Sunday, November 13, 2011

Homeschooling, Convictions, and the Christian Welcome

Have you ever been in a home where you felt truly welcomed?  Maybe it was the way you were received into a home, or perhaps a friend did something that made you feel fully accepted and treasured-- welcomed.

Have you ever experienced the opposite?  Maybe it was a group of kids in school who made you feel left out, or a group of adults at work or church who already had their 'clique' and didn't seem to want to have anything to do with you, or a party where you felt like you never really connected with anyone in particular-- unwelcomed.

I'd like to explore the idea of the Christian "welcome" that should exist within the Body of Christ, even while we hold varying personal convictions.  Specifically, I'd like to talk about the sense of unwelcome that is communicated when (at least on the internet) every stance, every conviction, every choice a couple makes is held up as an all-or-nothing proposition, particularly within the Christian homeschool community. 

Friends of mine have shared that it can be difficult if you're a homeschool parent of an only child, or even of 2 or 3, when curriculum covers continually feature families of 9 or more, all dressed in denim, period dresses, or plaid.  Intentionally or unintentionally, it projects the message that smaller family units are not valued or welcomed within that circle.  

It also, speaking frankly, projects the message that homeschoolers are some strange breed of humanity, and draws unnecessary and extrabiblical distinctions between us and the world around us, when there are plenty of biblical distinctions that could and should be a better focus of our time and attention.

Even more insidious is the idea that unless we all hold identical convictions on everything, we can not (and should not) be in fellowship.  That standard could be one's political views, stance on contraceptives, headcoverings, skirts, or what educational choices are made by adult children.  Sometimes it is all of these.  

For pete's sake, there are Christian homeschool organizations that have stances on men's facial hair!  It has gone too far, and intruded too deeply into areas where God is fully capable of speaking and leading in the life of a family.  

Recently, Tim Challies has written about homeschooling, and -I'll admit- I have disagreed with some of what he said, and more generally objected to the approach he uses when he talks about homeschooling, which to me has come off almost like a bitter teacher who wants to "teach a lesson" to the kid he never liked.  However, regardless of my take on his attitude, I think there is one larger point interwoven in his articles worth considering: homeschoolers have too often projected an image that we think that this one educational decision-- homeschooling-- is a holier decision, or that it will somehow save our children from the resident sin within.  

Part of that may be that any significant decision one makes that intentionally takes a minority position seems to cast rejection and judgment toward the majority view, but part of it is that the homeschooling community (writ large) has repeatedly, methodically, sometimes unintentionally, but sometimes intentionally, projected that sense of judgment and disdain toward other choices over the last few decades.  I am not suggesting that I agree that this is a motivation of why people choose to homeschool.    What I'm suggesting is that we need to be aware of this ability to easily come off as "holier than thou", and write and speak about homeschooling more carefully.

As I write here, I want to be careful to cling to what is good and delight in the beauty of the Bride of Christ.  For my part, I want to earnestly seek unity within the Body of Christ, not based on externals, but based on faith in the grace of Jesus Christ as the sole means of my justification.  Whether my daughter, or yours, wears pants or goes to college is not a salvation issue.  Whether or not a family uses contraceptives or not should not be a fellowship issue.  Honestly, while these issues are sometimes discussed among friends, I do not hear them spoken of in real life to the degree or frequency as I see on the internet.  

And schooling decisions are different the world over.  The importance we place on the issue of homeschooling is laughable in a place where the church is being persecuted and can not even meet publicly as believers- places like China, Tajikistan, or Iran.   

While I've worked through some of these issues in my writings here at Making Home, I am writing these things here today, because I do not ever want to be a part of projecting an image that says "if you'll just clean yourself up, or do these things, or hold identical convictions to mine, THEN you will be acceptable to God, and to me as a fellow believer."  Our salvation is granted by Christ's blood-- completely, 100%.  There is nothing we, or our children, can do to merit it.  I never want to even hint otherwise.

At the same time, I know that when we come to personal convictions, we hold them dearly.  We see how God has led us to certain "a-ha" moments in life, and we treasure that leading of God's Spirit.  And that is right and good, that we value the things God has taught us.  And I know that where there is conviction, that issue is often raised to the level of sin in our own estimation, as we are commanded in Scripture to only do those things that we can do in faith.  Even while I sit here and write this, I know that there are convictions I have that I would rank more significantly than you might rank those same convictions in your own life, and vice-versa.  

But my point is that we have to speak and write about these things with balance and with grace.  If our arms and lives and mouths are so full carrying around these personal convictions, how can we truly open up our arms and offer welcome towards those God has put in our path whose non-salvation-oriented convictions differ from our own?

So for me, the issue becomes this: How can we hold our personal convictions securely, and yet gladly be a part of a more diverse Body of Christ?

And I think Romans 15 says some wonderful things on such a point: 
"Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.  For Christ did not please himself... may the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God."  

I want to think on these ideas more--
(1) please our neighbor for HIS good, to build him up
(2) rely on the God of endurance and encouragement to live in harmony
(3) seek to live in harmony with others so that, together, we can glorify God
(4) welcome others, for God's glory

But for now, thoughts?  Comments?  Christian sister, I would love to hear your reaction to these scattered thoughts I've shared.  


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