During the nineteenth century, every state in the country abandoned the Biblical view that the education of children is a parental responsibility, and each one set up a system of government schools that made all children eligible to be educated at public expense. Many citizens protested, calling the system “anti-parental education,” pointing out public education’s communist foundation, and citing statistics that proved that crime and other social ills dramatically increased anywhere such school systems were used.[i] Over time, however, compulsory education laws were added, requiring all children to attend a public or private school. Many states, including Nebraska, eventually decided to regulate all education, including private, religious schools.
The Issue for Parents
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, many Christian parents in Nebraska became concerned about the education their children were receiving in the public schools. While the parents’ own education had seemed “value-neutral,” or “mildly anti-Christian,” it was apparent to those who investigated the public-school curriculum that much of what children were being taught was obviously hostile to Christian faith. These parents examined God’s Word and realized that God held them directly accountable for the education their children received. God had commanded them to train up their children in His ways, not in the ways of the world.
Decisions to be Made
Many parents decided to keep their children in the public schools, yet try at home to counteract the schools’ non-Christian teaching and influences. But others came to believe that the Biblical job of parenting was two-pronged: it required parents not only to provide godly teaching, but also to provide protection from ungodly influences. These people took seriously the apostle Paul’s exhortation to “keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: Which some professing have erred concerning the faith” (I Timothy 6:20-21a).
Many parents enrolled their children in Christian schools which were approved and regulated by the state of Nebraska. A few found other like-minded parents and established new, state-approved schools (a long and costly endeavor).
Only One Option
But others found themselves alone, without the teaching certificates and costly resources the state required. They could not in good conscience keep their children in godless institutions, and yet they saw no way for their only alternative, that of home schooling, to meet the state’s approval. It was obvious that a serious usurpation of Biblical rights and responsibilities had taken place, for God had entrusted children to parents, and not to government. Indeed, He had commanded parents to teach their children in accordance with His Word, but the state had enacted laws which forbade them to do so! These parents determined to take their stand on the Bible and declare with Peter and the other apostles, “We ought to obey God rather than men.”
The Issue for Church Ministries
During this period, many pastors and other church leaders also recognized the ungodly influences in the public schools. These people shared their insights with their congregations, teaching that children should be instructed in the ways of God. Since the church was given a teaching ministry by God, they felt responsible to establish church schools where children would be daily taught the Word of God. The state of Nebraska had previously decided to regulate private, church-sponsored education, despite the First Amendment to the Constitution, which said, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” The churches believed that any regulation and prohibition of their ministries clearly violated the United States Constitution.
Who is Lord of the Church?
The issue was also one of Lordship. Who was the Lord of the church and its ministries, God or Caesar? The ability to license or certify implied the power to permit or deny. If God led a church to open a school, must it first get permission from a governmental agency? What if the agency said “no”? What if a church believed its pastor or others in the congregation had been called by God to teach even though they did not possess the state-required teaching certificates? What if a governmental agency said these individuals could only receive state certificates by taking courses which violated their faith?
Courage Under Fire
A few courageous churches decided to claim God as the rightful Sovereign of His church by continuing to do what they believed He had commanded. If they were prosecuted by the government for their faith, they prayed that they would be counted worthy to join the myriad of believers who had been persecuted for taking similar stands in the past, believers such as the early Christians, John Huss, Martin Luther, John Bunyan, the Anabaptists, and the Pilgrims.
[i] Zach. Montgomery, Poison Drops in the Federal Senate: The School Question From a Parental and Non-sectarian Stand-point (Washington: Gibson Bros., 1889; reprinted New York: Arno Press, 1972). Mr. Montgomery was the Assistant Attorney General of the United States.