I have used the word “rigor” because that’s the word often used in the present-day Christian Classical movement. We often hear the word applied to the subjects we teach, to how deeply and thoroughly we teach them, and to the time commitment on the part of those involved in a Christian Classical education. “It’s rigorous,” we say to one another. And it is, compared to many other things.
But I’m intrigued by the use of a somewhat more forceful word by our Lord in Ma hew 11. In context, Jesus has been talking of John the Baptist who is now imprisoned. “From the days of John the Baptist until now,” he says, “the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.”
Now I must confess that I’m not exactly sure what this verse means. But I favor seventeenth century Puritan pastor, Thomas Watson’s take on the passage in a little book called Heaven Taken by Storm. Watson and his Puritan brothers speak not of “rigor” (applied to spiritual things) but of “holy violence.” Heaven must be taken by force,
by storm. Watson observes that John the Baptizer came hewing and cutting down men’s sins, and afterwards preached Christ to them. First, he poured in the vinegar of the law, then the wine of the gospel….John did not so much preach to please as to pro t; he chose rather to discover men’s sins than to show his own eloquence. The best mirror is not that which is most gilded, but that which shows the truest face. So what does this have to do with education?
Well, first, we are, as you know, a Christian school. Our families are Christian families. That is, we, as Christians, have concluded that no manner of rigor exercised in our own strength will yield the solution(s) for which we yearn. Our problems are much too great to fix by ourselves; therefore, we place our trust in a Redeemer. We also recognize the paradoxical reality of the verse above, affirming that the kingdom of heaven will either be taken by force – rigor in our context – or it won’t be taken at all.
But secondly, we are a classical school. We understand that the wisdom of Scripture and of the ages serve as the mirror “which shows the truest face.” We humble ourselves before the stark image in the mirror and plead with the ancient broken peoples to help us avoid their mistakes. We turn and see in Scripture the image of perfect Humanity (Jesus Christ), and we flee the curse of a thousand generations to find our true salvation in Him.
As a Christian School, we affirm and teach that God’s word book (The Bible) is inerrant. As a Classical School, we likewise a rm and teach that God’s world book (Nature) is inerrant (Ps. 19:1). That is, we believe that all truth is God’s truth, and we seek not to be afraid of that truth wherever it is found, when carefully studied through the lens of God’s revelation. This enterprise is not for the lazy or the faint of heart.
Rigor serves as a watchword in our discipline polices as well. Discipline at our school is tricky because we do believe in order and structure, but we also believe in grace. We believe in students doing what they’re told. We believe that disrespect in any situation is unacceptable. From a pastor friend, I’ve borrowed two metaphors which have helped me greatly on this subject. The metaphor centers around two words: climate and tool. Grace is the climate in which we live. Law is the tool we sometimes use. Grace is the climate; law is the tool.
How tempting it is to get these reversed—for law to become the climate and grace to become only the rarely used tool.
At our school, we have thought long and hard about the balances of life. Your students need high expectations set before them — standing on tip-toe (intellectually) helps youngsters grow upward. But your family also needs time as a family. You don’t need to be constantly hounded by the next homework deadline. Your children need fresh air, lots of sunshine, and lots of sleep. This we acknowledge, while also confessing that God’s promises throughout Scripture are not to the lazy. Proverbs 20:4 says, “The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold; therefore, shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing.” We often translate this as “The lazy teen will not study because he doesn’t feel like it; therefore, shall he cry at test time, and get an F.” Wisdom is urgently needed to create the balance and to hand it off to those who follow in our footsteps.
I am convinced that our children will best develop this proper balance between rigor and rest when they see it modeled in us. Some of us are, frankly, too busy. But here’s my challenge to all of us. In our zeal to undo what this culture has done to us (leading us to define ourselves by what we do and how much of it we do), let’s not go too far the other way and lop o that which is truly good. And what is that? The careful, disciplined training of the mind – minds of young men and women who will soon go forth and do what Jesus said in this very strange metaphor… “The kingdom of heaven su ers violence and the violent take it by force.” In the sense of this text, I don’t mind ending by saying that here at FCS our discipline, our curriculum, our rigor, and our parental partnership are conjoined in an effort to train the present generation to take the kingdom of Heaven by force.
Only through the strength of the One who has exerted the greatest force, conquered death, and taken Heaven can this power be found. And, paradoxically, it is in resting upon the righteousness and power of Jesus Christ that we find ourselves set free to labor with ever-increasing rigor to the glory of God.