When I was in third grade, I liked to make sure that my classmates were following classroom rules and obeying every instruction. Translation: I was a teacher’s pet and a tattle-tale. Since I attended a “Christian” school, there was a higher standard, so to speak. My friends who went to public schools could swear or throw things or watch PG-13 movies, but such things would never happen at my school. Not on my watch.
On one occasion, the teacher announced that we would be praying before our lunchtime. I’m sure we prayed every day before lunch, but at that time I had the brilliant idea of watching my classmates to make sure they folded their hands and closed their eyes. After all, that was the right way to pray. If you did not have the right posture, God would not listen to your prayers.
After the teacher said her short prayer, my hand shot up and I exclaimed, “Mrs. So and so, that kid did not have his eyes closed during the prayer!”
Unfortunately, with my brain not being fully developed at that age, I was blinded by the irony of my statement. There was an awkward pause, and then the teacher proceeded to ignore my outburst and eat her lunch at her desk.
Why is that sometimes Christians can be such big hypocrites? Why is it that we sometimes fail to walk the talk, practice what we preach, and – frankly – don’t know what we’re talking about?
I think it’s an educational problem. And I’m not talking about private vs. public vs. homeschooling. I’m talking about what I think is a deeper issue, the issue of how each individual learns and assimilates knowledge.
First, let’s back up a few millennia to see the evolution of education in the Western world.
Much of our education is based upon the Greeks’ understanding of reason and logic. In a nutshell: there is an order to our universe. There is right and wrong. Black and white. Two plus two equals four.
The Greeks also believed that education was moral. A person learned in order to be a better citizen. His education should help the society in which he lived.
(If you agree with the Greeks, congratulations! You’ve been successfully educated!)
Later, the Roman Catholic Church had a profound impact on education in the Western World. Although most of Europe’s population was illiterate, the Church offered education through grammar and monastic schools. Thus, much of education was filtered through Christian lenses. However, that would eventually change, as Ronald Iwasko writes:
“The Church of Rome with its edicts and practices had become a source of social control. Truth was what the pope and the bishops said it was. Interpretations of Scripture became less and less true to the text. The emphasis was on relationship to the church, not on a personal relationship with Christ. Thus the people were increasingly critical. Since they did not know Latin or theology, they did not understand the mass or other ceremonies. They disparaged the non-Christian lives of the higher clergy. They wondered what it meant to be a Christian.” (Christian Adult Education in Cultural Context, 43).
Eventually, after the Reformation, the Protestants would continue teaching their children Greek ideals and Christian moralism, but the idea of an infallible Church struggled to be passed down. It was replaced with the idea that an individual could learn by himself what truth is.
So, what is education like in America today?
Depends on who you ask!
For myself, I thought I had a great public high school education. I was exposed to different viewpoints (there were a lot more atheists, agnostics, and Muslims than at my Christian grade school!), I was allowed to learn pretty much anything I wanted to (there was a 90 minute cooking class – one time I cooked a chicken in a microwave; it doesn’t get much better than that), and I was even allowed to graduate early.
Some of my co-workers and friends today, however, think the public school system is Satan’s way of turning Vacation Bible School kids into either Socialist or Fascist God-haters, whichever is in style at the moment.
Then, there is “higher learning”. Again, opinions are divided. I have friends who say their college education was valuable, and they would do it again. Others lament the fact that they spent thousands of dollars on a degree they never use.
But what I think is missing in a lot of discussions about education – no matter at what stage in life – is who.
Who am I learning from?
Who am I listening to?
Who has had the greatest impact on my life? Who is?
The Gospel writers believed that the greatest teacher in human history was Jesus Christ and that His impact will carry on forever. The Apostle John concludes his book with: “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25, New International Version).
Before dying on the cross, Jesus told his disciples, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26, English Standard Version).
So, the real question is, am I learning from Jesus?
Am I following in His footsteps?
Am I being obedient to His Word?
Am I listening to His Spirit?
Back to my story about praying in school. The truth is, I didn’t know a thing about following Jesus at that time. Sure, I went to a Christian school and went to church every Sunday. But I didn’t choose to follow Jesus until later, when I was about 14 years old. Everything up to that point was just an act, and I was more interested in appearing as a know-it-all rather than as a student of Jesus.
Sherwood Lingenfelter writes of Jesus’ disciples: “Peter had denied him, Thomas doubted him, Philip questioned him, and each of them in his own way challenged Jesus regarding who Jesus was and what he was doing” (Leading Cross-Culturally). It’s interesting how often the disciples are portrayed as fickle, and yet haven’t we all done the same? Haven’t we, at some point or another in our lives, denied Jesus, doubted him, questioned him, and challenged him?
But think of the alternative: what if we were actually obedient to His commands?
What if we….
Loved our enemies?
Gave to the poor?
Forgave those who sin against us?
Prayed boldly and took risks?
I think this world would be a much better place. Each culture may have its own set of ideals and morals, and truly we can learn much from Ted Talks and online classes and universities, but the best education one can gain is through studying the life of Jesus Christ and listening to His Spirit day by day.