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"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:
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:
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.
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.
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?
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.
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:
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.
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.
"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
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.