The Countercultural Christian School

I have spent the past 40 years, all of my professional life, in Christian education. Prior to that most of my own schooling and preparation occurred in Christian schools. The exceptions were three years spent in a public high school and graduate work done in a public university. Even the three high school years were spent in a school perceived to be sort-of Christian because the small community in which I grew up had a church on every corner and many of the public school faculty graduated from Christian colleges.

But things are not as they used to be. In truth, they never were.

Communities like the one in which I grew up imagined that the nation was Christian, that public schools with a smattering of Christian teachers were “Christian enough,” and that the North American culture was Christian enough to pass the litmus test for “Christian nation status.” Even our Christian institutions—yes, our Christian schools—did little to intentionally celebrate our distinctiveness and emphasize our crucial place in the advancement of God’s kingdom. Too many of our schools became complacent about their worldview and faith/life/curriculum integration, allowing tradition and assumptions to replace distinctive intentionality. Some Christian schools have been content to be like good government schools with a dash of Christian spice.

For at least the past ten years I have been stating, and each day I am more convinced, that Christian education is more distinctively relevant today than ever before in North America and across the globe. That is not to say it was not relevant a century ago when Christian Schools International was birthed. It was important then, and visionaries knew it. But speaking introspectively, complacency set in, because our schools were safe, very good, and institutionalized in their communities.

Today, being good enough is not good enough. Today, tradition will not sustain us. Today, children cannot be protected under controlled, watchful, God-focused eyes of parents and trusted teachers.

Today, parents seek excellence and have educational choices. Today, mission and distinctiveness will sustain us. Today, children are exposed to and bombarded with a godless worldview through the media and internet which are functioning as teachers.

Christian education has never been more relevant than it is today. The illusion of nations that are Christian, where education can be delegated to governments, has broken down. I ask every believing family – is there any longer an option for you other than to teach your child at home or to partner with the Christian school for the education of your children?

Some will push back on the audacity of the question. Jesus told us to go to the world and be light, be salt, and make disciples. Amen! But God said to first train the children, teach them to walk obediently, teach them to love God and each other first.

Like never before, the world is coming after the children with a worldview that is diametrically opposed to the gospel story. The world mocks God. The world scoffs at believers. Are we surprised? Of course not, for Jesus said that the world hates him and will hate us.

On June 26, 2015, a decision by the US Supreme Court rocked some believers. Others were not rocked at all. After all, same sex marriage was legalized in Canada ten years ago and had already been legalized in about 30 US states. Yet for many in the believing community the decision was a defining moment when the right to freedom of religion was perceived to be under direct assault.

This blog post is not intended either to suggest that the sky is falling or that this was a decision to be celebrated. Plenty has been written already by believers passionately arguing for and against the decision.

Instead, this blog post is intended to reflect on the place of the Christian school in a broken world, a world that, from the fall of humans, has continually tended to put human wisdom and understanding above God’s desire for us. Over time it has been called by different names – Hellenism and humanism are two.

No matter the name, believers have always been confronted with the choice: will we walk within the path of obedience to God or will we seek our own way? Seldom is each step of the path clear. God gave us an outline of his desire for obedient living. God did not fill in every blank or make the pathway prescriptive. Instead he gave us his Word to guide and his promise to walk alongside of us in the struggle. Jesus told us to love him first and then to love each other.

Whether believers feel the U.S. Supreme Court acted rightly or wrongly is fairly irrelevant today. Instead believers must ask ourselves, How do we respond? How do believers express their love for God and their love for their neighbor? How do kingdom-focused disciples of Jesus become like Jesus in a broken world?

I found a blog post by Pastor Carey Nieuwhof from Connexus Church north of Toronto to offer an especially insightful perspective for the church (http://careynieuwhof.com/2015/06/some-advice-on-same-sex-marriage-for-us-church-leaders-from-a-canadian/). It is well worth your time to read the perspective of a pastor and how his insights can inform Christian school leaders as well.

Christian schools are not unlike the church. Certainly each plays a unique role in the nurturing of God’s children. But each comes alongside the home as church-home-school seek to raise up the next generation of disciples of Jesus who will advance the kingdom of God and bring the gospel good news and hope to the world.

Christian schools are by their very nature and purpose countercultural. With the exception of the western provinces of Canada, Christian schools are not put on a par with government schools in the eyes of the state, province, or nation. That is ok. Christian schools are established by committed believers and not by governments. We are meant to be distinctive. Celebrate it! Schools created and sustained for the glory of God and advancement of his kingdom are by their very nature and mission countercultural. Christian schools do not exist so that believers are comfortable. They require commitment and sacrifice. God’s kingdom advancement is radical and countercultural, because it is our mission to glorify God in all things.

It is indeed strange for Christians to expect non-believers to accept Christian values, beliefs, and life-styles. Why would they? Their worldview and ours are opposite. So are the worldview of Christian schools and the worldview of government schools. The time is now to more articulately define who we are and the truth of what we believe. We must struggle to balance the firm convictions of our faith with the call from Jesus to love even those who are the most unlovable. Obedient believers have nothing to fear and everything to be confident about. If God is for us, who can stand against us!

Neither the church nor Christian school has looked to government for guidance, nor should they. Not only did Jesus say that his kingdom was not of this world, but Satan offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and Jesus rejected the offer. The Christian school respects the place of authorities as God commands, but it serves God, not humans. We are more comfortable with the government safety nets of tax exemptions and charitable giving tax advantages. While those are to be happily received, our Christian schools do not exist because of them. Perhaps without them we would be driven more toward sacrificial giving and living. The fire in the body of believers has burned brighter in challenging times and when those in the community rely on each other. That is when Christ’s body is stronger.

How wide is the door of the tent of our Christian schools? Is the purpose of the door of your school to keep out or to welcome in? How do Christian schools uphold standards for admission and employment which insure the mission of the school while guarding against the hypocrisy of elevating certain sins above others? These are difficult questions and will likely be answered differently by diverse communities. So consider this. Where will the hungry find food, the naked find clothing, the weary find rest, and the lost find Christian love? I hope that somehow that answer is found through the open doors of the church and the Christian school.

Written by Jeff Blamer, Vice President of Member Services

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