Tuesday, February 10, 2009

First Time Obedience and Unquestioned Submission as an Essential Component of Multigenerational Faithfulness Part II: Spiritualizing All Activities

Continuing on the topic of First Time Obedience
as a component of Multigenerational Faithfulness,
please make sure to read these previous posts HERE and HERE.

From Pages 110 - 111 of Voddie Baucham’s "Family Driven Faith”:

An even tougher lesson to learn is the principle of first-time obedience... [Baucham offers an example of counting to three for compliance, suspending punishment until the counting concludes at three as inappropriate permissiveness.]

This is a difficult principle to understand because we overlook the punishment our sins deserve and ultimately received in the cross of Christ (or will receive during an eternity separated from God in hell). However, whether God smites us immediately as He did Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) or appears to let it slide, we can rest assured that every sin receives just recompense (Romans 3:21-26). Thus, in the economy of God every act of disobedience is ultimately punished whether we see it immediately or not. That is why it is important to teach our children that every instruction is to be obeyed right away. As they get older, they may be allowed to enter into discussion about our instructions, but that discussion should follow an act of obedience, not determine whether or not they are convinced of our position...

We do not want our children to do what we say with conditions attached. We want them to obey, period. Learning not to repeat ourselves, not to yell, not to call the offending child by all three of his or her names, but to speak in clear, level tones and follow through... No, our children are not perfect, but they understand what obedience is and fully expect a consequence if they fall short of doing what they are told when they are told to do it.

Because of the intense focus on perfectionism in many patriocentric homes, I’ve seen every issue of life treated with the same magnitude of a critical safety issue, another concern related to First Time Obedience (FTO). One mother shared with me how Gothard once talked about the importance of the color of a toothbrush that supposedly resulted in a whole family becoming ill. The person who bought the toothbrush was said to be in error because they didn’t stop to pray about what color to purchase, as somehow, this would have averted the illness by avoiding confusion of toothbrushes, thus transmitting some illness to a whole family. Some things in life are just banal and insignificant, and some unfortunate situations in life cannot be circumvented. Yet, with painstaking conviction, Bill Gothard shared this story of the critical significance of the right toothbrush to purchase. I can completely relate to this pressure, as there is a great deal of this kind of pressure in the Arminian leanings of the Word of Faith movement.

Though these types of messages mean to stress personal responsibility, for many, they do little more than foster fear. For example, I once believed that if I arrived at 5th and Main at 10:15 AM instead of 10 AM and missed witnessing to someone, they might not have heard the Gospel, would never have received Jesus as their Savior, and they as well as all of the lives they would have touched would somehow go to hell. (I don’t believe that bondage anymore. I’m just not that important, for one thing... A topic for another day) For me, “Gothard’s wisdom” about the significance of the color of the toothbrush that I pull off of the display at the dollar store fosters that same type of fear. It turns every activity into a sacramental one, so that everything has eternal and weighty significance. Nothing proves to be temporal, and it seems to rule out the power and working of the Holy Spirit, putting all of the burden, a burden of shame, on man.

Some parents respond to every event and task of the day as though it was as significant as a critical safety concern (though I do know some children who have a particular talent for putting themselves in jeopardy, though they are not the norm!). These children receive no room for error, and all matters of life become matters of weighty moral significance wherein absolute obedience must be demonstrated. For example, I know of one home where teenage girls must ask to use the restroom to relieve themselves in the middle of the day. And note that they have no physical ailments or problematic behavioral concerns, but their routine behaviors are so restricted that they are not even given that much personal autonomy. In that home, using the powder room without permission first becomes tantamount to lying, stealing or some other primary and obvious sin of deep moral concern.

I also know several mothers who viewed certain inherent personality traits in their children as sin, when in fact, they were just traits in personality and not moral issues. (Some were actually strengths and not even weaknesses, but they were traits that did not fit the desired paradigm.) Some families treated these traits as though they were moral shortcomings, using various types of punishment in order to reform the characters of their children. Some families decided not to treat them as moral failings, and those families are now grateful that they did not follow the advice of “experts” like Richard Fugate who recommended physical correction for traits like inattention and forgetfulness. All those (known to me) who tried to “standardize” these God-given personality traits in order to eradicate them as sinful have all suffered serious and heartbreaking relationship problems with their now adult children. One now 20 year old left her home as soon as she finished her high school credits (at 18) through their homeschooling organization. Actually, getting out of the home has helped heal this young woman’s relationship with her family, but the whole situation is still far from ideal.

Another mother pointed out to me that many homeschooling experts do not differentiate between that which is a true Biblical mandate and that which is a matter of preference, and though this issue has been discussed here on this blog often, it does bear repeating. Even though we live in a world that would like to declare all things morally neutral does not mean that the answer to this tension requires that we reciprocate by raising ALL activities to a level of the utmost moral significance. Sacraments are set apart from other activities because they are holy and of greater importance than the rest. But some activities, in my opinion, are just insignificant and banal. (Sometimes a toothbrush is nothing more than a toothbrush that is merely a tool that serves a pragmatic purpose.) The skill of discernment does not develop by placing utmost significance upon every activity but it is learned through trial and error in concert with instruction. The Word tells us to add wisdom to our knowledge, and by requiring only obedience in all things, we deny children the opportunity to learn wisdom in a safe environment while under our care and supervision.

Rather than placing our attention on every banal activity like buying a toothbrush, we should rather be discerning about what things are important to God in the eternal sense. But patriocentricity and much of the patriarchal homeschooling movement has focused only on outward and temporal manifestations as a guaranteed indicator of spirituality and godliness because it becomes a works-based endeavor that thwarts the development of wisdom, replacing it with mimicking behavior and parroting sound bytes observed in model examples of what has been set up as a model example of holiness. We do not learn that type of skill and wisdom through first time perfection but rather through trial and error where we are given grace to practice and develop mastery. By requiring FTO and what appears to be the virtue of obedience, we are actually reducing all activity to bureaucratic insignificance. In a world where all matters prove to be of grave significance, we reduce everything to the lowest common denominator. When those things that are temporal and banal are raised to the level of a holy sacrament, we bring disgrace upon that which is truly eternal and holy.

I don’t think that this practice of making everything into some type of sacrament can be seen more clearly than in those matters that have some significance of gender. Every reference to gender seems to be given some kind of eternal spiritual significance, complete with sacramental descriptive modifiers of Biblical, virtuous, and the like. Marriage is said to be normative, and the modifier is written on car windows where “Just Married” would have been written.

External factors, marketed products and other outward shows of piety seem to impart some gender related holiness. Compliance with these sacraments of gender are not only used as outward measures of comparison and worthiness, they also seem to be marketed and promoted as a way of putting on holiness in such a way that they affect change on the inward man. I find it ironic that this becomes much like the purchase of indulgences that prompted Luther to hang his 95 Theses on the door of the church in Wittenburg in 1517, protesting the buying and selling of holiness.