Lord teach us now from your Word. Amen. Now this topic of education isn’t just for parents and teachers but for all. Not that everyone is supportive of education judging by some of the sick notes that are written. Here’s just one: ‘Please excuse Jimmy for being. It was his father's fault!’ Anyway do turn to Proverbs 1 as we begin to look at Christ’s curriculum for life.
To be true to myself and to develop my beliefs is not just part of a new Girlguiding promise but is part of a philosophy which has been adopted by much of Western society including the world of education. You see when you take God and biblical truth out of your core beliefs and values you end up with selfish, me centred and illiberal gobbledygook as one Guardian journalist called the new Guide promise, reflecting our own natural sinfulness and desires.
It's been happening in education for years. The aim of Yale University in the USA used to be this: “Every student shall consider the main end of his study, to know God in Jesus Christ and answerably to lead a godly sober life.” Harvard’s motto used to be: “Veritas pro Christo et ecclesia”: “Truth for Christ and his church”. Yale's aim now is 'the cultivation of citizens with a rich awareness of our heritage to lead and serve in every sphere of human activity'. Harvard’s motto is now just ‘Truth’. Newcastle's is Excellence with a Purpose. Michael Gove may want to increase standards in all schools but without a Christian ethos schools are in danger of creating clever devils, as Martin Luther put it.
From next month -from 29th March - the first so called same sex 'marriages' can take place in England and Wales. And this will have a major impact on schools in terms of sex and relationships education. This rejection of biblical truth is part of the same thinking and drift away from God. Proverbs 3:7:
“Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.” (Proverbs 3:7)
Romans 1:21-26 backs that up, saying that although the pagan Gentiles “knew God” [from seeing his revelation in creation], they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions.
Living without reference to God has serious consequences for individuals, families, schools and society. So, according to the Bible, what should the first and controlling principle of all true education be? Proverbs 1:7:
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7)
Yet the teaching of the greatest teacher to have ever walked on this planet - Jesus Christ - is hardly ever heard in many of our schools or in teacher training institutions, despite being words of truth and life.
Now please don’t misunderstand the Bible isn't against academic learning – Jesus himself grew intellectually and physically as well as spiritually (Luke 2:52). But, as Derek Kidner comments on Proverbs 1:
“When we fence off (as we must) limited fields of knowledge for special study, the missing context must be remembered, or our knowing is precocious and distorted, as at the Fall, and we end by knowing less, not more.”
So let's pray for a door to open for more Christian based education in this city. For this is vital for the future. We must not retreat and remain on the backfoot as Arsenal did against Liverpool yesterday! Nationally the church school sector has the greatest opportunity for expansion due to parental demand.
But our children do not belong to the state. According to the Bible the home is vital in terms of education. And the church has an important role to play too. My eldest son benefitted hugely from being mentored by the JPC Hockey Club as well as being discipled by those in the youth work.
But most children spend more hours at home than they do in school and church combined. Look at Proverbs 1:8-9 where a child is being prepared for life in the world:
Hear, my son, your father's instruction,
and forsake not your mother's teaching,
for they are a graceful garland for your head
and pendants for your neck. (Proverbs 1:8-9)
And what’s the basis of a father’s instruction and mother’s teaching that
children and young people are to listen to and not forsake? V7 again – that
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7)
Is that the basis of your teaching and discipline of your children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces and godchildren? Well let's now look at the words of the one who taught with such authority that the people who heard him were amazed at his teaching – the Lord Jesus Christ. So turn to Mark 10:13-16 on p845 where Jesus says, “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them.” Words which teachers, as well as parents and churches, need to take very seriously. Back in Mark 9:42 Jesus says,
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” (Mark 9:42)
THE CONTEXT OF CHRIST'S TEACHING ON THE IMPORTANCE OF CHILDREN
But before we look at verses 13-16 what’s the context of Christ's teaching on the importance of children? Well the context in v1-12 is Jesus’ teaching on marriage and divorce. So what does God, the creator of sex and marriage, teach? What should be being taught by parents, churches and schools at an appropriate age and stage, if Jesus is the truth? Well let’s examine
CHRIST'S CURRICULUM FOR SEX AND RELATIONSHIPS EDUCATION
The first point on Christ's sex and relationships education curriculum is that:
i) God created sex for heterosexual monogamous marriage alone
Jesus says in v6-9 of Mark 10:
But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together let not man separate.” (Mark 10.6-9)
First Jesus states that sexual differences are part of God’s created order of things (v6). Yes men and women have equal value. The image of God is fully reflected in the male man and the female woman together. But they are different. And not just in terms of human plumbing. Jesus says what was created originally was Adam and Eve. And (v8) sexual intercourse, as an expression of faithful intimacy, belongs exclusively within heterosexual monogamous marriage. And what is real marriage? Marriage is a creation ordinance (v6) in other words a gift of God in creation, and is defined as a faithful, committed, permanent and legally sanctioned relationship between one man and one woman (v7) until death parts them (v9). And because all this is part of the created order then it’s true for all, not just for Christians. Therefore marriage, as Jesus defines it, is central to the stability and health of human society and needs to be promoted. And Christian teachers and parents should be firmly and wisely on the front foot about this. We can’t compromise Christ’s curriculum whatever the government says. Behind the furore from some over the issue of sexuality at the Sochi Winter Olympics, President Putin has simply stated that, for the sake of the children, we need to get back to the Christian faith. Here the government doesn’t want Christian sexual ethics taught in state schools as was made clear when they rejected our application to set up Clayton Academy.
ii) Sex within marriage is very good and purposeful
Young people need to know that God is not against sex in its right context. Look again at v7-8. Note the order here: leaving, holding fast and then becoming one flesh. A personal commitment, a public statement and then sexual intercourse. Not the other way round. The holding fast is the wedding. It’s only after that uniting that the two, the man and the woman, will become one flesh. And in becoming one flesh God calls us to be faithful to our spouse alone. Therefore marriage is God’s intended context for the procreation of children. And that’s a message young people also deserve the opportunity of hearing clearly and sensitively when 48% of births today are to unmarried mothers. But we need to pray for our children to stand up for Jesus as they’re put on the spot to talk about these issues amongst a peer group who often come from a different starting point.
iii) Marriage is for life
V9: Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.
When there’s a leaving, a holding fast and a becoming one flesh, Jesus says
God is doing something. He’s joining the husband and wife together, for life, in a sexually exclusive relationship. So we’re not to break that divine bond. Therefore, Jesus goes on to say in v10-12, divorce and remarriage are not God’s plan. And because marriage is a creation ordinance this applies to all married people, Christians or not. Look at v10-12.
And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10.10-12)
Jesus’ teaching is very clear and very positive and the most loving even if the latter part appears to be very hard. It’s the best for individuals, couples, families, children, schools and society as a whole. And I don’t say this lightly. What Jesus is teaching is built into the order of creation – this is how God designed it and young people need the opportunity to hear God’s positive purposes for relationships. But perhaps some of us this morning are especially aware that our situations are not the ideal God intended. Well our God is a God of hope who offers forgiveness if we turn to him. Jesus wants people who have made mistakes, whatever they may be, to come to him in repentance and faith and know God’s forgiveness, freedom from guilt, rescue from God’s judgment and power to go God’s way. Yes the good news is that at the cross there is forgiveness for every sin, including sexual and marital sins. And that good news needs to be heard in homes, churches, schools & colleges. So let’s take Christianity Explored or UNCOVER to our work places, schools and homes for those who won’t come to a central course. I’m willing to come and help you. This too is important education. Let’s be praying for the mission later this month at Newcastle University. The doors in many primary schools are open. Some school Christian Unions are thriving. But within the school curriculum the Christian faith is being squeezed. So what's Christ's curriculum for RE? What does Jesus teach in Mark 10:13-16? And so to
CHRIST'S CURRICULUM FOR RELIGIOUS EDUCATION
And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. (Mark 10.13-16)
Jesus said, "Let the children come to me.” Not force, but allow, make it possible and not hinder. And the implication is that many want to come to him and that many parents want their children to come to him. And 40 years ago that was the aim of the Newcastle RE curriculum of 1972. It said this:
The RE syllabus is to help pupils towards an understanding of the Christian faith, in Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life and to provide a basis from which they may move toward the belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing they may have life in His Name.
Today the aim and curriculum has become more multi faith although the main focus of RE and assemblies is legally still Christianity. But note, in Mark 10 it was Jesus’ disciples who were hindering the little children from coming to Jesus. They didn’t think the children were important enough to bother Jesus. Are there ways in which we individually or as a church hinder children from coming to Jesus, whether our own children or others? What about as parents? Do we model our faith to our children as well as deliberately teach it? Deuteronomy 6:6 says that God’s commandments are to be upon our hearts not just on our lips. In the light of Jesus’ teaching here in v1-16 what’s the best thing a father can do for his children? The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother and together bring them to Jesus. Is there more we can do to help those who come to our Toddler groups to not be hindered from bringing their children to Jesus? Do more of us need to be standing to be school governors? Do some of you who are teachers need to consider becoming deputies or head teachers? I've already mentioned establishing a Christian Academy in Newcastle. Many people still want their children to go to a church school. Many people still want to bring their children to Jesus in that way. And Jesus is indignant here in Mark 10. He values children and is concerned for their spiritual welfare v14-15:
But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Mark 10.14-15)
So Christ's RE curriculum is very clear for all of whatever age. Only those who receive the kingdom of God with the simplicity and trust of children can enter it. God offers a place in his kingdom to those who will simply trust in Jesus. Who this morning needs to do just that and then know God’s blessing?