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.  

welcome mat image: Stoonn /


Ashley said...

Jess, I think you hit the nail on the head.... self-rightousness can unfortunately be the ugly side of obedience when we forget why and to whom we are being obedient to. Self-salvation in the form of homeschooling, curriculum choice, dress, etc, "makes me more acceptable to God than you, and let me help you get there by acting just like me" is all I see in foolish arguments such as these. Let's all let the Spirit of God work in each person and not suppose our personal convictions are meant to be corporate regarding anything other than the gospel.

(If that makes sense... it's pretty late here!)

Purple Boots said...

Homeschooling can be wonderful, and God can use it to draw a family closer to Him, and I hope my husband and I will be able to homeschool our future children. But no matter how fantastic homeschooling is, it's not going to work for every family, and that shouldn't carry any spiritual stigma. And above all, homeschooling is not the Gospel. We are all saved by grace through faith, not by grace through homeschooling.

Anonymous said...

This always leaves me confused. I am caring for a elderly woman for 10 years who had no imeadiate family. I am so happy that her extended family has taken an interest as things have gotten much worse this past year and especially the past week as she inches toward her final day, I realize they are very liberal and they are very vocal about what they believe they realize I am conservative and yet I keep it to myself ,we must work together at this time and we all call ourselves Christian but I surely do not feel united with them except in being sure their relative gets the best comfort at this time. They are so vocal about pro abortion gay marriage and etc. liberal views and so strong about their feelings that conservative people are not Christian in their actions and beliefs that I worry how this is going to go after the funeral when we must work together on paying her bills and cleaning out her apartment. Thankfully she is a poor woman so there will not be any gain for anyone but there are of course things of sentiment that can cause problems. I wish I felt a part of the body of Christ in this instead of feeling I must be alert if the tide turns against me. I feel that for me being a Christian means doing and giving and feeling very alone . I really can't believe in my heart pro abortion but I can understand someone who thinks that way truely does feel they are caring and compassionate. And I understand that they see me as very bad and I see their beliefs as wrong and this is supposed to be just the minor stuff. I really don't know what to do with this in my brain. Karen

Laura said...

Thank you so much for this post! I have often felt that, in the blogsphere, certain Christians can come off as holier than thou.

In my circle, thankfully, most people are ready to be accepting of each other in areas of homeschooling, family planning, and bigger issues like that. For example, I do not feel judged by my homeschooling friends because I send my own kids to public school. My husband and I do not feel convicted in that particular area. Are we supposed to just pull our kids out of school because someone writes a blog post about how homeschooling is God's Holy Law for all Christians?

Everyone is in a different place along the road in their Christian walk. Upbringing, culture, family life and values all play a huge part in the decisions people make for their families. For example, it's all well and good for a mother in small town, USA to extol the virtues of homeschooling, when a mother in Germany does not even have the option but MUST send her children to public school.

And that is just the homeschooling angle. There is also family planning, clothing choices, dietary choices, movie choices, music choices, book choices... There are SO many issues that Christians get hung up on and have a tendency to point the finger at others when they don't follow suit.

I could go on forever, honestly, as this topic really gets me shouting from my soapbox.

Christians are called to have the mind of Christ. We are called to judge ourselves and not others, to examine our own hearts and not the hearts of others. We are told to pull the plank out of our own eye before mentioning the speck in someone elses eye. We are supposed to love as Christ loved.

My dad said once that if all Christians did the exact same things, then it would only be uniformity (ie. cult-like) and not true unity in Christ. True unity in Christ is having the same mind about Him. About salvation. About His work on the cross.

We all need to strive to be more like Him, not more like each other.

Thanks for letting me air my own scattered thoughts on the matter :)

Anonymous said...

Awesome post! I found it encouraging. I have some wonderful amazing Christian friends who I am very close to..none of who are homeschooling or planning on it. I have to be very sensitive in how I speak about public schooling to them. I of course think homeschooling is the best choice..that's why I chose it! But I have to be sensitive and aware enough to know it's not my job to make school choices for them...I just hope I can share over the years more of why we made this choice and hope it positively influences them (even if they don't homeschool ever!)

Anonymous said...

"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."

I very much agree with this. The internet, while it has so many advantages, is what causes me to compare to others and feel terrible about my choices at times. I try to remember that my convictions are simply that- convictions. Just like I don't want a friend berating me because we will limit the size of our family, I shouldn't berate somebody for their choice.

I always thought we would homeschool- it just seemed to make the most sense for us. We didn't have money for a private school and our school system is terrible (plus, they bus the kids all over the city, I'm not comfortable with that)- and maybe I have some trust issues (I mean my oldest will only be 5 and leaving me all day long! Hard on a mom!). Now that things have changed a little bit, we're going to send him to a small, private, classical school next year. I am so thankful and releived that I won't have to homeschool! I'm just not cut out for it. I don't look down on people who homeschool. I don't look down on people who don't use birth control, etc. I try to remember we are all in different situations. My friend's husband works from home and has a very flexible schedule- so for them to have lots of kids and homeschool makes more sense. My husband is gone 12 hours a day or more for work- I don't have the same type of support so we've made decisions that look differently. In my opinion, it's not about who has more faith or who is more "Christian."

Anyways, that is probably just a big ramble and I'm not sure if it makes sense but I appreciate your thoughts on the topic, as usual. :)

Beth said...

I have been thinking about this very thing! In fact, I told my husband just this morning that if we lived in an area where Christians were persecuted or even very much in the minority among the other religions that were practiced, we would be happy just to find other believers who sincerely worshipped God and trusted in Christ for their salvation. The joy of having fellowship with other Christians would overshadow all of these peripheral issues! Instead, I think we too often find ourselves analyzing churches and other Christians based on our preferences and extra-Biblical convictions and then withholding our fellowship and "welcome" from many of them. We have lived in three different states during our marriage and in each new place, we have ended up at a church that is different than the one before. Each church was a place where we experienced wonderful Christian community and grew in our faith through our worship and service with these other believers. However, it is very hard for some people to understand why we wouldn't need to be at a place or with people who were exactly like the ones we were with before, and we have experienced some judgment and criticism about this recently. My experience is that when we find unity in the essentials and stop spending so much time discussing and debating these other issues, we are actually able to get down to the business of working as a Christian community to show Christ to the world and win others to Him.

Sorry for the long comment--as you can see, I've had a lot of these thoughts stewing in my mind lately!

Cate said...

Your thoughts are often so timely. This topic of 'convictions' has proven to be a humongous stumbling block for us Christian gals. BTW thank goodness for men, who tend to be resistant to this neurotic comparing and contrasting of convictions. I believe the reason we see this phenomenon mostly online is because people tend to say things, and reveal their true thoughts in a way they'd be too scared to in real life.

Personally, the topic of convictions has tripped me up a great deal over the past few years since I became a Christian. It boils down to valuing any person's thoughts over God's, or trying to be holier than God. But as easy as that is to say, it can be tricky in real life. Our flesh wants a holiness rule kit. I think it's fine and good if some people want to live the Little House on the Prairie lifestyle/ Amish lifestyle with hoop skirts and home births in a remote country location, and double digit number of children. In some ways, having gotten to know some of these women, I wish I were more like them.

The thing is, if I were to try to do exactly what they are doing, it would be out of sheer peer pressure, basically. There is nothing, and I mean nothing in me that wants to homebirth, for example. But I have a had a moment or 2 where I wondered if I was being sinful in not wanting that. If that were true I'd have to convince my husband that we need to do something neither of us wants, for reasons that I can't identify as biblical. Doesn't that sound a little crazy? That's just one example.

Number of children and contraceptive (not abortive birth control products) policy is a big one. I have met women who appear to be ashamed that they "only" have 2 children telling me about their various miscarriages before I even know their name, seemingly wanting to assure people that they're not sinfully preventing pregnancies... as well as competitive comparing of space between children. I have encountered this so many times at this point that it's concerning. Yes, our culture's general view of children being a burden is terrible, at the same time, the other extreme just seems unnecessarily harsh.

This is a very interesting topic. I hope we can all start talking more about differing convictions more.

Bookworm_Wood said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on these issues. They're things I've been mulling over too but perhaps not able to articulate. I do treasure the personal convictions I have as it really does seem that God told me those things, and yet, I don't want to alienate others. I recently read a wonderful article about 'fishing' rather than 'hunting' evangelism which said that our lives (actions and timely words) should be 'bait' for seekers. Perhaps a similar idea holds here. If our convictions truly are God's best way, then being around us is an opportunity for others to see the fruit of God's best way and ask questions about it... that is if we're attractive... And shouldn't God's best way BE attractive? Seems the best witness (both of the salvation issues and the other ones that God also cares about) should be our lives and words. Just my thoughts. I appreciate your ability to articulate on this issue, it helps me clarify my thoughts too... and it's a good time with the holidays and time with extended family coming up :)

Anonymous said...

More and more I am appreciating that God has different purposes for families and their children and He alone can see out through their lifetimes and into the future. We simply do not have that same ability and should be content to obey God's calling in our own lives. I love that passage at the end of John when Peter is told how he must suffer for Jesus and Peter wants to know, "Well, what about John there?" and Jesus replies, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!" The Lord has made it so clear that we are to homeschool that it would be disobedient for us to do anything else; but I also have friends who are equally convinced that another educational option is what is right for their family. And God is blessing all of us with wisdom and strength to do this hard task of raising up these little treasures! I love that Jesus is so kind to us. We cannot fail! His redemptive purposes are always being worked out. I love the rest and peace we can have.
Jess, thank you so much for your articles. I don't comment much, but you have been a great source of encouragement these past few years.

Jennifer E.

Sanders said...

Well said, timely, & applicable to much more than just homeschooling!

Candice said...

Hi, Jess! We homeschool our children, and do believe it's best, though certainly not a formula for getting 'saved' Children. As a matter of fact, I think there are more opportunities for sinning against each other because we are constantly together! :) We have many friends, family members, and members of our church who do not choose to homeschool, and my approach has just been to not make it an issue that I constantly talk about. If a non-homeschooling family has questions or brings up the topic, I'm happy to talk about homeschooling and our convictions. It's very freeing to allow God to work in others' lives as He wishes, and not feel that it's my job to convince anyone of anything (secondary to the essentials of the Gospel). I love what an above commenter said about just doing what you do and hoping that the evident beauty of it attracts others.

Polly said...

Ahhh, yes, this is hard. I sometimes feel a little weird because I have two children...& probably will only have two children.....& am okay with that. We enjoy them, are homeschooling our oldest, & have financial room for charitable giving that we probably wouldn't have with, say, 8 little ones. A blessed life, just different than my friend with 10 children.

I read once that people love legalities because they are easier to love than people. Yup.

Paola said...

Great post Jen, I completely agree with your ideas. We actually watched a christian drama that tackles this issue. How a graceful,welcoming attitude helpus usher people to the kingdom instead of push them away. "Hidden Secrets". We found it in Netflix ,and highly recommended.