Do you send your children to a Christian school so they will learn how to become worldly Christians? - T.M.P. Vanderven

Taken with permission from Clarion Vol. 46, No. 13 (1997)

Somewhat of a strange question, you might think. Aren't worldly Christians those who are not able to withstand the temptations of the world, like the seed that fell among the thorns? Understood in this manner, the answer to this odd question can be quite simple and short: no.

I'd like to approach it differently, though. This question is the second part of one that came from one of our readers. On an earlier occasion I shared some thoughts about how to help our children become Christians in the world. I wrote that, in order for a family and a school to function well, they need to provide a nurturing, safe, environment in which parents and educators and children can live and work together in a relationship of trust and harmony. Within such a setting, the children are to learn from the adults how to deal with the questions of life. These last four words are the focus now: children must learn how to deal with the questions of life.

We often hear it said about the environment in which our children grow up: wait till you find yourself in the real world; then you will really discover what life is all about. I guess the implication of this statement is that living in a Christian home, attending a Christian school, is not considered part of the real world: it's too protective, too safe, too idealistic. Our homes, and certainly our schools, provide our children with a greenhouse environment, it is claimed. Once our children get out "there," they will find themselves ill prepared for the societal pressures brought to bear on them. What are we to think of such comments?

We can readily admit that no type of education will prepare for all the issues of life that we may possibly face. Surely, preparation for life does NOT mean that we have memorized all possible answers to all possible questions.

Education deals in practical things, but much more so in things of principle. In the home, father and mother instil into their children principles, values, standards - a life style. This will include a strong emphasis on personal responsibility - one of the main goals of Reformed education. Christian adults are called upon to make responsible choices, and children are to learn from them how to do this eventually on their own. Our reader wrote about his own experience as a Christian student in a public school.

I remember incidents of ridicule for saying "Christian" things as a young child in a secular environment. This ridicule came not only from my classmates, but from the teacher also. My parents would often remind me of what I was while in school: I was to be a 'stranger" there; I was to be an example. I should not hide my light under a bushel ....

In our Christian schools there ought not to be such ridicule; the light of God's Word ought to shine brightly in the hallways and classrooms. But, our young people might think, if there is already so much light, you won't see much of my tiny candle, will you now? Whatever I do will make precious little difference. And if I do try ....

Is this perhaps the problem we face in our families and in our schools: the tiny, often hesitant, lights of our children have little chance to make a difference since they are always overshadowed by the lights of the adults. After all, the adults know best, and we all are Christians anyway ... Are we, despite our good intent, educating our children into docile (there's no need to take a stand), or perhaps incompetent (we don't know how to take a stand) young Christians?

Human beings are inclined to choose the road with the least resistance: we'd rather be lazy than active; we'd rather let others do the work and sit back ourselves. If that would be our attitude, we would live our lives as docile, lazy Christians, taking things as they come without any attempt to make a difference. Then our spiritual lights will fade. Our religious life becomes routine and ritual, without the fire of commitment burning brightly. Christian behaviour will then become no more than icing on the cake, perhaps merely to satisfy parents. Eventually, for us the antithesis between church and world will be obliterated.

Don't be afraid - let alone upset when your teachers introduce controversial topics and issues.

However, in combating such an attitude we ought not to build the wall of antithesis so high and thick that world and church can never interact - don't taste, don't touch, don't become involved. Any desire to create some contact with "the world" is considered with deep suspicion. We become introvert, inward looking, a community that exists as a lonely island in the midst of an ocean of depraved humanity. The Pharisees had precise rules for a religious life style. To them it was quite clear what was permitted and what was not. Their main responsibility was to follow the set rules. Then came our Lord and Saviour, who challenged this view at every turn, pointing to the responsibility that each one has to live from the heart rather than because of the rule. He did not come to lead His people to unassailable isolation; He placed us right in the middle of a challenging world, and He gave us the means to stand up to all those challenges - not in our own strength, but with the armoury which He Himself provides. In this manner we are to live and work in the world.

A Christian school is, of course, a place where students are encouraged to apply their Christian beliefs in all school subjects. But a Christian school is also a place where inimical, non-biblical, thoughts are NOT shunned as irrelevant to Christian education. A program of studies that does not show how it derives from soundly Scriptural principles is as inadequate as a program of studies that does not relate to real life issues and concerns.

Here lies the challenge of Christian education for the home and for the school: how shall we provide our children with real opportunities to learn to discern? Sure, there is a time when it is appropriate for a mother to say: Just listen to me, I know best. Yet, education is much more than providing good advice. Every generation needs opportunities to discover for itself what values are enduring and what behaviours are truly appropriate. No one can live our lives for us; nothing teaches as powerfully as our own experiences, successes and failures included. Give us some examples, you ask?

Discuss with your children and students issues which emerge from the newspaper and TV programs. Do not say too easily: you should not read this book, or you should not watch this program. Challenge your children whether or why they ought to read this book or watch that program. Model discernment-in-action and be prepared for the challenges of your children. There are situations where a firm "no" is required, but there are also many situations in which children ought to be given space to make their own choices without the adults stamping all over them to show them the errors of their ways. Keeping in mind, of course, the age of your children, honestly help your children develop their own opinions, always grounded in Scriptural principles. Trust that Christ also lives in their hearts, and that they want to be obedient to His will.

Admit that not all of life's questions have ready answers. We often do not know either what to do or what to decide. Let's not pretend that adults are infallible and above reproach! Some teachers seem to believe that they MUST have all the correct answers. Such attitudes do nothing to help students become discerning Christians. In fact, we may cause them to become frustrated with their elders, noting the many inconsistencies in adult behaviour, and rejecting the values that are preached to them.

Don't be afraid - let alone upset when your teachers introduce controversial topics and issues. There is much value in opening the eyes and minds of the students to questions raised in secular novels and in non-Christian approaches to history and science. Train your children in careful analysis of ideas and views, also those that contradict Scripture. Trust the teachers to guide their students towards Scripturally independent thinking. Our selection procedures should not focus on determining whether a book is "Christian" or not. Instead, it should focus on instructional potential. Of course, there are books and topics that are better not read or discussed because our students will not gain anything from them. Much depends on the age, the interests, the needs, etc. of the children, as wise parents and teachers know so well. A book with controversial themes can become a powerful and enjoyable experience under the guidance of a discerning, loving teacher.

Create opportunities for your children to interact with those living around them - how else will they be able to let their light shine? No, do not neglect the friends within the school and church community. But neither ignore the people in your own neighbourhood. Unorganized, spontaneous, street play can provide a refreshing perspective on our self awareness. Participation in sports activities or other events often stimulates our children as well. Teach them how to be clear and up front about what they will and will not participate in. Also as school communities there are opportunities to participate in regional events of one sort or another.

Do we send our children to a Christian school in order to learn how to become - not worldly perhaps, but - world-wise Christians? The answer can be yes if it means that we want our children and students to be familiar with the ways of the world. That's the place where we all live and work; that's the stage for the drama of human lives. Indeed, there is much drama, much tragedy. Attempting to hide this from our children is foolish. The Bible sets a much better example. The heroes of faith in Hebrews II are human beings, sketched in Scripture with all their faults, shortcomings, warts and ugliness. Faith did not remove the ills of life, nor the effects of sin; faith gave them a new robe as white as wool, as scarlet as the most royal garment because Christ bought them free. Scripture speaks of these things as a struggle, not as an achievement. It is our task as adults to help our children in and with this struggle because it is also our own struggle.

Our homes need discerning Christian parents and our schools need discerning Christian teachers who know how to create a biblical environment for the youngsters. In such an environment, neither the parent nor the teacher is the all-knowing answering machine. They themselves are deeply aware how confusing learning and living can be, how frustrating, how painful at times, and how their own efforts to educate in the fear of the Lord fall so far short all the time. Yet the parent and teacher are also the older brother or sister who can comfort the younger ones, encourage them, protect them when needed, let them go when they're ready.

Parents ... teachers ... are you actively involved in your own in-service training?