Case in Point

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This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

Moses, the Egyptians and the Ellensburg Christian School (speech: ECS parents)

April 1998

As we at Ellensburg Christian School strive to follow the Apostle Paul’s command to raise our children in the training and instruction of the Lord so that they are able to bring their entire thought lives into captivity to the obedience of Christ, we can look to several Biblical examples.  In the New Testament, one example is, of course, the Apostle Paul.  In the Old Testament, we can look to the intriguing divine example of Moses.  It is the example of Moses that I want to draw your attention to this morning.

In the book of Acts, Luke the physician records that Stephen, the New Testament’s first recorded martyr, gives an account of the Old Testament church’s faithfulness to the Lord as Stephen defends himself before the Synagogue of the Freemen (about 35 A.D.).  And in the course of Stephen’s speech reciting the valiant history of Old Testament faith, he says this about Moses:
“And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds” (Acts 7:22).

Now the Egyptians, during the time of Moses (about 1500 B.C.), were the most learned people in the world.  Their learning included natural science, astronomy, mathematics, architecture, literature, music, religion, sculpture and art.  The Greek word Stephen uses here for “learned” means “training” or “instruction.”  The Greek word Stephen uses for “wisdom” (sophia) is the word used for “unusual competency,” “ability,” “knowledge,” “discernment,” “insight,” “understanding.”  Eventually, sophia will be used by Biblical authors to mean “right conduct rooted in obedience to God,” or “wisdom.”  The effect of this extensive Egyptian “learning leading to wisdom,” Stephen tells the court, was that Moses became “mighty in words and deeds.”  So, this magnificent pagan education was not lost on Moses.  In God’s providential care this Egyptian education equipped Moses for the extraordinary leadership in the Old Testament church of which we have a written record.  In addition, Moses was used by God to write the first 5 books of the Bible.  Non-Christian Jewish contemporaries of Luke and Paul, the early historian Josephus (37-100) and the early philosopher Philo (30 BC-50 A.D.), both speak of Moses’ extensive learning and the greatness of his mind.  Moses stands as a great scholar of our faith.

It wasn’t long after John the Apostle had finished writing the New Testament (Revelations) in about 100 A.D. that early Christian philosophers were quoting Stephen’s statement about Moses as the model for educating young Christians in the age of persecution of the late Roman Empire (100-400 A.D.).  It was a time when the controls of the government and the educational and the cultural institutions were firmly in the hands of pagan Romans.  Christians were only a small persecuted cult, and to be a declared Christian was a capital offense.  There was no public worship of Jesus until the time of Constantine, about 350 A.D.–250 years after John the Apostle died!  But during this time God raised up some great and bold thinkers who sought to convert the pagan cultural gatekeepers by intelligent preaching, teaching and debating the merits and truth of the gospel in terms the Roman audience would understand.  And this Acts 7:22 verse appears prominently in the exhortation of these early Christian heroic thinkers as the right pursuit of studies to train up future defenders of the Christian gospel.  And Moses was their prime example.

Justin Martyr (100-160) recognizes that Moses’ early training in Egypt was under the sovereign hand of God as God used the Egyptian education of Moses to strengthen his mind and character.  Justin even claims that Homer and Plato read Moses and took from Mosaic writings.  For his contribution to our Christian faith, Justin was scourged and beheaded.

Clement of Alexandria (the first great Christian philosopher, 150-215) refers to Moses as the example of a well-educated child of God who is fitted for service in God’s kingdom.  For his efforts on our behalf, Clement was forced to flee his home and find refuge in a distant city.
Basil the Great (a great Turkish theologian, 330-379) said,“even Moses, that illustrious man, with the greatest name for wisdom among all mankind, first trained his mind in the learning of the Egyptians and then proceeded to the contemplation of the one who is.”

Gregory of Nyssa (another great Turkish theologian, 330-395) argued that the supreme example of how a believer could properly benefit from pagan learning was Moses.  He wrote that the demand to rob the Egyptians of their valuable possessions “invites those participating through virtue in the free life to equip themselves with the wealth of pagan learning, by which foreigners to the faith beautify themselves . . .  We are to receive such things as moral and natural philosophy, geometry, astronomy, diaectic and whatever else is sought by those outside the Church, since these things will be useful when in time the divine sanctuary of mystery must be beautified by the riches of reason. . . .  [Furthermore, we are to] dedicate this wealth to God for the adornment of the Church, the true tabernacle.”

Finally, Saint Augustine (354-430), in commenting on Moses wrote that “Moses took the wisdom of the Egyptians, as the people [took the Egyptian] gold vessels.”  This is a very interesting coupling because the Scriptures tell us that the exiting Israelites took from the Egyptians, “articles of gold, silver and clothing.”  “Thus they plundered the Egyptians” in obedience to God’s command.  Augustine noted that Moses “plundered” or “stripped away” his education as well from the Egyptians.

These early Christian fathers stressed what they called docta pietas–”learned piety.”  They were convinced they had scriptural warrant to study the Greeks and the Romans for logic, language and literature in order that they, like Moses, would be equipped to spread the good news to the world around them.  While the early fathers warned against the dangers of pagan learning and thought forms, they were convinced that God had freed us to judiciously use the Egyptians and Greeks to sharpen our wits.  These ancient Christian heroes wanted their children to be the best readers, writers and thinkers in their communities.  The spread of Christianity depended on it.

Why do I mention these ancient warriors for God on this wonderful annual occasion?  Well, America’s most respected and honored evangelical theologian, Dr. Carl Henry has written that we are in “the twilight of Western civilization,” that we live in a “decadent culture,” and the pagans are coming.  As Francis Schaeffer has argued, we live in a “post-Christian era” and it won’t be long before we live in an outright pagan era–very similar to what Western society was like in those first centuries after Christ.  These early fathers in the faith didn’t enjoy the benefits of living in a country with large and wealthy Christian organizations, or in a culture permeated with Christian truth and world view.  In fact, they lived in a heathen culture.  Many (including myself) believe that we now live in a largely heathen culture and the future for Christianity in this country is bleak.  If this assessment is correct, then we owe it to our neighbors as well as our children, to educate them not only to be able to survive, but to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once and for all delivered to the saints” as our ancient Christian fathers did, as our children too are forced to stand against a wicked and perverse society.  When used discreetly, pagan sources can teach us how to think, not what to think.  We can be trained to be good stewards of our mind.

Do we have the capability to do that kind of training at Ellensburg Christian School?  It is probably self-serving for me to say so, but I believe we do.  I don’t know all the staff but I have known several of the teachers before they came to ECS and I can testify that these teachers are a distinguished group:

*I had one of our teachers as an honors student at Central and she is a genuine renaissance individual with an exceptional mind.

*I knew one of our new teachers as a student at CWU and she comes from a distinguished family of scholars.  Her father, a brilliant philosophy professor trained at the University of Chicago.
*We now have a male science teacher who, several years ago, was the only teacher at Ellensburg High School to gather publicly with the students for morning prayer around the high school flag pole.  Bold piety in this man.

*We have a principal who is a man who truly values the redemption of the mind as well as the soul and is about to be awarded his doctorate in education.

And that’s just 4 or 5 of our teachers who quickly come to my mind.  We have the staff to train our children, we have the momentum to train our children, we have the organizational structure to train our children, we have the School Board and volunteers to train our children.  What we need is the vigilance to keep before us the Biblical vision to train our children.

Our purpose at Ellensburg Christian School is to train our children in all the “wisdom” of the world in order that they might effectively apply the revealed “wisdom” of the Bible in the redeeming of godly minds to serve our magisterial heavenly father.  Let it be said of our graduates that they are “mighty in word and in deed” like our great scholarly father in the faith, Moses.

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