Homeschooling: That’s in the Bible, Right?

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empty school deskIn response to observing an ever-increasing movement within the church, the contributors here on PS23 thought it opportune to evaluate the FIC (Family Integrated Church) from a biblical perspective. As John Chester noted in his post earlier this week, while we would contend that the FIC has done well in identifying many problems in today’s church and family, it only offers narrow-minded solutions to those problems, “rather than exclusively on biblical answers.”1 Consequentially, the line between strongly held personal preferences are muddied with clear biblical commands. That has damaged the church:

Parents don’t often see the difference between strongly held personal preferences and explicit biblical principles, and therefore their consciences often become the “rule” of what defines a “godly” home life.  It isn’t long before various forms of elitism and legalism can have the appearance of more “spiritually faithful parenting,” and particular preferences (e.g. prescribed, formal “family worship” times, educational choices, etc.) are viewed as biblical mandates.

Families are vulnerable to these ideas because many conscientious parents—desiring the most biblical approach to parenting—are already easily beset with sinful fears (emphasis is original to the author’s) about cultural influences without the balance of a strong faith in the sufficiency and protection of God’s word (Ps. 23:4; 37:18-19; 112:1-8; 127:1).  Elevating personal family preferences to the level of biblical mandates plays on those sinful fears, the net result of which is the temptation to manufacture “godly” children through external controls.2

warning signToday, it is my task to evaluate then the FIC’s perspective on homeschooling onlyism. To that end, it is incredibly discouraging to me to see how various philosophies and methodologies of education have polarized so many in the church. Even worse, in some cases they’ve actually created division, and generated feelings of great hostility and malice. I think even Voddie Baucham (a major leader of the FIC movement, and whom I otherwise respect) has only contributed to that with horrifying bluntness:

Begin to cry out to God for these truths to come to the fore in your church.  Talk about these things with your friends. Start to implement them in your home.  Perhaps God will use you as a catalyst to wake the sleeping giant and move your church toward family integration.3

That is… so not right! No pastor has the authority to say that. That is not how God has ordained the church to function. In fact, this would seem to contradict Baucham’s own call for elder rule governance! The method he proposes above is congregationally democratic and works by changing your elders’ positions by numerical pressure from the congregation. But if your elders are men of God, they won’t succumb to pressure. If you believe your personal preferences are a better way, then the right thing to do is to discuss the matter with your elders – not under any circumstances by creating an undercurrent in the body of Christ.

That’s not so much the nature of today’s post though. I want to address what seems to be a “my way or the highway approach” in the context of parenting and education in the FIC movement. In the FIC environment, parents can seldom seek biblical parenting advice from other parents who have a different philosophy of education. It is far more common for the parent-counselor to blame the other parent for the child’s sinful behavior or rebellion (“Well! What did you think would happen!?”) in a disdainful act of cruelty. They are told they’ve “shirked their God-ordained responsibility” to be the “exclusive instructor of their children” and now they must watch as their children suffer the consequences of their bad parenting.

So why are we so divisive about this? Why has it become such a sensitive subject in the church? Unless… we believe that homeschooling is a biblical mandate. boxing glovesOr, that it is practically a mandate. Parents who don’t home-school are often viewed as “compromisers,” “without conviction,” or even “reckless” in raising their children. It’s even worse for parents who once home-schooled, and decided for whatever reason it was no longer for them. They are then often alienated and viewed as having betrayed the FIC cause.

That is sinfully legalistic; it’s so legalistic it’s alarming.

But home-schooling as mandate has become the acceptable legalism in the church today, being thinly veneered as “wisdom.”4 Many even wrongly assume that parents who send their kids to public school are uncaring and unconcerned about their child’s spiritual well-being, as if it were home-schooling that nurtures faith. In fact, in a recent article by one well known author, I was disappointed to read, “Is public school an option? For Christians who take the Christian worldview seriously and who understand the issues at stake, the answer is increasingly no”5. However, a celebrity status doesn’t make you right, and what he and others have failed to consider with their overtly sweeping conclusions is that a parent might send their children to public school for their child’s spiritual well-being!

Let me explain… and to do that, I will first show you that home-schooling is not a biblical mandate, but only a preferential application. Then I’ll show you how public school might be an equally valid application.

Homeschooling: Just a Preference

context mattersMany appeal to Deuteronomy 6:5-9 as the clearest example where God has ordained that education belongs exclusively to the parents (#badhermeneutics). There are a number of problems with this. First, it’s an argument from silence, which is weak anyway.6

Not only that, but the point this passage is in the context of “spiritual education,” not subjects of literature, history, mathematics, etc. If it was, then why did the Jews send their children to synagogues to study? BTW… remember that even Jesus was taught in synagogues by leaders of an apostate religious system. Yet nowhere in the NT do we see a mandate that even alludes to something like, “And do not send your children to synagogues where they will be corrupted.”  Instead, the NT leaves the parents’ decision in making what they believe is the right decision regarding the education of their children, STRICTLY in the realm of Christian liberty. That means that to admonish parents for not following your philosophy of education, making them feel guilty or that they’re dishonoring the Lord for not following your philosophy of education, or making them feel even that they’ve made the wrong decision because they didn’t follow your philosophy of education, is legalism.

Can you apply principles from Deut. 6, and other passages like Eph. 6:4 or 1 Cor. 15:33 to lead you to a decision to home-school? Yes! But the moment you’ve made your application of Scripture binding on others, you’ve subscribed to legalism.

Public School: Just Another Preference

Now, we might be willing to admit that home-schooling is just a preference, but is public school education actually a viable option for the Christian parent? Well, it might be because a parent wants to honor the Lord, and train their children in His instruction that they actually decide to send their kids to public school! Actually, I can make an equally valid argument for it from Scripture as can be made for home-schooling. But again, that’s only because Scripture simply doesn’t tell us how we’re supposed to train our children in the Lord’s instruction. It just says we’re supposed to do it.

AND to do this, I’ll use verses that are commonly used by home-school onlyism advocates.

Paul said in 1 Corinthians 5:9, I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people. 

question markDoesn’t that seem to help the case for home-schooling as a biblical mandate? Not quite, because the next verse reads, I did not at all mean with immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world! 

Now, as I said in my previous post, I have no problem with home-schooling per se. Where I DO have a problem, is when home-schooling (or any method of education) is presented as the only viable option for the Christian parent. For that person, I want to ask, “How do you reconcile this verse with your philosophy of education? Are you doing this?” You may or may not be, but be aware that Paul is rebuking the Corinthian church for disassociating with the immoral world!

I’m not sure how much more clear Paul could have been about it either. He doesn’t want believers remove themselves from the world system, at all. Is it dangerous? Yes! But is it God’s design? Yes! We have to take seriously the warning that “bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33), but we need to understand that verse in its context too. Paul is talking about bad company in the church. He is not talking about “bad company” in the world! Is that to say that the world will not negatively influence our thinking? No, but that simply isn’t what Paul is saying here. And this is where I want to point out that it just might be that some Christian parents are making a wise, and even discerning decision to keep their children in public school to train them in biblical instruction. 

i think i got itThis parent teaches their children, “This is what the world does. This is what the world looks like. Don’t do as they do.” In that sense it’s easier not to be persuaded by the world’s evil, because you know it’s of the world. You are on guard because you know your classmates and the people educating you are unregenerate. Consequentially, you expect them to act like they’re unregenerate.7 That’s actually what Paul said back in 1 Cor. 5:11, But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person. Association with evil inside the church is far more dangerous than evil from without.

So, don’t assume that because a parent is sending their children to public school that they are not training their children in the Lord’s instruction, or that they aren’t practicing wisdom in their philosophy of education. Each parent needs to make that decision on their own, and carefully evaluate each child’s heart. For some, that might mean that the best thing is homeschooling. For others, it might not.

For some, homeschooling might even place an overwhelming burden on the family, and rather than giving up homeschooling, they begin to forfeit other biblical mandates like serving your husband/wife, being hospitable, or serving the church. In that case, commitment to your preference is making you sin (and remember, serving your family is not the same as serving your church, and nowhere in Scripture do we see any circumstance where we can abdicate that responsibility as believers). Awhich wayt the same time, other parents need to be warned of the dangers of public school education, and those dangers are real. Public school education is not a good option for the parent looking for an “easier way,” and if you’ve chosen to send your children to public school just because it’s cheaper or because you just don’t care, then I’d say you’re laziness and abdication of your biblical responsibilities as parents has caused you to sin too.

You might decide that the best way for your children to be strengthened spiritually by home-schooling. Or, you might determine that this will happen best through testing and refinement in the public school system, and if you do, that’s okay! A wise parent, after all, realizes that it is only a matter of time before any child will be tested by the world – whether now or later.

Personally, I would rather that happen while my children are under my roof. I want the world system to reveal sin in my children’s hearts while I’m there to shepherd them through it (note: the world didn’t put the sin there; it was already there – nor did the world corrupt my children; my children were born corrupt). My reaction should be to evangelize my children and then help them in their victory over sin. Simply removing my child from corrupting influences doesn’t solve the problem in my child’s heart.

born a sinnerWill that be difficult? Undoubtedly, but the fruit of it can be great. That places tremendous responsibility on my wife and myself to shepherd our children. It doesn’t mean we’ve forsaken it. It means we have to be acquainted with our children’s curriculum, have personal relationships with their teachers, be involved wherever possible at their schools, get to know their classmates and their classmates’ parents. We need to know their coaches, and arts instructors, so that we know the battles our children are facing. We will need to set up certain guidelines and rules as our children’s weaknesses reveal themselves. We will need to proactively teach our children to be faithful, and respond righteously in a hostile world. As Tim Challies said well, we won’t send our children to public school. “THE FAMILY GOES TO PUBLIC SCHOOL.”

And will I have to spend every evening “un-teaching” all the lies the public school taught him or her? No… because they aren’t being taught lies from 8:00-3:00. Will there be philosophies and ideologies that contradict a biblical worldview? Absolutely. So we will use that as an opportunity to teach our children to make a defense of their faith, to be an apologist. Will students be cruel to our children? Undoubtedly. We will use it as an opportunity to teach our children to show the grace and love of our Savior. Will other kids act in inappropriate ways? No doubt! So we will teach our children that their only hope is in the Gospel.

Am I saying that this is what you should be doing? Absolutely not. Again, this is just my preference, which also means I’m not committed to my philosophy of education. I can change my mind.

Just as you do not have the biblical authority to tell me I need to send my children to Christian school or home-school because of your application of biblical principles, I have no biblical authority to tell you to send your children to public school because of my application of biblical principles.

saved by graceThere are pros and cons to each system, and we need to remember that our philosophy of education will not save our children. What’s more, we need to be careful, VERY careful that we don’t succumb to legalism over the issue, and we should DEFINITELY not make it the dividing issue in the church that it is today. That makes a mockery of the unity we have in Christ. And don’t equivocate your application or methodological preferences to Scripture, or think lesser of another because they haven’t made the same application as you.

Be warned by the words of John MacArthur:

Evangelical Christianity today is so hopelessly fragmented that you see in the home-school community a sort of microcosm of the macrocosm of evangelicalism…

We are [putting] too much emphasis on methodology. Methodology will always be divisive because methodology is not inspired in the Bible. If we would all get back to the Word of God and the sound doctrine of the Bible, we are going to find the common ground. We are never going to find common ground fussing about methods—and methods, I might quickly add, are a poor substitute for the real deal.

The real thing is sound doctrine. There may be lots of ways to teach it, but I find that when people will live and die for methods, it is probably true that they have abandoned the sound doctrine. There is only one way to convey sound doctrine, and that is to teach it. The best way to teach it is from one person to another person. There isn’t a system, there isn’t a computer program, and there is not even a book that is as effective as one-on-one teaching of the truth. I think that is critical.

One of the problems is that people, home-school people as well, are sitting in churches where there aren’t powerful, clear, definitive sermons, sound in doctrine, explaining the Word of God. Bible teaching and doctrine is being depreciated, and whenever it is depreciated, the methodologists rise to the surface. They just rise. They just sort of float to the top in the vacuum, and they take over, and then you get the chaos…8

So, I support home-schooling parents, but I support public school parents just as much.

Neither one has more biblical merit than the other, and quite honestly, it’s ridiculous to even suggest that parents who send their children to public school don’t “take their Christian worldview seriously.” That attitude is unhelpful and doesn’t consider grace.

legalismIt fails to consider parents who send their children to public school because they want to teach them how to live faithfully to Christ in a wicked world. It fails to consider the wife whose husband deserted her, forcing her into a situation where she must work, making homeschooling an impossibility. It fails to consider other countries (like Germany) where homeschooling is illegal. It fails to consider the wife who submits to her husband’s desire not to home-school. Can we say that she doesn’t take her “Christian worldview” seriously?

That’s precisely what legalism does though. Where Scripture allows for flexibility in the practice of our Christian worldview, legalism does not. We need to remember that neither educational method is in the Bible, and we need to leave it at that.

For further reading, I’ve found the following tremendously helpful:

10 Lessons from 10 Years of Public Schooling
Does Deuteronomy 6 Mandate Homeschooling?
Does the Bible Mandate Homeschooling?
Raising Bubble Babies
Which Kids Don’t Leave the Church? 

***DISCLAIMER***
I am not saying that homeschooling parents are legalistic by merely being a home-school parent. Nor am I suggesting that by home-schooling your children, you are not teaching them how to be faithful in the world. I know many great parents that home-school who are faithful Christians that lovingly serve the Lord’s church and who also have a biblical perspective about a parent’s decision to, or not to, home-school. However, before assuming you fall into that category, I admonish you to search your heart and repent of where you may have imposed your preferences on another, making them feel guilty as if they were disobeying God. Or, perhaps, you have led them to believe they have compromised or do not take their Christian worldview seriously. AND… seek forgiveness from that person.

 

  1. http://www.expositors.org/resources/the-expositors-blog/a-critique-of-family-driven-faith-part-three/
  2. Ibid.
  3. Voddie Baucham, Family Driven Faith (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007), 204.
  4. I have no problem with saying that by choosing homeschooling, a parent may be “practicing wisdom.” I have a problem with equivocating homeschooling to wisdom. It may or may not be.
  5. Al Mohler, https://answersingenesis.org/public-school/is-public-school-an-option/?
  6. The argument is essentially, “The text calls fathers to train their children. Therefore, others cannot train your children.” I find that argument incredibly hypocritical anyway, since by the same argument, we should say that moms cannot train their children since the text only tells fathers to do it.) But not only that, the argument is self defeating. To say that education exclusively belongs to parents, well… what about the equipping ministry of the church? The FIC contends that it is never permissible to “delegate” (which they equivocate to “abdicate”) the training of our children to others. So, Deut. 6 says parents are to train their children, but it doesn’t say that others can’t train your children! More importantly though,  in the context Deut. 6, these instructions were given to Israel, not the church.

    Deut. 6 is part of the Mosaic Law, which was abolished by Christ in its entirety (the point of Galatians). Paul argues that if you keep one part of the Law, you must keep the whole thing. That means that if you want to use Deut. 6 to support home-school education as a biblical mandate, then you should also require your kids to walk around with the Law bound around their hands. And you need to write the Law on your doorpost. AND, you need to keep all the rest of the Deuteronomical Law too.  For more on this, I would strongly recommend this article on TheCripplegate.[1. Dr. Nathan Busenitz is a pastor at Grace Community Church, professor of Historical Theology at The Master’s Seminary, editor for numerous books by Pastor John MacArthur, and all in all, a great guy!

  7. I remember when I was in public school, I wasn’t so much tempted to participate in the sinfulness of my classmates. Where I was the most tempted, was where I saw fellow classmates from church participate in sinfulness. That was the real battle, because it was no longer, “This is what the world does,” but, “They’re Christians too. Why can’t I do that?”
  8.  http://www.gty.org/resources/articles/A298/the-old-schoolhouse-interview-on-homeschool?Term=homeschooling
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