In an April 2000 visit to Chalcedon, Dr. Samuel Blumenfeld commented to me: The most genuine Christianity in America today is practiced in the home schooling movement. After pondering this, I am obliged to agree.
I wish the most genuine Christianity were practiced in the churches. That is where it should be. Sadly, however, most churches, particularly in the major denominations, are apostate. There is no other word for it. The vast majority of the rest are formally orthodox but materially irrelevant. A handful of smaller denominations is holding aloft the banner of genuine Christianity, as are many thousands of independent churches. With notable exception, though, the most vigorous, energetic, world-conquering Christianity may not be found in the denominations or most institutional churches.
It is to be found in the flourishing home schooling movement and its offshoot, the home church movement. This assertion may gag and infuriate the denominationalists, but if they think hard about it, I believe most will be forced to agree. The fact that the home schooling movement is still in its infancy, and the fact that the home church movement suffers from serious defects, does not negate The Other Central Fact: this, in large part, is where the most vigorous Christianity is practiced. There are several reasons for this.
First, parents of home schoolers have taken a decisive step in the direction of an uncompromising Christianity. They have declared by their actions that they are willing to make what is perhaps the most decisive, visible break possible with modern secular, statist culture. (This is true also of Christians who have placed their children in sound Christian day schools.) Public education is one of the leading state-financed gods of the Secular World Order. The head of the Michigan Department of Education virtually acknowledges this:
Rather than looking at public schools as a troubled business or as an industry ripe for takeover I look at public schools and see cathedrals.
Public schools, after all, are the institutions where we inspire our children. Where we help to shape their lives and transmit ethical values. Public schools are the hub of our communities. A sanctuary for our youth. They are a testament to our society's most tightly held ideals of democracy and opportunity. Like cathedrals in the past, public schools are the resonant influence in our culture, in our daily lives.
When a cathedral was built in the middle ages [sic], it became the rallying point for the entire community. In towns like Chartres, most every citizen had a role in the construction whether it was sculpting angels or polishing the bells. So much of the town's resources and attentions were focused on this single mission for the common good. The business people of the town contributed. The builders and artisans were unionized. As members of craft guilds, they trained each one of their apprentices and held each other to strict standards of excellence. The collective responsibility and commitment is largely why the cathedrals of 800 years ago endure today.1
This is a frank, up-front admission that government schools must become the focal point of society just as the cathedrals of the institutional church were in the medieval era. Government schools are the new integrating factor of all of life. State-financed government education is the central breeding ground of its great religion of secular humanism: it is the West's long-term agent of religious dominion.
Parents who break with this mammoth institutional union of church and state are saying, in effect, My Christianity is important enough for me that I will not surrender my children to the clutches of its avowed enemies. They are affirming that they are willing to make any sacrifice necessary to protect their children from the false religion of modern statist secularism.
This requires a clear, unshakable devotion to their God. They have specifically chosen to take the difficult and right road. The easy road is to allow their property taxes to finance the primary and secondary education of their children. The hard road is to pay extra in textbooks and curriculum costs and especially in labor, emotional, and spiritual costs to educate their children at home in genuine, Biblical Christianity. The very act of Christian home schooling presupposes an intense devotion largely missing in the rest of Christendom.
Second, Christian home schooling has forced parents to resume their proper role (Eph. 6:1-4). While it is true that in too many Christian home schools, the mother has become the strong spiritual leader and an unbiblical matriarchy has emerged, it is equally true that Christian home schooling has forced the father to take an extensive role in training his children. Mom may do most of the teaching, but Dad regulates the school itself. This means he probably catechizes his children, or at least leads them in family worship. This is approximately 1000% better than the Dad who sends his children to the secular government school five days a week and takes them to the mild Protestant denominational church on Sunday with the hope that the 18-minute flannel graph lesson will suffice to transform them into devout Christians. The father also will likely take an active role in his children's courtship and particularly his daughters'. The man who invests thousands of hours of his life training his children at home is unlikely to become derelict when it comes to finding a spouse for his children, whereas if he abandoned them to the Satanic government schools when they were five years old, he might find it hard to suppress an irresponsible yawn by the time they are poised to play.
The Dating Game
Moreover, Dads who take an active role in their children's daily instruction are not likely to cede that role to intrusive church leaders. They may be willing to attend a church that reinforces their own strong commitment to the godly instruction of their children, but never one that considers them odd or radical for wanting to train their children at home, and that insists they turn their children over to the church for exclusive Christian instruction. Make no mistake: Christian parents who refuse to surrender their children to intrusive secularists for five days a week won't bat an eye at refusing to surrender them to intrusive ecclesiocrats one day a week. If godly fathers do not sense a cooperative church, they simply won't cooperate.
The great conflict between institutional churches and home churches is usually the conflict between pastoral (or elders') authority and parental (and usually paternal) authority. The fact is, there should not be a conflict. Christian families need the covenant community, the church, to gain proper theological instruction, Christian fellowship, and the sacraments. On the other hand, the covenant community needs strong families, including strong fathers. Never forget: strong churches are comprised of strong families; weak churches do not make strong families, and since churches cannot be strong unless the families who comprise them are strong, strong families come first. The covenant community is comprised of families, not of discrete individuals, and the sooner churches learn this, the sooner Christian home schooling families will willingly cooperate with them.
Third, every act of home schooling is an implicit affirmation of covenant theology as it relates to the covenant seed. Covenant theology asserts, among other things, that the children of Christian parents are marked out by God for an objective, covenantal relation to Him. Covenant theology holds that, objectively speaking, our children belong to God from their mother's womb and, subjectively speaking, a vast majority of them are among God's elect.2 This is why adherents of covenant theology baptize their infants. While most parents of Christian home schoolers might not baptize their infants, they usually treat their children as though they were baptized members of the visible covenant of grace. They do not hold with most evangelicals that their covenant seed should be treated like little pagans until they are in their early teens, and then required to make a profession of faith. No, home schooling parents are fully aware that they must nourish their children in the gospel from the very womb. They know, at least implicitly, that children are properly members of Christ's church (Eph. 1:1-2, 6:1-4). They know, at least implicitly, that their children belong to God in a special sense and that, therefore, their children should be trained up in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord. They know, at least implicitly, that God's preventive grace is greater than His restorative grace: a grace that saves a young man and keeps him from a life of degradation and sin is greater than the grace that saves a young or older adult that has immersed himself in a life of depravity. The vast majority of these parents are procedural covenantalists, no matter what their view of covenant theology or covenant baptism may be. This is a distinct mark of genuine Christianity: its dedication to intergenerational faithfulness. Wherever you see a strong emphasis on intergenerational faithfulness, there you see a powerful testimony to genuine Christianity.
They know, at least implicitly, that their children belong to God in a special sense and that, therefore, their children should be trained up in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord. They know, at least implicitly, that God's preventive grace is greater than His restorative grace: a grace that saves a young man and keeps him from a life of degradation and sin is greater than the grace that saves a young or older adult that has immersed himself in a life of depravity.
Fourth, parents of home schoolers must necessarily immerse themselves in the Christian mindset in order to instruct their children in the Faith. The vast majority employ explicitly Christian textbooks, which, while of varying theological quality, communicate a distinctly Christian life system. The rub is this: while many of these parents were trained in government schools, they are forced to absorb the Christian worldview in educating their own children at home! Christian home schooling educates the parents as much as, and in some cases more than, it does their children. Parents ordinarily teach every subject from a distinctly Christian perspective. Language is the means of communicating about God and His creation. Science is the study of God's created order. History is the study of God's sovereign acts in creation over time. Math is the study of God's precise order in numbers. And on and on. The very curriculum of Christian home schoolers is at war with the regnant secular ethos.
This means that the Christian home schooling movement, perhaps more than any other expression of modern Christianity, recognizes, at least implicitly, the Christianization of all of life. The premise of Christian home schooling permits no religious schizophrenia: some areas of life and thought are necessarily Christian, but others are permissibly non-Christian. To take it a step further, the premise of Christian home schooling does not permit pietism. Pietism is the notion that Christianity and the Bible apply to our individual lives and families and, at most, our churches, but not to the wider society. Many Christian home schoolers may be pietists, but they did not learn their pietism from the premise of their own Christian home schools. The latter teaches them: every area of life and thought must be understood from a Christian perspective; there is no area of life that is not Christian.
One day and may God make it soon! the majority of Christian home schooling parents will wake up to certain inconsistencies in their own practice. When they do, the bell will start tolling for modern, secular Western civilization. They will say to themselves, But if all we are teaching our children is true, how can we and our children accept a world that is not distinctly Christian? How can we train our children for eighteen years that all of life and thought is and must be distinctly Christian, but when they leave our fold they must go into a world and accept the fact that it is and must be distinctly anti-Christian? How, come to think of it, can we train our children to be anything other than distinct Christians working to bring every area of life and thought in the world under Christ's authority? When this fully logical conclusion finally dawns on the vast majority of Christian home schoolers, the foundations of secular civilization will begin to quake.
The very character of Christian home schooling is radical. It is at war with the status quo. The problem with major denominations and other institutions is their built-in mechanism for impeding change. Most Christian institutions are like aircraft carriers; they pack a lot of punch, but they take a long time to change direction. Christian families are like speedboats: individually, they don't pack much punch, but they can change directions quite rapidly. Christian institutions, denominations, and churches require consensus if they are to change; consensus takes time. If a change is for the worse, this impediment to change is a favorable characteristic. If, however, the change is for the better, the impediment is tragic. The requirement of consensus impedes both progress and regress.
Consensus is much easier to obtain in the Christian family than in the Christian institution, denomination, or church. This is why Christian home schooling can be, and is, more distinctly radical. Most denominations and churches are in bad, or, at least, weak shape; and it will take them quite a while to aright themselves. Christian families can do it much more quickly.
To the denominationalists and ecclesiastics who scorn, anathematize, and excommunicate the home schoolers and home churches, let me say: you may scorn, anathematize, and excommunicate all you wish, but these Christians will keep voting with their feet, abandoning your churches, and blossoming their movement. Don't become smug in the recognition that they are far from perfect. You are far from perfect. Recognize both the concerns of these Christians, as well as the intense, genuine Christianity they practice. Until you are willing to come to terms with the Christian home schoolers, you will be forced to come to terms with the continued exponential success of their movement.
1. Chase Likens Public Schools to Cathedrals, MEA [Michigan Education Association] Voice, April, 1998, 3.
2. Geerhardus Vos, The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology, in ed., Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation (Phillipsburg, NJ, 1980), 262-267. How, come to think of it, can we train our children to be anything other than distinct Christians working to bring every area of life and thought in the world under Christ's authority?
- P. Andrew Sandlin
P. Andrew Sandlin is a Christian minister, theologian, and author. He is the founder and president of the Center for Cultural Leadership in Coulterville, California. He was formerly president of the National Reform Association and executive vice president of the Chalcedon Foundation. He is a minister in the Fellowship of Mere Christianity.. He was formerly a pastor at Church of the Word in Painesville, Ohio (1984-1995) and Cornerstone Bible Church in Scotts Valley, California (2004-2014).