Are Christian teachers simply called to conform to the patterns of this world? And, if the answer is no, how can we be "citizens of two kingdoms" in a practical way?
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From the earliest days of Christianity there has been a debate about the nature of the relationship between the church and whatever state it finds itself associated with. The options have ranged from a Christendom model where the state and the church are almost indistinguishable to a decidedly oppositional relationship between the two.
Many, indeed most Christian teachers, find themselves working in an essentially secular environment with the ongoing challenge to work out what it means to be a citizen of two kingdoms; of this world and of the kingdom of God. The experience is often one of discovering considerable synergy in the shared vision of education with practitioners of other faiths and none. Much of this is grounded in our common humanity; much in the essentially pragmatic nature of such a lot of what is done in schools. At other times there are points of principled disagreement between those who believe that there is a God inspired take on education, and those who do not.
Rowan Williams reminds us of the necessary limits of the secular State in its engagement with religious world views in one of his typically subtle lectures on Secularism. He mentions Coleridge, who wrote about the character of the established church in the 1830’s. The latter referred to the role of the established church as one of ‘perpetually friendly opposition’. Coleridge’s point involves the observation that in the mere act of ‘laying and securing its own foundations’ the church presents a critical mirror to the ‘inherent and inevitable evils and defects’ of the State.
Translated into our time, the call for the church and its members to be prophetic over and against the principalities and powers of this world remains. The challenge for the Christian teacher, and I would suggest small and large communities of the same, is to work out in fear and trembling the nature of, and means to engage with points of disagreement with practices and values which seem to stand in opposition to those of the Kingdom of God. It can feel like a lonely path at times. All the more reason for like minded folk to meet together, share experiences, joys and frustrations and thrash out issues in a mutually understanding, prayerful and supportive way.
Adrian Brown is a trustee at The Stapleford Centre. A speaker at national and international conferences, his publications include Skills Challenge (1992), Skills Challenge II (1995), God Talk, Science Talk (1997), articles in many educational anthologies, numerous book reviews and articles in journals ranging from the Journal of Education and Christian Belief, RE Today, to Science and Christian Belief and The Swedish Journal of Religion. He was a major contributor to Test of Faith: Science and Religion Meet: Resources for Schools (2010).
Grove Books most recently published his Reassessing the Culture of Assessment: Weighing Pigs Does Not Make Them Heavier (2011).
1 Rowan Williams, “Has secularism failed?”, reproduced with some modifications as chapter 1 of “Faith in the Public Square”, Bloomsbury, 2012
2 Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “On the Constitution of the Church and State”, London, 1972.
3 Philippians 2:12
4 Hebrews 10:25
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