February 14, 2014 | By: Matthew and Ellen Gerwitz
Too often, Christian parents justify sending their child to a public school, public college, or some other secular educational program using the concept expressed in the title of this essay. The thinking goes that these men were educated in a secular environment and turned out just fine. What’s more, the parents say that God actually sent those men there on purpose and then used their educational knowledge to accomplish a spiritual goal. These same parents go on to say that perhaps God will do the same thing with their child who is currently in some secular educational situation.
Time and time again, I’ve heard parents say things like, “We Christians have to be salt and light in the world. So, it’s not wrong for my child to participate in such and such a program. In fact, my child plans to use his secular education to help God advance the kingdom.”
As best as I can tell, there seems to be three thresholds at which parents use this line of thinking:
- Some parents choose to allow the government to educate their children for their entire educational experience.
- Some parents choose to homeschool their children for K-8, but then justify sending them to public high school and then a secular college.
- Still others homeschool their children for K-12, but then justify sending them to a secular college so they can “get a good job.”
They’re all using the same excuse for participating in the world’s system of education and none of them seem to realize how flawed this logic is for a Christian at any stage of education.
To begin with, none of them takes into account the fact that Joseph, Moses, and Daniel were the exceptions to the rule of how God intended for Israelite children to be educated. Can you imagine the following conversations?
Jacob (speaking to his older sons): “I just don’t know how we’re going to make sure that Joseph has a good future. I mean, he’s my favorite son and he’s stuck here taking care of the family business. I sure do wish I could find a way to help him make his mark in the world.”
Sons of Jacob: “Don’t worry, dad. We’ll help you find a way to accomplish that – even if we have to fake his death to do it. We’ve heard there are a lot of opportunities for promotions down in Egypt. Hey! Why don’t we sell him as a slave to get him there? Who knows, someday God may need Joseph’s assistance to help our family out!”
Amram (speaking to Jocabed): “Moses sure is a special baby. In fact, I think he could one day be Pharaoh. Why don’t we see if we can get the princess to adopt him so that he’ll get a good Egyptian education? That’ll really help his future career! Just think of the chances he’ll have to make things better for our people if he’s part of Pharaoh’s family!”
Daniel’s parents: “We’ve heard that there is this really great educational program in Babylon so we’ve signed Daniel up to be part of their program. We really want our son to go far in the Babylonian kingdom and this program is just the ticket to help him to do that. Besides, he can really be a good witness to the Babylonians while he’s there.”
I really hope you can see how ludicrous these conversations sound because that’s not what happened at all. As you know, Joseph was sold as a slave because his brothers were jealous of him. It was not his father’s choice to send him to Egypt. And Moses’ parents could either let an Egyptian soldier find and kill their son or put him a basket on the Nile River and allow God to decide his fate. Finally, Daniel was kidnapped from Israel and his parents had no say about where he went!
Do you see the pattern here? None of the parents in question chose to place their children in a secular educational environment. If they had been given the choice, they would have kept their children at home and away from the secular education environment. Throughout Israel’s history, God ordained that thousands upon thousands of Israelite parents teach their children at home in Israel. The only time that did not happen was when they had no choice and their children were taken from them.
There is no way that any American Christian is going to convince me that they have been forced to put their child into a secular educational environment. The fact is that we parents have the freedom to choose how our children will be educated. To compare our choice with the lack of choice given to the parents of Joseph, Moses, and Daniel is just ridiculous.
However, let’s look a little bit further at the claim that these men used their secular education to help accomplish God’s plans. We’ll start with Joseph. By the time he was sold as a slave, Joseph was a teenager and his education had been accomplished. We have no indication at all that he received any further education in Egypt other than perhaps some “on-the-job” training in the specifics of running Potiphar’s house and the prison. But, it was his religious principles and his reliance on God that saw him through the challenges he faced. It was his God-given abilities and his training at home, as his father’s business manager, that prepared him to lead Egypt through the famine.
With Moses, the contrast is even more revealing. Moses spent the first few years of his life at home with his parents. They had the chance to teach Moses about God during those early years. Of course, he spent many more years learning about Egypt in the palace. In fact, for 37 years, Moses seemed to be just fine with living like an Egyptian and did not seem to be concerned about delivering his people – despite his “excellent education.” Of course, we know that he killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew slave, then ran away to hide in the desert. It was the 40 years he spent with God on the backside of the wilderness that taught him how to free and lead God’s people, not his royal education.
Lastly, Daniel was a young man by the time he was taken to Babylon. We don’t know his exact age, but he was old enough to know about God and how to worship him. He stood up for what was right and avoided worshiping idols. We can infer from his principled stand that his religious training was fairly strong. And while Daniel did receive a secular education just like Moses, was it the knowledge gleaned from Babylon that guided Daniel through the trials of life? No. Once again, it was his faith and his knowledge of God that did the trick.
One last thing to consider: neither Joseph, Moses, nor Daniel had any choice about their jobs. All three were property of pagan rulers; a circumstance God specifically created – for that time and purpose – and one that was completely out of the control of their parents.
The fact is that Joseph, Moses, and Daniel were all exceptions to the rule laid out in Exodus 18 and Deuteronomy 6. Using such exceptions to justify our pursuit of a secular education is akin to thumbing our noses at God’s educational mandate. What’s more, if every Christian parent utilizing a secular education were truly exceptions to God’s rule, they should be in the minority. The fact that they are the majority means, by definition, they are not really exceptions at all.
When we go further, to proclaim that our secular education will allow us to better serve and worship God, we are discounting God’s power and authority and word. To think that God needs the assistance of our human knowledge to accomplish his will in this world is, quite frankly, the epitome of arrogance.
Education is just one tool in the hands of the Creator who ultimately decides the direction every life will take. Parents who voluntarily choose to allow Egypt or Babylon to educate their children when they still have the freedom to educate them according to God’s mandate are without excuse.