watch for the souls” of their congregations. Hebrews 13:17 mentions this watching as the job of the rulers in the church.

Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief for that is unprofitable for you.

When the office bearers fail to perform their duty, the blood of the members of the congregation is on the office bearers’ heads (Ezekiel 3:17-19).

Not only do many office bearers today neglect to “watch for the souls” of their congregation by turning a blind eye to sin, but they go a step further by attempting to explain away sins and by making excuses for unrepentant members. The alcoholic and the homosexual are not to blame for their sins because their sins are a result of their genes. The couple living in adultery because of divorce and remarriage is not to blame for their sin because they were the innocent parties. When no one is responsible for their actions, the office bearers can’t exercise discipline in the church. How can a church discipline genes? It can’t, and so the members of the church go on in their unrepentant sins without any hope of being corrected.

Does this sound familiar? The majority of churches today are doing the same thing that the worldly doctors and psychologists do! First, they blame sin on circumstances or phases or a host of other things, and then they deny that discipline is necessary. What a hopeless situation these churches place their members in, because ultimately these churches are saying, “You don’t need Christ!” The members hear that nothing is their fault and they see that they can live uncontested in gross sins. This teaches them to think, “What need is there for the mercy of God in Christ if my sins aren’t my fault anyway? Why should I repent for actions that I can’t control anyway?” What a hopeless life if you’re left to die in sin!

We can avoid falling into this view of discipline only by God’s grace. Our natural inclination is to pass the blame away from ourselves too. Adam tried to blame his sin of eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil on Eve, and Eve tried to blame her sin on the Serpent. So we must pray for God’s grace that He make us see our guilt and our wretchedness because of our sins. We must pray for God’s grace that He cleanse us from our sins in the blood of Jesus Christ. And we must pray that if we are yet so stubborn as to remain unrepentant, that God use the means of discipline, administered by our parents and office bearers, to drive us to our knees in repentance. Then we will trust in God’s mercy for forgiveness and we will see discipline as the blessing that it is.


1William Pieper, M.D. and Martha Heineman Pieper, PH.D. Smart Love. Harvard Common Press.