Even before our daughter was born, people were telling us how to raise her.
Some said we should home school. Others advocated for public school. Then there were those who railed against day care. And vaccines. And infant formula.
To be fair, these people probably only wanted the best for our child, Aria Rose. But my wife and I started to see a dangerous pattern in this type of advice — it was given as Gospel truth. If we home schooled Aria, we weren’t letting her be a “light” in the public schools. If we sent her to public school, we were allowing her to be taught by “godless” teachers. And if my wife wanted to go back to work, we were just letting others “raise” our daughter.
Unfortunately, none of this advice has anything to do with the Gospel. While the Scripture gives general commands about parenting, it has nothing to say about specific forms of schooling, day care, vaccines or formula. And yet, as a former homeschooler, I have seen this type of thinking prevail in some religious subcultures of American Christianity — especially the modern homeschooling movement. Thankfully, I had good parents who taught me well, but look at this quote from the introduction to a K4 A Beka Book:
“The Christian home school is not a school merely for the sake of academics, but for the sake of fulfilling the church’s God-ordained role in carrying out the Christian education mandate … Just as we believe it would be wrong to place a student under the influence of godless teachers, so we believe it would be wrong to place him under the influence of godless, humanistic readers and teaching materials.”
This textbook uses Deuteronomy 6:7, Proverbs 22:6 and 2 Timothy 3:15-17 as proof. But if you look at the context of those passages, the authors are specifically referring to teaching the ancient Scriptures to children — not math or science:
- Deuteronomy 6:7: You shall teach them diligently to 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
- Proverbs 22:6: Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it
- 2 Timothy 3:15-17: From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work
Of course, this is not the first time a religious subculture has twisted Scripture for its own gain. Jesus himself called out the Pharisees for their narrow-minded interpretations of the law in Matthew 23:
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others … Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees — hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.”
In the previous chapter, Jesus summarized the law in two simple commands:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
That’s the true Gospel.
Nothing more. Nothing less. There is no law that states:
- Thou shalt home school thy children
- Thou shalt not send thy child to day care
- Thou shalt not vaccinate thy children
- Thou shalt only breast feed
- Thou shalt vote Republican
- Thou shalt attend a Protestant church
- Thou shalt not drink
- Thou shalt not smoke
- Thou shalt not have oral sex
- And thou shalt especially not challenge these laws
The good news is, groups like Homeschoolers Anonymous have been recently challenging these laws — and the hypocrites who enforce them. The community coordinator for HA, my brother R. L. Stollar, recently wrote this in a powerful story called “The Stones You Cast, The Tables You Built”:
“If we threaten your bottom line, if we call your idols into question, if we melt your golden calves and dance like David in their shimmering puddles while we reclaim our lost youth, it’s on you whether you will listen or pick up stones … And we will keep overturning those tables. We will keep overturning the tables made from the stones you cast.”
Jesus himself overturned the tables of hypocrites in the temple so that we might experience freedom grounded in love — not man-made laws. Of course, living a life without those extra rules can be scary. It’s easier to define love by our lists. I’m guilty of that, especially when it comes to raising Aria.
But the beauty of the Gospel is that I don’t have to be a perfect father.
I can fail. I can mess up. And each time I do, my true Father in Heaven is waiting to welcome me back home.