Based on a sermon by Aun-Quek Chin—Singapore
RELIGIOUS EDUCATION: FOR WHOM?
Traditional Chinese wisdom tells us that when there are three persons walking together, one is bound to be a teacher (sān rén xíng, bì yŏu wŏ shī yān). The sage who issued this adage understood that our teachers are all around us: we need only be humble enough to constantly learn in order to grow. If humility and mutual edification are required to gain secular wisdom, they are even more important when learning the living word of God.
For this reason, we must remind ourselves that religious education is not just for the young, but for Christians of all ages. On one occasion, God said, “Gather the people together, men and women and little ones, and the stranger who is within your gates, that they may hear and that they may learn to fear the Lord your God and carefully observe all the words of this law” (Deut 31:12). No one is too old, too experienced, or too wise to be taught the word of God; God intends for everyone to learn His truth.
WHO SHOULD PROVIDE RELIGIOUS EDUCATION?
God calls us to worship Him and to learn His word as one family and one body. This is a call some have rejected, choosing instead to worship separate from the rest of God’s children, tailoring their services to suit their own preference and convenience. The command in Deuteronomy 12:5 is not to be forgotten: “But you shall seek the place where the Lord your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go.” Today, God has designated the church to be where His name is established. As the church is the body of Christ, we ought to congregate at this appointed sanctuary and worship as one body.
Having said this, we should not limit the teaching of the truth to the confines of the church building. The home is also an excellent place to share and impart God’s word. The familiar edict of Deuteronomy 6:6–9 reads,
“And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
Addressed to parents, these words speak of the need for the home to be an environment that encourages children to learn God’s word. This is because, outside of the home, children will face situations and value systems that challenge and distort their faith: the need to strive for worldly success, to make money, to gain prominence in society, the list continues.
Religious education is no easy task. To implement it successfully, parents, church ministers, and the rest of the spiritual family must work together. Be it at the lively dinner table or the serene church sanctuary, parents and teachers should actively encourage young Christians to familiarize themselves with religious matters.
WHY DOES IT MATTER?
Many make the mistake of thinking that religious education is only useful for Bible study sessions or for understanding the more profound messages from the pulpit. In truth, the benefits of religious education are far richer.
Preserving the Truth
Firstly, religious education is the key to preserving the truth of the gospel that the True Jesus Church holds dearly, preventing the perversion of truth when passed across generations.
Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, Spain, Germany: these are some of the many lands where Jews have been subjugated, persecuted, enslaved, and slaughtered. Displaced and despised, how did they prevent their culture, traditions, and faith from being diluted through assimilation, systemic discrimination, and genocide? Their secret was a careful and rigorous system of religious education. Because of this, the Jews did not forget their God, and God did not forget His people. One cannot but be constantly reminded of God’s instructions when they are “frontlets between your eyes.” Even when the Jews found themselves at the mercy of different empires, their hearts remained rooted in the Scriptures. This is the fruit of religious education.
When implemented correctly, religious education benefits both parents and children. It teaches all that the imparting of the truth must continue, even as everything else around us crumbles. The “least of all peoples” (Deut 7:7) survived the greatest of afflictions through the power of the Scriptures. Therefore, the best way for the truth to be perpetuated is through religious education both in the church and in the home.
A Thoughtful Faith
Secondly, through religious education, the young in our church learn the importance of having an independent, thoughtful faith. A strong personal faith comes from introspection and from being open to correction. A feeble faith, on the other hand, is passive, where one relies on others—parents, peers, preachers—and expects spoon feeding instead of actively pursuing one’s own spiritual growth.
Jesus guided His disciples to develop their own faith. “Who do the crowds say that I am?” Jesus asked them (Lk 9:18–20).Their answers were unsurprisingly mixed: “John the Baptist, but some say Elijah; and others say that one of the old prophets has risen again.” Jesus then cuts through the confusion with the more direct question: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter, ever-valiant, readily offers the correct answer. Would we have offered the same answer?
The need for a personal, thoughtful faith is not something that only Jesus highlighted; it was set out by God long before, in the Old Testament. He told the Israelites to prepare their children to ask about the customs and historical narratives of the nation. But in order to relay this knowledge, they themselves had to be aware of the profundity of their faith. Herein lie two important lessons. First, parents, RE teachers, ministers, and other members of the church have a responsibility to understand the gospel message to a reasonable degree, to be able to relay the core teachings of the Bible competently. Second, God does not want His believers to have a careless and unthinking faith. To take our faith seriously is to meditate on His word, to sincerely seek resolutions to any doubts, and above all, to be honest about our faith.
Today, it is easy to become lost in the frenzy of information, opinions, and ideas that is available just a mouse-click away. We could easily become like “children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Eph 4:14b). To counteract this, we need to adopt the true spirit of religious education: to have a clear understanding, for yourself, of why you believe what you believe.
Religious education works by instilling a spirit of curiosity about religious topics and an earnestness in meditating on the words of the Bible. Students are taught to ask questions, clarify doubts, and cultivate their faith on a personal level. Moreover, in the classroom setting, they learn different perspectives and share personal experiences, which is helpful in developing a thoughtful faith. For example, when brothers and sisters with different backgrounds and life experiences share their understanding of biblical truths, all parties are edified as they realize the universality and relevance of God’s word in their own lives. This helps them to develop a personal faith that can remain resolute when challenged by un-Christian views and situations.
A Resilient Faith
Thirdly, religious education prepares Christians, young and old alike, to bear their own cross for Christ.
There is a tale of a boy who had a beloved pet pig. As his father was a pig farmer, the future of this pet haunted the boy. One day, the father announced that he would slaughter the pig on a certain day, and told his son that his assistance would be expected. Outraged at the cruelty of his father, the boy resolved to remain stoic and to deny him the pleasure of seeing him suffer. However, the day came and went; and the pig survived. As it transpired, the father was dying, and he had known it for some time. Distraught at the thought of leaving his son to fend for himself, he had devised a plan to impart a final gift: the gift of strength in the face of death. He had announced the day of slaughter to prepare his son to confront death without fear. And so, when the father passed away soon afterwards, the boy did not lament loudly, but wept silently, bolstered now by an inner strength.
For Christians, suffering is not just a possibility—it is a certainty. Therefore, to prepare our children for the thorny road to salvation is to teach them that God grants both peace and calamity (Isa 45:7), and that they must accept both willingly, knowing that by His grace they can triumph. Religious education enables them to be resilient, able to withstand the buffeting of tribulation, the seduction of temptation, and the wearing-down of fatigue. In addition to biblical knowledge, true faith must be sustained by moral value and character.
This is where religious education comes in. Children must be taught the uncompromising reality of suffering. The Bible, rich with vivid illustrations of human tribulation, provides powerful consolation by revealing the glory of God’s grace. It is good to share such lessons early, to prepare our children for the inevitable sufferings and problems they will experience.
For religious education to be effective, it has to pervade the lives of our children at all times. Restricting it to an hour-long lecture in the church classroom each weekend has minimal impact. If parents and RE teachers can demonstrate the power of their lessons through their actions, children would be better equipped to live out biblical principles, having seen firsthand how Christians ought to live. The church and the household have to work in tandem to enable our young brethren to inherit the truth, to cultivate a spirit of inquisitiveness and introspection, and to develop a resilient faith of the sort described by Paul:
We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed—always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. (2 Cor 4:8–10)
“It takes a village to raise a child,” so the traditional African proverb goes. But to raise a child of God, it only takes a family; and we are that family.