Teaching Discipline

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What can a pastor say when a church member asks if spanking a child is right or not?

Seminarians received advice on that and other questions about ministry to parents in a town hall meeting sponsored by the student senate at Calvin Theological Seminary. Speakers included Dr. Marjorie Gunnoe, professor of psychology at Calvin College, and Dr. Ron Nydam, pastoral care professor at Calvin Theological Seminary.

The topic was “Disciplining Youth in an Undisciplined World.” The conversation included questions about corporal punishment, an introduction to a theology of discipline, and some foundational ideas for church leaders in the area of discipline of youths.

Gunnoe explained the research regarding spanking and the moral presuppositions that accompany that research. She also addressed issues of aggression and abuse.

She pointed out that there are great differences between cases and cultures and that “to place too much emphasis on spanking is a mistake. The quality of the parent-child relationship is far more critical.”

“If spanking improves the parent-child relationship, then there are situations in which it may be appropriate,” she said, but only in the case of children ages 2 to 6 years.

Nydam called on parents and future pastors to consider how a child would experience a spanking and wondered whether children can really understand that this action indicates love.

To those who use “spare the rod and spoil the child” as a defense of corporal punishment, Nydam pointed out that the “rod” is the same word used in Psalm 23:4: “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” These texts are about guidance, not physical punishment.

Interested readers can find an audio recording of the conversation in the Lecture Archive at www.calvinseminary.edu.

Note: Since this meeting, Professor Nydam was diagnosed with acute leukemia and is undergoing treatments. Banner readers are asked to pray for Ron and his family.


About the Author

Rev. Kathy Smith is senior associate director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, adjunct professor of church polity at Calvin Theological Seminary, and adjunct professor of congregational and ministry studies at Calvin University. She is a member of First CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich.

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