K.C. Tsai—Toronto, Canada
IMPERATIVE OF RELIGIOUS EDUCATION
The purpose of life is to seek God
(Acts 17:26–27), to find the way back to Him (Jn 14:2–3, 6), and to prudently
walk on this way. Our journey of faith is a life-long learning process where we
are nurtured by God through our daily encounters. However, we tend to cling to
the stereotypical impression of religious education (RE) as a passive process
of classroom learning where the teacher imparts knowledge and dispels doubts,
and the students receive what is taught. In fact, when teachers prepare themselves for their lessons by
memorizing biblical stories, writing lecture notes, and conducting themselves
in exemplary ways consistent with the Bible, these teachers are also receiving
There are two key reasons why RE is particularly important in the twenty-first
century: first, the increasing divergence between secular and biblical
paradigms; and second, the potential lack of a home environment that is conducive
to the cultivation of faith.
Between World Views and Biblical Principles
Secular principles—be these common
sense or accepted conventions—are not always consistent with biblical teachings
(Jas 4:4; 1 Jn 2:15). The
purpose of RE is to instill faith and the right beliefs in students so they can
discern between worldly concepts and biblical teachings.
Box Story 1: Man’s Way vs. God’s Way
There are numerous disparities
between worldly and biblical concepts:
- People who do not know God and recognize His
authority often turn to human rights. Some may take this to the extreme by
advocating absolute individualism, which allows every man or woman to do
whatever is right in his or her own eyes. This is exactly what Moses warned the
Israelites against before they entered the Promised Land (Deut 12:8).
- From the world’s perspective, a man who works
hard can take all the credit when he achieves a goal. But the Bible teaches us
that chance and opportunities are provided by God (Eccl 9:11); so we ought to
give glory to God.
- Modern man values personal opinions and ideas
over the search for the will of God. Society encourages us to fight for things
that we think are right (Deut 12:8).
But things deemed right in human eyes are not necessarily biblically correct!
God wants His people to always do what is good and right in His sight (Deut
12:28). The Bible also exhorts us to do nothing through selfish ambition or
conceit; instead, in lowliness of mind, each man should esteem others better
than himself (Phil 2:3).
- Apostle Paul taught that one should not avenge
himself, for God says, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay" (Rom 12:19).
Yet in movies and media, we often see heroes taking things into their own
Lack of a Home Environment Conducive to Religious
The time that our children spend
attending church RE classes is limited. Hence, their actual learning of the
precepts of their faith takes place at home. The effectiveness of such learning
would be highly dependent on their parents’ values, faith, and lifestyle. If parents
are to successfully raise a generation of godly offspring, they themselves must
first have good RE.
Box Story 2: Children Learn What They Live
A child’s attitude towards his
faith is shaped by the adults around him:
- When a child grows up to be uncertain of whom he
has believed, and eventually chooses to leave the church, look at the family.
Although friends and the environment influence a child, the uncertainty or
disillusionment usually stems from the foundation of the family.
- When we see a youth who is pessimistic, full of
grievances and unwilling to forgive, the family is likely full of criticism and
grumbling. He lives in a home that lacks thanksgiving.
- When we hear a young person often talking about
values that deviate from biblical principles, one can surmise a family life
inclined towards the world instead of rooted in God’s love and word.
OLD TESTAMENT RELIGIOUS EDUCATION—THE WILDERNESS
You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the
Lord your God chastens you. (Deut 8:5)
Throughout the Bible, God’s
emphasis on RE is clear. He allowed His people to journey in the wilderness for
forty years, eating bland and tasteless food (Num 11:4–6), and living in a
harsh and difficult environment (Ex 15:22–24; 17:1–3), in order to educate
them. As Moses said, “you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the
way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know
what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not” (Deut
8:2–3). The forty years of wandering in the wilderness were the consequence of
the Israelites’ sin of infidelity (cf. Num 14:33—they did not believe in God’s
promise and were unwilling to enter Canaan out of fear). However, when the
journey was drawing to an end, Moses told them it was God who used those forty
years to train them, providing them with the most comprehensive RE.
In those forty years, they learned
to live on God’s word and His providence. From the tabernacle, Moses brought
out the word of God to transform God’s people into a holy nation, a kingdom of
Today, religious education is to
cultivate spiritual priests.
NEW TESTAMENT RELIGIOUS EDUCATION—CULTIVATING A
The Israelites’ exodus from Egypt
was a highly eventful process. Before reaching Sinai, they had been pursued by
the Egyptians, challenged by the Red Sea, attacked by Amalekites, and for three
days, had no water in sight. It was indeed a close shave. But God said that He
bore them on eagles’ wings and brought them to Himself. He removed the Egyptian
soldiers, opened a path in the Red Sea, eliminated the Amalekites, and provided
water from the rock. It was only at Mount Sinai that they realized how God had
protected them throughout their journey. God wanted them to be a special
treasure to Him above all people, to be His kingdom of priests, His holy nation
There was a purpose to God’s
education of His people. It was for them to be a people dwelling alone, not
reckoning itself among the nations (Num 23:9) but conducting themselves in
accordance with the principles taught by God. They were trained to abide by the
law regarding cleanliness and to differentiate between holy and secular things.
The book of Leviticus provides a
guide on how to be a priest, as well as how to establish a society of God. It
charts the transformation from slavery to priesthood, from the lowly people in
Egypt to a holy nation. As such, this God-given textbook of priestly conduct is
also applicable to us today.
In the Old Testament, priests
offered burnt offering, grain offering, peace offering (offered in
thanksgiving, to fulfill a vow, or to offer up willingly, cf. Lev 7:15), sin
offering, and trespass offering. In Jesus’ new covenant, His followers offer
spiritual sacrifices. They are to examine themselves daily and offer up prayers
of repentance to maintain a harmonious relationship with God.
In particular, believers ought to
present their bodies as a living sacrifice; holy and acceptable to God (Rom
12:1). The old covenant accepted animals as sacrifices. Those animals were
offered against their will. They had to be slaughtered before they were laid on
the altar. Such are dead sacrifices. In the new covenant, the believer does not
offer up sacrificial animals. Instead, he offers up himself willingly, while alive.
You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a
holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through
Jesus Christ. (1 Pet 2:5)
A willing sacrifice means that we
rid ourselves of our own will and that we are completely committed to give what
the Lord requires. Today’s RE requires that the educator accompany those who
are being nurtured in the offering of themselves as a living sacrifice and in
the process of growing up in faith.
The two sons of Aaron were
priests, ordained to serve in the tabernacle according to the commandments of
God. However, they each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it,
and offered profane fire before God, which He had not commanded them. So fire
went out from God and devoured them, and they died before Him (Lev 10:1–3).
In today’s context, the purpose of
carrying out church work is to serve the Lord, not to fulfill our personal ideals
or ambitions (Deut 12:8). If we are resolved to serve, we must first learn the
proper way of service prescribed by God (Deut 12:28). This requires diligent
study of the Bible and full submission to His word. What God requires of man is
to fear Him by following His command (Gen 22:12; Deut 10:12), as well as to do
justly, love mercy and walk humbly with Him (Mic
Instilling the Fear of God
God is love (1 Jn 4:8). His is a
genuine love which may lead Him to refine His people through adversities in their
lives. However, God is also a consuming fire (Heb 12:29). He demands purity and
holiness from His loved ones.
In the third month after Israel’s
exodus from Egypt, they reached the Wilderness of Sinai (Ex 19:1). There, God
gave them the Ten Commandments: they were taught to serve God and to establish
a relationship with Him (the first four commandments); they were also taught
the principles of handling interpersonal relationships in order to be pleasing
to God (the next six commandments). Later, in the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord
Jesus further expounded on the Commandments. With regard to the commandment
“You shall not murder”, He said that whoever was angry with his brother without
a cause would be in danger of the judgment (Mt 5:21–22). With regard to the
commandment “You shall not commit adultery”, He said that whoever looked at a
woman and lusted after her had already committed adultery with her in his
heart. These Ten Commandments and the teachings of Jesus constitute the most
fundamental content of RE and are every godly parent’s basic tools for raising
children whom God loves.
The aim of Jesus’ RE is to implant
the fear of God in the heart of man. God is in heaven and man on earth (Eccl
5:2). Man has to walk prudently before Him because He searches the heart of man
and watches his daily handling of affairs (Ps 139:23–24). Other than honesty
and sincerity in the fear of God, there are many other spiritual virtues taught
in the Bible. All these must be integrated into our lives if we are to reclaim
the image and likeness of God.
Apostle Peter addressed the
congregation, which mainly comprised non-Jews (cf. Acts 13:44–49), of the
various churches in Asia Minor as the elect according to the foreknowledge, the
eternal wisdom, of God the Father (1 Pet 1:1–2). They were a chosen generation,
a royal priesthood, holy unto God (1 Pet 2:9). Although recipients of his
letter were the churches of Asia Minor, the message is meant for all who have
been redeemed, namely, the believers of the true church. It is to tell them
that they are a nation of priests. With the royal priesthood, they serve God
and are redeemed to Him (Rev 5:9–10).
The objective of God’s election is
to bestow the royal priesthood upon His people. Being royal is to have the
dignity and majesty of a king, sovereign without constraints of death and sin
(1 Cor 15:55–58). Those who have been redeemed by the Lord’s precious blood
shall reign on the earth (Rev 5:10); they will triumph over the world (1 Jn 5:4–5),
no longer under its bondage (Heb 2:14–15). They will not be tossed to and fro
and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men or in the
cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting (Eph 4:13–14). On the contrary, they
will be able to transcend worldly trends through the guidance of the Holy
Spirit and the truth of salvation.
Knowing the Common Beliefs and Practicing Proper
However, the Lord Jesus has warned
that false prophets would rise up to deceive many before His coming and the end
of the age (Mt 24:10–11). Many will also stumble due to their lack of the
understanding of the truth. Believers’ ability to discern will thus be
challenged as never before. Therefore, it is vital for all believers to be
familiar with the common beliefs of the church. Furthermore, besides clearly
explaining the common beliefs, RE must include training on hermeneutic
principles so that believers are able to detect inappropriate interpretation of
Mastering Biblical Passages
Man shall not live by bread alone;
but man lives by every word that proceeds from the
mouth of the LORD (Deut 8:3). With the word of God, the Israelites survived the
journey through the wilderness. Likewise, His words will enable us to make the
right choices between life and death, blessing and cursing (Deut 30:19).
Everyone needs God’s word to build
up spiritual values and concepts, enabling us to make Bible-based judgments for
everyday decisions. Although mundane, memorizing key Bible verses is the most
fundamental part of RE. Some may see this as “brain washing,” but we should be
thankful that our brains are washed by God’s word, for His word sanctifies and
cleanses (Eph 5:26).
In a world of Internet and online
activities, we are constantly bombarded by information. We need the ultimate
and immutable standard of morality and values by which we can examine
everything that we see, hear or read. That standard can only come from the Bible.
We have to be filled with biblical concepts and values if we are to continue
walking upright. We need to be reminded of how the saints would have responded
in a similar situation. This then is the essence of the lifelong RE that can
help form our shield of faith (cf. Eph 6:16).
Lifelong RE may be a mammoth task,
since biblical teachings may be challenged by secular values and beliefs: the
fiery darts of the devil. Therefore, entrenching God’s word in our hearts is
our basic, if not sole, defense to the diverse values and temptations dangled
in front of us by the ruler of the world. In addition, we must always be
mindful of our status as royal priests elected to fear, love, and serve the
Lord. This status was purchased with the precious blood of our Savior and is
available to our succeeding generations with the proviso that all of us play
our part in conducting a successful RE beyond the classroom.