At times within the Christian community, a practice can become so common that one begins to lose sight of its basis. The danger of this is that as time passes individuals grow ignorant of why they do what they do. From this ignorant position, it is a small step to cease doing what one did so long in ignorance. As one surveys the landscape of the Reformed churches of North America, there is reason to question whether such ignorance about the basis of Christian education is common.
Nevertheless, many Christian parents continue their Reformed forefather’s practice of insisting on Christian education for their children. They do so by viewing the value of Christian education by measuring the cost of Christian education in light of the beauty of Christian education. Their proper conclusion is that Christian education is valuable because nothing else is designed to accomplish what Christian education is designed to accomplish.
The Exclusive Goal of Christian Education
What is the goal of Christian education? This question demands a clear answer. As with any sizeable and costly endeavor, it is profitable to analyze the personal and corporate perception of the goal of one’s labors and clearly identify, corporately and personally, what this goal is or ought to be. Simply put, we must know exactly what we are doing in order to do it well.
The Christian community must clearly identify the goal of Christian educational labors for two primary, related reasons. First, there is a vital connection between one’s perceived goal of education and the techniques employed in education. What one is after in their children’s education will determine what one uses to get there. Put simply, the job one faces determines the tools one selects. The clear identification of the goal of Christian education will impact the everyday decisions such as faculty appointments, curriculum selection and design, and offer a valuable criterion for examining extra-curricular activities.
Second, there is the ever-present danger of the subtle creeping in of unbiblical goals within Christian schools. These goals are not foreign to so-called “Christian” schools, and the Christian community must examine whether or not they have infected the perception of the goal of education and therefore the tactics employed in instruction. To avoid the creeping in of unbiblical goals into the Christian school community, there must be the ability to identify the goals of secular education as contrasted with Christian education.
The goal of Christian education is not intellectualism. The Christian school should not have a primary interest in producing mere academic giants with good MEAP or SAT scores. Good MEAP or SAT scores can and ought to be a subordinate goal in the pursuit of the ultimate goal, but it can never be the ultimate goal of educational efforts. Neither is the goal of Christian education materialism. Christian education is not simply a tool to produce skilled graduates who are ready to enter well-paying careers. Christian education cannot aim toward humanism. The Christian school must avoid creating students who have been convinced of their own inherent excellence. The secular goal of hedonism or producing young adults who are prepared to grab the best life has to offer must also be avoided. The Christian school that subtly slides towards these goals loses its distinctive Christian perspective and characteristics.
What then is the goal of Christian Education? Reflecting upon Scripture passages such as Psalm 34:11, “Come, you children, listen to me; and I will teach you the fear of the Lord,” one could summarize the goal of Christian education as being the student’s maturing recognition of and response to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Christian education is not simply the attachment of a Bible class curriculum to a secular system of study, nor is it the mere inclusion of chapels, devotions, and prayers into the daily schedule. Christian education is not simply a strict dress code and high moral expectation. Rather, Christian education is instruction with a radical, permeating focus upon the reality of the Lordship of Jesus Christ being unfolded and applied by the teacher to the student in a variety of its aspects. Therefore, the goal of Christian education includes Christ as both the object and the subject.
Christ as the Object of Christian Education
When we state that Christ is the object of Christian education, we use the word “object” as it has the meaning of “the end toward which effort or action is directed.” The design and maintenance of the Christian academic institution ought to focus on the goal of teaching its students concerning Christ. However, what is that institution to teach the children concerning Christ?
The primary thing parents and teachers must teach children concerning Christ is the absolute sovereignty of Christ. This is the exclusive goal of Christian education that the secular school can never achieve. This phrase “sovereignty of Christ” includes the realities of Christ’s comprehensive power and authority over every aspect of creation. Christian parents, Christian teachers, and Christian institutions for learning must inform their students that Christ is the absolute Master in every single subject of study. Therefore, they must inform and unfold for their students the reality of a radical, divine sovereignty as it applies to language, mathematics, science, geography, history, physics, music, and physical education.
A math class does not become a Christian math class because it begins in prayer. Neither does a physical education class become a Christian physical education class because one monitors the language more carefully than the secular institution down the road. Rather, these class subjects, and all the others, take on a distinctive Christian character when the design of the curriculum and instruction highlights and reveals the sovereignty of Christ as it relates to the matter at hand. Christian education has not accomplished its task when the students are academically above average in a certain discipline.
It has accomplished its task when the students have seen the Lordship of Christ.
If the primary thing the Christian parents and teachers must teach the child concerning Christ is the absolute sovereignty of Christ, the question is how students encounter this absolute sovereignty of Christ. Children encounter the absolute sovereignty of Christ when they see the work of Christ, for Christ displays His sovereignty through His work. However, this is not all. The task is not complete when the child has seen the sovereignty of Christ in the work of Christ. Upon showing the child the sovereignty of Christ in the work of Christ, there must be the call for, guidance in, and encouragement towards the student’s appropriate response to that encounter.
To illustrate, a Christian schoolteacher has not completed a Christian civics course when he has elaborately demonstrated the divine delegation of authority. While this point must certainly weave throughout the course, the Christian civics teacher must also guide the students in the appropriate response to the divine delegation of authority. For example, Christian education in civics will include practical discussions upon the practices of revolution, rioting, and demonstrating, as well as the study of the implications from the demand and promise of the fifth commandment.
In essence, Christian education must instruct the student in the proper response to the sovereignty of Christ as revealed in Christ’s work. That proper response is the filial fear of Christ. Christian education must strive to teach children to fear Christ by responding to His absolute sovereignty as revealed in His works by humbly bowing before Him in the obedience of holiness. This is the exclusive goal of Christian education. This is what gives it inestimable value. Where this is understood, there will be an invisible caption written above every classroom of Christian instruction and every page of Christian curriculum quoting Ecclesiastes 12:13, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all.”
With this goal in mind, the Christian instructor must address the whole child rather than merely his intellect. While there is a certain primacy of the intellect, Christian education must address the heart of the child in every single subject. Parents and teachers cannot rest satisfied when the children pass the spelling test. There must be a looking for the child to see the sovereignty of Christ over language and the related using of language in a God-glorifying manner. The ultimate goal of Christian education is not realized when the student can name the planets in the solar system, but when the student scans the heavens and bows in humble adoration of the handiwork of a sovereign Christ.
The passing of the spelling tests and the naming of the planets are instrumental steps in the proper use of language and of the adoration of God in reflection of heavenly luminaries. Nevertheless, they cannot be a substitute for the overall goal, the student’s expression of the fear of Christ demonstrated by a sober recognition of the sovereignty of Christ in His various works. While not negating the role of the MEAP tests, Iowa scores, SAT numbers, GPA’s or college applicant percentages, a belief in the above-mentioned goal will radically affect the whole of a Christian academic institution, making it exclusively peculiar when compared to a secular academic institution. A faithful pursuit of this goal will guide students to a humble bowing underneath the sovereignty of Christ.
Christ as the Subject of Christian Education
How then does the student actually learn his lesson? This question brings a transition from Christ as the object of Christian education to Christ as the subject of Christian Education. Here when we use the word “subject” we do so with its meaning of “referring to the one performing the action.” The goal of teaching children and students to bow humbly with godly fear before the sovereignty of God as recognized in His works is too great for a mere human parent or teacher to realize. It is a lesson only Christ Himself can teach.
This is a necessary reminder as it points the Christian community to depend on, look for, and anticipate the work that Christ does within the realm of the historical administration of the covenant, the realm that is the exclusive setting of Christian education.
This is also a necessary reminder because it understands Christ is pleased to do something peculiar within the halls and classrooms of a faithful Christian school as compared to a secular school. Especially, not exhaustively nor exclusively, within the covenantal context that includes Christian education, Christ imparts His divine instruction, revealing His absolute sovereignty to the hearts of children, bringing them to bow in humble fear.
Christ accomplishes this work through the mediating agent of the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, it is the mysterious operation of the Holy Spirit within the heart of the child that reveals the sovereignty of Christ and brings the appropriate response to that sovereignty, filial fear. For example, the Holy Spirit teaches a child to use speech in a God-glorifying manner and to bow with adoration at the sight of the heavenly luminaries. The Holy Spirit teaches the student to live as a mature Christian within civil society. The Holy Spirit teaches the students to employ their bodies in an acceptable fashion as temples.
With this in mind, the Christian parent and educator must labor with a sense of dependency upon the applicatory work of the Holy Spirit evidenced in prayerful petitions for the work of the Holy Spirit. This will be in stark contrast to the ignorant activities of the secular educator.
In addition, with this in mind, the Christian parent and educator will labor along the way the Spirit is pleased to work. Divine sovereignty never negates human responsibility, but rather the recognition of divine sovereignty motivates human responsibility. The Spirit is pleased to use the instrumental means of godly parents and teachers to teach students the fear of the Lord. As the human teachers present the reality of the sovereignty of Christ to the senses of the student through instruction, the Spirit, or divine teacher, is pleased to move the heart of the child to respond in humble adoration, thus effectually realizing the goal of Christian education.
Anyone who has observed faithful Christian education must admit that it is a beautiful thing. Yet, anyone who has participated within faithful Christian education will acknowledge it is a costly thing. It is only the one who sees the exclusive goal of Christian education in having Christ as its object and subject who will be convinced it is a valuable thing. Those who are convinced that faithful Christian education is a valuable thing ought to display a certain commonality toward Christian education.
This ought to include the recognition of the common goal of confronting covenantal children with the sovereignty of Christ, expecting that they will bow to that sovereignty in filial fear. Within Christian education societies, there is much we do not hold in common in our personal backgrounds, occupations, financial ability, denominational association, and character traits. However, as a Christian education community, there must be unity in laboring forward as parents and instructors in a common goal. Motivating this common labor must be the common conviction that this common goal is something exclusive of faithful Christian education.
In addition, there ought to be a basis for a common evaluation of what comprises the education provided for covenantal children. The litmus test of Christian education programs ought to be whether classes, instruction, and various programs serve this common goal of confronting children with the sovereignty of Christ and calling for the appropriate response to that sovereignty.
Furthermore, there must be presentations of petitions for a common result as a Christian community recognizes that only the work of the Holy Spirit can accomplish the goal of Christian education.
Finally, the Christian Church ought to be marked by an unshakeable dedication to a common cause as it supports and labors for and in the faithful Christian education of covenantal children.
Christian education is valuable because it is exclusive, in that it seeks to do something nothing else does in bringing the student face to face with a sovereign Christ as He evidences His sovereignty through His work, calling for a response of humble fear. While only eternity will fully reveal the results of such labor, may the Christian community, by the grace of God, labor on with immovable hope that God will crown faithful Christian education with His blessings.
Rev. Greg Lubbers is the pastor of the Covenant United Reformed Church in Byron Center, MI. He also teaches at Zion Christian School in Byron Center.