Dr. Paul J. Dean Christian Blog and Commentary

Christians and Public School:Thoughts on Cultural Engagement


Debate rages in Christian circles as to whether or not Christians should send their children to public (government) school. Some say that to do so is sin while others maintain that we must send our children to government school if we are going to be obedient to the command of God to be salt and light. Others make it a matter of choice for the Christian, that is, they leave it to one's liberty of conscience.


While many Christians are unaware of the issues (and one wonders how they could be such), those who have eyes to see are in agreement that things are pretty bad in the public school system on many fronts. Government education is grounded in secular humanism and promotes an evolutionary worldview that denies the existence of God. Roe v. Wade is upheld as Constitutional (even though it directly contradicts the peoples' right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness). As such, abortion is taught as right. Condoms are distributed, homosexuality is affirmed as legitimate, parents are not informed when their teenage daughters are pregnant, and the parental consent laws regarding abortion will soon be removed. Parents are viewed as intrusive and out of touch. Moral relativism is the philosophy of choice with the Scriptures marginalized at best and banned at worst even on private time. Drugs, violence, and rainbow parties are a fact of life in the government schools.


History is revised under the government education system. The concepts of limited government and religious freedom are suppressed. Centralized government with its bent toward behavior modification and restriction of freedom is seen by most as normal and right. Welfare is seen as good rather than the evil that it is (taking money from one group by force and giving it to another group). Never mind that community ministry is far more effective than government prowess in inefficiency. Socialism and big government are promoted as ideal and the understanding that we were given a Constitutional Republic by our founders is being erased from the history books. History is being re-written in too many ways to enumerate.

R. Albert Mohler wrote an insightful article regarding the public school system and the debate over whether Christians involving their children in that system is sinful. Dr. Mohler wrote regarding a resolution proposed at the most recent Southern Baptist Convention that "call[ed] for the convention to urge its churches to investigate local schools in order to determine the extent of homosexual influence and then, if objectionable material or involvements are found, to 'inform the parents of this fact and encourage them to remove their children from the school district's schools immediately.'"

While Mohler did not say that sending one's children to public school was sin, he did point out some chilling history in regard to government education. "John Dewey saw the public schools, often called the 'common' schools, as the mechanism for indoctrinating children into a new democratic faith. The worldviews and eccentricities of the various ethical and national backgrounds would be erased and a new melting pot of Americans would emerge. Dewey, the most influential shaper of the public schools in America, understood that the success of his effort would require children to be liberated from the prejudices and values of their parents."

"In his book, A Common Faith, Dewey advocated a radically secular vision for the public schools and the larger public culture. His concept of a humanistic faith, stripped of all supernatural claims, doctrines, and theological authorities, would replace Christianity as the dominant culture-shaping worldview. 'Here are all the elements for a religious faith that shall not be confined to sect, class, or race,' he claimed. 'Such a faith has always been the common faith of mankind. It remains for us to make it explicit and militant.'"


Dewey's vision has been realized and the government school agenda and machinery indoctrinates millions of children each year, including children of Christian parents, into a worldview devoid of God and morality. Children are indeed being "liberated" from the authority, views, and values of their parents. Nothing militates against Christ and His Lordship in the lives of children more than the public school environment. This sobering reality led Dr. Mohler to conclude, "I believe that now is the time for responsible Southern Baptists to develop an exit strategy from the public schools. This strategy would affirm the basic and ultimate responsibility of Christian parents to take charge of the education of their own children. The strategy would also affirm the responsibility of churches to equip parents, support families, and offer alternatives. At the same time, this strategy must acknowledge that Southern Baptist churches, families, and parents do not yet see the same realities, the same threats, and the same challenges in every context. Sadly, this is almost certainly just a matter of time."

Other Southern Baptist leaders, while agreeing that the problems are massive in the public school system, would disagree with the exist strategy as a solution. Tony Beam for example, writing in regard to the same Southern Baptist resolution, declared: "The light of Christian Truth does not roll back the darkness by retreating in the face of evil.  In Matthew 5:14 Jesus said, "You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house."  I can think of no better example of light leaving the lampstand for the basket than the complete removal of a Christian witness from the public school system."

"Right now, where Christian parents are actively involved in knowing what is going on in their schools, the battle still rages for righteousness sake.  What message would a resolution urging the raising of the while flag in the face of the enemy do to the morale of these parents?  Southern Baptist youth ministers go into public schools across America everyday, eating lunch with their students and encouraging them to witness to their lost friends." 

"I hear stories all the time of Christian teachers who quietly advance their faith in the classroom influencing the lives of children who come from, deplorable home situations.  These teachers are shining examples of what it means for salt not to lose its savor." 

While Dr. Beam is not supportive of an exit strategy, he does recognize that not all Christian parents are obligated to send their children to public school. He noted, "While I fully support and commend any believer who home schools or sends their children to a private Christian school, I also fully support and commend Christians who serve as salt and light in the public school system." He then adds however, "We should always choose transformation over retreat."

It seems that one question remains and one question is raised. First, is it sin for a Christian to send his/her children to public school? Second, should we send our children to public school or should we adopt an exit strategy?

In my response to these questions raised on our radio program, I made reference to the fact that while we home school our children, it would not be accurate to say that all Christians who send their children to public school are in sin: some are and some are not. An objection was forthcoming in this form: "On the public school, if it is objective sin to be involved for one person then it is for all. Don't give in to the hard cases." In response, giving in to the hard cases is not the issue. Truth is the issue. Christians may not project their preference or brand of spirituality upon others, particularly in the absence of biblical clarity. This practice is legalism.


In defense of the aforementioned position, the Bible says that certain things are sin to some and not sin to others. It is not objective sin to be involved in the public school. If a person can avoid teaching error and truly be a Christian witness as Dr. Beam points out, then that person is not sinning by teaching. If he compromises, that is another story. If a student is grounded and truly can be a witness, then it is not sin for him to be salt and light in that environment. It becomes sin when parents send their lost, immature, or unprepared children to public school as they are being sent to be trained in the religion of secular humanism. It would be no different to send them to an Islamic school every day. Only the religion would be different.


Christians must certainly affirm the evil nature of the public school system. Further, knowledgeable Christians understand that the government school system is indeed unredeemable as an institution by nature as it is under and flows from the evil state. At the same time, the Roman Empire was unredeemable. But, Christians operated in that culture for the glory of God and the salvation of individual souls. So too Christians may operate in the public school system for the glory of God and the salvation of individual souls.


My children won't be in the public school because I am not willing to risk their spiritual well being until I feel they are truly equipped to be witnesses. But, that does not mean that some young persons are not uniquely gifted and prepared by God to be powerful witnesses in that setting. I certainly reject all arguments claiming that it is our responsibility to send our kids to public school or we are not being salt and light. Not only is the public school a recent invention; not only is it designed to enculturate America's children with humanist/godless ideals which are diametrically opposed to the Word of God; but it is a breeding ground for sin of the worst kind as kids who know nothing of God, have no moral compass, have no maturity to control their sinful inclinations, and have no adult thinking ability to make proper decisions, are thrown together with no adult supervision or guidance for most of their time together: and this environment day after day and year after year. For most Christians, indeed they are sinning and compromised to move in that environment. However, biblically, we must maintain that God raises a unique few to penetrate that culture with the gospel. In that sense one cannot make a biblical argument that it is objective sin to be in the public school. It is sin for most, but not for all.


Parents must consider our Christian responsibility to this culture: gospel proclamation and Christian worldview propagation. Here is the question Christian parents should be asking: "Are my children equipped and ready to advance the cause of Christ in their school, or, are they more likely to be influenced by their peers and/or teachers, and are they therefore in need of further preparation so that they might not be influenced in the wrong direction now, so that they might be a force for gospel advance once prepared and ready?" Remember, most children are not mature enough to be real witnesses in that setting. Some are no doubt, but not most. Don't send them into battle until they are trained. You don't want a casualty of war for lack of preparation. No one would send a twelve year old to the front lines in Iraq. But, once they are trained, send them in with confidence that the cause of Christ might be advanced. Let Christians influence others boldly and clearly with the truth so that all talk of forcing others into our mold by law will be eradicated.

Dr. Beam and Dr. Mohler both make excellent cases for their positions. Merit is to be found in both. Taking the best from both cultural analysts, let me offer a third proposal. Dr. Beam sounded the trumpet: "We should always choose transformation over retreat." With that sentiment we can whole heartedly agree. At the same time, Dr. Mohler lamented about the future. "With control over the public school system increasingly in the hands of the courts, educational bureaucrats, the university-based education schools, and the powerful teachers' unions, little hope for correction appears. Federal mandates, accreditation requirements, union demands, and the influence of the educational elite represent a combined force that is far greater than the localized influence of many school boards, not to mention parents. Those who doubt the radical commitments of groups such as the National Education Association should simply look at the organization's public statements, policy positions, and initiatives."

In light of Dr. Mohler's accurate analysis here, in light of the government school agenda and environment, biblically speaking, the vast majority of Christian parents should develop an exit strategy from the public schools. According to the Scriptures, it is the basic and ultimate responsibility of Christian parents to take charge of the education of their own children and to protect them from spiritual disaster until they mature and leave the home. To say that children by in large should be and can be used of God to transform the government school is to misunderstand the nature of the government and its school. To say that children by in large should be salt and light in the public school is to underestimate the evil influence in that setting and to overestimate the maturity of children. Many so-called Christian children are not even saved and the vast majority who are saved will be pulled down by peer pressure and their own flesh. Statistics prove that most of those children do not really witness and share their faith any way. In fact, 80% of   so-called Christian high school graduates walk away from Christ. That's reality.

Yet, Dr. Beam rightly points out we must be salt and light. As I see it then, the issue is not retreat vs. transformation. The issue is preparation for transformation. Most Christian children should exit the public school so that they might be influenced by their parents and trained to be witnesses in this world. When they are ready to be sent into battle, let us now blow the trumpet of no retreat and pray Godspeed. In keeping with Dr. Beam's hope, that does not preclude God from raising up a few (by comparison) Christian children to be dynamic witnesses for Christ in the godless setting of the government school system. But for now, we urge an exit strategy for more training while leaving some special forces to fight until backup arrives.


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