Since 1925 Southern Baptists have said, “The cause of education in the Kingdom of Christ is co-ordinate with the causes of missions and general benevolence, and should receive along with these the liberal support of the church.” More recent versions of Article 12 of the Baptist Faith and Message add, “An adequate system of Christian education is necessary to a complete spiritual program for Christ’s people.”
In June of 1999, an SBC Resolution on Christian schools acknowledged competing worldviews in America and reiterated the primary responsibility parents have to educate their children. Messengers commended LifeWay for its emphasis on “kingdom education” and the development of curricula designed to teach children and youth from a biblical perspective. Included was an appeal to all Southern Baptist churches to support educational programs that follow biblical principles, whether they are implemented in Christian, private, public or homeschools.
Southern Baptist Association of Christian Schools Executive Director Ed Gamble sees the BF&M statement as a mandate to take Christian education seriously. However, among the nearly 42,000 Southern Baptist churches, only 600 or so operate Christian schools on the elementary or secondary level.
“You can’t tell me we have a serious commitment to kingdom education when we only have a little over a dozen schools per state, most of them kindergarten and elementary.”
College and graduate level studies from a Southern Baptist perspective have flourished, with nearly 13,000 students studying in the SBC seminaries and 129,210 in the 54 Baptist colleges, universities, institutes and academies. While Southern Baptists have rallied to fund colleges and seminaries, funding for K-12 education is absent on a national scale.
“If you want your child to have a musical worldview, you have him start taking piano lessons when he’s four, put him in the kiddy choir, youth choir, take lessons and try out for the band,” Gamble outlined. “And yet we say, you go to this public school and get a secular worldview, then go to a Baptist college. That’s too late!”
Gamble sees the job of SBACS as carrying out the mandate of the Baptist Faith and Message article on education. “We need to create a system of schools like the ones that Catholics have, so that every community you go into has a Baptist school. It cannot be done without the support of people, churches and the denomination.”
Kids who are not attending a Christian school typically receive less than an hour of biblical instruction, Gamble said, up against 40 to 60 hours of secular education, depending on the extent of extracurricular participation. With few of those families spending time at home to make up the difference, Gamble said, “The vast majority of Baptist kids are being educated by the Chaldeans. So we shouldn’t be real surprised when they act like Chaldeans” and ultimately quit going to church altogether.
Gamble said parents have three options in providing a Christian education:
–homeschooling that is uniquely Christian,
–a Christian school that property integrates biblical truth into the curriculum, or
–a Christian education that occurs because parents take a vigorous, active role in discipleship, mentoring, worldview instruction while sending their kids to a public school.
The decision is largely economic, Gamble said, because the denomination has made no commitment to elementary and secondary education.
Gamble is grateful for Southern Baptists who serve as educators in the public school system, believing they are missionaries in a culture that does not know Christ. “When you get a principle that is a devout, godly Christian you can create a climate of Christian tolerance, but you’ll never be able to create a climate of Christian education. You’re not allowed to. The situation that existed when most parents went to school doesn’t exist anymore.”
He labels the argument that children provide “salt and light” in the public schools as “nonsense.” Instead, Gamble said, “mostly what happens is the salt and light of the enemy winds up infecting our kids.”
In order to train up the next generation of Christian disciples, Gamble said parents have to change their attitude and understand the compelling nature of Christian education and the result of not providing it. “Once parents make that commitment, it’s fair to say that eight to fifteen percent of their income ought to go toward the education of their children in a Christian way.”
Ultimately, Gamble longs for a day when the denomination creates an offering to fund the establishment of more schools. “I’m proud to be a Southern Baptist,” he said, praising the work of the denomination in the areas of missions, benevolence and higher education. “We say that Christian education is co-ordinate with missions and general benevolence. Our job is to make [what’s stated in] the Baptist Faith and Message a reality.”