If you have read my post on "Intimacy," you will have noticed that I like to use the sphere of human relationships as the lense through which to view and understand our relationship with God. This post is in that same "genre". (If these homemade things can be called a genre.)
I have been in on a lot of discussions where Christian parents ask the question, "How can I parent my children so that it will help them become vibrant Christians, and not just good people.?" The question bothered me, because I thought of parenting and discipline as synonyms. The principles of disipline -- some of which involve; consistency, challenging but not demoralizing expectations, and perseverance -- fit in the category of wisdom, and will work as effectively for non Christians as for Christians. I was left with no answer.
"No answer," clashed with my experience, because one by one my first five children have embraced Christ and are in the process of journeying with and towards Him in an authentic way. This is also true of many families in our church. So does this just happen? Is it all about God calling them, and not at all about the way they were raised? Or, is their something about Christian parenting, that the Spirit of God uses in His calling of our children to Himself?
So then what, if anything, do we bring to parenting that makes it uniquely Christian?
The answer came to me in the sentence, "Discipline is a vocation."
I don't expect that to work for you, because it needs a context, so I will try to unpack it.
I wondered about changing it to, "Discipline is just a vocation." But that didn't work because it implies a marginalizing of discipline, something that I would like to do, but only for parents who see themselves primarily as disciplinarians. There are other parents who view discipline as distasteful, almost a "last resort," kind of thing. For them, I want to elevate discipline to the place of a vocation that they embrace wholeheartedly. So I stick with, "Discipline is a vocation." If you like, it is neither more than a vocation or less than a vocation. But this is probably still not working for you.
Perhaps if I say, "We are Mom and Dad, and we do discipline," you may begin to see where I am going. It is rooted in my understanding of my relationship with my heavenly Father and what I take to be the nature of the gospel.
In John 17, Jesus prays that the kind of intimacy that He enjoys with His father would be the kind of intimacy that we enjoy with each other and with Him and His Father. We are talking family here. This follows a discussion starting in John 14, where Jesus makes the point that we can come to know the Father by seeing and living with the Son. He incarnates God for us. Furthermore, "This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." (17:3) So then eternal life is at it's essence this kind of intimate knowing. At the end of John 17 He says that the point of our intimacy with Him and the Father is that the world may know ...
So then our children need to come to know God, and they will do that by seeing Him in the flesh, and it is our flesh in whom His Spirit now dwells.
Beyond that, their are a number of metaphors of relationship used to paint the picture of our relationship with God: Friend/friend, Brother/brother, (used of Christ) Master/bondslave, King/kingdom, Husband/wife, and Father/child.
So then if people need to see God in order to come to know Him, and if Fatherhood has been chosen by Him as one of the primary metaphors of our relationship with Him, then it makes sense that our children should be able to see and fall in love with their heavenly Father as they see and love us as parents.
Being like Him, is then what makes Christian parents unique.
But God disciplines us. As a matter of fact He is rather focussed on it. Romans 8 teaches that He causes everything that comes into our lives to work together towards the goal of conforming us to the image of Christ. He doesn't apoligize for training us, and He doesn't let up until He is finished. But the tenderness of His heart towards us, is not dependent on our response to His discipline. His love for us is the engine that drives His discipline.
The picture that I get is of a heavenly Father who laughs at the antics of His toddlers, who would give His life in a heartbeat for their good, who rejoices with their growing, and weeps with their rebellion, all the while relentlessly leading them closer and closer to home. In our Father God, authority serves love. Discipline is what He does, and loving is what He is. His heart towards us is stable -- always full of grace -- while his discipline ranges from mild and gentle, to firm and severe.
If our children experience coldness or rejection from us when they missbehave, If they learn that relationship comes and goes based on performance or behavior, If they see that our reputation, or ego, or well being is what drives discipline, we have missrepresented our Father. Children are hugely forgiving, so we can mess up from time to time. But when discipline moves from vocation to essence, from servant to master, and that becomes the pattern, we jeapordize the eternal vibrance of our children. They will see God as mean spirited, manipulative, and ugly. God will then need to call our children to Himself in spite of us, if He calls them at all.
Our children will come to know us as we are, and if we have come to know Him as He is, in knowing us they can come to know Him.
As Christian parents, we get to manifest the beauty of God, including the beauty of His authority, to our children.