Where Are Christian Schools Going?

SPECIAL REPORT
TO PASTORS, PRINCIPALS, AND BOARD MEMBERS

Where Are Christian Schools Going?
A Summary of the 10-Page Report

Rev. Theodore E. Clater, Pd.D.
Keystone Christian Education Association
Harrisburg, PA

We are living in a day of change — and of danger. Christian schools, like their supporting churches, are at a crossroads.

The Society

“In 1962, polls indicated that at least 65 percent of all Americans believed the Bible to be true. In 1992, polls indicate that only 32 percent do, while 50 percent say that they actually fear fundamentalists. If the polls are right, our Judeo-Christian heritage is no longer the foundation of our values. We have become a post-Christian society.” 1

That very recent quote from Charles Colson is only illustrative of the growing number of voices describing our society. But, where have we all been? I can vividly recall back in the late 60’s when Francis Schaeffer introduced me (among others) to his views that America was in its post-Christian era.

I remind you of the words of Alexis de Tocqueville as he searched for the secret of why this country was great. He found the secret in our churches. Then I remind you that it is well established that both our society and our politics follow our churches. Dr. Charles W. Dunn of Clemson University covered those principles very clearly when he [wrote that our] pulpits make our churches and our churches make our society. 5

We are now becoming modern, up-to-date, enlightened. Few openly deny the cardinal doctrines — they just don’t discuss them. But more importantly, they decline to believe in any need to implement God Jehovah into their lives as individuals or into the policies of government, business, school, or church.

Religion, and especially “Christianity,” sells well. Madison Avenue is deeply involved. There are profits to be made. Even the IRS has noticed that a growing number of the historic Christian publishers are now but secular businesses, no ministry spirit remains. The music industry is a close companion. Marketers and promoters seek to find every advantage. For example, the modern “Christian” music industry just expended $130,000 on a study of how to sell more products to churches. T-shirts, pencils, retreats, seminars, books, consultants — the “one-religion-fits-all” brand of “Christianity” permeates our nation.

In his last years Schaeffer amended his view of us. He openly called us a “pagan” society. In reality our society has been ignoring the biblical definitions of “Christian” for some time. In practical terms we have redefined the word. To be “Christian” is now “politically correct” as long as you do not get too religious. Just ask the politicians (even the President), businesses (even some Jewish businessmen), religious leaders (even the Moslems), and schools (especially some religious ones).

The Bible-Believing Community

If you call a lamb’s tail a leg, how many legs does a lamb have?

That brief question is the old trick. The answer, of course, is four. No matter that you call the tail a leg, it is not a leg. I use that trick to establish that non-Christian, pagan, no matter what you call it, is not Christian. I give the following insight from a noted theological liberal of yesterday, Kirsopp Lake. He writes:

“It is a mistake, often made by educated persons who happen to have but little knowledge of historical theology, to suppose that Fundamentalism is a new and strange form of thought. It is nothing of the kind: it is the … survival of a theology which was once universally held by all Christians.

“The Fundamentalist may be wrong; I think that he is. But it is we who have departed from the tradition, not he, and I am sorry for the fate of anyone who tries to argue with a Fundamentalist on the basis of authority. The Bible and the corpus theologicum of the Church is [sic] on the Fundamentalist side.” 6

While accepting the theology that says our society is non-Christian, pagan, we appear to refuse the reality. We appear to believe society is pagan, but only those — other parts of our society — other parts of town — “bad” special interest groups — those who are the target of our political activism — but not of me, my family, my friends, my neighborhood, my church. Life-changing, repentant prayers for salvation are increasingly an exception in an easy-believe environment, Holy Ghost revivals are more isolated, daily dependence upon prayer for sustenance and guidance is abnormal, and interest in deep Bible study is waning. These things began disappearing from the main-line denominations a century ago. The same creeping departure has been going through evangelical circles for a few decades. Now, the same patterns are at work in fundamentalism.

In the absence of God’s people following God’s way, there is a vacuum. Since man is, by nature, religious, he will find a substitute for God’s way. I submit that man is filling his vacuum with some very creative religious methods, as follows.

The first creative religious method employs a modern version of the Crusades.8 The call is for “God’s army” to use their political power to defeat their opponents in our nation. All moral people are to write their government representatives, fill out surveys, enclose their checks, join the grassroot organizations,… I believe columnist Cal Thomas’ summary is on target with:

“The effort might provide some needed short-term cash for the struggling Falwell organization and for other groups like Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition. But if the objective is to change government policy and, by changing policy, return America to its spiritual and moral roots, the approach is backward.” 9

Mr. Thomas goes on to give his advice on what the Bible-Believing Community should do. He lists three actions:

“First, religious conservatives must separate their children from the failed public school system. Public schools have been invaded and captured by an alien philosophy. With their emphasis on ‘multiculturalism,’ rewriting history and ‘alternative lifestyles,’ they are hothouses in which young seedlings are converted into towering liberal oaks….

“Second, preachers need to get back to their primary mission, which is to build up their members spiritually and morally and to attract new members to a life, a cause and a kingdom not of this world….

“Finally, religious conservatives need to reposition themselves and be primarily known by what they are for, not what they oppose. They have a positive message about life, about human relationships, about compassion, but it is too often wrapped in a negative image….” 9

The second creative religious method proclaims that the Bible-Believing Community must get its local churches and Christian schools updated with the modern ideas and techniques that are “successful” in the world around us. Methods and materials are neutral, amoral, they proclaim. Our churches and their leaders are being bombarded by this world’s ideas, carefully repackaged in “Christian” terms and designed for sale to generic “Christian” consumers.

According to many secular and evangelical speakers, the Bible-Believing Community will be accepted if we change our methods and materials. (But I cannot help but reread folk like Kirsopp Lake.) I pull from my bookshelf a church history book by the pen of Carl S. Meyer, published by Moody Press in 1969. The title of the last chapter is, “Is It a Post-Christian or an Ecumenical Age?” (Isn’t it interesting that those two are spoken of together?) The book’s last paragraph is subtitled, “Challenges to the Christian Church.” In it he writes a sentence that is important and crisp, identifying that our problems with society are not centered in methods and materials. He says:

“Basically the problem is the skandalon, the offense of the cross, and the foolishness of the gospel.” 10

The third creative religious method bombards the individual saint and the pastors and principals with the subtle message of the unity of “Christians.” There are different elements to this. (1) Unity. To hear the modern answer, “Christianity” will not be able to survive apart from “Christian” unity. It is a generic, “one-religion-fits-all” package. It is a religious “love-in” with the big E word (ecumenical) carefully avoided. The difference between believer and unbeliever is increasingly blurred. (2) How to live. Today, the printing presses and the broadcasting transmitters are bombarding us with the message of the new togetherness, a new ecumenism, a togetherness based upon finding answers to life’s problems and situations — how to live a “Christian” life. Try to find deep Bible study books and broadcasts like those of yesterday. Instead, we learn how to raise our children, manage our finances, love our spouse, be a teacher in Moscow, win over worry (or 1,000 other problems). (3) Don’t be different. Those divisions created as a result of battles over purity of doctrine and the centrality of Bible preaching are now to be lifted. We are all to fit into the mold that has been created for us, including our literature, our music, our preaching, our views of family and child rearing, our appreciation for every “brother.” It is permissible to criticize the fundamentalists, accusing them of “moving to the right” (however intellectually dishonest)), but otherwise, the modern message is to avoid criticizing any “brother,” for, of course, we are all “Christians,” all free from law, rules, and stifling restraints.

Regarding all three creative religious methods, may I say that the patient will seldom know that he has the disease. Few will be rescued from the slippery slope as the vacuum caused by the departure of true practice is filled by new methods and materials. I am reminded of the old gospel film, “Sheffey.” A young man came to the old circuit-riding preacher, confessing that it was he who had used arson against the Bible campground. The film ends with Sheffey’s words that are appropriate in this Special Report:

“The campground is gone forever. God never forces His will on men. He calls them unto Himself, but if they will not follow Him, then they have to go their own way. The campground is gone, not because you burned it, but because God’s people didn’t want it. God let them have their own way. Every time we give up a part of our faith to try to fit into the ways of the world, we lose it forever. We lose a precious part of God’s promise, sacrificed to the world, and the world will never give it back. And some day when the world tells us we can no longer have our religion, except where they say, and God is driven from our schools and our government and our homes, then God’s people can look back and know that our religion was not taken from us — it was given up, handed over, bit by bit, until there was nothing left.” 11

To me, the question of “Where Are Christian Schools Going?” is not, you see, a question of numbers or finances or academics or…. It is a question of the very heart of biblical Christianity. Will we get our roots into the very things that our Holy Scriptures say will bring success, or will we depart from those things, filling the vacuum with the messages of this spiritually pagan world (though carried to us in the name of Christ)?

The Educators

I am seeing a growing dichotomy. On one hand, many schools are looking to avoid offense, to broaden their clientele in general society, to be accepted in this world’s academia. There are calls for schools to merge, to set aside their distinctives, to use “professionals” as advisors instead of troublesome pastors, to let the local churches teach doctrine while the school “educates” the children. Sadly, history and observation tell me that many will go that broad way just as many movements, churches, church groups, and para-church groups of the past. They will continue to believe that they are just as “Christian” as the next guy, indeed, more so than the fundamentalists. I regularly review literature for “Christian” teachers that gives good information on building honesty, respecting others, being a good citizen, building social graces, etc. into the curriculum — but without fully integrating that teaching with Bible. I submit that that is hollow teaching. It is not the task of Christian education to produce smart fools, polite fools, socially accepted fools, or fools that make good neighbors.

On the other side I see parents, Christian schools, and churches that are striving to keep the centrality of the gospel and basic theology and to integrate the Bible into every aspect of life. As to the future, the KCEA staff can do much for this group. Following the centrality of the Word of God, these folks can be exposed to a wealth of human knowledge that can be implemented into the teaching/learning process in our schools. We know the attributes of a quality school and much about what it takes to develop one.

Here are action items for educators:

1. Get busy learning. All too many of us are lazily repeating our jobs, year after year, without extending ourselves toward higher goals. Also, many of us are ignoring good resources that are usable within a thoroughly biblical framework. Not enough of us are really forcing ourselves to be honest with our product. Many more of us must continue our Christian education with advanced degrees in education and education administration.

2. Make sure you and your education leadership team are thoroughly biblical. My office is having an unnerving number of calls from parents and educators, distraught with their current “Christian” school, searching for a school that is not infected with One World, New Age, Humanist educational methods, materials, and leadership. Of even more concern is the question of how many do not call KCEA, believing that their principal certainly knows the Bible way.

The Pastors

We need spiritual leaders who will articulate the Word in view of the times. Our movement has dangerously too few involved pastors; and, combined with the lack of high academic standards, these are the two reasons why I see a number of Christian schools in trouble. In contrast to the 70’s when multitudes of pastors preached fervently about the dangers of secular education to the young, all too many are reluctant to preach lest he offend. I am fully conscious that a pastor likely has three groups of parents (with school-age children) in his church: those attending secular, Christian, and home education alternatives. Our families in all three alternatives are not producing sufficient numbers of Christians who are determinedly different from this world. At the same time, make no mistake about it, I believe that a strong Christian school is most likely to be the best environment for producing the balance of godly character with godly academics.

Here are action items for pastors:

1. Guard your flock. I have already enumerated that the ecumenical spirit has wrapped our whole society into a new definition of “Christian.” Oh, that we would turn from the “one- religion-fits-all” philosophy that is ravaging our homes and churches. I hope that it is obvious that I believe it is extremely dangerous for pastors, principals, Board members, teachers, and parents to address methods and materials without addressing biblical philosophy.

2. Stay involved in shaping the young. This world hates biblical pastors being involved in these lives. At the same time, I find scriptural principles that indicate that the pastors need to be deeply involved.

3. Get to know enough about school administration that you know what real quality is. There is nothing gained by comparing myself with myself (or with straw men that I invent).

4. Get a handle on what is happening around you. In education matters, I encourage you to do research in what we know, based upon professional research, to be the characteristics of a quality education institution.

To recap this report, I [reread the title]. They are following the churches. Some schools are staying on the historic way while others seek a new way. I see only two alternatives. Yes, there will be diversity in understanding as to what God’s Word teaches on some subjects. But when it comes to philosophy of Christian education, there are, today as in any day, only two real schools of thought: the historic way and the “new” way. (Remember Kirsopp Lake.) That is where Christian schools are going.

____________________

1 Charles Colson. “Can We Be Good Without God?” IMPRIMIS. April, 1993.

5 American Political Theology. 1984.

6 The Religion of Yesterday and Tomorrow. Pages 61 & 62. 1925.

9 “Do Not Resurrect the Religious Right.” Los Angeles Times Syndicate. November, 1992.

10 The Church: From Pentecost to the Present.

11 Unusual Films, Greenville, SC. 1978.

April, 1993. All rights reserved. Permission to reproduce in whole, not in part, is granted, provided the author and his employer are credited.

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