Saturday, August 26, 2006

EDUCATING CHILDREN - Education in the Early Church

In the early days of the first church, education was almost identical to that of the Jewish community. Although the bulk of Christian converts over the centuries have been gentiles, almost all of the first converts were Jews. While these Jewish Christians made up only a small percentage of the Jewish population, [1] their numbers were enough to bring notice to this new movement. Along with the new movement, a new church was started in Jerusalem. Again, with mostly Jewish Christians, and the majority of these Jewish Christian parents continued to educate their children in the same way that they themselves were educated. (The normal practice of teaching how you were taught is an old one.) Some of the education was still carried out in the home, but the majority was given over to the synagogue school and to the hazzan or attendant that was in charge of the synagogue. However, with the rise of Christianity, a rift began to emerge between the Christians and Jews. A rift that was so serious, that it would drive the Christians even further away from their homes and finally out of the synagogues and synagogue schools forever.

During the first years of the church; the years immediately following the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the early Christians continued to worship along side their Jewish counterparts in the temple and in local synagogues. Services were typically held on the Sabbath or Saturday, and then additional services were held on Monday and Thursday.[2] While these services remained thoroughly Jewish, the Christians began to supplement these with daily meetings in the temple and in the homes of fellow believers.[3] They also began to meet regularly on the first day of the week as a day of celebration and remembrance for the Lord’s resurrection.[4] Now these new meetings, along with their new doctrine, did not go un-noticed by the Jewish religious leaders. One group in particular; the Pharisees, who had much influence over the synagogue and over those that met there for regular worship, were the ones chiefly responsible for much of the hardship that the early Jewish Christians endured. The Pharisees; a word derived from Aramaic word "perushim",[5] which means "separated", were the primary religious party among the Jews at the time of Christ. Their primary interest was in the protecting of their positions of authority and their religious traditions. These were the religious zealots of Judaism; they insisted on the strict observances of the Jewish laws, the Torah and the Jewish calendar, and they were greatly opposed to the occupation of their homeland by the Romans. While they could tolerate, at least initially, the coexistence of Christians in their community, they could not tolerate the presence of the Romans, and this was the beginning of the end of Jewish and Christian relations. The Christians were primarily pacifists. They chose to take the teachings of Christ literally, by turning the other cheek.[6] Since this was the case, the Christians abandoned the fight for Jerusalem, at least initially, and left it totally between the Romans and the Jews. For the Jews, this was the proverbial final straw. Under the leadership of Gamaliel II, Samuel ha-Katon composed the "benediction against the minim" or Benediction Twelve:

Bikat HaMinim

"And for slanderers [sectarians; minim] let there be no hope, and may all the evil in an instant be destroyed and all Thy enemies be cut down swiftly; and the evil ones uproot and break and destroy and humble soon in out days. Blessed art You, LORD, who breaks down enemies and humbles sinners."[7]

This was part of the synagogue prayer, also known as the Eighteen (later nineteen) Benedictions. This was a prayer that was invoked against the Nazarenes; the Jewish Christians, and others who were considered heretics. They were all grouped together and called by the general term minim. The prayer was meant to exclude such heretics from the synagogue, and was to be recited by all faithful Jews three times daily. The primary result of this was increased persecution of the Christians by the Jews within the synagogue and then their ultimate, final expulsion from the synagogue and, also along with it, its system of education. While this may seem to be a bad thing, it only proved to strengthen, at least for a time, the type and quality of education that these early Christians were giving to their children.

For the next several hundred years, education among Christians reverted back to being centered in the home, and it was through this system of home education that Christianity had its greatest number of converts.[8] Although they had moved away from the persecution of the Jews, they moved into a new era of persecution from the rest of the pagan world. It was a persecution that started with the Roman Empire and is still continuing through various outlets today. But just like silver that is refined in the fire,[9] the persecution only served to strengthen these early Christians.

As the persecution began, many Christians lost their lives in some of the most horrible ways imaginable. Like their Savior, some were crucified, others were fed to the lions, others were burned at the stake, and still others were beheaded. Even those that did not lose their lives still faced being exiled, sold into slavery, or put into forced labor. But the truth is, the persecution that the early church went through only served to strengthen her faith and lend credibility to the story of the risen Messiah; because while many would possibly suffer some persecution to cover for a fabricated story, none were foolish enough to die for one. So the fact that the early Christians were willing to die is even further proof that Christianity was based on fact and not fiction. Not only were they willing to die for the cause, they even took extra efforts to prepare for it. No, they didn’t exercise to build up endurance, they prepared spiritually; they started martyr’s schools.

The martyr’s school was one of the first forms of uniquely Christian education. In the years immediately following the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD, Christians suffered from some of the worst persecution imaginable. Because of this, most Christians knew that on any given day, they might have to choose between confessing their Savior and dying, or denying him and living. And since martyrdom was such a real possibility, the early church trained for it.[10] And although this training may not be considered by some to be the same as "school education", it was well organized, and it profoundly affected the lives of Christians in the early church.
But it wasn’t until Constantine and the Edict of Milan in 313, that Christian education really began to flourish.[11] Because it was here that they were finally given the freedom to operate publicly, without persecution. In a joint edict between Constantine Augustus, who ruled the West, and Licinius Augustus who ruled the East, they stated:

"we thought, among other things which we saw would be for the good of many, those regulations pertaining to the reverence of the Divinity ought certainly to be made first, so that we might grant to the Christians and others full authority to observe that religion which each preferred;"[12]

So in 313, with the Edict of Milan, Christians began again to publicly and actively train their children through the school system. It was by the efforts of the early Christians that the pagan schools of the day began to be replaced by schools that taught Christian doctrine.

But just like any other freedom, there always comes abuses. It was during this time that the Roman Catholic Church began to emerge.[13] Although Christians had been around since the death of Christ, this formal organization known as the Roman Catholic Church had not. It was not until the year 438 that Emperor Theodosius II established the name "Catholic Christians",[14] which simply meant Christians that were part of the universal church. Prior to that, they were simply known as Christians, or people of the Way, and their Christian leaders were primarily concerned with doctrine. The main reason that many of the early church fathers; the leaders of the first church, came together, was to find common ground and to establish standard statements of faith. It was during some of these gatherings,[15] such as the Counsel of Nicaea or the Council of Chalcedon that many heresies were put to rest and many of the official doctrines of Christianity, that up until this point were only transmitted verbally, were finally formally written down. But as this new church age began to form, many of the church "leaders" started to have a different focus, and by 590 AD, the Roman Catholic Church began to take more control the state government.

The one person that can be given much credit for this was Pope Gregory I,[16] also known as "Gregory the Great." He had extraordinary skill as a statesman, as well as a theologian. Through this man, the Roman Catholic Church began to take more and more control of the government. As a result, state government began to slowly evolve into a new form of church-state government. It was through this the new church-state type of government that a new form of persecution came into being. This was much less physical that the persecution of the years before, but no less devastating. This new persecution came in the form of control and restrictions. The authority of parents to educate their children however they wanted was removed and it was placed into the hands of the official State "Church."[17] The presiding pope along with his official group of cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests and monks would set the tone for Christian education that would, for the most part, last throughout the Middle. During this time, education in general was reserved for those dedicated to the service of the church, and even then, many were still illiterate. Only a few choice individuals were allowed access to education, and even fewer were allowed access to the Holy Scriptures, and in many cases, the penalty for simply reading the Bible was death.[18]

While the grip of the Roman Church was far reaching, there were still bands of separate Christians that opposed them. These believers, for the most part, were hunted down and persecuted by the Roman Church, but they still withstood assimilation into the "official" state church of the day. They did whatever it took to remain separate, and because of this, many were martyred. They were known by many different names; including the Waldensians, the Lollards, the Hussites, the Anabaptists, and many more.[19] Although they were persecuted for their beliefs, these individuals considered educating their children, especially in the scripture, to be of a very high priority. A privilege and a command that was given to them by God Himself, and no human authority would tell them otherwise. So by the grace of God, there remained a remnant of true believers that were able to pass along the doctrines of the apostles in the way that God intended.

So in many ways, education in the early church, just like education in the Jewish community, was stifled by organized religion. The "religious" leaders of the people thought they knew what was best for all, and began to control what was taught and who it could be taught to. But while the majority conformed, there was still a small group of dedicated men and women who continued to educate their children God’s way. They took seriously their God given responsibility to educate their children and would not conform even under the penalty of death! And there they stayed until the Protestant Reformation.

[1] ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, Origin of Christianity: the early Christians and the Jewish community (ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, 2000), Internet Article
[2] Pfeiffer, 1640
[3] Acts 2:46.
[4] Mark 16, Luke 24, Acts 20:7, others.
[5] Ninian Smart, The Religious Experience of Mankind, Third Edition. (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1984), 312
[6] Matthew 5:39, Luke 6:29
[7] The Weekday Amidah Prayers, Part II: Blessings of Petition, Blessing Twelve - Bikat HaMinim (Against Heretics).
[8] Paul A. Kienel, A History of Christian School Education (The Association of Christian Schools International, 1998), 41.
[9] Zechariah 13:9
[10] Kienel, 37.
[11] Paul L. Maier, Eusebius, The Church History, (Kregel Publications, 1999), 345.
[12] Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European history, (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press [1897-1907]), Vol 4:, 1, 28-30. This text is in the public domain.
[13] Kienel, 46-52
[14] Kienel, 56
[15] Smart, 363-373
[16] Edward McNall Burns, Robert E. Lerner, and Standish Meacham, Western Civilizations Volume 1, Tenth Edition (W W Norton, 1984), 273.
[17] Kienel, 57-77
[18] John Foxe, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, Grinton W. Berry editor (Spire, 1999) many pages.
[19] Kienel, 79.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

EDUCATING CHILDREN - The Jewish Roots of Christian Education

Here’s a question you may have never considered; why do you educate your children the way you do? Have you ever considered that? As you look around at the traditions that we have, especially those regarding educating our children, you have to wonder, where did it all come from? Why do we educate our children this way? Well, just like many other “traditions”, this one too has been influenced by many different factors. But I would say; there is no other single factor that has had greater influence on our modern educational system than that of historic Judaism. Judaism you ask? That’s right, we as Christians can thank or despise, our Jewish brothers for many, if not most, of our religious and educational traditions. As Paul said in Romans; they, referring to the Jews, were the ones that God originally entrusted with His Word! So to begin with, we can thank our Jewish brothers for passing on the Holy Scripture as it was given to them by God, because it is in the Holy Scripture where they found their model for educating children. And it is in those same scriptures, where many of our traditions for educating our own children can also found. Scriptures like those in Genesis chapter 18, Exodus chapter 12, and Deuteronomy chapters 4, 6 and 11. These scriptures were foundational to the Jewish concept of education and were the primary principles that the Jewish people used to create their own educational systems. Like everything else that is Jewish, the Torah, or Holy Scripture, laid the ground work for everything that they did. It explained why they were to educate their children, who was responsible for carrying it out, and even how it was to be accomplished.

Now as for the “why” of Jewish education; it was primarily religious in nature. The primary text book was the Torah, or Old Testament scriptures, and the goal was for the child to gain an understanding of the laws and statutes of God, and then to learn what it meant to be one of God’s chosen people. They were taught these laws and statutes from a very early age. Even before they could read, Jewish children were exposed to the Holy Scriptures through many different instructional means. One such means that is still incorporated in many Jewish homes today is through the use of a small scroll known as the “Mesusah” or “Mezuzah.” The Reverend Dr. Edersheim, in his book, Sketches of Jewish Social Life, says “The Mesusah was a kind of phylactery for the house, serving a purpose kindred to that of the phylactery for the person, both being derived from a misunderstanding and misapplication of the Divine direction, taking in the letter what was meant for the spirit.”1 But even if this practice was derived from a misunderstanding and misapplication as Dr. Edersheim suggests, it was still used to teach children. It was a constant reminder of God's presence throughout the home and also of the parent’s duty to fulfill God's commandments to train their children. The Mezuzah was a small scroll that contained two Torah portions, the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) and the Vehaya (Deuteronomy 11:13-21). These were two of the most important scriptures for the Jews concerning God and the way He expected them to educate their children. These small scrolls were placed in protective cases and then hung from the door post of each room in the home except the bathroom of course, which would have been considered unclean. The Mezuzah was not only displayed in the literal obedience of God’s command which said: “And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house”, but it was displayed for the purpose of teaching every questioning child even before they could read. Each time a little one would pass through the doorway, the parent would have an opportunity to teach them about God.

Now for the “who”, in Jewish education, that would be the parents. They were the one’s who carried the primary responsibility for seeing that their children were properly educated. Although this was a joint effort, it was ultimately the responsibility of the father.2 He was to see that his children could read and understand the Holy Scriptures. The Bible says in Genesis 18:19 - “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.”

But even though the father was ultimately responsible, the mother was still very much involved in the educational process. From birth to about 5 years old, the mother was the primary care giver and the primary educator. A good picture of this can be found in 1st Samuel, with Hannah. As Samuel’s mother, she nurtured him and gave him his primary training until he was ready to attend to Eli the High priest and to his duties in the tabernacle. In his Explanatory notes, John Wesley points out that the child Samuel would have been “Weaned - Not only from the breast, but also from the mother's knee and care, and from childish food; 'till the child be something grown up, and fit to do some service in the tabernacle.”3 So the mother was the one that nurtured and fed the children, both physically and psychologically. She was also the one that started the child’s primary education, helping him establish sound communication skills. So both mother and father were heavily involved in the child training process, and the majority of this training was carried out in the home.

That brings us to the “how” of Jewish education. How was the process carried out? It was the famed Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, which noted: “from the earliest infancy”4 they were taught the Laws of God. This process of teaching started early for Jewish children, and it was centered in the home. Early Jewish parents would have never sent their children away for their primary education. It simply wasn’t done. Although there were some schools or companies of prophets mentioned in the Bible during the days of Samuel, Elijah and Elisha, and also possibly later in the New Testament with Paul in Acts, these were more like colleges or seminaries for the training of the “professional” clergy, or older students, and not children. The education of Jewish children was something that was done at home. The Bible tells us in Deuteronomy 6:6-9 - “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.” This was the basic formula for Jewish education! It started in the home with the mothers and fathers depending on the specific needs and abilities of the child, and it continued during the day as they went along their way, and concluded at night when everyone went to bed. Then it started all over again the very next morning. It was a continual cycle that did not end until the children left home to start a family of their own. Learning was simply part of the Jewish lifestyle.

These were just a few of the Jewish educational traditions that were founded in scripture. But at some point in Jewish history, things began to change. The Jews, like many other cultures, allowed outside influences, and even their own stubbornness, to change their way of doing things. They began to depart from a God centered way, and move to a man centered way. They began to develop new methods and new models for educating their children. There is a passage in the Mishnah where Rabbi Judah ben Tema gives a general outline of the normal educational process in the life of a Jewish boy, he says: “At five years old one is fit for the Scripture, at ten years for the Mishnah, at thirteen for the fulfilling of the commandments, at fifteen for the Talmud, at eighteen for the bride-chamber, at twenty for pursuing a calling, at thirty for authority, at forty for discernment, at fifty for counsel, at sixty for special strength, at ninety for bowed back, and at a hundred a man is as one that has already died and passed away and ceased from the world.”5

So where exactly did things begin to go wrong? At what point did they leave God’s plan and start to develop their own? Well, if there is one single point in biblical history where we can see a change in the way education was done, it would have to be during the Babylonian captivity. It was during this time when a transition was made from the home to a new establishment called the synagogue. Although the origin of the synagogue has been the subject of much debate, it most likely came into existence or at least into wide spread use during this time. Since the Jews had been relocated away from their temple, they had to come up with a new or alternate place of corporate worship. This is why the synagogue came into existence. The synagogue was “a congregation or assembly of Jews [that] met for the purpose of worship or the performance of religious rites.”6 It was here that many Jewish parents started to bring their children to listen and to learn from the Word of God through the teaching of the synagogue attendant. A surrogate or substitute teacher if you will that was used to help or supplement the education that Jewish children received at home. This was the case, for the most part, up until the Maccabeen or intertestamental era of Jewish history. It was during this period that Jewish fathers became so remiss in their duties of training their children, that the Rabbis of the day started to implement compulsory education laws similar to those of the heathen nations around them. Now whether these were actual remissions on the part of fathers, or simply perceived remissions on the part of pious rabbis, we may never know. But never the less, educational responsibility was taken from parents, and given to someone else. Many of these laws can be traced back to the Apocryphal book of Sirach also known as Ecclesiasticus. This book was said to have been written by one Rabbi Yeshua ben Eleazar ben Sira7 who encouraged the unlearned to come and learn from him. He said “Draw near unto me, ye unlearned, and dwell in the house of learning.”8 It was around 180 BC that these first Jewish “Houses of Learning” came into existence. It was under Jason the high priest, the second son of Simon II and brother of Onias III that the first gymnasium was built in Jerusalem.9 Jason had purchased the high-priesthood by bribing Antiochus Epiphanes; the Syrian King who had conquered the Jewish nation and favored the Hellenistic form of education that the gymnasium modeled. But this was only the beginning of the downfall of God centered education. It was less than a hundred years later that Rabbi Shimon ben Shetah introduced the first compulsory education law for all Jewish boys. Then ten, to fifteen years after that, Rabbi Joshua ben Gamala ordered that every town should have a school for the training of all boys starting at age six. These schools were usually attached to or organized through the local synagogue, and were run by a head teacher known as the hazzan; the attendant in charge of the scrolls. The schools were supported with tuition that was paid in tithes and offerings through the synagogue. It was at this point that the quality and quantity of education for the vast majority of Jewish children started to decline. Since most fathers could not afford more that an elementary education, the entire process stopped for most children at around age twelve. And since most parents had begun to rely solely on the “established” educational system, rather than teaching their children at home themselves, they too ended their educational process prematurely. When their children stopped learning, so did the parents. So in reality, the implementation of compulsory education laws had an opposite effect. It didn’t improve education, but caused an overall decline in learning for all those involved, students and teachers alike. But it didn’t stop there; since the vast majority of the first Christian converts were Jews it also carried over into the newly forming Christian community as well.

Next time, we’ll look at the early church and see how they improved upon or continued to declined in the area of educating their children.

1 Rev. Dr. Alfred Edersheim, Sketches of Jewish Social Life (Hodder & Stoughton, 1904), 106.
2 Exodus 12:26-27, Deuteronomy 4:9 & 6:7
3 John Wesley, John Wesley’s Explainatory Notes of the whole Bible on 1st Samuel 1:22.
4 Flavius Josephus, The Life and Works of Flavius Josephus, The Learned and Authentic Jewish Historian And Celebrated Warrior. Translated by William, A.M. Whiston (The John C. Winston Company), 891
5 Mishnah, Aboth: Sayings of the Fathers, 5:21
6 Noah Webster, Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language (e-Sword, electronic edition, V 7.1.0, 2004).
7 The Apocrypha, King James Version (World Publishing), Ecclesiasticus 50:27
8 The Apocrypha, Ecclesiasticus 51:23
9 The Apocrypha, 1st Maccabees 1:14, 2nd Maccabees 4:9

Monday, August 07, 2006

SBC Leader Alarmed? The solution is simple!

Here is a link to an article from Agape Press. It is an article about a statement made by Dr. Frank Page, the new SBC president, regarding disturbing news about children leaving the church.

"SBC Leader Alarmed Over Young Adults 'Dropping Out' of Churches"

May I suggest that the answer to the problem is not - a "new" method to "reach" any particular demographic group - but a return to the Old Paths! A return to family worship in the home AND in the church, and a return to parent led HOME education!!! That's right family worship, that is families worshiping together in the home and in the church, AS A FAMILY - NOT SEPARATE, and parent lead HOME education are the keys to recapturing the hearts of our youth! NOT MORE PROGRAMS!

WARNING - The following statement is VERY sarcastic, please stop reading if you are easily offended!

I know taking the biblical approach may seem a little radical to most of our SBC pastors, and many in our denomination would tell me that it will never work, but then again, the narrow way has never been popular!

Grace & Peace!
Dave Scarbrough