The term “cornerstone” has become a mainstay in Evangelical Christianity today. Churches are fond of incorporating it into their names, along with words like “crossroads” and “community.” It is a fine word, evocative of a sense of stability, a firm foundation, and ultimately recalling to remembrance Christ himself, the Stone whom the builders rejected. One can become too saturated with good words, however, until they bring to mind less vivid images than perhaps intended.
Most Christians are probably vaguely familiar with what a cornerstone is—that is, a stone without which the entire structure would crumble into a pile of dusty rubble. This is the historical connotation; it is what generally everybody agrees that Christ meant when he asked the Pharisees if they remembered reading about a particular stone rejected by some foolish builders. Today, physical cornerstones are used for ceremonial or sentimental reasons, to chronicle a portion of history by hollowing them out and sticking time capsules in them. Dates or names are often inscribed on them as well, but whatever their purpose, cornerstones are no longer crucial or foundational to modern construction practices.
Unfortunately, mainstream society also seems to have decided we can do without the figurative Cornerstone, and modern education has been the first to suffer the loss. As Dorothy Sayers said over sixty years ago in her piece called The Lost Tools of Learning, “We let our young men and women go out unarmed, in a day when armor was never so necessary. By teaching them all to read, we have left them at the mercy of the printed word. … They do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are a prey to words in their emotions instead of being masters of them in their intellects. We who were scandalized in 1940 when men were sent to fight armored tanks with rifles, are not scandalized when young men and women are sent into the world to fight massed propaganda with a smattering of ‘subjects;’ and when whole classes and whole nations become hypnotized by the arts of the spell binder, we have the impudence to be astonished.”
Education is the means to an end. It is the process of maturing a human being through the communication of ideas and information. In itself, it is a neutral tool which can be wielded by persons of any motivation or persuasion. Our society has effectively ensured that, with just enough education, children are able to efficiently consume all manner of propaganda thrown at them, relegating them to be “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”(Ephesians 4:14) But we can clearly see that this is an incomplete education. When we contemplate the definition of “maturing a human being,” we must ask the question, “maturing into what?” Maturing into a man or woman destined to fight armored tanks with a rifle? Maturing into someone who possesses the skills of literacy, but no skill for discernment?
Conversely, the Christian call to education is consistently equated in the Bible with the knowledge of Christ. Paul writes throughout his epistles of the “the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood” (Ephesians 4:13), urging us to “be not conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2), and asserting that “whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ … for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:7-9). “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye cannot enter the Kingdom of God. “ The call to childlike faith in Matthew 18:3 is not to justify a static, infantile understanding of God and life, but to look forward with keenness and excitement to the continuation of growth and understanding. What child has not been asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and replied apathetically?
“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” Psalm 118:22-23 reminds us that the problem of the rejection of Christ is perennial, and certainly not unique of our time. Christ is the Cornerstone of our faith. Christ is the Cornerstone of the universal Church. It is by Christ all things were made (Colossians 1:16); in Christ we live, move, and have our being (Acts 17:28); and through the knowledge of God we may attain eternal life (John 17:3). And it is Christ who must be made the Cornerstone of the way we educate. We may live in a day with foolish and hasty builders, but by God’s grace and with Christ as the Cornerstone we may build for our children a strong foundation made of the transformative knowledge that leads to life everlasting.