Tuesday, February 10, 2009

First Time Obedience and Unquestioned Submission as an Essential Component of Multigenerational Faithfulness Part I: Parental Convenience

In this previous post, I alluded to Mark Driscoll’s quote in the New York Times which spoke of his “impatience for dissent” (as the article’s author noted), drawing particular attention to this comment: “They are sinning through questioning.” His comment marks a trend in the church, and one that has always been an element as long as men have been overseeing groups of people. I would like to blame it all on somewhat recent trends within the church as there have certainly been many where believers have focused on one aspect of the Gospel or another to a fault. Like stinking swamps that feed off of a river that flows with life and is teeming with life, there have always been pockets of the church that become isolated in unbalanced focus of irrelevance and stagnation. The leaders seek to preserve what was likely a singularly ideal moment in time in what God was doing in the past. These attempts to preserve what promises to be an utopian oasis of the past always seem to degrade into a system of sacerdotalism, the collectivistic manifestation of the works of the flesh.

Along with sarcedotalism, part of maintaining the utopian vision of the past involves submission as an act of humility which requires the suspension of credulity. If a required task involves doubt, all expression of that doubt must be sacrificed and yielded to God on the altar of humility, as any expression or indulgence of reasonable, rational incredulity becomes an expression of rebellious sin. One must follow the system of sacerdotalism, crucifying all rational doubts by putting unquestioned faith in one’s overseer or personal priest. On the Bill Gothard Discussion List (Yahoo Group), someone once described the test of devotion required by young men at what is known as Gothard’s “Northwoods Coumpound” that I believe is located in Wisconsin. The facility required young men to go outdoors in intense summer heat to sweep the paved roadway with brooms, all while wearing their regulation Gothard blue blazers and red ties. For one of these young men to suggest that their service might be better spent doing something more productive with a more pragmatic value (even weeding a garden, for example which would still subject them to the trial of the summer heat) would be seen as rebellion against God Himself which thwarts one’s efforts to accumulate grace. Effectively, based upon Gothard’s bizarre redefinition of grace, the game of life requires that Christians earn and accumulate grace (favor and a type of power to resist sin merited by good works), especially through acts of humility that require the suspension of reason as a leap of faith.

Following from the Shepherding/Discipleship Movement, since patriocentrics espouse this sacerdotalism, it gives to reason that they would dutifully train their children in this same mindset. Their patriarchal system depends upon it, particularly in the home. Ephesians 5:21, the submitting to one another out of reference for Jesus must be understood through an hierarchical grid that preserves the perceived priestly role of the father who rules and reigns over his personal mini-fiefdom. This also translates all the way down to the bottom level of the chain of command, and unquestioned obedience as a meritorious act of humility must be required of even the smallest child. (The Gothard Discusssion Yahoo Group also contains archives of mothers talking about loving spanking babies and the dubious practice of "Blanket Training," baiting them off of a blanket and then punishing them in order to teach them to remain on the blanket, "a playpen in your purse.") And so, we have the advent of what is now called “First Time Obedience” (FTO). And I have observed, when Voddie Baucham in particular discusses multigenerational faithfulness or discipline, he rarely mentions one concept without bringing up the other at some point.

From Pages 110 - 111 of 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.

Some instructions from parents must be obeyed immediately and without question, and I am not advocating rebellion. I learned to reserve certain words (“Stop!”), tones and body language for the non-negotiable safety concerns so as to help the child identify and differentiate these non-negotiable directives from those that are not critical. In that sense, and only in that sense, I think what is known as FTO or something like it is absolutely appropriate, primarily to avert injury. As noted in the previous blog post, behavioral displays of rudeness (particularly those involving tongues and teeth as “acting out” or “feeling one’s oats” for example), should not be tolerated as willful behavior (though I think these are things learned through experience and do not put a child in danger.) One mother shared with me how her grown daughter taught her children sign language before they could speak, and one of the first signs she taught them was the sign for “Stop!” for just this purpose. A child must learn, without any experience, never to put their hand on a hot stove, never to run out into any street, never put anything other than toilet tissue into the commode, perform particular restroom activities in restrooms only and in proper receptacles, etc., to name just a few choice and more serious activities. Those things, particularly obvious safety concerns and shows of blatant disrespect or disregard, are never “open to negotiation” and should be matters of what some might term“FTO.”  (These might be the time that a parent that ascribes to spanking might consider spanking with young children, exchanging the lesser pain of a spanking for actual injury or harm to the child or to others.)

Parental Convenience

When talking to a number of mothers who do not practice FTO and object to it, one of the most common observations they all make surrounds how the parents demand more from their own children than they require of themselves. Most of the adults who expect FTO often seem to have problems rendering the same behavior to others in their lives, as they enjoy the freedom of questioning, but those who are subordinate to them do not have the privilege. It also requires more of children who are immature than God expects of most adults, sending prophets and messengers to men to instruct them in righteousness, bidding them to change prior to punishment. Often the parents who enjoy new mercies every morning from the Lord do not extend that same level of mercy and forgiveness to their children. FTO also makes practical considerations of everyday life much easier for parents, but is that the chief end of parenting? For adults who have problems with control, their children merely become objects in their world rather than those to whom they have a duty to serve and raise. One mom also resented the repeated use of the term “servant leadership” by those who sing the virtues of FTO, because the parents do very little serving of their children, and children effectively end up serving them. For this reason, I’ve created the Overcoming Botkin Syndrome blog, investigating the problems created when parents use children to meet their emotional, psychological and physical needs.

I believe this quote from “Adult Children: The Secret of Dysfunctional Families” by John and and Linda Friel describes quite well the illusion that such kind of perfectionism produces:

“Our symptoms are born out of emotional denial and they serve to maintain that denial. They are ways that we allow ourselves to live one kind of life while convincing ourselves that we have a very different kind of life.

And while they serve to give us the illusion
that we are in control, they are in fact clear indicators that what we have really done is to give up healthy control of our lives to something outside of ourselves.”

(p. 23)

I would also like to note that something quite interesting happens when one studies these types of highly authoritarian systems, something I mentioned in a previous post. Authoritarian systems can produce a great deal of productivity and high performance, but something interesting happens. When not directly observed, the subordinates within authoritarian systems stop performing when the leader steps away from the system, and productivity ceases. Performance resumes, but only when the authoritarian supervision resumes, demonstrating that authoritarianism on a chronic basis squelches problem-solving as well as autonomous, self-directed behavior. Those within an authoritarian system remain dependent upon the authoritarianism itself, so it actually begets more negative reinforcement. On the other hand, systems that demonstrate a more mutually trusting, democratic approach that more closely resembles “one anothering” and mutual cooperation shows, consistently and overall, to be the most productive environment, balanced with discernment, self-direction and non-coerced productivity. Participants share the outcomes, and thus feel invested in the activities personally, thus they are more motivated to particpate spontaneously, taking a healthy sense of personal pride in the outcome as well.

What is unfortunate and what seems to necessitate this multigenerational faithfulness is not really “faithfulness” at all but the ongoing necessity for control. When you create a system that relies so heavily upon authoritarian rule that does not create an environment that encourages autonomy, one must compensate by always providing that authoritarian presence. But it is not natural and healthy for human beings to perform at this level of high performance and pressure on a chronic basis. Voddie Baucham has stated that if the US Marine Corps can produce soldiers that behave with immediate and unquestioned obedience, we should be able to achieve the same outcomes with our children. But what is notable about the Marine Corps is that they do have down time when they are off duty. Children who are raised in an environment where they are expected to conduct themselves like little soldiers have no down time. They don’t get passes for rest and relaxation. Families should not operate under anarchy, but is it necessary to operate a family like a military facility as some suggest and practice?

From Don and Joy Veinot’s “Who Will Be First In the Kingdom?”
Christian authority is not merely a circumstance of birth order or gender, which bestows a position of power in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus Christ, who as God, is the only rightful heir of all “authority” (Matt.28:18) demonstrated by His sacrificial life on how Christian authority is to be attained and wielded. Authority is earned by sacrificial living. All of us are to focus on serving those around us. It also means that the higher one ascends to a position of leadership in the church, the more accountable they become to a larger number of people. Those who are truly leaders in a biblical sense live in glass houses, and everyone around them has Windex! It also means that those who follow do so because they are able to observe and trust those who lead (1 Thess. 1:5).

Hebrews 13:17 says:
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. (NASB)

The word rendered obey literally means to be persuaded. It does not mean to hear and unquestioningly comply. The word submit literally means yield. All of this is preceded by something said 10 verses earlier:
Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. (Hebrews 13:7, NASB)

All of this flows perfectly from what Jesus said in Mark 10:45. Remember or call to mind those servants who are leading you. Think about how they live and the way they “wear” their faith. You will know they are trustworthy when you observe the selfless lives they live. They have earned and continue earning that trust daily as they serve. Moreover, because of that, we are “persuaded” as persons who also are serving as we yield to their wisdom and not throwing unnecessary roadblocks in their path. This is admittedly a difficult concept. The world around us is still mostly ordered in a top-down structure. We in the Western world enjoy more political equality and freedom than most, but authoritarian leadership as a concept is not dead. Our political leaders may claim it is their desire to “serve the people,” but we mostly see them jockeying for positions of good-old-fashioned power. The Church has some of these same problems. Many people seem to desire to be freed from responsibility by being simply “told what to do.” It eliminates the need to have a personal relationship with God and to diligently practice biblical discernment. And although we are aware of the many true servant/leaders in the Church, there seems also to be no shortage of “leaders” who are more than happy to rule like little kings. This type of leader becomes the mediator for his followers, and the followers simply have to hear and obey. God becomes merely the “big stick” the leader uses to keep everyone in line.

Note: Much thanks to my husband but especially to the several moms, the best counselors, who shared their sage perspectives with me as I sorted through these particular aspects of multigenerational faithfulness. Thank you for lending me the benefits of your insights and experiences. Thank you for giving both words and clarity to my inarticulate thoughts. God bless you all abundantly for sharing your wisdom with me.

[Spanking references added March 2011.]