Truth for Today

More Truth for Today articles from past issues of the Presbyterian Standard are available online here.

Christian Education

by Rev. David Blunt

Where have all the children gone? This question or one like it is often heard within the church today as it becomes increasingly evident that the young, especially those of teenage years, though brought up in christian homes, are drifting away from the gospel and becoming conformed to this world. Does Scripture provide an effective remedy? Many believe that it is found in the form of a thorough-going christian education for children of the covenant.

The article below is based on an address by Rev. David Blunt first given to a meeting of the Highland Christian Schools Trust and entitled " The Biblical Necessity for Christian Education. " Mr. Blunt first makes some general points on education from a Christian perspective, and then looks in some detail at the various passages of Scripture which ought to guide us in this important area. He concludes by showing that, since the education of children being a task directed by the Word of God and a duty in which parents are responsible before God, therefore believers are bound to be dissatisfied with the schooling presently offered by the State.

This article was published in the Presbyterian Standard in two parts: Issue No. 14, April-June 1999, and Issue No. 15, July-September 1999.

"And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates." – Deuteronomy 6:6-9

T HE title of this address has been chosen deliberately: "The Biblical Necessity for Christian Education." Others may have far more experience in the area of child-rearing and education than I, and this may dictate their views on the subject. As Christians however our wisdom and constant need is to ask, "What doth the LORD require of (me)?" (Mic. 6:8). We must go daily to the law and to the testimony of God. It is my belief that the inspired Holy Scriptures with the blessing of God upon them are sufficient to "throughly furnish" or perfectly equip God's people for each and every good work to which they are called (2 Tim. 3:16-17): – isn't education one such good work? If we were left to reason alone, it would surely tell us that God would not have left us in the dark on a matter which we all acknowledge to be so vital. Education has tremendous consequences, either for good or for ill, in individual lives, in families, nations – and in the church.

How many times have we heard parents bemoaning the state of State education?! People seem increasingly willing to acknowledge that there is something wrong: there is a lack of discipline, poor academic performance, declining moral standards; for these reasons and more parents may opt for private schooling of some kind, spending a small fortune to obtain what they believe will be a better education for their children. Christians will acknowledge all these difficulties in the State system – and more; they would mention in addition the evolutionary approach to science and multi-faith religious instruction, among other things.

These problems are certainly real. But I submit that there is a more fundamental problem, of which these are merely the symptoms: something we must reckon with if we are to understand what duty God requires of us here. What is the problem? We shall endeavour to do three things: firstly to define the meaning of education, then to declare the principle of true education and finally to demonstrate the Biblical evidence for Christian education.


The English word "educate" comes from a Latin word meaning to draw out or bring out that which is latent or hidden; it is particularly applied to the rearing of children, and to the instruction of the mind. The child is a potential adult but only attains to that status through a process of gradual development. Although the task of education is to bring out what is within, this is to be done by feeding the mind: our desire is to see the child work out what God by His grace works into his heart. Perhaps the child may be compared to a plant growing up (this is a common figure in Scripture); words such as training and cultivating suggest that. A seed that is sown in the ground is full of potential but requires outside influences to cause it to develop – heat and light and moisture. Then the growing plant will need constant nourishment and perhaps to be staked or supported until it has the strength and maturity to stand on its own and bear fruit.

Education is preparation for adult life. What sort of life? An independent life; one that is not wholly dependent on other human beings, as it was when it began in this world and for many years after that. A successful life of course, as everyone will agree. But how will we define or measure success? Income, status, power? Family, health, happiness? Christians ought to be very clear about this. In response to the question, "What is the chief end (or purpose) of man? " the Shorter Catechism gives the answer: " Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever." A life lived to the glory of God. One that acknowledges God and is dependent on Him for all things: nothing short of this will do. This is the only truly successful and contented life. Therefore Christian parents should not, may not be satisfied with any education system that has a different objective.


Every Christian believes in Christian education in some sense. Listening to sermons, family worship, personal Bible reading these are all Christian education! But what about education as we have defined it above, the schooling of children for independent adult life? Where does Christianity fit in here?

Four distinct attitudes are possible to the question of the place of Christianity in schooling:

  1. Secular: Christianity, and religion in general, has no place in the school, whatever place it may occupy in people's private lives. This attitude is found, and often strictly enforced, in the public schooling of societies where there is a strict separation between Church and State, such as in the United States of America.
  2. Neutral: Christianity may be taught, but only as one religious viewpoint alongside many others. We are becoming increasingly familiar with such a "multi-faith" approach in our own country, where the State schools are now forced to take account of the large immigrant communities present in many of our cities.
  3. Narrow: Christianity may be taught in the school, but only as a separate, distinct subject – classically R.E. (Religious Education) for one hour per week. Many of us will have attended schools where this was the pattern.
  4. Comprehensive: Christianity, that is Christ and the Scriptures, must undergird, inform, integrate and influence ALL that is taught and done in the school.

I submit that only the last is worthy of the designation Christian education. Why is this comprehensive approach so necessary? We speak of it not as a mere option but as a necessity – something pressing, urgent, compelling, indispensable; an essential.

Consider the child who receives Christian instruction at home and in the church but a secular or neutral education in the school. He may well prosper in this world. He may be great in learning and rise to the academic heights. But at what cost spiritually? For there is here one aim in the home and the church, and another in the day school: two opposing value-systems are being placed before the child and they set up a tension within his mind. Because we are fallen creatures with a natural propensity to sin, and because in the school there are such powerful pressures to conform to one's peers, it is no surprise if the world triumphs in the conflict.

A child may receive the traditional hour of R.E. each week in State schools even yet, but what impression does this make on the child when in every other class and in the playground God is deemed at best a mere option and at worst an obstacle to progress?

The fear of the Lord cannot be learned except in a schooling environment where Christianity is regarded as true and relevant to the whole of life. Then learning will become much more than the mere accumulation of facts (and some of them quite dubious!) – it will develop into wisdom.

In what ways would Christian education differ from what is commonplace in State schools today? Among other things it would emphasise:

  1. The absolute nature of morality. Right and wrong is not to be determined by majority opinion, such that what is wrong in one generation becomes tolerated in the next and then positively encouraged. We have seen this with abortion and are now witnessing it with sodomy. God's law is perfect (Psa. 19:7) and therefore unchangeable.
  2. The respective and distinctive responsibilities of males and females. According to the Scriptures there are such things as manhood and womanhood, fatherhood and motherhood, dominion and submission.
  3. The necessity and benefit of discipline and correction. It is neither loving nor wise, whatever the consent of "experts" or the sentiment of "the majority", to withhold corporal punishment from the child. Prov. 23:13, 14.

Regarding the method of education, the following quote from a Romanist is of interest:

"Children go to school not merely to be informed but to be formed and Catholics believe that school is an extension of home so that the same set and sense of values must be instilled in home and school.

Were we to lose our Catholic schools we would lose a tremendous amount and I don't know how we would make up for it. To Catholic parents who send their children to non-denominational schools where the Catholic school is available I have always said: 'You take the responsibility against the advice of the Church which provides education for Catholic children in Catholic schools under Catholic teachers.

If you go against that advice then the whole responsibility for their religious education rests on your shoulders and I refuse to have any responsibility for looking after it.' "

Cardinal Gordon Gray in Flourish, August 1993, [the official journal of the R.C. archdiocese of Glasgow].

I want to suggest, without in any way approving the source, that such thinking is light-years ahead of that which is found among most professing Protestants today! Here is a grasp of the need for consistency in education – an understanding that the same values must be found in church, home and school. We urgently need to return to this thinking today, for it is in fact thoroughly biblical in its outlook.


Why should we support Christian schools and send our children to them? Will it not mean much sacrifice and sweat? Many will imagine, if they do not actually put their thoughts into these words: "Perhaps my children will lose out! They get the Bible at home and in the church. Anyway, I know families that do not use Christian schooling and their children know the Lord!"

This is the pragmatic spirit that rules so much of Christian life today – the idea that the correctness or worth of something is to be judged by its practical consequences: if it seems to me to work then it must have the approval of God. No matter that much of what we judge to be success is imaginary rather than real!

God's people are redeemed to be a principled people: – they are now to be guided by certain fundamental rules of conduct; they are to follow a moral code and to have a settled reason of action. "What saith the Scripture?" is to be their instinctive response when faced with competing choices; "Is there any word from the LORD?" must be their attitude when important subjects are before them.

A Key Principle

The Bible affirms of Christ that "all things were created by him, and for him" (Col. 1:16); that "he is before all things, and by him all things consist" (v.17). The whole of creation is constituted in Christ, from the single atom to the greatest galaxy. He alone enables us to make sense of the whole and all its myriad parts, for Paul also says "In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col. 2:3). Learning that is divorced from Christ is not true "treasure"; it is earthly and ultimately destined for corruption, along with its owner.

A Key Duty

There are two Scripture verses that overshadow all our life activities, education included. These verses stand as two great sentinels, to warn us and keep us from activities that are not good in the sight of God. The first of these is:

1 Cor. 10:31: "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God."

If God's great purpose in creation is to glorify Himself, then our bounden duty can be nothing less than to glorify Him in the totality of our existence. Our motive in education, as in everything else, is to be the glory of God: we can only glorify God by obeying His Word.

The second of these is related and is:

Col. 3:17: "And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him."

Our success in education, as in everything else, depends upon the blessing of God which we seek through prayer: we may only ask for things agreeable to His will, as though Christ Himself were making the request. Does He approve an education system from which He is excluded? or one in which He is merely tolerated? Will He bless this?

Are we not shut up to an education which is distinctly Christian? – one that is Christ-centred and Bible based?

A Key Commandment

The fifth commandment and a God-centred education come as a package of reciprocal duties of children to parents and vice-versa. We may sum up the teaching of Ephesians 6:1-4 thus: "Children, obey your parents in the Lord; Parents, (fathers) educate your children in the Lord."

Let us look more closely at verse 4: "And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord."Nurture is training or education, including correction with words and chastening with blows; admonition is warning with words; ALL this is to be done "in the Lord," which can only mean according to the Word of God: this can only be satisfied by Christian schooling. The parent – and here it stresses the father remains responsible to ensure that his child is reared always in the law of the Lord.

A Key Passage

In Deuteronomy 6:4-9 we see the parental duty which is summarised in the fifth commandment now described in detail. This passage was central to the life of Israel as a distinct, indeed a unique, nation. In v.4 we have the creed or confession which identified one as an Israelite, and in the following verses the obligations which the individual took upon himself in making that personal confession, particularly that relating to the instruction of his children (vv.6-9). What was this obligation? It involved four aspects:

  1. The material of instruction. "These words" (v.6). The law of the Lord, God's commandments, statutes and judgments (v.2), must provide the substance for the teaching of the believer's children.
  2. The agent of instruction. "Thou" (v.7). Here we are confronted by the idea of parental responsibility, for the Lord addresses this duty to the individual, not to the State or to the Church. Anyone the parent employs or delegates the work of teaching to must be of a similar spiritual mind.
  3. The place of instruction. "When thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way" (v.7). Everywhere! In the home and outside of the home. The parental obligation to provide an education in the truths of God does not cease when the child goes off to school!
  4. The time of instruction. "When thou liest down, and when thou risest up" (v.7). From morning to evening, from dawn to dusk, children should live and move in an environment where the teachings of God's Word are promoted.

If some say that this obligation is set in the Old Testament and is therefore intended for the nation of Israel only, and not applicable to us today, we reply, Certainly there are changes between the two dispensations. Ceremonial laws governing Israel as a church being tutored for the coming of the Messiah have been abolished with the appearing of Christ the Lamb of God. Civil laws that respected Israel as a nation under God came to an end with the end of that nation as a distinct body. But we are considering here something that is not confined to one people or one era of human history! Education is of general, even universal, relevance: equity means that what was suitable for Israel in this sphere will be applicable to mankind in general.

We have similar exhortations in other places, including the Psalms (e.g. Psa. 78:1-8). This is significant, because the Psalter itself is designed to instruct believers in the truth through singing, and is intended for the use of the New Testament church as equally as that of the Old.

A Key Word

I would like to focus on one word from that passage which indicates the manner of true, Christian education. In v.7 we have the seemingly ordinary word "teach." But look at the margin: there the literal rendering of the Hebrew is "to whet," or "to sharpen." In the nine occurrences in the Old Testament this is always the sense, referring to the use of a sword or an arrow, e.g. Deuteronomy 32:41, Psalm 45:5. In our verse the verb form is intensive, expressing the idea of constancy and repetition in teaching. The instruction of children then is to be marked by clarity, logic and thrusting force: the cutting edge of truth should be felt in the minds of the pupils; all the instruction they receive should be united in one common aim – the acknowledgement of Christ as Lord over the whole of creation and each individual life in all its varied activities and relationships.

A Key Promise

"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Prov. 22:6). Christian parents and educators need encouragement in their task, and they may find it here. Again we refer to the margin and find that "to train" may be understood as "to catechise," i.e. to teach by word of mouth in question and answer form. We may be familiar with this as regards what we call religious instruction, but it reminds us too of what was once the common viewpoint in Scotland regarding education in general. The following quote is from William Hetherington, a Free Churchman of last century:

"We regard it as the duty of the State, the Church, and the parent, all and alike, to promote both the secular and the religious education of the young by a conjoint effort, and in one combined system, where all the elements of a sound and complete education work together for good. We consider the use of the Bible and Shorter Catechism, as the basis of the system, even more precious on account of the seeds they implant, than of the actual knowledge they convey. We regard the teacher as occupying a position which places him in relation with all the three State, Church, and parent – honoured and maintained by all, but not the mere hired servant of any; responsible, too, to all for the right discharge of his duties, but chiefly, and above all, responsible to God for the use he makes of his unutterably important office, and, for that reason, perfectly unable to discharge his duties aright unless he be both a well-educated and a truly religious man. We believe that such was, and still is, the hereditary and deep-rooted belief of Scotland with respect to national education..."

God's covenant with believers and their children is a precious truth of Scripture: He has promised to save their seed. Christian parents, embracing this promise, may look in faith for its fulfilment, but only as they consistently carry out their responsibilities in the covenant. Can you say that, in all respects, including schooling, you are training your children to walk in the narrow way rather than along the broad way?


This Biblical requirement for Christian education cannot be satisfied either by State schools or Sabbath schools or even by both together: the former teach "secular" subjects from a secular perspective, and the latter "sacred" subjects from a sacred or Biblical perspective. What is necessary is that all subjects, the so-called secular and sacred, be taught from a Biblical perspective. We might term this the "regulative principle" of education: only what positively accords with God's written revelation should be allowed into the classroom. Children should be taught the truth and nothing contrary to the truth.

There is a need today for another "Disruption": not this time because of State interference in the responsibilities of the Church, but because of State interference in the responsibilities of the Family. Just as the State is duty bound to establish the true church and aim at its well-being, so it should "establish" the true family and aim at its well-being, i.e. frame its legislation in accordance with biblical teaching respecting the family as an institution of God. Yet we see a fundamental attack on the true family by the State: in marriage and divorce laws, children's "rights", taxation, AND EDUCATION. Families should "come out" of this wrong relationship with the State!

Why do Christian parents accept the Government's presumptuous "right" to educate their children? Have you never considered that this vital responsibility in fact belongs to you, and that one day you will have to give an account to Almighty God for how you have exercised it? The State has no business in taking to itself this task; the education of children is an exclusively parental responsibility. If God has loaned His heritage to you for a season, then it is in order that you should rear them according to His requirements and not after your own pleasure. Then at the Last Day the believer and his Lord shall be able to say in unison: "Behold I and the children which God hath given me"; they shall truly be Christ's reward.