I think this is the perfect read for Christian parents at the dawn of a new school year. It will bring everything into alignment in answering the question, “Why am I doing this??” If you’re questioning yourself (yet again) about homeschooling…or if you are a Christian non-homeschooler needing to renew your focus for those teachable moments at home, read on.
At the recent Homeschoolers of Wyoming Road Show in Lander, I had the privilege to hear Stephen Dechert deliver this encouraging message to the parents. It resonated with me deeply. I asked him if I could have the written transcript and he’s given me permission to post it here on the blog. I could call this my mission statement (the long version 😉 ). It helped to distill again for me why I’m doing what I’m doing as a Christian parent, and as a homeschooler (let’s face it, we are all home educators if we are doing this parenting thing biblically).
Here is the text in its entirety…I promise you won’t be sorry for the few minutes it takes to read it, and I guarantee the truths will echo in your heart.
Why do you homeschool? What is it that you want your children to learn? If our children graduate into this world and are asked by a reporter what is the single most important thing that they learned at home, what do you want their answer to be? Have you thought about it? As a parental team, are you in agreement about it?
Whatever your personal or family goals, the reality is that in undertaking to homeschool our children we are taking upon ourselves the burden of imparting knowledge from a variety of fields in a way that is understandable and, hopefully, useable in one form or another. Additionally, when we think about it, we want to pass on wisdom as well – that is, the ability to use the knowledge they have in ways that will benefit them and those around them in some fashion.
But what should undergird these things? It should be said here that I am assuming the people reading this are Christians, those who have heard and believed the gospel of God through his Son Jesus Christ and have fled to him for repentance and reconciliation and found in him peace and eternal comfort. Working from that assumption, then, we can freely admit as Christian homeschoolers, we often have another layer of knowledge and wisdom that we desire our children to apprehend, and that is a working understanding of the Scriptures and what they teach.
From that basis, then, that we as Christians who homeschool have the desire to impart knowledge and wisdom to our children, of both secular and sacred things, using the Scriptures as a foundation, I would posit that there are two things we must understand and accept before we can move forward with homeschooling in a biblical and gospel-oriented manner. For that is the point of this discussion – to promote a deeper understanding of what it means to orient ourselves according to the gospel as we seek to instruct our children in the way they should go. In this there are two fundamental truths that we must accept before we can move forward.
The first thing that we as homeschooling parents need to recognize, and accept, is that we are teaching sinners. Our children, wonderful as we may think them to be, are sinners. We might write the glowing Christmas newsletters extolling their virtues, but we know, most of that is just fluff. We may hold them up as paragons of virtue as we laud their diligent labors to master the lessons set before them when speaking with our neighbors, but we know, deep down, that they can be frustrating and difficult and sometimes they drive us crazy.
When we talk amongst ourselves, away from the watching world, we can admit that our children are often lazy and hard to motivate. They struggle with disobedience. Let’s be bluntly honest for a moment: though we love our children and desire the best for them, we, of all people, see their sin most clearly. They lie, they cheat, and they grumble, and they cut corners, and they complain, and they get angry, and they . . . fill in the blank. After all, as Jeremiah points out, the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? We could go on and on, but there’s no need to, for the crux of the matter is this: the reality we need to face in homeschooling is that we are trying to instruct sinful human beings with an inherent sin nature and a flesh that wars with the spirit, as the apostle Paul says in Romans.
But as we consider that reality, we must also come to grips with the second fundamental, and that is we as homeschooling parents need to recognize, and accept, that we are sinners ourselves. The indictment of Scripture against our children is the indictment against us as well. ALL have sinned. ALL have fallen short. ALL have earned death as the wages for their sin. We may be a bit wiser, one would hope, but we are still sinners. We may have more knowledge and experience, but we still transgress the commands of God. We may be able to impart wisdom and understanding, but there is still, and always will be, this side of glory, that taint of sin that Paul speaks of in Romans 7, that continual struggle between spirit and flesh.
And so we need to accept that, just that our children will not always pay attention, neither will we always instruct perfectly; where our children will not always obey, we will not always discipline correctly; they will fail and we will fail; they will be angry and we will be angry; and everyone will, at times, say and do things we wish we didn’t. But this is life as a sinner. This is the struggle of the apostle in Romans 7. And while the answer to that struggle is given in chapter 8, that is, the gospel of Jesus Christ that can save us from this wretched body, the truth is that even as those who have been saved, this side of glory we will still and always struggle with sin.
Now I point these two things out this morning, not to bring everyone down or to spend our time focused on our sin – not at all. I point these two things out so that we can admit the truth of who we are, and then move on to embrace the greater truth that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the key. It is the key to our sin, it is the key to the sin of our children, and the key to our homeschooling, it is, truly, the key to all of life. So many believers look to the gospel as a one-time thing – believe and you’re in. Then they spend the rest of their lives trying to please God and live according to his precepts thinking the gospel opened the door and now it’s up to them.
But that is not the way of the Scriptures. The gospel is the well that never runs dry from which we must drink deeply and often; the gospel is that which proclaims forgiveness to us every time we sin; the gospel is that which gives strength to resist temptation; the gospel is that which brings comfort in the midst of intense struggle; the gospel is that which offers hope when all hope seems lost; the gospel is that which imparts to us the glorious truth that Christ himself has begun a good work in us and Christ himself will see it through to the very end, he is the author AND the finisher of our faith.
This truth should then inform, indeed, it should be the bedrock of all that we do, all that we say, all that we are, all that we teach. For when we look to the power of God offered to us in and through the gospel, then we find the confidence and freedom necessary to homeschool our children in a way that shapes mind AND heart as we prepare them to live in this sinful world.
And it is a sinful world. Part of why this is crucial is that we need to understand that we are not protecting our children from the evil or wicked influences of the world, but are training them to live in a sinful world biblically. For evil and wickedness already lie within their hearts. James 1:13–15 – Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. The world cannot and will not corrupt our children any more than they already are. And so we need to reframe our model of homeschool – not as a place that keeps them isolated from our perception of sin, but as a place that teaches them how to deal with their own sin, by fleeing to the cross of Christ and looking to him in faith; and as a place that teaches them to find their strength and hope in that same gospel message as they go out to live amongst an evil generation.
But it also allows us the freedom to teach them and train them imperfectly. By that I mean that we will never get it exactly right, but that’s OK! We need not worry about picking the exact right curriculum, because there isn’t one. What’s right this year might not be next year. And that’s OK. We need not fret over college entrance tests, or agonize that they may not choose college, or despair that we didn’t teach this or that as fully as we should have, or worry that our children don’t have enough social interaction. These things are, truly, peripheral to the heart of the matter. We cannot do better on our own, or try harder, or pick the right curriculum, or even, at the end of the day, protect our children from the influence of the world in a way that will make an actual difference apart from the gospel.
But it is precisely here, as we understand the gospel, that we will find peace and comfort in this: that if our children understand the things that matter, if they have been given the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection for their sin, if they have seen the gospel modeled in their parents – in forgiveness and reconciliation – if they have been taught the things of the Lord, then they will be well equipped to face the world, for they will have been given all things, as Peter says, pertaining to life and godliness in the gospel of God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
For we must not let our success, and that of our children, be defined by the world, but by the Word of God. And if they know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified, then they know everything. The Apostle Paul said that very thing in 1 Corinthians 2:2–7 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. Then, as he goes on to say in vv. 6-7, among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.
In pursuit of this goal, to impart that hidden wisdom of God revealed in the gospel of his Son, to ensure that our children have heard the glorious news of God’s saving grace through Jesus Christ, many Christians have rediscovered the value of creeds, confessions, and catechisms. As someone who has utilized the Three Forms of Unity, that is, the Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort, I would like to offer the first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism, written in 1563, as a possible way to codify our homeschool goals as Christians.
The question asked is this: What is your only comfort in life and in death? And the answer is this: That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live unto Him.
I would posit that if we can answer this question in such a manner with the full assurance of faith, then no matter our choice of curricula, no matter our failings in instruction, no matter our struggles with discipline, we will, by the grace of God, succeed in our role as parents and teachers, for we will have imparted to them that which truly matters.
I would posit that if our children can answer this question in such a manner with the full assurance of faith, then no matter their lot in life, no matter what path they may take, wherever they may live, and whatever they may choose to do, then they, by the grace of God, will succeed in life, for they will know that which truly matters.
May the Lord richly bless you as you seek to serve him as sinners teaching sinners in and through the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, strengthened by his Holy Spirit, to the eternal glory of God the Father. Amen.
Stephen Dechert is the Pastor of Providence Reformed Community Church in Riverton. He is also serving as chaplain at the Wyoming Honor Farm.