THE PALCE OF CHRISTIAN EDUCATION IN CHURCH GROWTH: AN AGENDA FOR THE CLERGY by Bishop Dr. J. Akin Atere

2020 JOINT CLERGY WORKSHOP OF LAGOS, LAGOS WEST, LAGOS MAINLAND, BADAGRY AND AWORI DICOESES HELD AT ALL SOULS ANGLICAN CHURCH, LEKKI ON WEDNESDAY 22ND JANUARY.

GENERAL THEME: ANGLICANISM AND MISSIOLOGY IN THE 21ST CENTURY: CHALLENGES AND PROSPECTS

 

TOPIC: THE PALCE OF CHRISTIAN EDUCATION IN CHURCH GROWTH: AN AGENDA FOR THE CLERGY

There are two key words to be examined. They are “Christian” and “Education”.

The definition of a CHRISTIANS can be put as the group of the redeemed. Those who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and personal Saviour after they have confessed and repented of their sins. They have been washed, cleansed in the  precious blood of the Lamb and  have become heavenly registered members. In a nutshell, a Christian is little Christ (Acts 11:26) he is Christ-like in manner, conduct and behavior.

In the context of the lecture, it will be assumed that Christians are those who are in the church, who are worshippers. It may also be extended to those yet to join the Church. Because the church growth that is the main goal can only occur when those within are converted and those outside brought in to the fold. This will be our focus because it captured the larger fold.

 EDUCATION simply is acquiring knowledge that builds body, soul and spirit which grow from level o higher levels.

WHAT IS CHRISTIAN EDUCATION? Randolph Grump Miller defines Christian Education as the effort to make available for our generation, young people and adult – the accumulated treasures of Christian life and thought, in such a way that God in Christ may carry on His redemptive work in each human soul and in the common life of man.

It is difficult to give a definition which is concise at the same time comprehensive in defining Christian Education. Let me make an attempt  by saying that Christian Education is the  Synthesizing of all knowledge in the light of the Christian revelation. It means all teaching about man, his nature, his development, his doing, the word in which he  lives, his past and present achievements and his future hopes, will be given against the background of the essentially Christian  doctrine of God’s creature, purposive, redemptive activity, unfolding itself throughout the ages and culminating in the revelation of  Himself given through His Son. This is not to say that explicit Christian doctrine is perpetually to be dragged into the History and Biology lessons but simply that if “Christian Education” is to have real meaning, must be fully comprehensive in its range and synthetic in its purpose; its aim must always be to impart knowledge in such a way that the various branches of  truth are seen as an indivisible whole, unified by the only factor that ever unified knowledge, namely, the comprehensively redemptive purpose of God for man and His world existence. Different branches of knowledge combine into a unity when they are view within the setting of the Christian interpretation of life.

It is commonly believed that the business of education is not merely to implement the fact of knowledge, but equally to foster the full growth and development of personality. It should be perfectly clear to you without stress, that in “Christian Education” the proper development of the characters of the taught is a paramount obligation on the part of the teacher. It should be necessary to add that in “Christian Education” the development of mind and character will proceed the more unitedly and harmoniously, because of the Christians conception of the essential wholeness and unity of all truth, a conception which is fundamental to a Christian interpretation of life.

No matter what images comes to your mind or to that of the person sitting next to you one thing we can agree on is that Christ must fit in that mental picture, for Christ is the  foundation in Christian Education.

THE PURPOSE AND CONTEXT OF CHRISTIAN EDUCATION

The purpose of Christian education is to bring people to a saving faith in Jesus Christ, to train them in a life of discipleship, and to equip them for Christian service in the world today. It is to develop in believers a biblical worldview that will assist them in making significant decisions from a Christian perspective. It is helping believers to “think Christianly” about all areas of life so that they can impact society with the message of the gospel. In essence, it is the development of a Christian worldview.

The goals, and values of Christian education are derived from a biblically based theological foundation. Worship, evangelism, discipleship, fellowship, and service are all drawn from the Scriptures and are included in any purpose and value statement for Christian education. Goals are developed from these key functions of the Church, and effective Christian education can be measured based upon the accomplishment of these important functions.

 

The primary setting for Christian education is the church. Actually, the Church’s education and ministry is probably the largest education endeavour in the world. Considering the youngest child through the oldest adult, the numbers involved in some form of Christian education ministry through the Church are significant. Christian education also takes place outside the walls of the church through Christian schools, Bible Studies, Camps, parachurch organizations, and other kinds of varied ministries.

Christian Education, then is more than merely teaching Christians. It is all of the above and much more.

CHRISTIAN EDUCATION IS GODLY OBLIGATION

Christians are under a sacred obligation to educate as God direct. The scriptures specifically spells out the responsibilities of the Christians to teach the word. “Feed my Lambs…. Feed my sheep” (John 21:15,16).

Other passages that can also be cited in scripture for Christian Education are:

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever you do in word of deed, do all in the name if the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” Col.3:16-17

“And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in your heart: And you shall teach them  diligently unto your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up.” Deut 6:6-7

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Prov. 22:6

God directed that such education is to be comprehensive. “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe ALL THINGS whatsoever I have commanded you: and , lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matt.28:19,20)

It should be effective, emphasized on the command in Deut.6:6 “…teach them diligently.” It is  to be nurture and admonished in the Lord” Eph.6:4. This involves instruction and disciplinary guidance. The Church is the educative community which makes the educational programme functional within the circle of home and the local congregation  “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Rom.10:14)

ERA OF THE CHURCH FATHERS AND THEIR CONTRIBUTIONS TO CHRISTIAN EDUCATION

The Church in the early centuries numbered among its members many learned men. This was as a result of  great expansion of the Church in the them known world. These learned men of God were called “Church Fathers” because of their influence on education. They used their Greek philosophical background which they had before their contributions to the growth of the Church are mentioned in this lecture.

Justin Martyr (100-125) was the most famous second century Apologist (defender of faith). He was a students of Plato. His contribution was in his work to trace a real bond between pagan philosophy and Christianity.

Clement of Alexandria (150-215) was one of the Greek Philosophers. He had good knowledge of the biblical and Christian literature. He was one of the first Christian teachers who sought to bring philosophy to the support of faith. To him, knowledge is not opposed to faith but consists rather in a fuller comprehension of what is already in faith.

He advised that one can use secular philosophy for proper understanding of the universe and to grasp the truth of Christianity.

Origen (185-254) was probably the most influential early Writer and Teacher. He was instrumental to the writing of many  Commentaries which shed light to many of the misconception in biblical knowledge.

Cyril of Jerusalem (315-386) was an instructor of the catechumens at Jerusalem before he became Bishop of the city. He wrote a series of twenty-three addresses instructing catechumens. These addresses include lectures to candidates  for baptism and instructions to the same persons after they were baptised. His work gives insight into the creedal forms and the ceremonies of baptism of the early Church.

Basil the Great (331-379) schooled in Caesarea and Constantinople and also at the University of Athens. He became the founder of monastic life after his retirement from public teaching profession. He was deeply interested in the education of the poor. He was always on ground to contend against any act that frantenizes with moral debauchery.

Chrysostom (347-407) was the most prominent Doctor of the Great Church. He was one of the greatest preachers Christianity ever had. Even though he was brought up under pagan teachers in the school of Antioch, he withdrew from this teaching and gave his life to the study of the Scripture. He saw value in the pagan schools but did not give full approval to pagan education and frequently decried pagan philosophers. One of his greatest contributions was his book titled: On  “Vainglory and the Highway for parents to bring Up their Children.” He showed how parents should very simply tell their children the Bible stories and through them teach the  fundamental truth of the Christian faith. He stressed that the moral purpose of education is more important than anything else. He contributed immensely to the worship life of the  Church. One of his prayers is still frequently said in the Church till today:

Almighty God, who hast given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplications unto the, and dost promise, that when two or three are gathered together in the name. Thou wilt grant their requests; fulfill now, O Lord, the desires and petitions of thy servants, as may be most expedient for them: granting us in this world knowledge of thy truth, and in eth world to come life everlasting. Amen.

This prayer has been interpreted into many languages for the use of the Church.

Tertullian (150-230) A Lawyer before he was converted. He opined that reading pagan literature could endanger Christian faith and morals, therefore he recommended, “the study of pagan learning by Christians should be concerned only with detecting and refuting errors”. In his collections on School Masters and their difficulties, he stated that a Christian could not be a Teacher of pagan learning, and in his “Apologeticus” he defended Christians against their Pagan Adversaries. He wrote several tracts dealing with the needs of catechumens, emphasizing warning and instruction as the main duties of the Catechist.

Ambrose (340-399) A Lawyer who had held offices under the Emperor when the people of Milan elected him Bishop of the city. Above all else, he was an ecclesiastical Teacher whose absorbing concern was to win men for Christ. The conversion of Augustine was due to the influence of Ambrose. He was much influenced by the writings of Philo, the Jewish philosopher, who sought to fuse into a unity revealed in the Old Testament and the wisdom of the Greeks. His Chief work: De Officilis Ministrorum – a manual for Christian ethics intended primarily for the use of Ecclesiastics.

Augustine (354-430) The most illustrious of all the fathers of the Church. He was also born into a pagan family and received good literary education in various schools and became a professor of rhetoric. He taught in the Provinces of Africa, Milan and Rome. He was converted when he was thirty-three years old. He was the centre of ecclesiastical life in Africa where he was Bishop of Hippo for thirty three years. He shaped the thinking of Christian Theologians in Africa and the  world at large. Augustine was the founder of the Christian Philosophy and History and made outstanding contributions to the field of education. It has been said about Augustine that “He so moulded the Latin world that it is really he who has shaped the education of modern minds”. In the  course of a few Centuries Augustinianism was established as official dogma.

His voluminous writings included: Treatise on education, passages bearing on the purpose of education, its content and method of instruction to be used. He prepared a guide for the use of  teachers in the Catechetical Schools instructing them to teach the Pupils according to his individual needs. Augustine did not see anything bad in pagan writings if one makes the rightful use of them and avoid their dangers. According to him, the pagan writings as used  by the ‘Church Fathers should be seen in the light of secular subjects such as Philosophy, Psychology and other sciences that we are having in our modern day secular school. Our Church leaders who had shaped the course of Christian education were products of these teachings but they used the principles and knowledge derived from such  schools to build the Church to its present enviable position.

Universities began through the activities of the Church from the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries. Teachers and students organized themselves into guilds within the Cathedral School and this in time became university.

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) set about to bring together the Greek thought of Aristole and the teachings of the Church. His life purpose was to bring Christianity into harmonious relation with civilization and science. As a result, he fixed the position of the Church, making reason the  interpreter of revealed truth and the formulator of doctrine. In Aquinas, scholasticism reached its highest point; it began to decline after him.

William of Occam (1300-1349) corroborated the statement of scouts. He taught that reason can prove nothing about God and that all dogmas of theology should be handed over to faith. The Church, he taught, should give up speculation and stress faith; it ought to return to the simplicity of the Apostles. Thus, Occam paved the way for Luther’s rejection of scholasticism, for Luther, it also represents a turning from controversial theology to the simple teaching of the Scripture.

Wycliffes: John Wycliffe (1324-1384) was the leader of this group. They believed in the purity of the Gospel. Their teaching includes

  1. Everything is based on the absolute will of God.
  2. The church militant is the whole number of the elect
  3. The Pope is not necessarily the head of the true Church, for it is not certain that he is even a member of it.

They were against prayers for the dead absolution, and the worship of saints. Wycliffe and his disciples carried on their educational work through writing distribution popular tracts and by organising bands of travelling teachers and preachers.

 The Huissites with its leader John Huss (1371-1415) made their contributions to religious and educational life of eth Church by printing the scriptures in Vernacular before the time of Luther. They had good system of schools and outstanding University. The supreme aim of the Hussites was to promote practical Christianity. They stressed purity of conduct , self-denying love to one’s neighbor and made the scriptures the one standard in matters of faith.

The Moravians were descendants of the Hussites. They gave primary place to the Bible, and  their first care was to instruct children in Christian ways. Count Zinzendorf, a Moravian worker, concentrate on children, gathering them into the Church in large numbers and arranging for their training on individual basis by dividing them into small classes under well trained teachers. The Moravuians were instrument to John Wesley’s conversion.

 AGENTS OF CHRISTIAN EDUCATION

The family: is the initial agency of Christian Education and remain so for a lifetime. Just as in the Bible times, the home today bears the greatest responsibility to carry out Christian Education. The family is the first school. The parents are the first teachers and  the teacher who has the most lasting impression. A child acquires a language, actively explore his environment, start to practice some social language, actively explore his environment, start to practice some social skills. In this day of working parents and single-parent families, the agencies of the church must adjust to fill the void caused by less time devoted to the parent-child relationship at home. In Christian Education, the cooperation between home and the church should be a two-way street, there should not be contention between the family and the church. The gifts to the  two institutions are interrelated. Luther says, in a sermon on the first commandment in 1528 said, “Every father of a family is a bishop in his house and the wife a bishopess. Therefore, remember that you in your homes are to help us carry on the ministry as we do in the Church? The Church and its educational agencies, therefore, cannot replace the home or be as effective as the home in Christian Education. The church should then provide assistance to parents in their duty of nurturing the children. However, this is often  best accomplished by serving as a resources and reference centre, as a provider of child development knowledge and parenting skills acquisition.

On this, the clergy who is the head of the church should take children ministry very seriously. The mistake some of us made is to believe that we are married only to the adult church whereas the most important organ of the church is the children department. One of the reasons why we are losing our children to other denomination or faiths is the uncared attitude some of our church leaders have towards the children and the youth. For any reasonable growth or development to happen in the church depends on the availability of the youths.

CHRISTIAN EDUCATION: THE MAIN SUBJECT MATTER

The Bible is the main subject matter, it is our spiritual food, both milk (1 Pet.2:2) and meat (Heb.5:13-14) given that we may grow thereby. We are to esteem the word even more than our physical food. (Job 23:12). It is a lamp into our feet and a  light unto our path (Psalm 119:105; Prov. 6:23) It is a hammer to break the hardened heart and a fire to cleanse and purify life (Jer.23:29). It is a sharp sword to cut away sinful habits (H4:12). When planted in mind and heart, it is a seed which  springs up to life eternal (1 Pet.1:23). It is the Christian strength  (Ps 19:7 “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes” and peace “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Ps.119:165). Small wonder that the devil does everything in his power to turn the believers away from the Bible and encourages every excuses which serve the Christians from source of victory.

The word of God as regards Christian education is a MIRROR. In the old time, it was a polished surface usually of metal which reflects images. In the modern day we have the looking glass. Figuratively, mirror is something that reflects or give likeness. The scripture reveals the word of God to us as a mirror (James 1:23-25). This is to say that as man views his natural likeness in the looking glass, he can view his spiritual condition in the word of God which is one of the result or expectation of Christian education. From  the mirror you see different spiritual conditions of people. A canal man, A spiritual infant/babe, mature Christians, etc.

The word of God is WATER. In the Bible, water has both positive and negative connotations. But I’m concerned only with the good side as recorded in psalm 18:30 “as for God, his way is perfect: the word of the LORD is tried: he is a buckler to all those that trust in him” Water is essential for human existence directly and indirectly. The natural water is  needed for about three things: drinking, washing and fruitfulness.

All this also carry spiritual applications. Water quenches thirst, brings satisfaction and refreshing. Consider Jesus interaction with the Samaritan woman (John 4:13-14) her thirst was quenched only at the word of Jesus. The word has brought satisfactions to  so many who formerly had insatiable thirst after things disapproved by God and that profitable them not (Luke 19:8).

The natural water is used in physical washing (Gen.18:3-4;19:2)  Elisha is depicted as one pouring water on  Elijah’s hands. Jesus washed His disciples feet (John 13:4-10) – the case of Jesus here is of a natural washing with spiritual significance. The Bible has references to washing that is well stated in Eph.5:25 “that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water” – the Word. The word is a water capable of washing from filthiness of sin and deliver from all bad habits.

The Bible is a SWORD – A spiritual sword (Eph.6:17), its very sharp (Heb.4:12) It is an instrument of war. It is both defensive (Gen.3:24) “So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubim’s, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life” and offensive i.e. it works for the users protection and also used to attack the enemy. It tells us therefore, that we have warfare against spiritual beings that are very wicked (Eph.6:12) It further reveals that we have weapons of warfare that are not perceptive to the physical eye, yet are mighty in God, to pull down the strongholds of the devil (2 Cor.10:4-5). For this sword to work. You have to

(i) Read and meditate on it (Josh.1:8)  (ii) Memorize it (iii) believe it (iv) Affirm it  (Heb.10:23) and Release it . the word becomes a defensive and offensive sword when it is released. Note how Jesus made use of it during His temptation (Matt.4:1-10) Nothing can prevail against the word.

Whatever the Agenda for church growth must center on the proper knowledge of THE WORD. This central document is studied in the theological Colleges and seminaries by subdividing it into many courses such as Old Testament, New Testament, Church History, Missionlogy, Polity, A.T.R., Homiletics, Demonology, etc. All these subjects are meant to equip the clergy to understand and interprete the mind of God correctly and adequately as much as possible. That is why it is “THEOLOGY” The study of God.

In our study of the word I recommend to the clergy the following format (i) continuous reading  (ii) word studies  (iii) spiritual life chart i.e. apply the study to life (iv) Biblical backgrounds (v) the ‘five W’ who? Where? When? What? Why? (vi) Doctrinal studies (vii) cross reference method (viii) keys studies (xix) prophetic studies  (John 10:13)

SUNDAY SCHOOL :  A TOOL FOR ENLARGING THE CHURCH: for those of you who are properly trained in the seminary or Theological Colleges. You can’t but have a full dose lecture on Sunday School under worship courses. This is pure evangelism that will not only populate the church numerically but more importantly is to bring souls to Christ. An effective Sunday School is equipped to reach various kinds of people, believers and unbelievers. If the division of the Sunday School is strictly adhered to, no one will be left out unreached, it’s a way of evangelizing neighbourhood and thereby enlarging the  body of Christ. By this operation, the equippers continue to be equipped by further training and education. From the Sunday School, teachers under the effective coordination of the clergy helps in no small measure to shape and sharpen the lives of the members and bring them to the full knowledge of God, Christ’s suffering, sin and the way out of sin. After conversion and training, a believer is fully ready for service. Hence the annual recruitment of workers into the Sunday school, enable the church to tap the talents of her members. Clergy should not abandon their role as the head and the director of the Sunday School. They should organize formal and periodical training for all the workers in various department of the church and ensure sound teaching of the word of God. He must be sure that in all the ministries in the church, a round peg must be in a round hole. He himself must be a student of the word, a lover of books, disciplined, educationally balanced and spiritually sound, to discharge his duty effectively.

AGENDA FOR CLERGY

Of enormous importance in understanding what church leaders do is the brief discussion with the Ephesians elders recorded in Acts 20. Here we learnt that “elders” and “overseers” are used as Synonymous terms (compare verses 17 and 28). Furthermore, we see that elder/overseers must function as shepherd (28-29). In Paul’s own testimony, he describes his ministry as preaching and  teachings, testifying and proclaiming as in Luke 19:44; Acts 1:20; 1 Tim.3:1; and 1 pet. 2:12. Though the Acts 20 does not specifically describe the teaching ministry of these elders, but we see from the explorations in the pastoral epistles how much of a role Christian education plays in elder responsibility. Furthermore the usage of ‘episkopos’ show is a ministry we have come to identify with “ruling” and “ordering”. The Bible describes it as a sharing, caring ministry in which elder serve God’s people. (Matt.25:36,43; Luke 1:68;78;7:16; Acts 6:3; 7:23; 15:14,36; heb.2:6; 12:15; James 1:27; 1 pet.5:2.

As a premier educator, the Apostle Paul offer solid emphasis for the Church’s instructional ministry. He harmonize perfectly the roles of evangelism and edification, a balance we find difficult to maintain in the late 21st Century. Christian education as mentioned earlier is not based on abstract. The purpose of its subject must  be determined. Example is taking from some of the letters of Paul. For instance: the letter to the troubled church at Corinth were hardly designed to identify a theology of education, but great truth about teaching flow there from Paul uses ‘disasko’ fifteen times, two of which  appeared in (1 Cor. 4:17;11:14). Romans 2:21 uses the word in the traditional sense of teaching others. Rom.12:7 deals with the  teaching office (gift) in the church; and Gal1:12 refers to handling on a tradition. In 1 cor.4:17, Paul promised to send Timothy to remind the Corinthians of what he teaches everywhere in every church.” In the latter part of Chapter 12, where Paul identifies spiritual gifts, he places teachers just behind the apostles and prophets (v.28). In chapter 14, the key idea of the entire section deals with the edification of God’s people in the church (1 Cor. 11:14; Eph. 4:21; Col. 1:28; 2:7; 3:16; 2 Thess 2:15; 1 Tim. 2:12; 4:11; 6:2; 2 Tim. 2:2; Tit.1:11)

In the Pastoral Epistles I referred to earlier. Here we find Timothy and Titus being instructed by Apostle Paul regarding the spiritual quality of their lives and the extent of their educational ministries in Ephesus and Crete. Without minimizing the significance of the gospel, we could see that a set of doctrines must be communicated to the people of God. The word ‘didaskalia’ used only six times in the New Testament up to this point (Matt. 15:9; Mark 7:7; Rom. 12:7; 15:4; Eph. 4:14; Col. 2:22). Here, Believers developed fixed doctrinal traditions, a corpus of truth to be perpetuated in the Church. In 2 Timothy 3:16 we discover that God’s inspired scripture “words for teaching” and instruction, Paul instructing Timothy how to educate the believers at Ephesus. Titus 2 represents a vertical model of adult education. Five educational groupings surface in the chapter: Older men, older women, young women, young men and slaves. If one single word can identify the educational thought in the book of Hebrews would be the word discipline. In Hebrew 12 emphasis that educational process depends on the orderliness of discipline and the requirement of punishment. The immediate context obviously deals with the  heavenly father and His earthly children but one can quickly see a principle easily adapted to Christian parents and even classroom teacher: “NO discipline seems pleasant at the time but painful. Later on, however it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained’ (v.11) the other passages of great educational consequences emphasizes maturity, another strategic concept in Christian education 5:11-6:3. Here the author scolds his readers, observing that they should have been teachers, but instead they need to be taught again.

CONCLUSION: The difference between Educational and Non Educational clergy is the way of approach to the word of God/Bible. This clearly shows in the way one who is well trained from a recognized theological institutions who by study and practice will excel in his teaching, preaching and all his pastoral work. Correct interpretation of the WORD depends on an in-depth study of the scriptures. For any meaningful planning or goals in the Church ministry to be realized, the clergy must apply knowledge he has acquired through various study, readings, practice, worships, seminars, etc. Christian Education in full.

 

The Rt. Revd. Dr. J. Akin Atere

Bishop, Diocese of Awori & Lecturer