The Distinctives of Christian Education

by Cliff McManis

There is much debate in Christian and church circles about what “Christian education” is—what is its scope, how to define it, etc. Church denominations have their nuanced renditions. Para-church organizations operate according to their iteration. Various religious and church schools will at times compete with each other, claiming their approach is the truly “Christian” one while claiming their competitors may be deficient in certain ways. Despite the divergent voices, all true Christians should agree that when it comes to training and discipling the next generation it can only be done through employing a clearly defined, vibrant, consistent, practical education that is indeed Christian. This article proposes the following as the minimum requirements of what that educational paradigm should entail.   

Christian Education is “Biblical” Education
Christian education is not merely “religious” or “classical” education. The Bible needs to be the foundation for Christian education. God’s Word in Scripture is the authority and needs to take precedence over various man-made traditions, denominational preferences, and governmental agendas. “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Tim 3:16) said Paul, which means the truth of the Bible is the revelation of God’s mind—supernatural, heavenly truth. What the Bible says is what God says. Jesus declared that God’s Word is truth (John 17:17). Being God-breathed and the truth, the Bible is therefore inspired, inerrant, infallible and binding. And the Bible is to be taught literally, not allegorically. Jesus taught Scripture literally, at face value, as true history. So must we.

Christian Education is Holistic
Christian education is training the whole person. It is not a mere academic pursuit, intellectual indoctrination, behavioral programming, or theory transference. Christian education teaches God’s truth from the Bible to all areas of one’s life. The Bible is sufficient to equip every believer “for every good work” (2 Tim 3:17). Jesus commanded believers to love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30), which entails every capacity that constitutes humanity. This is comprehensive spiritual training. This means we teach our young people a complete world-view so they interpret all of life from God’s perspective, which is from a biblical view. We don’t compartmentalize and separate truth, pitting spiritual truth against practical truth or “scientific truth”—all truth is one. The Bible speaks to every area of life with authority, whether it is in religious matters, the nature of reality, origins, ethics, values, politics, history, economics, aesthetics, anthropology, gender, entertainment, the family. No subject in education is untouched or uninformed by the Bible. God “has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness through the knowledge” He has given through the revelation of Scripture (2 Pet 1:3).

Christian Education is Christ-Centered
In Christ Jesus are “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3). He called Himself “the truth” (John 14:6). He is the one who enlightens every man (John 1:4), meaning that as Creator He gives all people the capacity to reason, for He is the Word (John 1:1). Jesus told His disciples, “apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Christian education is only possible when the teachers and leaders of any given educational program or institution are driven and motivated by a passionate love for Christ as Lord and Savior. 

Christian Education is Related to the Church
The only institution Jesus ever promised to build and perpetuate throughout history is His Church, the Body of Christ (Matt 16:18), which He died for (Acts 20:28). The Church is “the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). There is no real education apart from the truth. Jesus gave His Great Commission to His Church and no other entity (Matt 28:20). Therefore, every individual and organization that seeks to impart true Christian education needs to cultivate a direct and vital relationship with the local church. Any Christian enterprise that is deficient here is compromised.

Much more could be said about what constitutes a truly Christian education that is efficacious and pleases God, but Scripture delineates clear priorities of where to start. Christian education must be based on the foundation of God’s Word in Scripture imparting a complete biblical worldview that is Christ-centered and has a direct life-line, in some capacity, to God’s Church.

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