A Godless Fundamentalist: Chapter Three – Sex and Rock & Roll at the Christian School

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Ron Bean's picture

I think that these articles that John has written need to be a book for pastors, parents, and Christian school teachers and administrators to read!

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Bert Perry's picture

I remember learning, to my horror, that a Christian school near Michigan State was almost identical in nature to the one John describes here.  Not that I didn't know where to find trouble if I wanted to--I could go up two floors in my own dorm, or to the next dorm over, which were renowned for parties and such--but what a contrast between the Christian young people I knew in the dorms, generally filled with the joy of the Gospel, and the kids in the "Christian" school being "protected" from the evils they were sure were all over at my "party school". 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bruce Rettig's picture

John,

Thank you for this article and for your willingness to discuss what you experienced growing up in fundamentalism. Some fundamentalist churches and schools still function today as they did when you were growing up. Consequently, it is important that we think about the core issue. It seems to me that there is a fundamental (no pun intended) misunderstanding of the gospel among Christians. When I say that there is a misunderstanding of the gospel, I don't mean in a Galatian heresy way, but rather a failure to really understand the hardness of the unregenerate heart and ultimately, the power of the gospel to save sinners. The focus on outward performance ends up overshadowing and concealing what is ultimately a problem with the heart. Pressure is applied in the wrong place and in the wrong way. How do we right the ship?

Bruce

O taste and see that the Lord is good:

Blessed is the man that trusteth in him. 

Psalm 34:8

G. N. Barkman's picture

We could start by not pressuring children for professions of faith, and not baptizing young people until they have evidenced a willingness to stand up to peer pressure for the sake of Christ.  One reason some treat nearly all the young people ini their youth group or Christian school as believers is because they have nearly all prayed the prayer.  How can we assume that they are not saved, if we have already told them that they are?

G. N. Barkman

Bruce Rettig's picture

I agree that what you have stated is what it should look like, but a significant obstacle to righting the ship is that the leaders who practice these things think they are doing what is right. They are believed to be biblical traditions, yet when they compared against church history, we see they really aren’t very traditional or biblical. For many, these traditions remain unexamined. How do we get Christian parents, Sunday School teachers, Christian school teachers, etc. to change their approach to evangelizing and discipling children?

Bruce

O taste and see that the Lord is good:

Blessed is the man that trusteth in him. 

Psalm 34:8

John E.'s picture

I can't remember if I included this in one of the posts or not -

Before she died, my mom and I had a conversation about pressuring children into making professions of faith. She told me that she had been taught to get as many kids as possible to pray the sinner's prayer. Over her career, she was also "encouraged" by her administrators to fill out decision cards. Over time, she became increasingly uncomfortable with the practice. I don't know when, but eventually she stopped trying to get kids to make decisions and instead focused on sharing the gospel with them (I don't know when she began doing this. Ron Bean may have some insight, since he was her boss for a while - I don't know if it was before or after). From that point on, she began to be singled out in faculty meetings for having the least amount of decision cards filled out. She told me that she never regretted her change of perspective and "tactics." 

G.N. Barkman, out of curiosity, what are your thoughts about Christian schools (usually middle and high school level) that require a profession of faith for enrollment?

John E.'s picture

Thank you for your encouragement. 

Bert Perry's picture

I remember that as a young believer, the pressure to "walk to the front" was highly irritating, especially as most of the sermon preceding had generally been moralistic, not Gospel-centered.  And as such, I can heartily affirm the end of pressure tactics to gain "conversions."  My introduction here was a bit where I lamented the failure of VBS to add members to the church, after all.  And in the same way, I agree wholeheartedly with the notion that we ought to ask for some sign of growth and steadfastness in Christ when we treat someone as a brother. 

That noted, there's also a hefty dose of "are we teaching Scripture and the Gospel, or are we teaching moralism?" involved as well.  That was certainly part of what was involved in Lansing, Michigan.  A Gospel-free presentation of morals--or perhaps more precisely, a moralistic presentation with a quick, pressure-laden Gospel presentation tacked on--generated exactly the results that we would expect a moralistic presentation to yield.  

My gut feeling is that if churches get just one of these things right, or get two right if they've got one right, and beautiful things will follow.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Ron Bean's picture

I had the opportunity of doing two separate terms at the school to which John refers. The first was in the late 70's as a teacher and the second as the administrator from 1994-2004. (As to me being John's Mom's "boss", I think she had a better hand on things than I did.) During my first term getting decisions was a priority. I had some junior high kids "get saved" 2 or 3 times a year (I think my stats were that I may have had more decisions than students. SARCASM). During my second term some things had changed. Students were not required to make a profession of faith to be admitted. That was for two reasons: The first was that nearly everyone would make a profession of faith so the request was meaningless. The second was that we needed students to make ends meet. What we did require was that students be "amenable" to the rules and regulations of the school. This resulted in students and parents who learned that external adherence to the rules was what it took to "pass" as a Christian.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

John E.'s picture

Me and Ron's time at the school never overlapped. He left before I got there, and then returned to become administrator the year after I graduated. I did have one very poignant interaction with him during the winter of 2003. By God's grace, Ron literally saved my life. I often praise God for the love Ron showed me that day. But that's a story for a future chapter :) 

Lee's picture

Ron Bean wrote:

...Students were not required to make a profession of faith to be admitted. That was for two reasons: The first was that nearly everyone would make a profession of faith so the request was meaningless. The second was that we needed students to make ends meet. What we did require was that students be "amenable" to the rules and regulations of the school. This resulted in students and parents who learned that external adherence to the rules was what it took to "pass" as a Christian.

What is with all the self-flagellation over a matter that is as old as the oldest book of Scripture involving the one person who God Himself describes as " a perfect and upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil... (Job 1:8)"? Job is the epitome of this observation.  Read Job 31:4 FF (particularly vs. 5, 7, 9,13, 16, 19, 21, 24-26, 29, 33) if you want to see a guy "passing" as a believer holding up a list before God and demanding that God honor it--"Oh, that one would hear me! Behold, my desire is that the Almighty would answer me, and that mine adversary had written a book. Surely I would take it upon my shoulder, and bind it as a crown to me.  I would declare unto him the number of my steps; as a prince would I go near unto him."  Needless to say, God took a pretty dim view of his list and his demands--Job 38-41--and Job eventually came around to God's point of view: "...I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now my eye seeth thee.  Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes."

Nothing new to see here.  Preach the Gospel; obey Scripture; trust the Holy Spirit in the life of another.  I have been around the fundamental world and the Christian school world from practically every angle for as long as I can remember remembering.  At its best or worst I have never--not ever; not even one time--seen rules and "standards" passed off as anything remotely salvific.  Generally as a better choice that can help protect a young person from consequences later in life (a worthy goal, though not necessarily a salvific one).  

"There is nothing new under the sun."  My guess is that the technology of the current age simply allows us to recognize more that which has been widely evident since Job.

Lee

John E.'s picture

There's a difference between self-flagellation and self-reflection. And a little sorrow during self-reflection does not necessarily indicate self-flagellation.

G. N. Barkman's picture

John,

My recommendation would be that at least one parent be a professing Christian and an active member in a sound church.  The school exists to help parents fulfill their god-given responsibility to train their children.  We should assume that many of the students are not yet regenerated.  Students should be required to agree to some basic regulations, no more than necessary, but not required to profess salvation.  To require a salvation profession is a sure recipe for false professions.

G. N. Barkman

John E.'s picture

... for your response G.N. Barkman. I would go a step further and suggest that one of the parents, at least, should be a member in good-standing at the local church that has the school as part of its ministry (that may not be practical nor even legal, I haven't really spent any time considering the logistics of operating a Christian school). That policy, I think, could potentially help with discipline and discipling, and I'm thinking specifically of the discipling of the parents.

For example, and this isn't a school but I think the parallel is strong enough, my middle school-aged daughter wants to go to the Wilds this summer with some of her cousins. If she goes, and right now it's a big "if," I will expect her to abide by the rules while there. Now, let's say while there she gets busted violating one of the rules. In this scenario, it will most likely be in regards to music (we've tried to explain to her the rules about music, but without really any frame of reference she doesn't comprehend what we're trying to tell her). At that point, the conversations that the counselors will have with her will probably be quite different than the conversation that my wife and I will have with her at the end of the week. In fact, there is a chance that all involved could contradict one another at points.

Translate that to a school setting, and I think that having a parent who has submitted him or herself to the church will help provide continuity and help stave off potential conflict between parents and teachers. More importantly, it will aid in the overall program of teaching administered by the Elders of the church. The Elders, parents, parents of friends, school teachers, and Sunday school teachers will (should) be intimately involved in the training of the student. And all will basically be on the same page. Whatever differences arise can be mediated by the Elders, if needed. 

Ron Bean's picture

I recall discussions I had with other school administrators who required professions of faith from their students--usually middle school and above. My response was always "Are all your students saved?" Answers ranged from "Of course not" to "I hope so" to "You're kidding me, right?" I found that requiring a parent or parents to profess Christ and attend a "good" church was nearly impossible to enforce.

Making sure that students obeyed the rules in school was possible, although we knew that "the devil lived in the restrooms and locker rooms". We had rules for behavior outside of school too: no movies, dancing, rock music, etc. and often deluded ourselves into thinking that students complied although in our hearts we knew the truth; that many were living the lives that John describes. 

Basically we practiced the faulty reasoning that "Christians obey therefore those who obey must be Christians.

 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

John E.'s picture

I know the story of Achan inside and outside and every other which away because whenever we would lose a basketball game (which was frequent my first three years), the story would be preached to us in the locker room after the game. Thankfully, we got a new coach my senior year and that stopped (plus we started winning - I guess in a sense, we figured out who the Achan was - jk).

Mike Harding's picture

John,

Thank you for being transparent in this chapter.  I met with all my teachers in the afternoon after reading your recent chapter.  I reminded them that we must never assume the conversion of any student, regardless of his church background, the good reputation of the student's parents, or conformity to school policies.  Until we have a clear profession of faith accompanied by the fruit of the Spirit and the evidences of 1 John, we best assume that this student is on a path that hopefully leads to gospel conversion.  It is so easy to assume the Christian status of your students and allow the wholesome atmosphere to persuade you that everything is alright.  Decades of experience have taught me differently.  We are not loosening up our polices; however, we realize that common grace is, well "common", but saving grace is something entirely different.

Pastor Mike Harding

TylerR's picture

Editor

JohnE wrote:

I know the story of Achan inside and outside and every other which away because whenever we would lose a basketball game (which was frequent my first three years), the story would be preached to us in the locker room after the game.

This is ridiculous. What person would actually think there is any application here? I really wonder about people sometimes.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Ron Bean's picture

Thank you Mike! 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

John E.'s picture

Even my teammates and I knew at the time that it was a ridiculous application. We never took it seriously. It was problematic in that we were looking for excuses to disregard the teachings of the school.

John E.'s picture

And I hope that I don't come across as wanting churches, schools, and parents to eschew rules and standards. 

One of the ironies that I find amusing is that as I read back over what I've written and knowing what I'm planning on writing, I'm writing something that could be used as an anti-rock music sermon. I'd make a great youth camp speaker Smile

Seriously, though, I'm pushing (hopefully) towards getting me and my generation to do a better job of looking at how our involvement with pop culture has negatively effected our worldview. Likewise, our teachers and parents missteps aside, ultimately we answer for our choices and our interaction with the gospel. Regardless of even the silly story about Achan above, it would be a lie for me to claim that I did not know the gospel. My heart was the main problem, not the school I attended. Lord willing, that will become even more apparent in the later chapters.    

Ron Bean's picture

I can smile now, but I remember so many "we lost the game (or when anything went bady) because there was sin in the camp" lectures.  I even remember having my class bow their heads until the "Aachan" raised his hand and confessed his sin. Then there were the children's stories and other illustrations that kept the guilt franchise running.

Please don't get me wrong either. I'm with John on this thing. I just want to learn from the mistakes I made when I should have been serving students like John. 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Andrew K's picture

Rules aren't inherently problematic. In fact, we all know that they are a necessity to civilized life.

Trouble is that as kids grow, it's natural for them to question the rules. Kids doubt and question as they enter the "logic" phase. It's an essential part of their learning and exploration. You need to have a solid, consistent rationale for why the rule exists so they can see that your life makes sense. (Hopefully Biblical sense as well.) Doesn't matter if they agree with it or no, they need to see the logic behind it. Otherwise, you'll have trouble.

That's what happened with so many issues growing up: theaters, music, dress, hair, etc. The answers were so often unsatisfactory and illogical--seemed reactionary--even if the rule was actually good, which cast the whole enterprise into doubt in many of our minds.

Bert Perry's picture

John's Achan story illustrates one of the chief problems Christian schools face--well-meaning people with a surplus of energy and a lack of theology come up with cock-a-mamie "Bible" lessons, with the not surprising result that the kids respond with "well, if he doesn't understand Achan's theft has little to do with losing a basketball game, what else doesn't he know?"

As G.N.'s comments illustrate, you can lose sight of your goal in either justification or sanctification, in the former through pressure tactics generating false converts, and in the latter through false baptisms and Gospel-free training of young people. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

pvawter's picture

I wonder if it matters whether one or both parents or the student himself is a believer at the time of enrollment. Wouldn't it be helpful to simply tell prospective families that your school is a place where young people are taught the gospel and pointed to Christ? The last school I taught in was probably 30% Roman Catholic with our share of Anglicans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Mormons, Buddhists, and pagans, and our doctrinal statement had a distinctly conservative and protestant flavor. That said, I was thrilled to teach Romans and the Minor Prophets to my 11th graders, because I had the opportunity to lay out the gospel before them in no uncertain terms. 

Interestingly enough, one of our science teachers was a former Muslim who had been enrolled there by his father after fleeing Iran. The administration told his parents that they would teach them the word of God and preach the gospel in chapel, and he and his brother were both saved as a result of the school's ministry. 

I know that's not how many (most?) church schools operate, but I wonder if it wouldn't be more effective in the long run.

Larry Nelson's picture

 

A section of an article I wrote that was published on SI a few years ago:

"A second element of a Christian school that influences enrollment is its admissions policy. Who may attend? It seems a simple question, yet as anyone familiar with Christian schooling knows, there is no consensus answer. The differences in admissions policies, even when subtle, make some students unsuitable prospects in the eyes of some schools, and make some schools unsuitable prospects in the eyes of some students or their parents—but not necessarily for reasons one might expect in either case.

If a Christian school genuinely desires to thrive, it should frame its admissions policies to maximize its potential for enrollment. Can this be done without compromising a school’s principles, or without sacrificing quality?

One facet of admissions is universal. Students and their parents must be at least outwardly amenable to a school’s rules and policies to be admissible. (Inward amenability is harder to ascertain.) As already discussed, rules are an adjustable hurdle in the admissions process. Just as the bar can be set ineffectually low, it also can be set unnecessarily high. The goal must be to set it at an optimal level.

Another facet of admissions is divisive. Must students and/or their parents be Christians (using the evangelical meaning of the word) to attend? In the practice of admissions, sincere convictions differ. Some schools will accept only Christians, while other schools will accept non-Christians also. Offering enrollment to otherwise-admissible non-Christians would certainly enlarge a school’s pool of potential students. It would likely also elicit sharp criticism, both from without and within. Such a polarizing choice warrants careful, informed consideration.

Why might non-Christians want to attend a Christian school? A reason commonly given is shared with many Christians: dissatisfaction with one or more aspects of their local public schools. For example, Christian schools may offer a sense of greater physical safety or smaller class sizes, which have a broad appeal irrespective of one’s faith.

Among Christian schools that have a student faith requirement (at least by a certain age) for attendance, the prevailing view is that unbelieving students could exert a negative influence on their believing peers, and that their presence could undermine the mission or operation of the school. Therefore, why take that risk? These schools emphasize the harm that could result.

Among Christian schools that do not have a student faith requirement for attendance, the prevailing view is that policies that exclude non-Christians are based largely on uncertain premises. They contend that the correlation between justification and sanctification can be tenuous during the adolescent years (meaning that simply excluding non-Christians will eradicate neither negative peer influences nor improper behaviors); that student professions of faith prove to not always be reliable anyway; and that other Christian ministries to youth (Sunday Schools, AWANA, Vacation Bible Schools, summer camps, etc.) virtually always encourage non-Christian attendance, with evangelism as a primary aim. Therefore, why should Christian schooling be different? These schools emphasize the good that could result.

Distinct as they are, each of these views has an abundance of advocates, many of whom can readily invoke biblical passages and principles corroborating their chosen policy. Each view can present a compelling case; nevertheless, each view presents certain difficulties. For example, it seems precarious to stake a claim that admitting only Christians represents a superior spiritual standard, when in practice that policy entails eschewing regular, substantive opportunities to speak and model Truth to non-Christians."

https://sharperiron.org/article/cars-and-christian-schools-rulebook

Larry's picture

Moderator

It seems to me the enrollment policy question depends on how the school is viewed. If the school as viewed as a discipleship part of the church, enrollment will have one policy. If the school is viewed as an evangelistic tool, it will be viewed another way. If the school is viewed as a means of common grace, it will be viewed another way.

Bert Perry's picture

Per Larry's thought, what John is saying is that odds are that, even in a school that nominally requires Christian faith of its attendees, there will be a lot of non-Christians there simply because parental and peer pressure will lead young people to pretend to be Christians to get in.  

One might infer that a "Christians only" policy would end up not just getting non-Christians in attendance, but moreover non-Christians with the habit of lying.  Ironically, they may be selecting for behavior problems by trying to avoid them.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Ron Bean's picture

The first time I taught in a Christian school was in the late 70's. Evangelism consisted of chapels and a yearly week-long evangelistic meeting that were heavy on the invitation, raise your hand, and/or walk the aisle technique. This was supplemented by once a year visits by the teachers to the homes of their students where, hopefully, the Gospel would be presented.

In my second tour at the same CDS 14 years later things were different. The admission policy was now open. Chapel was heavy on "How Christians Should Live", and  "Sins to Avoid" type sermons and the HS/Jr Hi students were bored to death, regardless of the speaker. Bible classes were primarily academic with lots of Bible and hymn memorization. My recollection was that it was difficult for teachers to engage students individually. partly because of the academic load they were carrying (what's a free period?) and partly because showing any form of concern for an individual student was viewed by the "big boss" as playing favorites.  The Gospel was mentioned but it was often buried in other "stuff".

During both tenures we were told that our CDS was not an evangelistic tool.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

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