A “Biblical Mandate” for Christian Parents?
“Mandate: a command or authorization to act in a particular way… any authoritative order or command…to make mandatory” definition from Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, 1991.”
Heads nod emphatically at the glimpse of tackling a burning issue. Lips and eyes quietly comment on the guilt unnecessarily initiated by the well-meaning but misled. Voices of the “experts” shout across the internet and other forms of media, bombarding the gut-feelings of brothers and sisters who sense that something is not quite right. But little is said formally, being left up to “anybody else” to bring to the forefront—the pain, the pressure, the confusion, the fear of saying something openly about a growing problem in the Christian home-schooling movement across North America.
I am first of all a Christian—a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ as my Saviour. I believe in the final authority of the Holy Scriptures and I believe in its life-giving principles for my life today. I believe that there are Biblical mandates—directions for Christians in how to live in such a way as to bring honour and glory to God, while we live IN the world while not OF it (John 17:15, Philippians 2:15, 1 John 2:15-16). I believe that Christians should be different than the non-Christian world around us, both in the “telling” of the good news to these precious people for whom Christ died and rose again (Mark 16:15, Matthew 28:19-20) and in the “showing” of a godly lifestyle by our morality and attitudes (John 14:21-26). And it is impossible to live for God without Him dwelling within — we need His power for we cannot do what we should do in our own strength or with our own wisdom (Romans 8:7-9). We still fail sometimes and there is always forgiveness—God is so faithful, even when we are not (1 John 1:9)!
I am also one of those “home-school moms”. During school-days (and vacations), I juggle kids from babyhood to teens, household tasks, various ministry opportunities, plus a home-based business. My husband is an immeasurable encourager and helps when he is home. We are very thankful to have the blessing to home educate our family. The flexibility is incredible, the overall atmosphere is uplifting, the learning is fresh and foundational. But here is where many home schooling blogs or articles stop…at the “positive-side” of the home school movement. (Yet thankfully, there are some that go on in a gracious manner and I hope to do the same here.)
Of course I too could stop short of mentioning “anything amiss” and like so many others, submit to a quietness over this issue. But my Christian standards bring me to face it head on because it involves the Bible, not just an opinion. Its’ persuasiveness seeps into the simple delight of home education, souring corners of the Church. I must call to remembrance what the Bible actually teaches (and what it does not) on the issue of parents teaching their children at home.
Is home-schooling a Biblical mandate? We are to act wisely. We are to avoid evil influences. We are to be on our guard against deception wherever we are. Depending on the situation, it may be very prudent to choose home education or private school instead of public school. Since wickedness is prevalent and sometimes tolerated in our society, including public schools (and elsewhere—it is inescapable on this earth), some choose to home school to avoid the amounts of immorality, bullying, horrific literature, and untruths their children would be exposed to. But other Christians place their children in the school system so that they can be a light in the midst of a dark world and/or so that they can grow stronger in their faith when opposition comes. I ask, is one family “sinning” and the other one “not sinning” when they make a choice for the location of their children’s education? Why not simply thank the Lord that you have a legal opportunity to make a choice as a citizen of Canada [or a different free country] and not reject others if they choose something different than you? This comment goes both ways—to Christians who think it is “crazy” to home-school (“it’s not missional, too isolationist”, etc.) and to the Christians who think that sending your children to a public education system is somehow becoming an ungodly parent. Continue this into career choices and you get the idea that only ministry positions are right and secular work is “wrong” or similar. There is a danger when each thinks of their preference or personal leading from the Lord as a general “mandate” and thus, an “obedience versus disobedience” issue.
Some would claim that God never planned for children or teens to be taught “school” outside of the family unit. Yet in His Word, there are unmistakable examples of God’s providence and plan in the lives of men He chose to work for Him—Moses, Daniel & his 3 friends, and Paul:
“And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds.” Acts 7:22
“…young men in whom there was no blemish, but good-looking, gifted in all wisdom, possessing knowledge and quick to understand, who had ability to serve in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the language and literature of the Chaldeans.” Daniel 1:4
“”I [Paul] am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today.” Acts 22:3
What can we learn from these examples? Well, God’s plan for Moses included secular schooling and he was obviously an attentive student to his lessons. God did not intervene to have him “home-schooled” beyond his mother teaching him as a very young child. God’s plan for Daniel and his three friends included attending “high school” to be taught by pagans but, and this is very important, they ALSO retained their loyalty to their God, even when it wasn’t popular. God allowed them to be tested in their faith and to be a mighty influence in the secular government so that more people would know of Him. The storms of deceptive philosophies only blew to make their faith more rooted and grounded and they refused to pray or bow down to worship anything or anyone other than the True and Living God! And Paul, taught by one of the best religious schoolteachers in his culture, counted his education (although a “top-of-the-line” one) in value as nothing, in comparison to his relationship with Christ (Philippians 3:8). He had been taught thoroughly of “the right things to do” and “the wrong things not to do” – what today we know of as “character education”. Yet he realized he could not become righteous by being educated in the law; only faith in the grace of God could make him righteous. Yes, we too cannot be “good enough” to earn God’s favour, regardless of how much we are educated in “righteousness”.
As an aside, the only place where the word “school” is mentioned in the Bible is in Acts 19, when Paul teaches about the gospel of Jesus Christ (both to growing believers and to non-believers who were interested) in some sort of a public school building for two years. He mentions that a wider door of opportunity had opened to him in comparison from when he was only speaking in the synagogue; in this location, the Gentiles could hear (1 Corinthians 16:8-9).
“And he went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God. But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. And this continued for two years, so that all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.” Acts 19:8-10
One only needs to continue reading the passage to confirm that God indeed blessed his ministry in that location and people were radically changed in their lifestyle practices, bold to be a difference in their culture for Christ! Beyond these examples, we could consider the countless men and women who have been and currently are joyful servants of God in their work as pastors, missionaries, evangelists, musicians, and employees or employers in the various fields of business, medicine, agriculture, politics, etc… most of whom were NOT home schooled.
Is it not rather odd to say that after all of this, that God’s only plan for the education of children is to be within the family unit? Where is the Biblical mandate for home-schooling? Does the Bible actually teach that children are not to be under the teaching of anyone else but is to remain with the parents at all times? Where does this idea come from?
God’s design for the family IS for a cohesive and loving relationship. It IS for a family to be a godly example to the world so that people will know Him. The children of Israel were told they were to love God and teach their children every day to know Him and His Word. The beautiful passage, so well-known to Christian home-schoolers, is quoted below and cited in our Philosophy of Education.
“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. Deuteronomy 6:5-7
This general principle of godly parenting found here and elsewhere, such as Psalm 78:1-8. However, the Bible does not seem to have a mandate not to send your children to a teacher for their academic subjects. Furthermore, from what I understand, both Israelites and pagans raised their children for their “future career” by home-schooling them during this period in history. Generally, the children learned to continue the work of their parents. It wasn’t a case of “the godly people home-schooling” versus “the ungodly ones not home-schooling”. They both home-schooled. Essentially, the Bible is silent on how much time children and parents are to be together; no mandate beyond passing on spiritual instruction and spending some time together in a family is indicated. Now any loving, godly family will desire to be together, learning, laughing, comforting, and more. But do we really need to be so hard on families who still desire those same characteristics but believe it is in their children’s best interest not to begin or to continue home-schooling? Is such an issue so important to put pressure on families to conform to home-schooling or else be considered a weakling? Is home-schooling the academics so much a part of our life that instead of being a workaholic, some of us are in danger of becoming “home-school-aholics”, fighting for people to accept us as legitimate and successful as if our lives depended on it and devastated and guilt-laden if such “work” ever had to be laid aside? I thought as Christians what we live for is Christ and our lives depend upon God, and NOT circumstances, for our joy and peace. Why is something else being crowned to be more important than it really is?
But some will continue to wonder: how else can you fulfill that principle of speaking of godly things while you walk in the way during the day if they are absent from your family during the day? Sure you can teach in morning and evening family devotions (the “sit in your house”, “lie down”, and “rise up” part) but what about the walking part? Doesn’t it mean that your children must be with you each day?
Does the Bible teach that children can be found in educational situations apart from their parents and still be about their Heavenly Father’s business? Were Mary and Joseph negating their responsibilities the day when their 12 year old son did not walk with them in the way back home? They assumed he was safe and walking back with others (e.g. friends, extended relatives). Jesus stayed to do His Father’s will in Jerusalem (Luke 2:40-52). We know that Jesus never sinned (Hebrew 4:15). Parents should not need to feel guilty when their children are truly cared for elsewhere.
Extremes within the Christian home-school movement can sometimes be so over-powering that it can make the impression that we believe some things that we never intended to look like. Five final points conclude these thoughts:
- Home schooling is not to be worshipped. Only God is to be worshipped.
- Home education is not a Saviour. Only Jesus Christ is the Saviour. Home-schooling a child cannot make him or her a Christian. And it will not keep them from sin. We are all sinners and must come the same way to God—by faith for His gift. We cannot earn our salvation by getting a good education or by learning the “right behaviour”. (1 Corinthians 1:20-21)
- Related to point #2, there is no record of homeschooling “saving a culture” that I can find in the Bible or even in history. Both pagans and believers in God “home educated” much of the time during the Biblical time period. Think also of the restrictive countries (past history and present day) which have blatantly turned from the true God as a nation…what has “saved” or kept alive the element of God’s transforming spiritual light in the midst of very dark times? It isn’t homeschooling.
- If all Christians (Christian home-schoolers included) would evangelize the lost (“telling the good news that Jesus saves us sinners”) with the same fervour as those who would try to persuade Christians in churches that there is no godlier or better decision to make than to home-school, it truly would be life-changing and far more eternally worthwhile in comparison. I sometimes wonder if the focus of our evangelism has become an earthly one. Do we seek more people to join our home-schooling crowd than we do to join the household of faith? How is our time spent and what is our conversation about when we talk of that which excites us and gives us hope?
- Home-schooling alone is not a good cause for disunity within the body of Christ. Doctrinal issues of eternal relevance are (e.g. what the gospel is/how to be saved, who Jesus is, etc.) and some other doctrinal matters can be. Where to educate children in academics and by whom, is a choice of which I find the Bible to be silent on. Therefore, while it is a wonderful opportunity for us to provide home education for our children, it is due to the guidance of God in our lives and not due to a mandate that we have to obey. It is a Biblical choice—a prayerful choice parents can make in North America and one of the ways that children can be raised to hear about God. May we be gracious to our dear brothers and sisters who would prayerfully be led otherwise that their children will be like Daniel and his friends and shine as a light for Jesus in the midst of a crooked and depraved generation (Phil. 2:15-16).
References and Notes:
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
As I (Joy) looked a bit around online for other homeschoolers who also have a similar take on this topic, I really liked a blog article by Heidi Vriesman, another home-schooling mom. I pinned it on my “Teacher Training” Pinterest board since it is hard to find. The original web domain where I read it no longer exists and it was re-posted on another website. It was entitled: “Our Hope is In…Homeschooling?” Another couple who talk about “hope-shifting” are Andy and Kendra Fletcher at http://www.homeschoolingirl.com/episodes/episode-45-losing-our-religion
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