One of the staples and delicacies of the Australian diet is a black paste called vegemite. Made from yeast extract and salt, vegemite is as standard in our diet as peanut butter is to the average American. Aussies like nothing better than to have vegemite on toast with breakfast. We call it “savory”; Americans call it “hideous.” Most Americans, when given vegemite on toast, can’t move fast enough to gulp down some water and get rid of what to them tastes horrible. Many compare it to chewing on bullion cubes; one person claimed it destroyed his taste buds for six months! Hey, I know the stuff is salty, but it’s not that bad!
So why do Australians crave vegemite and Americans can’t stand the taste of it? When I grew up in Australia, mothers fed vegemite to babies so they would learn to acquire a taste for this delicacy at a young age. Australians grew up loving vegemite for the rest of their long and happy lives.
Americans, however, don’t get to taste vegemite until an Australian suggests they try it—usually as part of an ill-conceived prank. Because they have never acquired a taste for it, they can’t stand it, and so will have nothing to do with it for the rest of their short and deprived lives.
What then can we learn from this concerning the spiritual training of our children? Is there an analogy? With just a little stretch, I believe there is. Just like children need to acquire a taste for vegemite at an early age, they need to be exposed to biblical input as well, so that they might acquire a craving for the things of God, and the sooner they get this input, the more they will desire the truth throughout their lives.
Sometimes parents hold back on spiritual training until they think the child is “old enough.” That is a big mistake, and goes contrary to the biblical model. Think about these words written to Timothy from Paul in 2 Timothy 3:14–15:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (NIV; emphasis added).
It’s never too soon to begin, and the more Scripture they are exposed to, the more they will absorb and become accustomed to the Word of God. As they learn to apply the truth that they are learning, they will develop the discernment to navigate through the temptations of the world, but this takes time and faithful feeding by the parents. Only as they mature will they be able to influence others in the same way. Consider this thought from Hebrews 5:14:
But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil (NIV).
When babies are born, they don’t know about the Word of God. They don’t know about Jesus dying on the Cross. They don’t know what it means that God created in six days, and about marriage or any other Christian doctrine. When our first child, Nathan, was born, he didn’t look up at me and say, “Hi, Dad! What are your views on eschatology and soteriology?” Without solid and continual feeding from the Word, all he would have would be the witness of a fallen creation (see Rom. 1:19–20), and an unrefined conscience alerting him to basic right and wrong (see Rom. 2:14–15). Our job as parents was to train him in that which is truth, so he could distinguish good from evil (Heb. 5:14), and not be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine.
Right from the time children are born, they need to be
taught how to act and think as a Christian should.
This means applying discipline in accord with biblical standards, having regular devotions and teaching times, practically applying Christian thinking in every area, making it clear that God’s Word is central to the home, and protecting children from bad influences that they are not ready to handle. That’s a given. We need “vegemite kids” of faith, who will eventually long for the real meat of truth, and then become salt and light to the world.
The Great Education Debate
What about when it’s time to begin formal education? We know that parents have full control and complete responsibility for training their small children, but what about after that? What is a concerned and engaged Christian parent to do when it’s time for school? Most families have three options: 1) public education, 2) private Christian schools, or 3) home schooling.
It is my contention that while children are still maturing, godly training cannot happen in a secular education system or a compromising Christian one. Personally, for our children, we chose a combination of home schooling and Christian schooling, with our last three children having been totally home schooled.
It is my firm conviction that in the majority of situations, home schooling is the better option, followed by carefully monitored Christian schools, followed by a secular public education. Mixed options may be available as well, as there are many Christian schools that provide infrastructure for home schoolers to attend part time. I know that there are exceptions to every rule, but they are just that, exceptions. I also know that circumstances may make the better choices impossible, but in general, according to the true ability and resources of the parents, I believe this order is best.
Home schooling has a long history in society and has existed to a greater or lesser degree in most cultures. In the last few decades, more and more families are choosing this option for their children. As the movement has grown, so have the support structures, materials, and curricula that are available. In most cities, parents can network together with other parents of like mind and values, sharing resources, expertise, and experiences—all of which can help keep costs down and improve the quality of the child’s education. In the resource section of this chapter, we’ve included many sources of information regarding the option of home-based education.
Private Christian education is also an option. Solid, biblically based schools exist in many communities. The cost is sometimes prohibitive, and as we’ve warned earlier, just because they are labeled “Christian” doesn’t mean that the faculty or the curriculum upholds the authority of God’s Word to the highest standard, nor does it mean that your child won’t be rubbing shoulders with students who will be a negative influence.
When it comes to public education, which is based in secular humanist philosophies, the Christian parent would be wise to heed the words of the great reformer, Martin Luther:
I would advise no one to send his child where the Holy Scriptures are not supreme. Every institution that does not unceasingly pursue the study of God’s Word becomes corrupt. Because of this we can see what kind of people they become in the universities and what they are like now. Nobody is to blame for this except the pope, the bishops, and the prelates, who are all charged with training young people. The universities only ought to turn out men who are experts in the Holy Scriptures, men who can become bishops and priests, and stand in the front line against heretics, the devil, and all the world. But where do you find that? I greatly fear that the universities, unless they teach the Holy Scriptures diligently and impress them on the young students, are wide gates to hell.1
Some feel that the influences of a pagan education can be offset by being part of a strong church, but this isn’t enough. It is a known fact that with each passing generation, greater percentages of teenagers brought up in the church abandon Christianity. Over 90 percent of students from church homes in the United States attend secular schools.2 Barna research reported that 70 percent of these students plan on leaving the church after they finish school.3 Those statistics should wake up any parent who desires to raise godly children in this ungodly world.
Both Steve and I attended public schools and a secular university. Looking back at it all, I realize that the only reason we survived the system was because of the phenomenally unique convictions of my parents, the circumstances our family went through, and the times we lived in—and of course the Sovereign God who was in control of all situations.
If a parent must choose a public education for their children, they must be all the more diligent to train their children to gain the maturity to discern right from wrong. The parents have to be even more careful monitoring materials and teacher attitudes. Perhaps most importantly, the Christian student must have a mentality that reflects the reality that they are going into enemy territory when they go to school. Secular humanism dominates, peer pressure is intense, and “compromise” isn’t even an issue—the system is now blatantly anti-God and indoctrinated by Darwinian thinking that by and large won’t even allow the things of God, or even the possibility of a Creator, to be mentioned. The system is not their friend, and they must be aware and ready to defend themselves.
Forming a support group with other committed Christian students can help immeasurably with this. In the United States, because of the “Equal Access Amendment,” students can now legally form on-campus Bible Clubs, prayer groups, and do limited group outreach. The restrictions on these groups can be significant, but it can be done. We’ve included more resources and information on the rights of Christian students in secular schools in the resource list.
Mature Christian teachers can also be missionaries in the pagan public system . . . and they need our prayers because it is becoming more difficult to be light and salt in such situations. Adults ministering in this system are very different than immature students being trained by the system. Until a student has the maturity to discern right and wrong, the strength to stand up to peer pressure, and the determination to confront compromise, public schools are a very dangerous place to be.
Keeping in mind that there could be restrictive legal issues in some countries, I stand by my recommendation that—as long as the parent has the ability and resources to do so—home-based education and carefully selected private Christian schools are the best options for educating vegemite kids—those who acquire and desire the things of God.
It may surprise you that the main opposition we get for the educational choices we chose for our children (Christian school/home school) doesn’t usually come from non-Christians, but from Christians!
The Salt Argument
Often, the criticism we get sounds something like this: “Your kids should be in the public school to witness to the other kids; you need to throw your children out into the world so they will learn to survive; they need to be mixing with non-Christian kids so they can be an example to them,” and many other similar arguments.
When asked for biblical references for such a position, I often get an answer that goes something like this: “The Bible says we are to be the salt of the earth. Our children therefore need to be in the public schools so they can be salt and light to the other students.” Now, it is true that Matthew 5:13 says, “You are the salt of the earth,” but let’s look at this passage in full context:
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men (NIV; emphasis added).
Mark 9:50 states something else about salt that is very important and must be taken into consideration:
Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other (NIV; emphasis added).
The point is this:
A person can’t be the salt of the earth until they
have salt, and it needs to be uncontaminated
salt that retains its saltiness.
Let’s face it: Children are being contaminated as a result of their secular education, television, the books they read, and their friends. In a world of no absolutes, evolution, sex outside marriage, humanism, and false religions—children will be tossed to and fro. How do they know which way to go? How do they know what to choose? They don’t, unless they’ve been trained in truth and can recognize the difference between good and evil in the world . . . and as I’ve already said, I feel very strongly that this training is best done in the sanctifying environment of a home-based education.
Because so many children from church homes have been trained by the government education system (which has become more and more anti-Christian over the years—to the point of eliminating Christianity totally), and because most fathers haven’t really trained their children with a biblical foundation as they should, there are now generations of adults who attend church, but are so contaminated by the world that they think like the world. They lack salt, and the salt they have has lost its saltiness by contamination. These people then contaminate those around them and their own children. These children are often given no salt at all, or the little they have becomes even more contaminated than the parents’ salt.
I believe that in many instances (not all, of course), what people call “teenage rebellious years” is due to a lack of being trained to acquire a taste for the things of the Lord in the early years. Once children become teenagers (and we all know that there are hormonal changes and certain behavior patterns related to puberty and adolescence), it is very difficult to change their behavior.
Contamination comes in many forms, but perhaps the saddest aspect is that much of institutional Christianity has compromised the Word of God, particularly concerning the doctrine of creation. Genesis (especially the first 11 chapters) is foundational to all Christian doctrine. Let me state my warning again: If generations are trained to disbelieve the Book of Genesis as literal history, and to embrace man’s fallible ideas concerning evolution and an earth that is millions of years old, they are put on a slippery slide of unbelief through the rest of the Bible. If the Bible’s history is not accurate, then why should the Bible’s morality be accepted? After all, the morality is based in the history.
The literal understanding of the events in the Book of Genesis is necessary to an understanding of what Christian doctrine is all about. Sadly, some children from Christian homes are being contaminated by what are called “Christian” schools. More and more schools are being established on secular humanism and a secular curriculum, to which God is added, but you can’t Christianize a secular philosophy! You can’t have both!
If you are going to opt for a private Christian education for your kids, don’t assume anything when it comes to the content of the courses or the convictions of the faculty. Don’t assume that the students there are going to be a positive influence on your children. Do your research on the school; monitor everything carefully, and never shirk your responsibility to be the one who trains your kid.
No matter what education you choose, know that you must be pouring the “salt” into your children—and this salt should be as uncontaminated as possible. Children need to be taught to acquire a taste for biblical teaching as early and as repeatedly as possible.
This process is most assured in a home-based education where the parents can take hour-by-hour responsibility for the task. A private Christian education can also be a good option, as long as a parent doesn’t forget their responsibility to monitor the environment and content of the education.
Yes, we are all called to be “salt” to the world. Our children are to be this as well, but they must first be filled with pure salt from God’s Word — leading to spiritual maturity and stability, so that they can be missionaries to the world without being contaminated themselves and made useless for the gospel.
Some Christian parents justify their choice of public education by saying, “Yeah, but I’ve got good kids.” Many child psychologists teach that children are basically “good” too, but the Bible teaches otherwise. Psalm 51:5 states, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (NIV). Scripture tells us that children are a precious “heritage of the Lord” (Ps. 127:3 (NIV)), and that they are a great blessing in a Christian home. Nevertheless, children, like adults, must be viewed first of all as sinful creatures, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).
I remember visiting the hospital in Australia where my sister had just had a baby. I looked at this beautiful infant and said, “What a beautiful looking sinful creature you have there!” (I was thinking of Jeremiah 17:9 that says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”) I was nearly thrown out of the hospital, as you might imagine, but when they took this baby home, it didn’t take the parents long to find out I was right!
Because of the sin nature inherent in all mankind,
and the natural desires of our flesh to do evil,
none of us should ever think that we are
“good” enough to be able to resist temptation.
When placed in a compromising situation, we are more likely to be influenced by the bad than by the good. It’s a challenge to get children to do what is right, but it is easy to let children do that which is wrong—just leave them to themselves, and they will express their true sinful tendencies.
Maturity comes with training, discipline, renewing the mind according to Scripture, and learning to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit rather than in the power of the flesh. That doesn’t come naturally! It comes with maturity, and maturity takes time. Children are not miniature adults. They are unable to discriminate between good and evil. They don’t have the discipline to choose between the truth and the cleverly crafted evolutionary philosophies.
Ephesians 4:14 states:
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming (NIV).
Paul also says in 1 Corinthians 13:11:
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me (NIV).
The Bible makes it clear that children are easily led astray, easily tossed to and fro, easily deceived, and so on. Because of the sin nature and the flesh, a child in a pagan environment is likely to lose saltiness faster that gaining it, even if the parent is trying hard to fill the child with uncontaminated salt at home. (Consider how much time your children spend being trained in the pagan secular system compared to how much time they receive authoritative biblical input!)
When the child becomes a man or woman, exhibiting spiritual discernment and biblical maturity, then they can maintain their salt and be salt and light to the world. Let’s face it, when we as adults are given choices, our sinful tendencies draw us in the wrong direction. Would you rather read the Bible or a secular magazine? Are you more inclined to spend time praying or watching television? Would you rather go to a missions program at church or a football game at the stadium? If you have some extra money, would you prefer to buy Christian books or a new piece of furniture or new car?
I’m sure we all get the point. It’s not that we shouldn’t read magazines or buy a new car, but we need to consider our priorities according to what the Bible says is important, and children who still have much maturing in the Christian faith are very unlikely to do this.
So, in a sense, what I’m saying is that the salt is more likely to pour out of the children rather than to be retained by them. One night, when our firstborn was in upper elementary school, he came and said, “Dad, someone at the Christian school told a dirty joke today and I can’t get it out of my mind.” Yes, contamination sticks with us—it is hard to get rid of because our flesh and fallen nature attract it. If we’ve allowed a lot of contamination to fill up these “vessels,” it is going to be very hard to “decontaminate” them. That’s why parents need to work so hard to avoid as much contamination as possible, and that’s why dads and moms have to work with much prayer, patience, and perseverance to ensure as much salt as possible stays in the “vessel.” There also needs to be much remedial work that reminds children over and over again of biblical truths that continually instill in them a Christian worldview (and the more that happens, the more the culture as a whole will be influenced for good). These things are very difficult to do when the child is spending all day in an anti-God, Bible-denying, secular humanist enforcing environment.
Because of the fallen world we live in and the desires of our flesh and sinful nature, it is impossible to avoid all contamination. There are no perfect parents on this earth. We need to be aware of this and do our best to limit the contamination as best we are able, because our kids, as much as we might love them and adore them, are not “good.”
Others object to my education recommendations by saying, “Wait a minute! Don’t home schooling and Christian schools force Christianity down their throats?” Sadly, I have had people tell me from time to time that their parents harshly imposed Christianity on them, causing them to reject it. “I’m not going to force religion on my kids,” they assert.
In every instance where I’ve talked to people who have been hurt like that, Christianity was imposed legalistically from the “top down,” through pressure (and sometimes power trips) where the parent tried to make themselves the ultimate authority, rather than the Bible. When parents humbly start with the Word of God and build “from the foundation up,” starting with the logical foundations of all the doctrine in Genesis, not trying to prove the Bible with science, but using the Bible to understand science, and teaching children how to defend the faith by giving them answers to skeptical questions of the age—then it makes a world of difference.
Christianity then is presented as a logical and defensible faith that makes sense of the world and is confirmed by real observational science, instead of what seems to be just a collection of opinions.
This is how we need to teach our children—
from the time they are born until the time of our death.
Parents are to train children in the truth of Scripture, giving no options. For a Christian, it is not that truth is the best policy (as if it were one of several acceptable alternatives), truth is the only policy. Children who are merely taught can hear other teaching and easily depart from the truth because of their sinful flesh and their bias against God as expressed in their fallen nature. Thus, to cause children to be influenced for good, much work must be done. We must diligently train them in truth, condemning error for what it is. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he brings up another element that reduces the risk of legalism. Consider verse 4:15:
But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ.
In 1 Corinthians 13:4–7, Paul describes this “love” in detail:
Love is patient, love is kind . . . is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly . . . is not provoked . . . bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
I would propose to anyone who has legalistic concerns about home schooling, that when the truth is taught in an environment of this kind of love, kids will never feel like Christianity is being forced upon them. In fact, I believe the home is the best environment for children to experience this kind of love from the parent, even as they learn to fulfill the greatest commandment in all of Scripture, Deuteronomy 6:5–7:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them 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.
Even when home schooling or a private Christian education seem like the best options, however, circumstances can make it impossible. Allocating the time and finances for home schooling can be difficult for single-parent families. Many families depend on a dual income, and still don’t have enough for tuition at a private Christian school. In other situations, there might be disagreement between parents when either the father or mother is not a Christian. It’s also possible that a solid Christian school doesn’t exist in your area, or maybe you live in a country like Australia where home schooling resources are very, very limited (or you live in a country where home schooling is illegal). These are all serious struggles, and reflect the fact that we certainly live in a fallen world where difficulty is a part of life.
If you are one of the people in this category, the fundamentals still apply. You may have to work harder than others and you may have to access more help, but you have the same responsibility to provide foundational scriptural instruction to your children. You have the responsibility to belong to a strong Bible-believing and teaching church, and you have the responsibility to manage the circles of influence that your children are exposed to. If you have no option but for your children to be educated in the secular system, then you must acknowledge that the responsibility of the position you hold has just been magnified, and therefore checking homework and monitoring your children’s friendships will be of the utmost importance.
Always remember that it is your responsibility,
within your means, to see that your child is trained and
educated according to biblical principles.
God is a gracious God and forgives, but the consequences of your actions will still be part of the legacy you leave . . . and you only have one opportunity to leave it, so you better be sure you’re doing it as you should. If God’s people do not produce godly offspring, then the application of the truth of God’s Word will be severely and negatively impacted for generations to come or to the world around. Who then will be our evangelists, pastors, missionaries, Christian teachers, and Sunday school teachers?
Key thoughts from this chapter:
- We cannot expect our children to be salt and light until they first become salt and light. It is too easy to lose saltiness in an unsalty environment.
- It is impossible to train children under a worldly system and then add God to it. You cannot Christianize a secular philosophy.
- Our children are not “good.” They have sinful natures and fleshly tendencies that make them highly vulnerable to temptation and compromise.
- Building a defensible biblical foundation for our children allows them to develop a defensible faith. When done in love, this is completely different from forcing Christianity on them from the top down.
- The educational choices you make have great impact on the sanctification of your child. Make these choices wisely, according to biblical principles, and even at great personal sacrifice.
- Always monitor the content of what your child is being taught, even in a Christian school or in home school curricula.
- Never give up your responsibility to be the primary trainer of truth for your children.
- Strive to always communicate the truth in love as described in 1 Corinthians (13).
Questions to consider:
- In your community and church, what factors influence parents’ educational choices for their children? Do you think these are valid? Why or why not?
- Read carefully John 17:14–19. How can the principles in this passage, as well as the other passages presented in this chapter, be applied to your decisions about your children’s education?
- Consider three circumstances in which your child is exposed to secular humanism, peer pressure, or compromise. Is your child mature enough to defend himself or herself?
Resources and tools:
www.studentventure.com/. Student Venture. Find everything you need to be a missionary at a secular school.
www.aclj.org American Center for Law and Justice. To find out your rights as a Christian at a public school, click “On the Issues” and go to “Equal Access.”
www.christianlaw.org is another source of legal advice in schooling issues.
Schoolhouse magazine which is a good source of information on home schooling.
Starting a Campus Club (Gospel Publishing House) www.youth.ag.org, 1-800-641-4310.