What is the relationship between a Christian education and a public education?

In recent years we have seen the beginnings of sectarian schools in numbers that are unprecedented in American history—save for the manifestation of parochial schools sponsored by the Roman Catholic Church. In the case of Catholic theology and practice, the church has always seen education as an extremely important aspect of its whole program. For the most part, Protestants have been content with the public school system. Part of the reason for that is that the Protestant church was intimately involved in establishing the systems and structures that were communicated through public coeducation years ago.

There has been a growing secularism in this country and a new understanding of the concept of separation of church and state, which many people understand to mean a separation of the state from God. Classically, both were seen as being under the sovereignty of God and were committed to a basically common value system. That’s no longer the case. Now the state has to walk a tightrope of human rights to make sure it doesn’t do anything that will establish one religion over another in the school system.

The concept of antiestablishmentarianism historically has argued against establishing a particular Christian denomination as the state-endorsed church, as in the case of the Church of England. Now it has come to mean that Christianity has no particular benefit over Judaism or Islam or Hinduism or anything else. It tends to be the understanding of the state that public education is not to be religiously oriented in any way; it is to be neutral. This, of course, is manifestly impossible because you cannot have a curriculum of any type that is totally neutral. Every curriculum has a perspective, and that perspective is either theocentric or it is not. Either it acknowledges the ultimate sovereignty and supremacy of God or it does not. It may remain silent, but that silence is a statement.

I would say the great difference between Christian education and public education right now is in their commitment to their ultimate perspectives, whether it is God centered or not God centered. Christians have to make a decision as to whether to receive an education that’s competitive in the other disciplines or to pay twice as much to get that God-centered perspective. Frankly, many Christian schools are not excellent in the academic disciplines, and so it becomes a very difficult decision to make.

©1996 by R.C. Sproul. Used by permission of Tyndale.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. ©1982 by Thomas Nelson.
Used by permission. All rights reserved.