And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
Exclusive authoritarianism creates a black-and-white world where adherence to the rules is the only way children can earn a parent’s favor. This parenting model is like a big authoritarian umbrella. If the children stay under the umbrella, they will be fine—so the strict parent would want you to believe. “If you do what I say, you will be okay. But, if you go against my rules, you’ll be in trouble.” The problem is that a child’s heart does not function this way.
The authoritarian parent must give his children more than rules; he needs to nurture them. Thus, authoritarianism is a lazy parenting model. He lays out the rules and demands everyone’s allegiance. He legislates morality. If the family lives in an authoritarian culture, there will be “subjective evidence” that will support the strict parent’s way of doing things, i.e., the younger children will obey.
When the children reared in these legalistic homes push those boundaries, there are nearly always dire consequences, which rarely include a restorative plan. Authoritarian homes are punitive homes. The authoritarian parent says, “See, I told you if you don’t obey me, this is what happens.” The more timid children will salute dad’s flag and never buck his system because the consequences are not worth it.
Conditional love wrapped in rules is an awful parenting model. It will keep our children separated from the world while young, but it will not equip them to engage the world when they step out from under their dad’s authoritarian umbrella. God has called us to a pneumatic life; we are to walk in the Spirit as He guides us. The Spirit teaches us how to live well in His world.
The Lord did not give us a restrictive list of rules to follow. Instead, He gave us an organic relationship that factors in the uniqueness of each of His children. Any parent with more than one child knows this, which is why it’s unwise to lay down a blanket list of rules and make the kids obey them while motivating them by fear if they cross the line. That model does not rear children. Instead, it rears robots who do not have the practical equipping to live in the culture while engaging Christ. The only kind of person they could engage is someone like them, which is how you form a cult.
The authoritarian parent must also be a nurturing parent. He teaches them straightforward “ways” to live by as he discerns each child and helps the child overcome his unique Adamic brokenness. You see this idea in 1 Thessalonians 5:14, where Paul talked about three different kinds of people, and he gave the Thessalonians three distinct ways to care for them.
He did not say that all three people groups obey the same strict code of conduct. Yes, there are biblical ethics to live by, but the Bible is more than an ethics manual. Children are relational beings who need specific care. If we don’t provide that kind of unique parenting, legalism is our only option, which will prove to be destructive.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).