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The Church and Corporal Punishment

Updated on March 2, 2019
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Dr. David Thiessen is an educator, writer, pastor, and speaker. He has authored several books on a variety of topics including Archaeology

As an evangelical Christian, I am deeply concerned about the many divisive wedges between us. The most highly publicized differences involve social issues...- pg. 37

It is difficult to talk about all the social issues facing the church. Most come under the category of the social gospel which is not the topic for this article. The social gospel deserves its own article which may come at a later time.

In this article a look at the church and corporal punishment is needed as many churches advocate its use and often read scripture in a way that supports a heavy handed type disciplinary tool.

Spare the rod

Most people are aware of the rest of that verse, spare the rod and spoil the child. This is the main verse that most people use this verse to justify their use of harsh corporal punishments.

Many people interpret the term ‘rod’ to mean an actual rod or some sort of belt, switch or some other handy tool to make sure discipline has been administered. But there are those in the church who understand that God did not use the term ‘rod’ literally.

Instead, the term is used to refer in that verse to mean discipline. God actually said, spare the discipline and spoil the child. How one disciplines is up to the parent and God does give parents a lot of latitude. If they want to use corporal punishment then they are free to apply that punishment.

The Key to Applying Discipline

Since God did not outlaw spanking and the use of a belt or switch, that means that corpora punishment is not out of bounds when it comes time for parents to discipline their children. But God did lay down some rules in how that discipline should be administered.

Discipline needs to be fair and just. It is also not to be done out of emotional responses and forgiveness has to be part of the process. Before a punishment and discipline can be applied, the parents and authorities need to forgive the offender.

What forgiveness does is help clear the eyes of those deciding on the appropriate punishment for the offender has to endure. The Bible talks about clearing the eyes of oneself before trying to clear the eyes of the other person. Forgiveness helps keeps the eyes clear so the right punishment can be found.

Also, mercy needs to be ready to be brought into action when mercy is warranted. There is no blanket application of mercy and depends on the heart, soul and attitude of the offender. We can never remove mercy from applying the rod correctly.

Zero Tolerance Does Not Meet God’s Standards

In recent years, the concept of zero tolerance has become one of the more popular discipline methods used by parents, educational officials and even the judicial system. Its application is often harsh, without concern for the person and certainly removes justice and mercy from being part of the disciplinary process.

One purpose for proper discipline is to restore the person to the right way to live. Unfortunately, zero tolerance does not restore anyone. It often makes things worse and does nothing to heal the problem at the source.

Its popularity is due to the fact that it is the easiest form of discipline to apply.

God Uses Corporal Punishment

When his followers and other members of his creation do not follow God’s rules, God has used corporal punishment to discipline them and set an example for others to see what will come from their disobedience.

The Bible is full of accounts where God has turned to corporal punishment to discipline and punish the offenders. From the banishment of Cain, to the global flood, to Sodom and Gomorrah, to David and Bathsheba, to Ananias and Sapphira.

As usual, while the secular world does not agree, God’s actions were fair, just and fitting the offenses committed. God has set the example of how the church and Christian parents are to apply discipline.

The Bible is full of positive instructions for disciplining children besides the verse spare the rod...

What This Means to the Church

For the church, zero tolerance is not a disciplinary methods. It is not of God nor is it a very just or fair method of applying discipline. The church has to advocate for justice and fairness along with mercy if they want to make inroads in people’s lives.

The church has to take the time to ferret out the real source for children’s misbehavior. That includes leaving sin in the picture. Sin is often the root cause for why children do bad things and the only cure for that source is Jesus and spiritual action.

Part of that spiritual action is the proper discipline that helps turn the child from a bad child to a good child that lives according to God’s rules. As usual, the church needs to stop following the secular world and turn their attention to listening to God and learn how to punish correctly.

Some Final Words

Handling social issues like corporal punishment is not that difficult. The Bible tells people how they can punish and does not place a lot of restrictions on methods. The Bible also does not grant permission to anyone to force their discipline ideas on others.

In other words, if you do not like spanking you have no right to tell other parents not to spank. Applied properly, spanking is not abuse. Proper discipline is also not abuse and should not be avoided simply to spare the young offenders’ feelings.

Discipline needs to follow scripture and help bring the young offenders to repentance and the right way to live. Corporal punishment is an emotional issue and emotions tend to distort the situation.

People need to hold their emotions and let parents decide how they will punish their children. They are the ones who have to give an account to God on how they handled their children.

Of course, parents cannot go too far in their disciplinary methods and cross the line into abuse, torture and other criminal activity.


© 2019 David Thiessen

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