What We Believe- Article XII, Education

As we get further into the Baptist Faith & Message we are starting to tread upon articles that deal more with the day to day practicalities of Baptist living and not so much with doctrine as the earlier articles were centered upon.  This week’s article is concerned with how the Bible informs our beliefs on education:

XII. Education

Christianity is the faith of enlightenment and intelligence. In Jesus Christ abide all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. All sound learning is, therefore, a part of our Christian heritage. The new birth opens all human faculties and creates a thirst for knowledge. Moreover, the cause of education in the Kingdom of Christ is co-ordinate with the causes of missions and general benevolence, and should receive along with these the liberal support of the churches. An adequate system of Christian education is necessary to a complete spiritual program for Christ’s people.

In Christian education there should be a proper balance between academic freedom and academic responsibility. Freedom in any orderly relationship of human life is always limited and never absolute. The freedom of a teacher in a Christian school, college, or seminary is limited by the pre-eminence of Jesus Christ, by the authoritative nature of the Scriptures, and by the distinct purpose for which the school exists.

Deuteronomy 4:1,5,9,14; 6:1-10; 31:12-13; Nehemiah 8:1-8; Job 28:28; Psalms 19:7ff.; 119:11; Proverbs 3:13ff.; 4:1-10; 8:1-7,11; 15:14; Ecclesiastes 7:19; Matthew 5:2; 7:24ff.; 28:19-20; Luke 2:40; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Ephesians 4:11-16; Philippians 4:8; Colossians 2:3,8-9; 1 Timothy 1:3-7; 2 Timothy 2:15; 3:14-17; Hebrews 5:12-6:3; James 1:5; 3:17.

I’ll be honest right up front: I don’t really know what to do with this.  There are parts I agree with, but there is also so much that I feel is either redundant or implied that goes over-and-beyond what is biblical fact and is more of personal opinion.

I will say that I fully agree that, “Christianity is the faith of enlightenment and intelligence. In Jesus Christ abide all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”  Both Scripturally and historically, Christianity has always promoted enlightenment and understanding.  The forced ignorance that the Catholic church promoted for so many years was thankfully corrected during the Reformation to return us to a place where we encourage and see poor, uneducated Galilean fisherman become powerful public figures overflowing with the wisdom of Christ (cf. Acts 4.13).  The empowerment and freedom that have come to so many through the ability to simply read the Bible is an astonishing testimony to God’s purpose for all men to be one in Christ and to benefit from the Holy Scriptures (cf. 2 Timothy 3.14-17).  Thus, when the BF&M speaks of “the cause of education” being “co-ordinate with the cause of missions and general benevolence,” I concur and support that statement for the above reasons.

As well, it is not that I don’t support what the BF&M says about “[a]n adequate system of Christian education is necessary to a complete spiritual program for Christ’s people,” or that “[t]he freedom of a teacher in a Christian [setting] is limited by the pre-eminence of Jesus Christ;” what I am fearful of is the broader application that the vague statements here can be used to make.  There are two ideas about education, particularly as it occurs in America, that I inherently reject.  The first is that Christians should be engaged in strictly Christian learning environments.  The second is that the public school environment should be friendly to Christian ideals.

First, as a father of an 8-year old, I find it to be a disturbing trend among many Christian parents to immediately choose to abandon public or secular schooling and instead place their child(ren) in private Christian and/or home schooling.  This is the sexy thing to do right now, but I am just not fully convinced that it is the best (or even a beneficial) practice.  First of all, very few parents are capable of providing the well-rounded education that a child needs to be able to succeed in the larger society once they reach college and beyond.  Teaching may look easy, but unless a student is incredibly gifted to start, there are often many bumps in the road that even trained teachers will struggle accomodating for, so much less will a minimally-trained, personal biased parent be able to deal with adequately.  Second, no matter what parents say or do, the non-sterile environment of the public school system is crucial to spiritual formation and is unable to be replicated by a bunch of kids meeting at the park or in church.  So many parents say that the child is not safe and receives too many harmful influences in the public school setting, but that’s real life lived in a fallen world.  The problem with kids growing up in the Christian fairytale land that we often create is that they don’t truly come to a full understanding of the horror of sin until they are old enough to get in real trouble with it.  A 10 year old coming home and saying the F-word for the first time is much better than an 18 year old drinking away their freshman year of college because they’ve never been out from under the guise of their Christian upbringing.  Of course this is hyperbole, but it is not so far from reality in most cases.

The second idea that I reject is that the public school setting should be more friendly/promoting of Christian ideals.  Parents kick and fight to keep “In God We Trust” in the pledge or to ban evolution from the classrooms, but often times these are just empty rituals that assuage their consciences to see performed and have very little bearing on what God actually requires of us.  The world is fallen, we should expect it to be fallen.  The arrogance of evangelicalism is that we assume the whole world should live up to the extra-biblical standards of perfection that we shout out from a bullhorn and yet suck at following even ourselves.  The ideal is not that our kids should be placed in a “Christ”-lined bubble; it is that we should be real parents, shepherding our children, living transparent lives in front of them, and demonstrating what the Christian life exercised in a fallen world really looks like.  Too many children are having to learn how to live as Christians on the fly as adults (or even worse, are simply abandoning the faith) because they grew up only seeing cookie-cutter, phony bologna “Christianity” practiced by their parents and the church, and so when the feces and fan interface, they are left totally unsure of what to do and doubting everything that they had always believed.  Parents rarely do their children any good by trying to “protect” them from the world.

Sorry to rant.  As you can see, I feel passionately about this.  The point of the matter is, as Christians we should be about education, but we need to be open enough to understand that God gave all knowledge and wisdom and all things worth knowing reveal the glory of the one who established them.


4 Responses to “What We Believe- Article XII, Education”

  1. Keith Walters Says:

    Great post. I agree. There are some interesting one coming up and I am excited to see how you handle them, I do wonder what transpired to include some of these things.

  2. Todd Burus Says:

    Looking at the history of it, it actually seems like the 2000 version is less forceful on the Christian schooling issue than the 1963 version. Still, I feel that the vagueness of this one leaves it very open to people feeling like Christian home schooling and/or private schooling are the only options. Honestly, I’m not so much against the private schooling as much as I am the homeschooling. I have been really hurt by the fact that I feel like Leah can’t have any Christian friends (or at least friends in strong Christian families) at her school because all of the “good” Christians parents are homeschooling. I believe it’s a matter of conscience, but I’m afraid the fashionable nature of this is carrying more weight than people’s real convictions.

  3. thomastwitchell Says:

    I think the fear of the malinfluence of public education is well founded. That would be mitigated somewhat if parents and churches actually took time to disciple. It isn’t what you assume that is that is at the root of first year college students wildness. It is the fact that they haven’t been discipled. But here is where I would say that an exclusively Christian education is more likely to produce the abstainer than not.

    Also, the point of education is education and it being the fact that the public schools are not educating, the best thing that we could do is to create a Christian education system. I don’t know if you know much about Classical Education, you should check it out if you do not know. That beside, we produce the best disciple if we can engender the best education.

    The secular education system we have today was modeled after the free-Christian schools. Nearly all public education was carried out by private concerns early in our nation’s history. Early on the secular schools followed closely the model they inherited, and they were created in opposition to religious education. Since the 1930′s though, much of what had been the greatest education system in the world, academically, has collapsed to a third rate enterprise. Since the 1960′s the moral standard of the public education is utilitarian populism.

    We lose 7 out of ten baptized children to the secular world. Nearly all will never enter a church again. That is quite a remarkable change over a century. So there was something about the moral and religious situation that dominated the schoolscape before the 1960′s. Other than those two factors, the fact is that Deweyism is the norm, now, and that means dumbing down. Deweyesque systems are systems of creaming. Most get a poor education and the elite few are skimmed off in to special education and advanced classes. The system in the secular world is not geared to equipping the saints so that all come into unity, into the maturity of the knowledge and stature of the Son of God. Not even academically. It in fact breeds elitism, a select class of those who know better what all need, because they know better than all, and they are agressively anti-Judeo/Christian.

    I like this clause in the BFM. In fact I wish the SBC would get behind what they have in it and institute programs that would rival and compete with the secular world for the minds and hearts of all. I think that would be the greatest outreach program, ever, for the SBC. Beside that, they’re right, it is a necessary part of missions work. All churches in the SBC are missions, and: the cause of education in the Kingdom of Christ is co-ordinate with the causes of missions and general benevolence, and should receive along with these the liberal support of the churches. An adequate system of Christian education is necessary to a complete spiritual program for Christ’s people.” They need to learn to live like it. Read this like this, the greatest gift we can give our kids, any kid, is the best education we can ensure, because their minds need to be trained to the defense of the Gospel.

  4. Todd Burus Says:

    Thomas,
    I think that we are all too often guilty of mistaking learning from an intellectual standpoint with learning from a moral standpoint. The fact of the matter is, most modern Christian schools do a terrible job at teaching from an intellectual standpoint, largely because they have lower standards on teaching and there is a pervasive anti-intellectual tinge to Christianity in America.

    Now, I agree with you that the problem is discipleship, but I ask you, how do you disciple in a sterile, cookie-cutter world where sin and temptation are theoretical but not actual? We may take our cue here from Christ, who before he ever set foot in the world of ministry, endured 40 days of real temptation in the wilderness. Most children in home school co-ops never receive this to a true extent and so, though they may have the head knowledge of how to fight temptation, they lack the experiential knowledge and thus are easily led astray once free from the confines of their parental unit.

    The problem I see with most Christian private schools are that they are bastions for legalism. You are taking kids who are at various levels of spiritual maturity and placing them in a strict, rule-based system, asking them to obey by grace. Thus, most of them learn to obey because it is the rule but never truly from the heart, and so they are quick to judge and constrain, but slow to understand the spirit behind the biblical commands (or just having no discernment to see when the command is not biblical at all, such as dancing or music restrictions).

    I am an educator and I am familiar with the fact that the historical roots of public education, prior to John Dewey, were religious in nature. But the country has changed. And the figure you gave, 7 out of 10 baptized children renounce their faith, seems to me to be more of a testament to the easy-believism, poor discernment nature of the church than the pervasive secular nature of the world. It is likely that 4 of those 10 probably were pressured into their confession and baptism by some over-zealous vacation Bible school teacher.

    Sin is sin, it always has been. There is nothing new under the sun. We may idealize the 50′s as Christian utopia, but the plain truth is that the “filth” that they teach in public schools, such as Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” or William Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch,” were both written at the height of the 50′s morality. There has never been a perfect time since in the garden, and there never will be until the New Jerusalem; so in between we need to train up our children correctly while not being surprised when the fallen world behaves like the fallen world. The church is not a bomb shelter, it is a city upon a hill. We need to not hide our light under a basket just because there are people sinning outside.

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