Being a parent of three girls (two of them being teenagers now) and living in a very promiscuous and liberal US society, we find that it is a real challenge to give a proper ‘education’ to our children. Like so many other Indian parents who have immigrated to the United States hoping to provide a better ‘education’ to our children, my wife Nissy and I have been dismayed to find ourselves battling a tidal wave of cultural and social differences in the likes that we have never seen before. Our parents and grandparents (‘in my opinion’) lived in a more simplistic society where parental and church influences were the norm and there were boundaries that no child would dare to cross, especially the children from Christian families who were raised in good christian homes. Pastors, Elders, Sunday school teachers and parents were respected, and their words were taken to heart and followed.
We have now come to a time, when all these influences are diminished in an alarming way, and children have become seemingly ‘out of control’ as they go about in ‘doing their own thing’. The parents and even the church leadership can only stand back, and wonder what has happened. What has gone wrong in ‘educating’ our children? I wish to draw upon some of the Biblical models, which we can use as standards for educating our children.
Education Models from the Old Testament
In the Old Testament, the purpose of educating a Jewish child was “to lead and train the child to know Jehovah God (‘Yahweh’) intimately so that the child grows up to be an obedient member of the covenant people”. This education was grounded to build upon a solid relationship with God, and also preserve and cultivate the Abrahamic covenant.
In Genesis 18:19, God speaks about Abraham with these words, “For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice, that the LORD may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.” (NKJV)
Thus the Abrahamic covenant was to train his children to obey God, adhere to the instructions that God gave Abraham, and do righteousness and justice all the days of their lives.
When we come to the time of Moses, God enters into a covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai, where God instructs the children of Israel (through Moses) to obey the commandments and laws, and keep the ordinances, practices and responsibilities of the covenant relationship. Just before entering the ‘Promised Land’, Moses reiterates these regulations so that the ‘new’ generation does not forget to keep God’s commandments. In Deuteronomy 4:1-2, Moses says, “Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers is giving you. You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.” (NKJV) Again, in Deuteronomy 6:1, Moses declares, “Now this is the commandment, and these are the statutes and judgments which the LORD your God has commanded to teach you, that you may observe them in the land which you are crossing over to possess…” (NKJV)
Thus, the principal model was teaching and learning God’s commandments, so that a Jewish child learns to know God more intimately, and become an obedient member of the covenant people of God.
Now, where did the Jewish children receive their education? When we examine the Old Testament Scriptures, education was imparted in four locations (or, environments): the home, the community, the synagogue, and the school.
1. The Home: The home was the core and the primary center of the education of a Jewish child. The parents had the primary responsibility of educating their children. In Deuteronomy 6:6-9; 11:18-19 and Proverbs 6:20-24, parents were given specific instructions to teach their children. Proverbs 22:6 says “Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.”
We see that the teaching/training process was informal and intentional (Deuteronomy 6:20-25), and the parents served as a role model for their children. Psalms 101:2b describes about doing this with these words, “I will walk within my house with a perfect heart.” The education was imparted by responding to questions from children with giving specific details like tradition, story or mighty acts that explains or interprets the present practice.
We find specific examples from the Old Testament of godly mothers like Jochebed who nursed and raised up her youngest son Moses in Pharaoh’s palace - as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter (Exodus 2:8-10), or, Hannah who stayed at her home and nursed Samuel until she had weaned him before handing him over to Eli the priest (1 Samuel 1:21-28) as part of her vow to the Lord (1 Samuel 1:11). We can also see godly fathers like Job, who would sanctify his children, as well as rise up early in the morning and offer burnt offerings for all his children as part of his role as the High Priest of his family (Job 1:5).
2. The Community: Community played a strong influence in the educative process of a Jewish child. The everyday life of the community served as an educative experience. In particular, the feasts, festivals (holidays), the Temple worship in Jerusalem, and the various laws served the educational needs of the Jewish children on a specific basis. Apart from this, it was the participation in the experiences of sowing and harvesting in agriculture that has proved educational to the Jewish children. They saw God at work in the blessings and curses that were imparted on the people of Israel. (Deuteronomy 11:13-17). The celebration of various festivals and feasts provided powerful action dramas that recalled and renewed different aspects of covenant relationship with God.
This education provided through the community was an experiential learning about the relationship with God, which occurred by participation in rituals, exercise of corporate memory, reflection of God’s acts, Sabbath observances, Passover feasts, the Days of Atonement, etc.
Even though today’s social strata is individualistic in nature, the Christian community and the celebrations of retreats, conferences, camps, mission trips, etc. should bring us closer to realizing the work of God in our individual lives.
3. The Synagogue: From historical records we understand that synagogues developed during the Exile period of the Jews (ca. 586), and they provided opportunities for study of the law. Through reading, exposition and interpretation of the Law, the Jewish children (and adults) were educated. It was said that the synagogues became so important to Jewish education in the exilic period that one synagogue was found in every city where there were ten Jewish males (Reed and Prevost, p. 50) It was to one of these synagogues that Jesus frequently visited on the Sabbath days, as we see in Luke 4:15-16, “And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.”
4. The School: Finally, the school was the latest arrival of the Old Testament education. Most of these schools developed out of synagogues. Jewish children received instructions in such school beginning at the age of six. Such training became compulsory for children around A.D. 64.
The education given to the Jewish children in the synagogues and schools of the Exilic and pre-Christian era followed more formal educational methodologies like reading, memorization, repetition, and writing, which figured prominently in the later forms of Jewish education. We also see that the Egyptian culture was more advanced in the early ages of the Old Testament history, and we find that Moses was educated in the greatest Egyptian schools of the time (Acts 7:22). Still he remembered his parents’ early teachings about God and became "a man of power in words and deeds."
To sum this up, the Old Testament education began with God as teacher of a people called out to be in covenant with God. Abraham’s nomadic experience, the Exodus, Israel’s wilderness wanderings, the call of the prophets were all means by which God instructed His people regarding His plan and purpose. Moses served as a teacher of the nation of Israel (Exodus 18:20; 24:12; Deuteronomy chapters 4-31). The parents were first teachers of their children. The priests were the “nation’s educators”. They trained other priests, taught the people the Law and the various religious observances, and instructed the people how to live together. (Reed and Provost, p. 47) Finally, the prophets also participated in the teaching-learning process by calling the nation to justice and righteousness in response to God’s Word.
Education Models from the New Testament
The purpose of the New Testament was to lead people into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that expressed itself in faithful fellowship with the new covenant community. Dr. Jackie Jones (from the Church of God Theological Seminary in Cleveland, TN) identifies three goals of the New Testament education in light of this purpose to cultivate and form a covenant community of the Holy Spirit, which are as follows:
1. To prepare believer’s for communion with God
2. To perfect the believer’s faith, and
3. To prepare believer’s for fellowship with God through their participation in their spiritual fellowship of the Church.
Most scholars agree that we know little about formal educational programs in the New Testament. However, we can discern two locations (or, environments) that were used for education and Christian formation, which are the home and the early Christian gatherings.
1. The Home: The New Testament does not specify schools or curricula in the formal sense, but it does emphasize the role of the parents and the home in spiritual formation.
We know that as per the Gospel of Luke 2:51-52, Jesus Christ the Son of God who needed no earthly education grew up in Nazareth being subject (or, in submission) to His earthly parents, and His growth from the age of 12 to the age of 30 (the eighteen silent years in the early life of Jesus) is categorized in the following words in vs. 52 – “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” Also, Timothy was greatly influenced by his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice within his home, while his Greek father’s influence (Acts 16:1) is not mentioned at all.
It may be noted that Apostle Paul is the leading proponent of parental responsibility in his epistles, and we can read about this in the following passages: Ephesians 6: 1-3; Colossians 3: 20-21. He describes this in his list of leadership qualifications for Bishops (1 Timothy 3: 4-5), Deacons (1 Timothy 3: 12-13) and Elders (Titus 1: 5-6).
2. The Early Christian Gathering: For intentional corporate formation, the early Christian gathering was the environment for education in the form of teaching and learning. The early church in the 1st century gathered for learning the Apostles’ doctrine (Acts 2:42). The office of the ‘Teacher’ was one of the five-fold ministry of the church (Ephesians 4:11). We also see that the apostles and elders (The Jerusalem Council) decided the fate of the dispute over circumcision, and we read about this in Acts 15: 6-29. There were mentors who were personal coaches of inspiring young men in the ministry (for e.g. Paul mentored Timothy and Silas, Barnabas mentored John Mark, etc.)
To conclude, the two main methods of the New Testament education were the home and gathering (church). Both these methods were experiential, relational and life based. However over all, the parents have the primary responsibility for educating their children in discipline and order.
Among many Indian families it is noticed that due to the busy work life, many parents (especially working mothers) have no time to spend with their children at home. Due to this lack of parental attention, children are prone to be distracted and their primary learning is from the ungodly teachings from the public schools and the trash that is seen in television and what spews out through the internet. The children become unruly, disobedient and disrespectful to parents and the church leadership (Youth Pastors, Sunday school teachers, etc.) We should always remember that children are like tender plants that should be nurtured & grown ‘in the fear of the Lord’. For what we sow, we will reap later (Galatians 6:7b). This is the law of nature, and if we do not sow our love, the word of God and our quality time in our children from a tender age, they will grow up rebellious and ungodly. There is no use to repent of the lost opportunities later on, so the time to act is NOW. I pray that this article may be an eye-opener as you ‘educate’ your child in godly ways.
Acknowledgement: This article has drawn heavily from the lecture notes of the course “The Disciple Making Pastor” (Spring 2009) by Dr. James P. Bowers & Dr. Milton D. Carter, Church of God Theological Seminary, Cleveland, TN. Written permission has been obtained prior to publishing this article.