The most dangerous effect of the enlightenment was the undermining of the bible as the supreme cultural authority in western civilisation. One aspect of the civilisation that has been sapped of its biblical mooring is education. The Earl of Athlone, who was also the Governor General of Canada from 1940-1946, captured this well when he wrote: “To this day, there exists in the world in all classes of society a veritable revolt against divine law, the moral law, which they strive to eliminate from the education of its youth and government of its nations…”

The expulsion of God and the bible from society at large and educational institutions in particular has given traction to evolutionism and also birthed a low view of God, life, family, and marriage, which is leading to the moral and spiritual destruction of whole societies. If western civilisation along with all the societies (like ours) that have come under its influence must survive, going forward, it must turn back to the Bible and to Bible-based morality. This, among other things, must involve the re-installation of Christian education to the place where it can once again be a force for good.

Prior to the secularising effect of the enlightenment, Martin Luther observed: “I am afraid that the schools will prove the very gates of hell, unless they diligently labour in explaining the scriptures and engraving them in the heart of the youth.”

The Reformation era, which was the time/generation in which Luther lived and taught, seemed positively disposed to Luther’s idea.  The era that succeeded it (i.e. the Enlightenment), however, was not so easily persuaded. And consequently, it has bequeathed to us an educational system that is rooted in atheism and human reason. That the Enlightenment inspired an education that has failed to produce decent men and women. This is enough reason to move society to reject it. In America, for instance, there is an increase in violence and immorality in most public schools. Even here in Zambia, public and private schools alike are taking their cues from evolutionistic inclined mentors. The results have been less than righteous; namely, the increasing absence of Christian ethics and morals in our schools.

The case for Christian education is therefore compelling. Charles Walker, who was writing in an American context, added his weight to this view when he made the observation: “The overt effects of violence and immorality so common in today’s public schools clearly demonstrate the need for a Christian education.”[1]Christian education can ennoble both men and society, and also bring glory to God. This latter point is what I hope to elucidate in this article. I wish particularly to take a cue from the Jewish educational practice as it was in biblical times because this I believe, provided the foundation for Christian education.

The Ancient Roots of Christian Education—Jewish Culture

The modern concept of Christian education was basically shaped according to the pattern provided by the Jewish education system. Edward L. Hayes (1964) in his book The Biblical Foundation of Evangelical Christian Education argued that the biblical revelation of God’s dealing with Israel, as well as that of the life and ministry of Jesus and his apostles, form the seed bed for Christian education. Christian educators are agreed that the purposes, methods, and institutional expressions of Christian education as we know it today are all found in the scriptures, and particularly in the Jewish cultural context.

“The Magna Carter” of Jewish education was enshrined in what they referred to as the Shemar. It is recorded in Deut. 6:4-6:

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

The Shemar set the agenda for the home and nation. Two things are important to note in this scheme:

  1. The family functioned as an educational institution. The father, in this arrangement, was priest and was responsible to God for the welfare and edification of the family members (Hakes 1964, 40-70). The father, as the educator, ensured that his children were equipped with knowledge and survival skills for their livelihood and to develop a godly character.
  1. The instruction given was rooted in the Torah and the acts of God demonstrated in His dealings with the people in history (Psalm 78). The Jews viewed the education of a child as an act of consecration. That is, it had the intention of yielding graduates who were godly and who would also produce God honouring effects in society. The Torah and history were at the heart of that instruction and all kinds of incentives and motivations were used to secure the child’s interest and participation, including offering them honey and sweet cakes—not a bad idea for modern day parents raising highly distracted children in our highly technologised world.

The Purposes of Jewish Education

Elie A Buconyori (1973:17-25), shares good insights on the purposes of the Jewish educational system. He highlights three of them:

  1. To transmit knowledge and skills from one generation to another (Deut. 6:4-6).
  2. To produce a kingdom of priests, a holy people (Ex. 19:6).
  3. To promote God-inspired cultural values among the people (Deut. 12:29-32).

Christian education provides an excellent arrangement where children would be trained and equipped for their spiritual development and also for their service to God and to others in the church and community at large.

The Modern Roots of Christian Education–the Reformers and Puritans

Long before the modern era, the key leaders of the Reformation had ventured into Christian education. Walter G. Fremont reports that:

“In 1559 John Calvin himself founded a school, the Geneva Academy, and he was very influential in creating Christian schools throughout the city of Geneva. Calvin understood that for the effects of the reformation to continue, providing children a Christian education was essential. John Knox helped form Christian schools throughout Scotland, and these schools operated in conjunction with both the church and the state. Christian publishers began producing educational texts and materials, and today many Christian textbooks are available at all grade levels—even some at the college level. Modern technology continues to make Christian education even more accessible for many families with video, satellite, and computer-based classes and curriculum.”[2]

James Wilhoit also makes insightful observation about Luther’s involvement in Christian education:

“Luther recognised that if all Christians are called to be responsible servants and worshipers, they must be trained and equipped to fulfil this calling. Hence, he became involved in Christian education. His famous small catechism stands as a reminder of this interest. The Small Catechism was written after he visited nearby country parishes, where he was appalled by the ignorance he found even among the clergy. It is said that after Luther had made a reference to the Decalogue [Ten Commandments], one minister asked if that was a new book” (2000, 19).

Flokstra says: “Almost from the beginning of the Christian era, the western world acted upon the belief that religion, culture, and education belong together. The first state school law in America, adopted by the General Court of the Puritan Commonwealth of the Massachusetts Bay colony in 1647, established a Christian school system with the avowed purpose of combating the influence of the Old Deluder—Satan. Our first state schools were Christian schools.” [3] This had the effect of unleashing an army of godly and skilled men and women who made the civilised west, which in turn had a good effect upon the world to the glory of God.

The Purpose of Christian Education

Wilhoit gives a good summary of the purpose of Christian education. He suggests that Christian education is designed to aid learners or students to discover “God’s meaning for life”. He makes the following observation:

“A Christian-education program that focuses on the meaning of life will display certain distinct characteristics:

  1. There is a constant effort to connect the bible and life. Concentration on just one alone is insufficient for a meaning-centred Christian education.
  2. Personal meaning is discovered by the students, not given to them. Each individual constructs his or her meaning for life—it can’t just be handed over. The teacher serves as a construction superintendent giving wise and biblical advice, but letting the students discover God’s plan for their own lives.
  3. Faithful Christian living is a high priority …” (2000, 15)

To this list we can also add the following:

  1. To encourage persons of all ages to choose life—the spiritual and full life found in Jesus Christ and the worship of God. Christian education entails sharing the knowledge of God and encouraging a response to God that results in life and praise of God.
  2. To glorify and enjoy God, which is the ultimate goal in Christian education.

In my opinion, this observation summarises the purposes of Christian education.

Implications for the Christian Teacher

The foregoing is a basis for some wide appeals and implications, particularly for the Christian teacher. It is important to note the point made by Wilhoit as we teach the bible to our students. He states, “The bible contains God’s words, but it is not a magical book which transforms people regardless of who teaches it or how it is taught. What counts in Christian education is that the bible be handled in such a way that God’s grace clearly shines through the teaching and that its meaning is related directly to the lives of the students” (2000, 49).

Teachers must therefore personally know Christ as Lord and Saviour of their lives. Wilhoit argues that “Christian education is hollow and meaningless unless educators acknowledge—both implicitly and explicitly—the importance of knowing God deeply and personally. No amount of activity can compensate for an educator’s own inability to relate to God or to communicate the importance of that relationship” (2000, 43).

Teachers must also be found to be faithful (Matt. 24:45-51) and not to hinder or frustrate the work of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30) who seeks to build Christ in the lives of the children.


If we would have a good influence upon our society, we must invest in a shaping influence such as Christian education. “…pastors must teach their congregation its importance. Universities must train quality Christian teachers. Christian textbook publishers must produce thoroughly biblical, educationally sound materials. And Christian educators must get these truths and resources into the hands and minds of the students.” (Walter G. Fremont: 2003)


  1. Buconyori, Elie A. The Education task of the Church. Nairobi: Christian Learning Materials Centre, 1973.
  1. Fremont, Walter G. “Holding Fast: Christian Education across the Centuries.” May 3, 2013.
  1. Gangel, Kenneth O, and Howard G Hendricks. The Christian Educators Hand Book on Teaching. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1988.
  1. Hayes, Edward L. An Introduction to Evangelical Christian Education. Chicago: Moody Press, 1964.
  1. Lambert, Flokstra J. “Christian Educaton: Traditional or Conviction.” 2000.
  1. Major General, The Earl of Athlone. Archives-Archives du. n.d.
  1. Walker, Charles. “Reaping the Benefits of a Christian School.” January 16, 2013.
  1. Wilhoit, James C, and Dettoni, John M. Nuture that is Christian: Developmental Perspectives on Christian Education. Wheaton: Victor Books, 1995.
  1. Wilhoit, Jim. Christian Education: The Search for Meaning. Grand Rapids: Baker House, 2000.