Historians disagree about exactly what happened in 1212. But they all agree it was a disaster for tens of thousands of young people.
As traditionally told, the "Children's Crusade" started in that same year in two different countries. In France, a peasant boy named Stephen and in Germany a boy named Nicholas both claimed to have been told by Jesus Christ to go to the Holy Land, where they would liberate Jerusalem from the Moors (Arab Muslims). These boys told their followers that they had God's especial protection for their mission, and that obstacles such as the Mediterranean Sea would miraculously part before them. Eventually 30,000 children followed Stephen and another 20,000 followed Nicholas, all with hearts full of great dreams of glory.
This seemed like a pipe dream, or something much worse, to most of the children's parents. After all, grown men fully trained for battle and led by kings and dukes had failed to reclaim the Holy Land. How could an untrained, unsupplied band of children succeed where their fathers and grandfathers had failed?
King Philip of France told Stephen to call off his crusade. The Pope in Rome told Nicholas and his remaining crowd of children (many had already perished on the journey through the Alps from Germany to Italy) they were too young for such an adventure. Nonetheless, both groups pressed on.
When Stephen and his group arrived at Marseilles, merchants provided seven ships to take them to Palestine. Little was heard of them for years, until a young priest who embarked with them returned to relate that two ships had been wrecked and that a Saracen fleet surrounded the remaining ships. At this time the children learned their intended destination (and the reason why the merchants were so generous with their ships): they were to be sold as slaves. Which is exactly what happened.
Nicholas's group mostly attempted to return home, after the Pope told them to go back and after the sea failed to part for them. However, few made it back. As a chronicler of the time said, speaking of both groups, "One thing is sure: that of the many thousands who rose up, only a very few returned."
One final result of the ill-fated Children's Crusade: the angry parents of children who never returned persuaded the authorities to arrest and hang Nicholas's father, who it appears had actually encouraged his son's preaching pretensions out of personal vainglory.
A Losing Crusade
We all know the public schools today are not what they used to be thirty years ago. The facts are conclusive. God and His Word have been removed from the public schools. All subjects are taught without reference to God, or to the fact that man has a soul.
Jeremiah 10:2 tells us to "Learn not the way of the heathen." Certainly, the public schools are no longer teaching our children the way of a Christian.
Nonetheless, many Christian parents rationalize that they are sending their children to the public school as crusaders to evangelize unsaved children.
I am convinced that sending our children to be potentially have their hearts, minds, or even souls "martyred" in the school system is much like the ill-fated Children's Crusade in the Middle Ages. Unlike the medieval parents, who at least tried to stop their children from joining the Children's Crusade, Christians today all too often insist on sending their children - who are untrained, unequipped, and unorganized - into battle with a trained, equipped, organized, ruthless, and mature foe.
The foe our children battle in the public schools is the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) secularism, humanism, and (more recently) non-Western religious thinking that currently engulfs the public school curriculum and environment. Your local government school is waiting and ready to mold and shape each of our children into its image.
Adults, Not Children, Need to Lead the Crusade to Reclaim the Public Schools
There are no biblical examples of children being used as missionaries or crusaders. Rather, the Scripture shows adults acting as missionaries and evangelists.
Do not misunderstand me. By no means do I want to abandon the public schools. We need Christian adults - not children - to be salt and light in the public schools as teachers and administrators, school board members, truant officers, and social workers.
When our children grow up, then we can send them to public school - as adults whose jobs give them a measure of authority. But while they are young, we should not send them to be taught and discipled by a godless educational system in which they have no power or authority.
God Commands Parents to Train Their Children in the Lord
God commands us to provide our children with a comprehensive education based on His principles. For instance, Ephesians 6:4 tells fathers to "Not provoke our children unto wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." Are we provoking our children to wrath by sending them to a school system where they learn the opposite of what they learn at home? Are we creating intellectual schizophrenics? Are we playing Russian roulette with their tender souls?
Sending our children to public schools to save souls while they receive six or more hours of secular brainwashing is not a good way to win a battle. Disobeying Ephesians 6:4 by doing something in the name of God does not justify our sin.
Deuteronomy 6 tells us that we are to teach our children God's principles: to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, and mind. It also says, "You shall teach them [God's commandments] diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and your gates."
In other words, God's commands and truths must be taught to children by their parents, and they must be taught diligently. Our children are to be brought up in the instruction of the Lord. How can this be achieved if a child spends six or more hours a day receiving a public education that teaches him Christianity is irrelevant and that many vital Christian principles (such as the sanctity of innocent human life and the importance of faithful, monogamous, heterosexual marriage) are downright bigoted and bad?
If It Walks Like a Duck... Proverbs 23:7 states, "For as a man thinks within himself, so he is." If our children, who are sent to the schools to save souls, are trained to think like New Agers (in Earth Day ceremonies of Gaia worship), like Muslims (in compulsory classes that have them reciting the Muslim confession of faith and praying towards Mecca), like Wiccans (teacher resources based on the incredibly popular "Harry Potter" series often use the books as a springboard for introducing kids to the history and practices of witchcraft, complete with websites to visit), like animistic pagans (art activities and even religious ceremonies based on Native American shamanism and African animism are common in elementary-level curriculum), and like humanists (as their science, literature, and history courses ignore God or treat Him as a passing phase the human race has thankfully outgrown), our children will tend to act and live like a strange blend of New Agers, Muslims, Wiccans, animists, and humanists. Meanwhile, an entire generation of kids already has received the message: even Christmas itself better not include any references to Jesus Christ. The common theme here: being an atheist or agnostic is cool, and so is following any religion except traditional forms of Judaism or Christianity.
Kids taught this way won't know what they believe. They will end up following the crowd or their changing feelings. They'll strongly believe that everything is relative, what is true for you might not be for me, and that the worst thing in the world is to tell other people God has made rules for how we should live.
If you think this sounds like what just about every college kid today now believes, you're right. It shouldn't surprise us, because this is what they were taught from kindergarten through twelfth grade, with our tax dollars.
Moreover, Scripture states, "Everyone after he has been fully trained will be like his teacher" (Luke 6:40). This passage continues by describing the blind that lead the blind to the pit. This is why it is so important for parents to teach their children to think as Christians at home, and to let only godly teachers teach those children. Christian parents must not let their children to be conformed to the pattern of this world, but they must be "transformed by the renewing of their minds, that they may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (Romans 12:2). Meanwhile the public schools are working to conform our children's minds to the pattern of this world.
We have been given a responsibility and authority before God to teach our children. We can delegate the authority to the public schools, but we can never delegate the responsibility. God will hold us responsible for training our children in the Lord as He commands in Scripture.
God Would Rather Have Obedience Than Sacrifice
Sending our children as crusaders or missionaries to the public school sounds like a noble idea, but it is clear from Scripture that in light of what the public schools have become, it would be presumptuous disobedience to God.
For instance, in I Samuel 15:1-23, King Saul directly disobeyed God's command to destroy all the Amalekite's animals. He spared the animals and claimed it was only so they could be sacrificed to the Lord - surely a noble goal! But God rebuked Saul through Samuel, saying "Does the Lord have much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams."
Are we trying to make a "sacrifice" to God by sending our children to public school on a crusade to "save souls" while disobeying God's clear commands to us concerning raising our children in His way? To obey God's clear Word is better than a "child sacrifice" He never commanded.
High School Students Aren't Trained Adults Yet
Christian parents quote Psalm 127 and say we want our children to be "like arrows in the hand of a warrior." Do we want our children to be homeschooled part of the time, and then before the "arrow" is finished, send them off to the public schools? Don't we want our "arrows" to have a point to them? We do not want to shoot into the secular world unfinished "arrows" that are not fully sharpened. Such "arrows" will miss their target and make no impact.
The high school years are the launching pad for the rest of our children's lives: the final phase of training each child for adulthood so that he or she thoroughly thinks like a Christian and applies and knows biblical solutions to his or her future work, family, and community. We should not send our children off too soon when they are not fully trained or equipped.
Having been blessed by God with a quiver full of seven children, I am convinced that homeschooling is the best way that my wife Tracy and I can fulfill God's commands to provide our children with a comprehensive biblical education and train them to be well-equipped Christian warriors, ready to stand up for God and His Truth even when it hurts.
As your children get into the high school years, some may express their desire to enroll in the public schools. Their reasons will vary. Sometimes it will be athletics, sometimes the reason will be friends. I urge you to sit down with your child with the Word of God and go through Ephesians 6:4 and Deuteronomy 6 and many other passages in Scripture. Then look your child in the eye and say, "Son or daughter, I don't want you to be mad at me. But as you can see from the Scripture, God has given me clear commands on how to train you and I cannot fulfill these commands if I send you to public school. So the bottom line is that even though I love you, I would rather have you mad at me than God mad at me!"
If Satan had his choice, where would he want you to send your child to school? I'm sure he loved the Children's Crusade because those children either ended up dead or enslaved and their mission ended in defeat.
Our culture is in need. The harvest is great and the workers are few. Let us all make sure that we raise fully equipped, well-trained, and organized young adults to go into the world - including into the public schools - and make a difference there for Jesus Christ!