Thursday, May 4, 2017

Education: Disputable Matters?

Go to nearly any modern Protestant church in America and there’s one subject that gets avoided pretty carefully - the education of children. There is often good reasoning behind this avoidance. American Christians tend to be divided over whether to use homeschooling, private schooling or the public schools. The Bible tells us not to divide ourselves over disputable matters, or gray areas, of theology. So, churches decide that it’s better not to even bring the subject up.

BUT there’s a big assumption in this. The assumption is that children's education is a biblically disputable matter. Is it?

What the Bible Says About Education

We don’t have time in this article to cover every biblical passage on children’s education. I’m going to just hit the highlights.

Deuteronomy 6:6-8: And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

This passage is one of the most explicit in the Bible about teaching children. It’s helpful because it not only tells parents what to teach – the Word of God – but also when to teach it. At home, not at home, at night, during the day. That basically covers all of life, 24/7. So early in Scripture we see God’s model of parents being the primary instructors of their children.

Proverbs 22:6: Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.
Proverbs 1:8-9: Hear, my son, your father's instruction, and forsake not your mother's teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.

Proverbs, written by the wisest man who ever lived, talks a great deal about how young people can gain wisdom and learn to live a godly life. Over and over again Solomon refers to parents being the primary educators and children needing to listen to their parents’ teaching.

Psalm 78:5-8: He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.

There are many Psalms that talk about parents passing on the heritage of the Lord to their children. This one in particular notes that godly parental education is a guard against a rebellious, anti-God society.

I Timothy, II Timothy, Titus - All three of these books are called the pastoral epistles because they were written to two pastors, Timothy and Titus, and contain many instructions on how a church should be led. It is interesting to note that there are commands given to pastors on how to deal with men, women, slaves, slave owners, basically each section of society. But the only reference to children in these books is when the Apostle Paul instructs parents to teach their own children. It’s pretty clear that teaching children is not a main mission of the church, according to Paul. It’s a main mission of parents. In fact, it’s such an important mission that God, through Paul, declares that an elder/pastor must have done a good job raising his own children before he is put in a position of authority in the church. (I Timothy 3:4-5)

Matthew 18:5-6: Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

I’m ending purposely with the words of Jesus Himself. Jesus loved children and even rebuked His disciples for preventing children to come see Him. He wanted the best for them. Jesus could have updated the past model of parents educating their children, but He didn’t. He said He came to uphold God’s Word, not change it. In fact, all He added to it was this stern warning about causing children to sin. If you wonder what that has to do with a child’s form of education, consider the godless pressures from peers and the ungodly curriculum in many institutional schools today and ask yourself if it’s reasonable to expect an immature child to stand up to these pressures.

Education Is Not Neutral

Generally at this point in the discussion of children’s education a common retort is made. “We do teach our children God’s Word! We simply allow a school system to teach them secular subjects.”

Unfortunately, that’s another assumption that doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. Education is not neutral. Education is not simply a set of secular facts to memorize. Education is the preparation of a child for life by teaching him how to think, how to learn, and what worldview (or lens) through which to view all information. There are no “secular” subjects.

Mathematics assumes that absolute truth exists and is knowable – a difficult subject to teach if one presupposes that truth doesn’t exist. History that is truthful tells the story of God’s work in mankind from the beginning of time. That’s tough to teach if you don’t even acknowledge God – a “secular” curriculum has a vested interest in obscuring God’s hand. Science in our era is either based on the truth that God created all things or the lie that all things evolved by chance. Dramatically different conclusions can be reached depending on which premise you start from. I could go on through each school subject, but hopefully you get the idea. Nothing in life is neutral, because God created and sustains all things.

Salt and Light

If the conversation on children’s education lasts long enough, another retort is inevitably brought up: salt and light. God commanded us to be salt and light, correct? So shouldn’t our children be His salt and light in the school systems?

It’s helpful to go back to the original passage on salt and light, where we see that God did not command us to be salt and light. Instead, He stated that we already are salt and light and commanded us not to lose our saltiness. Flavorless salt is not only tasteless and therefore unnoticeable, but it also doesn’t do the purpose for which it was used in the first century: preserve food. Just as salt without saltiness allows food to rot, Christians who pollute themselves and water down their thinking also fail to preserve the culture in which God has placed them. Understood correctly, the scripture regarding salt and light is actually support for the idea of godly parental education.

Not Everybody Can Do It

The final retort I always hear in this discussion is that not every family can homeschool. The examples brought up include families that only have one parent, families in financial straits needing two incomes, and families with serious marital problems that would interfere with homeschooling. There is a simple, though not necessarily easy, answer to this found in the Bible. The church needs to support families in doing what God has called them to do.

When a missionary is called to the field, the church supports him with prayers, contributions and volunteer work. A parent is as much a missionary as someone called to Africa or China, and the church has the same opportunity to offer support. If churches provided counseling, volunteer work, financial help, and prayer to struggling parents, nearly all the reasons for not homeschooling would disappear. It’s time for the church to step up and provide support for God’s work in families, rather than enabling excuses to avoid that work.

Parental Education is Mission Work

The gospel is spread first in Christian homes and then spills over to the rest of the world. The gospel is not merely an altar call. It is a life-changing, life-lasting work of sanctification that begins at salvation and continues through the rest of our lives. When Christ gave the Great Commission, He didn’t merely tell us to get people down the aisle. He told us to “make disciples.” That is a daily process that involves countless hours, efforts and prayers on the part of the mentor. What better place for that to happen with children than in their own homes with their own parents?

We can see over 100 years of fruit of ignoring God’s model in our culture. Nearly everyone has heard tragic stories of missionaries and pastors who neglected training their own children and as a result their children left the faith. Our modern churches are seeing the millennial generation leave the church in droves. That is in large part because Christians have farmed out the primary part of their children’s education to other people, most of them non-Christians.

When parents educate their children in the fear of the Lord, society is blessed and preserved through their influence. When parents abdicate their role and leave the education of their children to others, especially to a godless government school system, society suffers and becomes a “rebellious generation,” lacking the light and salt of a robust Christianity.

Considering all this, I think we can make a good case that churches do need to be teaching about children’s education from a biblical perspective. Though the actual outworking of parental education will differ from family to family, providing it is not a disputable matter.

Written by Heather Sheen

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