To clear up any confusion on this post I felt the following disclaimer is necessary:
The major opponent or thrust of my argument is not homeschooling per se since it is wholly possible to attend public or private schools while maintaining an isolationist mentality. Isolationism is the major issue here, not the format of education.
The Mat 10:16 quote comes in because Jesus makes the point that he is not advocating that we disassociate ourselves from people in the world, which I believe is not only a problem but contributes to a stunted intellectual life by avoiding exposure to divergent ideas and arguments.
I recently ran across an article on the educational views of Morris Chapman, the current executive director of the Southern Baptist Convention. At the center is the call by Chapman for churches to establish “Christian schools” in order to avoid the “secular reasoning, situational ethics and moral erosion” found in public schools.
While I am no fan of the particular moral dogma taught in secular institutions I think it is worth pausing and examining Christianity’s commitment to education and how the historical commitment looks nothing like the contemporary “exodus mandate” taken by many well intentioned parents.
Christianity’s Historical Commitment to Education
Many people may be surprised to learn that Christianity was the driving force behind universities like Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Oxford, etc. These institutions were, at one time, bastions of learning of both the “secular” variety as well as the Christian theological variety. The reason they were founded by Christians is because of the nature of the Christian religion, specifically it’s grounding in truth and it’s call to “test the spirits” and examine the world around them. Many scientists, the founders and formers in fact, were committed Christians who firmly believed that if this world was created by a God of order in accordance with logic that has been, in part, imparted to us, then we can, though careful study and analysis, understand how it works.
What happened, then to drive us off of the intellectual high ground we enjoyed for well over 1,500 years? Was it a coup of the evil secularists and atheists? Hardly. The real enemy and reason for Christianity’s ousting from the halls of academia came from within rather than from without.
In short, we gave up and stuck our holy heads in the sand.
I won’t speculate on the particular event or chain of events that ultimately toppled the intellectual superiority, but I will point out that as secular challenges grew, Christians retreated. Rather than stand our ground, a ground well established upon the truth we claim to believe to be a person in the form of Jesus Christ, we ran away. First we created competing schools to replace the ones we lost to the rising tide of secularism. Then we created smaller schools to replace those schools once they failed.
Now, it seems, we are encouraging parents to retreat into specially designated schools and, in many cases, their own homes.
What are we retreating from?
It may almost sound absurd to ask such a simple question, especially since many Christians have been taught by their pastors for years to “hate the world”, but I believe it would do us good to stop and re-examine what we are afraid of and what we are running from. In short, we need to re-examine what “the world” is and how we are to relate to it.
J.P. Moreland, in his series on “The Kingdom Triangle“, makes the excellent point that “the world” is not always a negative thing, but that it depends on how you define “world” since it is used in various senses in the Bible to refer to vastly different sets of people and paradigms. Put simply, the difference is that in one sense “the world” refers to the whole of human kind and is either positive or neutral when used in Scripture whereas in the other sense, “the world” refers to a system dominated by Satan and evil.
Since we are told we are to be “in but not of” the world, we can surmise “world” and “secular” aren’t necessarily evil. It may shock some people to hear that because it is vastly different than the “us vs. them” mentality1 taught in most churches, but the notion that anything that isn’t explicitly “Christian” is to be avoided is just plain silly. As Paul out it in 1 Cor 5:10, we shouldn’t avoid the world or expect the people in the world to behave as if they knew Jesus. Even the Amish, who make a conscious effort to avoid anything “worldly” can’t avoid the culture they live in.
What does this mean for our children?
Are we supposed to throw them to “the wolves” of secular education and pretend they are willing missionaries being sent out to reclaim their schools?
Rather we should understand that no matter where we decide to educate our children, we are in the midst of a battlefield and the only way to protect and prepare our children for the world (good or bad) is to teach them to be as wise as serpents at the same time we are obeying Deut 6:4-9 in teaching them to be as innocent as doves2.
Anything less than a complete training in both the ways of the world as well as the ways of God is to retard the education of a child and thus handicap him in some way.
Does this mean that home schooling, private schooling, magnate schooling, etc. are forbidden options for a Christian?
Each parent must decide the proper course for their children. Each situation, school, circumstance, etc. is different. There is no “magic bullet” that will solve all of our problems or make our lives easier. By the same token, however, there is also no grounds for us to claim that homeschooling is the holy grail of education and that those who refuse to drink of the cup are somehow less holy.
The heart of the matter
The central issue here is our attitude towards education and “the world”. As Ed Stetzer recently quipped: How can we circle the wagons in an attempt to avoid the world and then expect to be on a mission to the world?
We, as Christians, need to come to terms with “the world” and 1. stop the misguided notion that anything that isn’t labeled “Christian” is inherently evil and 2. stop retreating from the public square while at the same time whining about how “the secularists” are taking over.
Put up or shut up.
Either join the fight to make a difference in the world by becoming an active participant in the world (which means not making a “Christian copy” of everything), especially in education, or stop whining about the rising tide of immorality in culture.
I think that many Christians have conveniently forgotten who the keys to kingdom of heaven3 and what Jesus said about the gates of hell and their resistance to an advancing kingdom.
It’s high time we stop retreating, turn around, pick up our crosses, and start singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” again.
- Not to say that there isn’t a difference between believers and nonbelievers, but that the mentality here is to tend to think of believers as superior to nonbelievers as if the nonbeliever is incapable of doing any good. [↩]
- Mat 10:16 [↩]
- The Lord of which who is the only one that can effect real, lasting, moral change in sinful people, not laws from a secular government [↩]