How important is education to Presbyterians? Vitally important!
We value informational education, by which we mean learning about the world and how it functions. We value vocational education that develops our God-given talents in order to fulfill the vocation to which we have been called. And, fundamentally, we value transformational education. As our statement of faith says, “The Spirit gives us courage…to witness to Christ as Lord and Savior, to unmask idolatries in church and culture, to hear the voices of people long silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.”
Presbyterian churches have always looked to the Bible as the foundation for all matters of faith and practice. In studying the scriptures, we see that education has great importance for the people of both the Old and the New Testament.
In the Old Testament
The Hebrew Bible does not give a detailed picture of formal education in ancient Israel, but it is clear in its pages that education is fundamental to the health and spiritual vitality of the community:
“Just as the Lord my God has charged me, I now teach you statutes and ordinances for you to observe in the land that you are about to enter and occupy. You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples.” (Deuteronomy 4:5-6).
Education in ancient Israel was very practical in nature, often passed on in the home by the parents or acquired in guilds. It provided basic instruction in crafts and vocational pursuits (Exodus 35-36). It also gave guidance in worldly wisdom. The “wisdom literature” (Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes) provides direction for coping with life, especially in social and economic relations (Proverbs 1:2-3). Finally, it provided instruction in an ethical way of life. The emphasis is often on learning the law of the Lord (Exodus 20: 1-17).
In the New Testament
The early Christian community inherited and continued Israel’s emphasis on education. Jesus was frequently called “teacher,” and people turned to Him for answers to the most perplexing questions of life and for help in situations of crisis. The early church engaged in teaching to nurture and sustain converts to the faith:
“Those who welcomed his message…devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship.” (Acts 2:41-42)
Education in the New Testament church was for the purpose of gaining new converts, nurturing of new converts, providing ethical guidance, increasing theological understanding, and instructing for community and church life.
At First Church
The principles and ideas outlined above guide the Christian Education program at First Buffalo. Old and New Testament studies are a mainstay of the program and involve all ages and stages of faith. Exposure to the Bible occurs in Sunday school classes for the very young and emphasizes multimedia instruction (visuals and song as well as text). Bible courses for adults run the gamut—from introductory classes on the Bible as a whole to specialized explorations of a single book or cluster of related scripture.
As noted above, Christian education also encompasses the opportunities and challenges of life and how our faith helps us navigate those highs and lows. One of the most popular recent courses offered at First Church was “Presbyterian 101,” which, among other things, delved into basic theology: Who (or what) is God? Who am I? What is humanity?
Another recent course at First Church climbed down from the lofty heights of theology to take on the gritty topic of ethics in the workplace, i.e., how do we survive and thrive in our jobs and professions with our consciences and ideals intact? How do we handle the tensions and contrary impulses that secular pursuits sometimes pose to religious convictions and teachings?
Education at First Church also occurs outside the classroom. One of our recurring offerings is our Adult Forum series, which invites community leaders to speak on a wide variety of topics, usually on a Sunday following worship. Recent Adult Forum presentations have included updates on recovery missions in Puerto Rico following the 2017 hurricane, the effects of the Protestant Reformation 500 years after it began, the hunger-relief efforts of the Westside and Allentown ministry Friends of Night People, and the water security and well-drilling projects in Tanzania inspired and led by local high school students. Adult Forums in the coming year will include explorations of end-of-life issues, the operations of the Western New York women and children’s shelter, and the refugee relief activities of a First Buffalo partner church, Pilgrim St. Luke’s UCC.
In the 2019-2020 program year, First Church will also offer “The Bible from the Roots Up,” a six-session course on how scripture formed over centuries, which turns out to be a story of high adventure and heroic devotion. A subsequent course, “Gospel & Culture,” will return to the world as we know it and live it. Politics, economics, social issues, and cultural trends often seem to ignore or contradict scripture, and yet the Gospel still has the power and influence to engage and redeem societies in which it is heard. How this is true in the present moment is the focus of this course.