The Necessity of the Christian School

 Making my way through Machen’s excellent Shorter Writings I came across a great article on Christian schooling (originally delivered by Machen in 1933 before the Educational Convention of the National Union of Christian Schools in Chicago, IL.).  As always, Machen is clear and quite thought-provoking.

His first reason why Christians should favor Christian schools is for the maintenance of American liberty (p. 161).  This whole section is worth reading, but I’ll quote just one part that I enjoyed. 

“If parents cannot have the great incentive of providing high and special educational advantages for their own children, then we shall have in this country a drab and soul-killing uniformity, and there will be scarcely any opportunity for anyone to get out of the miserable rut.  … Every lover of human freedom ought to oppose with all his might the giving of federal aid to the schools of this country; for federal aid in the long run inevitably means federal control, and federal control means control by a centralized and irresponsible bureaucracy, and control by such a bureaucracy means the death of everything that might make this country great” (p. 167). 

“Against this soul-killing collectivism in education, the Christian school, like the private school, stands as an emphatic protest.  In doing so, it is no real enemy of the public schools.  On the contrary, the only way in which a state-controlled school can be kept even relatively healthy is through the absolutely free possibility of competition by private schools and church schools; if it once becomes monopolistic, it is the most effective engine of tyranny and intellectual stagnation that has yet been devised” (Ibid.).

Those words are worth pondering, even if one disagrees.  Secondly and more importantly to Machen than liberty, in his own words, the Christian school is “necessary to the propagation of the Christian faith” (p. 167).   Machen is quite firm here.

“I can see little consistency in a type of Christian activity which preaches the gospel on the street corners and at the ends of the earth but neglects the children of the covenant by abandoning them to a cold and unbelieving secularism.  If, indeed, the Christian school were in any sort of competition with the Christian family, if it were trying to do what the home ought to do, then I could never favor it.  But one of its marked characteristics, in sharp distinction from the secular education of today, is that it exalts the family as a blessed divine institution and treats the scholars in its classes as children of the covenant to be brought up above all things in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (p. 172). 

Machen praised Christian school teachers: “When I think of such true Christian heroism as yours, I count everything that I ever tried to do in my life to be pitifully unworthy.  I can only say that I stand reverently in your presence as in the presence of brethren to whom God has given richly of his grace” (ibid.).

I’m not looking for a storm of controversy here.  Homeschooling might be the right choice for certain families in certain places; charter schools might be a good possibility, and perhaps some public schools still have vestiges of decency in them.  Also, to be sure, many Christian schools are doctrinally messy or focused on athletics to the detriment of Bible education, so it is not as if all Christian schools are equal.  Furthermore, as Machen noted, Christian schools are neither religious day care nor do they take away the parents’ primary Christian task of training their children in the scriptures.

Basically, I posted this because I thought it was worth pondering.  So ponder on…

shane lems

sunnyside wa

4 thoughts on “The Necessity of the Christian School”

  1. “federal control means control by a centralized and irresponsible bureaucracy”

    Nice – Machen could have been living in California in 2009!


  2. I have a masters from a reformed seminary and literally looked all over this country for a position teaching theology/Bible at a Christian high school. But, as I suspected before I even began, the schools have no integrity, wisdom, or heart for truth. Sure, there may be a couple of exceptions, but 95% of the kids in “Christian” high schools are unbelievers and some are quite hostile to sincere believers and the faith. I know, I subbed at one. One school even re-worked their apologetics course to teach the unbelievers how to defend their unbelief. (And the teacher who went along with it came from a seminary that taught Van Til!) When I was in high school, I saw many kids from homes deeply involved in church sent to Christian schools who only ended up confused and angry. Of course the parents are responsible for that as well. All that to say, the “Christian” schools are about $ and if the kids aren’t kept happy, the money from dad will stop… so they only aim to send kids home with good reports to tell their ripped off parents. Truth is, Scripture belongs in the hands of gifted shepherds in the church.

    Having said that, I love Machen; just read a ch. from this vol. a couple of days ago.


    1. Dante;

      I am currently a student in RTS’ distance program, and I am also on the board of a medium sized Christian school, so I really appreciate your comments. Sadly, many Christian schools are as you describe. Thankfully, many are not.

      Even in schools such as ours where we constantly emphasize that we are a Christian school, not a private school, we still are afflicted with nominal ‘christian’ families and others who simply are using us as an alternative to the public schools because of our higher academic standards.

      To maintain our Christian integrity, our school is starting an emphasis on the partnership between the school, the home, and the church. Complete Christian education is impossible without reciprocal interaction between all three realms. We will be constantly reminding our school families they need to be in the pew, and that our churches must be churches, not 24/7 activity centers. Ultimately, though, we need many of our families (read fathers) to step up and make sure this balance is in their own family’s life. We can’t make people go to church or sit down and have supper together.

      Again, I don’t argue with your conclusions, but I would like to encourage you to continue in Christian education. You’ll never find the perfect school, just like you won’t find the perfect church or perfect children, but one of the most effective ways to turn the tide in our Christian schools is to have people like you involved. Maintain your integrity and encourage your fellow staff and students to maintain theirs. The only reason the libs have had so much influence over the last 25 years or so is because we’ve let them. I’ve found that most of these wayward folks are not wayward because they’re pushing an agenda (although a few are), but they’re just simply lost. They’re counting on guys like us to help them find their way back. God gave you that RTS education to help them find their way back.

      If you ever think about coming up to the beautiful pacific northwest, let me know. I’ll make sure you get an interview. We’re always looking for gifted shepherds.


  3. Gifted shepherds GATHER the scattered sheep! At a time when our spiritual battle is peaking, let’s help eachother stay on the narrow path…and if there are those hanging on by a thread…help them. That’s what a shepherd does, he guides, leads, protects and rescues. The sheep will know you and follow when they see that sttitude…I can see this since I myself was one disturbed, wandering sheep myself. But the Lord was good in providing shepherds.
    Families need to repent and remember the Lord’s commands…but let’s help eachother!
    Thank you, Angelina


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