I had a few friends raise some issues from a couple posts ago (this one) and I wanted to address them here. Whenever we begin talking about the education of our children, one of the things that inevitably comes up is the issue of unfortunate circumstances. It is one thing to believe something in principle; it is quite another to find ways of applying that principle in all types of situations. The tendency for most of us is to adjust the principle to fit our particular situation and then hold everyone else to the same standard. Another danger is to look back at our own experiences and judge the rightness or wrongness of them based upon whether we turned out “okay.” I want to avoid both of these errors in my approach to education.
The concern was raised about those who are in situations where an exodus from the government school system is extremely difficult or impossible. Maybe there are severe financial restraints. Maybe it is a single parent who has to work a full-time job and cannot homeschool or afford a private tuition. Whatever the circumstances, I think we can all agree that these are legitimate arguments. And we as the body of Christ have an obligation to address these concerns. I’ll get to that in a moment. But what I see many in the Christian community doing is looking at the extreme cases and making statements so generalized as to avoid any exceptions whatsoever. Instead of drawing biblical lines in the sand, we draw giant moralized circles that only the worst of us could be on the outside. This is particularly true of those who have been given the responsibility of shepherding the flock of God. The Good Shepherd does not lead His sheep indiscriminately. He leads them to a particular kind of pasture. It’s green and lush and life-giving. Where a pastor leads his people is just as important as how he leads them.
So what does all this have to do with education? Well…where should I begin? Let’s begin with some questions. Some are more easily answered than others, but all must be dealt with in one way or another. Did God make us as learning creatures? Did He also create us as worshipping creatures? Can formal education take place completely absent of any religious foundation? Can you separate the head and the heart? What is the goal of formal education for the Christian family? How do our goals differ from the unbelieving world? Do our views of education take into account the way God created us or more closely follow the advice of self-appointed experts?
As good individualistic Americans, we like to keep our worlds all neat and tidy. We like clear separations. We like the world to look more like a department store than a flea market. We think of the different functions of the church and the state and conclude that each can function apart from the other. But God created His world in layers not bio-domes. There is an overlapping and dependency within each sphere even as each one has a particular authority divinely delegated to it. God commanded the boundaries of the waters on the shore, but there was plenty of wet ground up to that spot. When those boundaries are ignored, you end up with a big mess. But when those layers are avoided, you end up with an aquarium. I would argue that this is exactly what has happened with education. The state has been given the right to educate our children and now we have a big mess on our hands. In response to this, many Christians have tried to separate education from discipleship and ended up with little aquariums of morality.
So here is the big question? What about those who cannot take their kids out of government schools? First of all, those who can, should! Second, churches should stop trying to protect the consciences of these individuals by proclaiming “Peace, peace!” when there is no peace. Third, these same churches should begin to take seriously the generational faithfulness of its children. This will never be done through VBS week, summer camp, or any other good and noble efforts. One of the serious ways a church can begin to care for the less fortunate is making it possible for them to educate their children in a deeply Christian way. Single moms need real support. Large families need real support. Lower income homes need real support. I don’t pretend to have all the answers to these issues. They can be very complex and messy. But I also won’t pretend that all of our good intentions will turn out okay if we don’t jump in and get our hands dirty.
Finally, let me directly address those who are struggling in this area. Can Christians survive and grow in the midst of wickedness? Of course they can! What is grace if it is not God doing what man cannot do. As Jesus once said, “With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Think of Daniel growing up in the worldliness and idolatry of Egypt. He rose to great prominence and power while at the same time growing in wisdom and righteousness. Can God mercifully guard the hearts and minds of our children in government schools? Yes! But we must recognize the situation for what it is and plead for His grace rather than presume upon it. Remember that the same nation in which Daniel thrived as a Christian is the same nation in which an entire people became tainted and corrupted with its wicked pleasures even while under the harsh rule of tyranny. God delivered them physically from Egypt, but their hearts never really left. A whole generation had to die out before God would bring them into the Promised Land.