Educating for Eternity in the context of the secular state

Classroom of the Armitage Senior Secondary School/The Gambia

by Hugh Wetmore
Published at The Christian Blogger

This is the last of a three-part series where Wetmore has looked at the relationship between the church and a secular state.

Read part 1: The growth of the Christian faith in a secular state.

Read part 2: How the secular state contributes to the growth of the Christian faith


Has our previous education system been able to “educate for eternity?” From what I’ve seen of religious education (R.E.) in our schools, it makes Christianity very boring and puts kids off. Any old teacher gets assigned to teach it, regardless of whether he/she is a Christian or not.

And I would agree. My five years of compulsory “scripture” classes at high school were a joke. I don’t remember one serious scripture lesson. Mostly we just did our homework in that period. Later in the early 1970s our daughter Cherie was explicitly taught evolution in standard two (Grade 4). She came home and told us about this strange teaching and then said, “But I told the teacher she was wrong. God made everything like it says in the Bible!” So much for our highly-praised Christian-orientated Education System. Its weakness lay in trying to make it Christian without having Christians teaching it. When a teacher doesn’t believe what he/she is teaching, the sham is felt by the children, and this does worse damage than not teaching the subject at all. This is the essence of hypocrisy, and this always brings down the judgement of God.

So what is the key to handling “education for eternity” under the new a-religious education system? Get as many Christians as possible into education!

This is what happened in Singapore. In the mid-80s, Christians totalled only 12 percent of the national population. But 30 percent of all university students were Christians. How can one account for this in a school education system that is religiously neutral? 38 percent of all school teachers were Christians. Though not allowed to proselytise, their informal witness and influence, and extra-curricula Christian activities, sowed Gospel seeds.

Christians need not fear Secular State education

A secular or religiously impartial state will affect our State education system more radically than any other aspect of life in South Africa. Yet we need not fear that a non-Christian education will damage our children’s faith.

*An evangelical leader from Cuba told me that in his country, where all children are subjected to anti-Christian Marxist propaganda at school, very few of the children from Christian homes lose their faith. The reason is that Christian parents take their discipling responsibility seriously. At the Family Altar they instruct their children daily in the ways of God.

*A South African missionary to Japan, on the recommendation of a local Christian, enrolled his children in a nearby State school. The education system was thoroughly Buddhist. Yet his children became far stronger Christians than the children of other missionaries who chose the Christian private school route. They experienced the Christian upbringing of their own home. At school, they took their stand for Christ at a young age, learning from experience the superiority of Christ over other gods.

* A YWAM college student told me how her parents had sent her to a Christian school in the USA to protect her from the evils of secular state-school education, where scripture and prayer were not permitted. On graduation, she was totally unprepared for life in a non-Christian environment. Humanistic philosophies made her version of Christianity seem stupid. She fell for every temptation going. Only years later did she recover her faith in Christ.

The essential role of the Christian home

These examples show that the key to ensuring the spiritual survival of our Christian children in a non-Christian state education system lies in the Christian Home. Home discipling will ensure that we have nothing to fear from their exposure to the real world outside. Churches should equip parents for this this responsibility. Do not leave Christian education to agencies outside the home and Church.

What could a religiously neutral education system look like?

Surprisingly, South Africa has long had “religiously neutral” state school education – among the Iindian population. Instead of Christian National Education taught elsewhere, our Indian schools had a subject called “Right Living”, teaching ethical conduct, good manners, and common civilised values.

In the “secular state” of Singapore, the curriculum has three core components which are compulsory from the first day of school to the last: English, Mathematics and Moral Education. Moral Education concentrates on “core Asian values”. What are these? President Wee Kim Wee believes that “The essence of being a Singaporean includes placing society above self, upholding the family as the basic building block of society, resolving major issues through consensus instead of contention, and stressing racial and religious tolerance and harmony”.

We can teach good moral values for society without basing them on Christian ethics. Because of the common grace of God, we share a wide range of moral values with the noblest ethical teachings of other faiths.

During the 1990 Rustenburg Church conference I was discouraged to see how wide and deep was the differences in ethical standards among Christian churches. They were split down on the middle on issues such as homosexual practice, abortion on demand, extra-marital sex. In 1992 I attended an Inter-Faith Conference in Pretoria where I conducted my own private survey of ethical values among Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Baha’i theologians. I was surprised to see that evangelical Christians have more in common with the ethics of other faiths than with the ethics of more liberal Christians in our churches. Remember the primary purpose of the curriculum is to prepare good citizens. God will open up extra-curricula witnessing opportunities in His own time and way, as we are ready to recognise them.

Objective religious education

A religiously impartial education system studies religions descriptively. Teachers must teach about each world religion as objectively as possible. The purpose will be to develop religious understanding and tolerance. Christians should be careful not to use their official position as “teacher” to influence impressionable children in an unprofessional way. Yet in other ways, Christians will have to be more aggressive. We cannot sit back in the hope that the state will preserve our values for us. Christian parents must get involved in the community-control of the school their children attend, and speak up for Christian concerns. We should use the right of Christian agencies such as SCO, CSV, SU to have free access to school premises for voluntary activities outside of normal school hours – during long lunch breaks or after school. As we do so, we will have to justly concede that the youth movements of other religions will also have this right. Christians will have to stand up and be counted as never before. Be alert to expose subtle religious indoctrination of Secularism, Humanism, Materialism, The Occult, New Age. Wide-awake Christians must expose every other philosophy that seeks to establish itself as the controlling ideology in education.

A religiously impartial State and education system can only be to the advantage of the Gospel. I really believe that, given a level playing field, Christianity will win out in the end. After all, no other religion has a Gospel that is the power of God to save everyone who believes! (Romans 1:16). A religiously impartial national education system does not mean sacrificing values. As we have seen, many aspects of our Christian value system are shared by other religions. Rather than speak of “Christian values” we will have to speak of “Values compatible with Christianity” just as Muslims and Hindus will speak of values compatible with their religions. This does NOT mean that Truth is unimportant, or that we don’t care about Christian distinctives. We are simply affirming the state’s mandate to rule with justice over people of all religions, even over people who teach a lie. Furthermore, it is the responsibility of the Church, not the state, to conserve and propagate the true doctrine of God (1Timothy 3:15).

The role of the Christian private school

Is there a place for the private Christian school? Most certainly yes! But its role is NOT to replace the home environment for Christian upbringing. Its role is NOT to help lazy Christians cop out of their God-given responsibility (Deut. 6:4-6). They must not provide a cocoon that is so Christian-protective that young people emerge unable to handle the stresses of the real world outside. In 1991, EFSA convened a Symposium on “The Future of Religious Education in a New Education System” and one of the private schools represented stated its admissions policy as “only accepting Christian children”, to ensure it remained a Christian School. There was a healthy disagreement over this exclusive position.

In terms of the survival and growth of the Christian Faith, the role of the private school should include evangelism. It is well-placed to reach children from non-Christian families with the Gospel and to disciple them for Christ. Most Christian private schools offer superior education and sports facilities, and special-interest coaching that will attract pupils, even from non-Christian religions. If then private Christian Schools maintain a healthy enrolment of both Christian and non-Christian scholars, they will go a long way in avoiding the dangers of becoming a Christian ghetto. Christian pupils will rub shoulders with non-Christians, be exposed to temptations in a context that can help them handle them victoriously, and have the challenge of witnessing to others who do not yet know their Jesus. A balanced enrolment helps bring normality to what could be an abnormal environment.


In a religiously impartial state, the Christian faith will not only survive, it will grow – qualitatively and quantitatively. But this will not happen if we are careless and slack in our witness. The religiously impartial state education Policy calls for a new alertness to see incipient dangers, a new creative imagination to make the most of the opportunities we have, a new courage to witness to Christ and His truth in a sometimes hostile environment, and a new commitment to Jesus Christ and to prayer. Such a Church, and such Christian educators, will educate for both time and eternity!


Hugh Wetmore is the General Secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of South Africa.


This was the last of a three-part series where Wetmore has looked at the relationship between the church and a secular state.

Read part 1: The growth of the Christian faith in a secular state.

Read part 2: How the secular state contributes to the growth of the Christian faith

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