Last Tuesday evening I was in Hall One at the Sage watching my daughter sing in a charity concert put on by a number of local primary schools. It was a memorable evening and one which the children both thoroughly enjoyed and, no doubt, learned from. And I thank God for some of the educational opportunities schoolchildren and students have today and for the 100 or so teachers, classroom assistants, CU leaders, governors and lecturers who belong to this church and who give so much to those they teach and support. You, along with the many parents and grandparents here this morning, have a vital role to play in the life of your schools and colleges and in the education of children and young people. The Bible says in Proverbs 22:6:
“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old [or grown] he will not turn from it.”
Indeed Jesus says to all Christians involved in education here this morning (Matthew 5:13-14):
“You are the salt of the earth…and the light of the world.”
The education service and the physical, mental and spiritual development of children and young people partly depends on the healthy influence of Christian parents, grandparents, teachers, lecturers, classroom assistants and students. Without it, the implication, according to Jesus, is that the education service and the communities it serves will rot, children and young people will suffer, and there will be a lack of taste and truth and much darkness.
So can I lay down a challenge to some of you here this morning? Is God calling you to teach? There is a need for more Christian teachers, head teachers, lecturers and governors in our schools and colleges. And if you are already involved can I encourage you to be what Jesus says you are: salt and light and to stand firm for the truth and be courageous for the sake of the Gospel and of the children and young people of this nation. Listen to what Martin Luther said:
“If I could leave the office of preacher, or were forced to do so, there is no other office that I would rather have than that of schoolmaster. For I know that next to the office of preaching, this is the best, the greatest and most useful there is. In fact, I am not absolutely sure which of the two is better.”
Not that teaching is easy. One newspaper columnist, who has just spent a term teaching at a good rural middle school, put it like this last Thursday:
“Teaching is the toughest job in the world…I cannot believe how much children’s behaviour has deteriorated over the last 20 years…Children these days have very little concept of being quiet and listening. Only by a huge expenditure of nervous energy could I get them to be quiet for long enough to explain a topic…During that term I lost more sleep than doing any other job…English school pupils are the rudest, most selfish, inconsiderate, presumptuous, arrogant and intractable people I’ve met anywhere…I don’t believe I am exaggerating by saying we have a national emergency on our hands.”
Last week Ofsted announced that 243 schools were in special measures compared to 208 the previous year. Twenty percent of 11 year olds leave primary school unable to read and write properly. The numbers of young people gaining grades A-C in GCSE English and Maths is low.
In higher education the Christian faith is coming under pressure just as it is in wider society in the name of supposed equality and diversity. We thank God for the freedom to have university missions at Newcastle and Stockton this week and at Durham last week, just as we thank God for the opportunities in schools to take assemblies and run Christian clubs. But at four universities the Christian Unions have had bank accounts frozen and meetings cancelled by Student Unions and the University authorities.
The truth of Psalm 111 is being thrown out with serious consequences for education and society. As the final verse of that psalm states so clearly:
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding.”
“Clever devils”, as Luther put it, is the best we can hope for without. Yes
1. THE TRUTH IS OUT (Isaiah 59:12-16) which is my first heading.
Look at v14&15 of Isaiah 59:
“So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.”
The truth is that, as a nation, we have rejected the truth, the truth of God and his Word, and have gone our own foolish way. Look at Isaiah 59:12-13:
“Our offences are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us,” says Isaiah, we have committed “rebellion and treachery against the Lord, turning our backs on God.”
Note, in verses 9-13, that Isaiah includes himself with the people. The state of the nation is not just other people’s responsibility.
One consequence of rejecting the truth of God’s Word and one factor behind the situation in our schools is the lack of a biblical foundation in education today. The amazing assumption, at a time of worsening discipline, is that children are essentially good and that the real problem lies in their environment. But the Bible teaches that children are essentially sinful. King David wrote in Psalm 51:5:
'Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.'
This has major implications for discipline and for learning. Proverbs 1:7 says, echoing Psalm 111:
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”
In the New Testament Jesus Christ is referred to as 'wisdom from God' (1 Corinthians 1:30). Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life, perfect God and perfect man, the perfect teacher with the perfect mind is often despised by and excluded from our schools and from the whole education system from nursery schools through to universities and teacher training. As Isaiah 59:13 puts it, people have committed “rebellion and treachery against the Lord, fomented oppression and revolt, uttering lies our hearts have conceived.”
Jesus said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me…If you hold to my teaching you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 14:6 & John 8:31-32)
In 1972 the Newcastle Education Committee recognised the importance of this in their stated aim of RE:
'To help secondary school 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 of RE in Newcastle is nothing like. A multi faith approach is the norm and secular humanism the dominant religion. Newcastle is not unique. 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”. Now the aim is simply “Truth”.
Here in the UK the 150-strong Christian Union in Birmingham was suspended this year after refusing to alter its constitution to allow non-Christians to address meetings and to amend its literature to include references to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and those of transgender sexuality. Edinburgh University banned an event run by the Christian Union called PURE which promotes a traditional biblical view of personal and sexual relationships. The university defended the ban, saying that PURE was in breach of its equality and diversity policy because PURE claims that any sexual activity outside heterosexual marriage is not God-ordained. The pressure came principally from the Gay and Lesbian Society at Edinburgh University and follows the university’s decision last year to ban copies of the Bible in its halls of residence after protests from the students’ union. Surely this incident is an attack on freedom of speech in an institution where an open exchange of views and a search after truth should be strongly upheld. The Exeter University Christian Union has also had its Student Union bank account frozen and has been banned from free use of students’ guild premises or advertising within guild facilities. Exeter University’s student guild claims the Christian Union constitution and activities do not conform to its Equal Opportunities Policies.
“So”, v14 of Isaiah 59, “justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.” And we see this not just in our schools and colleges, in what is being taught in sex education, in citizenship, in PSHE (Personal Social and Health Education) and in RE but also in society. “Truth has stumbled in the streets and truth is nowhere to be found.”
As a result the nation and much of our education system is in the dark. Look at v9 of Isaiah 59:
“We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like men without eyes.”
It’s a devastating picture. The question is will we acknowledge the truth of the situation as Isaiah does in v12? Will we acknowledge our iniquities? our rebellion against God? and the lies that our hearts have conceived? Lies that spread through society and therefore into our education system and repent and turn back to God? And will we then stand up for the truth? Ben Martin from the Exeter CU has taken the student guild to court. Edmund Burke wrote: “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Paul in 1 Corinthians 16:13 says this to those in the midst of great opportunity and yet great opposition:
“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of good courage; be strong. Do everything in love.”
Otherwise schools will collapse under moral relativism and an absence of spiritual truth. Our society will also collapse without commitment to shared values and beliefs. Furthermore behind all our concern for discipline and learning lies a deeper spiritual and moral issue. Schools will be unable to operate unless we restore the family as the basic building block of society and the place in which faith and values are fostered. And the truth is out – it has been revealed – it’s Jesus Christ and his word. So secondly
2. THE TRUTH IS OUT – JESUS IS THE WAY, THE TRUTH & THE LIFE (John 14:6)
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness. All have sinned and stand under God’s judgment. There is no-one righteous not even one.” That’s the message of Romans 1-3. It’s also the message of Isaiah 59. Look at v16-19. “The Lord saw that there was no justice, no-one to intervene… According to what they have done, so will he repay wrath to his enemies and retribution to his foes.”
So how do we escape his wrath and judgment? What is the only way for us, for our children, for those we teach, for our schools and for this nation? Well look on to the solution to the problem of sin in v20 of Isaiah 59:
“The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins.”
Jesus Christ, God the Son, is the only Saviour. He is the way, the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through him, through faith in him, his death on the cross in our place and in his resurrection from the dead. Jesus is not one way among many but the only way to God and heaven. No-one comes to the Father and therefore heaven except through him. Jesus is the truth and he is the solution to the problem of our sin which separates us from God and which leads to breakdown in our society and in our schools. And this exclusive truth needs to be taught. A multi faith mish mash is not the answer.
Now please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not arguing for indoctrination as education. The Bible does not advocate indoctrination of children in the home or at school. In Deuteronomy 6:7 we read:
“Impress [which means to deliberately communicate or teach but not to indoctrinate] God’s commandments on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home, when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
You see we have to distinguish between true and false education. False education is indoctrination, in which parents and teachers impose their mind and will on the child. True education, on the other hand, is stimulation, in which parents and teachers act as a catalyst, and encourage the child to make his own responses. This they cannot do if they leave the child to flounder; they have to teach and explain Christian values of truth and goodness, defend them, and recommend their acceptance, whilst not pressurising or coercing.
But some of you are asking hang on Jonathan is this what schools and universities should be teaching? Well I want to ask what is education for? Is it merely the path to secular salvation? And what will that mean for our society? Now, of course, this doesn’t mean that we don’t teach a wide range of subjects and that we’re not concerned about the development of the whole person. In Luke’s Gospel chapter 2:52 we read, “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.”
But isn’t education ultimately about teaching and learning the truth? Pilate’s question to Jesus, “What is truth?” needs examining in our schools and colleges. Jesus said, "I am the truth". Not one truth among many but the truth. Only he can set us free. Only in him can we know the truth. Better academic education can't change the heart of a sinful human being but Jesus can. He is the way, the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through him. D.L. Moody, the American evangelist, once said, 'If a man is stealing nuts and bolts from a railway track, and in order to change him, you send him to college, at the end of his education, he will steal the whole railway track!' How the truth of the gospel needs to be taught. If education is about teaching the truth then Jesus, who is the truth, should be on the curriculum. Jesus said to Pilate, “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:37) Are you on the side of truth? Then listen to Jesus and allow your children or students to listen to him. He has the words of eternal life and can set us free. And Jesus also teaches us and shows us how to live. Because Jesus is fully God and fully man he shows us what being truly human means. So he and his teaching should be the basis of citizenship and PSHE lessons. So, in conclusion, what must the world learn? Well that’s my final heading.
3. WHAT THE WORLD MUST LEARN (John 14:31)
Look at v31 of chapter 14. According to Jesus, the perfect teacher:
“…the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.”
Here is the perfect example for obedience at school and at home! Jesus loves his Father and does exactly what his Father has commanded him to do. And Jesus commands his followers to obey him. “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15) So if you are a Christian here this morning involved in education you are to put Jesus first. But what must the world learn? Here in John’s Gospel the term ‘the world’ stands for those who are non Christians. Jesus is about to die in obedience to the command of the Father and this will demonstrate to the world that he loves the Father. You see the world may think that Jesus is defeated by his death. But the world must learn that Jesus is actually vindicated in his death, and that the cross, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus Christ ultimately turn on the commitment of the Son to love and obey his heavenly Father at all costs. Jesus died in our place on the cross, taking the punishment you and I deserve for our sin, our rebellion against God, so that we can be forgiven and have eternal life through faith in him. A little bit like a teacher giving a detention but then sending the pupil home, and taking their seat in the detention room instead. Jesus has paid the price. Even though we did not love God he loved us – he loved the world – and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. This is what the world must learn. Will we help to communicate the truth? And if some of us still need to accept it - will we this morning repent or change our minds and trust Christ? He is the way, the truth and the life.