3. Christian Discipline: Need for Training in the Home, School, and Church

R.J. Rushdoony • Mar, 19 2024

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  • Series: Christian Education: Christian Schools
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We shall begin our session with prayer.

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Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, we give thanks unto thee that thou hast called us into the household of faith, has made us workers in thy kingdom and has given us the responsibilities of thy children. Bless us in our work, in our study, and in our day-to-day living. That all things are to thy praise and glory, bless us in this session we beseech thee. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Our subject in this workshop is discipline. The first thing that needs to be said about discipline is that the word comes from the word ‘disciple.’ A disciple is one who follows a teacher and our teacher is Christ. And the word ‘discipline’ must never be confused with the word ‘chastise.’ What we have done in common usage is to confuse the two words so that when we talk about ‘disciplining’ a child, we are really talking about ‘chastising’ or punishing him. Now the two are very different. Chastisement, whether it’s corporal or whether it’s verbal is very commonly a necessity, but discipline is always a must. Discipline means that we are under authority, and we put others under authority. Thus, when we deal with the subject of ‘discipline’ we are not dealing with punishment, chastisement, and we must remember that. We are dealing with being under authority, and the best way of escaping judgment, chastisement, ourselves, from the hand of God, is to be under authority. The more we are under authority, the less we are under judgment.

As we deal therefore with discipline the first area of discipline to consider is self-discipline. This means placing ourselves under authority. Very commonly this is a problem with pastors and teachers and missionaries; being disciplined. When I first began to work as a missionary without an immediate authority. I had previously served in the late thirties and early forties in San Francisco’s Chinatown as a missionary there, but I was under a disciplined situation. Then I went to a very isolated Indian reservation a hundred miles from any town or bus or train line. I found I was working hard and falling further and further behind until my predicament was becoming rather impossible. The reason for it was that being there by myself, without someone to lay out the work-schedule for me, I was working hard, but I was doing what I liked and what was easiest for me first of all. The result was that every job that I did not enjoy was going undone. I would run out of time when the day or the week was over, and a vast number of little duties that I found unpleasant, or were not to my taste remained yet to do.

Well, after a period of time these things accumulate, and I found I was working with a bad conscience all the time, because there was so much to do that I was not doing. And I realized it was because I had to discipline myself, place myself under authority in that context. And the only way I was able to alter the situation was to tell myself: “What is it that you don’t want to do?” and to do that first of all every day. Only then was I able to take care of those tasks that were unpleasant, that were not to my taste. And I found then I was more efficient in my use of time. I could go to that part of the task that I liked most with a free conscience. I was not endlessly being nagged by knowing that there was so much I had not done.

Now, in a Christian school, you are in a situation where you are under authority to a great degree, but once you leave the premises of the school, then your self-discipline has to take over. You can take care of papers that need grading immediately, or let them accumulate. You can take care of the various duties that are not particularly to your taste, or let them accumulate to the point where it troubles your conscience, leaves you fretful, and begins to affect your work in the classroom. Because if you do not feel that you’re in command of the situation, your performance will begin to disintegrate, so that however good you may be in the classroom, if you have a backlog of accumulated work that you are not coping with, it’s going to affect your day-by-day performance.

Then another area of discipline which affects your performance is the home, the family. The great passage on marriage in Scripture is Ephesians 5:21 ff., where we are told we are to submit, one to another, for Christ’s sake. That passage is one of the most abused in the whole Scripture, abused by men. Men find it very, very useful in asserting theirauthority in the family. They are the king of the castle, the head of the household, and all that sort of thing. What they forget is that Christ exercises His headship, we are told, for the sake of the bride, the church, and gave his life as a part of His headship. And that the quality of headship in Scripture is distinguished by our Lord from that which the gentiles exercised, who loved to lord over you. That he that is greatest among you let him be the minister and the servant of all.

Thus, we need a proper sense of discipleship, discipline, in the family in order to face our responsibilities in the schools properly. Men have to be under authority in the home and the primary authority which governs both men and women, as well as the children in the family, is that of Jesus Christ.

Then third, the church is an area of discipleship, of discipline. Where it is the Word which is over all, not the pastor or the deacons, nor the elders. One of our problems is that we have too many lawless churches, and a church can be lawless if men rule it. It is a church in which there is true discipleship and discipline where it is the Word which governs.

Now, this brings us to our area of concern, the schools. Here we have multiple disciplines. We must recognize that the triune God is the Lord and Sovereign. That we have is a responsibility; that with that responsibility goes very serious burdens. One of the things that marked the old-fashioned Catholic parochial school was a sense of authority and discipline. I don’t know how many are familiar with the Catholic parochial schools before World War II, because most of you are probably persons born since 1940. But it was not uncommon for the old teaching nuns to have a class of fifty and sixty students, perfect order, and a superb performance on the part of the students. It was because the authority of the nun was respected, and it was because she was seen as someone who had a religious vocation and treated it accordingly .

What does that mean? Well less than a year ago at a conference such as this, two ministers stopped to chat with me after one of the sessions. They said: “You know, starting a Christian school was the most important thing we have ever done in our ministry and also that the thing that has caused us the most grief, and the most headaches.” They said: “We feel ungrateful criticizing teachers to you, and we don’t know how to go about dealing with them directly, it’s a real headache. We know they are underpaid, we know they have a hard task, and certainly we wouldn’t like to take it over ourselves, but we have a continual problem, teachers and their talk.” Now, the nuns, with a sense of religious vocation, treated all things as a priest treated the confessional. This is one of the great assets of the old-fashioned parochial schools. But what happens in too many Christian schools, especially in a small community, where everyone knows everybody, or everyone in the schools knows everyone, all the parents know each other? A child in kindergarten or the first grade who is a problem to the teacher and the teacher talks about it to the other teachers, that little Johnny Smith is a real pill, hyperactive, this and that and the other thing and what happens? Before that child reaches the other teachers it is tracked, every teacher expects that child to be that way, treats that child that way, and that child has two or three strikes on it all the way through school all because the teacher has talked. She has violated a religious responsibility to keep her mouth shut, and if she has a problem with the child, to pray about it and to work in the Lord to alleviate that situation.

I started school in a small town. A good many of the children I went to kindergarten with, I graduated from high school with. And you better believe there was tracking there. I know one of the boys in my class who was a fiery little redhead. Every teacher dreaded having that boy in his or her class, and treated him accordingly. And he was a problem all the way through school. He concluded that he wasn’t very bright, he was a hare-um scare-um all the way through school, and in those days; that was the depth of the depression, the years of the thirties, he was only kid who managed to have a motorcycle, and he made the best of it. He tore all around the community and made a pest of himself. That was the image people had of him, and he had thought of himself. His mother, however, believed better things of his son, so she insisted when he finished high school that he go to a junior high some distance away, stay with a relative there, and go to school. Well lo and behold in that school this boy whom no one imagined would be college material ever, found that he was an ‘A’ student! No one knew anything about his background. He quickly went on to university, studied engineering, and became an engineer of important projects the world over. He escaped tracking, a lot of students don’t. Talking about students to anyone; other teachers, or anyone outside of the classroom is a violation of your responsibilities. It is a sin; it can do a great deal of harm, in fact, any kind of talk.

I know one situation where a Christian school teacher who had to leave home earlier than her husband did to go to work was exasperated with her husband because he liked to sleep in. So this morning when things were frustrating and she had the kids to dress, and to get breakfast for, and get off to school she was really angry with her husband, he was very tired, he had to work late. But she went to school complaining about him and made some remarks about how he wouldn’t help and would just sleep in, and made some very injudicious statements which another teacher whom she was talking to repeated. And it got repeated again and again. So it was all through the church, and the husband had an undeserved reputation which when it got back to him did serious damage to that marriage. The words of our mouth and the meditation of our thoughts should be acceptable in God's sight. And what we say about our students and about anyone, the parents of our students, should be said to the Lord not to other teachers. So we must put our tongue under a discipline. Remember what James said in his Epistle about the damage that an undisciplined tongue can work.

There is another area comparable to what I just talked about and its records. Because I intended to do some writing on education I took a teacher’s certificate in the state of California, although I never used it, the general secondary. When I did my practice teaching at the university high school I was horrified by the records that were on every child. By the time they reached high school, there was a file, a folder, that thick. It wasn’t just their grades; it was all kinds of things that teachers and counselors had put down. A lot of it, their opinions and their tattle. What particularly brought home to me the evil of such records was the fact that one of the boys was the son of one of the university professors who was the finest professor I knew at the university. He had one child, a boy, and the boy had wanted a bicycle and his father said: “no, the other boys in the neighborhood who have bicycles are racing around all the time getting into mischief and they are not doing their work. You have a tremendous future and you need to be a good student, so you are not getting a bike.” Well, the counselors, probing, revealed that the boy had wanted a bike and the father didn’t given him one. So quite a bit went into the record about that and his friends in the neighborhood, two, three boys were asked about it when they went in. And being the less disciplined boys in the neighborhood, they said that Professor So and So is an old fuddy-duddy, very strict, he’s terrible. And all that went into the record and it built up to the point where I think that if the professor had ever learned what was in his boy’s folder, he would have grounds for a lawsuit. I don’t believe in files like that. Let me add, I don’t believe in a lot of testing.

The basic test is the classroom test. Then, to see if your school’s up to snuff is to have some good standard testing, and there isn’t much of that, to have periodically to see if your children are learning what they are supposed to learn. That’s legitimate. But our IQ tests are rubbish! They do not test intelligence. What they do test is the fact that you are white, urban and come from a strata of society and therefore you can answer the questions better.

Now I have an ax to grind here and I’ll tell you because I, in my hometown, coming from a foreign background, started kindergarten with almost no English, which was not unusual, I don’t think there was anyone in the class who did have much English. About nine out of ten were from Swedish families and spoke Swedish and then there were a few of us who were Armenian, one or two, and then there were a few who were Italian and Portuguese. In fact, it was quite unusual in my first grade, my teacher was what everyone spoke of being a real American, she only spoke one language, there were not many of them in that community. So when we moved for a time into a major metropolitan center, well, you lose a lot of points if you have a foreign background, and you are not a white urban child. And if you come from the country of course that is a penalty, so how did I come up on the IQ test? Oh I was retarded. I was retarded, and I was being put into a special class for retarded children. And it was only because the teacher I had for a few months before I was tested saw me in the classroom and saw that I was very upset and she grabbed a hold of me and she marched into the principal’s room, and told the principal in no uncertain terms what she thought of their testing system and she said she was going to make a stink about it if I were not put back in her class, I was her best student and she didn’t care what the test said. So that’s why I didn’t wind up a permanently retarded child. So naturally I’m not favorable to IQ tests. I think they do your children an injustice. Let them perform in the classroom, that’s what counts.

Then, the subjects constitute a discipline. Every subject that is taught imposes upon a child its own form of discipline, and we need to stress the authority of each subject. Mathematics requires drills, it requires memorization. History requires understanding the relationships of events as well as memorizing dates, names, places. Each subject has a particular form of authority, of imposing a discipline upon us. And this means too, that the child must recognize each subject calls for a particular approach. They cannot hope to function very well in their arithmetic courses unless they keep up with things every day. That in English there is a basic order in language that is a product of civilization and religion; you know there is very definitely a difference in languages.

The languages of the Western world which have seen the impact of centuries of Christianity are unlike the religions of the rest of the world, and all the languages. Language is a religious fact. Whenever a language is used to translate the Bible that language becomes a religious fact, it is no longer the same, the Bible begins to mold and reshape that language. Existential philosophy is that philosophy that says a man is to be governed not by the past, or any religion or anything external to himself but by the existential moment and by his own biology. That’s why Jean Paul Sartre the great existentialist philosopher said that, as between an existentialist who is the prime minister of his country and the village drunk who is an existentialist, the village drunk is the better existentialist because he doesn’t care about anything in the past or future, or what anybody thinks about him. But the prime minister, no matter how much a philosopher he is, still cares about the voters so he is not a consistent existentialist. Well, men outside of Christian civilization are existential. The languages do not have a good concept of the past or of the future. They are geared to the moment, and yesterday and tomorrow are maybe next month. This makes a difference. This is why our language today is Christian. It reflects a Christian time-concept. Every language that the Bible is being translated into is having a different time-concept infiltrate its consciousness. This is why in Asia and in Africa those who oppose Christianity are hostile to the Bible because it is destroying their traditional concept of time, an existentialist concept. So we cannot treat the conventions of language as arbitrary, they reflect a culture, they mold our minds and the minds of our pupils. They are a discipline and the more the child is disciplined in the rules of grammar, in language, the more thoroughly he is prepared to see the world in terms of Scripture.

Some years ago Marcel Duchamp, [a painter of] abstract art and its epitome.. [was] the famous art show before World War I held in New York, his painting Nude Descending The Staircase created a sensation because it was abstract art to the nth degree, and people went there to see if they could see anything in the picture that you couldn’t see. And why did he call it Nude Descending the Staircase? Where was the nude, and where was the staircase, where was anything in the picture? Well, Duchamp believed that nothingness is ultimate. And therefore the new world order had to be a world without meaning in art or in life. He had himself photographed in the nude with a woman handing an apple to her, both in the nude; he was the new Adam, of the new humanity which was beyond God, beyond meaning. He finally felt that even painting abstractly was too purposive so he went to random art. One of his last exhibits was a work of sculpture, he went to the New York dump, found a broken urinal and brought it and exhibited it. Then he decided that was too purposive, because he actually decided to go there and get something so there was still meaning. He spent the rest of his life trying to create a language in which there would be no possibility of anyone thinking of God. A language without meaning. Because he recognized that language itself, in particular the Western languages that are influenced by Christianity, gives us propositional truth. Every word is a proposition. The word ‘fence’ tells us, it eliminates certain things, and tells us it constitutes something. And it cannot be a term applied to anything else. The word ‘truth’ contains in itself a proposition, that there is a right and a wrong. All words are propositional truths, and Duchamp wanted the language without propositions, without truth. He finally gave it up because he realized it was impossible to create anything without meaning. We cannot allow the learning of the past to deteriorate in its truth, in its meaning, so as we teach the discipline of grammar, of arithmetic, of history, of any subject to children, we are conveying a discipline that prepares them for life in a world made by God, and ordered by Him.

One last word, the direction of discipline in a Christian school needs to be first of all external, as teachers you establish an order, a pattern of authority that the children are to follow. But then you work by emphasizing the faith, that this discipline must before they finish their schooling be also their inner discipline. That you, having discipled them, they are to continue now in a discipleship.

Let us conclude in prayer.

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Our Lord and our God, we thank thee that thou hast called us to be thy disciples and to make disciples out of all nations, tribes, peoples, tongues and all ages, including children. And thou hast said that anyone who offends against the least of thy children it were better that a millstone were tied around his neck and he were cast into the depths of the sea. Give us grace, give us wisdom, give us patience and understanding that we may disciple thy children according to thy Word and by thy Spirit. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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