Now that 6:4-9 has been thoroughly exegeted and its theology fully considered, what does this passage have to do with the church today?
The first major focus of application is the person. As exegeted earlier, the entire person is to love God. This involves the intellect, the spiritual, and the ethical. For example, 6:4 proclaims that God is one. Intellectually, Israel was to ascent to this idea by studying his Word when written or preached. Spiritually, this meant that their spirit was to be directed toward him and they were to inhabit practices that sanctified their souls. Ethically, Israel was not to pursue other gods and their teachings; they were to only obey God’s laws. Therefore, for Israel, the education was a whole person endeavor. When doctrinal truth was taught, it impacted everything they know, who they were, and what they were to do. Positively, Israel would flourish like King Josiah and his reign when they were educated according to God’s Word. Negatively, they would be led to exile because they had abandoned the doctrine of God since they stopped teaching his ways.
Christians and the church today should look to Israel’s both positive and negative examples as to what should be done and what should be avoided. For example, when parents consider educational programs for their children, they should consider whether the models employed consider the whole person. Does it nurture their intellectual, spiritual, and physical well-being? Not only that, but does it nurture these aspects from a Christian perspective? For if the child is not continually being formed by Christians in a Christian worldview, they are being formed by the world and its various views on life. Additionally, when a church evaluates it Sunday school curriculum, it should consider how it is forming the whole person and not just the intellectual or the spiritual. This may mean that an hour-long Sunday school class should not be a mere lecture (though these are important for many reasons and seasons!). For example, rather than talking about spiritual practices like prayer, perhaps the Sunday school hour should be devoted to doing prayer after brief instruction.
The second major focus of application is on the children. Moses recognized them as participating members in their community that needed instruction. The parents of Israel were to have a special focus on their children and how they were raised. As they participated in life—as they dwelt in their house, traveled, went to bed, woke up—their entire focus is on training the children to know God by talking about him and his law. While their parents provided a significant factor to their development, it was not merely relegated to the family; the whole community was responsible for the education of the new generations. As whole houses were devoted to the instruction of children, so too were the communities to be devoted to the instruction of children. By virtue of continually discussing the things of God, they would start to teach each other in their daily conversations.
Christians and churches today should not relegate the instruction of children to someone else or neglect it until they reach a catechize-able age. From even before their birth, children should be instructed in the nurture of the Lord. Often, amid a busy life, it is easy to delegate the instruction of children to someone else. While teaching is a communal effort, the parents and the immediate church community should be intimately involved in cultivating them into Christians who love the Lord and serve others. For example, when a child is baptized on Sunday morning, a mark is being placed on them that they are a part of the covenantal community. The members who witness this event vow that they will help the parents raise their child and that the church will come around them and help raise them, too. Even before they can fully comprehend the mystery of the faith, the church is to keep them in worship so that they, too, can be formed into the likeness of Christ. Even if children are not able to fully comprehend the system of doctrine, they are to be catechized in the fundamentals of belief so that they can own their faith, love their Lord, and serve those around them.
The final major focus of application is time. As noted, time can cultivate or destroy people overtime. However, while external factors may contribute to this, people can actively create culture to push back against these effects. This cultivation will also take time. However, as indicated in the passage, the main key to instilling one’s worldview is through repeated oral and written instruction.
For the church today, these practices are still good (e.g., memorizing Scripture, reciting catechisms, and preaching or teaching God’s Word). However, the primary way this educational culture is created for the church today is during Sunday morning worship. Every week, God’s people disrupt their schedules by attending churches across the globe to worship together God. During these services, hearts are transformed through the liturgy: the call to worship, the songs, the confession, the assurance of pardon, the thanksgiving, the giving, the Scripture read, the Scripture proclaimed, baptism administered, the Supper partaken, the benediction bestowed. All these items push back against the effects of the world and renew God’s people by repeating a narrative of redemption week in and week out. Not only that, but there are other ministries—like Sunday school—that help educate God’s people about their faith and how to live. While the liturgy is powerful, much like ancient Israel God’s people need more time in the presence of others and him. Therefore, three hours on Sunday morning—though formative and important—will swiftly be undone by the world on the six other 24-hour days. If the church is to take seriously their doctrine of God and the effects of the world, then more intentionality needs to be given throughout the week—in their houses, in their travels—to continue cultivating God’s people to reflect him and his values.
In this paper, I have translated and exegeted Deut. 6:4-9 with an eye towards the church’s educational ministry. To determine action steps for reform, I evaluated key terms in the passage, its form, structure, historical context, literary context, and biblical-theological context. After I examined all these items, I offered three considerations for the church today. While I did not answer specific questions as to whether parents should home school their children or what ministries the church should establish—I leave these decision to the conscience of those who need to make those decisions—I do offer a way forward for church leaders and parishioners to begin cultivating an Israeli educational system—one based on faith in God that is regularly rehearsed—to instill the knowledge and love of God so that God’s people can serve those around them. May God, who is the source of all truth and life, assist his church to love him with their entire being generation after generation so that she can be a light to her community.
This post was originally part of an academic paper submitted to Dr. Justin Young in Pentateuch at Covenant Theological Seminary. It has been modified from its original version.