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    by Mike McHugh

The Foundation for Home School Discipline
Date Posted: June 19, 2008

Question 104 in the historic Heidelberg Catechism asks the following concerning the fifth commandment: “What does God require in the fifth commandment?”

The answer that is given in the Catechism states: “That I show all honor, love, and fidelity to my father and mother, and to all in authority over me; submit myself with due obedience to their good instruction and correction; and also bear patiently with their weaknesses and shortcomings, since it pleases God to govern us by their hand.”

Home school parents must clearly understand that it is nothing less than the divinely inspired fifth commandment that provides them with their parental authority. This truth needs to be stressed, because too many Christian parents today act as if their basis for parental authority stems merely from the fact that they may be stronger, smarter, or more experienced than their children. Christian home educators who desire to establish a foundation for their parental authority that will last, will reject such worldly standards in favor of the one that has been established by the God who designed the family unit.

How easy it is to forget that God alone is sovereign, and that the powers that be are all ordained by Him. Just government rules by virtue of the authority that has been delegated to those who have been providentially granted the privilege to serve as “ministers of God for good.” In the garden of Eden man rebelled against God’s authority, and tried to be a law unto himself. Adam rebelled against God, and Eve tried to lord it over Adam. The Creator determined to punish both by stating in effect: If human authority is what you desire in preference to my divine authority, you shall have it, but you will regret the choice you have made.

The Almighty knew perfectly well that the authority exercised by fallen creatures would be imperfect and flawed. The sting of the fall, at least in part, would be characterized by sinful deeds by those in authority as well as by rebellious acts by those who are under authority. Parents that lose their tempers and yell at their children, or strike them in anger, cannot well expect those children to respect them. On the other hand, parents who are willing to exercise their God-given authority in a proper manner, may confidently expect their children to “bear patiently with their parent’s weaknesses and shortcomings, since it pleases God to govern us by their hand.”

In Ephesians 6, verses one through three, Paul the Apostle wrote: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.”

St. Paul directs children to honor the will of God by obeying their parents in the Lord, then adds, “for this is right.” Every commandment of God is right; why then did the Apostle make this point of emphasis with regard to the fifth commandment? A brief study of the original Greek used in this passage reveals that the word “right” means, “as it ought to be.” It is as if the Word of God wants children to know that, notwithstanding the common imperfections of parents, the fifth commandment does not require anything that is extraordinary or contrary to nature. It is indeed no more than common sense for a child to obey and honor his parents. For, under God, every child owes his parents a debt that cannot be paid during a lifetime.

A child owes his bodily existence to his parents. Were it not for parents, no child would have the opportunity to know any of the joys of living. The first impressions of love, that critical condition for human life, are transmitted by parents to their offspring. The protection against a harsh world, and the first comfort for bruised feelings comes directly from parents to children. The most critical skills and lessons that a child needs to learn to be successful in life are also routinely given to young people by their parents. Lessons learned on a mother’s knee are seldom entirely forgotten, and none are more important to the formation of a child’s character.

At this point, some readers may still be asking, “Don’t children have the right to determine the extent to which they will obey their parents? After all, many parents today are quite harsh and unreasonable and often forget what it was like to have a childish mind.” Indeed they often do. But imperfection in those vested with authority does not annul the duty that human beings have to yield to the authority structures that God has established. The simple fact that there is a fifth commandment, reveals that Almighty God fully anticipated that there would be difficulties associated with the process of children honoring their parents. In other words, if it were not difficult for a child to honor his mother and father, the fifth commandment would not have been necessary. Moreover, if Jesus, himself perfect, could honor and obey his imperfect parents why would any child suppose that he is not obligated to submit to his parent’s authority?

Thanks be to God that the fifth commandment was not written in such a way as to leave it up to the child to decide if his parents are worthy of obedience and honor! Christian children need to understand that what Jesus did to honor His parents during His earthly ministry, He can and will teach other children to do if they will but ask Him. It is also worth stressing to children that few parents are so devoid of common grace as to be without at least some good or noble character traits that are worth following. As with all submission to sinful or flawed authority, it is best, therefore, for individuals to follow the good that they see in their leaders, and quietly reject the bad.

Do you as home educators desire to have children that are respectful of your authority? Be sure to instruct your youngsters in the biblical teachings regarding parental authority, particularly when they are young. For reasons already mentioned, the fifth commandment is an excellent place to begin this instruction. In addition to instruction, it is vital that parents have a consistent biblical approach to the discipline of their children. Without true discipline in the home, youngsters will tend to flounder due to a lack of tangible boundaries. Finally, to help and encourage your children to submit to parental authority, remember to set a godly example before them so that when they are tempted to reject your authority, you will have a foundation of respect that you can draw upon.

Contrary to the view of many within modern society, children really do have a solemn duty to cheerfully submit to the authority of their parents in the Lord. This duty is not only mandated by a clear command of Scripture, but has been perfectly modeled by the great Shepherd of the sheep, Jesus Christ. As if to amplify the importance of parental authority and the need for godly submission to it, the early life of the Savior Jesus Christ is summed up in the simple, yet profound statement regarding His relationship with His parents: “And he (Jesus) went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them.” (Luke 2:51)

Copyright 2008 Michael J. McHugh

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Biography Information:
This column is written by the staff at Christian Liberty Academy in Arlington Heights, Illinois. As a pioneer in the homeschool movement, Christian Liberty ministries has been operating a full service, K-12 home school program for over thirty years and a Christian textbook ministry (Christian Liberty Press), since 1985. The mission of Christian Liberty is to provide parents with quality, affordable educational products and services that will enable them to teach their children in the home and to train their children to serve Christ in every area of life. A more extensive explanation of the CLASS home school program can be obtained at
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