by Rick Pidcock
In May of 2000, I walked out the center aisle of a small Baptist Church with twelve other classmates for my high school graduation. And at the time, I found myself feeling torn. On one hand, I was very excited to be finished with school, and to begin the next phase of life. But my excitement was mixed with fear. My fear was not the fear of major life choices such as where to go to college, who to date, what career to pursue, or where to live. My fear, rather, was in the potential spiritual disaster that would lie ahead for my Christian school friends.
As life has developed since that event, I’d like to share some thoughts on the Christian School movement (CSM) in light of Hebrews 6:4-12. Though this passage was not originally intended for today’s CSM, it can be applied in order to give us a much clearer understanding of what is going on with graduates of Christian Schools.
Before I begin in Hebrews, I would like first to give one of the most fundamental foundations of the Christian life. Namely, that what God begins, He completes.
Pre-supposition: God always completes in the future the work of salvation that He began in the past.
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.—Romans 8:29-30
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”—John 10:27-30
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”—Philippians 1:6
“All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’”—Daniel 4:35
These passages make it abundantly clear that God determined before He ever created the world that He would one day complete the work of sanctification in His children. He predestined that everyone whom He called and justified will one day be conformed to the image of Christ and glorified.
Of course, there are moments of every day, and perhaps seasons of life, where we fail to exhibit Christ-like character. And yes, nobody will reach sinless perfection in this life. However, the preservation, perseverance, and security of the sheep are guaranteed by the power of the Triune God, who gives us assurance, and does whatever He wills among the inhabitants of the earth. For the believer, God will glorify in the future all that He justified in the past. And to that end, there is nothing that any of us can do to stay His hand or question His justice.
So because God guarantees to bring the work of salvation to completion for every true believer, we cannot interpret Hebrews 6, as some commonly do, to prove that people can lose their salvation. The writer of Hebrews has something much different in mind. And it is something that applies directly to the fruit of the CSM.
The Fruit of The Christian School Movement
The school that I attended had the following mission statement:
“The mission of ____________________ is to assist parents in their God-given responsibility of educating their children by providing a Christ-centered environment where students are trained spiritually, academically, socially and physically. ______ seeks to prepare students for a life of service for God and others by teaching them to apply God’s Word to daily living.”
With such a guaranteed hope from Christ, and with an entire educational movement that is founded upon making disciples of Christ, shouldn’t we expect the fruit of the Christian School Movement (CSM) to be widespread and strong?
Over the past eleven years since my graduation, I have been growing increasingly concerned at the works of the flesh that are the dominating characteristics of the lives of many of my fellow classmates. The overwhelming majority of them have become enslaved to such sins as fornication, addiction to drugs and alcohol, homosexuality, among other things. Many of them have experienced divorce, some multiple times, and are now single parents. And the more I come into contact with other Christian schools, and talk with administrators and teachers, the more this trend seems to be common.
By no means do I intend to say that all Christian schools produce mostly bad people.
But I do have to ponder the question: If God gives us such a strong hope for the preservation and perseverance of the sheep, and if the CSM is designed to serve the parents toward this end, then why are we not seeing widespread, strong fruit of the Spirit? Why are we, rather, seeing widespread works of the flesh?
I’d like to take some time to apply Hebrews 6:4-12 to the CSM, and hopefully share some important reminders, pointed warnings, and hope in Christ.
1. Christian experience alone is insufficient evidence of salvation.
“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.”—Hebrews 6:4-6
Who are the people described in this passage? Some people say that they are believers who have lost their salvation. Others say that they were never saved to begin with. However, if they are unbelievers, then why does it so vividly describe them in terms that seem to be marks of believers?
We know, based on the presupposition that God always completes in the future the work of salvation that He began in the past, that this passage cannot be arguing for loss of salvation. So it must mean something else.
If we carefully interpret this text, we realize that the descriptions in verses four and five are not ultimate proofs of salvation. Rather, the descriptions in verses four and five taken by themselves are experiential descriptions that may be true of both believers and unbelievers.
These are people who have been enlightened, which can mean having knowledge of spiritual truth. They have tasted the heavenly gift, which means that they have been given great experiences of God’s work. They have tasted the goodness of the Word of God, which means that they have been exposed to the Word of God, and have seen it to be good. And they have tasted of the powers of the age to come, which means that they have seen and have possibly even been used by God to accomplish His work through His power.
When I look back on my Christian school experience, I see these descriptions over and over again. We were given knowledge of spiritual truth in daily Bible classes, chapel services, and every class that was taught from a Christ-centered world-view. We had tastes of God’s work of salvation when we saw people getting saved during revival meetings, missions conferences, chapel services, and community outreach events. We saw the Word of God to be good when we spent time in it during retreats to Christian camps, or in discussions with teachers. And we got a taste of God’s power as we were given opportunities to serve in nursing homes, and to underprivileged children.
The opportunities that my Christian education provided for me were blessings from God that will stay with me forever. And those blessings from God were experienced by both believers and unbelievers alike, since both believers and unbelievers attended the school.
But having those experiences does not make somebody a true believer.
Verse six says that if a person willfully chooses to walk away from those experiences, and to turn their back on God, then that person is in essence putting Christ up for public mockery. Of course, Christ only died once. His sacrifice was “once for all.” So the writer of Hebrews is not literally saying that Jesus has to go through a crucifixion process all over again in order to keep a saved person saved or reaffirm an unsaved persons lost condition. Rather, God is saying that the sin of publically walking away from Him, after having been blessed so richly with those great experiences, is considered to be at the level of the public humiliation of the cross, the ultimate mockery of Christ, since the individual is saying, “I experienced the blessings of Christ, and I reject it.”
If somebody makes that choice, then verse six says that God will refuse to bring them back, to make them new, and to bring them to Christ.
2. Christian experience results in diverse reactions, depending on the heart of the individual.
“For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. 8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.”—Hebrews 6:7-8
“For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”—Matthew 5:45
One potential over-reaction to the rampant problem of worldliness found in many Christian school graduates would be to reject the idea of the CSM all together. While that may be an easy, and admittedly sometimes tempting conclusion to draw, it would be placing the blame in the wrong place.
The first part of verse seven is parallel to verses four and five. The rain that falls on a land in verse seven is the blessing of the experiences of God in verses four and five. One rainfall may be an experience in a Christian school. Another rainfall may be an experience in a good church. A third rainfall could be a godly, Christian home. Again, both believers and unbelievers experience that rain. The rain does not determine the fruit. It is simply a reality of God’s blessing on both the just and the unjust.
The key to understanding the problem that we see within the CSM is found in these two verses.
Simply put, Christian experience results in diverse reactions, depending on the heart of the individual. One plot of soil receives the rain, and produces a useful crop. Yet another plot of soil receives the rain, and produces only thorns and thistles. The first soil is useful. The second soil is worthless. The first soil can be enjoyed and used for more fruit. The second soil is cursed. The fruit is determined by the nature of the soil.
So what is the soil? The soil is the heart of the individual.
“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”—Romans 5:12
In Adam, the soil of our hearts is hardened and dead. And because our hearts are hardened and dead, no amount of the rain of Christian experience is going to cause us to produce lasting fruit. Rather, the rain may begin to produce something that looks green temporarily. But over time, it will be revealed to be thorns and thistles.
“For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”—Romans 5:19
“For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, 44 for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. 45 The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”—Luke 6:43-45
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”—Ezekiel 36:26-27
Our only hope is for Christ to change the soil of our hearts, to make us receptive to Him, where He becomes the root that produces the fruit of the Holy Spirit in us.
The success of the Christian school student that continues in what he has been taught is not caused by the Christian school experience. Otherwise, the glory would go to the Christian school for creating an experience that caused those results. Rather, the success of the Christian school student is a result of Christ transforming the soil of the students’ heart by changing the students’ heart of stone to a heart of flesh, by rooting Himself in the soil, and by producing the fruit of the Spirit within him.
On the other hand, the blame for the Christian school student that publically shames Christ by rejecting what he had been taught is not to be placed on the Christian school, no matter how many flaws that school may have, or be perceived to have. Rather, the blame, according to Hebrews 6:7-8 lies solely in the hardened heart of the individual student, who willfully turned his back on God.
Dr. Chris Barney put it this way in a sermon he preached on this passage:
“If in the coming years, you commit apostasy, you walk away from the faith, and fall away from Christ, it will not be because you have not tasted of the Word of God and the Spirit of God and the miracles of God. You have drunk of His Word. The Spirit has touched you. You have seen His miracles. And perhaps you may have been His instrument for a few. But if over the next ten to twenty years you begin to cool off spiritually, lose interest in spiritual things, and become more fascinated with making money, and give in to Christ-less ambitions, if you buy the lie that a new wife or a new husband can be exhilarating, and that the children can fend for themselves, that the church of Christ is a drag, and that the incarnation is not true, and that there is one life to live, so let us eat, drink, and be merry, if that happens, then know that the truth is this: you were mightily deceived in the first part of your life, your faith was an alien vestige of your father’s joy, your moral purity was due to social pressures, fear of disease, or simply lack of opportunity. Your Christian service was driven by the love of attention and others approval. Your pursuit of vocation was a love affair with fame, pleasure, position, or money. And your praying was the deepest delusion of all—an attempt to get God to supply the resources of your selfish, empty pursuits.”
3. There is hope for a better fruit.
“Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. 10 For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do.”—Hebrews 6:9-10
The writer of Hebrews understood that this was very difficult and disturbing language to consider. It is such a severe warning, that it could potentially cause unnecessary fear in hearts that are tender to God. So the writer of Hebrews very gently reminds us that even though God is speaking with such strong language, God gives assurance to those who are saved, who belong to Him.
God assures us in verse ten that He sees the fruit of our lives, and that He knows that the fruit of love and service is being produced by the Spirit as evidence of hearts whose soil has been transformed by and rooted in Christ.
So if your heart is tender to God, then you should find confirmation that Christ will continue to transform you.
“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”—1 John 2:19
If you are walking away, you cannot blame your rejection of God on your past Christian experience. Rather, you must realize that you were deceived into thinking that your Christian experiences, culture, lifestyle, etc. were the essence of Christianity. And you must heed God’s warning that if you willfully put Christ to a public shame by walking away from the blessed rain of God, then you will show that you were never truly one of us, and you will not be restored.
PRAYER FOR THE CHRISTIAN SCHOOL TEACHER
If you are a Christian school teacher, then I’d like to share a few practical words of encouragement to you.
1. Find hope in God’s sovereign preservation of His children.
God has promised to complete in the future the work of salvation that He began in the past. And as you face various trials related to the spiritual growth of your students, remember that God is not served by human hands, including yours, as though He needed anything (Acts 17:25). He will accomplish His will by conforming those who are in Christ into the image of Christ. So say alongside of the writer of Hebrews that you “feel sure of better things, things that belong to salvation.” And when you lay down each night, you can fall asleep, resting in that promise, rather than restlessly fearing that you are going to mess it all up.
2. Trust in Christ’s work of heart transformation, rather than in your control of the Christian experiences that you give your students.
As I shared earlier, the experiences that I had in my Christian school were blessings from God. And I’m sure that our teachers enjoyed providing those blessings to us. But it can be easy for those through whom God sends the rain of blessing to hope that those experiences will convince their students to live for God. You must remember that God allows the blessings of Christian experiences to fall on both believers and unbelievers, and then you must trust Christ to transform the students’ hearts.
As you trust Christ to transform their hearts, perhaps it would be wise to focus your discipleship more on their hearts than on their experiences. Perhaps the biggest concern that I have with my college education had to do with this very point.
My Christian college controlled everything in my life, from what church I was allowed to attend, all the way down to what I wore while cutting my grass at home, while I was in my twenties. But what did forcing me to wear jeans, rather than shorts, in 100-degree weather, while cutting my parent’s grass, which was 20 minutes away from school, have to do with cultivating within me a heart for God?
It is no wonder to me that many people with hardened hearts have a mistaken view that Christianity is primarily about experiencing a certain culture or lifestyle. Then when they find that culture and lifestyle to be unappealing to their hardened hearts, they walk away. Again, that is not meant to blame their apostasy on the school. But it is meant to serve as a caution that in our efforts to be wise and careful in an evil world, we need to focus our discipleship efforts on transforming people’s hearts, rather than feeling confident about how naturally they seem to be fitting into a specific lifestyle, even if that lifestyle is biblical.
I’ve never been involved with writing a Christian school handbook. But I wonder what the handbook would look like if it was written from scratch, with the purpose of heart transformation, rather than simply controlling the Christian school experience. Obviously, there would still have to be some practical, logistical requirements. But it seems that there should be a way to communicate more effectively the hope of Christ-centered heart transformation.
My Christian school’s handbook said, “______ seeks to prepare students for a life of service for God and others by teaching them to apply God’s Word to daily living.”
As I study this statement more carefully, I wonder if it was lacking something important. Perhaps it would have been more effective to say, “________ seeks to prepare students for a life of service for God and others by discipling them to love God with all of their hearts, souls, minds, and bodies,” or something along those lines.
Every Christian educator must have a biblical understanding of sanctification, in order to effectively disciple his or her students.
A biblical understanding of sanctification realizes that while applying God’s Word to daily living is important, it is not our hope for heart transformation. Rather, it is the fruit of heart transformation. So our educational process should focus on heart transformation that finds its confidence in God’s promises to transform the hearts of His children, which results in the fruit of applying God’s Word to daily living.
3. Live lives that are worthy of imitation.
“And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”—Hebrews 6:11-12
The desire of the writer of Hebrews should be the prayer of every Christian school teacher—that they would live lives of hope in Christ, evidenced through their faith and patience, in such a way that the students could imitate them, as they imitate Christ.
Are you living a life that is worthy of imitation to your students?
When your students see you, do they see somebody who has the full assurance of hope?
Do they see somebody who is sluggish in their hope?
Do they see somebody who has faith in God to accomplish His will?
Do they see patience in you, when it appears for a season that God is not accomplishing His will, or what you think should be His will, either in your own life, or as you try to disciple them?
The warnings in this passage are severe. And they must not be underplayed, especially when we see this passage played out in the lives of so many Christian school graduates. Yet our hope in Christ’s work remains secure.
So my prayer for Christian education in the 21st Century is not that it will just close up shop like many schools seem to be doing. But rather, my prayer is that it will experience hope in better things, where Christ transforms the soil of hearts, becomes the root of faith, and produces the fruit of the Spirit within the student bodies.