I believe in original sin–through one man, Adam, sin entered the world. We are all born infected with this virus–think of a computer virus. It doesn’t make everything your computer does mess up, but if it’s in there, it’s infected. But I do not believe this means we are born sinners OR sinning–rather, with an inclination to sin. Without God we will sin.
Then it comes down to how you define sin–whether it’s a violation of a “known” law, or any deviation from the perfect will of God. But either way–it doesn’t require punishment. See, if you believe that it’s a violation of a known law of God then very young children, based simply on mental and cognitive development, can’t be guilty of sin. This is actually what I believe. But if you believe it’s any deviation from the perfect will of God then you believe that everyone sins all the time throughout their lives, so what makes sin from young children different or worthy of some extra punishment? Because Scripture is very clear that Jesus took all of our punishments on the Cross and we cannot think that we must add something more for our children–this idea actually makes it so that children’s sins become MORE than adults and that is not even rational. In other words, Jesus’ sacrifice was enough to atone for your sins, but not for your children’s–that takes something extra.
Moving into talking about willful disobedience—I simply do not find this to be a legitimate argument when it comes to young children. If you study the development of the mind at all you know that children don’t develop logic until ten (pre-logic begins at age eight) and reason doesn’t even come until fourteen, so the idea that a toddler or very young child is willfully disobeying doesn’t fit–they lack the mental capacity to do that. It’s also important to note that in both Greek and Hebrew the concept of “obey” is based on the assumption that the one being obeyed has earned the trust of the one obeying–it’s a voluntary variation of normal response. In other words, disobedience is the normal human response when there is no trust. When there is trust, relationship, and discipleship– then there is obedience. You can demand compliance, but not obedience. Obedience must be earned. When a parent is demanding obedience from a young child and considering any lack of obedience to be willful they simply lack understanding of how God made children.
I do understand how frustrating it can be to have a toddler do something you’ve told them not to do. But this is the age for earning trust–for making your words have meaning. You can’t just tell them to do something and expect unquestioning compliance—this is the time to make it happen. Pick them up and move them; redirect; etc. Discipline
cannot take place outside of relationship and adversarial approaches DETACH. This is why spanking “the right way” is always followed by a ritual for reattachment. But that detachment is counter productive.
Teaching done within relationship, that doesn’t ever detach, is discipleship.
Disciples imitate the master, the master doesn’t demand imitation. You cannot demand respect; you command it by being worthy of respect.
This is why I talk about discipline requiring that we, the parents, change–that we be the people we want our children to become. They will imitate us–at least until they reach a stage where they decide whether that is a wise road to continue down. Teen rebellion usually comes from (among other things and combined with other things) seeing hypocrisy from parents–inconsistency between what they say and who they really are. There is a need to individuate (separate into their own person) but this doesn’t have to be the painful, challenging thing it has become in our culture.
Another important question that this whole issue is based upon is whether or not you believe God has relationship with children–a relationship I call pre-salvific. Weslayan doctrine would call it prevenient grace. Basically it comes down to God wooing and loving children and their ability to respond to that love. Too many people, in my experience, put extra requirements on salvation that cause parents to view their children as sinners rather than humans loved by God. If you believe your child to not be able to genuinely love God until a certain age, or until they have completed certain things, then it becomes vital to push them to those things. Instead, I just enjoy my children, watch them love God, model holy living for them, teach them Truth (rather than worrying about sin) . . . both the principle that you get more of what you focus on AND the example of how bank tellers are taught about counterfeit money (by studying real money) apply here. If you focus on sin, you get sin; if you are teaching your child all about sin, you get a sinner. But if you focus on holiness . . .
Ultimately, God has to be the one to “save” your child–and you can’t make it happen. But the verse that tells us to train up a child in the way he should go . . . the word translated “train” means to “steep”–to marinate. If a child is saturated in Godliness they will know only God. The alternative will not appeal to them, it will not tempt them, it will not apply to them. And the Proverb that reads “foolishness is bound in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction will drive it far from him” does NOT mean that a child’s heart is full of foolishness–it means the exact opposite. It is the foolishness that is bound–tied up, rendered powerless. Foolishness is a Hebraic idea ONLY applied to adults raised in faith who reject it when they are responsible for themselves. This verse gives hope that we have a season (while a child is a child) that foolishness is bound up–and what do we do during this season? Apply the rod of correction–but this means the Shebet (symbol of authority) of reasoning together. (The word in Hebrew that is translated “correction” means “come let us reason together”). So if we take our authority and reason together with our children (and, as I mentioned before, the age of reason begins at age 14 so we’re talking adolescents, who in the Jewish community would have been Bar/Bat Mitzvah’d and would be “apprentice adults”, we can disciple our children into relationship with God and NOT raise fools.
Ultimately it comes down to whether you focus on “through one man, Adam, sin entered the world” OR “through one man, Jesus, sin was atoned for.”