The Purpose of Discipline

The quote below is from:

Church Law
R.J. Rushdoony

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Our Scripture is Isaiah 55:10-11; Isaiah 55:10-11. Discipline.

“10 For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:

11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”

Our subject today as we continue our studies in Biblical Law, specifically now church law, is discipline. Again this is a very much misunderstood subject. And there is really no excuse for the misunderstanding, because a very simple examination of any dictionary would correct the prevailing misconceptions. Discipline is basic to church law, it is basic to family life, to school, to every area of life. And yet the misunderstanding is appalling. To give an example: A while back, a couple complained to me about their daughter. They had, they said, disciplined her regularly. They had deprived her of various privileges. When she was somewhat younger they had slapped her, they had spanked her, and so on. And yet they said: “She is very seriously delinquent.” Which was true. She was pregnant. She was involved in experimentation in narcotics. She was persistently and stubbornly consorting with the worst kind of young people, male and female. She was in very serious trouble.

And yet in spite of their statements, it was not true that they had disciplined their daughter over the years. It was a thorough going misstatement. All they had done was to chastise, or to punish her. They had never disciplined her. What is the difference? Well, the dictionary tells us that discipline is: ‘Systematic training, and submission to authority. Also the result of such training is discipline.” Chastisement, or punishment, is: “The penalty or beating administered for departing from authority.” Now it is obvious that the two things, discipline and chastisement or punishment are related; but, different. Discipline is not punishment. Discipline is systematic training, systematic training in submission to authority, in growth, in terms of the things taught. And it is the result of such training which leads to self discipline. 

The girl in question had never had any discipline. All she had had, over the years, was punishment. Nothing more. I could cite numerous such cases. Some years ago I knew a minister and his wife who had problems regularly with their daughter. I was not surprised, long after I ceased to have any acquaintance with this minister, that their girl had gotten into serious trouble and had a child out of wedlock. The child had been beaten regularly, but never disciplined. The parents themselves had no self discipline. With both these girls in these two different families, the girls were 20, 21, they could neither cook nor sew, they were incapable of doing any ordinary housework, they were incapable of holding a job because they couldn’t take orders, and the parents thought they were disciplined girls.

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To summarize: merely punishing people is NOT discipline.

Even in operant conditioning — the most common form of discipline today, used in schools and politics — there isn’t only punishment for bad behaviour. There is also reward for good behaviour. Not only sticks are used.

Note that even the Bible offers reward for obedience, and punishment for disobedience: operant conditioning WORKS.

And yet…

If the goal isn’t merely to reward good behaviour and discourage bad behaviour — “the Works of the Law” — but to truly understand WHY good behaviour is beneficial even if the State punishes it, and WHY bad behaviour is a blight even if the State rewards it, then mere conditioning doesn’t cut it.

There comes a time when psychological conditioning is to be defied. Even broken.

At the end of the day, Power does not justify all things, regardless of what Secularists and Darwinians say.

Pragmatism is the way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to Death. (Proverbs 14:12, repeated for emphasis in Proverbs 16:25)

Also: note carefully that the most delightful — and the most agonizing — of rewards and punishments are DELAYED in the Divine Court.

Sometimes, there is no earthly reward for doing what is right, and no earthly punishment for doing what is wrong.1

As I noted in my sci-fi blog, based on this video:

The good people died first. Those who refused  to steal or to prostitute themselves died. Those who gave food to others died. Those who refused to eat corpses died. Those who refused to kill their fellow man died. Parents who resisted cannibalism died before their children did.

And I added:

Don’t forget.

Because you can be sure that The Superior People – Our Betters by blood or by ideology, or by religion for that matter – haven’t.

There is discipline via operant conditioning.

And then, there is the Real Deal.

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The difference between discipline and chastisement is fundamental. And chastisement, or punishment, can never supply that which discipline must supply. As a matter of fact, when children are well disciplined, as time goes on they need less and less chastisement or punishment.

I can look back over the years, and the number of times I had to punish my children was very few, because they were disciplined.

Now when we apply this to the church scene, the problem becomes apparent. What churches mean when they boast about a strict discipline is not discipline at all, usually, but strict punishment. There are almost no churches today with any kind of real discipline. There are some churches with punishment, and many with neither discipline or punishment. And whether it is in a home or in a church, punishment is useless when no discipline is taught. 

The failure to understand this distinction is responsible for many of the problems that confront church life. To cite an example, Orthodox Presbyterian Church is undoubtedly one of the better churches of our time. And yet it has a little black book that is called the book of discipline. It has nothing to do with discipline! It is the book of punishment. And they fail to see the distinction. Their answer to problems is to punish; not discipline first and then punishment. But punish, punish, punish. Whereas other churches have neither discipline or punishment.

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It is insufficient to do what is right and sun what is wrong, merely because Powerful People will punish you if you do the bad and reward you if you do what is right.

For one thing, Powerful People may well change their mind, to suit themselves, their wealth, and their taste for pleasure and power.

—<Quote begins>—

Now what is discipline in essence? I cited the dictionary definition, let us look into that definition a little further. The word discipline comes from ‘Disciple’ which comes from the Latin, and its origin is in Disco, DISCO, to learn. To be a disciple, or to be under discipline, is to be a learner in a learning process. If there is no learning, and no growth in learning, there is then no discipline. It is that simple.

Discipline is submission to, a growth in, a learning process. Now, very clearly this points to the true meaning of the word. Discipline is thus by the word of God, by scripture. An undisciplined church is one in which the word is not properly or systematically taught. A church which denies the word of God cannot have discipline. A church which only preaches for conversion, John 3:16 over and over again, cannot have discipline, because it does not provide for growth, for sanctification. It does not teach the law, it does not teach the word of God, it does not give people systematic teaching in that which is the principle of growth. 

Saint Paul said: “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Regeneration is inseparable from the word of God, and the living church hears the word and grows in terms of it, and is disciplined by it.

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To be disciplined is to learn, and uphold, and push to expand, the Law-Word of God in our every word, deed, and though.

Not only to hear and obey the Lord. Not only to fear Him.

That is but the beginning of Wisdom.

(Psalm 110:10, Proverbs 9:10.
Proverbs 1:7 places the fear of the Lord as the beginning of Knowledge, rather than Wisdom. An interesting choice, with interesting implications for the sciences.)

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Now our scripture is talking precisely about this. Today it is set down as poetry. But if you go back, say a hundred years ago, to a commentary like Alexander on Isaiah, or go back to any period between Alexander, and let us say Calvin, and read Calvin’s Commentary, any one of those commentaries would tell you: “This is talking about the discipline that the word of God gives.” Isaiah is saying that “As surely as the rain comes down and waters the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”

In other words, God emphatically declares here through the mouth of Isaiah, that the principle of growth, of discipline, is His word, and it accomplishes the purpose for which He sent it. His word then will rebuke the sinner. It will drag out the ungodly. It will bring growth to those who are truly His seed. The principle of discipline is then first the discipline of God, and punishment without light is like beating a dead horse. And a lot of churches spend their time beating dead horses.

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The Christians of the future will have to do better than their forefathers did.

They will have to be actually disciplined, actually self-governing.

Not operating out of fear of Powerful Men, or of being shamed by a long-dead Society.

God demands more of us in our day, than He did of them in their day.

He demands it… because He knows that we can rise to the occasion.

And — free of the foolishness of our fathers who failed,
and filled with the Holy Spirit that they rejected2 — gain the victory.

In time and on earth.

Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord 
to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power,
but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.

Zechariah 4:6, English Standard VErsion

1This view — “no earthly blessing for obedience, no earthly curse for disobedience” — was always noticeably more false than true.

Even in Job’s day… a far harder day than our own.

Now, the triumph of Power over Justice is turning into a crushing defeat for Power, and an unfettered victory for Justice. For example, the oppressive Indian caste system lasted for thousands of years, while the oppressive American caste system disintegrated after a mere five centuries or so. Crime is punished more regularly now than in the past, and with the ongoing rise of cheap surveillance (and the shift from cash to digits to store wealth), old-school stealing, murdering, raping, and general oppression is set to continue it’s long decline.

(With, unfortunately, the occasional temporary resurgence. Evil men will fail, but they won’t go down easily, or quickly. But go down they will.)

All sorts of large-scale calamities are on their way out, from famine to Imperial conquest. We’re not out of the woods — even China has yet to see the full reward of the butcher’s bill of abortion, the end of the welfare state is going to be agonizing for the West, and the fall of fiat money & fractional banking isn’t even on the horizon.

The corruption of the heart of individual men may well prove to be far more difficult to defeat than widespread cultural sins. After all, there is no evidence of any nation or king in the pre-Flood earth, I suspect because no one was so gullible as to believe in political promises. Even so, the evil way became the only way for almost all men of that era.

In any case, the trendlines in our world are clear. Over time, the punishment for evil occurs on earth before our eyes as well as in Hell and the Lake of Fire, and the reward for righteousness also is increasingly apparent in our lifetimes, as well as in Heaven and the New Creation.

The Will of the King of Heaven will become increasingly inescapable, in time and on earth. Regardless of the hatred of His enemies, or the cowardice of His supposed friends.

2See: “Cessationism”.

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