September 15, 1991
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5
We expect schools to provide an education, but it seems we’re getting more than we bargained for. Since there’s really no delicate way to discuss this matter, I might as well start by telling you about King Condom.
King Condom wanted everyone to have safe sex. The student body president at a large public university wanted to protect first-year students from the risk of AIDS and pregnancy. So he put on a gorilla suit, called himself King Condom, and offered free condoms to all the new students on campus.
King Condom may seem pretty vulgar, but he typifies the trend in many schools today. The New York City school board has approved a plan to distribute condoms to any student on request. In sex education classes, the teacher must remain neutral, and it would be too narrow and intolerant to promote marriage as the only proper context for sex. So teachers describe several alternative sexual lifestyles, and promote condoms as a way to reduce the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. I’ll spare you any further details about some of the more graphic methods of teaching.
Even those teachers who urge young people not to have sex before marriage are severely limited. About all they can say is that abstinence is one surefire way to avoid getting AIDS or becoming pregnant. They can’t teach that virginity in singleness and faithfulness in marriage is the way to moral integrity and rich, permanent relationships; and they certainly can’t mention the Bible.
Public educators must always try to remain religiously neutral in their teaching, and this has a profound effect on sex education. They can describe a variety of sexual practices, but they can’t condemn one kind of practice and promote another. The student can consider many choices but receives no reason to prefer one choice over another.
As a result, students learn that responsible sex no longer has anything to do with the nature of a relationship. Sex is responsible as long as both of you are willing, and you can protect yourself and your partner from pregnancy and disease. So just look for the guy in the gorilla suit. King Condom can give you the only thing you really need to have responsible sex.
Many people these days are complaining about sex education in public schools, and I can certainly sympathize with some of those complaints. Some people think we could solve this problem by removing sex education from the schools and leaving it in the hands of the parents (and I suppose many kids would be better off listening to mom or dad than to King Condom). But I believe that sex education is just one symptom of a more basic problem.
The removal of spoken prayers from the classroom is another symptom, but it, too, is only a symptom. Many religious people want to put prayer back in public schools. But let’s be honest: spoken prayers don’t belong in a setting which claims to be religiously neutral. Atheists don’t want to pray in school, and even those who believe in prayer might not agree on what sort of prayer should be spoken or what sort of God should be prayed to. The courts are correct that prayer has no place in a school that claims to be religiously neutral.
And that brings us to the central issue. Public education, in North America at least, is government-controlled and pretends to be religiously neutral. Because we believe in freedom of religion, the government must not promote one religious or moral viewpoint at the expense of another, and therefore government schools must try to remain as neutral as possible.
And that’s where the problem lies: it simply isn’t possible for education to be neutral. When a school tries to remain neutral, it in fact neutralizes the power of faith. Freedom of religion is twisted into freedom from religion, and this influences every aspect of the school curriculum. In one subject after another, students learn how to ignore God.
They learn about the formation of the universe without hearing anything about God. They study history without considering God’s plans and purposes. They study literature and philosophy without evaluating the truth and morality of the writer’s approach. They acquire some work skills without learning a biblical understanding of vocation and stewardship. And yes, they also study the mechanics of sex without learning its real meaning.
As students prepare to live in the real world, they hear absolutely nothing about God from their teachers. God has been eliminated from the picture in every subject that they study. Is it any wonder, then, that even when so many people in North America claim to be Christians, most of them don’t think or act much differently than anyone else? The school system has taught them how to think and behave like atheists.
The crisis in public education is therefore much deeper than the lack of morality in sex education or the absence of school prayer. Those are just two symptoms of a more basic problem. Parents have handed the education of their children over to the government, and the government is tackling an impossible task when it tries to provide education that is religiously neutral. As one professor puts it, “In our democracy we proceed on the assumption that is it illegal to teach the faith on which it rests.”
So before Christians fight for prayer or for better sex education in supposedly neutral schools, we had better face the root problem. Education is never neutral; it is always aggressive. A school will either attack the Christian faith or advance it. In our classrooms, we will either eliminate Jesus from the picture, or else make him the focus of our vision.
We need a strong sense of vision as we think about our educational system. Freedom of religion is a great privilege, but many public schools have been promoting freedom from religion. While attempting to remain neutral, a great deal of public education is neutralizing religious beliefs and values.
This situation is painful for Christians, but it shouldn’t be surprising. When an institution claims to be religiously neutral, we ought to know better. In Luke 11:23 Jesus says, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters.” In other words, you have to choose sides: you either work for Jesus or against him; you either help the Christian cause, or you hurt it. Neutrality toward Jesus is impossible, and any individual or institution which seeks to remain religiously neutral inevitably ends in a very corrupt condition. Jesus goes on to explain.
When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. Luke 11:24-26
According to Jesus, the only way to remain free from the power of evil is to be controlled by the power of God. There’s little use expelling a demon unless it is replaced with someone better. If you try to keep the place empty, the demon will soon be back with plenty of cronies who are even more corrupt. The only way for people to escape the power of evil is to accept Jesus Christ as the controlling power in their lives.
This is just as true of schools as it is of people. The house may appear clean and empty, but it won’t stay that way. Unless God is there, ungodly powers will soon take over. As long as we try to keep education neutral, we are in effect surrendering it to God’s enemies. There is a great spiritual war going on, and the human mind is one crucial battleground in that war.
The apostle Paul realized this. Like Jesus, he rejected a timid, noncommittal approach to life. Although he didn’t try to change people’s minds through bullying and violence, he did take an aggressive approach. In 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 Paul says, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
Now that’s aggressive education! Whenever Paul found a concept or activity that contradicted the Bible, he would demolish it. Wherever he came across a good idea or a helpful insight, he would capture it and put it into the service of Christ. Much factual information is neither good nor bad until we decide how to use it. So as we follow God, we seek to put what we have learned to good use. All truth is God’s truth, and so God wants us not only to demolish falsehood, but also to recapture every aspect of knowledge and technology for his service.
Now, that’s certainly a far cry from the kind of education that students will receive in a school which claims to be neutral. What happens when schools are afraid to be aggressively Christian? One common result is a refusal to teach significant facts that involve religion. A recent study of public school textbooks found that many history books don’t even mention the life of Jesus Christ, and they routinely ignore the role of religion in the lives of significant people.
One book, describing the early settlers in Plymouth, Massachusetts, explains that pilgrims are “people who go on long journeys.” It doesn’t mention that the Pilgrims were Calvinist Christians who fled from religious oppression back home and hoped to establish a better society in their new home. When history is taught in this manner, it is a lie. Did the Pilgrims really sail for the New World just to go on a long trip? Is Jesus so insignificant to the flow of history that he isn’t even worth mentioning? In the name of fairness and neutrality, these books are sweeping some very basic and important facts under the rug.
Other educators take a different approach. They realize that it’s impossible to understand human civilization without taking account of religion. So they believe teachers should be free to describe the religious convictions that motivated an important historical or literary figure. Perhaps public schools should even include some courses which teach about a variety of religions. Students will then have a better understanding of history and a greater appreciation for a variety of religious viewpoints.
This is a more sensible approach than ignoring religion altogether, of course, but it has severe defects. Teachers can talk about a number of religious options, but they can’t argue that any one of them is actually true. There may be solid reasons to believe one religion and reject the others, but the teacher must remain neutral. The classroom becomes a jumble of contradictory opinions rather than a search for truth.
When schools try to teach about various religions from a neutral standpoint, they become a lot like ancient Athens. When the apostle Paul visited the city, the people had plenty of different ideas, but they were suffering from a shortage of solid truth. They had plenty to think about, but nothing they could believe in. According to Acts 17, “All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.” The city had every sort of religion, and Paul “even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.” (Acts 17:21, 23).
Paul saw that these people had all sorts of idols, but they didn’t know God; they had plenty to think about but nothing to believe in. And so Paul told them about the God who created the world and everyone in it. He told how God had raised Jesus from the dead, and how every human being would ultimately have to answer to Jesus Christ at the final judgment.
Some people believed Paul’s message and accepted Jesus as their Savior and Master. Others, however, decided they would rather keep listening to whatever happened to be the latest idea. They had become addicted to studying everything and believing nothing. That’s what happens when people try to look at everything from a neutral perspective.
I’d like you to consider a better way. Many Christian parents have realized the folly of neutral education, and they banded together to form Christian elementary schools, Christian secondary schools, Christian colleges, and universities.
These schools don’t pretend to be neutral; they give students something to believe in. Christian teachers aren’t satisfied with just talking about the latest ideas–students need solid truths on which they can build their lives. They need to know Jesus, and they need to know what the Bible says. Teachers try to discuss different viewpoints in a fair and respectful way, but their ultimate objective in teaching is to communicate the truth. They can’t just say that Jesus is one option among many, because they know he is the only way of salvation.
Why should we Christians approach the education of our children as though we serve an unknown God? We know God through his Son Jesus Christ and through the words of the Bible. So we should adopt a Christ-centered, biblical perspective and make no apologies for that. We must build schools that teach every subject in the light of what we know as Christians. We can’t be content to let religion remain nothing but a matter of personal feelings. Faith should transform every area of life.
In Christian schools, we seek to help students think about every subject in the context of their relationship to God. In our science, we study and experiment, and we praise God for creating and maintaining what we see. As we consider history, we see God’s hand at work and we also see evidence of human evil. When we read a poem or a novel, we evaluate the view of life that the author promotes. We may admire Hemingway’s talent, but we reject his bleak approach to life. We can teach about sexuality very openly and frankly, but in the context of treating our bodies as God’s temples and keeping the promises we make. As we study basic principles of economics and business, we discuss honesty, compassion, and wise use of created resources. In one area of study after another, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
We owe this kind of education to our children, and our government-controlled schools can’t provide it. Once upon a time, many public schools allowed prayer and permitted Christian teachers to instruct children from a more or less Christian perspective. But with each passing year, the implications of trying to remain neutral have been draining Christianity out of schools. Today, no matter how many parents in a public school district are Christians, the courts will not allow instruction from an explicitly Christian perspective. I’m thankful that a number of Christians teaching in public schools are still able to bring their values to bear in the subjects they teach, but they can’t be explicit about their faith. If a teacher talks about Jesus, or even has a Bible on her desk, she could soon be in trouble.
More and more Christians are becoming alarmed about this situation, and some are fighting to make our public schools more Christian. But they’re fighting a battle they won’t win, and I’m not so sure they should win. I don’t want my children to be educated to think like atheists or Hindus, and I’m sure atheists and Hindus don’t want their children trained to think like Christians. As long as we believe in freedom of religion, we cannot ask the government to force Christian education on those who don’t want it.
So we need to face the heart of the matter: Education is not neutral, and it cannot be neutral. Children will study each subject from one perspective or another, and right now the prevailing perspective in public education is godlessness–teachers must ignore God altogether. This is the logical consequence of a government-controlled education which tries to steer clear of religion. Government schools simply aren’t in the business of taking captive every thought and making it obedient to Christ, and we shouldn’t expect them to be.
But government has no business controlling the schools in the first place. That power should be in the hands of parents. If a nation wants every child to have access to an affordable education, that still doesn’t mean that the government should run the schools. Parents should be able to choose for themselves what kind of education their children will receive. If the government gets involved in education at all, it should be in the form of financial help to parents, not deciding the direction that education must take.
Lately, even non-religious people are questioning government control of education. They want more choice because some schools aren’t teaching the basics well. Students have trouble reading or solving math problems. Perhaps more choices for parents and more competition among schools will improve the quality of teaching. Now, we Christians certainly are as eager as anyone for our children to have a sound academic training, but we have an even stronger reason for wanting to be able to choose a school. We want our children to get an education centered in Jesus Christ that embraces all of life.
So I hope that our leaders will soon accept the concept of choice in education. It’s long overdue. We parents should have the final say in the training of our children. Up to this point, parents who support Christian schools have been paying for their own schools without any help from the government, plus they have had to pay taxes for public education. This makes it difficult for some people to afford Christian education, and that’s not fair. If government money is used for education, it should be available for parents to apply toward the school of their choice, including Christian schools. That’s one way that schools can have freedom of religion without having freedom from religion.
Until our leaders move in that direction, however, you have a hard choice to make. Do you want the minds of your children and grandchildren to be shaped by teachers who carefully avoid talking about God, and learn that real life has nothing to do with God? Or do you want them taught by godly teachers who help the students take every thought captive to Christ? The Christian school may cost more money, but the benefits far outweigh the cost. Besides, there’s nothing more costly than a school that ignores God. An aggressive, Christ-centered education is the only way to deal with the current crisis in our schools.
Right now I’m inviting you to join me in challenging the status quo. If your children aren’t already attending a Christian school, I encourage you to find a school which teaches every subject in the light of the Bible, or works together with other parents in starting one. If you need further information, don’t hesitate to write us. Then your children will be equipped to demolish every thought that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
Lord Jesus, we feel deep concern for our nation and our schools and our children. We’re frightened when we see all around us the deadly impact of godless education. Help us to be considerate of those who disagree with us, but help us to keep believing and promoting the Christian faith. Lay this challenge on the heart of every Christian parent, and then give us the courage and the resources to take charge of the education of our children.
We thank you for the confidence that the battle belongs to the Lord. May our every thought and action bring glory to you. Amen.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.