The Problem of Authority in Christian Education -- By: Roy B. Zuck

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 119:473 (Jan 1962)
Article: The Problem of Authority in Christian Education
Author: Roy B. Zuck


The Problem of Authority in Christian Education

Roy B. Zuck

[Roy B. Zuck is Editor of Training Hour Publications, Scripture Press Foundation.]

The problem of authority is one of the basic issues confronting all Christian educators. Sunday School teachers, leaders in local churches, and Christian instructors in lower and higher education are faced with the problem of determining what is the authoritative guide, the reliable standard, or normative source of direction in the curriculum of Christian education.

Much of what happens in teaching situations is determined by the teacher’s concept of the final authority in Christian education. Lesson aims or objectives, classroom atmosphere, student activities, teaching materials, lesson approaches, and subject matter are influenced by the teacher’s outlook on this problem.

According to Packer, “the problem of authority is the most fundamental problem that the Christian church ever faces.”1 Evangelical educators would agree with Elliott (who is a liberal religious educator) that “the issues in regard to religious education center in the source of authority.”2

What, then, should teachers and students accept as the standard of conduct and the criterion of truth? What should Christian educators look to as that which determines what pupils should believe and practice? What is the ultimate voice of authority for Christian education? Is it the church? Teachers? Pupils and their religious experiences? The Bible?

The Church as Authority

Ecclesiastical authoritarianism claims that the final authority for faith and life is the official teaching of the institutional church. In this view, the church and the creeds, doctrinal postulates, ecclesiastical pronouncements, and tradition are the sources and tests of doctrinal subject matter and curriculum structure. These fall into the twofold classification of written and oral tradition. This view is held by Roman Catholicism and a few Protestant churches. Proctor has this to say about those who believe in ecclesiastical authority: “Thus some argue that the apostles have transmitted their authority to episcopal successors, or that the church itself is authoritative, or that there is an authoritative apostolic tradition in addition to the written testimony of the New Testament, or that the first interpretations and decisions of the early church have a distinctive authority, so that there is at least a continual interplay of authorities in the church under the direction of the Holy Spirit.”3

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