Question:

I really like all of the information that you have on your web site. I have used it as a reference many times in the past. I teach the teenagers at our congregation and have a question about colleges. One of our kids is planning on attending a Catholic university next year. When she told me this, I replied that I did not think supporting an organization that is teaching error as something a Christian should be involved in. What is you view on this? Can a Christian attend a denominational college? I know there are many who would disagree with my take on this. I believe that if we know an organization supports things that are sinful, then we should not support that organization with our patronage. Thoughts?


Answer:

Do you avoid hospitals run by the Catholics, Methodist, or Baptists? Or do you see it as purchasing a service which happens to be financed in part by a religious denomination? For that matter does going to such a hospital indicate that the people using those service agree with the teachings of that particular denomination?

Yes, there are a number of schools, at all levels of education, that are run by religious denominations. Attending a Catholic university rarely requires taking classes in Catholic teachings, or even agreeing with Catholic teachings. Most schools make it clear that they support Catholic traditions and beliefs, but they don't impose them on the students and faculty. Dissenting opinions are allowed so long as those expressing them are polite.

Like the hospitals, schools are not money making ventures for the denominations. Rather the denominations funnel funds into the schools to keep them operating. "For to a person who is good in His sight He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give to one who is good in God's sight. This too is vanity and striving after wind" (Ecclesiastes 2:26). In other words, it appears to me that the denomination is supporting the students and not the students supporting the denomination.

Paul's discussion regarding idolatry becomes useful here. Dining in an idol temple is forbidden because it gives the clear impression of supporting idolatry (I Corinthians 8:10-11). Yet, the indirect purchase of meat that may have been butchered in an idol's temple is not forbidden, unless someone thinks it is significant (I Corinthians 10:25-29). If a college required learning the denomination's beliefs and especially if it required a statement from the students supporting that denomination's beliefs, then I agree that it is not a place to attend. But if a college is focused on education in a topic and the connection to the denomination is indirect, then there is no harm.

By the way, consider that secular schools are heavy promoters of evolution and take stances that are contrary to Christian beliefs, such as homosexuality, abortion, etc. Does a Christian avoid those schools as well because they actively promote worldly beliefs?

Jeffrey,

You make some very good points, and I have been thinking about them since last night when I read this email. Before becoming a Christian my wife went to this same Catholic college that my student is going to, and she worked there for a few years. Taking theology courses is a requirement at this university, as well as many other denominational colleges.

My issue is this: We teach against giving money to the Salvation Army, and buying items at church yard sales, bake sales, etc. Typically we would use II John 10-11 as a text against this. Supporting an organization that is teaching false doctrine would make us guilty of "sharing in evil deeds." I am really struggling as to how we can take a hard stance on those things, and yet say it is alright to support a college who is actively teaching false doctrine. The college may teach many good things, but it also teaches false doctrine. There are many warnings in the Bible about this sort of thing. Galatians 1:6-9 for starters. Is not supporting false teaching aligning yourself with them by attending their school akin to dining in the idol temple? There is no doubt that some of the tuition money goes to the support of the priests at this school.

I certainly agree with your points about secular schools and hospitals, although I went to a state school, and do not remember taking any classes that promoted a religion. It is a tough world to a Christian in and we have to be very careful where we spend our money and what organizations we align ourselves with. I'm still on the fence on how I feel about this. When I am teaching I find myself thinking about how I will be judged more strictly.

You've taken passages dealing with individuals teaching false doctrine to apply them to an institution. That doesn't always work. Students don't receive their teachers into their homes. Students are expected to learn the material, but it doesn't mean they agree with the teacher. People who teach a false gospel are accursed by God, but I can make use of learning what the false doctrine is so that I can point out the flaws in its view.

Taking a math class conducted by a man who happens to be a Catholic priest is not supporting Catholicism. Taking a catechism class would be a different matter. I once took a history class titled "Introduction to Christianity" at a secular college, taught by a Methodist minister as an elective. I was curious what would be taught and learned about Higher Criticism and other such foolishness. I politely debated the teacher, pointing out the flaws in her reasoning and even researching her claims and bringing in books showing that her claims were unsupported. I'll admit she was irritated at me, but I did keep the class interesting, and I did learn a lot -- just not what she intended. More importantly to me, I demonstrated to the other students that the teacher wasn't always right. But all the way through that class no one could say that my taking that class meant I supported the false teaching.

Now, if attending a college meant going to that particular religion's worship services, I would decline. Such would be seen as supporting the denomination.

Tuition fees go to pay for class room space and the teacher's salary of that particular subject. I would have no problems paying for a history, English, or math class, regardless of the teacher's religious background. A class specifically promoting a particular denomination's beliefs would be a different matter. I would probably ask for a waiver, use the class to learn the flaws of that denomination, or just not attend a university that made such a requirement.