Who Should Teach Your Children?
By Ryan C. MacPherson, Ph.D.
Originally published in Lutheran Sentinel (Evangelical Lutheran Synod), Sept. 2008, 3.
Every child needs a Christian education.
Children are not born with knowledge of their Savior’s love for them; rather, they receive this knowledge through the “baptism” and “teaching” referred to in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). Nor are children born with a “blank slate” ready to be filled with God’s truth; rather, they are born with a sinful nature, predisposing their minds against God (Romans 8:7). Children, no less than adults, need to “be transformed by the renewing of [their] mind[s]” (Romans 12:2). The first source of their education is generally their parents.
Every parent is an educator.
Whether you feel qualified or not, if you are a parent, you are an educator. This is true not only because children are like sponges that soak up lessons from the people in their lives—especially from their parents—but also because God, who invented parenthood, wills that parents are educators (Ephesians 6:4). Education is not optional; it is integral to the parent-child relationship, and begins already with the natural rhythms of feedings and diaper changes, progressing into the child’s first steps and first words—and the first folding of one’s hands for prayer.
Every Christian parent is a Christian educator.
“These commandments that I give you today,” said God to his Old Testament people, “are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). “Fathers, do not exasperate your children,” spoke God to his New Testament people, “instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Parents appropriately respond, “We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord” (Psalm 78:4).
A “Noah’s Ark” theme in the nursery, family devotions at bedtime, table prayers at mealtime—these all are the beginnings of Christian education in the home. Nativity sets during Advent, a birthday cake for Baby Jesus at Christmas, family hymn sings, memory work, discipline informed by Law and Gospel—these home education experiences water the precious seeds that are planted in Holy Baptism. No wonder Martin Luther referred to fathers and mothers as the pastors and priests of their households, for that truly is what Christian parents are.
Every pastor is a Christian educator.
Pastors, too, are educators. It has been said that children belong to their parents by birth and to their congregation by baptism. Hence, the pastor of the congregation includes children in his ministry. Pastors provide Christian education to children through children’s sermons, Sunday School classes, Vacation Bible School, and youth confirmation class. The divine service also educates children, as they become familiar with God’s Law and Gospel through the liturgy, hymns, Bible readings, and sermons, and as they crane their necks over adults’ heads to witness a baptism that reminds them of their own.
All other educators either supplement or replace parents and pastors—so be careful about choosing which teachers will serve your children.
Teachers assist parents in the education of their children, as Dr. Luther wrote: “Where a father is unable by himself to bring up his child, he calls upon a schoolmaster to teach him” (Large Catechism, Fourth Commandment, para. 141, Tappert, p. 384). Teachers, both within the congregation and within secular society, can provide valuable assistance. But the responsibility remains with parents and pastors to ensure that such teachers truly are supplementing, rather than replacing, what the parents, pastor and congregation have been teaching their children.
Children enrolled in public schools face special dangers, because the curriculum often replaces the Christian education of the home and church with false doctrines concerning both God and man. The parents and pastors of children enrolled in public schools must stand ready to identify and counteract these harmful influences. For example, science lessons may teach that people have animals as ancestors, health lessons may teach that any sexual “lifestyle” is just as good as another, and social studies lessons may teach that all world religions are basically the same. Such teaching is not supplementing, but replacing, the Christian doctrines that God revealed in His Word: that He created Adam and Eve specially, that sexuality is a gift for marriage (which of course must be between one man and one woman), and that in Christ alone—not Muhammad, Buddha, or any other—do we find God’s gift of eternal life.
Parochial schools in this regard have a distinct advantage. When properly established, they faithfully assist parents and pastors in the Christian upbringing of children. However, the responsibility remains with parents and pastors to ensure that such schools are Christian in more than just name. God’s Word must permeate the entire curriculum, so that His promise to Israel may be claimed as our own: “All your sons will be taught by the Lord, and great will be your children’s peace” (Isaiah 54:13).
The Holy Spirit is your child’s best educator.
When you homeschool your children—and all parents are homeschoolers to some degree—be sure that you are bringing them to what Luther called “the schoolhouse of the Holy Spirit,” namely, God’s Word. If you enroll your children in a school, keep in mind that Christian schools uniquely employ God’s Word as a light for your children’s path. (Psalm 119:105) Whatever doubts you may have about your own abilities, be confident in the promise God attaches to His command for parents: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6).