Edition 2, 1995: Parental Responsibility in Education


If we allow the State to run our schools - why not allow them to run our churches? If we can allow the civil government to write school text books, why not let them write our sermons? If school teachers can be trained by the state - then why not pastors? Schools are as inescapably religious as churches.

The early promoters of state controlled education in the USA used the slogan, "It costs less money to build schools than jails". R L Dabney's answer to this in 1876 was, "But what if it turns out that the State's involvement in schools is one of the things which necessitates the expenditure in jails?" (Discussions, Vol.4,p.195). If we look at American state schools today, we can see how incredibly accurate Dabney's words were. Dabney's wisdom was due to the fact that he knew the Bible and believed what it said. He saw that the State had no Biblical authority to be involved in the education of children, for this was primarily a parental responsibility. In essence, he was saying, "If you think you are wiser than God and minimise or belittle His ordained order and structures - the consequence will be disaster."


In Deuteronomy 6:4, Moses presents the principal commandment: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might". This verse expresses the fundamental truth of our faith and the fundamental duty that rests upon this truth. The fundamental truth has to do with the nature of God - that He is One. The fundamental duty - is the response of love that God requires from man. This is the Bible in a sentence. But Deuteronomy does not just give the Law, it also explains and applies the Law.

The Law sets the boundary for how we are to love God. It controls the expression of the love we owe to God. We are to have this Law in our hearts, it is to be part of our being. Moses then reveals one of the most fundamental manifestations of this love for God that we ought to have, one of the most fundamental expressions of worship:

"And thou shalt teach them (the laws) diligently unto thy children, and thou shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down and when thou risest up". Deut. 6:7

Here we see that God's Law is to be the centre of every aspect of the child's existence. Both inside and outside of the home - this conveys a picture of unrelenting instruction that has God as the foundation and goal of all knowledge and instruction. From the beginning to the end of the day, the parental responsibility before God is to make sure that their child receives only God-centred and God-glorifying instruction.

This verse doesn't say make sure that your child receives some instruction from the Bible each day'; it is saying every moment of the child's existence is to be Biblically based. The meaning of this verse is unambiguous. The comprehensiveness of this verse is comparable to Jesus saying He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. Jesus is expressing His absolute Lordship. We cannot say that He is Lord at the beginning and at the end, but in the middle He is not - this would destroy the plain sense of the verse. Similarly, when God says He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, He is saying everything is His, and not that the cattle on the thousand and first hill is not His (Psalm 50:10). In the same way, "when thou sittest in thine house and when thou walkest by the way and when thou liest down and when thou risest up" is clearly expressing every moment of the day.

The context here is awesome and should strike terror into our hearts when we see how far we have drifted from God's fundamentals. God was telling them how to avoid becoming a stiff-necked people and how to preserve and perpetuate for generations to come, this relationship with God.

Moses compresses in a nutshell the whole covenant and all its terms - God is One and we are to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Then Moses immediately adds vs 7, showing us that one of the supreme manifestations of true religion is God-glorifying education from morning until night.


If we rationalise and explain away the clear meaning of Deuteronomy 6:7, then on what basis are we going to stand when the enemies of the Bible rationalise and explain away the Incarnation, the Deity of Christ, the substitutionary atonement, justification by faith alone and the Trinity? The Scriptures are to be the absolute authority in our lives, controlling every facet of our existence (both behaviour and belief). The Bible is the standard to which all our actions are to conform. We are not to take the Bible and mould it and shape it until it fits into our contemporary circumstances. The Bible speaks clearly and with absolute authority.

Deuteronomy 6:7 clearly teaches that:
1. Our children's instruction is to be comprehensively God-centred.
2. This is an absolute command of God.


The reason the world is in such a mess is due to man's rebellion against God's Law. But Christians also rebel against what God has said. It is a constant struggle to submit to and live by every Word that proceeds from His mouth. We need to earnestly pray that by the enabling of the Holy Spirit, we might quickly do all that the Lord has said. As John Calvin's coat of arms declared: "My heart for Thy cause I offer Thee, promptly and sincerely".

In the Book that gives us the most explicit picture of the Covenant (Deuteronomy), we find the heart of the Covenant. God is One, we are to love Him with our whole being and we are to perpetuate this Covenantal relationship with Him by ensuring that our children receive only God-honouring instruction. This is God's wisdom revealed for us, thus we ought to be obedient and bold - if God be for us, who can be against us?


Christ is our great example. When Satan confronted Him, Jesus spontaneously withstood the temptation because His whole being vibrated with obedience. This is what Adam should have done and it is what we are to do. We see Christ's swiftness and decisiveness in dealing with the tempter, "Get thee behind me, Satan", and "It is written...". Christ lived by every Word that proceeded from the mouth of God.

Dr Cornelius Van Til said, "Jesus did not hesitate, He did not play with the temptation. His whole being was athrob with spontaneous desire to do the Will of God and thus to realise the programme that God had set for Him. Anything that would keep Him from realising that programme was imediately cast aside ... Now note with what self-determination, with what sense of responsibility for the fulfilment of His task, He refuses to be controlled by anything except by the Will of God. He slays Satan with the words It is written'" (Essays on Christian Education p. 152). We, however, are afraid of the giants and therefore refuse to live by every Word of God. As the rebellious generations of old, we too refuse to do God's Will, despite His clear revelation and His authority to back us up. No, we prefer to rationalise and squirm out of our responsibilities, but it is just as true today that, if the salt has lost its savour, it is good for nothing but to be trodden under the feet of men (Matthew 5:13).


We have been given much. We have eternal life in Christ and partake of and have an inheritance in the riches of the Kingdom of Heaven. We are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. To whom much is given, much is expected. Children are a blessing of God, given to parents, although, in an ultimate sense, they belong to God. A parent's responsibility with respect to his children is one of stewardship. We are stewards looking after someone else's property and are under covenantal obligations to be faithful in our duty. Parents who are stewards in the Lord's household have an inescapable responsibility to faithfully take care of God's possessions (children) in the way He has specified.

"And that servant, which knew his Lord's Will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to His Will, shall be beaten with many stripes ... For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required". Luke 12:47,48


In our day, the civil government claims to have the ultimate authority regarding the educating of children. According to them, children belong to the State and parents are to comply to the state sanctioned curriculum when they educate them. Christ says children are to be taught only His wisdom, but the state says no, the child is to be taught only what they say. There are only two possible options here - God and the State. Both claim to have the right to determine how children ought to be shaped and trained - it is a clash of ultimate ownership. We cannot serve two masters, and actions speak louder than words, so don't tell people whom you are serving, show them.


When is the myth of neutrality going to be finally put to rest in the minds of Christians? As R L Dabney said, "a non-Christian training is literally an anti-Christian training" (Ibid. p. 238). No part of education is neutral. If it is not for God, it is against Him. It wasn't only Dabney who strongly held to this, so did A A Hodge, Gresham Machen, Cornelius Van Til, Herman Dooyeweerd and Louis Berkhof, just to mention a few. Most Christians in our day refuse to take the Word of God seriously in this area. They have their humanistic answers well worked out. But Deuteronomy 6 is so clear and simple, even a child can see what it means. If we reject the clear meaning here, how can we explain to our child God's sovereign control over all things (e.g. Matthew 10:29)? If what the Bible says has to be determined finally by our circumstances, then it will no longer be an absolute Word. We can't distort Deuteronomy 6 by our lives and teaching and try to keep other passages authoritative about what they say.

"When you sittest in your house and when you walkest by your way, when you liest down and when you risest up" is talking of uninterrupted instruction in the ways of the Lord and the next two verses strengthen this even more. "And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thy hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thy eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates" Deut 6:8,9. This is a comprehensive Biblical world and life view -everything you think, do and are, and everything that has been given into your stewardship (home and property) is to be governed only by the Law - the Word of God.


These verses (Deuteronomy 6:8,9) explain what Revelation means when it talks of 666, the beast's number written on people's foreheads and hands. Revelation 14:9 shows how worship and the mark of the beast (obedience to him) go hand in hand. To have the beast's mark means to live according to his ways. Worship and obedience are inseparable concepts. He whom we obey is the one who has our worship. Christ claims undivided loyalty - that is why we are to live by every word that proceeds from His mouth. It is impossible to serve two masters. We cannot have both God's Word and 666 on our forehead and God's Word on our right hand and 666 on the left. The beast wants complete obedience and worship just like God. The beast wants his ways to be what guides our thinking (his mark on our forehead) and all that we do (his mark on our hand). The Creator of the universe demands this for Himself alone, "And if it seems evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom you will serve." Joshua 24:15.


What is freedom of religion? It is the freedom to worship the Creator of the Universe in the way He has told us to. Obedience and worship are inseparable, "if you love Me keep My commandments", Jesus said. He also said, "Thou shalt worship the Lord Thy God and Him only shalt thou serve". At the heart of Deuteronomy, we are told that we are to educate our children and that this education is to be God-centred and is a God-ordained parental responsibility. Thus for the state to refuse to allow this, is to declare war on a fundamental Christian doctrine - a fundamental worship requirement. This means to deny freedom of worship. As Dabney has said, "While the State cannot authorise the theological beliefs of the Christian citizens, neither has it a right to war against them" (Ibid p.238). If the state will not let us worship God in the way God has said, then they have declared war on freedom of religion and on God. Remember Pharaoh and his whole nation were destroyed because they refused to let Israel worship God as God had mandated.

To quote Machen, "If liberty is not maintained with regard to education, there is no use trying to maintain it in any other sphere. If you give the bureaucrats the children, you might as well give them everything else" (Education, Christianity and the State p.114). If we allow the state to control education which is inescapably religious, why not let them control our churches, determine our theology and prepare our sermons? If we balk at this but not at their control of education, it merely shows how dualistic we have become in our thinking.

As Van Til has said, "The fight between Christ and Satan is just as truly carried on in the field of education as it is in the field of the church. If you still think you are really involved in the struggle between God and Satan for the soul of man, in the church and the home but you are not engaged in it in the school, then you are deceiving yourself" (Tape, No Neutrality in Education).


We are so out of touch with the mindset of the martyrs who were prepared to be eaten by lions or be burned alive rather than violate their consciences by going against clear revelation. We cannot be pragmatic when it comes to the question of obedience to a fundamental Christian teaching. Parents are to make sure their children receive Godly instruction every moment of the day, thus we are to pray and groan and strive and sacrifice for this to be achieved, because we love our Lord and want to live in obedience.

There is no middle ground - it is all or nothing. We ought to approach this with the mindset that this is a battle unto death, for we will not go against conscience here. "The nature of the responsibility is such that there can be no neutrality... He that is not with his God is against Him'. He who does not positively comply with the ever-present obligation, does, in fact, violate it... and any training which attempts to be non-Christian ... is anti-Christian" (Dabney, Ibid p. 221). We have not yet resisted unto blood striving against sin. And this is one such sin that needs to be resisted even unto blood if necessary. It is better to surrender life, rather than conscience and moral independence.

As Luther stood at the Diet of Worms, surrounded by an overwhelmingly powerful enemy, so too must we stand before the powers and philosophy of our day. As Luther stood defiantly and said, "I cannot retract my faith", so too must we stand. As the martyrs stood and would not deny what God had clearly revealed, so must we - this is unto death. If we compromise on education, where do we think we will stand? If we fail to stand on God's Word here, it is pointless to stand anywhere else. It is futile to guard the safe after you have allowed the thieves to take the gold. We need the courage of an Athanasius who stood for his convictions though the whole world was against him. We see too little of this courage in our day.


By the mercy of God, I beseech you to hear and respond. Parents, there is no other road to walk. Thus we need to strive together with unceasing toil and fervour to achieve these goals. God-centred education is not something that might be nice if it happened to be possible. It is an unavoidable necessity of the Christian life. Christians of old created the future, they forged new paths if there weren't any. They sacrificed all in their attempts to obey their Lord. They didn't desire the comfort and false security of walking on well worn paths when God's Word didn't point in that direction. No, they prayed for the character and courage to make new roads to new and better goals in obedience to God and for His glory. Difficulties did not hinder or deter them, but were challenges that had to be met.

May we continue in this great tradition as we stand by faith and in the power of the Holy Spirit upon the only sure rock -the unmovable Word of God. May we echo what Luther proclaimed at Worms as he stood before the terrifying power of Papal Rome, "my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen". 

Rev Derek Carlsen

This article is an abbreviated version of a paper written, compiled and presented by Rev Carlsen at the recent UCA-sponsored Christian Education Training Seminar, held in Bellville on 25 February 1995. The complete speech and audio tape of this message or of any of the other lectures, are available from UCA.

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