The Christian School, American Liberty, and the Christian Faith

J. Gresham Machen: Selected Shorter Writings I’m thankful to God for the small but solid Christian school I attended in rural Northwest Iowa some years back; I’m also thankful for the small but solid Christian school my kids attend today here in Western Wisconsin.  On the topic of Christian schools, this speech J. G. Machen gave in 1933 at the “Educational Convention of the National Union of Christian Schools” has been on my mind quite a bit since I first read it a few years back.  Here’s how Machen opens the address:

“The Christian school is to be favored for two reasons.  In the first place, it is important for American liberty; in the second place, it is important for the propagation of the Christian religion.”

Later, concerning the first reason, he said,

“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.).

Concerning the second, and more important reason (Christian schools are important for propagating the Christian faith), Machen said this:

I believe that the Christian school deserves to have a good report from those who are without; I believe that even those of our fellow citizens who are not Christians may, if they really love human freedom and the noble traditions of our people, be induced to defend the Christian school against the assaults of its adversaries and to cherish it as a true bulwark of the state.

But for Christian people, its appeal is far deeper.  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).

After this paragraph, Machen took some time to encourage and support teachers and volunteers at Christian schools; I’ll quote that here in the near future, since it is quite encouraging.  In case you want to read it (and I do recommend it!), the entire article is found in chapter 14 of his Shorter Writings.

shane lems

6 Replies to “The Christian School, American Liberty, and the Christian Faith”

  1. Thanks for sharing this. The first work I ever read from Machen was actually a small book that printed his essays and transcript of a Congressional hearing in which Machen spoke up for Christian education and the concern with issues in public schools.


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