If you have made past the title of this post, thanks for staying. I realize that from the start I have offended many of you. If you have paused your outrage for a moment because you want to hear what seemingly crazy-brained arguments follow, I offer an even greater thanks for giving me a chance.
Although I feel that my title is clear enough, let me continue to sketch who this post is for:
If you are a Christian who has your children in government schools, this post is for you. If you, said parents, have made justifications for your choice such as: there are Christian teachers that work in our district, I want my kids to be salt and light, we are training missionaries, we have a strong home life, my kids are involved in youth group, I went to public school and I turned out fine, our town has a conservative culture, our public schools have good test scores, other options are too expensive, our drive would be too long, etc., this post is for you.
None of the above excuses are good ones, and I intend to argue that walking out such arguments by sending your kids to government schools is, in fact, abdication of God given responsibility. It is a sin.
Anyone still left? Are those crickets I hear? “Did he really just say that?”
Some will immediately reply, “You’re being divisive. You should choose a softer tone and dial back the rhetoric a bit. Calling parents out like this is un-Christian. I mean you really think it is a sin to send your kids to the public schools? Come on!” This usually will come with the Christian platitudes of “coming along side” and “calling me up to something higher.” The definition of higher is of course not higher, but a Christian way of saying, “Shhhhhh, stop saying things like this. This will get people riled up. Someone might be offended. Nathan, you are being unhelpful.”
Actually, saying nothing is what is unhelpful, or worse saying something that is so soft that the above excuses actually work. I also know there are qualifications. When someone says something bold like this, our defensiveness instantly goes to the margins to find some example that breaks the rule. What about the single mom who works ten jobs and still can’t put food on the table, Nathan? Oh, and the nearest Christian school is about a ba-gillion miles away too. What about her?!
Thankfully, I’m not talking about her. I’m talking about the 90% of Christians parents who don’t really have any good excuses.
Education is Indoctrination
The crux of the argument is paideia. This blog is named paideia blog because at the core my desire is write things that point us to conforming the culture to Christ. Paideia is a greek word that refers to the full enculturation of a student. In ancient Greece it was the goal of education to make graduates fully formed, heart and mind, to be the next leaders of the state. This means shaping what he thought and what he loved. It was indoctrination to a worldview and set of beliefs. So powerful was this paideia, that even though the Romans militarily conquered the Greeks, Greek culture conquered the Romans. It wasn’t Latin that was the common language of the empire, but Greek.
In Ephesians 6:4, Paul takes this word and throws an entirely different spin on it:
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.Ephesians 6:4 ESV
The word “discipline” is the translation of the word paideia and notice what Paul does with it. He says that fathers should not bring up their children in the paideia of the state, but the paideia of the Lord. So Christian fathers should be bringing up their children in a full enculturation and indoctrination of the Christian worldview. They should be shaped, both heart and mind, to honor Christ in everything. So powerful was this paideia that in three hundred years after Paul’s command, Christianity overthrew the that Roman Empire.
You might stop me here and say, “Woah, indoctrination? Really? Do we really want to indoctrinate our kids?”
The question isn’t if we want to indoctrinate our kids, but how do we want to indoctrinate our kids. One of the myths of modern education is that it can be neutral. No civilization in the history of mankind has ever believed that education could be neutral, beside ours. This is because education isn’t neutral by definition. Education is always enculturation to a set of values and worldview. The government schools have sold a bill of goods by claiming that their form of education is objective and non-partial. This is a bold face lie. They have a worldview: materialism. They have a creation myth: evolution. They have commandments: “Thou shalt not say a boy is a boy and a girl is a girl.” They have a desire to shape the hearts and minds of their students to be secular. Is it really any shock that 80% of Christian graduates leave the faith after high school? The government’s paideia is effective.
Jesus reminds us of the non-partiality of education:
“A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.”Luke 6:40 ESV
Students are not shaped by curriculum. They are not shaped by standardized tests. They are shaped by their teachers. They will become like the one who is teaching them. To our shock, Christians must realize that the state is in the discipleship business and they are doing it better than the church.
You Can Only Serve One Master
This is where one of the most common Christian objection comes in. “But Nathan, my district has many Christians who are teachers there. If a student becomes like his teacher then it is possible to have them shape my child.” The problem is that the government school has already seen that coming and cut Christian parents off at the pass. How can Christian teachers offer anything but the feeblest counter cultural effort when they cannot mention Christ or his Word in their teaching? The government school says, “Sure Christian educator, you may work here, just check your Christianity at the door. If you don’t you’re fired.” Such objections to my premise only reinforce it. The government schools do not want to compromise their paideia. For theirs is one that seeks to subvert Paul’s command that father’s (there is an attack upon that too) to train up their children in the paideia of God.
Think with me for a moment, a school day is roughly seven hours, five days a week. The school year lasts for 180 days or so. That is a large part the year that a student will spend being shaped by the school she attends. If that school is shaping that student to believe there is no God — that two plus two equals four because of a blind, random, and pitiless universe that we are just lucky to be a part of — then Christian parents must work doubly hard to undo and correct that. This by definition is a house divided. Why would Christian parents hand over their most precious gifts that God has given them to steward, to a place that shapes them to reject Him? Why would we then say, “Well, we have a good home life and they go to youth group, so it will balance out.” This is insanity. And then Christian parents are shocked when their teen comes home from their freshman year at college and renounces the faith. We shouldn’t be shocked, what we sow we reap.
Again, Christ warns us of this:
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and dispise the other.”Matthew 6:30a ESV
Salt Must Be Salty
By major statistical surveys (Pew, Barna, etc.) the number of teens who reject Christ after high school is around 80%. One master is winning, and that is our fault. It goes deeper then that. Christians look around at our culture and say, “What happened?” We see the destruction of our morality, our politics, our culture. We see the abandonment of reason and logic for whomever can emote the most and the loudest. We have college students who can’t handle an argument that opposes them so they use force to kick such speakers off campus. We are being told that a boy can be a girl and a girl can be a boy. We have watched marriage completely crash and burn along with the destruction of the family unit. Where were the seeds in all of this? Education. Paideia. Christian parents and the church have abdicated to the state in the education of children, and like a frog that doesn’t notice the kettle is getting hot we are now shocked to see boiling water.
I spent seven years as a youth pastor. I became a youth pastor because I sensed, rather than understood, that there was a paideia problem. I was ignorant. I saw the fruit of the poison tree but not the root. I thought the youth pastor position existed to address it.
Most of my experience in youth ministry revolved around the idea that one could address this enculturation problem with student missionaries. Many parents go right along with this idea and use it as an excuse to keep their kids in government schools. “We are training them to be salt and light.” That is the way the story goes. I once was a believer in this. I’ve tried in real life. It is a terrible idea.
After the games and the lights-and-show worship experience, a youth pastor would get say twenty to thirty minutes to try and conform students to the truth of God’s word. That is if that youth pastor is a competent preacher. Most of the youth ministry show is not counter-cultural. It is an imitation of the world. The strategy is to look at how the world is shaping students and throw some Jesus in. See guys! Following Jesus can be cool, hip, and fun too! This fails for two reasons. 1. The world is always better at doing worldly things than Christians are. 2. God did not give the role of shaping the hearts of minds of students to twenty-one year old youth pastors who have no children and no theological training. He gave it to parents. He gave it explicitly to fathers. Using the excuse, from a youth pastor or a parent, that students are being trained in youth ministries to be salt and light is a farce. It is just another veiled abdication.
Going deeper on this for a second, how can students be trained thirty minutes a week to be salt and light in a school that is shaping them thirty-five hours of that week? By sheer air-time, the school wins. Second, who in their right mind thinks a twelve year old knows how to be a missionary? Would we use the same logic and send our twelve year old to the Chinese mission field? Adult missionaries train for years, after they have already been theologically educated, to be missionaries. Like a soldier who has been drilled for battle is a missionary being trained to seek and save the lost. That doesn’t describe an eight grader. It doesn’t describe most seniors today. Jesus again reminds us.
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”Matthew 5:13-16 ESV
By in large, evangelical youth ministries produce unsalty salt. By in large the student missionary tactic succumbs to the paideia of the government schools. When 80% of your missionary workers defect to the other team, something is seriously wrong.
The pure cut and dry fact is this: Christian parents have abdicated their God given authority to train up their children in the way they should go. We have given our kids over to the paideia of the government schools and we need to leave. The “Boomer” generation may throw in here: “I went to public school and I turned out alright.” Or even they may say, “I sent my kids to public school and they turned out alright.” That may true, and praise God. But the speed with which things have changed, just in the past few years, is insane. That speed is only accelerating. The day is fast coming near where state curriculums will be required to teach the gospel of the sexual revolution… along with materialism, evolution, post-modernism, secularism, social marxism, etc. In many states it is already in the pipe line. Those of you who have scoffed at my arguments and have made it this far, let me leave you with a question. What will it take for you to leave? What is the line for you? Now ask yourself, why have you put up with so much to draw the line there? Is it the parameters of Scripture that is answering that question, or is it how much you are willing to tolerate?