Homeschooling, church discipline, and the education of our children...

[NOTE: The man who, along with his wife, does an excellent job homeschooling  as I've observed for fifteen years called and said I'm largely wrong in what I've written here, so I stand half-corrected. Still, I'm not sure how I'd rewrite this given his criticisms so I'll leave the post up with this warning. Likely much of what I write here applies as much to Christian schooling and public schooling as home schooling, and the dangers I warn of are more a product of our times than a particular form of home schooling. That being said, no matter how you school your children, please listen to my concerns and take them to heart in the education of your precious children.]

Mary Lee and I put several of our children in public schools at various times, and we also homeschooled one son for three years. Most of our children's schooling, though, was done in Christian schools and this is the educational method we believe best for most parents and children—particularly boys who are becoming men. After years of watching homeschoolers in our churches and the broader Christian (and alternative) world, starting no later than Junior High School we think most boys do much better being taught by men than women. Especially their mothers. 

Even if the local Christian school option does not have male teachers, though, one of the reasons we have come to believe in Christian schooling's superiority to homeschooling is the lack of respect for authority we've seen to be endemic within homeschooling families....Typically, the rooster rules the roost and the hen rules the rooster, so it's very difficult for the mother to allow her brood to be rebuked or admonished, let alone disciplined, by the elders of her church as her children become adults. And trust me, few families are blessed by God such that all their children come to adulthood confessing their faith in Jesus Christ and taking their place at the Table of our Lord each Lord's Day without any need of the authority of the church officers to come alongside their father and mother assuring the child's safe passage through many dangers, toils, and snares.

The Christian home is subject—not superior—to the Church of Jesus Christ. The elders of the church are the court of appeal when the husband commits serious sin against his wife and is unrepentant. The elders of the church are the court of appeal when the mother commits serious sin against her family and her husband is absent or in cahoots. The elders of the church are the court of appeal when parents allow incest to corrupt their home, or lead in it. The elders of the church are the court of appeal when the father and mother of the household are unable to correct their incorrigible child and it's not yet time for the peace officer carrying the gun.

The elders of the church are the fathers of children of the covenant who have reached adulthood and are betraying their Lord and Master, thus needing rebuke, admonition, and loving discipline. I thank God for the elders of my churches and the help they have been to my wife and me in our raising of our children!

Which brings us back to education. Mary Lee and I would commend the discipline of opening up your home and children to the fresh air and breezes of other Christians' gifts and sins as you raise your precious children. Let them out from under your control. It will do them good. It will do you good. Do whatever you can to have them under the leadership and instruction of other men and women of God. God has made you responsible for your children and part of that responsibility is preparing them for being under the authority of their husband, boss, professor, the civil magistrate, and pastors, elders, and the church's older women.

Start this preparation and training early by seeking out opportunities for your sons and daughters to submit to Christian men and women who will teach them things you have never known, and who will show them things you have never seen, and who will demonstrate areas of faith that you have never had.

Nowhere is this more important than education. The problem with too much Christian schooling (including homeschooling) today is that we're raising a bunch of tin men and women who have answers for everything, but little true discernment and absolutely no humility. Find others who will help you challenge your children to grow in godliness as they grow in knowledge, always keeping in mind that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.

Let me leave you with this statement by one of my heroes, J. Gresham Machen:

The true hope of any people lies in a kind of education in which learning and piety go hand-in- hand. Christianity, we believe, is founded upon a body of facts; it is, therefore, a thing that must be taught; and it should be taught in Christian schools….

Character-building, as practiced in our public schools, may well prove to be character-destruction. I can see little consistency in a type of Christian activity which preaches the gospel on street corners and at the ends of the earth, but neglects the children of the covenant by abandoning them to a cold and unbelieving secularism….

The Christian life cannot be lived on the basis of non-Christian thought. Hence, the necessity of the Christian school.

- J. Gresham Machen in his “Education, Christianity, and the State”

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and fifteen grandchildren.

Comments

Thanks for this.  (I am a teacher in the public schools).  I think a point related to this post (by no means central to it) is that whether in the public or Christian schools, more men need to be teaching.  I am blessed to be in a public school where the faculty count a larger-than-usual number of men and Christians, and it makes a difference.

Absolutely believe in homeschooling or Christian schools. I used to be a Director of Christian Education and hoped for church education. But church education cannot do it all.

By the way years ago I had a delightful correspondence with your father while he had a beloved column at Eternity Magazine.

Cordially,

Carol Noren Johnson

Love homeschooling as the "benevolent despot" of my family's homeschool--oops, "patriarch"--but by experience, I've got to concede that all too many homeschools do declare independence from the people and institutions God sent to bless His People, specifically husbands/fathers and churches.

And what a need to pray for churches to really train their members to think.  Few and far between, I'm afraid.

Some Christian schools are good; abut some are worse than pagan schools because they dull people to the truth.  Many kids are sent there because the  parents want to Christianize the children when the parents have failed at it. So in such a school, the kids are spending there time getting thrills out of crossing the line into sin.  

I sincerely appreciated this post. I have five boys (so far) and I am homeschooling them. What you say here is a real danger. We do not have a good Christian school, but as soon as I read this I began to think of ways to get my sons "out there." Thanks, again. 

It might work out better if Mrs. Smith homeschooled the Jones children and Mrs. Jones homeschooled the Smith children. 

    We just had a couple of my nephews visit for a week, and now we're thinking of having one of my daughters go stay with that family for a week. It's good for kids to see how godly people other than their parents cope with misbehavior and that differences in unimportant things (which day the clothes get washed) coexist with commonalities in important things (modest dress). 

The most fundamental aspect of government in any society is self-government. All other institutions, the family, the church, and the state, build on this foundation. It is my opinion that homeschooling does more to develop this foundation than do alternative methods of education. Perhaps this is why Tim thinks there are rogue homeschoolers: they tend to think more independently! While I agree that there is some form of hierarchy in governmental institutions, one must agree that there is also a sort of 'reverse hierarchy'; a kind of hierarchy of locality. In essence, the state (ideally) controls one very distantly and loosely by comparison to the fellowship of the saints, and (again ideally) we should control children still more carefully and ourselves most intimately. In this way, the institutions of the family, church, and state are SUPPORTIVE of the primary, original institution of self-government.

Perhaps this discussion raises a larger question: how does the church (specifically) interact with self-governments already in place when they conflict? Perhaps homeschoolers tend to be more belligerent because they POSSESS more self-government to begin with.... should the church work to break this down, or simply attempt to guide it in the right direction?

I am aware that one could easily contend, "Well Ian, self-government and liberally sinful excesses are hardly synonymous", and I agree. I simply want this post to be a reminder that church authority does NOT function in a vacuum; it must be qualified by the institutions ordained by God in some manner.

Ian said, "church authority does NOT function in a vacuum; it must be qualified by the institutions ordained by God in some manner." 

I would change it to "church authority does NOT function in a vacuum; it must be qualified by the *other* institutions ordained by God in some manner."

In this manner, you don't imply that church authority isn't an institution that is ordained by God.

-Joseph

As I read this, I imagined a man dear to me who home schools and what he would say.  I think it would be easy, especially if one had a chip on one's shoulder, to infer from this post that the position being argued is that the government of the church elders is a step higher in authority to that of the family.  I don't think that's what is meant.  Perhaps a clarification would be in order.  When we say the church of Jesus Christ is superior to the family, I think this means in a certain sphere.  Yes, the elders are the appellate court, as Tim has said, when a husband has sinned against his wife and they cannot reconcile, or something of that nature.  However, it is the job of parents to discipline children, and the husband's job to pick the right church home for the family.  It's not as if the child can appeal mom's "eat your vegetables" to the session.  There are spheres of authority between elders and parents and husbands, and they don't all overlap.  

What I think is correct and wonderful is Tim's exhortation to parents to open the windows and doors of fortress home.  My wife's uncle homeschools, and one of the things he and her aunt strongly encourage their children to do as they get older is to find a mentor in the church outside the home, precisely for the reasons Tim articulated--to learn things they don't know and to have responses in faith that they wouldn't necessarily think of, and to learn how to relate hierarchically to an adult who isn't a parent.  I think that each educational variety comes with its own danger.  I can see how it might be tempting when you home school to build "fortress home," to keep the blinds drawn and the doors shut to hermetically seal your house against sin by keeping a tight thumb on everything your kids do and say.  I can see how it might be tempting in a Christian school to assume that your kids are hearing the word and getting the values at school, so you don't really need to worry about family devotional time.  I can see how public school presents a host of worldly temptations.  I think what matters are two things: realizing that it's your job as a parent to raise up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, no matter where they learn their algebra and their verb conjugations, and also giving your children experience learning from other people, because I know I certainly don't have all the answers and I doubt anybody else does!

Dear Roger,

Just to quickly say that the church's officers are over the father and his family—not vice versa. More specifically, the Sacraments are given by God to the Church, not the family. And they're governed by the officers of the Church, not the father of the home.

Another way of putting it is every Christian family should make sure it's a church-centered family rather than making sure their church is a family-centered church.

Scripture records the Apostles appointed elders in every city and Scripture commands fathers to obey those in authority over them who keep watch over their souls as men who will give an account to God for that work and its fruit.

Of course the husband and father and mother have their own spheres of responsibility and the elders are not to violate those spheres without good cause (physical or sexual abuse, for instance), but the home and marriage are always subordinate to Christ and His Church. Jesus never warned his followers that they must hate the Church or their brothers in Christ but He did warn them they must hate their father and mother and wife and children.

As I said in a sermon a couple weeks ago, the Church of Jesus Christ does not exist to promote conservative "family values" although much that is meant by that phrase is the normal fruit of sanctification. Childbearing. Submission. Honor. Fidelity. Love. Work.

Love,

As a home schooler for a gazillion years I have seen many domineering mothers use home schooling as a way to control and overly protect her children BUT that doesn't mean all home schooling mothers are this way.  Also, I'm not sure where he lives but in our town our Christian school choices are a bubble gum Baptist school, a Catholic school or a emergent church school.  There is no way these options are better than my home especially during the formative years.  Our choice to send our older kids to a charter classical school has worked beautifully thus far and our kids, having been grounded in reformed teaching for their entire lives at home, have been able once in high school to defend their faith in the classical environment where discussion and debate are welcome. With respect to submission to the church, if we raise our kids in light of God's word submission comes easily and has nothing to do with home schooling. 

Add new comment