The Biblical Mandate
What criteria do we use to evaluate our children’s education? Worldview? Education quality? Return on investment? Prestige? Parents evaluate educational choices based on a wide variety of issues.
Obedience to scripture is the only core requirement by which Christian parents are required to structure their lives, and the area of education for children is no different. Issues such as perceived quality of education or prestige must take a back seat to the mandate of scripture. This will shock some, but if priorities should be set, for Christians, they should be set according to the Word of God.
With this in mind, we must begin by asking what is the mandate of scripture? If we start in Ephesians 6:4 we read: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” That is to say that the primary instruction for raising children is given to the father and the instruction is to bring them up (nourish or rear) in the discipline (instruction or training) and instruction (teaching or warning) of the Lord. This means we are to provide a culture of nurturing for our children in which they can learn and receive instruction and warning “of the Lord.”
The phrase “of the Lord” occurs repeatedly in the New Testament, but generally not in the context of education. Instead we find references to “an angel of the Lord” (Matt 1:20,22,24, 2:13, etc.), the “resurrection of the Lord” (Acts 4:33), the “mind of the Lord” (Rom 11:33) and others. What is clear from these is that whatever precedes the phrase “of the Lord” is pertaining to or belonging to the Lord. Thus as far as God is concerned the command given to fathers is to consider the education of their children as “of the Lord” – that is pertaining to God. There is no more important task for fathers (and by extension mothers) with regards to their children than encouraging and nurturing the relationship between the child and the Lord.
In Deuteronomy 6:6-7 we find the word of the Lord is to be taught diligently to children. You shall teach them [these words] diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” This doesn’t assume a formal educational environment, but an informal environment. It covers all periods of the life of a believer and it assumes the primary teacher is the parent.
If the primary teacher is the parent, the parent is to have the capacity to teach. As Grudem says, “This teaching would not have consisted merely of rote memorization devoid of understanding, for the people of Israel were to discuss the words of Scripture during their activities of sitting in the house or walking or going to bed or getting up in the morning. God expected that all of his people would know and be able to talk about his Word, with proper application to ordinary situations in life.[i]”
In other words, Israel understood this mandate to mean that they had to internalize the Word of God themselves, understand how to live a life based on it, and then their role as parents was to help their children do the same. Fast-forward to the twenty first century and we find that the concept of education has broadened significantly. Today, we consider education to be primarily a growing understanding of the natural world around us. We focus on reading, writing and arithmetic when children are young, but we regard these as tools to help them learn about and interact in the world around us. The tragedy is that for many parents, this is all their children learn. Even in Christian homes, many parents give instruction in the Word of God a diminished role – a role frequently regarded as less important than natural world education.
But it seems from the passage above, that God’s primary concern is that children are raised in the knowledge of God and that all education is to be undertaken with this foundation. From a theological perspective, the children’s understanding of the world is to be built.
If the responsibly falls primary on the parent and the responsibility is to teach from a theological perspective, we need to carefully consider how the three educational options measure up against this. If we are to be teach our children daily, informally and thoroughly, we need to be deliberate about our children’s education ourselves and ensure that we don’t just do what is adequate, but that we do our best to discharge our responsibility in a way that demonstrates a commitment to the glory of God being manifest in our children. We cannot compromise. We only have our children for a short while, and they are only five or eight or fourteen once, then that stage of their life is gone irretrievably. We must make the most of the opportunities we have now.