Legalism and the Christian School Movement, Part 1

Tags 

Introduction

Last May, discussion here at SI about Heritage Christian School in Findlay, OH and the senior who chose a public high school prom over his own graduation ceremony revealed a rift on the issue of legalism. The majority were certainly comfortable with the rule against students attending a high school prom. But some thought such rules were legalistic. While I have had some deep misgivings about the rules culture in Fundamentalist schools over the years, a recent three-year study of Luke helped me to crystallize my views on this. During this study, I spent much time reflecting on our Lord’s confrontations with the Pharisees.

At this moment, most of you want to skip this post. “Oh, it’s the old ‘all Fundies are Pharisees’ argument,” is what you’re probably thinking. Nothing could be further from my intentions. It’s clear to me that our Lord did not cause an enormous volume of His teachings against the Pharisees to be preserved for the ages merely to warn us about a sect that would be extinct by AD 136. These teachings serve as a warning to all of us who are “religious” (in the nicest sense of the word). Legalism is entrenched deep in our hearts. It is a strong tendency in all humanity, at one level or another. It is basic to all false religions and creeps into adherents of true religion unless we are very careful.

A further denial: My concerns about legalism being inherent in such rule structures are not intended as an affront to the school in Findlay or the associated church. The pastor of that church is an old friend of mine, and I have great trust in him. I am certain the school is administrated well and has a Scriptural reason for everything they do. I don’t believe Gordon Dickson is capable of anything less.

Thesis

While there are doubtless many fine Christian schools which do not operate in a legalistic fashion, I believe the majority of Christian schools operate with these three fallacious legalistic premises prominent in their thinking.

  1. Man-made rules that prevent violations of God’s rules have inherent spiritual value (which I will address here in Part 1).
  2. Rules promote godliness, in that behavior change leads to heart change.
  3. Enforcement of righteousness is valid and valuable as a first step to sanctification.

I will address Premises 2 and 3 in Part 2.

False Premise 1: Man-made rules that prevent violations of God’s rules have inherent spiritual value.

In Luke 6:1-11, Matthew 12:1-14, and Mark 2:23-3:6 we find two Sabbath stories. In each of these, the Pharisees posit that the disciples or Christ Himself have broken the Sabbath. A little background on the Sabbath teaching of the time reveals that the Jews had become obsessed with protecting people from working on the Sabbath, “work” being exactly what God had forbidden for the Sabbath day. When confronted with regulation, the legalistic nature of humanity seeks to understand exactly what it can get away with.

So the Jewish leaders had created a complex set of regulations to define what was work on the Sabbath. Lawyers could lose themselves in the fruit of this regulatory process for years.

  • “Fivel, throw me that dinner roll.” Is that work? If it is thrown in the house, no. If the roll is thrown from inside the house to the outside, yes.
  • Cooking? If the crust won’t be formed on the baked product by sundown Friday, don’t start! You would be causing work to be done.
  • On the Sabbath you can pour cold water into warm water but not warm water into cold. Increasing heat is causing work (an interestingly precise definition for work in a pre-scientific age).
  • You can move a chair to sit in, but if it makes a furrow in the dirt, then you have plowed—and that is work. So don’t drag it.
  • You cannot take a shower because the hot water might accidentally clean the floor, which would be work.

You see how the attempt to micro-define all work quickly ran out of control.

The leaders of the Jews were creating a seyag (fence) around the law. Their philosophy was that it was the proper role of spiritual leadership to fence the law to avoid violations. In the face of uncertainty about what might constitute work on the Sabbath, the Pharisees had set out to define it with fences, and then rigorously enforced their fence with the full weight of the original law.

It didn’t matter if you thought you were working on the Sabbath. Their fence had defined your activity as working on the Sabbath. Violating their fence made you a Sabbath breaker.

In the Luke passage, Jesus points out that the effect of their regulation actually contravened the Lord’s original intent. The effect of their fences would have left the disciples hungry on the Sabbath as they traveled, and would have left the man with the deformed hand still deformed! Thus the Sabbath, given as a blessing to man (Mark 2:27), would become a curse! The “Lord of the Sabbath” rejected this reasoning and declared the doing of good to be always right on the Sabbath.

Warnings against fences

In related passages our Lord warns against such fences. In Matthew and Mark, He says that the hearts of the people are far from Him, because they teach the commandments of men as though they were doctrine. He says this makes their worship vain (Matt. 15:7-9, Mark 7:6-9).

What would our Lord say about us in Fundamentalism, when we also make such substitutions? For instance, the Lord has forbidden a lustful heart. How can we tell if we are lusting? Pharisee-like, we take the easy way out. Rather than looking within ourselves moment by moment and communicating with our Lord about what our hearts hold, we make rules. We should not go to the beach. We should not go to the dance. That TV program is off-limits. And then we enforce such rules as though they are the fulfillment of our Lord’s desire that we not lust. Having kept such rules, we assure ourselves that we have fulfilled all righteousness on this topic. But we still find many consumed by lust. And as new avenues for lust open due to technology, we find ourselves racing to keep ahead with rules. For decades the Christian school student could not go to the dance. Now we find rules multiplying in some schools forbidding or limiting camera phones, Facebook, MySpace, Skype, etc. Can we possibly race ahead and create enough rules to protect everyone? No.

Instruction in what lust is, how to deal with it, how to flee it—all of these ought to be part of the instruction and discipleship process in every ministry. But rules that are extensions of the no-lust principle are no substitute for teaching, and for some, they prove a distraction from the core issue.

It seems inherent in Christ’s teaching to the Pharisees that such fencing of the law generates spiritual blind spots to what constitutes true righteousness. Decades of fencing the law has made it possible for the church-going Fundamentalist to hide his sin problem from everyone—even himself. Staying home from prom will not stop you from lusting if your heart is filled with lust. I leave it to you to decide if the converse is also true.

For too long, we have convinced ourselves that rules-based structures that fence the law can protect us from sinful hearts. Jesus’ teaching ought to be a warning to us that we are building a defective structure. There is not one kind word from Christ for such rules-based structures. He wants us to keep the real law of God—and is not particularly concerned about man’s add-ons. And He even identifies the keeping of the real laws of God as being a simple matter of the heart. Love of God first, and neighbors 2nd inherently puts one in the right frame of mind to keep all the law and the prophets (Matt. 22:35-40).

Creating a rules-based system to fence Christian righteousness has the potential to bring into play all of the negative results to which Christ refers. And how often have we seen that result in the lives of Christian school students? All too commonly true colors are revealed when the restrictive rules structure is removed after graduation. Such rules do not necessarily produce a spiritual result, and too often provide a cover for carnality.

I do not affirm that there is never a place for rules in the school setting. Functional rules are a necessity. Even spiritual rules (those associated with godliness) are probably a practical necessity for any institution. But we need to recognize the strong negatives that come associated with extra-biblical rules designed to “fence” God’s law. They are almost always counterproductive unless bundled to a discipleship program that instructs in their purpose. Even in the rare Scriptural instances when such fences around God’s law were erected by prophets or apostles, they were usually given in association with the underlying intent of our Lord. Barring this, such rule structures can become a quick shortcut that avoids the need to disciple the young person, teach true discernment, and produce values in the student as opposed to mere compliance without inward change. The goal should be to use such prom-like decision opportunities to teach a discernment process. Teaching this discernment should be one of the absorbing goals of all who are in roles of spiritual leadership, whether in home, school, or church.

Parenting concerns are outside the scope of this paper, but I would caution parents too. It is all too easy to succumb to the tendency to make submission to the rules the goal, rather than understanding of the underlying principle being the primary goal and submission only secondary.


Mike Durning has been the pastor at Mt. Pleasant Bible Church in Goodells, MI for 15 years. He attended Hyles-Anderson College, Midwestern Baptist Bible College and Bob Jones University over 8 years and somehow emerged with a mere bachelor’s degree. Despite this defective planning, he somehow believes himself to be informed enough to have something to say to others. He lives in Goodells with his wife Terri and 18 year old son, Ryan, dog Lindsey, and about 12 chickens that have wandered into his yard and like it better than the neighbor’s yard. Mike is flattered if you call him a “young fundamentalist,” since he is 46 and is prone to self-deception on such issues. If you see someone on the street who looks like the picture of Mike, but with gray hair, it probably is Mike.

Standards v. Convictions

"Functional rules are a necessity. Even spiritual rules (those associated with godliness) are probably a practical necessity for any institution. But we need to recognize the strong negatives that come associated with extra-biblical rules designed to "fence" God’s law. They are almost always counterproductive unless bundled to a discipleship program that instructs in their purpose."

This reminds me of Doug Wilson's comment (in relationship to classical schooling) that we are not satisfied if children are simply obeying the standard. We only do our job when they love the standard. Wilson was speaking more in of academics, but it translates well to ethics as well. The challenge is to get students to understand the difference between convictions and standards, and to love/respect those standards that they may not choose for themselves. For that matter, I find that problem with a lot of us adults too.

Mike, I am looking forward to Part 2. This is a really needed discussion. Would you plan a Part 3 (if you are not already) which provides some thoughts on the proper development, place/purpose, and implementation of necessary fences?

Points of agreement

I have quite a few thoughts on this series, and several points of disagreement, but I'm going to save most of them until after part 2 I think (which posts tomorrow).
For now, I'm certainly agreed that discipleship has not been successful if there is no understanding and if we do not develop discernment. And I can also attest that one of the four Christian schools I attended growing up probably was thinking along the lines Mike describes here--to the degree it was thinking at all.
I'll also grant that complying with a fence rule--or any rule (there are many non-fence rules)--does not necessarily produce any actual growth in the individual who complies.

The case that triggered the series and the Christian schools scenario in general do provide an interesting real-world setting for thinking about sanctification, the application of Scripture, how authority works, the intrinsic value of submission (or lack thereof) and many other issues... and I'm taking a closer look at the Pharisees as well.

I will say that I have seen a bit of a backlash against the rules-emphasis of (mostly) the past that is, on balance, about equally damaging (though in quite different ways). More on that later.

thank you

Mike, thank you for this article. I think understanding the concept of "building a fence (or 'hedge') around the Torah" is extremely important as it ties in very closely with legalism, as you clearly pointed out.

In Mishnah Pirkei Avot, we see the concept of building a hedge around the Torah as one of the most important things passed down from Moses:

Quote:
Moses received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua; Joshua to the elders; the elders to the prophets; and the prophets handed it down to the men of the Great Assembly. They said three things: Be deliberate in judgment, raise up many disciples, and make a fence around the Torah. (Ch. 1.1, http://www.shechem.org/torah/avot.html)
I, too, have some questions about the application of this, however. As you fully recognize, no organization can exist without rules. And legalism has nothing to do with how many or how few rules an organization has.

So I'm looking forward to the next part as you continue to explain your perspective.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Jewish commentary

BTW, the following is Jewish Commentary on Mishnah Pirkei Avot that seems to have some relevance to the matter at hand:

Quote:
The Great Assembly foresaw the coming deterioration of the intellectual ability of the people as they lost their involvement with wisdom was diminishing. As a doctor prescribes a remedy for a weakening organ to supplement what the organ is missing, the Great Assembly wanted to prescribe a remedy for the deteriorating grasp of wisdom that was beginning to develop.

A lack of knowledge and intellectual achievement within the Jewish people exhibits itself in three ways.

1. A breakdown in the civil judicial system which governs personal disputes. A judge needs to understand the fundamental principles of the laws, in order to reach a proper verdict. This understanding depends on an intuitive logic which is necessary to properly apply the general principles written explicitly in the Torah.
2. A deterioration in the quality of Torah scholarship, the more theortical dimension of Torah study.
3. A defeciency in a person's observance of Mitzvot, where a permitted activity can mistakenly lead him to a forbidden activity (i.e when he sees it is permitted to cook chicken with milk, he will mistakenly think it is also permitted to cook meat with milk).

The instructions of the Great Assembly to the Jewish people at this time was to correct these three problems. In response to a deteriorating judicial system, they advised "Be deliberate and reserved in judgement." In response to a deterioration in the quality of Torah study they advised "Establish a large cadre of students," since an increase in the number of students nurtures clarity in Torah study. In order that commandments shouldn't be violated in practice, they advised "Make a fence around the Torah," in order to ensure proper observance of the Torah itself.

These three elements also encompass the three broad categories of the population. There are the leaders, who are responsible for correct judgements affecting the community, and their potential deficiency is being addressed with "Be deliberate in judgement." Those involved chiefly in the study of Torah are admonished "Establish a cadre of students" which will ensure improved learning of the Torah. The third category are those of the community who aren't involved in study, and they require fences around the Halacha, due to their lack of clarity. The Anshe Knesset Hagedolah saw that every group of the nation was deteriorating, and they made declarations to address the needs of each group.

The inclusion of the number, three, is also significant. (Since the Rabbis knew that we know how to count, the Maharal is always bothered when they have to tell me the number explicitly.) Firstly, the number implies that these declarations are all inclusive, because they encompass every category of the nation.

On a deeper level, these declarations were to rectify deficiencies of the "sechel," the intellectual/spiritual dimension of man. This dimension of wisdom includes three levels, "chochma", "binah" and "da'at." "Chochma" refers to basic facts, and our grasp of the principles underlying these facts. "Binah" is our ability to generate new information from these facts and the underlying principles. "Da'at" is knowing how to apply this information in practice. (There are a number of ways to understand the breakdown of these three levels of wisdom. We will be touching on this a number of times, from a number of different perspectives.) These admonishments are to rectify each of these three levels of wisdom.

Grasping the underlying principes of specific facts is something that requires "svarah," intuitive logic, which is the major intellectual component necessary for a judge to render wise judgements. "Be deliberate in judgement" instructs us to ensure that our basic analysis is logical and straight.

"Binah," generating new Torah insights and information, comes from sophisticated intellectual inquiry and discussion. The antidote for a deterioration in this area is increasing the number of students involved in Torah study, thereby increasing the give-and-take and (hopefully) minimizing incorrect conclusions.

For people who lack "da'at," not knowing exactly how to behave in practice, fences around the letter of the law will ensure that they not violate the actual law itself. (http://torah.org/learning/maharal/p1m1part2.html)

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Thanks for the Article

Mike,
I really appreciate this article. I feel that this is an important discussion. Christian schools must do a better job at discipling students and getting them to live with an inward motivation of pleasing God rather than the outward rules restrictions.

Maybe you will address this later, but as I look at the Scripture, although I see some "thou shalts" and "thou shalt nots", I see many principles that help govern my spiritual walk. These principles are not specific and therefore need to applied via the Holy Spirit to my Christian walk. Furthermore, each person's application of these principles differ from another's. As I look at many of Christian educations non-funtional rules, they appear to be someone's application of principles from the Word. Should we avoid this? If so, how do we avoid this? And, if we do away with many rules in Christian Schools, how can we govern behavior at these schools? All of these are questions that I have been re-thinking recently.

Thanks again for generating this discussion. I am looking forward to the next article and the discussions to follow.

Good questions

Mike, thanks for talking about a question normally verbotten in fundamentalism. I have spent some time thinking critically about the concept of "en loco parentis" in higher education, but after reading this I think my real problem is not with "en loco" per se. Rather I should be questioning the underlying issue: do structures of rules actually encourage Christlikeness?

If rule structures do not have inherent spiritual value, then we have to judge their worth by their utility. How effective are they at encouraging Christlikeness? Here is the rub. If we define Christlikeness primarily as an external set of behaviors, then preventing a high schooler from acting out their sin is justified. But if we define Christlikeness primarily as a heart relationship with the Savior, then preventing a high schooler from acting out their sin does little to promote true Christlikeness.

As with any policy, rule structures can fall prey to the "law of unintended consequences." Not only may rule structures fail to promote true Christlikeness, they may also have bad side effects. Some kids (here is my personal struggle in high school) may struggle with implicit legalism, judging their relationship with God by how well they obey the school's rules. Other kids will have their sinful hearts cloaked by their good behavior, thus preventing their sin from seeing the light of day where it might have been confronted with the gospel. Others might end up equating the gospel with external conformity, react against the unfairness of being held to what they believe is a manmade standard of righteousness, and flee Christianity altogether.

There is another common justification for rule structures that you might want to address: we need to protect our young people from scarring their lives with the consequences of their sin. This argument raises important questions about the sovereignty of God.

Anywho, Mike, thanks for taking on a hard topic in a gracious, self-effacing manner.

Compliant Victims

Paul Matzko wrote:

As with any policy, rule structures can fall prey to the "law of unintended consequences." Not only may rule structures fail to promote true Christlikeness they may also have bad side effects. Some kids (here is my personal struggle in high school) may struggle with implicit legalism, judging their relationship with God by how well they obey the school's rules.

Thank you for bringing up the overlooked victims - the naturally compliant. I will illustrate with a close friend of mine from BJU. She was raised in a very conservative Fundamentalism by good Christian parents whose parenting philosophy is heavy on ready obedience, submission to authority, and serving others. She grew up being good at doing good things for others and not being very attracted to most flagrant sins. She was known as "the good kid" in high school. Parents would tell their children, "Be like her."

BJU was not that big of a shock for her. She was used to having most areas of her life mapped out by others and didn't resent the rules structure. In fact, it was somewhat comforting. It wasn't until a ways into her college experience that she realized something was wrong. She fell into a group of friends (not all ministry studies people) who were very ardently studying Scripture and examining their faith, and she didn't have a clue what she was doing. She didn't know how to explain the Trinity, or how to show that Jesus was God. Despite a lifetime of Christian schooling, she couldn't take a passage of Scripture, read it, and understand it. In fact, the Bible confused her and when she did read it, it was because she was supposed to and not because she actually expected to understand it. She picked her church not because she agreed with its principles (or even knew what they were), but because she knew someone there. She had zero formed opinions on politics or larger society, because that was all "out there." She didn't understand why her friends were even interested in these things. Despite all this, she was a prayer captain (spiritual leader of a group of dorm rooms) and had filled in for her society chaplain. Why did people turn to her for spiritual leadership? Because she followed the rules and encouraged others to do so.

OK, why did I take all that space to paint that picture? Because I think that most of SI, at least those who post, are by natural disposition analytical and creative thinkers. We're compelled by some inner force to think about all kinds of things and scrutinize, hypothesize, idealize, etc. However, there are a lot of people in our churches and in our schools who aren't geared that way. They don't want to do the hard work of developing their own convictions; they want prepacked convictions. They don't want a challenging, missional environment; they like everyone around them acting and believing the same way they do. They don't want to examine the doctrines and teachings of the Bible or to be skillful in using it; they want teachers to spoon-feed them answers, preferably in a "do this" format. Some people actually really like black and white lists of "do this, don't do that."

I think many discussions of rules in schools have focused on the rebellious kids and have ignored the often unwitting victims. A homogenous environment heavily padded with rules often allows a person (child or adult) to live on autopilot. Their discernment atrophies. Their knowledge of the Bible is reduced to a handful of memorized verses, often John 3:16 and (of course) rules. They are unable to spiritually lead their families, except for "Be a good little boy." In churches, they might be willing volunteers (they love being given tasks!), but certainly aren't capable of discipling anyone, and their mouths will occasionally betray just how biblically uninformed their worldviews are. Evangelistically, they are useless, because they are extremely uncomfortable around anyone who doesn't live by the same rules they do. By that same token, they are very distrustful of Christians who live differently than they do, even in rather peripheral areas. Others make them feel insecure in their own choices, which are vaguely justified as "what God wants me to do." The irony is that most of these people see themselves as "pretty good Christians" because, after all, they don't have any big black marks on their record.

OK, I acknowledge that I've presented something of a worst-case scenario. However, I think it's crucial for us to note that rebellion isn't the only form of spiritual weakness, and that the good intentions of rule-makers can lead to an artificially "safe" environment where Christians let their guard down and drift into an oblivious daydream.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

The alternative?

Again, I'm looking forward to the rest of the series. I'm especially interested in what Mike is arguing FOR. It's very easy to argue against legalistic rules and argue for focusing on the heart. I whole-heartedly agree with that perspective!

But is it always either/or, or should it be both/and? Are there any parents among us who have no rules? I will strive to "shepherd the heart" of my children (to borrow from Ted Tripp), but I also recognize that the responsibility of the shepherd is to protect them from danger.

I've always chafed when people discuss whether or not we should "shelter" our children. Usually people argue against "sheltering" our children from the world. A "shelter" is an all-or-nothing kind of thing. Hopefully if you are under a shelter at the park when it begins raining, none of the rain will touch you because the shelter keeps it all out. (Another analogy that's sometimes used is "bubble".) If it's a question of shelter or no shelter, I fully agree that we should NOT shelter our children from the world...Paul said if we want to disassociate from sinful people, we'd have to leave the world!

But I prefer the analogy of "filtering" rather than "sheltering." We don't "shelter" our car engine from motor oil because motor oil has harmful particles; no, we use an oil filter to filter out those particles while allowing the oil into the engine. There are some things that need to be filtered out of my children's lives. Whether this is "building a hedge around the Law" or not, I don't know. But hopefully at the same time I'm teaching them biblical principles to address these harmful aspects of the world so that when they are on their own they can make wise decisions.

As someone whose parents have devoted their lives to Christian school education, who graduated from a Christian school, who serves at church that has a Christian school, and whose children attend a Christian school, I'm very interested to hear how we can apply these principles to the Christian school environment.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

I too find this article, and

I too find this article, and hopefully the next one, interesting.

Greg Long, and perhaps others, maybe the issue is with schools trying to develop spirituality when that primarily rests upon parents and the church. And a school should primarily seek to educate the mind, not the heart. Of course, I am not arguing for no overlap within a Christian school, just perhaps the Christian school has taken on too much 'education' of the heart, and in some cases, to the neglect of the mind which should be their primary objective.

Just a thought...

Tonight

Dear friends,

Thanks for your kind words and questions. I'm on the run today, but will respond to the questions tonight after prayer meeting, Lord willing.

Mike Durning

Daniel wrote: I too find this

Daniel wrote:
I too find this article, and hopefully the next one, interesting.

Greg Long, and perhaps others, maybe the issue is with schools trying to develop spirituality when that primarily rests upon parents and the church. And a school should primarily seek to educate the mind, not the heart. Of course, I am not arguing for no overlap within a Christian school, just perhaps the Christian school has taken on too much 'education' of the heart, and in some cases, to the neglect of the mind which should be their primary objective.

Just a thought...

Boy, Daniel, I'm not sure I agree with that at all. Parents delegate, in part, to the Christian school the education of their children. Although the parents should never abrogate their responsibility to train the heart of the child (and the problem is that many, indeed, do so), neither should the Christian school only focus on educating the mind but not the heart.

I don't know that we can separate those aspects of a person out, anyway. Jesus said we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Jesus grew in wisdom, in stature, and in favor with God and with men. Both of these verses show us how closely intertwined are the intellectual and spiritual aspects of man.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Moralism vs. Spirituality

For me, discussions like this one center on what we believe is more important when raising our children: moralism or true spirituality. Moralism views proper behavior as the ultimate goal; true spiritually views proper belief as the ultimate goal.

Christian schools whose focus is heavy on behavior and light on belief, or who confuse the two, are teaching moralism instead of true spirituality.

Here are some good thoughts by Mohler on the difference:
http://www.albertmohler.com/2009/09/03/why-moralism-is-not-the-gospel-an...

There is no way anyone can

There is no way anyone can judge most rules as good or bad unless they know the spirit and context in which it is administered. Rules without a relationship almost always lead to rebellion. True! But many rules, if done properly, can save a child from a lifetime of sin and darkness. Do any of you want this hanging on your shoulder as preachers or teachers of the gospel because your concerned that it might be legalistic? The word legalism is thrown around so loosely these days and often times it is used to water down scripture and disable the messenger. There is a balance and discernment that must be carefully applied. What I often see and hear is those that have a grievance with the KJVO crowd and want to distance themselves from them, but in the process, justify an incorrect view of scripture.

martin

Greg, That is not what I

Greg, That is not what I said, nor was implying. I was not saying that a Christian school cannot teach spirituality, which is why I used terms like primarily when discussing the responsibility to teach spirituality, which implies a secondary and perhaps tertiary group of people that are or can be responsible. And I also said I am not arguing for no overlap.

I was saying, in some cases, Christian schools have teaching spirituality as their primary purpose to the neglect, in many cases, of educating the mind, when it should be parents and the church that primarily teach spirituality. Can there be overlap? Of course, and I think as a Christian school it is only proper that there is. But when a school has as its primary purpose, in writing or in deed, the development of spirituality to the neglect of developing their intellect, I think something is wrong.

In the end, I am pretty sure you and I agree, and at this point I think we might be just arguing over word choice and things not spelled out in scripture. i.e. schools in general and what their primary and secondary objectives are and how close they are to each other.

Purposes

Daniel wrote:
Greg Long, and perhaps others, maybe the issue is with schools trying to develop spirituality when that primarily rests upon parents and the church. And a school should primarily seek to educate the mind, not the heart. Of course, I am not arguing for no overlap within a Christian school, just perhaps the Christian school has taken on too much 'education' of the heart, and in some cases, to the neglect of the mind which should be their primary objective.
Daniel, you're getting close to something I was going to mention tomorrow. So I'll have a go at it now. Part of where my perspective differs from Durning's on this is that he mostly assumes that discipling the kids must be the driving force for the school's rules or something very close to the center of its purpose. I mentioned earlier that one of the schools I attended growing up was much along the lines of the legalism he describes. But the high school I attended never--that I recall--made the barest hint of a claim that its rules were about making us more righteous. They were just about creating an environment that is not hostile to Christian growth and that maintains good order. At least, that was what I inferred from the general silence on the subject. I just don't remember the rules ever being preached as some kind of path to holiness. They were just the rules and part of what you agreed to be a student. So obeying them was simply a matter of good faith--that is, keeping your word and submitting to authority. (And let's remember that submitting to legitimate authority is commanded in Scripture, and therefore, is an inherently spiritual act--though it can be done, like anything else, with shallow or even evil motives).

It wasn't that the school didn't care about our spiritual growth, but it definitely did not view that as it's main reason for being (maybe officially it did somewhere in the documentation, but in reality, not the focus). This was left to the local churches. Perhaps that way of thinking comes more naturally when a school is operated by a multi-church board rather than a single congregation.

What kind of Christian schools are we talking about?

What kind of Christian schools are we talking about here? Church-based schools or independent board-run schools? I do not believe that the article specifies which is being addressed.
While the issues dealt with in the article might apply to both, in my limited experience they regluarly apply to the former (where the church's testimony is at stake, and the school ministry is seen as an extension of the church ministry); whereas at least in some of the independent schools there seems to be more of a "private school" culture where the emphasis is on academics, athletics, etc., not legalistic rules.
Of course, these are gross generalities; I would be anxious to hear the reflections of others on the matter.
Perhaps another reason that Christian schools might tend toward legalism is that the entire movement was birthed out of a reaction against the culture and the public school system, rather than a positive, proactive Biblical focus. (I have suggested that a great D.Min. thesis for someone would be how the modern Christian school movement was inherently flawed.) Is this mentality still burned into the psyche of many Christian school leaders?
Please do not misunderstand -- I am a huge fan of Christian education and I am not impugning anyone who is involved in it and doing a great job. But I do think that it is very difficult for a single Biblical local church to maintain a well-run, Biblical, vibrant Christian school.
Some may object that Catholics and conservative Lutherans have been successfully operating church-run schools for more than a century. Being a product of the latter, I can assure you, however, that there are very different dynamics in play there that would be difficult (if not impossible) to duplicate in the context of a Fundamentalist local church.

Editor in Chief – Dispensational Publishing House

Bible Teacher, Minister, Educator, Author, Journalist

Will the real legalist please meet me at Walmart!

Biblically, the concept of legalism has to do with believing that the keeping of the law or morality can contribute to one being able to obtain salvation. So, I have a hard time relating to the basis for this discussion. The term "legalistic" has become the great Evangelical battle cry against any and all principles or standards which may be advocated by other Christians. Advocating modesty may be viewed as legalistic. Practicing or recommending abstinence as a sure way to prevent becoming intoxicated may be viewed by some as legalistic. The N.T. is replete with admonitions and warnings that in context are "disciplines of grace." We are warned to "flee immorality." To apply this warning to specific social situations such as social dancing may be called legalism by some when in reality it may be the wisdom of the older and more experienced seeking to warn and protect the more susceptible from temptation and the wiles of the devil. The disciplines of Grace are that which able us to grow in grace through the daily habits of living. Persons like myself, who were converted from paganism in adulthood, have some understanding of situations which should be avoided and practices which help in developing habits of purity and grace.

To some of us the cry of "legalism" is like the bratty kid in Walmart screaming at the top of his lungs in order to coerce his parents into getting the toy he wants regardless of consequences or cost.

Rules properly thought out and enforced can be that which develops habits of purity and grace. Churches and institutions have a responsibility in this area.

Pharisees would say Amen!

Bob,

I want to say more but cannot because of time. Here is an abbreviated response:

Good post. I agree on the desire to see purity and grace spread. Do you really believe the Scriptures teach and demonstrate that purity and grace are spread by the use of extra-Biblical rules that are man made? Just about every time the Scriptures speak to man-made rules, it's in a less than complimentary light.

Where would you find your view here defended in the Scriptures?

How would you explain the NT teaching against "rule-making" that was used by Jewish traditionalists that tried to shackle Non-Jewish, not-traditionalists in the early church for not only salvation (Acts 15:1-2) but also for Sanctification (Acts 15:4). (Notice the change in the make-up of the early church from Acts 2 - Acts 11)? See Gal 3, Acts 15. I know I have a few more verses I could bring.

The rule-culture in too many Christian schools have been poison to young people's faith. I've watched it from the pulpit. I've known hundreds of kids that have crashed and burned not because of the "rules" per se....but because of the way they were presented and used. I know the stories. Mike writes from a perspective you may not have seen. Let me encourage you guys that are "uneasy here" and follow Mike's thinking through the three parts. Try to think with Mike as he makes his points.

Bob just as it is possible to "over-react" against rules into license; it is also possible to over-react against license into rules-based legalism. Be careful friend.

Bob, I care for you. The reason I'm firm here is that too many who have espoused your view often end up in a type of Hyper-Fundamentalism that undermines the gospel of Jesus Christ and wounds God's children with the use of battle-hatchets. Paul called similar types of leaders "dogs" in Philippians 3. When conservative, fundamental and traditional leaders in churches and schools take man-made rules and equate them with Scripture....and hold young people accountable as if it was the same is wicked and idolatrous. When that happens you have pharisaism, legalism and eventually a false gospel.

You've made your points well. Your concerns are legit. It is possible to swing into license abusing grace. Many who speak against rules do that and so it's good you say what you say. Try to understand the other side of the isle. Their are spiritual corpses in both ditches I promise you.

Shalom Bob!

jt

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

Round up of answers and comments.

Let me say that I’m happy that some of you had better Christian School experiences than the worst case scenarios of legalistic thinking. I’m thankful for those friends who urged me to soften the earlier drafts of my article, assuring me that there were many fine schools that did not operate in the ways I had seen in so many during my years.
___

Greg, thanks for your quotes from the Jewish commentary. I think it’s important to note that the Pharisees, after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, were given permission by the Roman Emperor to take charge. For the next few decades, they codified the Torah and re-constructed Synagogue worship after their own way of thinking. This is why there can be such Pharisaical thinking in later Jewish commentaries for centuries after, though the Pharisees had faded from the scene.
___

Kevin T. P. wrote:
Maybe you will address this later, but as I look at the Scripture, although I see some "thou shalts" and "thou shalt nots", I see many principles that help govern my spiritual walk. These principles are not specific and therefore need to applied via the Holy Spirit to my Christian walk. Furthermore, each person's application of these principles differ from another's. As I look at many of Christian educations non-funtional rules, they appear to be someone's application of principles from the Word. Should we avoid this? If so, how do we avoid this? And, if we do away with many rules in Christian Schools, how can we govern behavior at these schools?

Kevin T.P., I’m not sure generating rules from the application of principles can be entirely avoided. But just as a properly constructed sermon draws a clear line between interpretation and application, so a properly constructed spiritual development curriculum should draw clear lines between direct commands, principles, and applications drawn from principles. Drawing such lines engages the students in the process of Biblically ethical thinking, and, more importantly, forces them to examine their own hearts as they analyze applications.
____

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Doesn't exactly look like they are trying to figure out "what they can get away with" does it?

Ha Ha. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that this is the way the rules systems are used in the next generation.
____

Paul Matzko wrote:
Mike, thanks for talking about a question normally verbotten in fundamentalism. I have spent some time thinking critically about the concept of "en loco parentis" in higher education, but after reading this I think my real problem is not with "en loco" per se. Rather I should be questioning the underlying issue: do structures of rules actually encourage Christlikeness? If rule structures do not have inherent spiritual value, then we have to judge their worth by their utility. How effective are they at encouraging Christlikeness? Here is the rub. If we define Christlikeness primarily as an external set of behaviors, then preventing a high schooler from acting out their sin is justified. But if we define Christlikeness primarily as a heart relationship with the Savior, then preventing a high schooler from acting out their sin does little to promote true Christlikeness. As with any policy, rule structures can fall prey to the "law of unintended consequences." Not only may rule structures fail to promote true Christlikeness, they may also have bad side effects. Some kids (here is my personal struggle in high school) may struggle with implicit legalism, judging their relationship with God by how well they obey the school's rules. Other kids will have their sinful hearts cloaked by their good behavior, thus preventing their sin from seeing the light of day where it might have been confronted with the gospel. Others might end up equating the gospel with external conformity, react against the unfairness of being held to what they believe is a manmade standard of righteousness, and flee Christianity altogether. There is another common justification for rule structures that you might want to address: we need to protect our young people from scarring their lives with the consequences of their sin. This argument raises important questions about the sovereignty of God. Anywho, Mike, thanks for taking on a hard topic in a gracious, self-effacing manner.

Paul, you make me wish you had written my article. Well said. Some of what you address I will say (though less eloquently) in parts 2 & 3.
BTW, while at BJU, we used to tell incoming Freshmen that “en loco parentis” was Spanish for “one crazy parent”.
____

Charlie wrote:
I think many discussions of rules in schools have focused on the rebellious kids and have ignored the often unwitting victims. A homogenous environment heavily padded with rules often allows a person (child or adult) to live on autopilot. Their discernment atrophies. Their knowledge of the Bible is reduced to a handful of memorized verses, often John 3:16 and (of course) rules…

Great observation, Charlie! Thanks for thinking of the other guys.
__

Greg Long wrote:
Again, I'm looking forward to the rest of the series. I'm especially interested in what Mike is arguing FOR.

Let me stress that I have no firm answers for where we go from here. If we agree that the system is broken (and I think it is), I can only suggest that we go back to the Scriptures and find out how people grow in grace and sanctification, and create rules/discipleship systems that work with the Biblically described system of grace-based sanctification rather than sending a message that subtly conflicts with it.
_______

To Daniel, Greg, and T. Howard, I would say…
I’m going to have to think about these comments for a bit. But initially, I’ll say this: While I agree that parents who delegate the promotion of spiritual growth to the school are a big part of the problem, I still agree with the underlying premise of Christian Education: that an education that teaches the student to understand the world without reference to God is secular and in error. There is no good way to create Christian education that does not interact with the discipleship of the students. And therein lies my problem with the traditional rules system.
______

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Daniel, you're getting close to something I was going to mention tomorrow. So I'll have a go at it now. Part of where my perspective differs from Durning's on this is that he mostly assumes that discipling the kids must be the driving force for the school's rules or something very close to the center of its purpose.

Aaron, My problem is that we have believed that the rules accomplish things they do not. My argument would be more that the schools, as Christian ministries, should not be allowed to create a system that works against proper discipleship and sanctification.
___

martins wrote:
There is no way anyone can judge most rules as good or bad unless they know the spirit and context in which it is administered. Rules without a relationship almost always lead to rebellion. True! But many rules, if done properly, can save a child from a lifetime of sin and darkness. Do any of you want this hanging on your shoulder as preachers or teachers of the gospel because your concerned that it might be legalistic? The word legalism is thrown around so loosely these days and often times it is used to water down scripture and disable the messenger. There is a balance and discernment that must be carefully applied. What I often see and hear is those that have a grievance with the KJVO crowd and want to distance themselves from them, but in the process, justify an incorrect view of scripture.

Martins, in the next few parts I will address this concern.

Paul J. Scharf wrote:
What kind of Christian schools are we talking about here? Church-based schools or independent board-run schools? I do not believe that the article specifies which is being addressed. While the issues dealt with in the article might apply to both, in my limited experience they regluarly apply to the former (where the church's testimony is at stake, and the school ministry is seen as an extension of the church ministry); whereas at least in some of the independent schools there seems to be more of a "private school" culture where the emphasis is on academics, athletics, etc., not legalistic rules.

Stereotypes exist for a reason. I think you are correct that those operated by churches are in greater danger of falling into this way of thinking. And I would substitute the word “testimony” with “reputation”. I think that the students many times perceive that the leadership is more concerned with their ministry reputation than the students’ well-being.

Bob T. wrote:
Biblically, the concept of legalism has to do with believing that the keeping of the law or morality can contribute to one being able to obtain salvation. So, I have a hard time relating to the basis for this discussion…

Well, Bob, I was expecting this, but I expected Mike Harding to bring it up first. So, here we go:
"Legalism" is not a word that directly appears in Scripture (leaving aside the rather over-translated NIV rendering of Philippians 3:6). Sometimes Paul uses "law" to denote legalism or legalistic attitudes, but most of the time it makes reference directly to the Mosiac law, God's law, law in general, or several other less common meanings.

For a long time in Christian Theology, the term has been given a rather precise denotative meaning -- the belief that one can justify oneself by the works of the law. But it has a broader modern connotative meaning within the Christian sub-culture that I think has validity since we lack a better term for it. I'm not certain it's fair to shoot down the modern connotative meaning of "legalism", especially because it matches so well with the spirit of what the Scriptures condemn. Starting with the prophets, proceeding through Jesus' ministry and its opposition to the Pharisees, and throughout the epistles a certain "heart of legalism" is universally condemned -- and I think that's what so many modern Christians also mean by the term.

Now I will fully admit that "legalism" is the cry of many who are truly antinomian (the opposite error to legalism). But I also would note, along with Joel T., that there are many who have this heart of legalism who would use the very precise definition of the term in theological usage to defend themselves against the charge. I know many who are legalists (in the heart sense) who justify themselves with the assurance that they believe in salvation by grace. Sadly, they believe the rest of their relationship with God is works, works, works.
Legalism in this sense is bound up in the heart of the sinner, who continually seeks to justify himself in God's eyes. All false religion is based in it, but it also becomes the basis of false sanctification for believers.

Legalism of Heart exists in a number of strands in modern Christianity, and in some parts of Fundamentalism. Vaguely ascetic philosophies, rules-based sanctification teachings, and an emphasis on enforcement of external righteousness in some institutions where a more Biblical model would be promotion of internal change are all strands that smack of legalistic thinking.

For those interested, an interesting discussion of this point occurred in another thread (http://www.sharperiron.org/confessions-of-recovering-legalist), starting at about post 20, by the aforementioned Mike Harding. My comments above are largely lifted from my response to Mike Harding at that point.

Bob T. wrote:
…The term "legalistic" has become the great Evangelical battle cry against any and all principles or standards which may be advocated by other Christians. Advocating modesty may be viewed as legalistic. Practicing or recommending abstinence as a sure way to prevent becoming intoxicated may be viewed by some as legalistic. The N.T. is replete with admonitions and warnings that in context are "disciplines of grace." We are warned to "flee immorality." To apply this warning to specific social situations such as social dancing may be called legalism by some when in reality it may be the wisdom of the older and more experienced seeking to warn and protect the more susceptible from temptation and the wiles of the devil. The disciplines of Grace are that which able us to grow in grace through the daily habits of living. Persons like myself, who were converted from paganism in adulthood, have some understanding of situations which should be avoided and practices which help in developing habits of purity and grace. To some of us the cry of "legalism" is like the bratty kid in Walmart screaming at the top of his lungs in order to coerce his parents into getting the toy he wants regardless of consequences or cost. Rules properly thought out and enforced can be that which develops habits of purity and grace. Churches and institutions have a responsibility in this area.

Joel Tetreau wrote:
Bob, I want to say more but cannot because of time. Here is an abbreviated response: Good post. I agree on the desire to see purity and grace spread. Do you really believe the Scriptures teach and demonstrate that purity and grace are spread by the use of extra-Biblical rules that are man made?

Thanks Joel. Great observations. You pegged my concerns with Bob T’s post.
This is exactly the view of sanctification that alarms me.

Bob, you can have the rules if you want, with my blessing. Just don’t count on them to grow people spiritually. Build a system of instruction that teaches what they're about.

Two questions

Just because I'm trying to understand the anti-rules passion a bit better, maybe Joel or Mike or someone would take a stab at these....
1. What is the difference between a "rule" and a generalized application of Scripture?
2. Aren't all applications "man made"?
(For example, "But I say to you whoever looks at a women to lust after her has committed adultery already in his heart" generalized into "It's wrong to look at porn... at all, ever..." Isn't that a "man made rule"?)

Aaron Blumer wrote:Just

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Just because I'm trying to understand the anti-rules passion a bit better, maybe Joel or Mike or someone would take a stab at these....
1. What is the difference between a "rule" and a generalized application of Scripture?
2. Aren't all applications "man made"?
(For example, "But I say to you whoever looks at a women to lust after her has committed adultery already in his heart" generalized into "It's wrong to look at porn... at all, ever..." Isn't that a "man made rule"?)

Aaron, In the Christian School context, I am using the term "rules" with reference to those imposed by humans above you in the organization. They are distinct from "convictions" imposed by self and the Holy Spirit, or "applications" arrived at by careful thought. Although the administrator's own convictions and applications may be seen in the rules imposed on others.

All applications are man-made, I suppose, but I would suggest that your example is actually becoming more specific rather than generalizing. Jesus says lust is adultery in the heart. The specific rule "Never look at porn" is a specific application. It is also one that I suspect is universal. I don't think anyone could honestly say "Porn doesn't really make me lust" (Why do you keep looking at it, then?). While a school rule against porn is thus admirable, the danger is that people will fail to reason from the specific to the general. In a school where the only rule is "no porn", and the reason given is "Because we're Christians", they can too easily rationalize that they did not look at porn, so they're good Christians. In reality, they may be consumed with lust.

Of course, nobody can say "Then make a rule against lust". First, because the school cannot enforce it. And secondly, because Jesus already has!
My argument is that some people expect the specific application to make people good. It can't.

I would further argue that your choice is one of the open and shut cases. I note you did not choose "dancing" as the application for Jesus saying we should not lust.

Mike wrote: because Jesus

Mike wrote:
because Jesus already has!

This little sentence strikes me as an incredibly important point. Does the Christian school need to make a rule that God has already made? For instance, does it need to have a rule that says "Don't steal other peoples' stuff"? I don't know that it does. It might identify a particular case as a subset through an additional premise (e.g. "Plagiarism is stealing"). But does the school want to become God's enforcer?

Perhaps...
But I'll hold off and see where Mike want to go with this. Thanks for writing about it.

"To know the best of what has been thought and said in the world" -- Matthew Arnold

Applications vs rules

Mike Durning wrote:

I would further argue that your choice is one of the open and shut cases. I note you did not choose "dancing" as the application for Jesus saying we should not lust.

The dancing one would be more of an application of Rom. 13:14, but I chose something undeniable (I hoped... and am glad to see I was right) in order to find out if I was missing a category somewhere between "rule" and application of Scripture. (Minor point but as for generalized vs. more specific, the application "no porn" is specific, the rule "don't look at porn ever etc." is a generalized version of the specific applicaiton.) Since there are lots of different kinds of rules, I personally believe there are several categories in between, but I maintain that an application of Scripture that goes beyond a one-time decision and covers all future occurrences of the situation, is a "rule."

So the critical factor in your mind is whether the rule is self-imposed or imposed from outside by someone in authority? The former would be helpful in Christian growth but the latter hostile to it... or at least potentially hostile to it and inherently dangerous?

I'm going to try to stay out of the discussion for a while because I've decided I've really got too much to say and explain for the forum format, so I'm composing an article (hopefully just one but it's looking like two) on the subject.

Well, a lot of fine

Well, a lot of fine distinctions are being thown around here beyond the scope of my article. I am trying to think them all through.

Aaron Blumer wrote:
So the critical factor in your mind is whether the rule is self-imposed or imposed from outside by someone in authority? The former would be helpful in Christian growth but the latter hostile to it... or at least potentially hostile to it and inherently dangerous?.

I guess that is a distinction i would agree with. When we go beyond Scripture with rules we risk inhibiting the development of discernment. When we do it without disclaimers as to the fact that we are applying a principle, we are abusing our authority.

Children, of course, are nowhere near ready for complex discernent processes. So they need more direction. But particularly I am concerned with how our rules impact those in Jr. high and high school.

Most of you don't want to hear what I think on christian college rules.

some thoughts from my own experience

I got into this rule-minded thing when I started BJ and worked there a while. I went to Christian school before that, but somehow, while there were rules there, it wasnt' that focused on them--maybe more focused on sports, in general Smile i'm not bashing bj; they are what they are and certainly have huge pluses.

anway, from my experience, i have come to the conclusion that a rule-focused-type environment teaches us and leads us to judge ourselves and others by own own standards. the emphasis there is the way it trains us to think and evaluate.

one's spiritual maturity is evaluated by the rules. I don't know that it's intended to communicate this, but it's pretty definitely what is communicated.

after i left that environment, i remember having these realizations over a period of time that God had a completely different way of evaluating me and others. i saw people who, for example, had no idea there even were issues around music, yet they had considered spiritual spiritual priorities that God places more emphasis on in scripture that i had never been taught to think about. I realized that God thought a lot about things that are never in rule books, like caring for widows, orphans, and foreigners.

i realized that worldliness is more expressed in how I think (about power and money for example) than in my external standards.

our church here has been dealing with whether or not we'll make formal rules, and I really can't bring myself to support it. Rules seem to leave people as children in some ways. they don't seem to be a means that leads people to maturity.

so at this point, i can't see the true value of having rules. i understand crowd control rules, like what time you have to have your room cleaned, but Christian or spiritual rules . . . sheesh, wouldn't it be interesting to experiment for a while and see what would actually happen if there were a lot fewer rules and some other form of discipleship initiated. Smile

Anne Sokol wrote: anway, from

Anne Sokol wrote:
anway, from my experience, i have come to the conclusion that a rule-focused-type environment teaches us and leads us to judge ourselves and others by own own standards. the emphasis there is the way it trains us to think and evaluate.

one's spiritual maturity is evaluated by the rules. I don't know that it's intended to communicate this, but it's pretty definitely what is communicated.

...i realized that worldliness is more expressed in how I think (about power and money for example) than in my external standards.

Well said, Anne. We are of one mind on this.

College Rules

Mike Durning wrote:

Most of you don't want to hear what I think on christian college rules.

Oh yes I do, but that's probably not a discussion for this thread! Smile

Dave Barnhart

Rule vs. Application

Aaron,

Mike has answered you well. Let me say there are 4 or 5 angles here that make the topic hard. First, it's great for young people to learn to submit at an early age. If they can't do that as youngsters, then wow.....what will happen when they're older?

For me the major issue is not "rules" per se. That is we tell the families at Faith Christian Academy (I'm just making this name up).....We say if you will be here at FCA, then you need to read the rules and agree that if you are coming here you will abide by these. So far, no problem.

You might continue, we here at FCA believe that for sake of organization, and institutional effectiveness these will help us sail smoothly. Still....outstanding! Bring the rules on baby! We continue.....here at FCA we think these rules will communicate a good testimony. Well......OK......but what do you mean by that?

Here's the poison......"If you and your children follow these rules, this will help you spiritually!" Here's where it goes bad. If the rule is a Biblical teaching, amen.....God's rules are consistent with His nature and we must trust Him. However, once you leave the safty and authority of the text of Scripture and you begin to add man's "thinking" and you state, Not only is not lusting "righteousness" also not going to the theatre is "righteousness" and having short hair that doesn't touch the tip of your ear is "righteousness," and wearing a belt each day is "righteousness" and never missing your homework is "righteousness."

Well.....no. Sometimes it's righteousness to go to a theatre (a church sponsored movie) or to have longer hair (Hudson Taylor), or not wearing a belt or missing homework because of a higher priority (ministry or family related). The point is when we make "man-made applications" (rules) as the same type of "black and white" standard for righteousness that we do the text of Scripture, we confuse the kids badly.

All things being equal, "follow the rules!" When things are not equal, "follow the rules!" If you are faced with violating your conscience (or that of your parents), "don't follow the rules but tell them why." Also, be willing to leave the school. That's a major point here. If you have an institution that is really legalistic then why even go there. Get them out! There are other places for you to train your children.

One more issue. Why do institutions place on a higher priority "institutional policy" over the needs of individuals? Why can you not make exceptions to policy? "Well we want people to have confidence in us." Yes, I want to have confidence in you as well.....you do that by not acting like you're God or that you speak as the law of the Medes and Persians. You know, institutions can be wrong. Why not grow? Have policy but allow that policy to be flexible when needed.

(I can already hear the "school types".....Pastor Joel.....they'll kill us. That is they will say, "Well you let Charlie do X" "Why can't Junior do X?".....This is an easy one. "We liked Charlie and we trust Charlie with X. We don't like Junior.....or we don't trust Junior with X.....but don't take that personally!")

OK.....that's a side point.

Straight Ahead!

jt

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

i wanted to mention this before the thread gets away from us

Joel Tetreau wrote:
One more issue. Why do institutions place on a higher priority "institutional policy" over the needs of individuals? Why can you not make exceptions to policy? "Well we want people to have confidence in us." Yes, I want to have confidence in you as well.....you do that by not acting like you're God or that you speak as the law of the Medes and Persians. You know, institutions can be wrong. Why not grow? Have policy but allow that policy to be flexible when needed.
i've thought about this some, too.

Ross Campbell in Relational Parenting teaches that parents need to forgive and not punish a child when that child is truly repentant. And usually a parent can tell when the child is truly repentant or not. This is important for a child to understand God's forgiveness.

i wish school leadership would just admit to being flexible about discipline issues, taking things on a person by person basis rather than stamping out the same consequence. people just are different, have different reactions, needs, backgrounds, etc, and it would be a lot more effective relationally to consider things more personally. Correction that works for one person has little or opposite effect on another.

people say that we need to be consistent, that God ALWAYS punishes sin. But among His children, does he really do that? no, because He punished Christ already and He knows our hearts. like the rule of not going to a movie when you're away from school. one person deliberately chooses to go to a movie anyway. the other person has no idea it's a rule and goes to a movie. same event, same consequence--humanly speaking. but very different spiritually.

part of the issue, i understand, is sheer numbers. But is it really that hard? I don't think it has to be.

Also, one thing that I don't like either is the fact that . . . a christian place starts with great motives, but over time, there becomes an "elephant in the room" motive of saving/promoting the organization. And i think leaders of most organizations are not willing to trust God and put their organization at risk. they would rather hack the dissenter or put on the face of "consistency," or whatever the case may be, in order to save face. i think in the end, it really leads to sinful decision making and sin in handling personal relationships. But leadership itself usually does not see this even. they think they are doing the right thing, all things considered. Are they?

anyway, got my brain goin'

Individuals and policies

About making exceptions for individuals... let me just pose a hypothetical.
Suppose regulation A is waved for individual "Joel." Then "Sally" comes along and she's special, too, so it's waved again or adjusted in some way. Then Pete comes along and he's got 9 reasons why the rule should bend for him also. Then Sam... then Bart... then Joe...
What if this happens for, say, a dozen people in a year?
They start talking. Joel tells Bob that he was not punished or that the rule was altered for his case. Bob wonders why it wasn't adjusted for him. So he goes to the administration and--since they value the individual--they wave it for him also.
Now what if Sally has friend like that, and her friend has five friends and Bart has two and Joe has six and... well, dozens and dozens of people now know that regulation A is often waived for "special" cases. Most of them don't care because they don't have an issue w/ reg. A., but word gets around until it's generally known that regulation A is ... fill in the blank. (I suggest "a joke").

The idea that policies should bend for individuals is sentimentalism and not of the nice kind... because, while it's quite defensible one individual at a time, it is ruinous to the whole and hurts everyone.
Of course, all of this assumes "other things being equal." That is, I'm assuming here that it's a good policy in the first place. If it isn't, the "death by a thousand exceptions" is-- well, I almost said "as good a fate as any" but it isn't. It damages the credibility of the entire institution. They simply do not mean what they say.
So it's better to officially throw the rule out if enforcing is not intended.

(Now I have some practicing of what I'm preaching to think about here I guess... fortunately, I'm going to suggest an exception clause: you can be more flexible with rules if your organization is small. In a family, for example, it's almost insane to rigidly enforce exactly the same rules for every child. But the bigger the institution, the more ill advised it is to bend for everybody who has a special case to plead.)

(Another exception clause: if the policy is "officially flexible" that's a different ballgame. Not sure how well this can work in many situations, but if you are up front that the rule grants many exceptions, you can afford to flex more without turning your institutional integrity into mush)

Lawsuits anyone?

And one other issue.... on the above two posts. If you treat student "A" differently than student "B" for the same offense -- particularly if you base it on something as subjective as "perceived repentance" -- the non-repentant student's parents are likely to sue the stuffing out of you, the school, your teachers and your favorite sports teams. (Can you tell that I'm writing as one that has lost count of the number of times I've been sued and threatened? I have three going against the ministry I work at right now.)

There are other ways to accomplish the restoration of a student. (In fact, I write about this in one of my books, "Perspectives in Christian Education -- Parent/Student Relationships") The idea is to set up a meaningful discipleship and mentoring program for expelled students to complete if they want re-admission which should include weekly meetings, church participation, etc... It weeds out the non-repentant students nicely and allows restoration based on a Biblical model.

These articles have been very profitable, Mike and Aaron. Thank you for publishing them.

Dan Burrell Cornelius, NC Visit my Blog "Whirled Views" @ www.danburrell.com

maybe you have hit upon the answer

Aaron Blumer wrote:
The idea that policies should bend for individuals is sentimentalism and not of the nice kind... because, while it's quite defensible one individual at a time, it is ruinous to the whole and hurts everyone.
Of course, all of this assumes "other things being equal." That is, I'm assuming here that it's a good policy in the first place. If it isn't, the "death by a thousand exceptions" is-- well, I almost said "as good a fate as any" but it isn't. It damages the credibility of the entire institution. They simply do not mean what they say.
So it's better to officially throw the rule out if enforcing is not intended.
dump all the rules? Biggrin seriously, some of them are so subjective in themselves.

about lawsuits, in american culture it's true. and that's exactly where the save-the-school motive becomes a higher goal than the will of God for an individual student's life.

Ignorant Contribution

Dan Burrell wrote:
And one other issue.... on the above two posts. If you treat student "A" differently than student "B" for the same offense -- particularly if you base it on something as subjective as "perceived repentance" -- the non-repentant student's parents are likely to sue the stuffing out of you, the school, your teachers and your favorite sports teams. (Can you tell that I'm writing as one that has lost count of the number of times I've been sued and threatened? I have three going against the ministry I work at right now.)

There are other ways to accomplish the restoration of a student. (In fact, I write about this in one of my books, "Perspectives in Christian Education -- Parent/Student Relationships") The idea is to set up a meaningful discipleship and mentoring program for expelled students to complete if they want re-admission which should include weekly meetings, church participation, etc... It weeds out the non-repentant students nicely and allows restoration based on a Biblical model.

These articles have been very profitable, Mike and Aaron. Thank you for publishing them.

Here is my ignorant contribution, ignorant because I don't really know anything about law and so my entire analogy may be completely broken.

Don't most legal offenses carry a range of penalties, sometimes a quite wide range? I can't be too specific, but isn't it feasible in the US court system that several convicted felons could receive different sentences based on a number of factors: intentionality, malice, age, diminished personhood, etc.? I'm not aware (but I could be wrong) that judges have to follow some kind of table of variables in order to assign the standard quantifiable penalty. Isn't it left much to their discretion?

If so, couldn't an academic institution's rulebook state that there would be a range of possible punishments for, say, viewing pornography, up to and including expulsion? That way, the administration could take into account a number of objective and subjective factors, and if they were to choose not to expel a student, they wouldn't be violating a rule. In other words, can't administrations build into their systems some room for flexibility and make things easier on both the students and themselves?

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Yes, but practical limits

Charlie: I don't think that's a bad idea at all, and I'm sure alot places do that sort of thing. But sometimes administrations have to limit that because there is only so much time... as I think someone observed earlier in the thread (or it might be in part 3 discussion). It's one of those places where the "ideal" and the "real" clash, I think. But could many schools try harder to dedicate more time to tailoring the "sentencing phase" to fit the needs of the student? I'm sure. Probably lots of rules are written rigidly for no other reason than that it's just easier to deal w/cases quickly if things are as cut and dried as possible.
There are lots of minor infractions though, where the potential benefit of flexible "sentencing" doesn't really warrant the extra time involved.
Imagine a football game where the refs have a sit down counseling session with every guy who grabs a face mask, and weighs his history, his apparent motives, etc. before announcing the penalty.
Extreme analogy--and schooling isn't a game--but you can see the time-cost/benefit ratio issues.

What's the motive?

How one handles discipline issues depends on the philosophy and motivation of the authority. Are they simply trying to maintain order? Build character? Is it part of the mentoring relationship of teacher to student?

Public schools suffer greatly from a lack of common sense for http://www.usatoday.com/educate/ednews3.htm their zero tolerance policies , where kids get expelled for carrying nail clipper key chains or having Advil in their purse. I'm sure they save tons of time just whacking kids upside the head with rules.

I think Christian schools can do better than that. Maybe it means a little time must be taken to be sensible, to explore underlying issues, to show mercy, to attempt restoration- but it is an essential and Biblical use of time, and something that will impact a student in a much more beneficial and meaningful way than "Them's the rules- hit the road, Jack."

IMO it is naive to think that those enforcing the rules are always fair and objective. There are 'good kids' whose bad behavior will be winked at, and the 'bad kids' who can't blow their nose without getting detention. There's no way human authority is going to be consistently just and without hypocrisy.

I’m blogging at Every Day of Education, helping homeschool families on a budget use real books and real life experiences to prepare their children for the real world.


▴ Top of page

Help keep SI’s server humming. A few bucks makes a difference.