Christian Education: A Brief History

   Christian education has a long history.  Since the days of the early church, Christians have been teachers and students; Christian day schools of some sort or other are embedded in Church history.  I’m not noting this to downplay homeschooling, since I believe Christian parents have the liberty to wisely choose what type of schooling is best for their family, situation, and life.

However, I am in disagreement with movements that attack Christian schooling as unbiblical, secularistic, or unwise.  For example, the Family Integrated Church movement is a Baptist organization/network that has its own confession of faith which implicitly writes off Christian schooling.  It also says that “age-segregated practices are based on unbiblical, evolutionary and secular thinking which have invaded the church” (Article XI).  This shock statement is false.  Christian schools and church schools existed long before evolutionary secular thinking arose and they are based on biblical and covenantal principles.

For some background of this discussion, I appreciated Alvin Schmidt’s chapter, “Christianity’s Imprint on Education” in his book, How Christianity Changed the World.   Here are some statements from that chapter.

“Catechetical instruction led to formal catechetical schools with a strong literary emphasis.  Thus, by about A.D. 150, Justin Martyr, often called the first great scholar of the Christian church, established such catechetical schools, one in Ephesus and one in Rome.  Soon these schools appeared in other regions.”

“[There were also] cathedral and episcopal schools that existed from the fourth to the tenth century.  Maintained by bishops, these schools taught not only Christian doctrine but commonly also the seven liberal arts, the ‘trivium’ (grammar, rhetoric, and logic) and ‘quadrivium’ (arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy). …By the ninth century, Christians also had parochial (parish) schools separate from the cathedral or monastery.”

“Luther [in the 16th century] …wanted mendicant houses ‘converted into good schools for boys and girls.’  …Although Luther never denied that one of the purposes of education was to train pastors for the church, he also wanted children to be educated as God-fearing and law-abiding lay citizens who would serve God and society in all stations of life.  Schools, to him, were to train and prepare more than just clergy.”

“John Calvin also advocated universal education.  His Geneva plan included ‘a system of elementary education in the vernacular for all, including reading, writing, arithmetic, grammar, and religion, and the establishment of secondary schools for the purpose of training citizens for civil and ecclesiastical leadership.”

Of course, Christian teaching can be done poorly – whether in the home, on Sunday, or in a school building.  At the same time, it can be done well, in a solid Christian way – at home, in a school building, or on Sunday.  As we seek to uphold Christian liberty and use wisdom when it comes to schooling, it is always helpful for us to learn from those who have gone before us in the church.

Alvin Schmidt, How Christianity Changed the World, pages 171-177.

shane lems