Is teaching the Bible in public schools a good idea?

Is teaching the Bible in public schools a good idea?  I dare say, most non-Christians answer that question with a great big “No!”  But what about Christians?  Do Christians think it’s a good idea for public schools to teach the Bible?  For what it’s worth, President Trump and the Supreme Court of the U.S. both say it’s at least legal.  And while the legal issues play a big part in the discussion, that’s not my question.  My question for Christians to pray about and answer is whether or not it’s a good idea.

Is teaching the Bible in public schools a good idea?The question is asked by the Washington Examiner.  The headline for the story is It’s not controversial: Bible literacy classes are legal.  It’s in the opinion section, not news.  As such, it’s important to know a little something about the author.  Here’s his bio line at the bottom of the article.

Hiram Sasser is general counsel to First Liberty Institute, a nonprofit law firm dedicated to defending religious freedom.

The First Liberty Institute web site says this:

First Liberty is the largest non-profit legal firm in America solely dedicated to defending and protecting our most important civil liberty: religious freedom.

So – the author is a member of the legal firm that defends “religious freedom”.  BTW, according to their case list they are not Christian only.  They also have at least one current case where they defend Muslims.

Is Bible literacy a religious freedom issue?

Here’s an excerpt from an article on Christianity Today:

Christians claim to believe the Bible is God’s Word. We claim it’s God’s divinely inspired, inerrant message to us. Yet despite this, we aren’t reading it. A recent LifeWay Research study found only 45 percent of those who regularly attend church read the Bible more than once a week. Over 40 percent of the people attending read their Bible occasionally, maybe once or twice a month. Almost 1 in 5 churchgoers say they never read the Bible—essentially the same number who read it every day.

That’s a literacy problem.  Or should I say an illiteracy problem?  In any case, this lack of reading the Bible isn’t because of a religious freedom problem here in the U.S.  It’s a basic problem of people seem to just not care enough about the God they claim to believe in to even bother to read what these same people supposedly believe is God’s word.

The CT article continues:

Because we don’t read God’s Word, it follows that we don’t know it. To understand the effects, we can look to statistics of another Western country: the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom Bible Society surveyed British children and found many could not identify common Bible stories. When given a list of stories, almost 1 in 3 didn’t choose the Nativity as part of the Bible and over half (59 percent) didn’t know that Jonah being swallowed by the great fish is in the Bible.

You know what?  The UK doesn’t have a religious freedom problem causing their Bible illiteracy either.

There are no laws in either country preventing people from reading the Bible.  There’s no difficulty finding a church to learn about the Bible.  Not to mention the fact that there are also plenty of web sites, including ones run by churches.

No, the lack of knowledge about the Bible, at least in the U.S. and the UK has nothing to do with a lack of religious freedom.  It’s pretty much about either a don’t care attitude or else being just plain too lazy.

So what’s the deal with this religious freedom claim?

It’s a false argument.  It’s something to catch the attention of Christians, especially evangelical Christians.  And most especially, is targeting those very same people who don’t read and / or don’t understand the Bible.

Earlier, I pointed out that the Supreme Court has already decided that teaching the Bible in public school is legal.  The catch here is what, exactly, is being taught?

First, here’s what’s not being taught: faith!

This intellectual approach to the Hebrew texts and New Testament is well within the Constitution’s parameters of neither coercing nor inhibiting religious activity, because the course seeks to increase knowledge, not to impart faith. These courses are academic, not dogmatic.

If your really a Christian, tell me – what is the value of knowing what the Bible says if the process of learning it is not allowed to talk about faith?

And do you know why it’s not legal to impart faith?  It’s a violation of religious freedom, according to the Constitution of the U.S.  So, under the guise of supporting religious freedom, this president wants to teach the Bible in public schools.  But faith cannot be part of what’s taught because that’s a violation of religious freedom.  It has to be, because it’s not legal for a public school to endorse a religion.

And so what we have seems to be President Trump pandering to the religious right by making promises that mean nothing.  And way too much of the religious right is just going along with it, without realizing that they’re getting absolutely nothing!  Worse yet, as we’ll see – they’re losing something.  Something really important.

The government is not in the business of supporting Christianity

Let’s face it, the government is not the place to, in any fashion, learn about Christianity.  At least it’s not in a democracy.  A country that supports a religion, such as what happens in many Muslim countries, isn’t a democracy.  It’s a theocracy.

If you’re not familiar with what a theocracy is, here’s the definition from dictionary.com:

a form of government in which God or a deity is recognized as the supreme civil ruler, the God’s or deity’s laws being interpreted by the ecclesiastical authorities.

That’s not what the U.S. is.  It does not endorse any religion.  By law, it cannot.  And without a constitutional change, it never will.  And that’s not what’s on the table here.  Honestly, that’s a good thing.  Remember why the original colonists came over to the “new world”?  In large part, it was to escape the Christianity of the Crown – get away from what monarchs in Europe were doing to Christianity.  Have we not learned that lesson?

Should the government endorse Christianity?

I have always answered this question with a resounding no.  Remember the zealots from the New Testament?

The party of the Zealots, described by Josephus as the ‘fourth philosophy’ among the Jews (BJ 2.117; Ant. 18.23), was founded by *JUDAS the Galilean, who led a revolt against Rome in AD 6 (*CENSUS). They opposed the payment of tribute by Israel to a pagan emperor on the ground that this was treason to God, Israel’s true King.  [1]Bruce, F. F. (1996). Zealot. In D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer, & D. J. Wiseman (Eds.), New Bible dictionary (3rd ed., p. 1263). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: … Continue reading

These are the people who wanted Jesus to overthrow the Roman Empire and set up His rule here on earth.  The reality is that the Jewish people should have known better.  It was lack of real knowledge about their scripture that blinded them to the reason Jesus was here.  But Jesus very clearly answered the question of whether or not His followers, now known as Christians, should overthrow the government:

Jesus Before Pilate

18:29-40 pp — Mt 27:11-18, 20-23; Mk 15:2-15; Lk 23:2, 3, 18-25

Jn 18:28 Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”

Jn 18:30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”

Jn 18:31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”
“But we have no right to execute anyone,” the Jews objected. 32 This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled.

Jn 18:33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

Jn 18:34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

Jn 18:35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jn 18:36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

Jn 18:37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

Clearly, Jesus wasn’t interested in taking over the government Himself.  At least not in the first coming.

He also never told us to take over the government either.  Of course, back then it would have to have been by force.  Maybe because force isn’t required today, some Christians feel like the ballot box is an OK way to accomplish the goal that Jesus wanted no part of 2,000 years ago?  I just can’t see that.

The simple fact is that Jesus gave us the way to “make” Christians.

The Great Commission

Mt 28:16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Like it or not, Jesus wants us to “make Christians”.  Not by getting people to vote for people in the government.  But by talking with them.  By teaching them.  And not by teaching them via public school teachers.  Jesus wants Christians to teach non-Christians about Christianity.

And just in case that wasn’t plain enough – or maybe because people didn’t want to get it – Paul wrote this:

The Armor of God

Eph 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

Eph 6:19 Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Did you catch the first part:

our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms

So let’s not make it a battle against flesh and blood.  Realize that it is a battle against spiritual forces.  In other words, it’s not a battle at the ballot box to try to pass laws to force people to follow Christian values.

That’s a weird thing to do anyway – forcing someone to follow Christian values.  Jesus never did that.  He never told us to do that.  In fact, when He sent out His disciples, He told them:

Mt 10:11 “Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. 12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. 15 I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. 16 I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town.  So who are we that we think doing the exact opposite of what Jesus told His disciples is somehow “Christian”?  Jesus set the example for us to follow.  It wasn’t a suggestion.  It wasn’t something to be taken as optional.  It was the way we are supposed to do it.  And the government had nothing to do with it.

One more problem – who teaches the Bible in public schools?

If the governmental issue hasn’t been put to rest for you just yet, let’s look at another issue.  Who is going to be teaching the Bible in public schools?  Will it be a Christian?  Will it be an atheist?  Maybe a Muslim?  Or how about a “none”?  How do you feel about someone who believes in the so-called prosperity gospel teaching kids about Christianity?

We have to realize that as soon as public schools teach the Bible, the kids are going to get some sort of bias from whoever the teacher happens to be.  The teachers are human – they can’t help it.  No matter how well-meaning they might be, personal biases cannot be kept out.

The question is whether we’re willing to accept whoever happens to get assigned to teach the subject?  At least when we go to a church, we have the choice of which one to attend.  Oh – there’s that religious freedom thing again.  The simple truth is that we, in the U.S., are free to attend whatever church we want.  Once again, religion freedom isn’t the issue.  Not in this country.

What will be taught about the Bible in public schools?

Once we move beyond the question of who teaches the Bible, there’s the question of what will be taught?  Guess what?  We don’t have control over that either.  Once again, the freedom of religion rules in this country don’t allow for some things to be taught.  And what it taught about the Bible must conform to strict guidelines.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the practice in its 1963 decision, Abington Township v. Schempp. Since then, most advocates on both sides of the religion-in-schools debate agree that the Bible may be taught as literature. Many also agree, as the Supreme Court affirmed in Schempp, that the Bible may be taught for its “historic qualities” as part of a “secular program of education.”

Indeed, these courses are an academic study of the Hebrew texts and the New Testament. The goal of Biblical literacy curriculum is an understanding of the Bible’s impact on the history, literature, laws, and government of Western Civilization. Knowledge of the content, characters, poetry, and philosophy of the Hebrew texts and the New Testament provides an invaluable insight into understanding modern culture. An accurate study of Western Civilization is, in fact, impossible without it.

Literature.  History.  Secular.  Academic study.  Government.

Do you realize what’s not there?  Faith.  Belief.

The other thing that’s not there, just in case you haven’t noticed – is Christianity!  Why are Christians so interested in having  the Bible taught, not as Christian scripture, but as a history or literature study?

How can this kind of study even begin to teach the basics of something like:

Jn 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”

Without belief, without faith, and without a Biblical discussion of what dark and light meant, there’s no Christianity.  And yet, a strict reading of the rules of religious freedom do not permit those things to be brought up.

Is this really what Christians should be pushing for?  Or is this an attempt to control Christianity?  To water  Christianity down to the point where it becomes a secular gathering every Sunday morning?  Or worse yet, where it becomes a government controlled “religion” that owes its existence and gets its meaning from the government?

That’s what’s happening in China.  At least in China, the true Chinese Christians know better and are maintaining their own underground churches and practicing real Christianity.  But here in the U.S., too many influential Christians are actually supporting this government take-over of Christianity.

And too many people who call themselves Christians are willing to go along with this.  Supporting it even.  I think that’s because it’s “easy”.  Just like they want easy Christianity for themselves, they want it for everyone else as well.  Go to church maybe for Christmas and Easter.  Read the Bible maybe once or twice a year – maybe Christmas and Easter.

I’ve got news for people like that.  That’s not Christianity.  Not even close.

The Greatest Commandment

22:34-40 pp — Mk 12:28-31

Mt 22:34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Mt 22:37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Here’s the thing.  all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind isn’t attending church a couple times a year.  Or reading the Bible a couple times a year.  Going to church every Sunday, reading the Bible every day, and not changing our lives in any manner – that’s not Christian either.  And Christianity certainly is not turning the Great Commission over to the government to have them do it in public schools.

Conclusion

So – is teaching the Bible in public schools a good idea?

No, it isn’t.  Not for non-Christians.  But even more so – it’s a horrible idea for Christianity.  Too many so called-Christians may not notice the difference.  But for the ones who really get it – have faith – know what the Holy Spirit does in their lives – it’s an awful idea.

I don’t understand at all why any leading / influential Christians support this.  To me, there’s nothing of God in it.  When we look at the great lengths that people go to in some countries to get to a Christian service, turning the Great Commission over to the government is beyond belief.

People who live in countries where Christians are persecuted risk their lives to go to some hidden / secret location to attend a Christian service.  And we, in the U.S., where there is already incredible religious freedom, are actually trying to give away our religious freedom and turn the teaching of Christianity over to the government.

This is just so sad.

Footnotes

1Bruce, F. F. (1996). Zealot. In D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer, & D. J. Wiseman (Eds.), New Bible dictionary (3rd ed., p. 1263). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

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