“In him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).
One hundred years ago, William Butler Yeats surveyed the chaotic post-World War I scene and came to the dire conclusion: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold” (fmchr.ch/wbyeats).
One hundred years later, his distress has come back around as the key question being posed by people today. As things again seem to be falling apart and chaos reigns, we are asking, “Will the center hold?”
Christians answer the question by faith, not fear. The Apostle Paul left no room for exceptions when he wrote to the Colossians, “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16–17).
This truth has special application to our Free Methodist institutions of Christian education, so deeply ingrained in our history and so beloved by every generation. “Christian education,” however, is a term that is too broad and too bland to describe what goes in our homes, churches, schools, colleges and universities. We need the term, “Christ-centered” to distinguish the focal point that brings all learning together and holds it together as a seamless garment. Also, we need to shift our view of Christ-centered education from a collection of independent institutions to a unified system of interdependent ministries, nationally and internationally. With these changes in our viewpoint, we are ready to see Christ-centered education as a seamless garment in which all things are held together in Him.
Seamless in Truth
Christ-centered education exists for the search and discovery of truth. Such a bold claim can only be made when we see how God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit relate to the teaching and learning of truth.
To begin, God the Father is the sourceof all truth. Arthur Holmes, in his book “The Idea of a Christian College,” states, “All truth is God’s truth.” Human learning, no matter how far it ranges or how deep it goes in the search for truth, never leaves the field of God’s realm. Isaac Newton, even after discovering the law of gravity, had it right when he said that he felt like a child playing with pebbles on the shore of God’s ocean (fmchr.ch/inewton). Both men are bowing before the revelation:“For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen” (Romans 11:36).
Next, God the Son in Jesus Christ is the centerfor all truth. Abraham Kuyper, the Dutch theologian, added drama to the search of truth when he wrote:“No single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’”
God the Son is not making His claim like a petulant child. He can cry “mine” because “through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3). With this claim, His authority not only reaches out to the farthest reaches of truth, but also makes Him the unifying center toward which all truth moves and is held together as a seamless garment.
God the Holy Spirit, then, assures the wholeness of all truth in Christ. As Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit is our Teacher. His task is to take us to the outer edges of the “allness” of truth in the Father and bring us back to the center of “oneness” of all truth in the Son. With the Holy Spirit as our Teacher guiding us into the “wholeness” of truth, a seamless garment for Christ-centered education is assured.
Seamless in Text
All Christ-centered education works from a common text. Paul identifies that text in his message to Timothy: “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). Once again, we encounter the word “all” in reference to the seamless garment of Scripture. Add the word “God-breathed” and we stand in awe before the truth that the text for Christ-centered education is the seamless Word of God in both inspiration and aspiration, fully sufficient for our salvation and our conduct. It is the “Text of texts” that is central to our learning, guiding our teaching, and holding all human knowledge together in Christ.
Yes, we are one with John Wesley when he said, “I am a man of one book.” Wesley did not mean that his learning was restricted to Scripture as a single source. An inquisitive man with a searching mind, Wesley ranged far and wide across many fields of human knowledge, but he always returned to Scripture as his reference point. As a man of one book, Wesley also meant that he always sought the whole counsel of the Word of God in interpreting the text or integrating its truth with human knowledge.
The Apostle Paul becomes an educational philosopher when he explains how our master Teacher, the Holy Spirit, leads us through a full learning process. With God-breathed Scripture as His Text, He teaches us the truth, corrects us where we are wrong, and shows us how to do what is right. This is holistic and transformational learning at its best. We should not be surprised to read that the process produces a mature man or woman of God “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17). Whole truth, whole learning, and whole persons make up the seamless garment of Christ-centered education.
Seamless in Teaching
Earlier, we said that Christ-centered education needed to be rethought as a “system” in which the primary institutions of the home, church, school, college and university are interrelated and interdependent. In that same context, we need to think of Christ-centered education as an intentional learning process in which each of these institutions plays a role in advancing Christian character and competence through teaching and learning. At the risk of oversimplification, think of our sons and daughters advancing step by step toward Christ-centered wholeness through these levels of learning:
- University: Christian vocation
- College: Christian mind
- School: Christian worldview
- Church: Christian communion
- Home: Christian character
Visualize a student advancing upward through these levels of learning. At the base of this staircase is the foundational institution of the home, where symbols and stories join with the influence of parents and family in shaping Christian character. The church, then, partners with the home in teaching biblical knowledge through its catechism, confirming conversion to Christ through baptism, and offering the Lord’s Supper as the seal for Christian communion. Christ-centered education continues through our schools where knowledge becomes understanding as the student sees a Christian worldview through the lens of faith. With a strong base in biblical knowledge and understanding, the student is ready for college and the making of the Christian mind through critical thinking leading to the integration of faith and reason. Finally, at the advanced level of college or university, Christ-centered learning applies faith to the world of work through character and competence. As noted earlier, the graduate of Christ-centered learning is a man or woman of God “thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Seamless in Purpose
Five working principles come to mind as we reflect on the role of our institutions in Christ-centered teaching and learning:
- Christ-centered institutions, at every level of faith development, are interrelated in support of each other. The home and church, for example, are partners in the development of Christian character and knowledge at the most fundamental level. Spiritual awakening begins in the home when a child learns a prayer to pray, a hymn to sing and a Scripture verse to recite while also responding to the modeling and discipline of parents and family. Every Christian parent’s prayer is that spiritual awakening will lead to conversion in Christ. The church, then, reinforces this early learning with biblical knowledge gained through catechism and Christian communion sealed through baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
- Christ-institutions are interdependent. Some measure of completion is required at each level of development before advancing to the next level. If students enter college without Christian character, Christian communion and a Christian worldview, they are not ready for the critical thinking required for the integration of faith and reason through a Christ-centered liberal arts curriculum. Likewise, if students graduate from college without the discernment of the Christian mind in spiritual, moral and social matters, the application of learning to calling and career in Christian vocation will require some form of remedial learning.
- Christ-centered institutions must be intentional about their designated role in faith development. No institution can do all things for all people. Even the church, with its broad sweep of ministries and vital interest in every stage of spiritual growth, must focus its attention upon introducing children to Christian doctrine, celebrating their conversion and confirming their commitment through the means of grace. Christ-centered institutions of learning are often tempted to blur their focus by trying to be culturally relevant, politically correct or financially viable. If their intention to be Christ-centered is forfeited by trying to be all things to all people, the seamless garment becomes tattered cloth.
- All Christ-centered institutions are accountable for the same spiritual outcome. The Apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians, aspires us toward that goal when he writes, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit”(2 Corinthians 3:18).
Over the doorpost of our homes, at the entrance to our churches and on the archway of every institution of learning we should post this ever-present reminder of our ultimate purpose. The only reason for the existence of Christ-centered learning is to see our students“being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory.”
- The system of Christ-centered education requires communication and cooperation. Sad to say, educational institutions, whether secular or religious, seldom speak to each other. When communication among levels of learning is limited or lost, students suffer. Christ-centered institutions, dedicated to the development of whole persons in Christ, cannot afford the silence. Avenues of communication and cooperation among all levels of learning and all institutions of Christ-centered education, at home and abroad, need to be opened. To assure a seamless garment for the future, all Christ-centered institutions mustcome together on the truth we claim, the text we adopt and the teaching we employ.
Seamless in Testing
The seamless garment of Christ-centered education is being tested by both external and internal influences. Externally, legal and political issues are testing whether Christ-centered institutions know who they are and why they exist. Federal funding, tax exemption and academic accreditation are all at stake.
The greater threat, however, is internal. As the tsunami of moral relativism, self-interest and angry divisiveness comes to its crest through the entertainment-social mediacomplex, the strength of the fiber in the seamless garment is being stretched to the breaking point. The home is most vulnerable. As a former college and university educator, I learned how dependent we are on the home for the quality of our student body and the vitality of our spiritual witness. A study came out reporting that the average family income for the parents of our students was several thousand dollars less than the average family income of parents for students in the lower cost public university just across town. In a word, our parents made significant sacrifices so that their sons and daughters could have a Christ-centered education. I bowed before this fact and vowed that we would honor their sacrifice by Christ-centered clarity for our mission, our curriculum and our campus life. It is time to rethink our educational mission as a seamless garment by opening the doors of communication and finding new avenues of cooperation between and among our institutions.
Seamless in Hope
“Will the center hold?” Yeats, the poet, answered “no.” At the end of his poem titled “The Second Coming,” he foresaw the time when the “Spirit of the World” would be reborn in Bethlehem as the ruler of chaos and ultimate destruction. Those of us who believe in Christ as the One “in whom all things hold together”categorically and unequivocally reject such despair. We are people of hope in Christ who can shout “Yes, the Center will hold.” As entwined fibers in a seamless garment, Christ-centered institutions must be as one in the truth we claim, the text we adopt, and the teaching we employ. All of this, so that our sons and daughters may grow to be epistles of Christ, “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God” (2 Corinthians 3:3). Our mandate for Christ-centered education in the Free Methodist Church is still the same for today and tomorrow. We are called to show how, in Christ, “all things hold together” — a seamless garment.
David L. McKenna is the president emeritus of Spring Arbor University, Seattle Pacific University and Asbury Theological Seminary; the chair emeritus of the Spring Arbor University Board of Trustees; an ordained elder in the Free Methodist Church; and the author of 43 books, including “The Posterity Gospel” (fmchr.ch/posterity). He and his wife, Janet, live in Kirkland, Washington.