In 1996 Hilary Clinton wrote a book called, It Takes a Village. It discussed how to care for and nurture children. The idea was that parents cannot adequately raise healthy children alone—they need the help of other adults in the world, all the other people in “the village” need to chip in.
The book was highly popular and at the same time highly controversial. It was controversial because Clinton’s perspective leans left and was written with undertones of socialist ideology; namely she argued for aggressive government intervention and oversight when it came to child-rearing. She proposed many state-run and government-mandated programs to help oversee general childcare, childhood education, children’s health as well as liberal social engineering.
Sadly, many in America believe the same thing—that government should be a main source of provision, care, and education for our children. But nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to God’s perspective as outlined in Scripture.
God Holds Parents Responsible to Educate their Children
The Bible says parents are responsible for the education of their children; not the state. Children belong to the parents, not the government. In ancient Sparta, the pagan government did claim rights on children, saying they were wards of the State. Dictators throughout history have said the same. But God’s Word clearly obliterates that dangerous notion as it accentuates the primacy of parents as God’s designated authority for children: “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching” (Prov 1:8). “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Eph 6:1).
So it does not take the secular government-run socialist village to raise a child, but it does take more than the parents. The Bible actually teaches that it takes the Body of Christ to raise children, or one could say, it takes the church.
In the Old Testament, God expected His people to be part of a thriving community, with the nuclear family at the core, but extending beyond that to the greater household of the faith. In the Old Testament, that was the nation of Israel. In the New Testament, that is the Body of Christ, the church. The church is even called the family of God, with God as Father (Eph 1:2), Jesus as the elder brother of believers (Heb 2:11), and believers as the children of God (1 John 3:1) and brothers and sisters of one another (Rom 1:13; 16:15).
Man’s Need for Community
Parents need the community of believers in the church to help them raise their children in a godly manner. Before sin entered the world, God said that it was not good for man to be alone (Gen 2:18). First and foremost, that meant that Adam was to marry and have a wife that would complement him. But it also meant that they would have a family, and by extension, become part of a believing community.
That truth hasn’t changed. It is not good for any person to live in isolation (Prov 18:1). The worst form of punishment in prison is solitary confinement, and for good reason. People can go insane when they are locked away by themselves for an extended amount of time. God knew what He was talking about. God created us in His image. God is a social entity—He is a community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are made in His image, and we are created to be in community with one another. God made us to be social beings. Eschewing social interactions and relationships is unnatural and unhealthy.
Within the nation of Israel, education was first and foremost the responsibility of the parents, but there was also an obligation on the community and the leaders of Israel to help parent that child in a godly manner. This was fulfilled both positively and negatively: positively through proper instruction, the laws from God, celebration of the annual feasts, and the tools provided to teach a child. This was carried out negatively through the various levels of discipline for the child when warranted. Deuteronomy delineates an extreme case of community discipline on a child:
If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them, then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gateway of his hometown. They shall say to the elders of his city, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey us, he is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death; so you shall remove the evil from your midst, and all Israel will hear of it and fear.Deut 21:18-21
This passage sounds barbaric to those in our culture today. But the fact of the matter is God’s standard has not changed. In the beginning when He made the first man, God told Adam if he disobeyed then, “you will surely die” (Gen 2:17). In Ezekiel, around 600 BC, God reiterated His standard: “Behold, all souls are Mine…The soul who sins will die” (Ezek 18:4).
In the New Testament, after the church began, in about 57 AD God declared that, “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). Every sin deserves the penalty of death from a holy God. That is the bad news. The good news is that Jesus died as a substitute for sinners to satisfy that biblical requirement of justice. Instead of stoning defiant children to death today, they can be offered forgiveness in Christ because of His death on the cross if they repent of their sins. That is the good news—that is the gospel of Christianity.
That community structure and expectation seen in the Old Testament does not change in the New Testament—God has given believers the community of the Church, which is the Body of Christ. The word “Body” inherently speaks of community: there isn’t just one body part—there are many members. There are many Scripture references that inform this community mandate, but one will suffice: 1 Peter 5.
In 1 Peter 5 we see a command from Peter who was a pastor and apostle. He’s speaking to other elders in local churches and giving them a few mandates:
Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.1 Peter 5:1-3
Peter gives a command to local church elders in verse two to “shepherd the flock of God.” The word “shepherd” here is a verb; it’s an action. Shepherding includes teaching, preaching, praying, leading, protecting and discipling. With this imperatival phrase, Peter means, “provide spiritual ministry to the people in your local congregation.” The command is given to “elders” in the local church. Elders are the same as pastors, bishops and overseers, since all those terms are interchangeable in the New Testament (cf. Acts 20:17, 28).
The Priority of the Local Church
I am a pastor and an elder at my local church, so this command applies to me. The Bible here commands me to shepherd all the people in my congregation, which includes all the adults and their children. Shepherding includes educating the people in the things of the Lord. So then, pastors have a divine mandate to help their parents educate their children in the things of the Lord. That is part of shepherding. If you are a Christian, you are part of the church community, the Body of Christ, where God expects you to be fully committed, willingly accountable, actively involved and regularly serving. It is also where you can receive ongoing shepherding from your pastors, which includes biblical education for you and your children.
Too many Christians seek community obligations, fulfillment, identity and affiliation elsewhere before seeking those realities in a local church. These other social entities can become their pseudo spiritual havens that actually supplant God’s intended role of the church. Jesus promised to build only one institution, and that was His church (Matt 16:18). Therefore, the community of the church is God’s priority over all others.
I have known Christians who were totally gung-ho about serving in the local public school—in the booster club, the local school board—while at the same time they rarely darkened the doors of the church. I know Christian school parents who try to find all their spiritual encouragement, fellowship, friendship and service with the Christian school families, and in turn they have no time to spare for the local church.
Their church is de facto their local Christian school. And I know plenty of isolationist Christian homeschoolers who do everything at home with their family—schooling, social time, and fellowship. Some even do “worship” in isolation in their “home churches” where dad serves as the pastor, mom the worship leader and the five kids as the congregation. This is a total abandonment of the community mandate for the church that is clearly outlined in the Bible.
The main point here is quite simple: when thinking about and praying about answering the question, “How should we educate our children?” don’t forget to include the local church as central to the equation. Too many Christians neglect the priority of the church in such a discussion. God does not want you to raise your children all by yourself—He has made you a part of His spiritual family, the Body of Christ. Begin by finding your social identity there.
I know that my wife and I wouldn’t be the parents that we are without the countless godly people we knew from our local churches who went before us and mentored us when we first got married and started having kids. Their counsel and godly examples were invaluable to us, and I am always being reminded of the principles from Scripture that were given to us by those who had gone before us. And for over twenty-five years we continue to rely on God’s people in the church as a support system in all areas of life, including help with our children.
The New Testament is filled with dozens of “one another” commands given to all Christians (John 13:34; Rom 15:14; Gal 5:13; 6:2; Heb 10:24; Jam 5:16) and they are to be fulfilled to a great measure within the church community. As a parent, you need to arm yourself with an arsenal of godly information and resources, and the believing community of the church is vital in fulfilling that need.