The Greatest Educational Force

By any thoughtful estimate, education is a major function of our society. Speaking to representatives of land-grant and agricultural colleges President Johnson recently said, “The first work of these times and the first work of our society is education.” America is indeed education-conscious. It may well be true that no nation has ever spent more money on its schools and on its youth than ours.

Yet something is wrong. Deep-seated discontent and explosive unrest trouble the American soul. Along with material prosperity and a constantly advancing level of education, there are symptoms in our society that cannot be masked.

Among the ugliest of them is the criminality that afflicts American life. According to the FBI’s annual Uniform Crime Reports, released on July 20, serious crime in the United States rose 10 per cent in 1963 above the figure for 1962. Last year more than 2¼ million serious crimes were reported in the nation. Contrary to the common opinion that cities and slums are chiefly responsible for the upswing in crime, the figures show that crime is moving to the suburbs: rural areas registered a 6 per cent increase, cities a 10 per cent increase, but in suburban communities crime was up 13 per cent. And looking at the nation as a whole, it is shocking to realize that crime is outstripping our population growth fivefold. The rise of 8 per cent in population since 1958 has been left far behind by the 40 per cent increase in crime.

But what of juvenile criminality, to use the blunt word rather than the euphemistic “delinquency”? Arrests of youths under eighteen years of age for criminal acts rose 11 per cent during 1963. And this was the fifteenth consecutive year to register an increase. It is sobering that our young people are responsible for a disproportionate share of the national crime rate.

As one contemplates these facts, particularly those respecting juvenile delinquency, he is driven to ask, Why? Answers are manifold. But among them there is one that cannot be evaded. The problem of crime is intimately related to education. That all is not well with our schools is evident. Yet to place upon them the chief responsibility for moral slippage and mounting crime is neither fair nor accurate.

What is the greatest single educational agency? And by the same token, where does the greatest responsibility for youth rest? Some may point to the elementary and secondary school (public or private, secular or Christian) or the college and university (state-supported, private, or church-related). Others may attribute to the informal but all-pervasive molders of human personality—television, radio, stage and screen, newspapers, periodicals, and popular books of the day—the greatest educational influence. Still others will look, perhaps wistfully, to the Church.

Article continues below

But while all these are potent educational forces, none of them is the greatest single educational force. This distinction belongs to the home. The most influential teachers, whether they recognize it or not, are parents. To say this is not to belittle the vital importance of good schools and able teachers. It is not in any way to minimize the strategic place of Christian schools and colleges, which indeed are a dynamic spiritual minority in the great system of American education. But it is to place the emphasis educationally where the Bible places it—upon parents and upon the family. And the urgent, inescapable responsibility of teaching God’s truth to our children found throughout the Old Testament is summarized in Deuteronomy: “These words … 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 best down, and when thou risest up” (6:6, 7). The New Testament continues this emphasis, particularly in the Pauline epistles. Indeed, no book of the Bible is without some sort of reference to the family.

This is an age of revolution in race relations, in morality, and in technology. And perhaps the most important, though largely unrecognized, revolution has to do with the family and the home. The integrity of the American home, using the word “integrity” in its root sense of wholeness, has been breached. The God-fearing family that united parents and children in a common life in the home no longer characterizes our nation.

There are many reasons for this. They include the move from rural to urban society with the trend to megalopolis, a car for nearly everyone (teen-age children included), the vast number of alcoholics (many of them women hidden in the home), increasing divorce, preoccupation with show business and with having fun almost anywhere but at home. The paradox is that with greater leisure for true home life than ever before, we have less home life than ever before. What this may mean was put in one sentence by Carle Zimmerman, when he said, “If there were no A-bomb or H-bomb, we would have to recognize the fact that no civilization has ever survived the disintegration of its home life.”

Article continues below

For better or worse, the home wields more crucial influence upon youth than does school or college. The same is true of parents. No kindergarten teacher, grade school teacher, high school teacher, or college professor, however effective, can surpass the influence of a devoted Christian father or mother. Contrariwise, one shudders at the influence for evil that may be exercised by unworthy parents. The reason is that what psychologists call “feeling tones” are deeper and more pervasive in the emotional setting of the home than in the school. J. Edgar Hoover was right when he said in an article written expressly for teachers, “There is but one way to eliminate juvenile delinquency. That is by providing each child in America with competent parents.”

What does it mean to be a competent parent? Or, to put the question in another way, What does it mean to have a good and godly home? It means first of all to have a home where each parent is a Christian—not just a nominal Christian but a person who has by God’s grace experienced through faith in Jesus Christ the miracle of regeneration. It means also a home where parents are serving God, whatever their calling in life may be. In relation to the church, parents cannot stand on the sidelines as non-participants. Persons are saved individually, but Christianity is a social religion. Parental example is of prime importance. Young people are quickly able to penetrate unreality and pretense.

Again, no home can be effective for the nurture of its children in grace and character unless the Bible and prayer are at its heart. It is God’s plan for every Christian home to be a church that has an altar with the Bible upon it.

Christian parents no less than their secular neighbors need to be recalled to their inescapable educational responsibility. They are not exempt from the erosion of values in the materialistic and pleasure-obsessed society of today. Softness in discipline, lack of respect, self-indulgence, are just as damaging in Christian homes as in the homes of unbelievers. The greatest anchor that growing boys and girls may have is respect for parents based upon love. To say this is not to deny the basic necessity of saving faith in Jesus Christ. But Christian youth can fall into delinquency along with their secular companions. Accompanying the maturing child’s natural desire for independence, particularly in adolescence, there is a fundamental need for a firm structure of authority in the home. Without such authority, exercised in loving concern and responded to in respectful obedience, emotional maturity may be blighted.

Article continues below

To be an effective parent these days is not easy. It requires more love and faith and self-restraint to train up a child in the way he should go than to preach sermons and write books on theology. And if Christian parents ask with Paul, “Who is sufficient for these things?,” let them also say with him, “Our sufficiency is of God.”

The Church And Political Pronouncements

The Church as a corporate body has no spiritual mandate to sponsor economic, social, and political programs. Nowhere does the New Testament authorize the Church to endorse specific legislative proposals as part of its ecclesiastical mission in the world.

The propriety of individual Christian action in society is not in dispute. Every Christian according to his place and opportunity must bring his Christian faith to bear upon the problems and questions that arise in all areas of life. The parable of the Good Samaritan must never be far from the Christian’s consciousness. We do not support the position that the Christian’s only concern is the saving of men’s souls and that, for the rest, he may abandon the world to the power of evil.

Nor do we deny the Church’s scriptural right through the pulpit and through its synods, assemblies, and councils to emphasize the divinely revealed principles of social order and to speak out publicly against the great moral evils that arise in community life. The Old Testament prophets thundered against injustice, oppression, and other forms of social evil, and they did so in the name of the Lord. So too Christians must, if they are to be faithful to their calling, speak in God’s name against unrighteousness in society.

But the Church as a corporate body has no divine mandate to become officially involved in the approval of economic programs and political strategies. It is not the business of the Church to inform the federal government about matters of national defense and international policy. Nor is it the duty of the Church to consider the economic, military, and peacetime aspects of getting to the moon, and to advise the government whether this ought or ought not to be done.

Consider an example of a tendency evident in the councils and conventions of major denominations as well as of smaller groups today. At its 176th General Assembly in Oklahoma City (May, 1964), the United Presbyterian Church dealt with the United States’ conduct of world trade. Surely it is not irrelevant to ask how many of the more than eight hundred commissioners of the General Assembly knew what they were voting for when without any discussion they adopted a number of proposals recommended by one of their commissions urging the federal government to conduct its world trade to the advantage of underdeveloped nations. Or take another action of the assembly—its advising the government to plan now for the conversion of our military economy into a peacetime economy. Spirited voices from the floor urged that, though conversion might not be possible for fifty years, planning and retraining should begin now. Quite aside from the practical wisdom of retraining men and planning an economic conversion fifty years in advance in our fast-changing world, one wonders whether these hundreds of ministers and elders were really voting on something on which they were informed, or, assuming that they were informed, whether their offices require or allow them to take up such matters.

Article continues below

It is not the important and pressing nature of these matters that is in question but whether they are all within the corporate jurisdiction of the Church. On what basis do ecclesiastical leaders think they are qualified to speak on details of foreign affairs and international commerce just because they are part of the Body of Christ? One cannot but wonder whether the Church really knows the mind of Christ on government issues.

But if the Church has neither jurisdiction nor special competence as a congregation in such complex technical, social, political, and economic matters, why should it speak officially on them at all? Perhaps one should thank God that the children of this world are sometimes wiser than the children of light and be grateful that federal, state, and city governments often ignore the Church’s social and political pronouncements. The safety of the nation might sometimes be gravely imperiled were the federal government to heed advice given it by some churches.

There are other reasons why the Church should know its jurisdiction. Protestants have long objected to the inclination of the Roman Catholic Church to dominate the secular realm. If the American government followed all the social, economic, and political recommendations issued by many American denominations, both large and small, our society might become as ecclesiastically controlled as that of the Middle Ages.

Also at stake is the separation of church and state. It is not irrelevant to ask how the American churches can maintain in the eyes of the public the integrity of their stand for separation if they insist upon corporate involvement in governmental matters.

Article continues below

The Church can ill afford to compromise its reputation as an institution that speaks the Word of God, the Word upon whose truth men may faithfully trust their lives and their eternal destiny, by pronouncements—often erroneous—on ambiguous technical problems and issues. The Church must speak to the spiritual needs of men. Its voice must utter truth men can reject only to their hurt. When it speaks thus, it will rarely err. But when it steps outside its jurisdiction and speaks on matters beyond its competence, it will often err. The Church cannot afford to make many mistakes in what it says to the world. The current practice of some groups seems almost a presumption of infallibility in areas where fallibility is all too evident. When the Church speaks for God, it had better be confident of the truth of its utterances. When it lacks such confidence, then it must put its hand to its mouth and be silent.

The Church, moreover, should speak its corporate voice in witness to human society only when it declares the historic faith its membership believes, or what it has a right according to Scripture to summon its membership to believe. Only then is it confessing the faith of the Church. Specific social programs and detailed prescriptions on technological and political matters are not a part of the Christian faith. Rather, they belong to the religious liberty of the individual Christian. And it is of the essence of his ethical life that he retain the freedom himself to determine and apply under God the implications of the Christian faith to problems on all levels of his communal and civil life. That he must make this application is undeniable. The Church should summon him to live out his Christian faith in every area of life.

The complaint is often heard that, in the solution of its problems, the public pays scant attention to the Church. This situation will not improve so long as judicial church bodies and their leaders make pronouncements on matters beyond their competence and outside their jurisdiction.

Murder Is Murder—Anywhere

The shocking story coming out of Mississippi, confirming the deliberate, premeditated murder of three young men associated with the voter-registration program, has sickened us to the point of pain. We hope the perpetrators of this foul deed will be apprehended and punished to the law’s limit.

Article continues below

But the national spotlight on this tragedy may also be causing some to forget that murder is murder, whether in Mississippi or in New York State. The race issue is national, not sectional; whites and Negroes alike are involved in crimes stemming from race hatred.

The argument, “We have already waited too long,” may seem valid. But the Church’s attempt to bring about a forced integration is nonetheless unrealistic. Remove the segregation harriers and let the situation solve itself. So the slogan goes. But solution will emerge only when the worth of all men is admitted, and when courtesy, patience, and tact are exercised in inter-personal relations. The Christian approach for both Negro and white must somewhere include the humility and patience that Christ enjoined upon all who would follow him.

David Lawrence’s criticism of the Church seems fully justified: “Unfortunately, most of the churches have muffed the ball. Sincerely desirous of achieving ‘civil rights’ for all, the big church organizations have mistakenly chosen to operate by political methods and demonstrations. This has served in many cases only to intensify the situation. For preachers to argue that ‘civil disobedience’ is justified helps to encourage those who would resort to violence.” The loud voices of ecclesiastical programming may some day discover that the tragic murders in Mississippi may possibly have stemmed in part from the shift of the Church’s mission from persuasion to compulsion.

No less lamentable are political proclamations that race violence is inevitable. These amount to a justification, if not an encouragement, of lawbreaking. We regard as ill-advised and as poorly reasoned Robert Kennedy’s comment that major American cities can expect racial disturbances in the coming years “as long as there are injustices in housing [and] employment.” We deplore social injustice, but we simply do not think one kind of social injustice excuses another. Nor do we share Mr. Kennedy’s expectation of utopian erasure of all social injustice (upon which he apparently predicates the end of violence). Least of all is such a utopia to be expected from the compulsory political manipulation of man’s social environment. Above all, what Americans have a right to expect from their Number One law enforcement officer is an outright condemnation of all law-breaking.

Peace Corps Aids Sectarian Expansion

Despite placid public reassurances by Peace Corps administrators (see Director Sargent Shriver’s letter, CHRISTIANITY TODAY, July 31 issue), the program continues to pose serious problems for church agencies in West Cameroon. The spread of Big Government into more and more arenas tends either to create deplorable religio-political mergers or to penalize religious groups that conscientiously refuse to compromise with increasing government subsidy.

Article continues below

This fall in West Cameroon Roman Catholics are opening six new secondary schools staffed completely—teachers and principals—by U. S. Peace Corps personnel. This striking development goes far beyond the original availability of Peace Corps workers to religious schools as “supplementary” staff to reduce administrative and instructorial loads to normal levels. It exploits United States funds and personnel in a program of sectarian expansion.

The experience of Cameroon Baptist Mission in relation to the Peace Corps program has understandably given rise to anxieties. To remove reservations, mission board representatives were originally consulted about the moral atmosphere preserved on various fields to which volunteers were to be assigned, so that workers hostile to such ideals would not be sent there. In the next round of assignments, all mission preferences were disregarded. Finally Peace Corps pressures were exerted upon mission schools to accept personnel they did not even want.

While Roman Catholics are expanding their educational program with U. S. Peace Corps aid, Cameroon Baptists more and more are relying upon International Voluntary Service personnel from European lands. These workers seem generally more sympathetic with established mission ideals and are not directed by foreign political appointees.

But the Baptists are taking an even deeper look at the cumulative consequences of government involvement. If government funds were to cease, one-third of the Baptist missionaries in West Cameroon would have to return from the field because their educational or medical activities are now politically subsidized. If the sponsoring denomination proceeds with a proposal to send out only government-supported missionaries in the future, the Baptists—traditionally committed to separation of church and state—will outdo Roman Catholics in the bold use of public funds in sectarian programs.

A brighter side is the simultaneous projection by the North American Baptist Conference of God’s Volunteers for Cameroons, a Christian service effort sponsored by the denomination. Three volunteers go to the field next month for twenty-one months of teaching. If this trial effort succeeds, the denomination will expand it significantly in 1965.

Article continues below

The West Cameroon government has increasingly reflected Roman Catholic influence since the 1961 federation with East Cameroon, and the recent expansion program based on U. S. Peace Corps personnel seems to reflect this commitment. In the Kom grasslands region, which Catholics control, Baptist workers have been threatened with imprisonment or fine if they preach outside the churches in public places. The Baptist denomination has protested this infringement on religious liberty to the Cameroon government. In Achu-oku, after long delays, Baptists received verbal permission to build a church. After its erection, they were told they needed written permission from another source, and Baptists were forced to tear down their church. A Roman Catholic church is now being erected on the same site. At Ibal-Ashing, without even a permit from local tribal rulers Catholics are building a secondary school on a plot of land given to the Baptists. The Catholic school will stand a half mile from Baptist Mission area headquarters at Belo.

The religious rivalry and maneuvering so much deplored in polite ecumenical conversations has hardly disappeared at the practical level. It is doubly sad that public funds become a means for expanding sectarian competition. CHRISTIANITY TODAY sounded early warning that the mixing of government volunteers with sectarian endeavors was a venture full of risk and ambiguity. Some of these unhappy consequences are now beginning to emerge.

The Pope And World Peace

In his first encyclical, a massive 1,500-word document titled Ecclesiam Suam (His Church), Pope Paul VI this month repeatedly pointed mankind to God for satisfaction of basic human needs. Surveying the pressing problem of world peace, the Roman Catholic “Vicar of Christ” pointed to himself as a possible global peacemaker who would intervene for settlement of disputes. This was the part of his encyclical that caught the car of a fearful world, pushing its way into newspaper headlines and accosting men everywhere with yet another alternative in their search for peace:

Regarding the great universal question of world peace, we say at once that we shall feel it specially incumbent upon us not merely to devote a watchful and understanding interest, but also to entertain a more assiduous and efficacious concern.…
… we shall be ready to intervene, where an opportunity presents itself, in order to assist the contending parties to find honorable and fraternal solutions for their disputes.
Article continues below

The Pope’s manifest sincerity is backed up by his long years of diplomatic experience. The latter, plus Morris West’s best-selling novel (in which a Ukrainian pope becomes the go-between for the United States president and the Soviet premier) published shortly before Pope Paul’s coronation, led at that time to conjecture of enlarged Vatican participation in world affairs.

But if this is to come about, applause is not to be expected from everyone. For some, papal arbitration of international disputes would have a medieval ring. For others, it would carry overtones of messianic presumption. The unique position of the Vatican City, with its ambiguities in regard to church-state relations, raises questions whether the Pope would be acting as political or religious leader. He himself ruled out a strictly political role, and indeed one might question why he should intervene in world disputes at this level any more than, say, Prince Rainier, another ruler of a small state. If the Pope were to intervene in his religious capacity, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox, Jews, Muslims, and others might well inquire why the rest of the world should act upon a Roman Catholic presumption—the primacy of the Pope. Then again, if it is a matter of the prestige of the Pope in his dual capacity as head of both a church and a state, the many who hold to a separation of church and state would not be enamored of the implication.

The weight of world power today rests chiefly with Protestant and Communist countries. And neither Protestants nor Communists look to the Pope as a repository of wisdom nearly to the degree Catholics do. Nor are they anxious to contribute to the elevation of the papacy to the new powers inherent in the situation of great nations waiting for a Vatican solution. Time magazine recently commented on French President de Gaulle’s proposal of a loose federation of France and Germany, as an alternative to German Chancellor Erhard’s alliance with the United States. Favored within West Germany’s ruling Christian Democratic Union by Gaullists (mostly Roman Catholic in faith and cultural tradition, they are suspicious of the Anglo-Saxon Protestant world,” Time notes), the loose federation scheme is characterized as “mainly a convenient but thin disguise for what they really want.…”

Parts of Pope Paul’s encyclical seemed tentative and carried a reconciliatory tone with regard to liberal and conservative parties in the Roman church. But Pope John’s “opening to the left” seemed to be closing with Pope Paul’s strong denunciation of Communism. He termed it and other forms of atheism “the most serious problem of our time”:

Article continues below
[Various reasons] compel us … to condemn the ideological systems which deny God and oppress the Church, systems which are often identified with economic, social and political regimes, amongst which atheistic Communism is the chief.…

We commend the Pope for this statement. Its mood is in favorable contrast to that of some Protestant leaders who favor a soft line against Communism, whether in Cuba or Viet Nam. Some four years ago in these pages, Emil Brunner rebuked such leadership as was then reflected in (lie National Council of Churches’ Cleveland study conference, which advocated United States recognition and United Nations admission of Red China. His words bear repetition today:

We have to do with a fearfully dangerous, powerful and shrewd antagonist. Every concession immediately benefits the power growth of world Communism. That is why the Christian must hold fast with all those who have come to know the diabolical character of bolshevism, in order to guard mankind from this greatest of social evils: from this soul-destroying system of fundamental inhumanity.

If Pope Paul has a bold program for the restoration of freedom, the free world will be glad to hear it in detail; and the sooner its features are known, the better. But there should be no need to exact a price, in political prestige or ecclesiastical advantage, in exchange for its publication.

America’s policy of dealing gently with Communist imperialism has been costly through its postponement of a show of strength until too much is lost and even more is risked. In Southeast Asia, as elsewhere, a show of strength is better late than never, and it is far better in freedom’s cause than in the extension of tyranny. A firm reply to North Viet Nam’s aggressive posture was long overdue. But more is needed than a show of strength against aggressors. When President Kennedy tardily moved into the Cuban crisis to challenge the mounting of Soviet missiles against American shores, CHRISTIANITY TODAY commented that “if written into history” this revised policy could mark the first turn toward the reconstruction of freedom in the world gripped by Communist tyrants. But no student of recent world history has reason to think that American foreign policy has achieved much by way of such restoration of liberty. Instead, the complacent free world prizes a cold-war stalemate that gives as little ground as painlessly as possible.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.