Now that the kids are back in school…

Ye fathers, …bring up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” —Ephesians 6:4

“For all its faults,” a teacher was recently heard to say, “the American educational system is, without a doubt, one of the great blessings of our country and one that is envied by many other nations. After all, without a good secular education, real success is hard to come by in this world. Nothing is more important to our children.” While Luther himself valued secular education and, in particular, training in the arts, in the use of language, and in music, he also made it clear that such secular training alone was wholly inadequate to equip a child for life —even for life only here in this world. Of course, in Luther’s day, there was no such thing, properly-speaking, as “public education” in which every child was sent to school to learn his “three R’s” and to be equipped to take his place “as a functioning member of society;” but neither was there a purely secular education devoid of religious training. Most schools, including colleges and universities, were operated by the church; and, depending upon the confession of the sponsoring church or denomination, the child who had an opportunity to go to school was also trained in the church’s doctrine and practice. Such a parochial education was therefore of real value to a child only if he were taught the precious truths of God’s Word, but of real detriment to those who were brought up in error.

Because only one congregation in our fellowship (and that in the Fellowship of Lutheran Congregations, St. Mark’s in Sauk Village, Illinois) has been able to establish and maintain a Christian day school, in which the teaching and application of God’s Word in its purity is the number one priority, and where the secular subjects, taught by competent and dedicated Christian teachers, are appropriately relegated to secondary importance, most of the children of our beloved Conference must attend public schools in their respective localities or be home-schooled by their parents (as is legally permitted in virtually all states today). And yet, regardless of the school setting in which our children are educated, we who are parents (and particularly the fathers) still bear the primary responsibility under God to “bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” This means that we not only have the duty of teaching them the objective truths of God’s Word day in and day out (Deuteronomy 6:6-7) and of applying those precious truths to their faith and life; but we must also warn them of spiritual pitfalls, snares and traps that are laid before them by the world (Matthew 18:6-7) to distract them from the truth, to pervert the truth in their understanding, and to supplant the truth altogether with the chaff of human reason. Let no one be deceived into thinking that having his children in a Christian day school will “insulate” them from the world, or that home-schooling them himself will prevent worldly ideas and perversions from touching and affecting them! The perversions are resident, first of all, in the Old Adam of sin, which is active in every one of our children; and they are ever present in society round about them, whether they be in school, on the playground, logged onto the internet, or watching television. We as parents cannot monitor our children’s every waking moment, BUT we can and must “bring them up,” yes, “train up [our children] in the way [they] should go” (Proverbs 22:6), so that by their skillful use of God’s Word they “have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14) both NOW and when they are OLDER and are no longer under our authority and oversight.

Consider the following as only a few examples of perversions that demand our attention and concerning which we should warn and educate our children in plain terms so that they are alert to them and can speak about them:

1) The public school teacher is taught to regard every child as fundamentally good by nature and perfectible by education and proper social environment. The secular world therefore denies both original and actual sin hinges “right” and “wrong” not upon the precepts of God’s Word but upon the alterable laws of men, upon subjective judgements on the basis of motive and circumstance, and upon the end result of an action rather than the action itself. Thus the end is made to justify the means in many cases, and “situation ethics” rules the day. Moreover, evil thoughts are not judged to be “wrong” by secular society, only overt acts that harm someone else.

2) The secular educator, under the influence of the philosophy of John Dewey and others, considers the child as nothing more than a “higher order” animal-with-potential, evolved from lower forms of animal life and primitive savagery, but now, together with the whole world, its institutions, and its religions, as having reached an advanced stage of physical and social evolution and as progressing toward a future state of near-perfection in society. All a child needs, say the secularists, is opportunity to develop his potential.

3) Public education, while intended to be neutral in matters of religion, pushes Universalism, namely, the view that one religion is as good as another; that all people should mutually respect one another’s faith; that “religious freedom” in the civil sphere implies “religious tolerance” in the spiritual sphere; and therefore that any emphasis upon differences in creeds, engagement in religious controversy, and antagonism toward error in Christian apologetics constitutes “intolerant bigotry” and is therefore “un-American.” After all, “there’s a great deal of good in ALL religions.” This is basically the religion of the lodges and of the Scouting organizations: Antitrinitarian Universalism.

4) The public school, anchored in the law and in civic righteousness, promotes “character building.” The child is taught to observe outward morality because it is “the right thing to do” in an orderly society and is essential to self-worth and self-esteem, to social and material success, to respect from others, and to the betterment of mankind. Moreover, to be “community-minded,” compassionate, helpful, and altruistic as a member of society is what makes a person “good” and truly “human” and distinguishes him from amoral beasts.

5) Because of its ethical philosophy that equates “wrong” with “harm done” to others, the secularist denies that “lust” and “covetousness” are evil. Moreover, he minimizes the seriousness of “victimless crime” and thus refuses to condemn as intrinsically evil such abominations before God as homosexuality, fornication, pornography, adultery, drunkenness, cursing and other filthy language, witchcraft in its various forms, abortion, and even suicide (among many other sins).

6) In its effort to stem the rising tide of illegitimate teenage pregnancies, public education has also taken upon itself the role of teaching children, even very young children, about human sexuality; and educators express the hope that what they call “proper information” about sexual physiology will permit children and young unmarried adults to make “wise” and “appropriate choices” with regard to sexual behavior. And, although many schools teach and strongly advocate abstinence as appropriate behavior and the only “sure” method of preventing illegitimate pregnancy, yet, at the very same time, they disseminate information about birth control, so-called “safe sex,” and even elective abortion to address the problem. Premarital sexual activity is never censured on MORAL grounds (as it was for hundreds of years even in public education), but, much like homosexuality, it is accepted as a legitimate “choice” of behavior, the unpleasant “outcomes” of which (illegitimacy, disease, and death) society must seek to control. Christian parents MUST resist and actively counteract this amorality by training up their children in the way they should go on the basis of God’s Word, normed by His Law, motivated by His Gospel, and fruited to His glory (Ephesians 5:3-4; I Thessalonians 4:1-7; I Corinthians 10:31).

Now we cannot (and would not) expect the public schools to teach our children what we know WE should teach them from the Word of God; for in a pluralistic society the dominant denomination in the community would control what is inculcated in the classroom (as at Luther’s time). Therefore we are grateful that, by God’s grace, the Scriptural principle of the separation of church and state is still upheld by our courts as integral to our religious liberty. Nevertheless, in the context of our present discussion, it is not the establishment of Roman Catholicism that we fear, nor the teaching of Reformed theology in the classroom, nor even the practice of publicly mandated devotional exercises at the beginning of the school day (for these have been ruled against time and time again); but we need to be on guard against the teaching of indifferentism regarding religion, of Universalism as a “world view,” of secular humanism as the accepted “operational philosophy,” of situation ethics as the “standard” of right and wrong, and of religious unionism as the practice of all of these rolled into one! We as Christian parents have our work cut out for us! For our children’s sake, out of concern for their immortal souls, and in cheerful obedience to the ordinance of Him who first loved us and desires that we be strengthened and preserved steadfast in His Word and faith unto our end, let us not “provoke [our] children to wrath” against us for our indifference and carelessness, “but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4), so that “when [they] are old, [they] will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

—D. T. M.