Christian Education: Preserving our Christian Heritage
Parenthood is a heavy responsibility, and providing Christian education for your child in some form is a concrete way to pass on the truth of the Bible on to the next generation.
James W. Deuink, Ed.D.
Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old: Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments: And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God. The children of Ephraim, being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle. They kept not the covenant of God, and refused to walk in his laws; And forgat his worlds, and his wonders that he had shewed them (Psalm 78:1-11).
The more I ponder the responsibilities of parenthood, the more awed I become at the responsibility one assumes when he brings a child into the world. Not only does the Bible teach that I am accountable to God for myself and my relationship to him, but I am responsible to God for my wife, my children, and my children's children. I have become accustomed to the idea of being accountable for myself, but I have never been fully able to comprehend the accountability I have for others whose lives become intertwined with mine. Especially frustrating is the knowledge that with my responsibility for my wife and children, there are limitations placed upon my best efforts by the exercise of their sovereign wills. Can I hope to have the kind of influence on them that will result in lives pleasing to God?
Since the Garden of Eden experience of Adam and Eve, parents have struggled with the task of communicating their knowledge of God and their spiritual values to their children. With their first two children, Cain and Abel, they succeeded with one and failed with the other. Search the Scripture from cover to cover and you will find no evidence of any difference in how Adam and Eve instructed their children. Yet the record is clear: Abel's heart was in tune with God's and Cain's was not (Genesis 4:4,5). Though in a perfect environment themselves, both Adam and Eve had fallen prey to Satan's influence and sinned--Eve through his deceptive devices, and Adam in choosing to ignore God's instructions which he clearly understood. No doubt, Adam and Eve had recounted the story of their sin and their banishment from the Garden many times. They had to acknowledge to their children their own failure to consistently obey God while at the same time attempting to teach them that they must obey or be held personally accountable for their sin. In the case of Abel, their efforts apparently had a positive impact; however, Cain chose to follow in the footsteps of his father, forsaking God's clear instructions.
If Adam and Eve had such serious difficulty with their children, in a world far more free of Satan's influence than ours, is there any hope for us and our children? Yes, there is hope. Thank the Lord, our hopes does not rest on the times or conditions of the times, but on the unchanging power of God and His willingness to shore up our weaknesses. But we need help--all the help we can get. This is why I am such a strong supporter of Christian schools.
While it may be argued that God requires Christian education but does not command that Christian education be delivered through the medium of Christian school, it seems clear that the Christian school offers the best means of obtaining a Christian education available to many of our children.
For the past generation or so, many have debated the best environment to provide young people with a God-honoring education. This debate has led to the so-called hothouse theory. Some have likened the Christian school (as an institution) to the greenhouse where young, tender plants are sheltered from the elements as they are carefully watered, fertilized, and cultivated, providing them with the best opportunity to survive strong and healthy to adulthood. Others have acknowledged the advantages of the protected environment but have argued that the very protection intended to nurture insures their eventual destruction. They contend that the plant that has been overprotected is unable to survive a more normal environment when stripped of its protection. Which argument is valid, or is it possible that the truth lies somewhere between the two positions? What does the Scripture say about the education of children? What biblical examples are available to provide us with guidance?
The first example of good parenting God identifies for us in the Bible is Abraham. In Genesis 18:19, God says of Abraham: "For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him." This passage cannot be fully understood apart from an understanding of the covenant that God had already given Abraham in Genesis 12 and the self-serving waywardness of his nephew Lot recorded in Chapters 13 and 19. Just before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, God testifies that Abraham's faithfulness as a father was in integral part of enabling Him to fulfill the covenant of Chapter 12.
The wording of Genesis 18:19 describes the form of instruction Abraham would provide for his children. The key word is command. It is the same Hebrew word used in Exodus 7:2 to instruct Moses as he explains how Aaron will help him speak to Pharaoh. It is one of only three Hebrew words translated command in the Old Testament. It is the word appearing in all but one passage where the word command is used in the King James translation of Scripture from Genesis through the book of Joshua. It is a powerful word of direction. The instruction I believe God intends for us to receive from this passage is that the teaching of our children represents opportunities for us to communicate God's truth to them, which is to be very directive. We should impart God's truth as commands from Him rather than options to be considered.
Long before the era of formal educational institutions, God recognized the threat man's natural appetite for knowledge would be to his spiritual development. Throughout the book of Exodus we find instruction concerning the educational responsibilities of parents for insuring the proper educational experiences of their children. In Deuteronomy 32, as the ministry of Moses is winding down, we find the following reminder: "Set your hearts unto all the words which I testify among you this day, which ye shall command your children to observe to do, all the words of this law. For it is not a vain thing for you; because it is your life: and through this thing ye shall prolong your days in the land, whither ye go over to possess it: (vs. 46,47). Here again we find the word command, the same Hebrew word used by God in describing the instruction he knew Abraham would provide his family. God had certain principles and precepts He wanted impressed upon His children in the strongest manner possible without forcing them to comply. Therefore, Moses gave certain commands to the people which were to be passed down by the nation of Israel over the years. God has promised special blessing to those who remain true to Him.
The first example we find in Scripture involving a child being sent to another to be instructed is found in I Samuel. The young child Samuel, son of Elkanah and Hannah, was sent to live with Eli the priest and be instructed by him in the temple. Hannah had vowed unto the Lord that she would give back to God a son for His use forever, if He would but make it possible for her to conceive and bear a child. The vow was made voluntarily, and she voluntarily gave up Samuel to Eli for training as soon as she had weaned him.
I Samuel 2 records the desire of Hannah's heart when she prostrates herself before the Lord as Samuel is turned over to Eli to prepare for his special ministry unto the Lord. In sharp contrast to this account, we have in this same chapter the record of Eli's own sons, who never knew and served the Lord, but used the office of their father to steal from the people (showing no respect even for the sacrifices of the children of Israel) and to abuse the women in the tabernacle, and at the hands of the same man, God prepared one for service and others for destruction. It is never said of Eli, "He commanded his sons after God."
In addition to specific examples that give direction to parents, the Bible provides certain principles that are instructive. Such an example may be found in the warnings of Solomon as recorded in Proverbs 19:27--Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge. The Apostle Paul expands this principle in Romans 16:19 as he teaches that he would have us wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil. The Old Testament passage deals with the teaching of the young while the New Testament passage has general application to all believers. The principle is the same in both instances--God does not want our desire for knowledge in the general sense to lead us away from a knowledge of Him. God does not specifically describe what will or will not cause us difficulty as learners. Rather, he provides the principle and holds us accountable for the application. In fact, it appears obvious from the illustrations of Moses, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah, and Paul, that God at times chooses to use secular education programs to prepare His people for service, in the absence of other options. The weight of other Scriptures verifies that this would not be the norm.
We no longer live in a biblical economy such as Abraham or even Elkanah and Hannah lived in. The pressures of life and the legal requirements we face have eliminated some of our choices. Today most parents sent their children outside the home to receive a formal education. In fact, all 50 of our states now require that children within certain ages attend school. The State has concluded that the children belong to it and therefore, the State should control the educational process to ascertain that its objectives are achieved. Typically, those laws also define the institutions where we may legally send our children. In recent years 90 percent of our children have been educated by the State in what have become popularly known as public schools. An additional eight percent are educated in private schools whose philosophies and educational programs differ little from the public schools. An increasing number of parents are electing to teach their own children at home.
The modern Christian school offered great hope in the 1960s and 70s to parents who were frustrated in their attempts to rear their children to be God-fearing adults. This was particularly true in view of the increasingly militant, secular philosophies of public and non-sectarian private schools. The Christian school offered the hope of a superior academic education in a spiritually nurturing environment. Unfortunately, many of our expectations from the Christian school movement have not materialized. There have been significant failures and disappointments over the years. Presently we are seeing a decline in the support for Christian schools in some areas. Schools are closing and enrollments are down as parents and Christian leaders reevaluate their commitment to this means of meeting their biblical responsibilities in the education of their children.
For a time, I believe Christian educators have defended Christian schools with an unwillingness to acknowledge their failures. I, too, have been guilty of this because I did not want to contribute in the slightest way to the difficulties Christian schools were already facing. An unwillingness to acknowledge error is not helpful to those we seek to protect, and in this case, it is certainly not helpful to those we sincerely desire to serve. We must acknowledge our weaknesses and address them quickly, or our movement will diminish even more.
An important note of caution is in order, especially for parents and Christian leaders who are impacting the educational decisions of parents under their influence. I am finding many very quick to abandon Christian schools that fail to meet their expectations, without recognizing that the alternatives they then choose place them in a worse position than before to meet their biblical responsibilities in training their children.
I have been involved in numerous discussions in the classroom and in various other academic forums concerning the importance of quality necessary to qualify a school as a Christian school. I share the concern for quality. However, since children must attend some kind of school, it seems imperative that Christian parents be more aware of the spiritual impact on their children of leaving the conventional Christian school in search of some other option. Academically, a Christian school must be evaluated in light of other schools in the area; and even a Christian school that is not as strong as we wish it were, may be a better choice than other available options. A good student can make satisfactory progress in an academically weak school, but a student that is weak spiritually may be destroyed in a strong, anti-god educational system. Parents forced to make such a choice should seek every opportunity to make that weak Christian school a strong school.
God has given us a charge as parents to give our children the opportunity to come to know Him and to develop in their knowledge of Him. It is our responsibility to see that whatever means we choose to fulfill this obligation provides them with ample opportunity to come to Him, while minimizing every occasion for them to be distracted by Satan. Not since Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden has man had the degree of protection they enjoyed. But even there, God permitted Satan an occasion to tempt them. However, this occurred only after God had first made Himself known unto them and had established as intimate relationship with them. We need not fear that Satan will be denied such opportunity with our children today; yet just such an opportunity is what the humanists are demanding. Our concern should be to insure that they have the opportunity to develop the intimate relationship with God that will prepare them to withstand Satan's devices.
When I am confronted with the imperfections and inadequacies of many of our Christian schools, I cannot help but recall the educational environment into which Elkanah and Hannah placed young Samuel. Had they known about Eli's sons, perhaps they would not have sent Samuel to the tabernacle. We can only speculate. One thing we can know for certain--these parents sent Samuel to be trained by Eli because they believed that the son they had given to God would receive the education he needed there. They were not acquainted with all the details. These they entrusted to God's hands. Samuel was primarily a product of faith and love of his parents. They did the best they knew how to preserve him for God. God took care of the rest.
In the early years of the modern Christian school movement, those who enrolled their children in our schools had a clear vision of the spiritual values to be gained through the godly influence of Christian schools. As we have become more sophisticated in our understanding of the educational process, it seems that our focus has shifted away from the spiritual. Is it possible that we have lost sight of the importance of our spiritual heritage and the responsibility that we have to God to preserve these values for our children and out children's children? God is not so concerned about the specific choices we make as He is with the motivation behind our choices. As we choose what kind of educational program will be used to educate our children, we must be certain that our choices are based on actions we believe will insure the preservation of our Christian heritage in the lives of our children and our children's children. And we must undergird our choices with prayers of faith that God will do in the hearts of our children what can only be done by Him.