Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Priceless Treasure: Why I Choose to Home School

Overview: This article was written in 1999 for Table Talk Magazine. I include it here to give my reader/editors an idea of where I am coming from in my approach to the Christian life and the roles we have as parents of children in the local church. The picture is of my twin sons, Alex & Brett, age 17, who have a blog of their own blog called the rebelution at I have seven children, the oldest of which is Joshua Harris, author of several best selling books, best known of which is I Kissed Dating Good Bye.

C.S. LEWIS ONCE OBSERVED that God is not so much offended that we want too much as by the fact that we are satisfied with so little. Though He offers us the highest of adventures in our Christian life, we settle for the stale mediocrity of our lukewarm religious routines.

The parental counterpart to this idea is that most mothers and fathers actually want too little for their children - they settle for success in this world's terms. But God would have us aim higher, not like an ambitious stage mother pushing her mildly talented children into the spotlight, but like a fine jeweler making the best possible use of each bit of gold, silver, and precious stone he has. My children are priceless treasures, and I want God\'s highest and best for them.

What does it mean to aim high in this way? What am I really trying to accomplish in the education of my children?

Is it enough that they read well? No, not for me. I want them to commune with great authors from throughout the ages and be able to comprehend the profound ideas and truths that God has used to change the course of history. Let them be voracious readers of truly great literature.

Do I want my sons and daughters only to write and spell correctly? No, I want them to correspond with fellow enthusiasts in their chosen areas of endeavor. If they have the gifting, let them eventually author intelligent, superbly written works concerning the important issues of their day. Let them be prolific writers, whether privately or publicly

Do I want them merely to know enough history to pass a written test? No, I want them to understand the times in which they live and to be able to pass the real tests of life they will face in voting booths and on battlefields. Let them be like the sons of Issachar (\"who had understanding of the times,\" 1 Chron. 12:32) in the unfolding dramas of future events.

But education is so much more than mere academics. It is primarily matter of character development. Self-discipline may be out of style, but it is never out of work. Do I want my children simply to be nice, well-behaved, and safe from peer pressure? Not at all! Aslan, in Lewis\'s Chronicles of Narnia, is not a tame lion, but he is good. I prefer my children to be like that - good but not tame, men and women of integrity, not conformity. Let them be so influential and contagious in their faith that they turn the hearts of their companions toward God. Let the world grieve that its best and brightest have become Christians.

What about marriage and children? Are these things only a matter of personal comfort and enjoyment? Is a lifelong marriage aiming too high? Is the average number of 1.5 children per family enough? No, I want each of my sons and daughters to have a marriage and a family like that of Jonathan Edwards - enduring, large in number, and deeply devoted to God. Let each future household be devoted as a team for ministry as an effective embassy of the kingdom of God.

On an economic note, will it be enough if my children manage someday to find good jobs, regardless of how restrictive and disruptive their work schedules may be? No, I would like to see my adult sons provide for their wives and children through family business ownership and entrepreneurial stewardship. Contrary to the best efforts of the ACLU, there are still millions of public school students praying secretly to find decent jobs someday. Why not prepare our homeschool students to hire them?

Ultimately, neither academics, nor character, nor a strong marriage, nor a large family, nor financial freedom will matter if my children are still dead in sin and alienated from the promises of God. God help me never to raise up \"civil men, lost in sin,\" as the Puritans would call them. Salvation in Christ is more than merely foundational. It is everything.

Deep within the secret counsels of God\'s sovereign decretive will lies the very real responsibility I bear as a father to train up my children in the way that they should go (Prov. 22:6). Only God can save my children. Will He do so? The very fact I care at all for the salvation of my children is good evidence that God is already at work on their behalf. Our God is a covenant-keeping God and His sovereign election is the norm, not the exception, when parents respond in faithful obedience to His Word.

As I read the biographies of great men and women, I notice that godly parents often do make a difference. \"As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.\" Our sovereign God, working by concurrence through His created order of parents training their children and children obeying their parents, has ordained that special instruments of His grace will be forged on the anvil of a mother or father\'s heart. If I am both wise and diligent in my child training, it may be evidence that something extraordinary is brewing in the heavenlies - perhaps my children will be special gifts to Christ\'s church in their generation.

But if, like Eli of old, I am passive and negligent in this matter, it bodes eternal ill for me and my children. Insight is not action. Knowing is not the same as doing. Faith without works is dead. Think about it. Taking the easier path of conventional schooling is by any measure taking unnecessary chances with the souls of my children. Willfully sending them off to an institution that denies my authority, where the dominant social life is ungodly, where God is not feared and His Word not taught, where I cannot protect my children from falling into dangerous activities that could ruin a young life in one casual act of foolishness, where I cannot even vouch for the moral character of the teachers and administrators, seems to me an odd way of being diligent. The spirit of Eli is upon our nation and our churches as we rationalize with all our rational lies. That is why I ask God for grace to understand and obey Him in all of my obligations. Then, strong in the grace of God, I exert myself to do what He has commanded, even when it is not easy.

But salvation must lead to sanctification, and as a father I have a part to play in that as well. It is not enough that my children confess faith in Christ and go to church. Luke-warmness will not do. I want to see the fire of passion for the presence of God safely burning in the doctrinal fire place of each child\'s Reformed faith. A perpetual state of spiritual childhood, or even of spiritual adolescence, is not acceptable to God. Why should it be acceptable to me? I want my children to grow up to full maturity in Christ. I want them to bear the fruit of the Spirit and one day be qualified to serve as elders and deacons in a strong local church, with the courage and faith to roll up their sleeves and plant that church themselves if they have to.

To those who ask, \"But what about socialization?\" I can only weep. Socialization has always been a double-edged sword; it cuts both ways. \"He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm\" (Prov. 13:20, NASB). What my wife and I are doing in our home school is positive, biblical socialization that makes our children become wise. My children walk with me, and though I definitely have a long way yet to go, I try to be an acceptable companion to my children.

Most of our modem school-based socialization is of the foolish, harmful sort. Pooled ignorance leads to poor taste in clothing, music, films, and TV - the kind of people who read the grocery store tabloids and believe them. But the harm is far more than cultural. Disinterest in school, disrespect for teachers, rapacious dating, promiscuity, substance abuse, and gang violence also come in waves-- pounding waves of youth culture that erode moral standards. Even a small population of these poor creatures requires that high schools be run like youth prisons.

Good socialization is primarily age-integrated. It occurs when the young are included in the lives of older and wiser people, especially parents and other family members at home and the spiritual family of one\'s local church. Walking with the wise is a lifestyle, not a program. It is a club of fellow enthusiasts, not a class of uninterested age-mates. It includes working together, eating together, playing together, worshiping together, and studying together, This is where God placed the responsibility for child training and education, and it works very well in aiming children at God\'s highest and best targets in every area of life.

That is what I want for my children - God\'s highest and best - and that is my purpose in homeschooling them. Forgive what may seem my audacity, but I don\'t want my children to be merely counted among the Reformed. I want them to stand with the Reformers.

Gregg Harris is the author of
The Christian Home School and the director of the Noble Institute in Gresham, OR.

Reprinted from TABLETALK, August, 1999.

Reformed, Charismatic & Evangelical: Keeping the Fire in the Fireplace!

FOR MANY YEARS the Bible has been treated like a deck of cards. Denominations behave like players in some doctrinal “card game” where each church holds only a few cards in its hand as it competes with other churches for new members. Every church has its own “doctrinal distinctives” or emphases which are often reflected in the church’s name (e.g. Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc.) In addition, churches are grouped into larger camps, based on over-arching values (e.g. Reformed, Charismatic & Evangelical). Such divisions rob every church of its heritage in the whole counsel of God.

Generally speaking, Reformed churches hold tightly to the cards (i.e. the passages of Scripture) that pertain to “the doctrines of grace.” They also emphasize the need to guard sound doctrine from error. Charismatic churches hold the cards that relate to the Holy Spirit and His gifts. They emphasize supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit. Evangelicals hold on dearly to the cards that teach the Great Commission, personal evangelism and world missions. They emphasize winning the lost to Christ.

Our analogy breaks down of course, because no true church is void of all interest in the doctrines championed by the others. But over time, these three camps have drifted farther and farther apart. Today they seem mutually exclusive of one another. What is worse, as each has over-emphasized and over-reacted to each doctrine errors have occurred on all sides. As each church pushes its favorite truth to an erroneous extreme, the other churches attempt to distance themselves from those errors and all but abandon some key doctrines. “We don’t emphasize election here.” Or, “We are not ‘seeker sensitive.’” Or, “We won’t stand for Holy Spirit wildfire.” In this way major passages of God’s Word are being abandoned to other churches who, in their zeal, distort them and make them the primary basis of their church’s identity. By being taught without the balance that comes from knowing and believing the other doctrines, every church loses out.

It Takes All Three!
The situation today requires a Christian to attend three churches just to receive a balanced diet of what the Bible actually teaches— one to enjoy expository Bible teaching and basic Bible doctrine (e.g. a sound Reformed Church), one to experience supernatural ministry (e.g. a sound Charismatic church) and yet another to be equipped to live the Great Commission (e.g. a sound Evangelical church). As long as every church holds only its own limited denominational “hand,” no church is “playing with a full deck.” The whole counsel of God has become divided, disjointed and out of balance. Household of Faith Community Church in the Portland Metro Area of Oregon (where I now serve as a Teaching Elder), is an attempt to bring these three camps of Bible doctrine back together in one local church. There we strive to be biblically Reformed, biblically Charismatic and biblically evangelical in order to enjoy the benefits (and avoid the errors) of all three. We want everything that the Bible teaches, but nothing more.

Our Strengths Can Become Our Weaknesses
The strength of the Reformed pastor can become his weakness. He has such confidence in the truth of the Bible and the sovereignty of God that he distrusts the Spirit of God and fatalistic in his response to missions. He becomes cold and academic in his teaching. He closes all opportunities for God to move with power in the church. He “despises prophesy” as “adding to the Scripture.” He “forbids speaking in tongues,” dismissing it as “wildfire.” He is like a man with a massive stone fireplace made up of sound Bible doctrine. But he would rather sit in a cold, dark, empty house than take any chance that the fire might get out of the fireplace, or that careless guests might damage his stone work. He does not understand that his precious fireplace has been designed by God to safely hold the blazing fire of God’s Holy Spirit for the benefit of many yet to be saved.

On the other hand, the strength of the Charismatic pastor can also become his weakness. His confidence in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit can undermine his motivation to do the hard work of Bible study and sound doctrinal preaching of the Gospel. He believes he need only read a passage and “pray through” until he “feels the anointing.” Then he steps into his pulpit to serve up half-baked ideas to an ever-enthusiastic, but doctrinally famished congregation. This pastor is like a man who builds a bonfire in the middle of his living room floor. A wonderful stone fireplace stands just a few feet away. But he thinks that any attempt to regulate the moving of the Spirit, to limit the use of tongues in the service or to evaluate the content of a given prophesy, (as the Bible clearly commands us to do in 1 Cor. 14:26-33), would somehow “quench the Spirit.” He also presumes upon the Holy Spirit in evangelism, failing to explain what God has accomplished for the sinner through Jesus Christ, not taking seriously the fact that the Spirit of God works through the proclamation of the Gospel to save sinners. Fire belongs in a fireplace.

In yet a similar way the Evangelical pastor’s strength can become his weakness. His desire to reach people for Christ is admirable. But when he compromises God’s Word and despises God’s Spirit in order to get more people to make decisions for Christ, he does everyone a disservice. In his attempts to be “culturally relevant” and “seeker sensitive,” he can become ashamed of the Gospel, attempting to offer a Savior who is not Lord. Lacking zeal for sound doctrine for fear that God’s truth will turn off the visitors, and lacking faith in the power of the Holy Spirit to convict and convert the lost through the foolishness of the Gospel message, such pastors offer only a diet of short, fluffy, topical messages that produces many false conversions. This plague that we call “nominal Christianity” is seen in the growing number of people who now attend evangelical churches, but who have never been born again, have only a false assurance of salvation, who bear no spiritual fruit, are not zealous for good works and who know very little Bible doctrine.

Such an Evangelical pastor does not understand that without the fireplace of sound doctrine to display God’s Truth there can be no knowledge of sin, true repentance, nor saving faith. Without the fire of the Holy Spirit to confirm God’s Word with power in the new birth, there will be no lasting fruit. It is the combination of the fireplace and the fire that provides an ideal context for effective evangelistic ministry.

The Balance of God’s Truth
In each camp, the remedy is to be found in the doctrines now monopolized by the other two camps. The entire Bible is for the entire church! What has been lost in this situation is the integrity of the Truth itself. The major doctrines referred to by the terms Reformed, Charismatic and Evangelical, interact with one another in dynamic ways that check the excesses of one another and maintain the balance of Truth.

By keeping the fire in the fireplace we create the best possible setting for effective evangelism — a beautiful backdrop of God’s power in the confirmation of God’s Truth as an expression of God’s Love. Here we find God’s people showing their love for God by the way they love one another. Here we experience passionate worship toward God that is both “in spirit and in truth,” and discover a confidence in the Gospel that allows us to boldly speak God’s truth in love.

All of the Bible doctrines monopolized and distorted by the three major camps of Protestant Christianity are found in every Bible. They have always been there. They comprise an integrated whole. One group’s misunderstanding or misapplication of a doctrine cannot justify the rest of us in ignoring that part of God’s Word. All of God’s truths are intended to be understood, believed and obeyed in relation to one another by the entire Body of Christ. Every church is intended to be “a full deck church” with all of the checks and balances in place. HOFCC is an attempt to be just that. Thus far we find the combination to be both refreshing and effective.