October 21, 2017

Much Ado About Something Truly Important (1)

John Brock

Much of this article is opinion. You may disagree with my conclusion, and that is okay with me. My goal is to stir our thinking with a big stick while turning up the heat—because the lukewarm pot of Christian education needs to be stimulated, lest it should spoil from stagnation and neglect.

Christian education is important to me. I did not enter its arena by default (not knowing what else to major in while attending college) or by jumping on the bandwagon with everyone else in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I majored in accounting, and while working for a CP A firm in Los Angeles after returning from my tour of duty in Vietnam, I volunteered as a helper on a baseball team at the Christian school where my wife taught. It was one of the few “pre-Christian school movement” schools in America. Soon I realized I received much more enjoyment in my limited time at this school than I did with my work. God was providentially moving me away from the security and stability of the business world to the dynamic and insecure world of Christian education.

I resigned from my accounting job and went back to college, where I received one of the first master’s degrees in Christian School Administration offered at Bob Jones University. Thirty-three years have passed since then. I have served as a principal in two Christian schools for a total of ten years and have spent the last twenty-one years as a teacher of education students and as the Vice President for Academic Affairs at Maranatha Baptist Bible College, a college dedicated to preparing men and women to serve God. My three sons spent all of their kindergarten-through-college education in Christian schools. Along the way, I also earned an accredited doctorate in education. I say all of this to assure the reader that although I may say something that sounds critical of the Christian school movement (CSM), Christian schools are really something I love— and love loyally. They have been my life and have had a wonderful influence in the spiritual formation and education of my sons. Any wounds I may inflict are “faithful” and from a “friend.”

The Biblical Basis for a “Christian Education”

The Bible makes it clear that parents are to ensure that their children are educated in ways that prepare them to live God-honoring lives in the future. Proverbs 22:6— “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it”—teaches the importance of parental discernment in discovering the providential gifts and propensities of a child in order to structure training in those directions. The end result will be an adult educated in what he or she enjoys and where talents lie. Such children when grown will persevere in their vocation.

Ephesians 6:4—”And ye, fathers provoke not your children to wrath; but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” —instructs parents not to frustrate children through vexing (contradictory or inconsistent) processes but to nourish each one as a tender plant until grown.

Proverbs 19:27—”Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge”—suggests that teaching at cross purposes with Biblical mandates negatively affects one’s willingness to listen and will result in a disdain for education, both good and bad. Parents should never expose their children to instruction that they tell them to ignore. That is dangerous. Children should be encouraged to soak up all they are taught.

In Luke 6:40, Christ declares that “the disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master.” Christ here declares that there should be a humble, teachable spirit in students and that as the student reaches maturity and is fully trained, he will be like his teacher. This is simply an axiom clearly stated by Christ. Effective teachers produce students who eventually become like their teachers.

The great Shema in Deuteronomy 6 teaches that parents are to expose children to continual, heart-based, accurate teaching about God.

Colossians 2:3—”In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”—boldly asserts that true wisdom and knowledge are “hidden in” or found in Christ. Correct understanding of truth is contingent on a full understanding of the knowledge of Christ. Proverbs 29:15 declares “a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.” While this is in the context of corporal punishment, this author believes that a child left to himself educationally will also bring shame to the parents. God gives a stern warning to the children of Israel in Jeremiah 9:25–10:2: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will punish all them which are circumcised [Jews] with the uncircumcised; Egypt, and Judah, and Edom, … for all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the heart. … Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen.” God knew that unprotected immersion in a heathen culture would result in an evolutionary adoption of their ways; and when that occurred, they would receive judgment from on high.

Christ’s teachings on salt in Matthew 5:13 (“Ye are the salt of the earth”) and in Mark 9:50 (“Have salt in yourselves”) are instructive. We are the salt of the earth. Believers are to be a purifying agent against pollution and are to stimulate or create a thirst for God. In order to be effective, we must engage the world. But two issues or cautions are presented in these passages on salt:

  1. In order to give it, you first must have it. Salt is acquired by interacting with believers through fellowship and the Word. Children have little salt. First Corinthians 13:11 and Hebrews 5:14 both teach that spiritual maturity (saltiness) is developmental. It takes time. “Strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age.” Children are still acquiring salt in their developmental years; they are not ready or equipped for immersion in a godless system.
  2. Salt can lose its savor (effectiveness) through stagnation (a possible consequence of isolation) or corruption (mixing an alien substance with it). Neither isolation from the world nor immersion in the world for children is wise. We all know Christian schools are not islands of holiness. Yet Christian schools provide Christian teachers, godly standards and plenty of opportunities for safe testing and “salt acquisition” during one’s schooling.

These passages and others have been understood by the people of God to require parental responsibility for the education of their children. We can conclude from these passages a universal mission statement for Christian parents—”As stewards of God, we are to train and educate our children as God would. We are to educate our children to become equipped, ready servants of God.” In so doing, we:

  1. Recognize that children are more impressionable and teachable when young.
  2. Realize that students tend to become like their teachers.
  3. Understand that a knowledge of God and Christ are essential for true education.
  4. Know that children can be vexed, turned off by education that is contradictory or inconsistent with that which is learned at home or church.
  5. Are warned that cultural transmission tends to take place when children are placed in an environment that is hostile to the Bible. Children will be affected by immersion in a public school environment.

There is relatively little dispute within Bible-believing Christianity about the principles thus far articulated, but the responses to the educational environment have radically differed through the ages, especially in the last sixty years.

The Pre-Christian School Movement

Before 1970 there were few Christian schools in America. Most nongovernmental schools were operated by Catholics, Lutherans, Jews, and upper crust blue-blood preparatory schools. In those years, whenever state or federal aid to private education was proposed, the evangelical community vigorously and successfully opposed it as a way to prop up the very large Catholic parochial school system. In Bible-believing churches almost 100 percent of their young people attended public schools. (I was one such student.) Our churches knew the public schools were flawed. Prayer and Bible reading were virtually nonexistent in the non-South USA. Evolution was already dominating biology textbooks. There was yet no creation science movement.

Bible-believing churches were neither asleep nor passive at this time. Most had active youth groups whose mission was to prepare young believers to resist ungodly teaching and to take an evangelistic, aggressive stand in the midst of the public school. We were taught how to respond when asked to learn to dance in P.E. class, how to argue Biblically in biology class, and most importantly, how to witness and take a godly stand in the public school. The strong kids from our churches emboldened the less courageous among us, and we had Bible clubs at school that banded together for prayer at noon and at other times. In those days, the youth directors in larger churches had very high status. They were well-known regionally. As a high schooler I knew probably fifteen youth directors’ names. Our evangelistic activities could easily be twice the number in the youth group, and skillful youth directors saw many public school children come to Christ. When I went to a Fundamental Christian college, twenty-five public school kids from our youth group were there. Easily half were evangelized through the youth group while in junior high or high school.

Our training meeting occurred every Sunday before the evening service. The meetings were run by the young people themselves, who, with the oversight of the youth director, planned the activities, planned the Sunday service, and did most of the preaching, poems, and skits. We had knock-down, drag-out debates on dancing, drinking, premarital sex, movies, and rock music. All of this was designed to prepare us for the onslaughts we would face in public schools. We were challenged to take our Bibles to school and to have a pocketful of tracts. It was scary but exciting at the same time. When we came together at our Sunday evening youth meeting, it was like a post-battle debriefing. We shared our successes and failures, received encouragement and instruction from our youth director, and were sent back into battle the next week.

Those days are gone, I believe, forever. I present this history simply to state that our leaders at that time were not asleep—they tried to prepare us for real battle. Our best kids were on the front lines, our less bold were given encouragement, and as some graduated, others stepped up and took leadership. There were many saved. Youth groups had a clear and important mission.

To be continued…


John Brock is now on the Emeritus faculty at Maranatha Baptist University in Watertown, Wisconsin.

(Originally published in FrontLine • September/October 2005. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)


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