Friday, February 24, 2012

The Reason for Christian Schools

I’m often interested in hearing the reasons why parents bring their kids to a Christian school. One of the most common is the negative influences on their child at a public school. Parents don’t want their children surrounded by peers who are drinking, using drugs, using foul language, or perhaps engaging in premarital sex. More importantly, they don’t want their child bullied or picked on by other students.

As a parent, I can fully understand this perspective. I have a three-year-old and a one-year old. Nothing makes me more worried, or even potentially angry, than thinking about my daughter coming home and either being bullied or picking up the sinful behaviors of their peers. As a parent I’ve been entrusted with the formation – intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and physical – of my kids. I’ve been charged by God to put them in an environment where they will thrive and flourish.

There is, however, a problem that can develop out of this mentality. When the focus is on “what other kids might do to my child,” it becomes assumed that the problem is “out there.” The problem exists in other kids, in the public school, in their teacher, or whatever other external influence that might negatively affect my child. Regardless of what the external problem is, over time it becomes assumed that I must protect my child from an evil world.

This, however, is not a Christian view of the world.

For the Christian, the fundamental problem is sin. And sin is not only “out there”—in the structures of society and in other people—it is within me. Augustine’s concept of original sin (based on Romans 5), means that all human beings adopt a sin nature from Adam, and they simultaneously choose to embrace that sin. As a matter of fact, the starting point for the whole Christian life is the confession, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I am a sinner. And so are my children. The problem is not so much “the evil world” that will hurt my child, the problem is the sin inside them that threatens to disintegrate their personalities before they can ever grow.

GK Chesterton once was asked by a newspaper editor what he believed to the world’s biggest problem. Was it warfare, poverty, pollution, education, government corruption? No. To the question of “What’s the biggest problem in the world?”, Chesterton famously replied, “I am.”

This is the answer of a Christian who has fully understood the human problem, and has seen the problem deep within his own heart.

When a school community adopts the first view, that the problem is “out there” and we need to protect our kids from “them,” it can often lead to not only sheltering kids, but making them think that “they are bad and I am good.” This can lead to a pharisaical religious superiority that condemns others for their sex, drugs and rock & roll lifestyle, and almost completely ignores the greatest sin living in their own hearts: pride.

On the other hand, when Christian parents fully understand the gospel, that I (and my children) am a sinner and Christ has atoned for my sins at the cross, they base their life and beliefs on grace. We as a family have been given a gift we didn’t deserve, and this informs how we interact with other students and their families. A quick willingness to admit our own sin is the result, and we look at others as more righteous than ourselves.

I can understand the desire to put quality influences in the life of your child. This is certainly important for any Christian family. But Christian schools (just like churches for that matter) are filled with people who have problems. We can never fully protect either ourselves or our kids from bad influences, because the bad influence starts with the sin living inside of us!

The real case for a Christian school, in my view, is that it’s an environment soaked by the gospel of God’s grace. The gospel alone has the power to transform lives. Secular knowledge alone can’t transform either the human heart or society. When the gospel is integrated into every aspect of learning and community life, it has power to allow children to flourish. It is, in the words of Paul, “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.”

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