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Volume 17, Issue 4: Childer

Loving the Standard

Douglas Wilson

In this space, we have been discussing the issue of sons leaving home to make their own way, and daughters being under their father's authority until they are given away in marriage.

This of course represents a particular understanding of Scripture and of the world, and it almost invariably will bring people who hold to it into some sort of disagreement with other Christians who see things a bit differently. Some Christians think that daughters can leave when they are grown, just like sons, and others think that sons must stay, just like the daughters. Assuming such disagreements are not the result of a perverse unwillingness to submit to Scripture in any way, how are we to process the differences we might have with others over such things?
In all areas of child-rearing—not just this one—it is the task of the parents to teach their standards to their children in such a way that the children come to understand, love and embrace them. Simply understanding them is not sufficient. Neither is "loving" them, if loving merely means admiring and respecting the standards from a distance. The task of parents is to behave in such a way that the children love what the parents love, the way the parents love it. The love is seen when the children gladly do what they have been taught.
There is a vast difference between "knowing what my father thinks and believes" and "loving what my father loves." Truth-oriented parents (the kind who tend to read books on "how to" oversee a courtship) tend to focus on the syllogism, or the argument. "Here are the verses, here is the argument, here is the record of all the times we went over this argument with you, and why are you so rebellious?"
Just as the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath, so argument was made for the sake of understanding, not understanding for the sake of argument. The point of working through something, the point of arguing a position, should always be to win the person, not win the argument.
Over the years, I have had to give counsel to many parents who for many years had been very strict and very clear about their standards when the kids were growing up. In fact, they were so clear that the kids, once grown, knew exactly what they hated, and they knew exactly why they hated it. When confronted with the indisputable fact of their children's loathing of what they taught, the usual tendency is to go over the argument again.
So bring this around to differences over courtship. Suppose a man believes that a son does not have the authority to marry apart from his father's blessing. Suppose further that he has been such a wonderful father that his son would not dream of marrying against his father's wishes—the son believes exactly as his father does. I may disagree exegetically (as I would), but God bless them all. Suppose a family thinks for various reasons that daughters are on their own the same way and at the same time sons are. I differ with this also—but if the daughter loves her father's standard (and not just the liberty it gives her), and she respects and honors him in all that she does, then God bless them too. In both cases, the fundamental things are sound.
Whenever parents apply a standard to their children that requires compliance or obedience, the parents are writing a check. Truth-oriented parents tend to focus on whether or not it is their check-book, and whether or not they are an approved signatory on that account as far as the bank is concerned. "I am your father. That means I have the legal right to sign this check. Outta my way."
But there is another level of discussion altogether. I may have my checkbook, and be a signatory, and still not have any money in the bank. When parents teach their children to genuinely love the standards being inculcated, this is just another way of saying that there is plenty of money in the account. It would not be unwise to write that check.
Legal authority to sign is not the same as moral authority in signing. This is why "strict" parents so often have children who rebel. And frequently children (particularly daughters) rebel in matters of courtship because courtship is seen by the daughter as her one ticket out. I put the word "strict" in quotation marks because the real problem is that such parents are not strict enough. If someone carefully got out the right checkbook, and scrupulously signed their legal name on the proper line, but it was a check for $2500 and only $50 was in the account, I would not describe the problem as being "too strict."
But many times such parents are truly baffled by what is going on in their homes. If I tell them that they should not "write this check," in their defense, they point to all the wrong things. They point to the Bible verses that give them the right to sign checks. They point to the articles I have written that say they have the right to sign these checks.
A high view of Scripture invites us to build up enormous amounts of capital in our kids. More than that, we are called and required to do so. But in all areas of life, spending within our means is a discipline that takes practice. When it comes to matters of courtship, parents should be particularly careful to spend within their means. If a father has left his daughter emotionally deserted and insecure for twenty years, and then, when a young man comes around, the father starts assuming his paternal prerogatives and starts saying no, he is being extremely foolish. He is on his way to bouncing a big check.

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