A Message from Pastor Hale
People tend to have strong view points on education. When it comes to the well-being and future of our children, we are rightly concerned. But sometimes zeal can be without knowledge. Some basic distinctions are helpful.
First, and above all, we are free in Christ. There is no moral requirement God makes about education. James Dobson recently made it virtually a sin to leave children in a public school. However, Dobson, while strong on moral issues, is theologically weak when it comes to faith and the essence of Christianity: justification in Christ. Fear-mongering is rarely useful or correct. The Christian should not be driven by fear, but by the will of God, revealed in Scripture. The Christian can dispassionately judge all things, because he is not under judgment.
Some people make education to be everything. It determines the child's future and is the sole source of instruction. That should not be the case, but sadly is often true. Rather, what happens at home should be paramount and it should support what happens at church. The first years of a child's life are critical, and those are not regulated by a curriculum, but by parents or caretakers who must discipline.
Even Christian schools, while mostly avoiding the moral pitfalls of society, rarely make it their aim to indoctrinate. The parish school as the extension of the congregation, which was the case in our synod's past, is gone. Those kids learned well the Scriptures and the Catechism. Education in general becomes more important than the doctrines of the Bible to the modern parent. We easily buy into “career” type of language, as if that is the most important part of a child's future. But a college degree and impressive job field are worldly things. Scripture does not say they are important. Faith in the living Christ and all that He has taught us are the food that leads to heaven. The goal is not success on earth, but to live for Christ here (even when it means suffering), and for all eternity. The sheep and the goats will not be determined by abstract facts.
While we would like nice things for our children, the idols of mammon, “financial security,” and worldly success are to be rejected. Pastors should not be doing all the teaching of God's Word. Parents form the first and most indoctrinating church for their children. Parents always teach, even when they do not mean to. The question is what do they teach and value.
There is a new fad among non-Christians today: un-schooling. It is against all school and its formal teaching. So kids are kept home to basically play and “learn” by doing what they want. However, this puts children in charge of themselves. Discipline and simple order are important, and these are not distinctly Christian qualities. A believer is not a better mathematician or chemist, just because they trust in Christ to take care of him. Neither does listening to God's Word make one a teacher who can control a classroom with good discipline. Order of this sort, knows no creed. A pagan can know a secular subject well and teach with authority. Calling something “Christian” or avoiding unbelievers does not change the worldly aspects of education. We should not despise knowledge and wisdom wherever it comes from. Christians do not have a monopoly on intelligence and logic, though they should be discriminating and not of the world and its sinful pattern of thought.
The goal of Christ is to turn sinners by the Gospel. But how does one change the heart of a person? There is no curriculum or method. It must be the Holy Spirit, who does not attach Himself to a name or title, not even “Christian” or “Lutheran,” but His true Word. We are all sinners and the worst comes out from our very hearts, not bad influences. The problem is not outward, a government, a school, or teachers, it is inward, sin against the holy God. However patient parenting bears fruit much later in life.
Schooling is too often equated with parenting and raising a child. But discipline and obedience are formed at a very young age. Much of it should happen before they reach school age. In our age of Facebook and selfies, parents want kids to succeed and to be the best. But humility, submissiveness, and honoring the fourth commandment are not easily advertised. The time when kids are young is foundational. We are to believe like little children, perhaps because little children are not skeptics questioning everything and do not care about paychecks, “careers,” and bank accounts. My contention is that too many focus solely on outside education, almost folding “parenting” into it. But there is no commandment for an abstract education or general knowledge. There is only the fourth: Honor your father and your mother. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live (Hebrews 12:9)? The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, not a college degree.
To raise good citizens who obey laws is good. But not even parents have the power to make their own children believe. The Spirit of Christ cannot be commanded or cajoled. He comes freely by the Gospel of Christ's death. We should be liberal with God's Word and the forgiveness of sins, but strict in discipline and rules for children's bodies. If they do not honor earthly authorities, how will they know how to treat the heavenly Father?
No law exists for the Christian in regards to schooling. You are free. There is no rule that says what is right, unless God Himself gives that law in Scripture. What is interesting is that the dominant move is to legislate homeschooling. While it can be done very well, some parents are unqualified to teach and lean towards the modern phenomenon of “unschooling,” just focusing on avoiding bad influences. This is an overt rebellion against discipline, order, and the indoctrination of children. Parents must prepare children for this evil world, not for escaping it: Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. (Pr. 22:6).
What happens at home matters most, that is, being a parent with God's direct authority. Teachers do not have any authority over kids, except where the parents give it. Schools and teachers are supplementary, not primary. Disciplining, teaching the faith, and inculcating the importance of listening to God's Word are expected. And these do not take a college degree.
We should not expect a school to raise our children or make them Christian. A school is an impersonal thing. We do, though, want our children to be in a disciplined atmosphere. Some public schools are without order, where kids are in control. Some Christian schools have Bible verses, but lack discipline and rigorous standards. What is Christian is not the outward things, it is faith in the heart, trusting that Christ is gracious in forgiving their sins. Saying a prayer before the opening kickoff does not make a football game a Christian activity and a good work before the Lord.
Calling something Christian does not make it so. We want children not just to know facts about Christianity, but to think as a Christian, according to the Bible, and to live as Christ calls. How important is the time spent with their most basic God-given authorities: their parents. Children learn not just when they are intentionally taught. They are very observant. They know what the parents value, consider important, and make time for. If sports, homework, or financial success is more important than God's Word to the parent, the child will know and learn that priority. Parents are to lead by example, not be Bible experts in theory. Christian parenting is done by actually living as a Christian and leading children in the way they should go, not by outsourcing to an institution.
Parents of public schooled children do not sin. But they have their work cut out for them and issues to combat: evolutionary thought, feminism, a denigration of life, abortion. These are not difficult to undermine, nor uniquely Christian to argue against. Parents of children in schools which identify as Christian must also be vigilant. Too often Christian sentiment and using the name of Jesus take precedence over firm doctrinal stands and orthodox instruction. Unionism, the placing of differing churches, and their contradicting doctrines, on the same level and pretending there can be outward unity where God's Word is not agreed on, is a dangerous sin. We must ever be on guard against taking the pure Word of God for granted. And that starts and ends in the home. Only parents have the direct authority from God to form children and ensure they hear the Word of life.
It is almost an impossible task to raise a human being. But Christ the Lord gives that task to sinners, sometimes those woefully unprepared. He will certainly help those who call on Him. Forgiveness in Christ does not mean we will make the right decisions here on earth. But even if we have sinned in parenting (and who has not?), know that Christ receives you into His heavenly home. While we must live with our earthly mistakes, our Father in heaven loves even the wayward, unsuccessful, disobedient child, like you and me. Amen.
Rev. Philip W. Hale is a pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Omaha, NE.