This is now the third article in this series on homeschooling and public schooling. In the first article I offered a small glimpse at the changing Christian landscape when it comes to education and then placed education in the category of secondary doctrines or disputable matters. This brought us to Romans 14 where Paul writes about weaker and stronger Christians. In the second article I looked at how people who disagree on disputable matters ought to relate to one another and how each will be particularly prone to sin against the other.
Today we come to the tricky and unavoidable question: When we consider education, who is weak and who is strong? In certain ways I think this question has been answered along the way. Over the past 2 days I’ve seen quite a few ugly comments both here on the blog and on Facebook. The comments bear all the marks of temptations particular to the weak or the strong. And that is part of the reason that I wanted to wait until today to suggest who are the weak and the strong. A friend wrote me to say that by the end of the article he was already longing to be considered strong and already despising the weak. This gave him a good moment to examine his heart. It has certainly done the same for me.
Who Is Weak? Who Is Strong?
I think my answer is going to be disappointing. To be honest, I am a bit disappointed with it! I have thought about it a great deal and have changed my mind several times. Like most of you, I have wanted to believe that I am strong; I haven’t wanted to admit weakness. And yet someone must be weak and someone must be strong. Where there is disagreement on secondary issues there must be someone who has worked out more of the implications of being justified by grace through faith. So who is it? It is a surprisingly difficult question to answer.
Maybe I can illustrate the tension by thinking back to the early days of homeschooling. Here we had public schooling as the norm in most Christian contexts. But then a few families pioneered what would soon turn into a powerful movement. As I understand strength in its Romans 14 context, these people were strong. They understood that God gave them freedom to go against the mainstream and to educate their children as they felt the Lord was leading them. Today, though, there may be a family in a church in which everyone else homeschools. Yet this one family feels the freedom to enroll their children in the public schools. In this context this family is strong, understanding that they have the freedom to educate their children in the way they have been convicted. In one case the homeschooler is strong and in the other the public schooler is strong. Please note that I have not said in either case that all of the other people in the church are weak.
If I understand the situation correctly, issues of weaker and stronger are not set in stone because times change, convictions change, contexts change, and church culture changes. It must be that at some points or in some contexts the homeschooler will be weak and the public schooler strong while in others the public schooler will be weak and the homeschooler strong. I know some homeschoolers today who, by their own admission, are weak; but I know many others who are very clearly strong. The same is true of public schoolers. The implication is that each of us needs to carefully examine our hearts to see if we are weak or we are strong when it comes to schooling.
I believe there are 2 ways that we can go about prayerfully discovering if we are weak or strong. Before we do that, though, we need to remind ourselves that in this context we are discussing people who are saved by grace through faith and who are not looking to any of their choices as a means of salvation. Neither are we discussing people who have refused to weigh the options. The man who enrolls his children in public schools without counting the cost and without carefully shepherding them along the way is not weak or strong—he is stupid. The person who homeschools his children because he thinks that the 4 walls of his home will protect them from sin and worldliness is not weak or strong—he is foolish.
So how can we know if we are weak or strong?
I would suggest that the first way is this: If we continue to assume that homeschooling and public schooling are both options available to the Christian, then we are likely to find weakness in the ones who suggest that their way is the only valid way. The strong permits both options but prefers one of them; the weak deny that the second option is valid. To be strong in this context of homeschooling, if we hold that this is a secondary issue, I believe you would have to admit the validity of both methods. It doesn’t much matter whether you homeschool or public school; what matters is how you understand the issue.
The second way, and perhaps the easier way, is to search your heart for the sin you are particularly prone to commit. If your sin is to condemn the other group as forsaking God’s clear command, if you shake your head at their foolishness, it would point you toward weakness. If your sin is to despise the other group and marvel that they haven’t yet figured out the wideness of Christian freedom, it would point you to strength. In either case the point is to not to feel pride or anger, but to repent of sin so you can love like Jesus loved!
A Case Study
Let’s try a case study. Consider 2 men, Dave and Phil, both of whom attend the same local church. Dave lives in the suburbs of a major American city and has 2 young children. He has examined the Scriptures, he has examined his conscience, he has visited schools and spoken to homeschoolers and at the end of it all, believing that the Lord gives him freedom, has chosen to place his children in the local public school. Phil lives a couple of streets over from Dave in the same city and, like Dave, has 2 young children. He too has examined his conscience, he has searched the Bible, he has visited schools and spoken to homeschoolers and at the end of it all believes that he could not, in good conscience, enrol his children in the public school. He believes that it would dishonor God for him to have his children in those schools and also in his heart believes that Dave is dishonoring God by having his children in those schools.
Both men love the Lord and both men have searched his Word for wisdom on how to educate their children. Both have made a good, valid, God-honoring choice. But in this scenario Dave is strong and Phil is weak. Dave is strong because he feels liberty to enroll his children in public school while Phil is weak because he believes God forbids him and forbids others from doing this. (For sake of word count I won’t create a second case study in which the homeschooler plays the strong role; don’t be offended.)
The point is not to celebrate strength or lament weakness. The point is to have an awareness of particular sins. Dave will have to guard his heart against despising Phil, against mocking him, against seeing him as being ensnared by legalism and then separating from him. Meanwhile, Phil will need to keep himself from condemning Dave as being lawless, from wondering if his choice to put his children in public schools points to an unrepentant or unbelieving heart. Both men will have to put extra effort into extending true gospel unity to one another, because the devil, the world and the flesh will stop at nothing to push them apart.
We come now to the end of this series. Let me close with a final plea for each of us to understand that in this matter, or any other secondary matter, we will naturally be drawn to sin. This is a sad reality, but one that will undoubtedly continue until we fully and finally put off all sin. When we grasp the biblical language of strength and weakness, we are prepared to understand the particular sins we will each be drawn to. And then we can pray for grace to put that sin to death, we can pray for grace to put off hatred and condemnation and, in their place, to love as Jesus loved.
Homeschooling and public schooling are issues that will continue to be important to the church for the foreseeable future; they will be discussed and debated. If we are not careful, if we are not humble, they are issues that will divide. For the sake of the gospel we simply cannot allow that to happen. When we peacefully and lovingly relate as family, as brothers and sisters, even with differences on such important matters, we adorn the gospel, we make it look beautiful. Let’s seek to do that, for God’s glory.