Education & the Christian Parent

How believers are to go about educating their children has been a matter of debate for many years, especially since the advent of options such as government schools, private schools, and all the other variations (“home schooling” was all there was, originally). Every parent should take the issue seriously, and thoughtfully consider all the biblical evidence that sheds light on how parents are to submit to God and make wise decisions in these areas.

Apple for the Teacher

Apple for the Teacher (Photo credit: George C Slade)

One viewpoint is that Christian parents should not use public, government schools at all (other options will be presented below). Douglas Wilson, author of Standing on the Promises: A Handbook of Biblical Childrearing (Canon Press: Moscow ID, 1977) argues that “Christian parents are morally obligated to keep their children out of government schools.” While I don’t necessarily agree with his conclusion, we should see in Wilson’s reasons the important issues that parents cannot neglect:

  1. [The] Scriptures expressly require a non-agnostic form of education.  Wilson bases this reason on Deuteronomy 6:4-9, which is the foundational biblical text for parents regarding teaching their children. Education is inherently spiritual in nature, and government schools increasingly claim that they are unable to address legitimate spirituality in their education.
  2. [The] requirements involved in keeping the greatest commandment. Jesus requires His people to love the Lord their God with all their minds (Matthew 22:37). Similar to the first, this reason would prompt Christian parents to ask about their children’s public, government school (or other school, for that matter) whether it facilitates loving God with all their mind, or impedes it.
  3. God expects parents to provide for and protect their children…sending children into a intellectual, ethical, and religious war zone without adequate training and preparation is a violation of charity. Parents should recognize that public, government education is not neutral with regard to thought, ethics, values, moral and even spiritual instruction, and likely contradicts the biblical worldview in those areas.
  4. [The] declared intellectual goal assigned to the Church in Scripture (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). Believers are to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” The point of education is to glorify God, exercise dominion over the earth, and engage in spiritual battle in the realm of thoughts and beliefs. The goals of public/government education are quite different.
  5. [The] continued presence of Christians subsidizes a lie [that government is independent of God in all things, teaching without submission to God and his word]. Wilson’s argument here is that by continuing to utilize government education, Christians implicitly agree with the government’s idea that education is God-free.

Whether or not you, as parent, agree with Wilson that government schools should be avoided, you should seriously consider whether these principles about education are what the Bible teaches, and, if so, how you will follow God in them while participating in government schools. This applies equally to private and/or Christian schools: the crucial criteria for any non-home school is whether the Christian parent can abide by God’s teaching on education while sending his children there.

Many Christians teach in government and other non-home schools. It may be appropriate to remain there, but Christian public educators, too, should be deliberate and intentional about how they will honor biblical teaching regarding education while working in a system that, by definition, will not honor that biblical teaching.

There are, obviously, viewpoints other than Wilson’s regarding Christian education.  The Gospel Coalition (www.thegospelcoalition.org) has a series of articles written from the various perspectives: Favoring Home School; Favoring Public School; and Favoring Private School.

The Christian parent has significant responsibilities regarding his children’s education. The primary duty is to examine the Scriptures diligently regarding education, and submit to the Lord in what you find, regardless of how it changes your thinking or how it differs from the world or how it might change your life.

If the Christian parent concludes, after faithful examination of the Scriptures and diligent prayer over the matter, that public/government or private school is the way to go, he must recognize that God does not shift the primary responsibility of education to that public, government school, or even to that private, Christian school: the parent remains responsible to God to teach his children. The decision to send children away from home for schooling does not end the parent’s obligation to teach, or permit the parent to put the child’s instruction out of his mind; in fact, the parent may need to do more to ensure that such education is proceeding in a way that honors God.

The point is that God will hold parents accountable for how they instruct their children. If you are a Christian parent, examine the Scriptures for what God says on the subject. Humbly submit to that teaching, and pray for wisdom to apply biblical truth to your life. Once you make a decision, regularly review whether your choice remains the wisest and most faithful.

Copyright 2013 Rob Faircloth

Marks of True Conversion

There have been many Christians who attempt a list of those marks that distinguish true conversion from none, real believers from nominal believers, and so forth. Jonathan Edwards devised a list of marks that would distinguish real revival from spurious emotionalism, and the Resurgence has modified it as a set of marks for true conversion.

In short, the marks are:

1). you love Jesus

2) you hate sin

3) you love God’s word

4) you love truth

5) you love believers.

Loving Jesus, of course, is more than putting a fish symbol on the bumper of your car. It is also remembering his words “if you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Hating sin means hating your own, not merely that of the “bad folks” or that other guy who could have really benefited from the pastor’s sermon today. Loving God’s word includes, well, reading it. Loving truth means that we are not exempt from using our minds to think about things. And loving other believers means we should love those on the other side of the world, but also those on the other side of the table, in our own congregations.

Brian Croft has modified the list to help parents and pastors in discerning if children have experienced true conversion:

1) a growing affection and need for Jesus and the gospel

2) a heightened understanding of the truths of Scripture

3) an increased kindness and selflessness toward siblings

4) a greater awareness of and distaste for sin

5) a noticeable desire to obey parents.

Croft recommends steering a middle road between the extremes of recognizing conversion in children when they are too young and waiting too long to recognize it.

In addition, parents should avoid using these marks (or others like them) as something that children should parrot back: a child who says on cue “I have affection and need for Jesus and the gospel” or who claims kindness and affection for siblings while beating them up might not actually have a changed heart.

How do parents avoid teaching only to parrot or addressing behavior only as performance? Preach the gospel: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration or God, Man, Sin, Redemption. When the Holy Spirit has — through God’s word — changed a child’s heart, parents will notice.

Divorce, the Church & Mark 10 (Part 2)

Yesterday I discussed treatment of divorce by Jesus in Mark 10, and asked how the creation origin of divorce aids those facing real conflict in marriage and what the church should do about the problem of divorce.

Because marriage is God’s, and God designed man male and female to reflect his image on the earth, the union of husband and wife in marriage is also God’s. We sometimes think of marriage as simply a convenience that God grants, and that rules and regulations governing the marital union are there for our benefit. After a fashion, they are there for our benefit, but not the sort of benefit we prefer.

We prefer convenience and self-fulfillment, so that when our marriages no longer serve either of those purposes, the rules and regulations serve to give us a way out of them.

But Jesus doesn’t allow this construction of the marital union. He affirms the truth that when people are joined together they are “one flesh”, and what God has joined together, “let not man separate.” But what about real conflict within marriage? Here’s where gospel practice comes in, and where the accountability of the church comes in (should come in).

If the marital union is God’s, and each person in the marriage is God’s (“you are not your own, you have been bought with a price”), then God provides the means for the people in the marriage to preserve it, despite their own sometimes contrary desires. We preach about forgiveness, mercy, grace, longsuffering…but not when it comes to our wife or our husband. They after, all have had too many chances. So our flesh says.

But the Spirit says otherwise, and should we aim to act in a godly manner within our marriage, then our conflicts within in them should dissipate. We learn better ways to handle conflict. We practice seasoning our speech. We actually forgive and show mercy. In short, we display the fruit of our Spirit to — shockingly — our own spouse.

The church should be intimately involved with marriages. Parents of children contemplating divorce, the man and woman contemplating divorce, the pastor contemplating performing the marriage ceremony, the congregation from which the couple come, all should be greatly concerned with this proposed union. All those same parties should be interested in the health of that marriage after it is formed. And should things go badly between the married couple, all those same parties should be right there in the mix, counseling, exhorting, disciplining for the purpose of salvaging that marital union.

And, if necessary, churches should expel in discipline the one at fault in a divorce, should it be necessary. There are too many divorces among those claiming the name of Christ and claiming the Bible as authority in general, but there are certainly too many “Christian” divorces occuring in which no one suffers church discipline.

God has given us the gift of marriage, and has provided the means to keep them healthy. It is to our shame that we do not use them.

Divorce, the Church & Mark 10 (Part 1)

Anecdotal experience bears out the statistics: couples claiming the name of Christ and the Bible as their authority divorce at rates equal to, if not greater than, couples who claim neither.

As part of a project I was working on at the time, for one church in one town I counted the number of couples who divorced. The town was small (18,000) and the church was largest in town (350-400 regular Sunday worshipers). In an eighteen-month period, five couples divorced. And these weren’t couples who were on the rolls but never seen on church grounds, but active, involved members. In the eighteen-month period following, two other similar couples from the same church divorced, and several others from evangelical churches in town, one of which involved a church staff member.

The deplorable thing was that apparently nothing was done by the church in these cases.

The pattern was this: rumors from close friends suggest that the couple is having difficulty; respective Sunday school classes seem to “take sides” for either the husband or wife; husband and wife both “drop out” of regular attendance; someone realizes the couple has divorced (and, possibly, moved away from town). Finally — and somewhat ironically — those who knew the couple express shock and surprise that they have divorced.

In Mark 10:1-12, Jesus is continuing a series of lessons to his disciples focusing on the extreme demands of discipleship in the kingdom. Somewhat incongruous is this teaching on divorce, until we realize that marriage is crucial to our understanding of God’s image in the world and his redemption of people.

The Pharisees — seeking confirmation of their “for any reason” justification of divorce — attempt to test Jesus with legal technicalities. But Jesus avoids getting into a debate of just how burnt the toast has to be, or just how tall the un-mowed grass, to warrant divorce. He points his questioners not to legal requirements of marriage, but to ethical expectations that accompany the creation responsibility of marriage.

By doing so, Jesus re-orients the believers’ thinking: marriage is not our convenience that religious regulation should make more comfortable, but it is God’s possession that we should steward to our own benefit and to God’s glory.

His conclusory pronouncement is drastic: “what God has joined together let not man separate.” In other words, do not divorce.

This is understandably problematic for the modern mind, having been inundated with the teaching from culture and from our own sin nature that life should be easy, and relationships that make it hard should be easy to quit. With the prevalence of “no-fault divorce” granted by the state, and the prevalence of the hands-off approach to discipleship in the church, it is no wonder that the hardness of our hearts has not been challenged.

Jesus does not teach here that real conflict won’t arise within divorce. So how does pointing to the creation mandate help those in such conflict (if it does, at all)? What is the church’s responsibility to its married couples? We discuss those issues in Part 2.

Questions to ask wives and husbands

Brian Croft has a good post regarding the relationship of husband and wife, and the constant tending it requires. See the whole article here.

In essence, husbands should ask their wives “What are some things I do (can do) that make you feel loved, cherished and spiritually nourished by me?”

Wives should ask their husbands “What are some things I do (can do) that encourage you, make you feel respected and honored as the head of the family?”

Honestly asking each other these things should stimulate good discussion about the male/female, husband/wife relationship in light of biblical teaching.

Male Headship defined

In the partnership of two spiritually equal human beings, man and woman, the man bears the primary responsibility to lead the partnership in a God-glorifying direction.

Raymond Ortlund’s definition of male headship, in Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood. Ortlund continues:

It is God who wants men to be men and women to be women; and He can teach us the meaning of each, if we want to be taught.