Lecture 4: Why?
I. Why Engage in Christian Education?
Let us look first at the why question. Why we teach concerns our overall concept or conception of the teaching ministry of the church. A lot of people in Christian education would probably believe that we need to start with the how question; how to teach, how do we do it. We need to have a clear concept as to what it is that we are aiming at. This is why we get to the why question. One writer said that we would understand the how of life if we knew the why. We can figure out the how question much more easily if we have a clear understanding of the why.
A. To Make Disciples:
So, why do we teach? One key passage that we have already looked at is from Matthew 28:18-20, Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” We teach all that Jesus has commanded in order to make disciples. Disciple means follower or learner and so Christians are to be learners; continually learning from Jesus and following him. Their aim is to be like their master, like their Lord. A legitimate goal as to the why of Christian education, we teach to make disciples. There are also a number of other biblical terms that can help us understand what that means.
B. For Christian Formation:
A key term that I would like to introduce is the biblical term, formation. There is a wonderful way Paul uses to describe the goal of the Christian life and that is to say that all Christians are to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus Christ. We know this for example from Romans chapter 8:29, for those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. Many Christians are familiar with Romans 8:28 and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. The explanation of this verse is found in verse 29 and 30. The passage goes on to say that we know that all of this is true because, for those who God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his son, that he would be the first born among many brothers and sisters. Those who he predestined, he also called and thus, justified and glorified. How do we know that all things work together for good and what does good really mean? This is answered in Romans 8:29. Good is that we would be conformed to the image of his son, Jesus. We can know that this will happen because God has predetermined that every Christian will be conformed into that likeness. So, God’s goal for all believers is to be formed into the likeness of Jesus Christ. The Greek root behind the word formed is the Greek word, morfey. This was used by Paul in different ways. In Romans 8:29, it is conformed, make like or conformed into the image of Jesus. Romans 12:2, a very familiar passage, says that because in our present reality, we are not conformed to Jesus as we ought to be, we need to be transformed into his likeness.
Romans chapter 12:2 says that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. This word transformed from Greek is metamorphosis. We are literally transformed from something that we are to be something totally other. And because we haven’t achieved the goal, we need to be transformed. One of the legitimate goals of Christian Education then is to help people to be transformed into the likeness of Jesus. This is by having their minds renewed through an encounter with the truth. Paul uses the same word, the same form, transformation in 2nd Corinthians 3:18 as we are contemplating the glory of the Lord, we are transformed into his likeness from glory to glory by the power of the Holy Spirit. So, transformation is required until we are conformed to the image of his son. Another text regarding formation is Galatians 4:19. Paul says here that he is in pains of labor, a second time, for the Galatians. He says that I am in labor pains for you until Christ is being formed in you. It is taking the idea of formation and putting it in a different angle. Whereas the other text speaks about us being formed in Christ likeness, this text speaks about Christ being formed in us. All of these texts should not be read in terms just of the individual, but in terms of the Christian community. In Christian education, we not only aim to see individuals transformed into the likeness of Jesus, but also communities transformed into the likeness of Jesus.
So, Christian formation is a beautiful goal. In many respects I like this term as an alternative to Christian Education. Formation is a biblical term as it also describes the goal of being formed into the likeness of Jesus. It keeps process and goal before our eyes in a biblical way. I prefer Christian formation to the term spiritual formation. Spiritual formation is too vague; a lot of people use spiritual formation often when they have something beside a Christian vision in mind. Spiritual formation is also potentially too specific as if it is only the spirit of people that we want to be transformed when we are concerned, we as the whole person being formed into the likeness of Jesus. So, we will look at ways to describe the why question. In Matthew 28, it says that we teach in order to make disciples. We teach unto Christian formation.
C. For Completion in Christ Jesus:
A third kind of phrasing that we could use; we teach unto completion in Jesus. Paul uses this concept to describe the goal of his teaching ministry and all-of-his ministry actually in a passage like Colossians 1:28 where it says, ‘he is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.’ So Paul labors to present everyone perfect or complete in Christ. This is sometimes rendered mature in Christ which is another way of answering the why question. The Greek word translated perfectly or completely is teleion which can mean perfect, mature or complete. I probably would prefer the word complete to render this Greek word. Paul uses this word in Colossians 1:28 and elsewhere in the New Testament to speak about being made complete. Paul wouldn’t suggest that any Christian is made complete in the fuller sense, this side of eternity. In Philippian’s 3, he says that he is not perfected yet. He presses on to that goal as he wanted to be complete in Christian. He longed to be complete and perfect in Christ. This is the same goal we all should have as believers for ourselves and this is the goal we should have as we seek to disciple and teach other people. We want them to be complete and mature and perfect in Christ. For his goal we labor with all the energy that God supplies in us. Paul uses the same verb in Ephesians 4:13 saying, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. In this, he describes his goal for the church by working together and laboring together and speaking the truth in love to one another. Colossians 1:28 is the goal for everyone, every individual Christian but Ephesians 4:13 shows that it is also a goal for the community. The body needs to be complete.
So, what does it mean to be complete in Christ? This is difficult to answer in such brief time, but I would like to suggest that it is to become completely functioning Christians in a completely functioning body of Christ. That we would be thoroughly equipped and outfitted for our appointed work and task. When Paul uses the word complete in Ephesian 4, this seems to be the sense in which he is using it. He longs for the day when the church is able to fully function as the body of Christ in the world. This is to be able to fulfil its appointed task. The same word that is used by Paul to describe his goal for Christians in churches is used by the author of Hebrews in chapter 2 to describe Jesus. This might be a surprising passage for us, but in Hebrews 2:10, the author says that Jesus, the one who would save and make us holy was made perfect and complete through what he suffered. He was made teleion through the things he suffered. It might sound very strange to evangelical ears to suggest that Jesus had to be made perfect or complete, but as Hebrew chapter 2 unfolds, it becomes clear what the author means. It means that Jesus was completely outfitted and equipped for his task as high priest and redeemer and sacrifice for our sins. He had to suffer in order to be a merciful and sympathetic high priest; he had to suffer incarnation, taking on human flesh and die on a cross in order to be our redeemer. In Hebrews 2, the sense of complete, Jesus being made complete seems to me that he had to be completely fitted for his job. Paul seems to use it in this sense in Ephesians 4 in speaking about the church being outfitted to be the body of Christ. We could think the same for individual Christians. So part of what it means to be complete in Christ; we will be Christians who will do the good works that God has created us to do.
As we think about the goals of Christian Education and why do we teach; this reminds us that it isn’t only people personally experiencing peace with God or experiencing some level of personal piety, but when we speak about teaching, we want people to truly become the servants of God that they were created to be. To be part of the body of Christ as they are created to be; this is so that we can do the good works that Ephesians 2:10 talks about, that which we were created in Christ Jesus to do.
D. Unto Salvation:
Ephesians 2 is a helpful place to turn next. Another way to look at why we teach is introduced in verses 8-10: for it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Many Christians have memorized 2:8-9. Another way of expressing why we teach would be to say that we teach unto salvation. First, we teach in order to make disciples, for Christian formation, for completeness in Christ. We can say the same thing by saying that we teach unto salvation. Now, we need to understand salvation in the full biblical sense, otherwise this may seem like a confusing idea. Would not working unto salvation be more properly the task of evangelist in the church, not the task of Christian educators? Well, yes and no; it is the task of all of us. In our common Christian talk, we have reduced the word salvation to a synonym to being born again; coming into that initial state of faith. This is not the whole picture of salvation in the Bible. Biblical salvation is much bigger term than simply a synonym for being born again. Salvation embraces certainly our new birth and also the ongoing experience of sanctification and the ultimate experience of becoming just like Jesus. When we read through the biblical terminology of salvation, sometimes salvation is spoken of in the past tense. For by grace you have been saved through faith. In other New Testament passages, it is spoken of in the future tense. For example Romans 13:11 says that we should wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. I suspect for a lot of Christians, this is a very strange verse. When I first believed, I was led to think that I had gotten all the salvation that I would ever have.
Paul clearly uses salvation as a future tense experience; it is ahead, it is waiting and nearer to us. Peter speaks in the same kind of language in 1st Peter 1 when he speaks of the salvation that is kept in heaven reserved for us, ready to be revealed in the last days. There is a salvation that is waiting for us than what the Bible speaks of in using salvation in that sense. The full experience of salvation happened when we are exactly conformed into the likeness of Jesus. The whole person will be completely saved. We could possible uses the theological word, glorification from Romans 8:30. We could also use the term justification to speak about our salvation experience in the past. We have been justified; we shall be glorified; two aspects of our salvation. A third aspect of our salvation would be to consider it in the present tense. We could use the theological term sanctification to help describe this. This is an all familiar triad in theology in regards to the doctrine of salvation or soteriology as it is called. We speak about justification, sanctification and glorification as three aspects of our salvation experience. Sanctification is about the ongoing work of salvation as the Bible sometimes speaks of. For example, Philippians 2:12-13: continue to work out your salvation from verse 12 with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you for his will and purpose. Not only should we say that we have been saved, but we should also be able to save. Thank God that one day I will be perfectly saved and even now we can say God is saving me by making me more like Jesus.
Another way to perhaps complicate the picture; even when we speak about sanctification in a lot of Christian circles, sometimes this is reduced to personal holiness or piety. It is much broader than that. If sanctification is about becoming like Jesus, then it isn’t only about becoming personally pious. What does it mean to be like Jesus? Jesus was holy and righteous and just and true and personally obedient to God. It is about personally loving the Word of God and devoted to prayer. When we carefully read the Gospels, we are overwhelmed with the fact that Jesus was also committed to loving his neighbor. He was a person of deep compassion; a friend of sinners. He was a healer of hurting and broken and the sick and the lame and the dying. In Luke chapter 4, it says that Jesus came to preach good news to the poor and to bring deliverance to the captives. Jesus was a doer of good works in the truest since of the word. When we speak about sanctification or our present experiences of salvation, it isn’t about becoming more holy. It is about becoming loving for our neighbors. It is becoming more righteous, more just and more compassionate and merciful people. That is also a part of salvation.
It is important that we memorize Ephesians 2:10 along with Ephesians 2:8 and 9. Ephesians 10 and 11 tells us that works are important in the Christian life. Yes, we are saved apart from works but we are saved in order to do good works which God created us to do. God saves us from not only from salvation and heaven, but he saves us in order that we may do the good works that were created to do. This is absolutely critical to our understanding of salvation. In other words, Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us what we have been saved from and how we have been saved, but Ephesians 2:10 tell us what we have been saved for. We have been saved to do good works; to love our neighbors and bring glory to God. Christian Education would not even be necessary at all if salvation only meant new birth. If that is all salvation means, we don’t need Christian educators; we simply need evangelists. Or we could say that Christian education is only about teaching the Gospel so that people come to faith. But, because salvation embraces the whole process of becoming like Jesus, Christian Education is necessary. I would urge our churches to really argue for a fuller use of the word salvation. A lot of churches use the term sanctification as they are familiar with the term, but it isn’t treated as an aspect of our salvation, it becomes an intriguing option for some that they may explore. It isn’t an option but instead part of our salvation experience and that is why Christian Education is necessary.
A brief overview of the why question: why do we teach? We teach to make disciples in Jesus, for Christian formation so that people will be transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ according to God’s purposes. We teach so that people will be complete in Jesus Christ and become mature and perfect in Christ so that they will be fully functioning Christians which they need to be in order to experience salvation biblically. We teach unto salvation teaching unto new birth and personal piety and unto completeness for the sake of doing good works for which God has prepares for us to do. So, this is a biblical overview for reasons why teach. We could certainly fill that up with host of other biblically passages.