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June 26, 2004

Parenting and the Westminster Divines

From a recent Christian History Corner article:

In their teaching on the fifth commandment ("Honor thy father and thy mother "), the Calvinist divines who authored the Westminster Larger Catechism (1648) extended the terms "father" and "mother" to cover all relations of "superior" to "inferior" persons. Like Benedict's rule, the questions dealing with parental responsibilities and failures reflects a balanced, wise treatment of the subjects of authority and discipline. . .:
Q. 129. What is required of superiors towards their inferiors?

A. It is required of superiors, according to that power they receive from God, and that relation wherein they stand, to love, pray for, and bless their inferiors; to instruct, counsel, and admonish them; countenancing, commending, and rewarding such as do well; and discountenancing, reproving, and chastising such as do ill; protecting, and providing for them all things necessary for soul and body: and by grave, wise, holy, and exemplary carriage, to procure glory to God, honour to themselves, and so to preserve that authority which God hath put upon them.

Q. 130. What are the sins of superiors?

A. The sins of superiors are, besides the neglect of the duties required of them, and inordinate seeking of themselves, their own glory, ease, profit, or pleasure; commanding things unlawful, or not in the power of inferiors to perform; counseling, encouraging, or favouring them in that which is evil; dissuading, discouraging, or discountenancing them in that which is good; correcting them unduly; careless exposing, or leaving them to wrong, temptation, and danger; provoking them to wrath; or any way dishonouring themselves, or lessening their authority, by an unjust, indiscreet, rigorous, or remiss behaviour.

I find this a striking passage. Parents, the catechism is saying, sin against their children when they "correct them unduly," "provoke them to wrath," or slip into any other "unjust rigorous behavior." Are you surprised, as I was, to see the tendency toward parental strictness (which I possess) decidedly not recommended or reinforced by these supposedly strict Calvinists? Frankly, as I read through this section of the catechism, I both said "ouch" repeatedly, and asked for God's grace to come more closely into alignment with the biblical standard.

I'm feeling convicted.

May God enable us to parent our children with wisdom and grace.

Update: Carol and Ange have added their thoughts on this.


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I too felt the sting of recognizing myself in some of that. "Amen" to your invocation of God's wisdom and grace as we parent our children. I know I need it daily.

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