First published back in January 2017. Republished because there seems to be a renewed interest in bringing back prayer in schools. Some have even suggested that the Bible be taught in schools, which is another bad idea.
The headline, and subsequent story on The Truth Division’s website, seems to indicate that this is what the new education secretary, Betsy DeVos, intends to do once she is confirmed to the position. But when you dig deeper, you find much of what is being written about Betsy DeVos is based upon an interview she and her husband, Dick, gave back in 2001. For the mathematically challenged, that is about 16 years ago.
From the same interview, given 16 years ago, we also have a story from Mother Jones about how DeVos wants to take public schools and use them to advance God’s Kingdom. The New York Times concludes, from the same 2001 interview, that DeVos wants to gut the public school system via vouchers and privatization. Huffpo also used the 2001 interview to state that she wants to make Christianity a bigger part of education. In other words, they have taken her words from 2001, in which she made it clear she and her husband want to help private and charter schools because of their faith, to mean that she will Christianize the public schools through the use of an evil voucher system, or some such liberal apocalyptic scenario. There is a lot that could be said about these articles and the conclusions the writers draw. I just find it hard to believe that they could get so much mileage out of an interview with a person 16 years ago who was a completely private citizen at the time of the interview. A lot can change in 16 years.
I don’t think it has, but why not interview, let’s just say… Betsy DeVos?
My point here is not to rehash what DeVos said 16 years ago, but to ask simply: do we really want prayer placed back in school? I know it sounds like the best thing that could happen for our school system because the removal of prayer from public schools is often pointed to as the reason for the moral decline in America. I think that is a very simplistic view for the reasons of the moral decline in America, but the moral decline is not my purpose here.
My purpose here is simply to state that, as Christians, we should resist the temptation of thinking we can resolve the problem of moral decay in America by reinstating prayer in the public schools. In fact, we should not only resist, but fight heartily against prayer in schools. I say this for several reason. First, who will be leading the prayer? Second, to whom will they be praying? Third, this has the possible danger of hardening the hearts of those who do pray. Finally, the public schools are not the means by which we want the church to be restored.
Before I go further, please realize that I am an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America, as well as a full-time certified teacher in the public schools. I also have two sons in the public schools. I say this so you know that I have a vested interest in this issue. I’m not speaking as someone from a distance; I deal with the lack of public morality in our nation on a real level every school day. I know for certain that reintroducing prayer will only cause more harm than good.
Now to my reasoning.
Who would lead in praying?
We might tend to say that the students would lead in prayer but this is not a good idea at all. Why? Most students are not where they need to be, spiritually speaking, in order to lead other students in prayer. I know, many of you are going to jump through your internet to tell me about See You At the Pole, as if this somehow demonstrates spiritual maturity on the part of the students.
If we are talking about the true body of Christ and prayer, then we need spiritual leaders leading these children in prayer. We need pastors and elders who are ordained into the gospel ministry to lead these children. Christ is very specific in how His church is ordered, and there is no room for children-led prayer in school or even in the church. I know, some of you who read this are going to tell me about your darling who leads a Bible study, or how your church allows youth-worship day. In fact, many churches have youth-worship day in church every Sunday because they grew up thinking true worship was like a Rolling Stones’ concert instead of service to the living and holy God. But I digress.
The point is that our children should not be leading the prayer in school.
Who then would lead?
Teachers? Really? Remember that for the past, say, 30 years, the public school system has been solidly secular. That means the teachers inside the schools are solidly secular. As I think about my fellow teachers, none of them jump off the page as being overly religious toward God at all. I do have one colleague that wears his hair Rastafarian style and that is kind of religious. But I’m pretty sure if he truly is Rastafarian, he doesn’t believe in the Triune God of the Bible. Why would we expect him to?
So, do we want the teachers leading our children in prayer? I certainly don’t want the teachers of my sons leading them in prayer. That is not just for the public schools, but for many Sunday school teachers as well. Let’s face it, most Sunday school teachers cannot adequately explain the necessity of the gospel itself and they are in the church. Why would we welcome those who shun the church, Christ, and the truths of Scripture to lead our children in prayer?
Some might also suggest that we could have local church leaders come in and lead our children in prayer. Again, I wouldn’t want this for my sons, or anyone else’s sons or daughters. We have seen this happen in city halls across the nation. In order to give everyone equal access, local politicians bring in the lesbian-Methodist minister, the shaman from the local tribal clan, the Hindu priest, Helga from the Local Witches Coven Number 302, and a host of other idolatrous religions. The only one who would be excluded from the list is the Christian minister who actually believes in the exclusivity of Christ and has the audacity to pray in Jesus’ name only. It would be better to leave the schools as they are, with schools giving a moment of silence to some shadow of religion every day.
Who Would They Pray To?
This question also encompasses the previous question because the one leading the prayer is dictating who it is that the students pray to. Please don’t fall for the foolish belief that since there is only one true God, that when someone prays, they are actually praying to the one true God. Yes, it is true, that there is one living and Triune God found in the 66 books of the Bible. But there are many gods because there are many false versions of the true God.
Let me explain it this way: as a true believer in Christ for salvation, I pray to the true God of Scripture, not because of any thing found in me, but by His grace in that He redeemed me and filled me with His Spirit through the Word. Therefore, when I approach the throne of grace in prayer, I do so based upon the shed blood of Christ, the atoning work of Christ, and the saving power of the Holy Spirit. My ability to pray to the Triune God is based upon God’s actions toward me and in me, not in something found in me. In other words, I’m born again, something that took place in me and in spite of me. But because this is true, I have access into the throne of grace through the mediatorial work of Christ, as does every other true believer. Just as there is an exclusivity of Christ in salvation, so too is there an exclusivity of prayer to the Triune God.
Therefore the prayers for unbelievers, Mormons, Muslims, Jehovah Witnesses, Christian Scientist, etc., are not going to the living and true God because they are not done in true faith. The writer of Hebrews shows that we cannot be pleasing to God if we do not come to Him in faith (Hebrews 11:6). Those cults do not come to Him in faith, but rather reject the God who has declared Himself to be. Since this is true, He rejects them and their prayers.
Given that this is the case, do we want the godless leading our children in prayer to their false gods? Don’t fall for the lie that there is some benefit in the fact that they are praying to someone at some point during the day. Basically, they would be praying to demons since it is Satan that is behind every false religion, cult, or shadow of Christianity. For background to this statement, please see Paul’s declaration to us that when the pagans were sacrificing to their gods, they were actually sacrificing to demons (I Corinthians 10:20).
Forced Prayer Leads to a Hardening of the Heart
We see this in two ways. The first way is that those who go through the rituals of daily prayers, outside the grace of God, will only harden themselves into thinking that they have earned God’s favor through their ritualistic actions. This is why it is so much harder to reach someone for Christ who has been in a false church than it is to reach the unchurched. The lifelong church goer thinks that they have earned favor with God for their lifelong attendance in church. Yet, we are not saved by works, or lifelong attendance in the church. We are saved by faith alone, through grace alone, in Christ alone. This is a gift from God, not a payment for our works (Ephesians 2:8-10).
The second reason this forced prayer in the schools hardens the heart is that there are those who would be resistant to the leading in prayer all together. After all, they are resistant to learning English, why do we think they would be open to things of a spiritual nature? Therefore their fallen human natures would lead to a hardening of heart even when the truth might occasionally poke its head up from the mass of falsehood. They would become enemies of the truth even more so than they already are.
Finally, the Public Schools Are Not the Place to Build the Church
The church is the place to build the church. This comes under the theme and constant drumbeat here on my blog that the church needs to be the church. We don’t want the public schools to be an extension of the church. Prayer needs to be taking place where there is a clear proclamation of the law and the gospel.
To think that by adding prayer to public schools is a step in the right direction is to try to simplify the problem. The bigger problem is that many churches are not proclaiming the law and gospel as it should be proclaimed. The American church is not what it should be. There are far too many churches being led by “life coaches” with self-help messages, instead of pastors proclaiming both the gospel and the condemning aspect of the Law that is so necessary in the life of the believer. In fact, far too many churches discount the Law of God altogether in their constant drumbeat that God loves us unconditionally, so that we can live our lives as we please. Truth be told, the secularist message that all you need to be is a better you found in the public schools, is not that different from the messages found in our pulpits across the nation.
We don’t need more humanistic secularism. We need the law and the gospel proclaimed in the pulpits. When that happens, then there might be some hope of turning around the moral decay that has so infiltrated the church. But until that happens, adding prayer in school will do nothing to aid in the cause of building the Kingdom of Christ.
What would be better for Christians to do, instead of fighting for prayer in school, is to do what it takes to remove our children from the public schools and put them in private, Christian schools. That would be a better battle to fight.