Yesterday I began explaining why my wife and I have decided not to homeschool our children (and, hence, why we have decided to place them in public schools). I guess this article struck a nerve since, at last check, there were over 100 comments posted by readers. I received quite a few emails as well. Reaction ranged from “Way to go!” to “You are sacrificing your children to Molech!” You can read the article here. It will provide context for what I will say today.
Before I dive into today’s topic, I want to address a couple of points that arose in the feedback on my first article. A few people pointed out, and some with a bit of anger and/or sarcasm, that I didn’t actual say why my children were in public schools. That is true. But this is a multi-part article. We’ll get to it.
Also, several people were offended that I spoke of this decision in the context of Christian freedom and the weak versus strong distinction of Romans 14. Some people naturally assumed that I suggested I was strong because I send my children to public school while they are weak because they prefer to homeschool their children. I did no such thing. I merely indicated that one of us is weak and one is strong. What I said was this (and the quote comes from a series of articles on the topic written by my pastor): “depending on your view on this subject you may fall into the weak category or the strong category. In either case, you will be ‘tempted by the devil, the world and your flesh to either despise or condemn those who hold a different view from yours…Depending on whether you are weak or strong, you are being tempted to despise other members of this church or condemn other members of this church. If you deny that, you deny God’s Word. Paul does not say, some of you are in this weak/strong struggle. No, he says all of us fall into one or the other classification.’ The strong are tempted to despise and the weak are tempted to condemn. Let’s be sure that we do not fall into either sin.” You will know whether you are weak or strong by your reaction. If you are a homeschooling parent and you feel anger or hatred for what I said (and what I am about to say), you are strong. If, on the other hand, you condemn me for my decision, you are weak. Though it seems strange, the easiest way to gauge whether you are weak or strong is by your sinful reaction. In either case, I’d worry less about whether you are weak or strong and more about asking God for forgiveness because of your sinfulness. I’ll do the same.
And now, at long last, I will provide reasons that I send my children to public school and do so on the basis of conviction, not necessity. Do not expect to see me answer the usual charges levelled against those of us who choose to place our children in public schools. If you want to talk about those, go visit Dan’s blog and read about the myth’s of homeschooling in that excellent series. I am going to make this simple and address only two points. I have little faith that this article will convince or please anyone. Still, this is it. This is why my children are in public school.
I believe that God has called every Christian to missions, whether we are born, live and die in our native culture or whether we choose to move halfway around the world and immerse ourselves in another culture. Every Christian is called to missions, for the Great Commission has not been rescinded and will not be until the Lord returns. We are all expected to fulfill this Commission to the best of our abilities. And this is a world in desperate need of the gospel. We have lived in our neighborhood for six years now and have never once seen even one of our neighbors head to church. As far as we know, we are the only Christians in the area. Canada is a spiritual wasteland and my heart bleeds for the people in this neighborhood, in this community, and this nation. As Christians, my wife and I are indigenous missionaries. God has placed us in this culture, among these people, and He expects us to reach out to them and to let the gospel go forth.
Trusting that my children will grow up to be believers, I am convicted that it is my duty as a parent, and as a Christian parent, to prepare my children to fulfill that calling in their lives. I believe they can best heed this call by being in the culture in which God has seen fit to place them. I want them to be with kids who are not Christians, to be friends with them and to love them, to learn what separates them from their friends, and to begin to understand how their convictions make them different from others. I want them to see and know and understand and believe in the superiority of Christianity to any other religion or way of life. I want them to see what the world has to offer and to see that it quickly loses its lustre.
I believe missions can and should happen everywhere. I find it difficult and painful to imagine a public school system devoid of Christians. Imagine, if you will, that every Christian pulls their children from the public schools. There will be no more Christian clubs in junior high schools; there will be no more prayer meetings or Bible studies at high schools; there will be no witnessing, no conversions. Christians will have removed the best indigenous missionaries from their natural mission field. I want my children to learn how to witness to their friends and want them to do it. Assuming my children are or will soon be young Christians, I do not want to deny them the ability and privilege of witnessing to others. New Christians are filled with joy and excitement and, while they may not know a lot yet, they are usually excited to share the gospel with others. I want my children to do this and to see their school as a mission ground. I want them to experience the joy of sharing their faith and to grow in their ability to do this.
There is another side to this. We genuinely love the people around us and want to know them, both so we can relate to them as friends and so we can, with God’s help, witness to them of His love and grace. Our children build bridges to the neighborhood. In sending our children to public school, we are building these bridges with our neighbors as our children are building friendships with their children. We are building friendships on the basis of our kids’ friendships. This is not to say, of course, that we only relate to our neighbors because we hope to convert them. We relate to them because we genuinely love them, care for them, and seek to know them both for what they can offer us and what we can offer them. We seek to love our neighbors as ourselves. We have credibility as neighbors and as members of this community by having our children attend the same schools as the other children. This weekend we are having a neighborhood-wide event in our home and every family who has accepted our invitation is a family whose children go to school with our children.
Now some may argue that young children are unready to be evangelists and that it is unfair to expect them of this. Once again, both experience and Scripture prove this a false assumption. If our children are believers, they are filled with the same Holy Spirit as you and I. They are equipped to reach out to the most tender-hearted segment of the population.
My wife and I feel called to reach out to the people in our neighborhood and our community. We simply do not feel we could honor God in this way and be as effective in doing it if we kept our children home. We would lose credibility, we would lose friendships, and we would lose access to the hearts of both children and their parents. At the same time, we would be raising our children with the expectation that they witness to others, all the while keeping them from the most natural context for them to witness, to learn how to witness, and to understand those to whom they will need to witness. Our deeds would contradict our words.
To Avoid Worldliness
I have often spoken to Christians parents who feel that public schooling offers too many opportunities for their children to become worldly. Their defenses of homeschooling often discuss the world’s problems and are then punctuated by comments like “This is why we homeschool!” Worldliness is clearly a serious offense in God’s eyes. It is an offense so serious that worldly people have to be concerned about their salvation, for as the Bible tells us, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Here is how John MacArthur defines worldliness: “Worldliness is any preoccupation with or interest in the temporal system of life that places anything perishable before that which is eternal.” Iain Murray says it is “the mindset of the unregenerate.” Those who love the world, and who put what is perishable before what is eternal, are those who do not know the love of the Father.
But we do not avoid worldliness by secluding ourselves from the world. The key to escaping worldliness is not to avoid the world, but to avoid acting like the world and thinking like the world. To do this we do not escape the world, but allow ourselves to apprehend the allure of the world so it might lose its glow. The world has a natural attraction to all of us who have sinful hearts. Something within us, some dark corner of our hearts, longs to return to the world, to the old man. But with the help of the Holy Spirit, we soon see that the world offers nothing but counterfeit joy and happiness that are opposed to God. To think that we can keep our children from being worldly by sheltering them from the world is false. Sooner or later children will want to see what the world has to offer. It is far better to let them see it when their hearts are tender, their confidence is in their parents, and their abilities are limited. Children who do not experience the world until they are old enough to be able partake in all its so-called pleasures are children who fall away.
I believe it is easier for children to avoid worldliness when they are exposed to the world. This may sound strange, so allow me to explain. I want my children to see what the world has to offer before they are old enough to explore it on their own, without parental guidance. I want my children to see and experience families where God is not at the center. There are aspects to unbelieving families that may appeal, especially when the children are young, but as they grow and mature, I think they will see that what the world offers is so obviously detrimental to both individuals and families. They will learn the value of faithfulness when they see families fractured by infidelity. They will learn the value of mom following her biblical convictions and staying home to be a homemaker when they see families where mom and dad do not arrive home until well after dark leaving the children with no oversight, no guidance. They will see that what mom and dad are teaching them is true.
The fact is that worldliness comes from within. Worldliness is not something that is forced upon people or that is extrinsic to them. Worldliness is intrinsic and arises from a person’s sinful nature. A person who never experiences the wider culture can still be worldly. A child who never darkens the door of a public school may be far more worldly than one who does so every day. A child who is homeschooled or who goes to a Christian school is, in my experience, no more likely to avoid worldliness or to grow up to be a committed follower of Christ than one who goes to public school. Visit a Christian college and see if the homeschooled kids or the kids who went to Christian schools act consistently better than those who attended public schools. Experience shows that you will not find a difference based primarily on the breakdown of how the children were educated. Keeping my children out of the world is not going to keep them from being worldly. And, in fact, by allowing them to see the cost of worldliness, the cost of disobedience to God, they will see worldliness for what it really is. They will see that God’s promises of blessing to those who honor Him are as true as His promises of the curses that come to those who forsake Him.
I believe I can equip my children to love God and to avoid worldliness by placing them in public schools where they can see for themselves the cost of forsaking God.
Miscellanea and Conclusions
I think it is important to note that, in any educational choice, work remains to be done. Homeschoolers have to be deliberate about building bridges to the community and neighborhood. They have to deliberately seek ways of inviting unbelieving children into their homes and finding ways into the homes of unbelieving families. They have to seek ways of building credibility with those who live around them, of building community with them and of finding ways for their children to learn to witness to others. With those of us who choose to send our children to public school, we must be deliberate about understanding what our children are learning, interpreting it for them, and ensuring that they have a Christian worldview that allows them to filter these things themselves. We must ensure that they understand their sin and see that it is only the Holy Spirit that makes them any different from the other children in the school. In either case, academic education is only the starting-point for building a life that honors God and fulfills His commandments and commission. If you are a homeschooler and are about to post a comment disagreeing with me for my decision, I’d like you to first consider how you are seeking to carry out the Great Commission and how you are equipping your children to do so and allowing them opportunity even now to witness to peers.
I would like to make clear that it is possible that in the future my wife and I will need to rethink our position. A time may come when the school system degenerates to a place where we simply cannot allow our children to be there. A time may come when it just makes sense for us to explore other options. Because I do not regard any of the options are intrinsically wrong, they are all open to us if necessity dictates that we follow a different course. We hope to continue to prayerfully reflect on the state of the system and to make wise decisions.
There is one more thing worth considering. While homeschooling is an option currently available to Americans and Canadians and people in some other corners of the world, it has not always been this way and will not always be this way. Even today in many nations parents have no choice but to place their children in schools where the teachers seek to lead them away from Christ. Do these children fall away? Were the children of Christians in the Soviet Union swept away into atheism? This is simply not the case! God’s grace was and is more than able to overcome all manner of unbiblical teaching. While this may not justify a decision, it does show that God is powerful and will not allow His children to fall out of His grasp.
I am not afraid of the world and what it may do to my children. There is nothing the world can offer that is greater or stronger than God’s grace. I am sure that my children, at one time or another, will encounter teachings that run contrary to our convictions. They will learn about evolution and will hear that all religions are the same. I know that this is coming and am already working with them to know how to think about these things and to know how to respond. I am teaching them to respond to such teachings with love and respect for the teacher, but with disdain for teachings that go against Scripture. I am teaching this to them while they are young and while they trust me more than they trust others!
I am praying for this grace to be operative in the lives of my children and trusting that it will be so. I am trusting that God will draw my children to Himself and, in so doing, reorient their desires and affections so they see as He sees and value what He values. And as I do that, I am preparing them to know the culture, to be in but not of it–to reach out to a culture that is so desperately in need of missionaries who carry with them the gospel message of Jesus’ death and resurrection.