Magazine article The New American

THE CASE FOR CHRISTIAN EDUCATION: Scripture and Church Fathers Clearly State That Education Should Be God-Centered, but God Is Banned from Public Schools

Magazine article The New American

THE CASE FOR CHRISTIAN EDUCATION: Scripture and Church Fathers Clearly State That Education Should Be God-Centered, but God Is Banned from Public Schools

Article excerpt

In spite of the vast sums spent annually for public elementary and secondary schools by our federal, state, and local governments, academic standards in the United States have been plummeting scandalously for decades, as is detailed in other articles in this special report. But the academic decline is only one part of the story. The social, moral, and spiritual decline of the public schools is, arguably, far worse.

So, perhaps we should be asking: "Why are we spending all this money?" And that will lead us to the more profoundly important question: "What is the purpose of education?"

It only stands to reason that a religious people would avoid sending their children to a school that would undermine their religion. However, in our day and age, most people of faith--which is the vast majority of Americans--send their children to schools that are antithetical to their core values and convictions.

The Purpose of Education

The purpose of an education, from a Christian worldview, is ultimately to know our Creator and save our immortal souls. The Westminster Shorter Catechism says the chief end of man is "To glorify God, and enjoy Him forever."

Knowing God, and what He is like, in turn, teaches us how we ought to live. Harvard College's original mission statement in 1636 defines the purpose of an education this way: "Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life (John 17:3), and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning." This once reflected the common understanding of education in America.

In our day and age, people pursue education largely for economic reasons. Doing well in school is a means to getting into a good college, which is a means to a college degree, which is a means to getting a good-paying job, which is a means to making a lot of money and attaining affluence and comfort. Of course, there is nothing wrong per se with attaining material success, and certainly breadwinners need to be able to earn enough money to support their families. But vocational training is not the purpose of education, and material successes are not the most important things in life.

Jesus Christ teaches us that life is more than the stuff we acquire: "Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Luke 12:15). Also: "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?" (Mark 8:36).

Prominent Western thinkers whose ideas were foundational to Western civilization came to the same conclusion. "The end then of learning," said John Milton (1608-1674), "is to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him."

Church History

The early church fathers were fairly unanimous in their support of parents taking responsibility for the education of their own children. Faith was not viewed as a separated and segmented particle of life, but a comprehensive worldview that encapsulated their entire existence. They embraced the truth of Proverbs 9:10: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding." Of course, it is impossible today to teach "fear of the Lord" and "knowledge of the holy" in the government schools.

Clement I of Rome wrote in 96 A.D. to the church in Corinth: "Let us fear the Lord Jesus, whose blood was given for us. Let us reverence our rulers; let us honor our elders; let us instruct our young men in the lesson of the fear of God.... Let our children be partakers of the instruction which is in Christ: let them learn how lowliness of mind prevaileth with God, what power chaste love hath with God, how the fear of Him is good and great and saveth all them that walk therein in a pure mind with holiness. …

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