The Educational Mandate of the Great Commission
It is noteworthy that the final commission given by the Lord Jesus Christ to his disciples contained an educational mandate: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28.18-20).
Christ’s Reign is the Christian’s Confidence
First, we see here the total authority of our Lord declared over heaven and earth. Nothing is left out! His authority extends over every sphere and every area of life in all creation, and this inescapably includes the realm of education.
Second, it is because of Christ’s authority that we take up this task with humility, boldness and confidence. The power and authority to teach does not belong to us, neither does it originate with us. It cannot be an arrogant presumption on the part of Christians to teach all nations, since the authority is in and from Christ.
God’s Word is our Educational Foundation
Third, Christian initiation for the nations means far more than baptism, but teaching all of Scripture. Since Christ is the fulfilment and interpreter of all the law and the prophets, the living Torah, it is the totality of divine revelation that is the content of our educational task: the curriculum of Christ. Our Lord said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word which proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4.4). Life and truth are found in Christ and his word, and since his word defines the meaning and purpose of all things, the principles of God’s word must govern our approach to every sphere of thought, be it science, history, art, politics, or any other aspect. If Christ and his revelation are irrelevant to these areas, then his authority does not extend over heaven and earth.
Finally, Christ assures us of his divine aid and presence as we pursue, with diligence, the educational mandate. Of course the Christian faith and life is more than information and its transmission – it is the supernatural work of the Spirit of God – but clearly the task of education is embedded in the very nature of our calling.
A long Historical Precedent
It is no surprise then that we find catechesis, Christian schools, literacy and printing as central to the work of the church throughout the centuries. The early church made the Christian school one of the primary connecting links between itself and the pagan world. The Christian faith, because of the centrality of Scripture, has led to the great advancement of literacy, printing, and the founding of schools and universities throughout the Western world.
For example, Reformer Pierre Viret in Lausanne, began the first Protestant and Reformed academy of the French-speaking world, in January 1537. This academy had great instructors from across Europe, with Theodore de Beze as the principal for nine years. Many great Christian leaders received their training there, including the authors of the Heidelberg Catechism of 1562 and the Belgic Confession of 1561. The academy in Geneva likewise equipped Christians from all over Northern Europe who took a faith committed to education everywhere, including the British Isles, through men like John Knox. The story is a great and exciting one.
The Loss of Christ-Centred Education
Suffice it to say that the church’s mission, in terms of Christ’s kingdom, has had education at its hub. We might ask where that vision has gone, for it has certainly waned in our time. With all the social challenges of our age and the eclipse of the faith in the West, we believe that the church is in urgent need of rediscovering this critical mandate.
It is a truism that those who shape the minds of the young govern the course of the future. The question for Christians today is, what kind of a future do we want for our children and grandchildren? One American social commentator in the late 1960s writing for a California periodical commented on the growing crisis in American education with a strong sense of irony:
If you are interested in rearing up a generation of hippies and super-hippies, there are a few simple directions to follow. First of all, abolish all teaching about God, the Bible, and God’s moral law from the schools. The child will then grow up believing that these things are really not important and that religion is really a private matter and a question of taste. Second, emphasize the individual and his rights, not the claims of God and His law. Make sure that the child has a strong and intense passion for his rights, and no concern about his moral responsibilities. Then you can be sure that he will be irresponsible and yet very demanding. Third, make sure that the child feels entitled to the best of everything and feels cheated if he is denied instant paradise. Then the child will be sure to demand everything and riot if denied it. Fourth, convince the child that man’s real problem is not his sin but a bad environment. Teach him that his problems are due to the evils of big business, warmongers, big labour, profiteering farmers, politicians and the like. Never let him suspect that all men are sinners ... and that their need is for regeneration in Jesus Christ. Then the child will grow up with a revolutionary rage at everybody instead of looking to God for regeneration.[i]
The Present Need: A return to God’s Word
The privatization of the Christian faith and the public establishment of humanism is now an accomplished fact in Canada. “Religious” faith is a matter of taste for the vast majority of school graduates. Delinquency, criminality and academic failure are growing and at the same time, we have never had an age in which people shout more loudly about their rights with barely a whisper concerning responsibilities.
My generation (X) and the Mosaics, whilst more apathetic, are even more demanding than their revolutionary parents whose revolt beginning at Berkley in 1964 gave us the sexual and social revolution, as well as the drug culture. This movement, in various forms, accelerated through the popular music of the time, and swept Western Europe and North America. Today we live in an age of revolution, where rage, the blame game, and victimhood are the marks of a decaying order.
Where did these ideas come from? What has been the main vehicle for the transmission of these ideas? The answer is in the field of education. How can Christians respond with faith and hope? We humbly submit that the solution is in an intentional return to the word of God.
[i] RJ Rushdoony, A Word in Season, (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Press, 2010), pp.85-86.