Let me begin in true teacher style by asking you a question – but there’s no need to put your hand up in response! What makes a good school? When I was training to be a teacher that was the first question we were asked as a tutorial group. The answer given in the tutorial was not more money or new buildings but was this: a good head teacher. And there is a lot of truth in that. Certainly head teachers are crucial in determining the standards and ethos of a school. But what makes a good head teacher? Someone who has leadership and teaching skills and, from what we learn here & in Matthew, someone who understands the precept of Proverbs -that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, and who is following Christ as Saviour and Lord, the greatest leader and teacher to ever have walked on this planet. And it’s a fact, whatever we think of league tables, that schools with good leadership and a clear Christian ethos are very popular and achieve high academic results. ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.’ That’s why it’s so vital that there should be more Christian head teachers. I give thanks to God for the head teachers we have as part of the fellowship here. One of them, Jim Cockburn of Longbenton Community College, has just seen his school listed in the Top 50 state schools in the country for ‘A’ level results.
So I challenge some of you here this morning – what is your ambition? Is it to influence thousands of young people for Christ, helping them to understand that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and that a truly ‘successful’ life, so to speak, is one built on the rock – the rock being Jesus Christ and his words? Is it to build a school on the rock and not on the sand of multi-faithism, moral relativism and secular humanism? If so then why not aim to be a head teacher? Nationally there is a shortage, even in Church of England Primary Schools. And if not a head teacher – a teacher? I thank God for the 70+ teachers here at JPC and for the other 100 or so Christian teachers in this region. But out of 12,500 in the 5 local authorities which surround Tyneside that is not many. Schools, children & young people need you. Now teaching’s not easy is it? Especially when you face the fools who despise wisdom and discipline, as Proverbs has it in v7. But let me encourage you this morning, whether you’re a teacher already or someone who’s considering it: teaching is a Christian vocation – it’s not just a job. Yes today it can be very stressful but you have the opportunity to impact the lives of many children and young people by being salt & light. How else will some hear of the truth of the Lord Jesus Christ and of his love for them? Only 4% of children go to church in the UK but all children go to school. In loco parentis your instruction can be a ‘garland to grace your pupil’s heads’ (v9). 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.”
There are also 3000 classroom assistants and mentors employed in those authorities. Perhaps God is leading some of you to be involved in that way, not forgetting the importance of university tutors, parents, grandparents and those who choose to home school. As this passage from Proverbs makes clear mothers and fathers have a vital role to play in the education of their children.
So on what foundations should schools, colleges and homes be built and children taught? And what are the responsibilities of parents, teachers, lecturers and parents? First Proverbs says:
THE FEAR OF THE LORD IS THE BEGINNING OF KNOWLEDGE
The first half of v. 7 is the motto of the whole book of Proverbs and the basic precept of schooling and education. The fear of the Lord or a ‘worshipping submission’ to God is the first and controlling principle of knowledge. And knowledge is not just what we learn at home or at school or at university but is, in its full sense, a relationship with God. This was acknowledged in the aim of Newcastle's RE syllabus of 1972. It said this:
“The RE syllabus is 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.”
The aim of Newcastle’s RE syllabus has now drifted along with some of the students. One GCSE RE answer went like this: ‘The Bible is full of interesting caricatures. In the first book of the Bible, Guinessis, Adam and Eve were created from an apple tree. One of their children, Cain, asked, ‘Am I my brother’s son?’!
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”.
But where is this first and controlling principle now in much of the state school sector, in the private sector and in higher education? Harvard’s motto is now just ‘Truth’. Where would you find it at Newcastle or Northumbria University? Yes at the mission this past week but where in the faculties? (If you’re a university lecturer can I encourage you to go to www.clm.org and www.twotasks.com for some encouragement and help.) Now don’t get me wrong I’m not against academic learning – Jesus himself grew intellectually and physically as well as spiritually (Luke 2:52). But, as Derek Kidner says, in his brilliant commentary on Proverbs:
“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.”
Proverbs 3:7 says this:
“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.”
Romans 1:21-24 also backs that up, reminding us that although the pagan Gentiles “knew God” [from seeing his revelation in creation], they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator.”
In this country schooling was pioneered by Christians who believed in the importance of education. But, as we have seen, to a large extent schooling today has been surrendered to the state and to the values of moral relativism and beliefs of secular humanism. Often the assumptions underlying the discipline, organization and curriculum of schools have become man centred. God’s wisdom and discipline are despised and that leads to serious problems, which makes teaching sometimes very difficult indeed. Our school system should be built upon those truths that God has chosen to reveal about Himself and about human beings. That children are not essentially good but sinful, as Psalm 51:5 makes clear. I’m always amazed that those in education fail to see that as the evidence for it is there in the classroom every week! You see education is not neutral. It can, at its best, help children and young people develop a thirst for truth but it can also help to undermine the truth. Jesus Christ said: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) & “If you hold to my teaching, you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
Sadly the new Academy in the West of this city is not to be a Christian City Academy where the first and controlling principle of Proverbs would be recognised. In fact in 2004 the leader of the new Lib Dem council publicly stated that they did not want a faith based Academy in this city. We need to pray. But while we wait perhaps we should be looking to start similar schools where they’re crying out for them. In Kenya there are opportunities and the costs are small: 1% of what they are here! But, to come back to Tyneside, schooling in this city is partly in difficulty because the authority and individual schools do not acknowledge that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge". The wise build on the rock of Jesus Christ and his word… the foolish build on the sand – fools despise God’s wisdom and discipline, so secondly: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge
BUT FOOLS DESPISE WISDOM AND DISCIPLINE
“The proverbs of Solomon: for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight; for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young - let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance…The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”
PSE and Citizenship are on the timetables of most secondary schools, covering issues such as sex education, money, justice issues etc. often in ways that reflect the way of the world. Yet God's wisdom includes skills for right living, for following God's design, for avoiding moral pitfalls and for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life. So ‘let the wise teacher and student listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance’ from God’s Word. But fools despise wisdom and discipline. Our word ‘education’ is close to this word discipline. Discipline and education go together (cf. Heb.12:5). But fools, who say in their heart there is no God, despise wisdom and discipline. They are those who hate knowledge and correction of any kind (Prov 12:1). They are pupils and students who will look back at the end of their lives and sadly acknowledge that they have played the fool, says Proverbs 5:12-14, and will say, “How I hated discipline! How my heart spurned correction! I would not obey my teachers or listen to my instructors. I have come to the brink of utter ruin in the midst of the whole assembly.” They are rebellious sons and daughters. In adulthood they are trendy educational thinkers who reject God and his ways and true education and discipline and encourage school structures that fail and fail children. Their basic premise is that the child is never wrong. They believe that influencing children is immoral as it cuts across their individuality and their right to make moral decisions. And where morality is relativised, the need for correction and punishment becomes meaningless. They are senior staff in a school who despise God's wisdom and discipline and do not fully back their staff when there are discipline problems in the classroom. They are parents who hate knowledge and complain when their children are disciplined at school. The root of the fool's trouble is spiritual, not mental. They like their folly, going back to it “like a dog that returns to its vomit” (Prov 26:11). They have “no reverence for truth, preferring comfortable illusions” (Prov 14:8). What they are really rejecting is the fear of the Lord (Prov 1:29). In the New Testament Christ is referred to as ‘wisdom from God’ (1 Cor 1:30). Fools despise wisdom. They despise Christ. In society the fools are a menace. They make a mock at sin (Prov 14:9). They have rejected the first principle of wisdom, the fear of the Lord. The consequence of fools despising wisdom and discipline is great on: their own lives, schools, society and family life. And of course the problems of society, with the sad break up of many families, can have a huge impact on children and lead to problems in school. The growing prevalence of drugs is also affecting many young people. Only the other week a 13 year old girl in Glasgow was found slumped at her school desk. She was found to be addicted to heroine. In this region there are 400 known drug addicts under the age of 16.
We need to get back to God's wisdom. To a biblical view of man, that we are fallen and sinful. That one role of schools is to restrain evil and apply justice which implies punishment for wrong doing. “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction will drive it far from him.” (Prov 22:15) So thirdly,
THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF PARENTS, TEACHERS & CHILDREN
“Listen, my son, to your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching. They will be a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck.”
Fathers and mothers and not just teachers are to instruct and to teach their children. Here in Proverbs 1&2 it’s the parents who are warning their adolescent children not to be enticed by sinners into sin, gang violence and sexual promiscuity. Children are a gift from God. They do not belong to the state. In fact the prime responsibility of our children's education lies with parents. Proverbs 22:6: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” Proverbs 13:24: “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” Not discipline in cruel ways but in appropriate and consistent ways so that the child will not follow a path of destruction.
You see in the Bible the ‘rod’ or ‘setting limits’ imparts wisdom and promotes a healthy and happy family. And please note that discipline is rooted in love (Prov 3:11-12), just as the Lord disciplines those he loves. Ephesians 6:4: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” And v9 of Proverbs 1, those who take heed of this loving discipline and follow God’s wisdom add beauty and honour to their lives. The father's and mother's instruction and teaching ‘will be a garland to grace their children’s heads and a chain to adorn their necks.’ So children are to listen to their father's instruction and are not to forsake their mother's teaching. Ephesians 6:1: “Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Teachers also have a role in helping parents in discharging their God given responsibilities. As do the teachers and leaders in the children's and youth ministry here at JPC. In loco parentis those truths from Proverbs apply to teachers and schools.
There are many people here at JPC who are being used by God to help children and schools be wise and to build on the rock of Jesus and his words. Parents, young people, teachers and Scripture Union are running CU’s at schools from Archbishop Runcie to West Jesmond. Others are on governing bodies and taking assemblies. Doctors, nurses and parents have been taking the Lovewise presentation into schools. But we must not become complacent or feel helpless and lose our saltiness in education. There are still many opportunities for parents and teachers to help to run CU’s. Are you involved? And there are significant challenges ahead, from both secularism and Islam.
The Islamification of Europe and the adoption of sharia law, which includes the setting up of Muslim schools, is on the agenda of certain Muslim community leaders and clerics according to Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, Director of the Institute for the study of Islam and Christianity. In Glasgow one Muslim community wants to take over the local Roman Catholic school. Last week at Newcastle University the Student’s Union voted for a two hour lunch break on Fridays so that Muslims can pray without missing lectures. Do we want the next generation to know an Islamic world view, Richard Dawkins’ atheistic world view (a view which considers it evil to bring children up in the Christian faith), or a biblical Christian world view?
The need for a Christian City Academy in this city is evident. Indeed the need for Christian involvement in all schools is evident. I believe the need for all schools to have a strong Christian ethos is evident. What kind of education is it that bypasses the truth of Jesus Christ and his word? Yes we should be praying and working for all to come to know the truth of the Lord Jesus personally. Surely we should be praying for all schools and colleges to be Christian or at least places where pupils are exposed to the truth. It’s interesting that the city academies that are supposedly struggling are those that have been built on secular values, ie sand whereas the Christian ones, such as those established by the Vardy foundation in Middlesbrough and Doncaster, are thriving with their foundation on the rock. The fear of the one true Lord is the beginning of knowledge.
Do you know that verse to be true personally? Perhaps you’re a teacher or a parent or a student here this morning and you realise that you’ve been building your life on the sand, as it were, and everything is crashing down. But you now want to build your life on the rock of Jesus Christ and his words. You now realize that his teaching is authoritative and true and you want to turn away from being foolish and from destruction, from your sin and its consequences and put your trust in him, just as many of us here have done. A number of years ago I was foolish. I said in my heart there is no God. But God spoke to me and showed me that his Son had died for me. I heard his words and turned to the Rock. The truth is that Jesus loved me and died for me. The truth is he loved you and died for you. On the cross he took the punishment we deserved for our sin, for our foolishness, so that we can be forgiven and have life with God forever. Why not put your trust in him this morning, ready for the half term ahead?