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 The work of the Christian Church
in education
by Howard Ray Carey

Methodist minister Howard Carey reviews the ways in which the Christian church educates its members, for better or worse.

Education is, and has long been recognized as, a vitally important part of the work of organized Christianity. And this educational work has been and continues to be quite extensive. In the United States, for instance, many of the prominent universities, though now independent of church control, were first organized, financed, and directed by one or other of the many Christian denominations. Boston University, Northwestern University, and the University of Southern California are examples. There are many others. In addition, there are many grade schools, secondary schools and colleges which remain today virtually church institutions, financed and directed under the auspices of one church body or another. Such church-related institutions of learning are found not only in developed countries like the United States, but also in developing countries, where they are thought of as mission fields.

But church-sponsored efforts at education are not limited to the work of such schools and colleges. The typical liberal minister, when he steps into the pulpit on a Sunday morning and launches into his sermon is, more often than not, thinking in terms of instructing or educating his hearers. He calls his task an educational ministry, and such it is. Then there is the Sunday morning 'Sunday School' which typically has graded classes aimed at educating children, youth and adults.

Thus the educational efforts of churches are quite extensive. But the question arises as to the nature and quality of all this educational effort. What is its purpose? What does it seek to accomplish?

Some ultra-conservative and fundamentalist churches seem to be seeking mainly to indoctrinate their students. For instance, one church-related college in Michigan with which I am personally familiar keeps its scholastic rating high by using textbooks approved by the state-sponsored University of Michigan. But in their classrooms the instructors use those state-approved texts in a negative and dishonest way, using the textbook teachings on evolution, for example, only to refute them. This happens because the backward-looking denomination which controls the college is dead-set against all such ideas as evolution. What they want is for their graduates to be informed about such 'mistaken doctrines' and know how to counter them.

But on the whole, the situation is less dismal than the one I have just pictured. In many church-related colleges, the curriculum and the teaching show little variation from what is taught in state colleges. The values and the limitations typical of modern education are, in fact, equally typical of these Christian institutions. But some teachers in these schools are exceptions to the rule, and are deeply committed to the Christian ideals of love, brotherhood, and unselfish service, ideals they do their best to share with their students. This adds much to the quality of the educational process, as do the efforts of many teaching ministers and Sunday School teachers with the same perspective.

Then there is another aspect of church work, not formally designated as education, where the learning process is also taking place. I refer to the outreach of the churches to help the needy, the hungry, and the deprived people of this world. Of course much more needs to be done, but a lot of such good work is being carried out by many churches.

It is interesting to note, in this regard, that earlier in this century, at around the time Alice Bailey – inspired by the Master DK – began writing about the New Group of World Servers, one of the Protestant denominations chose the name 'World Service' for their total outreach in such philanthropic endeavors. And now in the present day many denominations linked together in a national Council of Churches use the name 'Church World Service' as their designation for this important work.

But, one may ask, how is this world outreach educational? In the first place, all the publicity which is sent out by the churches to explain the many needs around the world helps to educate the members in developing a sense of world brotherhood and in grasping the principle of sharing. As church members ponder on such matters as how much they can share, and where it will do the most good, their minds are expanding and their sense of brotherhood is evolving.

In addition, many church people, young and older, volunteer to go to the neediest places, at home and abroad, to participate in such activities as drilling wells, building medical clinics, helping with agricultural projects, etc. In the process, their understanding of world conditions is rapidly increasing, and their heart centers are expanding. And this important educational process not only affects these individuals themselves, but all those in the home churches with whom they share pictures, literature and their own personal testimony about 'how the other half lives'. The educational value of all this experience and communication is perhaps beyond reckoning.

As the Master DK has indicated, "Education should be basically concerned with relations and interrelations, with the bridging or the healing of cleavages, and thus with the restoration of unity or synthesis." (Education in the New Age, p.94)  Fortunately, some important beginnings of such synthesis can be seen happening right now. And when the reality and nature of the soul, with its motivation and outreach of service, is more widely recognized, education everywhere, not just in the churches, will be transformed.

To quote DK again: "As the linking up of soul and personality proceed, and as the knowledge of the Plan and the light of the soul pour into the brain consciousness, the normal result is the subordination of the lower to the higher. Identification with group purposes and plans is the natural attribute of the soul. As this identification is carried forward on mental and soul levels, it produces a corresponding activity in the personal life, and this activity we call service. Service is the true science of creation, and is a scientific method of establishing continuity". (Ibid. p. 97)

So whatever group or fellowship we may work through, church-related or otherwise, let us understand that service is a genuine and important science, and let us be grateful that we can be a part of the soul's will and capacity to serve.

(*Author's note: This article is limited to education in and through Christian churches, since the author is not equipped to deal with education in the other world religions, important as that subject may be.)

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First published April 1999, Last modified: 15-Oct-2005