As a previous Preschool teacher and a Montessori teacher in training, I understand the necessity and fruitfulness of education. In many instances, it is churches that provide education globally for those in need. Is there any Biblical basis for this? Should all local churches provide official and institutionalized education for men, women, and children?
What is the role of Christian education in the local church? The role of Christian education in the local church is undoubtedly to teach the scriptures, and to disciple believers in Godly spirituality. Scripture also gives precedent for the local church to educate children, men, and women, in spiritual and practical areas of life. It does not indicate that Christian education must be established, but there are many Biblical principles that can provide a reason for a local church to establish institutionalized Christian education.
This blog will begin by breaking down Jesus’ command for education through discipleship, and the cultural understanding of discipleship. I will also explain the role of the disciples and the rabbi. By looking at the life of Jesus, the formation of the Early Church, and the entire Bible, we see education as a major theme. I will uncover various principles in scripture about education to come to a final conclusion.
Jesus’ Command for Discipleship
The first time in New Testament scripture that we see a command of education, is found in the Great Commission. Jesus commands His disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. This command involves recruiting disciples and teaching them all that Jesus had taught and spoken.
Furthermore, Jesus disciples were called to baptize the new disicples. Both teaching and baptisim were done by Jesus. Following the cultural trend, it would be assumed that Jesus’ disciples would make disciples by utilizing all that they had learned and gained from their time with Jesus.
Matthew 28:19-20 states, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
This statement is clear that Jesus desired disciples to be made in the name of the Trinity. He didn’t merely want converts. Jesus’ desire was for educated individuals to know the word of God and to know Old Testament fulfillment through Jesus Christ. He wanted them to be empowered in understanding and truth in order to walk out the new life that He purchased for them.
A Cultural Look at Discipleship
Discipleship was a common occurance in Jesus’ time. The authority of the Torah to lead daily life was of upmost imporatance to Jews in that time. Young men would follow a rabbi by either making a request to be discipled, or by being asked by the rabbi, as was Jesus’ tendency.
In Matthew 4:18-20, Jesus extends His invitation. It states, “As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ At once they left their nets and followed Him.”
By asking to be discipled, or by choosing to follow a rabbi, disciples were giving their total submittion to the teaching of that rabbi. Their desire was to become like their rabbi in his understanding of God and God’s word.
A main element of disciplship involved the wrestling through scripture. The rabbi would give his view and understanding of the scriptures. Then, the disciples would discuss among themselves what this meant and how it was to be lived out.
Prior to being discipled, the disciples were required to learn and memorize the majority of Hebrew Scriptures. Therefore, they new what the texts said and needed enlightment to what exactly they mean and how they should respond to them.
Who was a Rabbi & What Was His Role?
When Jesus walked on earth, He lived as a culturally and religiously Jew. He came to fulfill the law and prophets. During His life, He lived according to the Torah and was raised within the cultural norms of Israel.
Throughout His ministry, Jesus often opposed the religious leaders who added to the Torah and law. However, He did not discount the law or the Torah itself. Within the culture, rabbis were common. Rabbis were men who taught their disciples the Torah. Rabbi simply referred to a teacher, or “Master”.
They were spiritual leaders who were educated in the law and were able to teach others in the correct way of life. Jesus is specficially given this title in John 20:16. “Mary!’ Jesus said. She turned to Him and cried out, ‘Rabboni!’ (which is Hebrew for ‘Teacher’).”
A rabbi was trained from a young age to handle, read, and write the Torah. There were various stages that a rabbi in training would undergo. Then, by the time a rabbi was 30, he began his ministry of teaching and discipling. This model is corespondant with many of the statements of Jesus’ childhood.
In Luke 2:52 Jesus grows in wisdom and stature. In Luke 2:41-52 He “fulfilled the commandments” at passover.
Jesus’ Example of Education
It is clear to see that God in His manhood through Jesus, valued education. He Himself was educated. Furthermore, He educated many. He had numerous disciples, in addition to the 12. Jesus also welcomed families in His teachings. Matthew 14:21 portrays the miracle of the loaves and fish. It explains, “The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.”
In other instances, Jesus welcomed young children to come and sit alongside Him. Mark 10:13-16 states, “People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place His hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, He was indignant.
He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And he took the children in His arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.”
Moreoever, Jesus taught women which was uncommon in that time. Women were not given equal opportunities, education, vaule, or even esteemed worth. Jesus pressed against culture to bring the reality that the Kingdom of God is for all.
Mary would often sit at the feet of Jesus and follow Him as He taught (Luke 10:39). This was common for disciples to do. Since she was a woman, it was not always well recieved but the men of the culture. Nonetheless, Jesus continued to educate men, women, children, the poor, the rich, lost, and outcasted.
What this Means for Us Today
Jesus’ example shows the church the importance of education for all individuals. No matter the common discriminalities that are in the world. Ultimately, Jesus supported spiritual development since He came to seek and save the lost. But He also advocated against oppression, and lack of education was one of them.
Then, in the development of the Early Church, we see new believers being discipled and taught the word of truth. The Early Church also had many other functions, as it still does today. Learn more about these functions in the blog, Responsibilities in the Local Church: Biblically Explained.
It is no doubt that Biblical education was and is a key part of the church. The Early Church dedicated itself to the teachings of the apostles and disciples. They regularly gathered to teach and be taught scriptures and the doctrine of Christ.
Acts 2:42 explains, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Then, in Acts 5:42, states that “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah” (emphasis mine).
In the Old Testament, this same type of scriptural education occured and was emphasized. However, the Old Testament also provides proof that practical education and wisdom is a necessary part of living a fruitful and Godly life.
The entire book of Proverbs is dedicated to teach, train, warn, and educate readers. Proverbs 16:16 exclaims, “How much better is it to get wisdom than gold! and to get understanding rather to be chosen than silver!” Wisdom and understanding were highly valued and sought after.
Then, Proverbs 22:6 states, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” This can certainly pertain to teaching a child the ways of God. It can also pertain to teaching a child life skills since Proverbs is filled with wisdom about God, relationships, business, child rearing, and finances.
The Local Church & Sunday School
Through a holistic view of scripture, it is evident that children should be well educated in the ways of God. The manner in which this is done within the local church may vary. Ultimately, the greatest form of disciplship that children recieve should be directly from their parents.
The local church should supplement this discipleship or equip parents to better disciple their own children. Too often parents leave discipleship solely to the local church and do not partner alongside it.
With that being said, the local church does have reponsibility to provide spiritual education for children. Since the local church will be growing, new believers will also bring in their children. While these new believers are being discipled, they may need additional help in the discipling of their children.
The local church can help disciple children while their parents are also being disicpled. Even when the parents are strong in their faith, the local church should teach and promote the gospel in the same way that they do so for adults in the church.
Many of the principles for the Biblical order of the church for adults can be applied to the order of church for children. Of course, modifications will be necessary depending on the age and development of the children. Despite this, the local church cannot neglect the education of children through sunday school, youth group, etc. because youth are just as much a part of God’s Kingdom as the adults are.
The Local Church & Classic Education
Next, is the topic of classical education within the local church. The question may arrise, should the local church establish Christian schools? And is there any Biblical evidence for it? Through my own studies of childhood development, and my understanding of the scriptures, I believe that how children are educated is extremely important.
Yet, there doesn’t seem to be one right way to educate children. I’ve known Christians to homeschool, send their children to private schools, or allow them to go to public school. The fruit that I have seen tends to be more dependent on parent involvement and family dynamic, rather than where children were educated.
There are situations in which it is in the benefit of the child to opt for a certain type of schooling. I believe this falls more into the hands of the parents than the local church. The local church, however, is the vessel through which God brings His Kingdom to earth.
Establishing Christian education is a helpful tool to spread the gospel, provide for needs within a community, and to raise children up in the way that they should go (Proverbs 22:6). It fulfills the call of disciplship. Furtermore, it can be a safe place for children to go who face daily struggles. Scripture does emphasize the need to care for the oppressed.
Culturally, the nation of Israel educated their children in all manners of life. This education was certainly from a Godly worldview. Since the nation was dedicated to God, when it was being obedient, it was training its citizens, not in a worldly manner, but in a Godly manner (Deuteronomy 11:19).
The “public schools” were not public schools in the sense that we would understand. Rather, the nation was commanded to teach their children in a way that we would recognize through Christian educations and schools.
In Daniel 1:17, God gave wisdom and learning. It says, “As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.” It was God’s will that these four children were well educated.
By looking at scripture, I see no reason why the local church shouldn’t provide holistic education. If the local church has the means, and the community has the need, a Christian school can be a fruitful establishment for the Kingdom of God.
The Local Church & Adult Education
Since we can conclude that spiritual education within the local church should exist for both children and adults, and that traditional education can be beneficial for children, we should also consider adult education within the local church.
Should the local church take on the role and responsibility of educating the adults within the congregation? Scripture does not explicitely determine this. What scripture does make clear is the need to work hard to provide for physical needs and to be generous towards others (Proverbs 12:11, 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, Ephesians 4:28).
Jesus Himself was taught to be a carpenter (Matthew 13:55). Throughout history, and even today, it is evident that people need to be educated for the type of work they do. This education might come through the place in which they work or through a family member. At times, it comes through a school or organization.
For those who were not given education as a child or education for a trade, they have a need. This can be supplemented through discipleship in the local church. At other times, it is good for adults to have the opportunity to finish their GED, complete college, or learn a trade.
The Practicalities of Adult Education
In many societies, adults struggle to hold a steady job without at least a high school diploma. If the local church can help adults in this manner, they should do so. If the memebrs of the church can teach adults how to read, write, and work a job, they should. Again, if the local church has the means to provide official institutionalized education, and there is the need within the community, it could be a fruitful ministry.
The local church has the responsibility to care for the holistic needs of the congregation. In the book of Acts, the believers sold all that they had to care for the poor among them. The role of the local church has always been to care for the church so that they can complete the ministry of the Lord.
One way to do this may be through education. Whether or not this education is institutionalized is to be determined. With that being said, those who are able to teach other memebrs of the church who are uneducated should.