TRA Wordtalks

TRA 26th August, 2001
Twenty-first century Christian education

2 Peter 1:3-9

Some people disparage a Christian Education. They who have never read the Bible, disparage it as a source of great insights for living. My wife and I share every night in reading the study program, "Cover to Cover" which takes you through the entire Bible in one year with commentary and explanation. The series is on sale in Wesley Bookshop. Recently, reading the book of Genesis, I realised that most of the things I ever needed to know about life, I learned from Noah. 

For example I have learned: 1. Don't miss the boat. 2. Don't forget that we're all in the same boat. 3. Plan ahead. It wasn't raining when Noah built the ark. 4. Stay fit. When you're 600 years old, someone might ask you to do something really big. 5. Don't listen to critics, just get on with what has to be done. 6. Build your future on high ground. 7. For safety's sake, travel in pairs. 8. Two heads are better than one. 9. Speed isn't always an advantage; after all, the snails were on the ark with the cheetahs! 10. When you're stressed, float a while. 11. Remember you can do it. The ark was built by amateurs; the Titanic was built by professionals. 12. Remember that the termites inside are a larger threat than the flood outside. 13. Don't leave the church, for like the ark, the stench inside is better than the storm outside. 11. No matter the storm, when God is with you, there's a rainbow waiting...and so on. 

The Bible is the primary source for Christians in learning the major lessons of life. Not the only textbook, but the primary one. To know the Bible is to know the richest resource of humanity in knowing how to live.

1. Christian education
Wesley Mission is called not only to help people come to know Christ, but to grow in maturity in Him. So Wesley Mission has established a significant Christian education program. We have our Sunday Schools, hundreds of people engaged in Bible study and discussion through hundreds of home groups. Every week I teach graduates on the life and ministry of Jesus. We have our City School of the Bible led by theologian Dr Alan Harley. We have courses for tele-counsellors and elders, university students and the disabled. We have 1500 students in our School for Seniors attending 120 classes. Our Dunbar Library has 15,000 books, tapes and videos to aid research and growth. After more than a century of training men and women in leadership and ministry, eleven years ago, we established Wesley Institute For Ministry and the Arts, led by Dr David Johnston, who has served us faithfully since the beginning. 

The Uniting Church Assembly has called for a greater diversity in theological training. But this has faced fierce opposition from traditional theological colleges threatened with the prospect of graduate students with accreditation from the same accrediting bodies as they. Today the mainline seminaries in the USA have been rapidly surpassed by the larger evangelical seminaries which between them have more than 30,000 students. They have impressive academic credentials. The six largest theological seminaries in the US today are all evangelical seminaries. Parishes are calling the evangelically trained ministers because they provide pastoral care, preach the Word of God without reservation, and give the ministry people in the pews expect.

Today Wesley Institute has more associations, accreditations and university links than any UCA Theological college. Wesley Institute is able to teach at Bachelors and Masters Degree levels, Diploma and Graduate Diploma levels. Students can gain degrees in theology, music, drama, dance, the visual arts, counselling, music theatre, television and film, expressive therapies, and pastoral care. We have inter-campus agreements with Universities in Australia, America, Korea and Malaysia. We are training people for ministry for the third millennium. Wesley Institute today has the largest number of students of any UCA tertiary college in Australia. 

Wesley Institute has a fine large property in Drummoyne, a faculty of ninety two committed Christians, and two hundred and fifty students, including students capable of field placements in Uniting Church parishes. Our alliance with Vision College in Sussex Street forming the Wesley Institute of Language and Commerce, has this year another 500 students. To this day, the Wesley Institute has not received a cent from any Synod Board, while in the same period over ten million dollars has been given to the United Theological College. There is a gross inequity shown to evangelicals by Synod.

Evangelical Christianity is the world's fastest-growing religious movement. There are 645 million evangelicals in the world, about 11% of the world's population. Evangelicals are growing 3.5 times faster than the world population. Wesley Mission is an evangelical church committed to Christian education using the best of information technology including over 1000 personal computers being used daily. 

2. Education is a growing phenomena
One of the first major public buildings built in Australia was the female orphan school in Parramatta. It was built in 1813, a year after Wesley Mission was established. It was the first three-story brick building perhaps, in the Southern Hemisphere. It has been restored and in now part of the University of Western Sydney Nepean Campus. Its presence over almost all of our history shows that we have had a commitment to education.

But in recent years the number of secondary students in State run public schools has declined by 250,000, representing approximately 300 high schools closing. In the same period, some 250,000 new enrolments have been made in church run private schools, representing approximately 300 additional church high schools. Despite the availability of free education at government schools, having to pay at private schools up to $50,000 just for tuition fees for six years secondary schooling, and larger student/staff ratios at private secondary schools, 43% of full-time secondary school students chose to study at private schools in 1990 (up from 26% in 1980). As a result the number of non-Catholic private schools has almost doubled in 20 years from 415 to 805. The major reason advanced by parents for this swing towards private and mostly church-run education, is a desire for their children to be taught in a moral and ethical environment. It has become accepted that people without ethics or morals, or an understanding of the meaning and purpose in life, despite their learning in specialised fields, have failed their education. There is a growing awareness of the need for a fresh emphasis upon ethics. I am not talking about a county in England! 

Our generation has become expert in making money, in displaying greed, in developing technological answers while the real problems are relational! Professor Peter Singer of Monash University, says: "We are now taking ethical issues more seriously. We were a bit more moral in the 1990s than we were in the '80s. Australia has a golden opportunity to redefine the ethical landscape in which we live and I hope we don't squander it." Experts provide us with a wealth of information. They load the table with countless pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. The real task of education is to help people put them together when they don't seem to fit. Our map of life has been shaped to look like the game of Monopoly as we buy and borrow, avoid jail, advance asking ever more from the rest, putting money and property as the end game. Hence T.S. Eliot asks "Choruses from 'The Rock'": 
'Where is the life we have lost in the living? 
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? 
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?' 

3. Hence, Christian education is essential
The Apostle Peter told Christians to grow in their knowledge and character "Divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins". 2 Peter 1:3-9

In coming to know God through Christ, the believer escapes the corruption of sin, and Christ renews and restores the image of God within. But having been reborn, Peter calls for a progressive, active Christianity that sees our knowledge grow and our character change. Peter's chain of eight virtues starts with faith and ends in love. As Ignatius said: "Faith is the beginning and love is the end". Peter is saying that if Christians possess, in ever-increasing measure, the eight virtues he has just listed, they will not be "ineffective and unproductive". 

Christian Education is about the development of a Christian character. It is not about the pursuit of happiness, although we rejoice with those who find happiness. It is not about the development of the well-rounded individual who will contribute positively to society, although we expect that our students to become well-balanced and worthy citizens. It is not directly about the fostering of gifts and talents, although we delight in seeing our students grow in the exercise of all their talents. It is not about achieving excellence, although we see that as a natural by-product of Christian education. It is not about success and self-fulfilment, although both 
of those things may be evident for many. 

Fundamentally, Christian Education is about encouraging a Christian commitment and a Christian outlook on life; a way of thinking and being in the world that disciplines and directs all our thoughts and words and actions in the range of activities and experiences that come to us throughout our lives. Christian Education is not a matter of learning new techniques, computers, facts and abilities. It is a matter of how we live. 

Education equips for the whole of life. Education concerns the ends of life, the meaning and purpose behind all we do. If we die without unlocking the door to own our reason for existence, we die impoverished and unfulfilled. The ends of life and the meaning behind all we do is fundamentally a religious understanding. Some may think that is a high expenditure of trust and commitment, but as Professor Eric Bos, the President of Harvard University said, "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance." Nowhere is that more true that in the realm of your spiritual understanding. The cost of spiritual ignorance is high, but the benefits are eternal. 

There is a demand in Australia for leadership - leadership that has grown in its education, knowledge and wisdom, and which holds to ethical, moral and spiritual values. What we see growing in the Wesley Institute is the future leadership of Australia. Therefore it is absolutely essential for every student to face the claims of Jesus Christ upon his or her life and respond. We are not teaching technique, skills, religion alone - we are teaching how Jesus Christ makes you a brand new person. We seek to help you be filled with His gifts and graces to become the person He wants you to be.

Gordon Moyes

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