The Christian Idea of Education

By Stephen McDowell


The Bible teaches us that all men have great value, but that men are sinful, in a fallen state, and in need of a redeemer. We cannot save ourselves. We need the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit to work in us, to translate us into the kingdom of God. Once we become a new creation we must grow in our salvation — we must be sanctified in His truth so we can extend His kingdom in the nations. Biblical education is central in doing this.

All people must be educated so they can know the truth (God) themselves. In the fourth and fifth centuries, the church began to embrace a pagan philosophy of education, thinking only certain people can know and keep the truth (the Bible). These keepers of the truth (the clergy) would then tell the common person what that truth was. This practice led to bondage, as many people were cut off from the truth. The Protestant Reformation changed this. It brought forth the Christian idea of education; that is, everyone should know the truth themselves. Everyone should have access to the Bible, God’s source of truth to mankind. This Christian idea motivated many people to translate the Bible into the common language of the people.

America’s Founders were very much aware of the relation of education and liberty. They knew that a people cannot be ignorant and free. Jefferson said it this way: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”[1] Benjamin Franklin said that ignorance produces bondage: “A nation of well informed men who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God has given them cannot be enslaved. It is in the region of ignorance that tyranny begins.”

Early Americans believed that useful education—that which produces liberty—must have its foundation in Christianity. To the Founders, Christianity was the source of liberty, all types of liberty. In the Preface to his United States History book, Noah Webster wrote:

The brief exposition of the constitution of the United States, will unfold to young persons the principles of republican government; and it is the sincere desire of the writer that our citizens should early understand that the genuine source of correct republican principles is the Bible, particularly the New Testament or the Christian religion.[2]

Signer of the Declaration, Benjamin Rush wrote in 1806:

Christianity is the only true and perfect religion, and that in proportion as mankind adopt its principles and obeys its precepts, they will be wise and happy.[3]

Education is much more than imparting knowledge and skills; it is preparing people to fulfill their destiny in assisting to advance God’s Kingdom in the earth. G.K. Chesterton said: “Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another. Whatever the soul is like, it will have to be passed on somehow, consciously or unconsciously…. It is…the transfer of a way of life.” Christian education passes on the Biblical way of life. State education today is passing on a secular, humanistic, socialistic way of life. Modern state education undermines liberty in two ways. One, it teaches a worldly philosophy that leads men into captivity (see Colossians 2:8). Two, it takes away from the family the role as primary educator.

The Bible teaches that parents have the right and responsibility to govern the education of their children. Embraced by early Americans, this idea motivated parents to educate their children at home, to start church and private schools, to found colleges, and to make education available to all citizens, including Native Americans. This produced a Biblically literate and educated nation. Everyone knew principles of liberty. Thus, these people could affect a Christian Revolution and give birth to the American Christian Constitutional Federal Republic.

Education in Biblical truth produced a free society with little crime. The crime that existed was a concern for the Founders, but they knew how to most effectively deal with it. Benjamin Rush wrote in 1806 that

the only means of establishing and perpetuating our republican forms of government, … is, the universal education of our youth in the principles of christianity by the means of the bible. For this Divine book, above all others, favors that equality among mankind, that respect for just laws, and those sober and frugal virtues, which constitute the soul of republicanism.[4]

Education in colonial America was primarily centered in the home and church, with the Bible the focal point of all education. Schools were started to provide a Christian education to those who were not able to receive such training at home and to supplement home education. The first schools were private and started by the church. The first common or public schools (though not like public schools today) originated with the school laws of 1647 in Massachusetts, which stated, “It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures.”[5] America’s Founders recognized that Satan wants to keep people ignorant. If he can keep them ignorant, he can keep them in bondage. This motivated them to not only start schools but also colleges.

Colleges and universities were started as seminaries to train a godly and literate clergy. In fact, 106 of the first 108 colleges were founded on the Christian faith. One of the original rules and precepts of Harvard College stated:

Let every Student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the  end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternall life, (John 17:3), and therefore to lay Christ in the bottome, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and Learning.[6]

The Father of the American Revolution, Samuel Adams, declared that education in the principles of the Christian religion is the means of renovating our age. He wrote in a letter October 4, 1790, to John Adams, then vice-president of the United States:

Let divines and philosophers, statesmen and patriots, unite their endeavors to renovate the age, by impressing the minds of men with the importance of educating their little boys and girls, of inculcating in the minds of youth the fear and love of the Deity and universal philanthropy, and, in subordination to these great principles, the love of their country; of instructing them in the art of self-government, without which they never can act a wise part in the government of societies, great or small; in short, of leading them in the study and practice of the exalted virtues of the Christian system.[7]

Knowledge apart from God and His truth is little better than complete ignorance, because the most important aspect of education is the imbuing of moral principles. All education is religious — it imparts a basic set of principles and ideals, a worldview. How the youth are educated today will determine the course the nation takes in the future.


[1] The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Libscomb and Bergh, editors, Washington, DC: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, 1903, Vol. XIV, p. 384. Letter to Colonel Charles Yancey, January 6, 1816.

[2] Noah Webster, History of the United States, New Haven: Durrie & Peck, 1833, p. v.

[3] Benjamin Rush, Essays, Literary, Moral and Philosophical, Philadelphia: printed by Thomas and William Bradford, 1806, p. 93.

[4] Rush, p. 113.

[5] Richard Morris, editor, Significant Documents in United States History, Vol. 1, New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., 1969, p. 20.

[6] From New Englands First Fruits, 1643, in Teaching and Learning America’s Christian History by Rosalie Slater, San Francisco: Foundation for American Christian Education, 1980, p. vii.

[7] The Life and Public Services of Samuel Adams, by William V. Wells, Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1865, Vol. III, p. 301.



2020-02-13T17:21:32-05:00March 25th, 2016|Family and Christian Education, Featured|Comments Off on The Christian Idea of Education