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Volume 14, Issue 1: Virga

Valedictorian Mace

Matt Whitling

Bolt upright, again. There I was with arm extended and finger pointing accusingly at this most odious and frequent offender. Nate Mace, my twelfth-grade basic-math student, was at it again. "Nate sit down and keep your hands off of Cheryl. . ." I was halfway into my less than gentle reprimand when something knocked the air out of me. A blow on my right shoulder drove me into and over the podium. I tried to block the next one with my math book, but both arms were pinned against the overhead projector in which I was entangled. Another jolt, not so jarring this time, and I turned to face the assailant—there she was, my wife, next to me in bed. "What are you doing here?" I gasped, as I groggily gained consciousness. The clock smiled a blurry 2:00 a.m., I was up disciplining in the wee hours of the morning, again. It was my first formal teaching position—remedial math at Meat-Grinder High, and one lesson unrelentingly impressed upon me that year was the need for discipline. It was quite possibly the only lesson that any of us learned. Each day was filled with the constant struggle for control in the classroom, and each night I disciplined and redisciplined this purgatorial class like a drowning June-bug that can't quite get out of the swimming pool.

Discipline. The word often conjures up images of rulers, spoons, glue-sticks, willow wands, and other martial utensilry. These pictures, however helpful, fall short of representing the heart of true discipline. Discipline is the quintessential element in disciple-making. Christians are called to be disciples of Christ, and Christian parents are called to make disciples of all nations, including, most importantly, their own children.
Let's begin by defining what discipline is. Discipline when used as a verb is what takes place in order to make someone a disciple. It means to make faithful. The teaching, training, correcting, and encouraging of a child that makes them into a faithful disciple is called discipline. When a father spanks his son for stirring up dissension with his brothers, he is seeking to make that son faithful. Discipline is also used as a noun, and as such it means faithfulness. The son who learns the lesson from his father and grows up considering others better than himself is said to have discipline—faithfulness. So, you discipline (verb) someone in order to make them faithful, and someone who has discipline (noun) is faithful.
Given these definitions it is impossible for a teacher or parent to abstain from disciplining. Those who work with children can no more refrain from disciplining than they can refrain from breathing. We are always disciplining, regardless of whether we acknowledge it or not. Many times we see the youngster behind us at the checkout counter using his magnum-length gummy worms to smite his mother across the chin, and we think that what he needs is a healthy dose of discipline. The truth of the matter is that his mother has been disciplining him all along, even as she gently peels the worm off her face and airily tries to smooth the snail tracks out of her make-up. What her son needs is discipline of a different kind, faithfulness of another sort. A student who is disobedient or disrespectful in the classroom is faithful, but not to God. The object of one's faithfulness is always the primary issue in discipline. It is not enough to simply disciple children, every teacher or parent does this—what principally matters is whom your children become disciples of.
Consider the terrorist hijackers who flew themselves and their victims into the World Trade Center on September 11. They were a well-disciplined group of men. They were made faithful (disciplined) as youngsters, and they had faithfulness (discipline) as adults in a profound and tragic way. It is clear that what they didn't need was more faithfulness, instead, they needed a different object of their faith.
Proverbs 22:6 contains a glorious promise to parents in this area, "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." We need to keep in mind that training up children is not an optional activity. It is not that some people train up their children and others don't. Everyone is training up his child, everyone is disciplining, and every child is learning the lesson. Your children are and will be faithful for all of their days. They are and will be well-disciplined. The question is—faithful to whom? If a young man rolls his eyes when his mother gives him instruction, and his father chooses to deal with it by ignoring the behavior, the lesson being boldly proclaimed to the entire family is "You can be disrespectful in this house and it is good, right, and proper."
The teacher who does not train his students in faithfulness to the God of the Bible is actively training them to be faithful to some other god. That god may be pragmatism, pietism, pluralism, or open paganism, but whatever the particular flavor of idolatry, it is just that—faithfulness, allegiance, devotion to some false god. You are either making disciples of the living God or you are making disciples of some other god, but what you cannot escape is the fact that you are making disciples.
In light of their involvement with the government schools, it should come as no surprise that many Christian parents and teachers are up late at night pondering issues of discipline. There is no neutrality in discipline, and every parent, administrator, teacher, coach, textbook, policy, etc., that interacts with a child is contributing to the overall discipleship of him. After thirteen years of government schooling, it could be that Nate Mace was not an odious and frequent offender at all, but instead the most astute disciple in the class.

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