Christian Education

Christian education is rooted in Scripture. From its beginning the religion of the Bible has gone hand in hand with teaching. Parental responsibility for youth, the supreme worth of persons, the obligation to develop personal capabilities, the motivating power of love, the necessity of literacy, the unity of all truth in God-these and other principles basic to Christian education have biblical sources. Christianity is par excellence a teaching religion, and the story of its growth is largely an educational one.

In the Old Testament, education begins with God (Exod. 4:12), who continues to teach His people (Ps. 32:8; Isa. 48:17; Jer. 32:33). And early in His dealing with Israel, God makes parents responsible for teaching their children about Him, as the great educational principle the Jews call the Shema (Deut. 6:4-9) shows. Until the Exile, home and school were one. Parents were the teachers, except for special cases such as tutors for the royal family (2 Kings 10:1-5). Adults learned from priests and Levites, and also from the prophets. Along with their religious training, sons were taught a trade by their fathers; daughters learned household arts from their mothers. Both sexes were taught to read. Thus Hebrew education combined the two essentials of learning and doing.

The rise of the synagogue during the Exile and the growing importance of the scribes as teachers after Ezra had redirected attention to the Law (Neh. 8-10) led to expansion of Hebrew education. The synagogue was primarily a center for instructing the people in the Scriptures, and the Scribes became the professional students of the Law. The instruction of younger children, however, remained in parental hands until about 75 b.c., when elementary education, given either in the teacher's house or in the synagogue, became compulsory. The ordinary name for the elementary school was “house of the book,” for the Scriptures were the only textbook. It is in its devotion to the Word of God and its relation to life that ancient Hebrew education has relevance for Christian education in modern times. Not only are the Torah (Pentateuch) and the Book of Proverbs the oldest educational handbooks, but the entire OT stands along with the NT as the chief sourcebook for an authentically Christian education. First century. In keeping with its OT roots, Christianity is a teaching religion. Its Founder is by common consent acknowledged as the greatest of all teachers. In His ministry, teaching occupied a place second only to His work of redemption. His great commission (Matt. 28:18-20) obligates His followers to “teach all nations,” and it was through the apostolic ministry, especially that of Paul and his colleagues, that the infant church grew.

The first Christian churches met in homes (Rom. 16:3-5; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Philem. 2). Christian parents undoubtedly taught their children, and the church meetings fulfilled a teaching as well as worship function, as shown in the reference to “pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:11) in Paul's list of the gifts of the Spirit, and the many allusions in his epistles (e.g., Rom. 12:7; Col. 3:16; 1 Tim. 3:2; 2 Tim. 2:2). Of great and continuing significance are the two elements in the NT kerygma (proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ) and didachem (moral and social teaching based on the proclamation). These are organically related, the kerygma providing dynamic motivation for the didachem and being itself a form of teaching. It is evident that Christian education, though not carried on in separate schools, went on in the first-century church, which, without its unremitting faithfulness in proclaiming the Gospel and teaching the Word, would not have grown. Patristic age. As Christianity spread, patterns of more formal education developed. Early in the second century, the catechumenate (instruction in the Scriptures, worship, Christian conduct, etc.) began as preparation of adults for baptism and membership in the Christian fellowship. Depsite the persecutions prior to the reign of Constantine, it continued-in some places until the fifth or sixth century. One of the earliest Christian schools was founded in Alexandria about a.d. 190 (see Alexandrian Theology); others developed at Caesarea, Antioch, Edessa, and Nisibis. At the catechetical schools not only was thorough instruction in the Scriptures given, but Greek philosophy (aside from Epicureanism), literature, grammar, rhetoric, science, and other subjects could be studied. Thus a relationship in education between Christianity and classical learning began. Augustine* indeed wrote: “Every good and true Christian should understand that wherever he may find truth, it is his Lord's.” Others, notably Tertullian,* who said, “What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem . . . we want no curious disputation after possessing Jesus,” had repudiated classical learning; and Jerome* wrote of Latin literature, “How can Horace go with the psalter, Virgil with the gospels, Cicero with the apostle?”

During the Dark Ages, the alliance between Christianity and classical learning was drastically obscured but not obliterated. The barbarian invasions were largely responsible for the decline of the public schools of grammar and rhetoric, which, though formerly prevalent throughout the Roman Empire, were by the sixth century practically gone. The church, in which distrust of pagan learning was strong, began to step into the gap and, for the next thousand years and more, dominated education. Education for the people was generally in eclipse during the Dark Ages. Learning flourished, however, in some monasteries, especially in Ireland, where from the sixth to the eighth centuries there was a genuine intellectual resurgence of learning. Also, after the disappearance of the public schools of grammar and rhetoric, the bishops established schools for training clergy. These began to teach grammar as well as theology, and as time passed reached out to some of the laity. Probably the first such schools were in England. Still, education for the people was almost nonexistent. About this time, certain kings began to foster education. Most notable of them was Charlemagne* (742-814), who made Alcuin,* a former head of the school at York in England, his education minister. Scholasticism. In the period of the Schoolmen (ninth century to the end of the fourteenth century) there came a rediscovery of Greek philosophy, particularly that of Aristotle.* During the peak of Scholasticism, Thomas Aquinas* in his Summa Theologiae reconciled Aristotelian philosophy with the historic Christian faith. And with the rise of Scholasticism and the concurrent development toward the end of the twelfth century of the universities-Bologna, Paris, Oxford, and (somewhat later) Cambridge-Europe emerged from the Dark Ages. The Reformation brought a new day for education. Two of its principles-the full authority of Scripture and the priesthood of the believer-served as a catalyst for developments that changed the face of education. The former principle made education mandatory, so all might read the Word of God (a motivation akin to that of ancient Hebrew education); the latter shifted the responsibility for education from the priestly hierarchy to the people. Luther, Calvin, Melanchthon, and other leading Reformers were scholars of the first rank and saw the strategic importance of Christian education. Luther had a medieval rather than a humanistic (in the Renaissance sense) education. But he worked closely with the Christian humanist Melanchthon, who not only “provided the foundation for the evangelical school system of Germany” but also “put into the curricula of his schools, especially the higher schools, those subjects which would contribute most to an understanding of the Scriptures” (C.L. Manschreck). His concept of correlating the curriculum with the Scriptures points to the effort to integrate biblical faith and learning which has become a major concern for evangelical educators in our times.

The effects of the Reformation upon education reached beyond Germany to Switzerland, Scandinavia, England, and other lands. From Geneva, Calvin's powerful influence led to a burgeoning of Christian schools in France, the Netherlands, and Scotland. In England the Christian humanism of men like Grocyn, Linacre, Erasmus, Colet, and Ascham had profoundly affected education there, and when England and its schools and universities became Protestant this influence continued. In seventeenth-century England, the Reformed faith affected education through Puritanism.

In Comenius,* “the founder of modern educational theory,” the Reformation bore some of its most enduring educational fruits. This Moravian bishop, who was an evangelical Christian, “stands in education in the direct line of succession from Luther” (William Boyd). Thus for him the Bible was the supreme authority and norm for all knowledge. There are elements in the teaching of Comenius that relate to the present-day emphasis in Christian educational philosophy upon the unity of all truth in God. Although this article deals primarily with Protestant Christian education, it should be noted that through the Council of Trent* (with its reaction to the Reformation), the Reformation affected Roman Catholic education, as Loyola and his followers took into the Jesuit schools ideas borrowed from such places as Geneva and Strasbourg. The modern period. With the founding of the colonies in the seventeenth century, the impetus given education by the Reformation came to America. Here the influence of Calvin through the Puritans in New England and through the Dutch colonists was strong, though not exclusive (e.g., the Church of England also had its effect on education, though it too reflected Calvinistic influences). Up to the end of the eighteenth century, all schools and colleges in America (with the exception of the University of Pennsylvania, which though nonsectarian was not hostile to Christianity) had roots in evangelical Christianity, and the same was true for most of them until the beginning of public education in the nineteenth century.

Broadly speaking, it may be said that almost the whole of education in the Western world from the first until the nineteenth century was in one way or another Christian. But with the rise of rationalism and the French Enlightenment at the close of the eighteenth century, a shift toward secularism began. In America the roots of democracy were not only Calvinistic but Deistic, as in such leaders as Franklin and Jefferson. Here the principle of separation of church and state, laid down in the First Amendment to the Constitution, has gradually led to the exclusion of religious training and practices from public education through various decisions of the Supreme Court.* On the other hand, private schools and private colleges and universities flourish in the United States and are permitted to have complete programs of Christian education, provided that educational standards are maintained. Whether the wall of separation between church and state will in all respects remain intact is questionable, as in a time of rising costs pressures mount for federal aid to private (especially Roman Catholic) education. In England and Scotland, however, and in other countries where there is an established church, some Christian teaching continues in state schools. Yet the winds of secularism are blowing there also.

Among evangelicals in the United States, Christian elementary, secondary, and higher education has had a remarkable resurgence, particularly since about 1920. During this time, existing institutions have been strengthened and many new ones founded. Christian liberal arts colleges, theological seminaries, and both parent-controlled and parish-controlled day schools (elementary as well as secondary) have multiplied. Noteworthy has been the development of Bible institutes and Bible colleges, about two hundred being founded since the 1880s (of these, many have begun during the last five decades). These Christian institutions constitute nothing less than a new educational genre and represent one of America's distinctive contributions to Christian education.

There are, however, aspects of Christian education other than those having to do with school and college. Some of these, such as the relation of Christian education to the home and to the local church, have already been touched upon in the discussion of education in OT times and in the first-century church. Nothing that has happened in the long history of education has excused Christian parents from their primary responsibility, grounded in Scripture, for Christian training in their homes. Yet it must be said that in a day of pervasive secularism when homes are invaded by television and the mass media, their effectiveness as essential agents of Christian nurture is being eroded. Not even the development of strong evangelical schools and colleges or the renewal of the Sunday school or church school (as it is sometimes called) can make up for parental defection from their educational responsibility. The Sunday school. In the historical development of Christian education the Sunday school is a comparative newcomer. It began with Robert Raikes,* and the movement rapidly gained ground in Britain and within a few years spread to America. Until about 1815, Sunday schools in the United States were attended mostly by children of the poor, and centered, along with Christian teaching, on dispelling illiteracy. After that date, the Sunday school became an educational arm of the evangelical Protestant churches. The length of the sessions was shortened, teaching was voluntary rather than paid, and pupils represented all social backgrounds and ages. The aim became more exclusively that of conversion and Bible teaching, and Sunday schools served as feeders for the churches. Growth was widespread not only in Britain and the United States but elsewhere, and in 1889 the First World Sunday School Convention was held in London. Subsequent developments, such as the establishment of Uniform Lessons, the shift to separate denominational and independent curricula, the relation of the movement to the International Council of Religious Education, which became part of the National Council of Christian Churches in the USA, need not be detailed here. It is, however, important to note that during the past five decades tensions respecting the Sunday schools have developed between evangelicals and more liberal Protestants. These led to the establishment in 1945 of the evangelically oriented National Sunday School Association and have led also to the development of certain independent and theologically conservative curricula.

Through the years, Sunday schools have grown until their pupils in the United States have totalled annually well up in the tens of millions, yet growth has not been without fluctuations. From 1926 to 1947 there was a decline, followed by a definite recovery which went on until about 1960, when a loss of enrollment in the American Sunday school set in. This has chiefly affected the Sunday schools of larger, mainline denominations and has reached drastic proportions. Ironically these denominations have invested millions of dollars in new Sunday school curricula, but the downward trend has not been reversed. Independent evangelical publishers have also been active in publishing new curricula (generally more biblical and Gospel-centered than the mainline denominational materials). For the Sunday schools of conservative evangelical churches-either those affiliated with larger denominations or with smaller bodies and independent churches-the enrollment situation is different. Here, while in some areas there has been decline, in others there has been marked growth. On the whole, the evangelical Sunday school has been holding its own and even showing a slight gain. Nevertheless, it is evident that in the period of revolutionary social changes during the latter part of the twentieth century the Sunday school is in serious trouble. This is true on the British as well as the American scene, so much so that the yearbooks of some of the major denominations no longer carry statistics on Sunday school work. The Church of Scotland, where the work has been strong in the past, has seen Sunday school numbers decline from close to half-a-million in 1901 to less than half that figure in 1971.

For many years, students of Christian education have recognized such problems of the Protestant Sunday school as the inadequacy of the weekly teaching period of an hour or less as compared with the time spent on secular education, the difficulties of teacher recruitment and preparation, the frequent ineffectiveness of teaching, the lack of adult Christian education in the churches, and the general failure of the Sunday school to communicate a coherent knowledge of the Bible and the elements of Christian truth. “The typical Christian of our time,” says J.D. Smart, “however noble his character is, is unable to speak one intelligent word on behalf of his faith.” Other agencies of Christian education. The dramatic slippage of the Sunday school in numbers and influence has led some to question the continuing usefulness of this form of Christian education, which in the past has contributed so much to the church and society. In a time of radical change in attitudes of youth that often carries with it a reaction against organized religion, churches are venturing into new ways of ministering to young people. These include coffee houses, social action groups that work among the underprivileged, and contemporary music as a means of communicating with youth. Such para-church agencies as Daily Vacation Bible Schools, Christian camps, Youth for Christ, Young Life, Child Evangelism, Scripture Union (for college and university students), Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, Campus Crusade for Christ, and International Students continue to do effective work and are adapting to changing conditions without blunting their evangelical thrust. The triennial conventions of the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship at Urbana, Illinois (17,000 students attended the 1976 convention), Explo-'72, at which 85,000 youth met at Dallas, Texas, under the sponsorship of Campus Crusade for Christ, and the Jesus Movement (despite its vagaries) show that young people today respond to the evangelical presentation of Christ with a remarkable openness and readiness. This must be met by more effective Christian nurture through new forms of Christian education together with renewal and revision of older forms such as the Sunday school.

An aspect of education relating to the Bible concerns the American public school, from which formal worship (devotional Bible reading and prayer) have been excluded by judicial decision. Yet the same decision that did this approved the study of the Bible as literature in public schools. Accordingly Christian groups are promoting such Bible study on the ground that, while it can be neither doctrinal nor sectarian, the reading and study of portions of Scripture as great literature are not futile. The Word of God does not return to Him void, and when it is studied even under secular restrictions its spiritual power cannot be bound. The centrality of the Bible. Whatever methods are employed in Christian education, it remains indissolubly united with the Bible. In the continuing concern for Christian education, the vital place of the pastor is too often overlooked. Pastors are called to be teachers as well as preachers (cf. Paul's reference in Eph. 4:11). The pastor who never expounds the Word of God from the pulpit has a truncated ministry. Biblically illiterate laity reflect the lack of expository preaching. No amount of topical preaching, no matter how inspirational, can build up the people of God in the knowledge of the Bible essential to spiritual growth. The incomparable educational resource of the church is the Word of God. When the Word has been truly and faithfully taught, Christian education has flourished; when it has been lost sight of and obscured, Christian education has waned; when it has been rediscovered, as in the Reformation, Christian education has been revived. This is the lesson of history. Therefore one of the most hopeful developments in the latter part of this twentieth century is the outburst of new and contemporary Bible translations and the opening of the Roman Catholic Church to Bible reading and study.

Nowhere has the educating power of the Bible been more potent than in missions.* Through the translation of the Scriptures in whole or in part into over 1,300 different languages and dialects, the door to literacy has been opened for millions who would otherwise have remained in intellectual and spiritual ignorance. No survey of Christian education can be complete without recognition of the missionary movement in which the teaching of the Bible and the establishment of schools has had a major part on an ecumenical scale reaching beyond the Western world to every continent and the farthest islands of the seas.

F.P. Graves, A Student's History of Education (1921); S. Leeson, Christian Education (1947); E.P. Cubberly, The History of Education (1948); L. Cole, A History of Education (1950); J.D. Smart, The Teaching Ministry of the Church (1954); F.E. Gaebelein, The Pattern of God's Truth (1954); P. Le Fevre, The Christian Teacher (1958); C.L. Manschrek, Melanchthon: The Quiet Reformer (1958); M.J. Taylor, Religious Education (1960); K.B. Cully, The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Education (1963); J.E. Hakes, An Introduction to Evangelical Christian Education (1964); C.B. Eavey, A History of Christian Education (1964).