A common conflict in the world today is the role of the state in people’s lives. Many people want the government to have more authority over what people can and can’t do. If there is a doubt to this just look at the battle over freedoms during a health crisis. People have been found to be fighting the government for the right to congregate for worship. With the rise of early Christianity, there was a view among Christians that was shared in their schools that the individual was above the state. Submission to secular government was permissible only when there was no contradiction to religious teachings.
Christianity and the Individual
Early Christian education placed an emphasis on the worth of the individual in a way that was foreign to many other worldviews at that time. Persian, Spartan, Chinese, and other cultures always placed the state above the individual and the reason to educate an individual was to benefit the state. Christian education spun this on its head and made clear that the individual was educated for their won benefit and that allegiance belongs to a higher power first rather than to a secular state.
This does not imply that Christianity was against the state. Instead, Christian education saw the state as something that belongs to man rather than man belonging to the state. The state should be obeyed and respected unless there is a conflict in obedience to the state and God.
Many governments throughout human history have been suspicious of Christians placing allegiance to God above secular authorities and this has led to persecution in many situations. The Romans were originally strong persecutors of Christians and this also happened in other parts of the world during the 1st and 2nd centuries. Many secular governments do not feel secure when they have people under their authority who do not put loyalty to them first.
Early Christian education also was universal. Men and women were educated. Many scholars have mentioned that Jewish and Christian women had some of the highest places in society in comparison to other societies. Also, the views on children were different. Within many pagan cultures, the wife’s and children belonged to the husband and were viewed as his property. A Roman father could sell his children into slavery or even have them killed if he so decided.
However, in Christianity, the wife and children were viewed as gifts from God. Since they did not belong to the husband he did not have the authority to do whatever he wanted to them. Also, the wife and children could disobey the husband if the husband wanted them to do something that was wrong before God. Again, the ultimate loyalty was always to God above the state and above the father.
During the early days of Christianity, there were always a handful of highly educated and talented Christians, however, the majority were poor and ignorant. This was due in part to the fact that the leaders were often killed and that there was so much persecution happening that there was no time or a safe place to be in which schools could be built. Families were often on the move and only training to teach basic doctrines to their children.
The deemphasis on the state and the emphasis on the individual was perhaps one of the more shocking worldview shifts found in early Christian education. Strong states want submissive loyal subjects who will do what they are told and when. This is one reason for the elaborate ritualism and patriotism of countries, it serves as a way to bring people together. Christians did not need these ceremonies and rituals to demonstrate loyalty to the state. The caveat was that the Christian had the religious liberty to serve their God as they saw fit.