Christian Education: Its Reason and Purpose
Psalm 78, like many other Old Testament passages, is an account of God's dealings with his people Israel. In the early part of the Psalm, the author states what his object is. This Psalm provides a beautiful incentive for Christian education. He speaks of the reason and the purpose of educating our children. God's covenant of grace and His kingdom are the two great "pillars" upon which Christian education rests. These two "pillars" need to be seen in our Christian Schools to the extent that our Christian Schools embody the reason and purpose suggested by the Psalmist; to that extent they are the kind of schools that Christian parents desire for their children.
The first pillar of Christian education is the covenant of grace. This is suggested in the opening verses of Psalm 78. We read, "O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden from of old — things we have heard and know, things our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done." The reason for the kind of education that the author of Psalm 78 is talking about is the covenant that God made with His people. This covenant claims the children as first of all belonging to God. God is addressing His people when He says, "O my people." The people are God's people, and their children are also God's children. They are entrusted to parents in order that the parents may instruct them in the ways of God. The basis for this instruction is the covenant which God established with His people, in which He promised to be their God and the God of their children.
Because God claims us and our children as His people, He calls us to respond as people who belong to Him. Part of this response is seen in the instruction we give to our children. That instruction must show this covenantal relationship that exists between God and us. This instruction must indicate our firm belief that children of God-fearing parents are different from children of unbelieving parents, not as naturally better, but as claimed by God, called to believe in and obey Him. Children of Christian parents are God's children. He wants them to be treated and trained as His children. This determines the kind of education they are to receive. Because children of Godly parents are God's children, they must be taught that they are to be different from children of unbelievers, and warned not to turn away from God as their fathers had done (vv. 8 ff.). This is the teaching of Scripture. In 1 Corinthians 7:14 Paul argues that children are set apart for God through the believing parents, even if only one of the parents is a Christian. He says, "For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy." They are not children belonging to the state; they are part of the family of God. Only in an educational system where this is recognized and valued will the children of Godly parents be treated and trained as children of God.
The state, of course, does not treat its children like that at all. To the state, children are simply a commodity, a resource to be developed for the good of the state. The reason for education, according to the state, is to prepare the children to serve the state. The children are resources to be cultivated in such a way that they can be good citizens. It is an altogether pragmatic business. No Christian can or may be satisfied with that kind of educational philosophy. How much more wonderful is the concept of covenantal Christian education which sees God's claims upon our children as His children, and calls us as parents to bring them up to recognize this basic and crucial distinction that marks them as children of their heavenly Father. The first thing then that distinguishes Christian education from the state-controlled education is the way the child is seen. The children in the Christian school are covenant children and must be taught in a way that clearly reflects this fact.
The second important thing that the author of Psalm 78 says about the education of the children is the purpose to be achieved by education. He writes, "We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done." What is the purpose of Christian education? In a word, it is to teach the "kingdom of God." The kingdom of God is the entire universe, everywhere that God reigns. And of course He reigns and rules everywhere. His Name is upon everything that exists. This is the great teaching of all of Scripture, as can be easily seen even from a cursory reading of the Bible. Psalm 99 says, "The Lord reigns, let the nations tremble; let them praise your great and awesome Name – he is holy." And Psalm 103:19 says, "The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all."
It is the kingdom of God that sets the agenda for Christian education. Everything that is taught in the Christian school is to be taught from the perspective that God's Name is upon it. His kingdom rules over all. To say then that such disciplines as mathematics, and sciences such as astronomy, physics, and chemistry, are not any different in a Christian school than in a state-controlled school is to deny the crucial teaching of all of Scripture regarding God's claim upon all of life. Indeed, one of the reasons we as a Christian community insist on Christian higher education is to guarantee that the persons who teach our children in the local Christian schools will have the proper kingdom perspective that pervades all of the Scriptures. One must certainly hope and pray that this perspective will continue to be impressed upon our future Christian school teachers in all our Christian colleges.
That this kingdom perspective is indeed the basis for what is taught in the Christian schools can be seen from the content of education according to Psalm 78:4. The Psalmist says, "We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done." Certainly those deeds of the Lord include the subject matter of the Christian classroom. The subjects that are taught concern everything in the universe, all of which are included in the "praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done." All of the universe is the object of education. The Christian school must teach God's kingly claim upon all of life.
There is a striking illustration of this in Genesis 18, which is the account of God speaking to Abraham just before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. In Genesis 18:17-19 the Lord speaks of His decision to tell Abraham what He is about to do to the cities of the plain. The reason He tells Abraham, is that the patriarch will then instruct his children what has happened to those wicked cities. God wants Abraham to know that what is about to take place is the result of God's judgment. The generations to come must never be allowed to say that these events simply happened. The children to come must never be taught that history is merely the random acts of men and nations with no clear purpose behind them. The children must be taught that God is the One who controls all that happens in the world, in order that they may "keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice that the LORD may bring" upon them and their succeeding families the covenant blessings that had been promised, rather than the judgments Abraham, the "father of believers," would see destroying Sodom and Gomorrah. This is the "covenant" and "kingdom" perspective that must control our Christian education of our children.