Is Spanking a Christian Form of Discipline?

The Journey of Discipline and Spiritual Growth

Discipline and punishment are often linked together.  As a result, we tend to attach consequences to discipline, instead of self-control.  Have we lost some of the meaning behind true discipline? The topic of spanking was in a recent news story published by CBC: “Spanking is never a good idea: child psychologist”.  The general argument – spanking does more long-term damage than good.

Question: Is spanking a legitimate form of Christian parental discipline? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

spanking-christian-viewMore than likely, you have already come a conclusion on this, even before you have read these opening lines.

I argue, however, that while spanking (in its present form) is often damaging, we have lost the true meaning of discipline.  Yes, it’s illegal in Canada to spank before the age of two (2) and after the age of twelve (12).  But discipline starts very early and continues into the teenage years.

Let me explain…

Growing up…

My parents tried spanking as a form of discipline.  At the end of the day, however, neither my brother nor I were spanked much.  I learned very quickly and corrected my actions.  My brother, on the other hand, was a “that didn’t hurt” kind of kid.  Needless to say, other forms of discipline had to be pursued.

So, what is discipline and what are these “other” forms?

The Bible describes discipline very well.  Unfortunately, many have taken the Bibles’ description and have applied it to the extreme.  We may have lost the biblical nature of “discipline.”

You’ve heard the phrase, “Spare the rod; spoil the child.”  It’s sort of a biblical concept that’s taken from Proverbs 13:24.

“Whoever spares the rod hates his son,
but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.”

The focus really isn’t on the “rod”, but rather the “discipline.” One commentator wrote the translation this way, “he who loves him…restraineth him by correction.”1 In other words: discipline is the loving action of teaching correctness while instilling self-control to continue in that successful manner.

Discipline is not only for children…

The Hebrews writer wrote about “discipline” this way:

‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”

11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:5f, ESV)

Even as we grow older, discipline is a part of our spiritual growth.  In fact, it’s to be expected and welcomed because God is treating us like His children and desires for us to grow.  It’s a part of our spiritual journey.

Our response…

We need to remember two things:

  1. The goal is discipline, not punishment.

If it’s an act of punishment, the action is birthed out of anger and wrath.  As a result, it can escalate to inappropriate extremes.  Punishment usually doesn’t teach self-control; rather, instills fear and anxiety.

Discipline, on the other hand, is always out of love.  It must act as a reminder of the painful decision of wrongful doing.  We want to be on journey of spiritual success, not one that will end in demise.  The goal is to teach self-control, and when done correctly, will encourage respect, not fear.

  1. Everyone is different and responds to discipline differently.

I’m not sure if there’s a clear “yes” or “no” answer to the spanking question.  What I am clear on, is that discipline must happen.  That said, because everyone is different, methods of discipline will also look different.

Final thoughts…

More than ever, we need to make sure our children, and even ourselves, are well disciplined.  We are living in a culture where the children tend to be the decision makers in the home.  It’s a challenging thought really – the ones with less wisdom are ruling the ones who should have the most wisdom.

Out of love, we must be people of discipline.  We won’t always be “liked,” but we will raise a mature generation if we do.

We can abandon a method, but we can’t afford to abandon discipline.  If we chose to abandon spanking, we better be ready to engage in a new method.

Your turn…

How do you view discipline?  What methods have you used?

I would love to hear from you!  Scroll down and leave a comment, connect on social media, or send me an email (andrewholm@gmail.com).  SUBSCRIBE HERE!

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Andrew lives in Bay Roberts, Newfoundland with his wife, Deidre, and two children (Rae and Pierson), where he is the Lead Pastor of Bethel Pentecostal Church. He is a graduate of both Memorial University (BBA) and Tyndale Seminary (MTS). His passion is to help people become true disciples of Jesus.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • I was raised in Rhodesia which had a British school system. At high school, boys were caned for breaking rules. Although I only got caned once, I quickly learned that actions always had consequences. As a result the standard of my and my fellow pupils academic and sporting achievements was high. I can only recall being spanked by my father on two occasions, both well deserved.

    In the 1980s, my two sons went to high schools in South Africa where both of them became acquainted with the feel of the cane on tender behinds a few times. Although I rarely spanked either of my boys, they knew it was always a possibility.

    Both of my sons have overcome serious adversity and both have become very successful in life. Both put their success and resilience down to learning the importance of discipline through a strict but supportive environment at home and school.

    That lead to self discipline and the understanding that consequences for bad choices cannot be avoided indefinitely.

    • Thanks for sharing, Peter! I think you’re on to something – when discipline is paired with loving support as a child, the end result is often self-discipline later in life.

  • Philip Quintas

    You hit the nail on the head, Andrew. Choosing a proper disciplining technique depends on how effective it is in attaining the desired result, which is a child (or adult) that is self-disciplined. I, personally, despise spanking and it had little to no positive effect on my children.

    My granddaughter, however, pretty much gets in line with the threat of a spanking from me and so, thankfully, I rarely follow through on this awful, but, sometimes necessary method of disciplining her. I imagine that we’ll see how she develops as an adult and whether she becomes a self-disciplined or not.

    I am certain that she receives a lot more loving and kindness from me than anything else and I believe I’ve seen her choose to do the right thing because she does not want to disappoint me or my wife. How much of that is my imagination or wishful thinking is hard to tell.

    • Good thoughts on this! It’s alaways interesting to see how our paths of discipline work out. And as you have outlined, the paths can’t be the same for everyone.