The Abandonment of Biblical Education

I’ve been cataloging the biggest failures of the church in our day, beginning with a watered-down salvation message, then on to our lack of renewed minds when it comes to putting the faith into practice, allowing worldly thinking to dominate. There’s one more leg on the three-legged stool of failure—the abandonment of Biblical education.

In early America, most education was centered in the church or home, and the lion’s share of the home-schooled portion of society was Christian also. That began to change in the middle of the nineteenth century when people came up with the idea of placing responsibility for education in the hands of the state. One group that eagerly sought this was the Unitarians; they continued to call themselves Christians, but they denied the deity of Christ, didn’t consider the Bible to be divinely inspired, and explained away Biblical accounts of the supernatural. Unitarians wanted to remove education from the control of the orthodox, put the state in charge, and include only the behavioral aspect of Christianity in the teaching. Moral lessons divorced from their eternal base.

Massachusetts was the first state to move toward a top-down, centralized system. The first secretary of the board of education in that state was a Unitarian named Horace Mann, who endorsed the typical Unitarian vision that the “proper” education would yield good citizens. In fact, Mann was so enamored of this vision that he honestly believed the common school system [as it was called then] was the greatest innovation in the history of the world. He was absolutely rapturous in his prediction that if a common school system could be established it would wipe out 90% of all the crime in society. The irony today is that 90% of crimes now are perpetrated in the government schools.

Another group that wanted to put the government in charge was an incipient socialist/communist movement at that time. Disappointed that their utopian commune fell apart because Americans had an attachment to private property, this group formed a political party—the Workingman’s Party—for the express purpose of establishing government-controlled schools where they hoped they could influence the curriculum to teach communist principles. Whereas Unitarians could take control in Massachusetts at least, this group was less successful and couldn’t achieve its goal.

However, the common school idea eventually spread throughout the nation, state by state, primarily because of a third group that also wanted to create a government-controlled environment conducive to its particular beliefs. That third group was the evangelicals of the era. Dismayed by the perceived threat of Catholic immigration, they wanted to diffuse Protestantism through a system that would be forced on everyone. By taking this route, they violated Biblical principles. They used the government to achieve their purpose rather than voluntary means.

For a while, it seemed to work to their advantage because they were the dominant group in society. Over time, though, as an educational establishment drifted away from Biblical underpinnings, that top-down system was turned against Protestant views. Probably the most influential educator of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century was John Dewey, a signer of the Humanist Manifesto who developed an educational philosophy that dismissed any concept of God and eternal right and wrong. Dewey also helped move education toward experiential learning that downplayed strong academics, and he pushed what we now call socialization as the primary purpose of education. A convinced socialist and atheist, Dewey became the Father of Progressive Education; his disciples filled the education schools throughout the nation.

Slowly at first, but with increasing speed throughout the first decades of the twentieth century, Biblical teaching was either relegated to the periphery or eliminated. Some like to point to the Supreme Court decisions of the 1960s as the start of the decline in public [government] education because prayer and Bible reading were tossed out. Closer to the truth is that those decisions were the culmination of what had been happening for many years. The prayer that was considered unconstitutional wasn’t even specifically Christian. And the fact that it was a government-sponsored prayer allowed the Court to say it was a violation of the First Amendment.

All those various court cases and the controversies they have spawned are the result of turning education over to the government. If we had kept it in the private sphere, there would have been no court decisions and everyone would have been free to teach as they chose.

This system the evangelicals helped to set up continues to educate from 85-90% of all American children. It is now, by and large, antagonistic to Christian beliefs. That’s not universally true, and I appreciate all dedicated Christians who feel called to work in that system as a witness. But it’s getting harder with each passing year to have any freedom to be what God calls us to be in those circumstances. Religious liberty is being squeezed ever more tightly.

Evangelicals, since the 1970s, have started a lot of Christian schools. Many have done a fine job, but others teach little differently than the public schools, adding only chapels and prayer at the beginning of the day. Sometimes they even bow to the state system of accreditation, thereby losing their uniqueness and their distinct Christian calling.

There are many evangelical colleges and universities, but I know far too well from personal experience that a mighty battle wages in each of them for the integrity of the Biblical worldview. Who teaches in these colleges and universities? Professors who had to receive their doctorates from state universities. All too often, they imbibe the worldview of their mentors and pass that on to their students. They may be Christians, but they don’t necessarily teach from Biblical principles. One of the biggest disappointments expressed by students in Christian colleges is that they don’t always feel like they’re getting anything much different from what they would have received in a secular setting.

I don’t want to over-generalize, but I have seen firsthand how difficult it is to keep an evangelical institution from straying from its Biblical roots. History, political science, psychology, and social work programs often are just as liberal and secularized in a Christian college as anywhere else. This liberalization even touches theology departments as Marxist social justice perspectives are incorporated.

Overall, we’re doing a miserable job of communicating Biblical truth in our education. The state schools are almost bereft of it; Christian schools too readily succumb to the desire to be respected by the world, so they discard their strong Biblical message and sell out for the honor of being “recognized” according to the world’s standards.

It’s no accident that homeschooling has made a comeback in our time. Many parents are once again taking control of their children’s education. The threat, though, is that government will not like any deviation from its educational plans. Faithful Christian schools and colleges, and dedicated homeschoolers, may be in for a hard time in the next few years. Obamacare already has laid the groundwork for a frontal attack. Withstanding this attack and others will call for commitment. This will be a test of the genuineness of our Christianity.

Will we pass the test?

Biblical Consistency & the Renewed Mind

Yesterday’s post singled out the most foundational problem in the church today—a weak/falsified salvation message. Today, I turn to the problem of the misapplication of the faith, either by lack of knowledge or the adoption of ideologies that contradict Biblical principles. I want to be clear that many of the people I am referring to today may actually be sincere Christians, but uninformed or led astray by ideas that sound good on the surface but are inconsistent with Biblical truth.

When we become Christians, we begin the process of getting our thoughts straightened out. That process doesn’t occur all at once. A key Scriptural passage with respect to this is found in Romans 12:

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

This passage reminds us that we must continually present ourselves for God’s service; it’s not a one-time thing. It then goes on to tell us not to think the way the world does, but to have renewed minds—in other words, we may have to, in certain areas, start again from scratch in our thinking, and make sure it lines up with God’s truth. The word translated “transformed” is the same Greek word used when Jesus is on the Mount of Transfiguration, when the disciples see Him in all His glory for a few moments. That same kind of transformation must take place in our minds, and it’s only by way of this transformation that we’ll have any idea what God’s will may be. If we approach everything from our old way of thinking, we will miss God’s will and adopt practices contrary to what He wants.

Some of the most disturbing examples of this are found in the lives of those who claim the Christian faith yet are barely troubled by the moral trends in our society. For instance, how can a genuine Christian not stand firm against abortion? Yet there are voices in the church world who downplay the significance of this “legal” practice. It’s usually those same voices who see no problem with homosexuality and same-sex marriage. They have been swayed by the world’s logic in these areas; they accept the “discrimination” argument with respect to homosexuality, comparing it to discrimination based on race. They swallow the explanation that some people are just born that way, that God made them to be homosexual, so it cannot be a sin.

By taking these stances, one becomes allied with organizations such as Planned Parenthood, which are militantly anti-Christian. That, by itself, should give pause and lead to some rethinking.

When it comes to abortion, they may say they don’t like it, but that it’s not as important as helping the poor. Their gospel comes dangerously close to a purely social gospel that seeks to take care of material needs while relegating the salvation of the individual to a secondary status. If they have integrated a Marxist worldview into their theology, they see Jesus as more of a liberator in this life than the One who sets us free from our sins.

What I’ve discovered about those who hold to these views is their total lack of understanding of the Biblical principles of governance in civil society. They don’t grasp the importance of the rule of law, which puts everyone on the same plane before the law and guarantees the protection of God-given rights. To them, following documents such as the Constitution seems outmoded; guided more by their emotions than Biblical thinking, they just want the government to do whatever they deem necessary to take care of needs.

They also have little comprehension of the Biblical principles that undergird economics. Moved by emotion once again, they believe the government should just spend lavishly to meet every need and take whatever it needs from its citizens to accomplish the task. I’m not sure the national debt even enters their minds.

To top it off, they are unaware of the utter futility of all this government spending. Trillions upon trillions of dollars have never extinguished poverty; in fact, the only thing this spending orgy will ever achieve is the extension of poverty to millions more. Study after study has shown, over and over, that dependence on government largesse only worsens our problems, creating a culture of dependency and destroying initiative.

The Christian Left, as it is called in the media, is, in the name of Christ, transforming genuine Christianity into a statist ideal that ultimately undermines the very faith they say they believe. Government replaces God and becomes a new idol, to the extent that many of them are not even bothered by the trampling of religious liberty currently underway through Obamacare.

I began this post by asserting that many of the people I’m talking about are sincere Christians who are merely uninformed or misled. However, there is a segment that either have abandoned, or are on the verge of abandoning, the faith altogether. I’m glad God is the final judge of their salvation. Yet I, and all Christians, do have a responsibility to examine the fruit of the lives of those who claim they are Christians; we can make tentative judgments. That is what I have done today.

What do I hope to gain by sharing my concerns? First, I want to embolden those who are undergoing the renewal of the mind. Don’t shrink back. Stand for the truth as God opens it to you. Second, I hope to awaken some who currently consider themselves part of the so-called Christian Left. Please rethink your views. You are leading others into serious error. Don’t be molded by the world’s standards and the guidance it offers. It is deception. And please heed Jesus’ warning:

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.

 

The Real Salvation Message

In my post yesterday, I listed three key areas in which I believe the church of Jesus Christ is failing in its mission. Today, I’d like to comment on the foundational failure—the watering down of the message of salvation.

While this certainly doesn’t apply to all individual churches and Christian leaders, there are far too many who, in their desire to bring people to the faith, make it so palatable that the faith of the apostles is hardly recognizable. The New Testament, both in the precise words of Jesus and in the letters sent by His apostles, clearly reveals that salvation comes only after first coming to terms with one’s sinfulness. It’s no good to simply invite people to an altar to “try Jesus” or, more commonly, to “accept Jesus.” The reverse is closer to the truth: will He accept us? And the answer is: only if we meet the conditions He has set forth for restoring the broken relationship.

The message of sinfulness sounds so negative; people want the positive instead. Talking about sin will only drive them away, we rationalize. Yet without first understanding our lostness, we will never get to the positive part of the message. We must begin with a deep realization that our sins have separated us from God and that something is required on our side of the ledger. Jesus did die to forgive those sins, but His sacrifice is of no value to anyone without a genuine repentance. Until we seek to change our ways and live for Him, we cannot cross over to the life He offers. Any message of salvation that doesn’t emphasize sin and repentance is a stillborn message, and the “converts” from that message are often not converts at all; they just want assurance that God is on their side and they can go to the heaven He describes.

The terms “easy believeism” and “cheap grace” are sometimes used to explain this approach. Usually, this cheap grace, which treats the atonement and the sufferings Jesus endured for our sake in a shallow manner, carries over into one’s life. We’re told not to worry too much about one’s sins from now on since Jesus’ death covers them all; just ask Him to forgive and everything’s fine. There is little expectation of holiness; that’s far beyond our reach, so one’s life will probably continue as before, not much different in quality. The nice thing, though, is you get to go to heaven regardless. It’s epitomized in the bumper sticker that proclaims, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” The unintended consequence of that bumper sticker is to convey the idea that there’s no real difference between Christians and other people, except the Christians can sin and be forgiven while others cannot expect that benefit.

This type of cheap grace creates a multitude of people who think they’re okay with God, but who are still wallowing in their sins. They pass themselves off as Christians, but the world looks at them and wonders—if that’s what being a Christian is, what’s the big deal?

The apostle Paul has a passage in his second letter to the Corinthians that lays out the distinction between true and false repentance, and therefore true and false salvation. Here’s what he says:

I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.

Note that there are two kinds of sorrow: one that leads to life and one that leads to death. A lot of people feel “sorry” for what they have done, but they never get to the point of genuine repentance. Take Judas, for example. After he realized his betrayal of Jesus led to the Cross, he had remorse for his action. Yet what was his response? He went out and hanged himself. Peter, on the other hand, who also betrayed Jesus, when he faced up to his betrayal, had a change of heart and found true repentance. Afterward, he became the chief spokesman with the original apostles.

Jesus also lays out the problem in what is normally called the parable of the sower. I prefer to call it the parable of the soil because the focus is where the seed [Word of God] lands. When God’s message falls on the hardened path, it bounces off. Jesus likens this to those whose hearts are so hardened there is no place for the seed to be planted. Then there is the rocky soil, which corresponds to those who eagerly receive it, but it doesn’t really take root in their hearts. There are a lot of people who get excited about wanting to be happy in God and receive His “goodies,” but they are fly-by-night “Christians.” Actually, they never were Christians at all.

Some of the seed falls among the thorns, which, as Jesus explains, means it does start to take root, but it gets choked out by all the worries and temptations that an earthly life offers. There is no fruit. These are not real Christians either.

Finally, there is the deep, rich soil—those with honest and good hearts who grasp the depth of the message—where fruit grows in abundance. Only in this soil do we find the genuine Christians.

If the church is not making as much of an impact on our society as it should be, I suggest we begin by examining the message of salvation we are teaching. A phony salvation message leads to phony Christians who will never change anything in the society because they have never experienced the change personally.

What I have written today will not be accepted by some, but I had to say it anyway. Our only hope is to get the salvation message straight before anything else.

Happy New Year? Why Would We Think So?

On January 1st each year we fall into a pattern long emblazoned on our psyche of saying “Happy New Year!” I realize it’s mostly a hope that we hold out, expecting that things certainly have to be better this time around. But on what basis do we hold to such a hope? Is there a solid reason for hoping, or is this more a shadowy, wispy type of wishful thinking?

For me, on a personal level, I have what I consider to be a well-grounded hope. Having been salvaged from a life of despair and purposelessness by the grace of God, hope is real. Yes, I will be affected adversely by circumstances in the world around me—by culture rapidly losing its Biblical underpinnings and a government in the process of destroying basic American liberties—but even if the worst occurs, I will still have the faithful God who gives the promise of eternity in a much better place.

It’s our society on the whole that concerns me. What is happening right now that would give anyone a reason to hope that things will improve? As I noted above, the culture is changing for the worse and needs to be turned around for anything to get better. There are a lot of reasons for that change; some can be seen in this political cartoon’s depiction of our current situation:

The cartoonist used the image of the Newtown murders as one manifestation of how our culture has been debased. Then the media and the politicians come along and make matters even worse by blaming the wrong people. One newspaper decided to show a map of the homes of all those in its county who have legal gun permits. The goal, according to the paper, was to increase “awareness” of the gun problem. Excuse me, but the legal ownership of weapons is not the problem. Yet now those who have followed the law, and have always done so, are being targeted [the use of that word is intentional].

The other focus of news reports at the moment is the so-called fiscal cliff. Few, though, are the news outlets that are willing to expose the real issue: it’s not a revenue problem; it’s a spending problem. The media are in protection mode—ensuring that the One is not blamed. Of course, he has made blaming others into an art:

The next fiscal controversy will be the debt ceiling, which Obama seeks to have removed altogether. He wants the power to spend whatever he desires, without any constraints. The result would not be difficult to foresee:

And what of the loyal opposition? To what extent are Republicans willing to go to stand for sound principles, regardless of the political fallout? There is a segment of the party that mirrors the old Republican lack of vision that dominated pre-Reagan: never challenge the roots of the problem but just try to be a little more moderate than the Democrats:

That approach has always led to defeat.

So, I ask again—on what basis can we hold out hope that anything will improve this year?

In my view, the main reason we are where we are as a society is that the church of Jesus Christ has not fulfilled its obligations as the salt and light of a nation. There are a number of areas in which we have failed, but let me acknowledge three that are paramount:

  1. We have watered down the message of salvation in the desire to draw more people to the faith. A watered-down message leads to a weak faith, or no genuine faith at all.
  2. We have deviated, to some extent, from Biblical morality and do not grasp how Biblical principles apply to a proper understanding of the limitations on civil government, the primacy of the rule of law, and how economics really works.
  3. We have abandoned control of our children’s education and turned that task over to the government, thereby making the problems worse with each succeeding generation.

Those are the three areas I want to address the rest of this week.

C.S. Lewis: The Question of Truth

Lewis took on the role of an apologist for the Christian faith. In an essay entitled “Christian Apologetics,” he honed in on one of the big problems Christians have when trying to explain the truth of Christianity. It’s not a problem with the message itself, but with the hearers of the message:

One of the great difficulties is to keep before the audience’s mind the question of Truth. They always think you are recommending Christianity not because it is true but because it is good. And in the discussion they will at every moment try to escape from the issue “True—or False” into stuff about a good society, or morals . . . or anything whatever.

You have to keep forcing them back, and again back, to the real point. Only thus will you be able to undermine . . . their belief that a certain amount of “religion” is desirable but one mustn’t carry it too far. One must keep on pointing out that Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.

The Quotable Lewis

Over Thanksgiving, I was browsing through a Barnes and Noble in Tucson when I came across a volume I didn’t know existed—a massive compilation of C.S. Lewis’s most memorable quotes. Since Lewis is one of my all-time favorite writers, I was delighted with my find. As I’ve begun to plumb its depths, I’ve been renewed in my appreciation of the insights he offers.

Normally, I’ve rested from this blog on Saturdays, but with the addition of this book to my collection, I’ve decided to share some of the most poignant quotes each week.

The first one comes from his classic work Mere Christianity. I’ll let it stand on its own without further commentary. I hope you will meditate on it and ask the Lord for any application to your own life. And come back to the blog each Saturday for more Lewisian wisdom.

We have never followed the advice of the great teachers. Why are we likely to begin now? Why are we more likely to follow Christ than any of the others? Because He is the best moral teacher? But that makes it even less likely that we shall follow Him. If we cannot take the elementary lessons, is it likely we are going to take the most advanced one? If Christianity only means one more bit of good advice, then Christianity is of no importance. There has been no lack of good advice for the last four thousand years. A bit more makes no difference.

Let Us Not Lose Hope

We can be too cynical at times when we see politics at work and how politicians carry out that work. It’s easy to spot the ego-driven characters who are all too often attracted to the limelight and who are only in the political world for their own advancement. This cynicism expresses itself in frustration, particularly directed at Congress. How often have you heard someone say, “Let’s just throw all the bums out and start over”? That’s stereotyping. It doesn’t take into account the many public servants who are doing their jobs for the right reason. I’m happy to say that I have a congressman who fits the description of what a congressman is supposed to be. Dennis Ross, a first-term representative from the Lakeland, Florida, area, was swept into office in the election of 2010 as part of the repudiation of the emerging Obama agenda. It was an honor to have him come speak to the faculty, staff, and students of Southeastern University this past Tuesday.

Ross, whose Christian faith is foundational to his desire to be involved in politics and government, shared his personal story with those who came to interact with him. He spoke of the failures he experienced in his younger years and how those failures were absolutely essential for learning the lessons he needed to learn about life. Failures, he told them, are what lead to future successes. If government attempts to shield people from all failure, we never understand the real meaning of success.

I served as the moderator for the event. After he gave his background, I asked him a series of questions on what might be considered hot-button issues for Christians. How should a Christian view national security issues? Is pacifism the Biblical requirement or can we defend ourselves? Is there such a thing as a just war? What about poverty? How should it be handled—via government or primarily through the church and other voluntary organizations? How can a Christian legislator combine compassion with the necessity for upholding the rule of law when it comes to illegal immigration? Is it moral to have as much debt as we currently do in our nation? How can that debt be reduced? Ross provided solid answers for each of these inquiries.

Then I turned it over to the audience to let them ask whatever questions they might have for the congressman. I have to admit I wondered if there would be enough questions to fill the remainder of the time. I was already formulating some additional questions of my own, just in case. I needn’t have worried. There was an active interest in hearing more from Rep. Ross on a number of issues. The questions just kept coming. When I called a halt to the proceedings, there were still students lined up with more questions. Dennis graciously stayed after the meeting to address those questioners personally.

All in all, this encounter between a congressman and his constituents was a positive experience for everyone, and it showed how politics is supposed to work. I hope those who attended left with a little less cynicism in their hearts and lot more appreciation for the difficult task that awaits anyone who enters the political fray. My heartfelt thanks to Dennis Ross for being what we need to see more of—a role model.

The nice thing for those of us who count Rep. Ross as their congressman is that he is running unopposed for reelection. He will continue to represent the Lakeland area. His devotion to constitutionalism and his Christian faith will be in the Congress for at least another two years; my hope is that he will be there for many more after that.

As we anticipate the election in less than two weeks, we need to pray for principled leaders such as Dennis Ross to come to the forefront. We need to vote for such men and women and not despair. A passage of Scripture comes to mind that applies quite well; it contains a warning but also offers us a promise:

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.

Head to the polls this year with confidence that no matter what happens, God has some of His people in positions where they can do much good. Even when we don’t see it, God is working in and through those who are committed to Him. Despair needs to be banished from our hearts and replaced with hope.