We have considered a few examples of the Church’s tradition of Christian education in the pre-Reformation and Reformation years. Let us consider in this blog some post-Reformation examples as included in C. B. Eavey’s History of Christian Education (Moody Press, Chicago, ILL, 1971):
John Comenius (1592 – 1670) is considered the “father of modern education” by many Christian scholars because of his theories on pedagogy and how children best learn. What modern, secular textbooks often leave out is that Comenius was also dedicated to the cause of Christian education. He was invited by the governments of several countries to reconstruct their educational systems. Through this restructuring work, Comenius was able to exert significant influence toward a Christian education for all children.
In particular, Comenius believed that educational systems should be grounded in the Biblical worldview and that Christian truth should be integrated into each academic discipline. He placed special emphasis on the primary role of parents in instructing their children in the fundamentals of faith, believing that schools could then be used effectively to reinforce parental influence in a more formal, academic setting (Eavey, pp. 169-172).
John Wesley, the great English revivalist and the founder of Methodism, placed special emphasis on the education of children. Concerning the strategic place of youth, he believed “God begins his work in children,” and he emphasized that unless children were well educated in the fundamentals of faith, the revival taking place in his day would last for only one generation. Some scholars attribute to Wesley the seeds that later blossomed into the Evangelical Sunday School movement (Eavey, p. 221).
The history of general education in America is unique because it was overtly Christian from its very beginning. Those original colonists were, for the most part, religious dissenters who left Europe in order to pursue their faith in the freedom available in the unspoiled American continent. The Puritans were dissenters with Calvinistic roots who fled the oppression of the larger, institutional church. The Huguenots—French protestants with Calvinistic roots—settled in the Carolinas. Many Dutch Calvinists settled in New York; the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians concentrated in New Jersey; the German Lutherans and those of Anabaptist traditions settled much of Pennsylvania. Maryland was originally predominantly Catholic. Eavey points out that many of these early settlers throughout the young nation came as whole congregational units. What they all had in common was their commitment to educate their children in their Christian faith, and they established schools to that end (Eavey, p. 189).
Furthermore, the original American colleges, including Harvard, William and Mary, Princeton, and Yale were founded to prepare young men as ministers of the gospel.
With our Christian education heritage as outlined in these three blogs, one wonders how the American church could come to abdicate its role as the primary, formal educator of our children! I would challenge us all to honestly ponder this question in view of the great devastation we are witnessing as our larger culture is capturing the minds and hearts of a large segment of our youth!