The first man pictured above is Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin. Gagarin became the “first” human to journey into outer space when he rode his Vostok spacecraft around the earth on April 12, 1961. The second person above is astronaut Alan Shepard who became the “first” American in space just 21 days after Gagarin’s historic flight. The third person pictured is astronaut John Glenn. Glenn became the “first” American to orbit the earth aboard Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962. He was on the Mercury-Atlas 6 mission, circling the globe three times during a flight lasting 4 hours, 55 minutes, and 23 seconds. All of these men received medals of honor from their respective countries for being the “first” to do something spectacular.
Of course, I will always remember what took place on July 20, 1969. Up until this time it was considered impossible for man to ever land on the moon. Even though we had accomplished much through our space program, the idea of someone actually walking on the moon was considered ridiculous by many. Yet, on this historic day, Neil Armstrong said those words that have been written indelibly in the minds of men, one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind, as he stepped onto the surface of the moon.
In recent weeks we have also been reminded of some amazing “first” feats in the area of sports. The Masters golf tournament is one of a kind event. This year marked the 30th anniversary of a “first” in Masters history. A documentary, simply titled ’86’, was produced and seen over and over again celebrating this “first.” It was 30 years ago when Jack Nicklaus won his sixth Masters championship. However, what was the “first” about this victory was the fact that Nicklaus became the oldest player, at age 46, to ever win the Masters.
For the past several weeks there was also a great deal of buzz over what the Golden State Warriors could accomplish in the NBA. Everyone was wondering if this team could become the “first” team ever to win 73 games eclipsing the record for victories set by the Michael Jordan’s led Chicago Bulls in 1996. If you follow basketball, you know that not only did they win 73 games but that they also did it in an outstanding fashion as their star, Stephen Curry, scored 46 points. Now the talk of the sports world is all about if another team could ever surpass this mark.
Historic “firsts” are highly valued in just about every situation. Christians also have experienced some “firsts” throughout the history of the church. However, North American Protestants were the “first” to do something that has had devastating results that we are still experiencing today. In my book, Kingdom Education, I quote historian Francis Curran, who in his 1954 study of American Protestantism and education noted this “first” when he explained that,
…a revolutionary development in the history of education and in the history of Christianity: The surrender of American Protestantism during the past century of the control of popular elementary education to the state…Only in the United States has Protestantism relinquished the traditional claim of the Christian church to exercise control over the formal education of its children in the elementary school…The Christian churches eventually agreed that the state must have an important place in the direction of popular elementary education.
Curran went on to predict what would happen if Christians turned the education of young children over to the state. He wrote,
If the church withdraws from one division of education, the logical consequence will be the ultimate abandonment of all formal education by the church.
This is exactly what we are witnessing throughout our country today. I just attended the U-turn Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina that was conducted by the American Pastors Network. Researcher George Barna told the pastors in attendance that one of the dangerous trends taking place in today’s church can be described in this way.
- Parents are counting on the schools.
- Schools take their orders from the government.
- The church leaves education to the government and the media because it is too busy doing “religion.”
Last week I shared how Dr. R. L. Dabney warned Christians about what would happen if the government took over the education of our children. He knew that government controlled education would become totally secular. Even though the meaning for the term secular is something that is “non-religious” or “non-theistic”, it does not mean that it is spiritually neutral. In fact, Dabney understood that anything which becomes secular will actually be “anti-Christian.”
What Curran wrote about in 1954 wasn’t a new revelation. Once again, I refer to Dabney’s insight into the idea that education can be separated from religion. He wrote,
First, No people of any age, religion, or civilization, before ours, has ever thought so. Against the present attempt, right or wrong, stands the whole common sense of mankind. Pagan, Catholic, Mohammedan, Greek, Protestant, have all hitherto rejected any other education than one grounded in religion, as absurd and wicked.
Dabney referred to a contested will called the Girard Will. This will set forth the condition that no minister should ever enter the walls of his college. This was an effort to keep Christianity separate from the education the students would receive by attending his college. Dabney quotes the lawyer battling against such a stipulation. This lawyer was none other than Daniel Webster. Webster argued,
In what age, by what sect, where, when, by whom, has religious truth been excluded from education? Nowhere. Never! Everywhere, and at alltimes, it has been regarded as essential. It [religious truth] is of the essence, the vitality of useful instruction.
Dabney was not through making the case that what was taking place in America’s churches and homes was a “first” of historic proportions. He went on and referred to a statement by Dr. John Minor of the University of Virginia. Minor stated,
It must be acknowledged to be one of the most remarkable phenomena of our perverted humanity, that among a Christian people, and a Protestant land, such a discussion [whether or not the education of youth should be secularized] should not be seen as absurd as to inquire whether schoolrooms should be located under water or in darksome caverns! The Jew, the Mohammedan, the follower of Confucius, and of Brahma, each and all are careful to instruct the youth of their people in the tenets of the religions they profess, and are not content until, by direct and reiterated teaching, they have been acquainted with at least the outline of the books which they contain, as they believe, the revealed will of Deity. Whence comes it that Christians are so different to a duty so obvious, and so obviously recognized by Jew and Pagan?
Dabney concluded that what we are attempting is, therefore, an absolute novelty! Yes, according to these records, what North American Protestantism did in the 1800s was a “first.” What I find even more fascinating is that today’s Christians, in spite of all that has and is happening because of secular education, are still clinging to the absurd!