Why Christian Education: A Time-tested Perspective

The following is an excerpt from the Faith and Fellowship in 1975, written by then professor Omar Gjerness:

Some years ago in one of my parishes, I had an interesting discussion with a man who was an educator. He objected to christian education on the ground that he thought young people were so utterly protected from the ideas of the world that they ended up over-protected. He felt that when they once came out into a hostile world, they had not had any opposition and had not placed their roots very deeply, and as a result had a rather fragile brand of Christianity.

This is not an isolated opinion. In my ministry, I have run into many people who have shared the same idea. There are undoubtedly those in our Synod who would hesitate to send their children to Hillcrest because they share this attitude. I think that the argument is strong enough so that it demands a thoughtful look at it to determine at what point it is valid and at what point it is not.

There are four responses that occur to me:

My first response is that the atmosphere at a Christian school may be wholesome, but it is not sterile. This is true at Hillcrest as it is at many other Christian institutions. There are involvements with the community, and many of these involvements include people who do not share Christian faith. Not every student who comes to Lutheran Brethren Schools is a Christian. In the dormitory, there are many of the young people who do not have a personal faith with God, and there are very close contacts and very close friendships that are made with these people. Some of these high school students will actually revolt against a Christian atmosphere. Whereas we endeavor to have a wholesome and Christ-centered atmosphere in the classroom, in devotional life, in prayer days and in chapel and church contacts, that does not mean that young people are never subjected to ideas that are not Christian. In fact, I am sure that there are many parents who would wish that the atmosphere were sterile rather than just wholesome.

To me the strongest argument, however, is occasioned by watching my wife in her spring planting. My wife raises many begonias; they are a beautiful plant, but in some respects, a fragile plant. While the snow is still on the ground, my wife will get her begonia bulbs and plant them in pots and place them in a window inside of the house where they are protected and shielded from the storm, from the snows, from the cold, and from the hazards of the raw weather of spring and late winter. Later, when they have taken root and have developed strength, she will plant them outdoors. Sometimes she discovers that she has done this too early, and if the frost occurs after the bulbs have been planted, some of them may not be hardy enough to survive.

The lesson that I have learned from this is that young people, like tender plants, need to be sheltered and protected until they have gained root that is deep enough to withstand some of the storms of life itself. There are undoubtedly many people who save in order to give the young people a Christian education at a Christian college. I have heard Christian educators who indicate that for many that is way too late. Concepts have already been developed. Seeds have already been planted. Faith has already, in some instances, been destroyed; and for many young people, college is too late to rescue their thinking and to channel it into Christina patterns and forms. Undoubtedly, there is a time in life when young people, like my wife’s begonias, must be transplanted into a world less protected. My concern is that we should be sure that their roots are deep enough to withstand the tempest before they are thrust into unnecessarily hostile contracts.

My third response is related to this. Many of your kids, in fact most of them, come from Christian homes where there is a wholesome atmosphere and where their church background is also very substantial What we fail to reckon with is the fact that because of school contacts, television, radio, books that are read, the great weight of influence upon our young people is secular and not Christian, and many fail to realize what proportionately heavy influence the world has on our young people in spite of all that we may do to lead and to direct them into the Christian faith. I think we should rejoice in the possibility of having a school where the majority influence would be positive and wholesome rather than where the influence for Christ becomes only a “sometime thing”.

Another very strong argument for a Christian academy is the fact that there is a good deal of peer pressure at the high school level. Many times our Christian young people come from communities and schools where there is a very small gathering of Christian kids. I am sure that before coming to Hillcrest, some of our young people have been the only professing Christian in their high school. A young person at this level may become terribly lonesome. One fo the most wholesome factors of Hillcrest Academy is undoubtedly the factor of a strong contact between young people where they live under the same roof, attend the same classes, worship in the same church, eat meals at the same table and create a relationship of brother and sister in Christ that becomes a very durable relationship. This is very evident when you see our homecomings and reunions and you see the cohesion that exists within the student body many many years after they have graduated. Attend one of our graduations, and you can sense immediately the depth of rapport that exists between these young people at a time when they know that their relationships will from henceforth be less intimate and only occasional. I think one of the strongest contributions that we have to give, is that we gather young people where they can fellowship with one another on the level of their Christian faith, and where they do not have to feel the stigma of a minority position.

Is a Christian academy a hot-house? Is Hillcrest a hot-house? I would admit to this title. I think it is a plus when we are able to shelter and shield young people front some of the contaminating influences of the world until their faith has and time to take root to deepen. It would be a foolish nation which would send soldiers into battle before they had had some training. It would be a foolish gardener who would plant tender flowers before the hard frosts of late winter had ceased. Our young people are thrown into the battled of life altogether too early. Let us be sure they have had sufficient training, root and foundation in the Christian faith before it is necessary for them to face the hostile world.

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