Good morning, everyone. The last time I was asked to preach in a JPC service was many years ago at a Family Service. I know that it was a long time ago because I remember using an overhead projector which we haven't used for years. This Family Service was on Fathers' Day. You know what happens - the children all come down to the front. I started by saying that fathers often do strange things and then I asked the children for examples, which was a bit risky, I know. One little boy said, "My father makes strange noises", and another named Ben said, "My father says he's going off to prepare a sermon, but he actually just goes and reads a newspaper" – Ben Pryke. But the point is this: fathers, and mothers, are vital when we think about education. That's our first point:
1. Families Really Matter
The Biblical view of education starts with the family, with fathers having a huge role to play. Paul instructs fathers in Ephesians 6.4 by saying,
"Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord."
'Don't get on their nerves, dads, but teach them God's ways.' Proverbs 1.8-9 says to children:
"Hear, my son, your father's instruction,
and forsake not your mother's teaching,
for they are a graceful garland for your head
and pendants for your neck."
Children need to listen to the instruction and teaching of their parents. It is the parents who have ultimate responsibility for their children's education, not the State. When the State tries to take away the parents' role in bringing up children it leads to disaster. That is one of the reasons why the proposed Named Persons scheme in Scotland was at fault and ultimately collapsed – the Scottish Government did not recognise the primary role of parents.
Most families will, however, delegate part of their children's education to schools, although some believe that it is right before God to home-school their children, either on their own or with like-minded families. But although we might delegate responsibility to schools we must not abdicate our responsibility. There needs to be a partnership between parents and schools, with parents having the ultimate responsibility for their children's education. So, with parents working with schools, from a Christian point of view what is education for?
2. What is Education for?
Education should reflect the nature of God. Our God is a creator God and we want our children to begin to understand and appreciate the majesty, beauty and intricacies of his creation – the wonders of chemical bonding, for example, are not just formulae to be learned for an examination, but rather they demonstrate the beauty and depth of God's creation. We also want our young people to work in God's creation for the benefit of our world – whether it be growing crops or using our knowledge of chemical bonding in producing medicines. We want our children and young people to reflect the creative nature of God through artwork, music, drama, gymnastics, creative writing and design work. We want to reflect the fact that God is a God who communicates with his creation, and so we want to develop the communication skills of our young people.
Ultimately, however, we want our children, young people and indeed all of us to know what Paul calls in Colossians 2 the knowledge of God's mystery. Let us turn back to Colossians 2, although we will not look at each verse, but rather the verses that are particularly pertinent for our theme. This is what Paul wants for the Colossians (v2-3):
"that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."
Just sit back and take that in – we want for ourselves and for our children wisdom and knowledge, including the understanding and knowledge of God's mystery – they are all to be found in the Lord Jesus Christ. And who is this Lord Jesus Christ? – Paul says in verse 9
"For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily"
He is God himself. And amazingly in verse 10:
"you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority"
That's our position in Jesus – we have been given all fullness in him. We have been placed in that position as Paul says in verse 14 as a result of God,
"cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross."
Our sin which separated us from God has been nailed to the cross and so we can come and be filled in him. As we take the bread and wine this morning, let us remember that our sins have been nailed to the cross. Jesus is the source of all meaningful wisdom and knowledge. He has to be at the centre of our education – for children, young people and adults. And we need to learn to grow in Christ as Paul says in verses 6 and 7:
"Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving."
We come to him by faith, and we need to learn to grow in him and be built up in him by faith. As we take the bread and wine this morning, let us abound in thanksgiving, for all that we are and all that we have in Christ. But there are of course challenges.
Paul gives us warnings about our learning. In verse 4 he says,
"I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments."
And again in verse 8 he says,
"See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ."
He was concerned that people would infiltrate the church with plausible but deceitful teachings that were contrary to the word of Christ. He was concerned that people would be deluded and held captive by wrong teachings. These are strong warnings. Let me speak particularly to students whether at school, college or university. Use your God given critical ability to be on your guard against teaching that is counter to that of Christ and his Word. You will be bombarded with all sorts of teachings, arguments and philosophies – sift through them and see if they are part of the wisdom and knowledge found in Christ. For example, you may be bombarded by transgender issues, and you need to consider what stand you need to take with that agenda.
As for parents, you will realise that very few of our schools come anywhere near providing the sort of learning we have been talking about. What that means is that unless you want to home-school, you need to find the most appropriate school for your child and work in partnership with the school. Be actively involved in the school, helping and supporting where you can, perhaps by helping in classes, helping with Christian groups, becoming a member of the PTA or becoming a governor. And where necessary and when it is appropriate, speak out prayerfully and wisely. And at home you will have to fill in gaps through family Bible teaching, sharing as a family what God is saying.
As for teachers, you may be working in a school where there are few, if any, other Christians, and the school may not always be honouring God in its practices and standards. First of all, believe that God has put you there for a purpose to be salt and to shine out for him. Do your job well, be actively involved, maintain your Christian integrity and gain respect. If you do, people are more likely to listen when you need to speak out for the Lord. Nobody will listen to a Christian who is a bad teacher in the classroom.
And for all of us, we need to be aware of what is happening on the national scene. Much of it centres around Ofsted. If you have read my book, you will know that I don't have much that is positive to say about Ofsted. There is a need for accountability but too often inspectors have caused unnecessary damage and their judgements have not always been right. The dangers for Christian liberty in our schools are becoming greater. In a recent speech to Anglican school leaders, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, made derogatory remarks about the Christian Institute, implying that their views were not acceptable within schools. She also criticised the Church of England for standing against Ofsted's plan to inspect church youth groups. We have to be on our guard and pray and support organisations like the Christian Institute so that Ofsted will not misuse its powers against Christian influences within schools. We need to pray that Ofsted's powers will be reined in. But there are opportunities.
It is important that we do not feel defeated by the opposition that is there in our society to what we believe. Life for Christians is harder in schools now than what it was in previous decades. But we are on the victory side, and there are lots of opportunities to serve him in our schools. As we read in our gospel reading (Matthew 9.37-38):
"The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest."
There is a ripe harvest to be had in our schools – young people are interested in discussing spiritual matters, and we need to look for opportunities to take the gospel to them. I became a Christian through the school Scripture Union group when I was at school, largely because a Christian teacher took time to explain the gospel to me. As I started teaching myself, I tried to ensure that I spent time explaining the gospel to the young people I came across, whether that was in class, Christian Union groups, taking assemblies or in informal discussions. After I left the first school I taught in, we as a family went back to visit our former church and a young man called Craig approached me and said, "You remember that discussion on evangelism we had in class. Well, I thought about it afterwards and I decided to become a Christian." From memory, that was an informal discussion that led to a young man becoming a Christian.
The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. We need more Christian teachers in our schools who will be willing to serve God in their schools. We need more Christian leaders in our schools who will prayerfully rely on God to ensure that young people will hear the gospel and that God's standards are maintained. We need more Christian governors who will work towards making righteous decisions for their schools.
Billy Graham died last week. Before Mission England in 1984, he said that there were three things that the British churches needed to do to prepare for the mission – that was to pray, pray, pray. We need to pray that the Lord of the harvest sends out more workers into schools. We need to pray that they will be effective for him, that they will stand up to the challenges and extend his Kingdom. We need to pray that righteousness and Christian standards prevail in our schools. Let's do that now and pray for our children and young people.