By David H. Chilton (circa 1985)
Why did the Puritans go to New England? According to a common misunderstanding, they were “running away”: from persecution, from the evils of Stuart England, or from the difficulties of life in a non-Christian world. While it is true that these problems existed, to see their actions in this light is to falsify history. The Puritans were actually running to, not from. They did not think of themselves as having been “raptured” to America (and, indeed, one can think of more agreeable ways to be raptured than, in Cotton Mather’s words, “to leave all the pleasant accommodations of their native country, and go over a terrible ocean into a more terrible desert . . .”). In fact, the very first consideration when the founders drew up the goals of the colony was “to carry the Gospel into these parts of the world, and raise up a bulwark against the kingdom of anti-Christ” (cited in Cotton Mather, Great Works of Christ in America, vol. I, p. 69).
And as John Winthrop observed in his great sermon, A Model of Christian Charity (1630): “When He shall make us a praise and glory . . . men shall say of succeeding plantations, ‘The Lord make it like that of New England’: for we must consider that we shall be as a city set upon a hill: the eyes of all people are upon us” (The Puritans, ed. by Perry Miller and Thomas H. Johnson, vol. 1, p. 198f.).
The Puritans therefore did not build a cloister, but erected a culture. They carved a civilization out of a “howling wilderness,” and achieved excellence in everything they attempted: theology, law, government, literature, science, agriculture, trade, craftsmanship, art and music. In short, their emphasis fell not on retreat, not on compiling lists of things that “good Christians don’t do,” but on their positive contributions to God’s world.
What does this somewhat pedantic introduction have to do with Christian school? Simply this: that God has not called us to the task of Christian education for the purpose of turning out graduates whose only mark of distinction is what they don’t do. The great Nonconformist movement shriveled up and died precisely because their primary tenet was just that: nonconformity. There were so many things they didn’t do, that in the end the only thing they did was … nothing. Of course, we are commanded to “be not conformed to this world”— but then what? The passage tells us to go on to work out God’s will, His commands, in our lives. Jesus told us to be lights to the world, to be a city set on a hill, setting a standard for the world to follow.
Christianity will fail in its mission of disciplining the nations if it is reduced to a mere, “I decline.” The initial impetus for the founding of a Christian school may have been a reaction against sex education or violence in the public school, but the movement must not end there. The purpose of the Christian school must be the upbuilding of the city of God
I ran into a good man the other day whose earnestness in defense of the Christian school movement was quite admirable. Yet his actual apologetic went something like this: “Our schools don’t allow drugs, drinking, smoking, dancing, dating, moviegoing, television, mixed swimming, pants on girls or long hair on boys. Therefore, our students are superior to public school students.” Assuming for the moment that each of those activities is really to be shunned by the Christian, it should be apparent that their absence alone does not constitute Christianity (e.g., the Ayatollah Khomeini doesn’t like them either).
Thus, while we need Nehemiah’s sword, we have need of his trowel as well: our duty is not exhausted in repelling the invasion of heathen ways, but we must actively build the kingdom of God. Our Lord calls for social transformation in terms of God’s word, and this is a basic reason for the Christian school.
In the Book of Proverbs, we are told that “Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets: she crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words” (1:20-21). This is where God wants His word proclaimed—in the marketplaces, in the courts (“gates”), in the councils of state, and wherever men think and act. God demands that we acknowledge His wisdom in the world, and He has given us His word so that we may “receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity” (1:3). The Biblical training our students need is in the positive, practical application of Scripture to the issues of life.
The goal of the Christian faith is not realized in a “subculture” mentality. We are preparing our students to rule society, to give light to the world. The decadence of our culture will not be arrested if our main focus is on the sinfulness of the Southern California hot-tub lifestyle. Moreover. our job involves so much more than just restraining decadence’ Christianity is to be militant, on the offensive, effectively implementing God’s law in every area of life. In everything—teachers, methods, curriculum and student performance—we must strive for excellence.
While it is certainly necessary to flee from sin, Jesus did not make that our priority. He said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness.” The kingdom speaks of God’s rule over all of life, and righteousness refers to His standard, the laws and principles of Scripture by which the godly society functions, and in terms of which we are blessed. In education, this means that God requires us to produce young men and women of wisdom and ability who will build a Christian culture.
For the Christian, retreat means defeat: our only hope is in victory. By every means, we must advance the kingdom of God. If we do, we will fulfill not only the Puritan vision for America, but the commands of our Lord Himself. The world must be converted, the nations discipled, and God’s law established as the foundation of life. The city will transform the hill, and someday (Dan. 2:35) it will become a great mountain, filling the whole earth.