Cultivating Christian Character and Conscience

Planting the seeds of a Biblical worldview:
Part Two in a series by Dr. Carole Adams. Read Part One here.

The mission of Christian schooling is to form genuine, lasting discipleship and a comprehensive Biblical worldview in God’s children. Yet, many Christian school graduates succumb to the overwhelming influence of the secular culture, leaving the church and their walk with the Lord. 

While there will always be “spiritual attrition” in the Kingdom, parents and teachers can be more effective disciple-makers and Biblical worldview-formers.  The effectiveness of Christian education depends upon a thoroughly Christian philosophy, an authentically Christian methodology, and a consistently Christian curriculum.  If any one of the components is at odds with the others, the impact is weakened.  Ideally, the methods of teaching Christian children should be in harmony with the teaching methods demonstrated in the greatest textbook, the Bible, by the greatest Teacher, Jesus.  

What is Biblical methodology?

A close look at teaching methodology shows us that while the Bible contains many different subjects, topics, histories, proverbs, poems, letters, and stories, yet all form the context of a single truth: The Gospel.  This marvel is the result of recurring principles – the unity of truth that connects Genesis to Revelation – without contradiction, with authority, and with persistent emphasis.  Those recurring principles bear a current of revelation and instruction containing vast amounts of knowledge encompassing the wisdom of a whole scope of history, and carrying the power to reform the human heart.  We can learn from Biblical methodology.

After teaching experiences in both public and Christian school classrooms, I was uncertain that either fulfilled my hope for my own children’s education.  In seeking answers, I was introduced to Biblical classical education—the Principle Approach.  This method, the product of the Reformation practiced in the formative years of our nation, drew my heart as it places the Bible at the base of every subject of the curriculum.  This method causes the student to grapple with truth, to reason logically, and to articulate and apply truth in every area of life.  

Based upon recurring principles, the Principle Approach identifies seven bedrock Biblical principles applied to all life and learning. By teaching and learning basic Biblical principles in every subject and in every life situation, we consistently, authoritatively, and authentically turn our children’s hearts towards God.  Such schooling ensures them of the all-encompassing wisdom of God and his Word as preparation for a purposeful life and for eternity.  

Seven Biblical Principles

What are those principles and how are they taught?  Of the seven foundational Biblical principles, the first two describe the personal relationship of the child to truth. “God’s Principle of Individuality” and “The Christian Principle of Self-government”, as described in the first article in this series, inculcate an understanding of the nature of God and of man in relation to life; ‘nature’ comprehends all the works of God; the essence, essential qualities or attributes of a thing, which constitute it what it is; as the nature of the soul.

The next two principles continue to describe the personal relationship of the child to truth. The “Principle of Christian Character” and “Conscience, the Most Sacred Property” inculcate a respect for both character and conscience with the determination through Christ to live righteously. 

As the Principle of Christian Character is taught through the various subjects and across the grade levels, children develop the discernment to recognize character as the impetus of behavior, good or bad. Children observe that the internal character is causative to external behavior. As they analyze the character of individuals in history, literature, science, and the Bible, the impact and nobility of Christian character leads them to love goodness and God as all-good. 

A recent incident illustrates this principle: As her son played on the playground while waiting for an appointment, a Mom noticed him interacting pleasantly with another child. When it was time to leave, he said, “I don’t know who that little boy is.”  The mother asked, “Did you tell him your name and ask his?”  The son replied, “Yes, but I mean, I don’t know who he is on the inside.”  Praise God for this evidence of character discernment in a second grader. 

The “Principle of Conscience as the Most Sacred Property” gives children ownership of the property that most personally shapes their lives, the property of conscience—that celestial spark placed within them by God.  This principle teaches children that keeping a good conscience is a stewardship guarded by their consent.  Behavior correction centers on leading the child to recognize the choice made and its consequence and to plan proper behavior for future need. Habits of conscience are thus formed. In the words of a first grader, “My conscience is a little voice inside, and if I don’t listen to it, it gets quieter and quieter.”

Leading Ideas and the Principle Approach

Recurring Biblical principles lay the underpinnings of thousands of leading ideas that relate to every topic of life.  Benjamin Rush in 1786 said, “The human mind runs as naturally into principles as it does after facts.  It submits with difficulty to those restraints or partial discoveries which are imposed upon it in the infancy of reason.  Hence the impatience of children to be informed upon all subjects that relate to the invisible world…. I maintain that there is no book of its size in the whole world that contains half so much useful knowledge for the government of states or the direction of the affairs of individuals as the Bible.”

One of the most instructive scenes in the Gospels contrasts adult short-sightedness with the intrinsic value of children: “Then the children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray.  The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.’”  Matthew 19:13-14  

Jesus rebuked attempts to ‘hinder’ the children. ‘Rebuke,’ a strong word, means to chide, reprove, or reprehend for a fault.  Some of His strongest language and imagery warned about ‘hindering’ children.  “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Matthew 18:5

The Challenge of Christian Schooling

Surely today, we have learned the lessons of Scripture, and we know better than to hinder children from Jesus.  The role of the home is to form Christian character, and the role of the church is to cultivate Christian conscience. We prepare children with the Christian character and conscience upon which schooling will build knowledge and wisdom for life.  Or do we? 

A glance at the culture today clearly shows the loss of true godly education.  Christian families and many Christian churches fail to recognize the erosion of character and conscience resulting from secular education.  However ‘safe’ the secular schoolroom may seem, its mechanism is secular and it is forming the child’s character, conscience, and worldview.  Education is formative of more than intellect, shaping the heart and soul of the child, the affections and tastes, and the character and conscience.  

In such a culture, in such a time as this, how do we “let” the children come?  This mission belongs to every Christian.  Progressives aim education at the goal of dependency and conformity. Ponder the original, Biblical definition of education:

EDUC̵A´TION, n. [L. educatio.] Education comprehends all that series of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits of youth, and fit them for usefulness in their future stations. To give children a good education in manners, arts and science, is important; to give them a religious education is indispensable; and an immense responsibility rests on parents and guardians who neglect these duties.

This definition encompasses the whole child and is internally directed—mind, habits, manners, temper.  Notice that education is a ‘series’ – a unified, connecting-the-dots experience. How much of what we know as education today is fact-driven, externally stimulated and measured?  Notice that ‘instruction’ assumes ‘discipline.’  It’s not enough to instruct; real teaching instills ‘discipline’ — to prepare by instructing in correct principles and habits. 

The Goal of Christian Education:  Christian Character

Christian character is the gold of the Kingdom and of the Republic; it is a sustaining quality of both.  There are hundreds, thousands of examples, in the Bible and in history, literature, science, the church, the family, in law and government—in every subject of the curriculum, of the power of Christian character combined with a good conscience to impact history and empower the Kingdom of God.  

We have the liberty in the Christian classroom to lift the eyes of our children to those examples and equip them to go and do likewise.  Let’s make the most of it!

ENDNOTES: Rush, Benjamin, “Thoughts Upon the Mode of Education Proper in a Republic”.  Addressed to the Legislature and Citizens of the State, Thomas Dobson, Philadelphia, 1786.

Dr. Carole Adams serves as president of the Foundation for American Christian Education, is the editor of its Noah Plan K-12 curriculum, and author of Classic Grammar, a literature-based K-8 English program. The Adamses founded StoneBridge School in Chesapeake, Virginia, and have a son, two daughters, and seven grandchildren.

This article originally appeared in The Renewanation Review® magazine. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted here by permission of Renewanation. For more information regarding Renewanation, visit Renewanation.org.

This article is part two in a series by Dr. Carole Adams. Read Part One here.

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