By Robert Rogland. Can you think of a greater heartbreak for believing parents than to see their children grow up without a living faith in Christ? Too many godly fathers and mothers live with that heartbreak. Some have seen their children grow up more interested in the world than in Christ; others have seen a son or daughter actually reject Him. What can be done to ensure that our covenant children will grow up to trust and love and serve our Savior?
The Bible charges parents to bring up their children in the training and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). But other Christians also have a measure of responsibility: When the Lord commanded his church to teach all nations, surely that included covenant children as well (Matt. 28:18-20). Our Directory of Worship, a part of the Book of Church Order, reminds us that “Believers’ children within the visible Church, and especially those dedicated to God in Baptism, are non-communing members under the care of the church” (DW, Chapter 57-1; emphasis added). When we witness the baptism of an infant, do we not vow to pray for that child? Do we not also vow to help him or her come to true faith, repentance, and obedience and to become a communing member of the church-in other words, to help the child grow up to be a believing, practicing follower of Christ?
Others may debate whether or not it takes a village to raise a child, but well-taught Christians should have no doubt that, under ordinary circumstances, it takes a church to raise a Christian child. The Christian school can be a powerful arm of the church as it works towards that end.
The Role of the Home
Much of the work of raising a child to be a Christian is informal. Parents instruct in conversation and show by example what a Christian believes and does (Deut. 6:7). Children learn to pray and worship first by participating in family devotions and praying with Mommy or Daddy at their bedside. They learn the importance of keeping God’s Law and the consequences of disobedience as they disobey and are disciplined. They learn God’s unconditional love for His children as they see their parents’ unconditional love for them. A boy or girl learns what it is to walk by faith when he or she sees Dad and Mom face crises with trust in God. Children learn what love for strangers is through hospitality extended in the home. Through such experiences, and the interpretation of them furnished by their parents, children learn most of what it is to be a Christian in faith, word, and deed.
The Role of the Church
The church also has a role in the upbringing of a covenant child. It is in the services of the church that children learn corporate worship, worship even more important than family worship as far as the Scriptures are concerned. The Lord’s Supper, with all the grace it conveys, is celebrated in the church, not the home. Pastors and Sunday school teachers provide formal instruction in Bible and doctrine. In the church, children encounter others who share their parents’ faith, an encouraging thing considering that not many of the neighbors are likely to share the family’s faith. What the Bible says about Christ dying for the world is more believable when the child sees that biblical faith is not confined to the family circle. In the church, children see that some Christians have one gift, some another, all to be used for the good of the Body. Indeed, it is only in the church that the concept of the Body of Christ finds meaning. The immediate Christian family is never called the Body of Christ.
The Role of the School
There comes a time in every child’s life when formal instruction becomes necessary. Children need to learn a lot of facts and skills. They need to build a Christian worldview, a framework for seeing everything in its relationship to biblical truth. Here Christian parents face three basic choices: home schooling, public schooling, or Christian schooling. I don’t intend to condemn either public schooling or home schooling in this article; we all know children from believing homes who have succeeded in growing in Christ and in Christian thinking under all three regimens. But I write as a teacher in a Christian school to tell others how the Christian school can be a partner with the home and the church in raising children for the Lord.
What are the particular benefits of sending your child to a Christian school? The greatest is surely this: teachers in the Christian school view the training of covenant children as their calling from God and have prepared themselves to exercise that high calling faithfully and effectively. The teacher is the single most important element in any school experience. More than textbooks and other learning materials, more than the physical facilities where the school is housed, more than schoolmates, the dedicated, competent Christian teacher exercises the most important influence on a child during school hours.
To be sure, no one will love your child and be dedicated to his or her success in school more than you. If love and dedication were the only considerations, I suppose everyone should homeschool. But some parents can’t homeschool, and others realize that they don’t know how to teach effectively in a formal way or (especially in the upper grades) don’t know the material their children need to learn. Plus, in homes with children of different ages, the parent simply may not be able to teach all of them well and do all the other things necessary to keep the home running. The competent Christian teacher has academic knowledge, professional expertise, and an interest in your child that will enable her or him to be your partner-and the church’s partner-in giving your son or daughter the knowledge, skills, and biblical worldview he or she needs.
A second benefit of Christian schooling is that your child will be part of a Christian community. There your child rubs shoulders with Christian peers, much as you rub shoulders with fellow Christians in the life of the church. Covenant children are members of the church, but they do not participate as equals with communing members on Sunday morning or Wednesday evening. But in the Christian school, children have the experience of participating as equals with other Christians-immature Christians like themselves, to be sure, but equals nonetheless. They will be offended and have to learn to forgive; they will offend and have to seek forgiveness for foolish and sinful words and acts. They will have opportunities for leadership. They will pull together in common projects for the sake of Christ and His kingdom. The Christian school is not a church, but it is a training ground for church life as well as for life in the world. And all this takes place under the supervision and guidance of adult Christians who spend six to eight hours a day devoted to your child’s growth and development in Christ.
A third benefit of the Christian school is that it is a prism refracting the phenomena of nature, the events of history, and all the other facts of life and the world through the medium of the Bible. The diverse interpretations of men and things given by the media and the public school are naturalistic and worldly. (While a Christian school environment provides an ideal setting for this, let us thank God for the many godly public school teachers who do not dish up the world this way to their pupils.) Christian parents must continually challenge and correct non-biblical ideas their children encounter. Some parents do this consistently and well. The church also, through its teaching ministry, must expose and correct worldly ideas that bombard its members, children as well as adults. The Christian school partners with the parents and the church in this task.
“All right, you make a good case for Christian schooling on paper,” the skeptical reader may reply, “but I know Christian schools that are virtually indistinguishable from public schools. The instruction is mediocre, the facilities are inadequate, and the kids are just as worldly as public school kids. Why should I send my child to a school like that?”
The answer to that question is, of course, you shouldn’t send your child to such a school. Parents need to be discerning as they look for a Christian school for their children. All Christian schools are not equal. To be sure, all or nearly all Christian schools will have a dress code, a weekly chapel service, and required Bible classes. Virtually all will feature instruction extolling a creationist approach to science. But there is much more to a Christian school than that! Christian parents should settle for nothing less than the following:
1. The school you choose must not be staffed with pious teachers who lack academic and professional competence, nor should it employ those who are merely competent, apart from godliness. The teachers must be models of what educated, godly disciples of Christ ought to be, and they must make both learning and godliness attractive to their pupils by word and by example.
2. The school must teach all subjects from a biblical perspective, consciously helping its pupils develop a mature Christian world and life view. That view must be comprehensive, embracing all of human life and experience. The great Dutch Reformed thinker Abraham Kuyper said it well: There is not a square inch of life or thought where Christ has not said, “This is mine!” I believe that “reformed thinkers” have worked out what a biblical world and life view entails more completely and consistently than Christians of other traditions, and I conclude that the ideal Christian school is reformed as well as evangelical. Yet it is not smug, obnoxious, or sectarian in upholding reformed convictions. If a Christian school can make the reformed view of God, men, and life attractive to non-reformed Christians, as well as to Presbyterians, it has struck the right balance.
3. The school must challenge its pupils to practice consistent biblical thinking and living both in and out of the classroom. Compartmentalization-thinking and behaving as a Christian in school and church, thinking and living like the world the rest of the time-is a great temptation for all of us, children included. A good Christian school challenges its students to think and live as Christians all the time, and tries to show them how.
If you already have this kind of Christian school in your community, well and good. If you do not, why not ask your Session to consider starting a church-based school? My experience and observations have reinforced the conviction that the Christian school functions best when it operates as a cooperative ministry of the church rather than under the auspices of an independent board. Few independent Christian schools are consistently reformed. Establishing and operating a school under the authority of the church should make it easier to maintain a reformed philosophy. If God leads you to pursue the seemingly daunting task of starting a Christian school, CE&P can put you in contact with PCA churches and schools that would be happy to share their experiences, observations, and ideas with you.
No Christian school is ideal. Christian teachers are sinners saved by grace, just like other Christians. They do not always carry out their commission with complete faithfulness. Maybe some of the teachers are not as well trained as they could be. Here is an opportunity for parents with particular expertise to volunteer to help. Maybe a particular teacher does not relate well to your child, or to other children. Here is an opportunity to talk with that teacher. Be an active parent! Meet with and get to know the teacher. Let him or her know your concerns. The Christian school is a partner with the home and the church. Partnership requires communication.
When you are tempted to be critical of your Christian school, remember that parents and churches are not perfect either. But our gracious God does for us above what we ask or think. God is faithful even if we are faithless (Rom. 2:2-3). How much more will he bless if we faithfully seek godly education for our covenant children!