Good morning. Let’s pray:
Heavenly Father, give us wisdom we pray, through your word and by your Spirit. In Jesus name. Amen.
In this series on current issues, we’re thinking about education – not least in this lockdown and post-lockdown world and my title is ‘Education for Life’.
I suppose one good thing that can come out of this massive disruption at the moment, is that it can be a spur to us get back to the basics of what education is for, and who is responsible for it. And there are two things about education that have become more obvious than ever,, it seems to me over these last few months. First, it’s parents who are primarily responsible for the education of their children. It’s great when the state helps us to educate our children, but, when the state withdraws from education as it has largely done recently, it’s clear that the burden of providing the right education for our children falls back on the parents, where in the end it belongs.Secondly, educating and being educated is hard. That’s been brought home by this national crash-course in home-schooling that the nation and so many individual families have been through. Some seem to have loved it. Some haven’t. But either way, clearly it has not been easy.
A recent BBC report said:
Having to home-school during the Covid-19 pandemic is taking a toll on both parents and children … One mother said: "Home-schooling has been incredibly hard”.
So we need help. That why Joe Wicks has been all over the internet. But we need more than cheerful workouts, great though they are! We need help from one another, and above all, we need help from God. That title of mine ‘Education for Life’ immediately points up my disagreement with one thing that the Secretary of State for Education said recently in an important speech. He said:
We must never forget that the purpose of education is to give people the skills they need to get a good and meaningful job.
The purpose of education is far broader than that. It is to give people wisdom for life. And where above all does that wisdom come from? It comes from listening to God. In the words of Proverbs 2.6:
… the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding …
That is the perspective of the Bible, and it’s a tragedy that when we lose the Bible, we lose that breadth of vision for what education can be.So although there are so many important aspects of education that need to be thought through in this changing world, I want to focus on one core issue that we neglect at our peril – the central importance of the Bible for education for life. So, I have three simple points to make. First, the Bible is the written word of the living God. Secondly, the Bible is being marginalised in education today, and thirdly, our children need the Bible to be at the heart of their education. Let me take those in turn:
First, THE BIBLE IS THE WRITTEN WORD OF THE LIVING GOD
It’s crucial we understand what we’re dealing with when we read the Bible. So let me remind you of those verses from Hebrews 1 that we heard earlier on. The living God has spoken. How? In three main ways.
First, through the prophets. Hebrews 1.1:
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets…
That’s what we have in the Old Testament. The second way that God has spoken to us is there in Hebrews 1.2:
…but in these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son…
So now, if we want to get to know God, we have to get to know Jesus. But do we have a reliable, God given account of who Jesus was, what he did, and what he said? That’s the third way God speaks to us. First, through the prophets. Secondly, and supremely, in Jesus. And thirdly, through the apostles’ inspired witness to Christ and their teaching about him. Those apostolic eyewitnesses tell us, with God’s authority, what happened and what it meant. So Hebrews 2.3 says:
It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard…
And what we have in the New Testament is the record of the teaching of those apostles. So, the Bible is the living word of God. And that acknowledgement of the nature of the Bible is right at the heart of our national and constitutional life. At her Coronation, the Queen was presented with the Bible and told:
“Our gracious Queen: … we present you with this Book, the most valuable thing that this world affords. Here is wisdom; this is the royal Law; these are the lively Oracles of God.”
These are the lively oracles of God. Exactly. And so also says the Church of England, hardly a way-out denomination. Article 20 of the 39 Articles of the Church of England describes the Bible as “God’s Word written”. That is the doctrine of the established church in this nation. So you’d think that its place in the education we offer to our children would be secure, but – and this is my next main heading:
Secondly, THE BIBLE IS BEING MARGINALISED IN EDUCATION TODAY
Hebrews 2.1 warns:
Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.
There is a danger of drift away from God’s word. And yet today in our education system we seem to be not drifting so much as running away from it as fast as we can. Well, in Hebrews 2.3 the warning is reinforced:
… how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?
So where is the Bible in our schools today? Our churches are testimony to the many Christians who are amongst the thousands of teachers who work as hard as they can to do the best that they can to provide a good and Godly education for the children in their charge. But they are now the exception rather than the rule. And the prospect of generations that know nothing of their Christian heritage, and care less, is frightening. I recently heard on the radio a university lecturer in English saying that she has to teach new undergraduates who Adam and Eve are, and the most basic things of the Christian faith, before she can teach them English literature.
What’s happened came home to me a while ago when I was with the then head teacher of a large Newcastle comprehensive. I happened to notice some stairs down into a basement. Out of curiosity, I asked him what was down there. He said he’d show me and we went down into a huge basement packed full of the junk and detritus of decades of school life. Knowing my own concerns he said to me: ‘Somewhere down here is the old school Bible that was used in assemblies. I’ll find it tand show it to show you.’ But he couldn’t find it. The school Bible was lost amongst the rubbish and that incident has stuck in my mind ever since. It’s a graphic example of the loss of the Bible from so much current education.
I have some personal experience of how this is working through the educational system. A few years ago a group of us made a formal proposal to the Department for Education for a Christian Free School. It was turned down explicitly because of our “robust” Christian views (as they were described).
Another example of drift from the Bible, even in church schools, comes from John Cox, a retired Diocesan Director of Education. He wrote:
Church schools should give careful thought to the amount of Biblical material used in their worship. One head teacher realised that rather too much time in collective worship had been spent on other faiths when a pupil informed her that Jesus went around with “”twelve bicycles”.
The Bible is being marginalised in education today. And yet it is, as we’ve seen, nothing less than the written word of the living God. So it must follow – and this is my final main heading, and my very simple but far-reaching conclusion:
Thirdly, OUR CHILDREN NEED THE BIBLE TO BE AT THE HEART OF THEIR EDUCATION
Deuteronomy 6.6-7 says this:
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
That is, we need to take every opportunity to weave God’s word into every aspect of the lives of our children. The Bible should not be an optional extra. It should be the core of their education.
The historian Niall Ferguson writes in his book ‘Civilisation’ of how some of the Chinese elite began to see the significance of Christianity for Western culture. He says:
According to one scholar from the Chinese Academy of the Social Sciences: “We were asked to look into what accounted for the … pre-eminence of the West all over the world … At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focussed on your economic system. But … we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West has been so powerful … We don’t have any doubt about this.
To my mind, that is actually a very shocking quotation. It’s deeply ironic, and indeed tragic, that just as many Chinese are discovering Christianity, the West is in danger of turning its back on it, and on the Bible which is its foundation. When Ferguson at the end of his book asks the question: “What are the foundational texts of Western Civilization?” the first book on his list is the King James Bible.
Of course, the Bible is not all the education that a child needs. It’s striking what’s said about the education of Jesus himself in Luke 2.52 – one of the very few insights into what was happening during his childhood, because the Bible is mostly silent on the subject. But here the whole process of the maturing of Jesus is put in a nutshell. Luke says: And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and man. So throughout his education Jesus increased: in wisdom [that is intellectual development – but it’s more, it’s learning how to live]; and stature [that’s physical development]; and in favour with God [there’s the spiritual dimension]; and in favour with men [that’s social development]. Education has to be concerned with the whole person. It needs to be high and wide and broad and deep. But, nonetheless, at its heart should be the Bible – the living word of the living God. An education that leaves God and his word out of the picture is like a portrait without the face. The background may be interesting, but it totally misses the point.
So I’m not saying that the Bible is all the education that a child needs. Nor do I underestimate the difficulties. Teaching children is always stretching. I found a note of a reminder of an incident when our daughters Hannah and Katy were four (many years ago). One evening I was talking through a Bible story with them. Katy ended up asking, “Will I be able to have my toys in heaven?” Hannah asked “Will there be a kitchen in heaven?” Sadly I have no record nor recollection of what my answer to those questions was.
Teaching is a tough assignment, for parents, pastors and professionals alike. In one way or another, we all fail. And when we fail, we need to go to God. He’s the one who can forgive us and set us on our feet to start over again. He is the one who can remind parents, pastors and professional teachers alike that they too are children – his children.
What, then, do children need? We need a good, true and broad education, delivered by a healthy partnership of family, church, school and nation. And we need the Bible to be at the heart of it all. We’re a long way from that in our culture today. Sometimes it looks as though in this rising tide of secularism all vestiges of Biblical teaching will be swept away. But God can turn the tide. He’s done it in the past and he will do it again. Let’s bear witness to the truth and wisdom of his word, and pray that the tide will turn soon, for the sake of our children.
Let’s pray now:
Heavenly Father, as we seek to learn, please be our teacher. As we seek to teach, make us teachable. Have mercy on our nation. Open ears that are deaf to your voice. Give us wisdom for life, we pray. In Jesus name. Amen.