Sunday, March 15, 2009

Is The Christian School Movement Selling its Christian Heritage For a Mess of Professional Pottage?

James M. Bramblet, my late father-in-law, was a retired Christian school administrator. The following article was certainly timely when it was written and is even more timely now. Those involved in Christian schools should heed this wisdom if Christian schools are to survive as viable ministries into the future. (Ron Livesay)

Is The Christian School Movement Selling its Christian Heritage
For a Mess of Professional Pottage? by James M. Bramblet, 1990

Those who have been associated with the Christian school movement over the past thirty or forty years cannot help but notice many changes. Christian schools were once socially suspect but have come to be much more accepted. Where once many pastors and Christians opposed Christian schools, now only a small minority does. Even government school agencies have resigned themselves to the inevitable existence of Christian education.

In almost every area the Christian school ministry has grown. Growth in numbers and size of schools has been often documented. Salaries of teachers and workers, though still not large, have been much improved over past years. School buildings, equipment, programs, Christian texts and numerous other things have also been upgraded since those early days.

The term often applied to these improvements is "professional." Since professionalism is the only standard by which the world judges Christian schools, we tend to pay more attention to these outward standards than to our spiritual condition. In the old days, when schools often teetered on the verge of extinction, they felt very dependent on the Lord's help. Prayer was more important than professionalism and faith was more important than money-raising schemes.

The Lord honored the prayers and faith of His children. Year after year, as teachers and administrators met at annual teacher's conferences, they compared notes as to what the Lord was doing in various schools, and the meeting ended in a time of prayer and praise. Always the participants came home rejoicing in the Lord and determined to trust Him for yet another year of Christian school service. Like the Church at Smyrna, they felt poor (Revelation 2:9), but spiritually they were rich. Today, like the Church at Laodicea, many Christian schools and Christian school organizations feel rich and increased with goods and in need of nothing (Revelation 3:17a). Could the Lord's evaluation of the modern day Christian school movement be similar to His evaluation of Laodicea (Revelation 3:17b)?

The Lord's instruction to the Church at Laodicea was "Be zealous, therefore, and repent." Is it possible to maintain professional gains and return to the strong Christian emphasis of years gone by? Not unless as much time, effort and concentration are exerted in building spiritual credibility as has been exerted in building professional credibility. If this is done, credibility with the world may suffer, but credibility with Christian supporters will be strengthened. Christian parents are not apt to sacrifice time and money to send their children to a private professional school, but they will for the sake of a truly Christian education.

To accomplish this change will require a change in the direction of leadership in the Christian school movement. Those who plan the programs and schedule the speakers for Christian school conferences need to make a concerted effort to return to a more spiritual emphasis. There was a time when the thinking was that those who wanted to learn the world's ideas about education could go to any secular college but that Christian truth about education was available only at our Christian school conferences. While some workshops are still strongly Christian in character, there is a growing tendency to promote many non-Christian things such as "assertive discipline," which is purely classroom control with no thought of repentance or Christian moral training. Some workshops even promote the anti-Christian doctrine of "self-esteem," which makes repentance and the New Birth unnecessary.

Even though there may be some value to our teachers in these materialistic presentations, to try to extract this value is like trying to extract good food from a garbage can – it always comes out with the aroma and flavor of the rest of the garbage. Likewise, what we extract from a humanistic potpourri always comes out with a distinctly humanistic flavor. Surely we Christians can develop our own educational meal from the pure milk and meat of God's Word! We need to return to the emphasis of a few years back when humanistic instruction was not tolerated, when there was more emphasis on prayer and less on candy sales, and when more faith and less political action was being exercised.

Another area of Christian school leadership that needs to be re-evaluated is the Christian accrediting or approval process for schools and colleges. This is an important function and has been one of the programs that have helped to upgrade our schools. In carrying out these evaluations, however, we need to be careful that we do not emphasize professional qualifications to the neglect of Christian graces. A perusal of the instruments being used for these evaluations indicates a tendency in that direction. One such instrument used by ACSI has thirty questions of which only six contain the word Christian or Biblical. It is true that the other questions can be answered from a Christian perspective, but the emphasis is not really in that direction. Such questions should force the institution to think through its Christian commitment.

The men and women who form the visiting teams are for the most part Biblically oriented to the educational process, but if the instrument does not specifically direct attention toward Christian truth, the team tends to neglect that subject. The result can be that the institution gets the impression that no one really cares whether it has chapel services, faculty and student prayer meetings, or Christian service assignments for students. Much emphasis is put on the scholastic qualifications of the faculty, but no one inquires as to when and how they were saved, whether they are called of God into the Christian school ministry, or whether they know what it means to walk by faith.

Accrediting teams need to examine their various commendations and recommendations to schools and see what percentage deal with the school's prayer life, faith, chapel services, Christian philosophy, etc., as opposed to finances, buildings, teacher training, and the like. The latter are important, but the former are indispensable in a Christian school and should occupy no less than half the space given to commendations and recommendations.

The primary area of Christian school leadership is that of school administrators and school boards. These are the people directly responsible to God to make sure the local Christian school provides Christian instruction and Christian discipline. The policy decisions made by these individuals will decide whether a school has a Christian atmosphere or a secular, humanistic atmosphere. The board, under the leadership of the administrator, has the final say concerning the selection of teachers, the screening of students, and the determination of the nature of the curriculum. These basic decisions are instrumental in determining whether a Christian school is Christian in reality or in name only.

One of the numerous decisions made by a board is establishing the qualifications of teachers. A recent (1989) Christian college graduate, prepared for teaching in a Christian school, sent letters of inquiry to a number of Christian schools. The letters he received in return reveal a startling contradiction in the policy of many schools. One letter states, "We have encouraged our teachers to work toward their ACSI credentials, but they must have Washington State certification." Since teachers have a limited amount of time and money for acquiring an education, they will naturally spend them on what is required rather than what is encouraged. They are requiring preparation in humanistic education but only encouraging preparation in Christian truth. How much better if they had said, "We encourage our teachers to have Washington State certificates, but they must have ACSI credentials."

Another letter has a very fine paragraph setting forth the Christian requirements. One of their statements is, "The approach is totally from a Biblical, not secular, viewpoint." In the next paragraph, however, they say, "Teachers must meet the certification standards of the State of Washington as an indication of professional training and competency." In other words, it's all right to talk about being Christian, but professional training and competency are based on secular, humanistic preparation.

A third school says their teachers must be, "Committed to our Christian philosophy of education." In almost the next sentence they say, "Our teachers are required to hold valid Washington State teaching credentials."

Apparently these boards and administrators do not see the contradiction between these two requirements. Do they expect applicants to spend four years getting a Christian education and another two to three years meeting the state's humanistic requirements? If not, then which of the two options is most likely to be neglected? Obviously it will be the one that is encouraged, not the one that is required. One also wonders if they really think that humanistic training will make their teachers either more professional or more competent? Does Christian training fail to make them professional or competent? Is not the real reason for these requirements to placate the state and to establish better credibility with the world?

Some strong Christian individuals have managed to overcome this pressure from the humanistic philosophy that has captured our state certification systems and become acceptably Christian in their classroom work. But the long-term effect of this dual policy in any Christian school, and in the Christian school movement, is a gradual undermining of Christian truth and Christian methods. We tend to become more and more "professional" and less and less "Christian." Those who have been in Christian school work for many years are vaguely aware that this is happening but often do not understand why. If the trend continues, the Christian school movement will go the way of other Christian endeavors such as the YMCA, Yale, Princeton, Harvard, etc. In view of the sacrifice that has gone into building Christian schools, this would be a tragedy. Already some Christian parents see so little difference between Christian and public education that they question the expense involved in sending their children to a Christian school.

The problem of keeping our Christian schools Christian is basic and complicated and will not be solved quickly or easily. Perhaps the best advice is that given by the Lord to the back-sliding Church of Laodicea, which He said was "Neither cold nor hot." His instructions were as follows:

“I counsel of thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; And white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten; be zealous, therefore and repent” (Revelation 3:18-19).

"Be zealous therefore, and repent" is good advice to each of us, no matter what our part in the Christian school ministry.

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