Harding Academy is more than a school. We are a community united by a common faith. Over the years, we have wrestled with what that means, and with what a Christian school looks like in our society. Our faith does not make us immune from the influences of the larger culture, or the weaknesses of the human condition, but it gives us a vision, confronts us when we are wrong, holds us accountable, demands that we change and grow, comforts us with forgiveness and loving encouragement, and motivates us to strive always to improve – and to make every effort to instill the same faith in our students. Ours is a story of living for God. We do not seek to be renowned for greatness by some cultural standard. We seek only to serve God humbly and with a whole heart. If anything that we accomplish or any students that we graduate are considered excellent or exemplary, Soli Deo Gloria.
We are monotheists. We use biblical names to refer to God, but recognize that anything we say is an analogy or a figure of speech referring to a being who is beyond our comprehension. We use the term God to refer to a being whose existence is not dependent upon anyone or anything else, and upon whom everything else depends. God is spirit, unbound by time, space, or corporeal limitation. God is ineffable, and the only appropriate response when contemplating God is awe.
And yet, we do understand God to some extent. We understand God because he has mercifully chosen to reveal himself to us through his creation, the prophets, the Bible, and ultimately in the person of Jesus. Jesus is both the ultimate revelation and the ultimate paradox. We embrace the mysteries of the incarnation and virgin birth. Even so, there is much that we cannot explain. We cannot explain how God remained God the Father while simultaneously emptying himself to become God the Son. We cannot explain how Jesus was simultaneously divine and human. Even God’s greatest revelation is not entirely within our grasp. Ours is not a story of understanding leading to faith, but of faith leading to understanding.
At the very heart of who we are, without which our hope would be despair, is the fact that God did not simply become one of us, but sacrificed himself so that our sinfulness would not separate us forever from his holiness, and that Jesus demonstrated God’s power over death by his bodily resurrection and ascension. In a sterile, disenchanted world that in the end offers only oblivion, we embrace this act of supreme love and supernatural power that allows the finite to approach the Infinite, allows the sinful to stand before the Holy, and gives the weak the forgiveness, strength, and purpose to live abundant, eternal life.
Harding is a place of struggle. When we put on Christ in baptism, we accept the Spirit of God into our hearts, resolve to be guided by the Spirit, die to sin, and live in righteousness. Yet we do not live in righteousness. We continue to fall short of the glory of God. Our story is one of repeated falling, then by the grace of a loving God, we help one another back to our feet and continue the journey of faith together. Our ministry confronts us with an extraordinary tension. Any pretense that Harding employees are always righteous is not simply hypocritical, but denies the purpose of Christ’s sacrifice.
We must never set up a Pharisaical system of righteousness that condemns any employee who is struggling with sin. Harding would have no employees. Even so, Harding serves children and teenagers, ages when people are especially vulnerable. This ministry entails extraordinary responsibilities to protect and nurture. For this reason our handbook and contracts spell out in further detail the standards of attitude and conduct required of those who are employed by or enrolled in Harding.
At Harding we believe that people are whole, and that we are wholly religious. Our culture tells us that a distinction can be made between the religious and the non-religious, that individuals and schools can choose whether or not to be religious, and that individuals can be religious while the school remains religiously neutral. We deny that religious neutrality is possible, or that being non-religious is possible. When one probes the alternatives carefully, it becomes apparent that, while not everyone believes in God as we know him, all humans find it necessary to put some entity into the place from which they have removed God.
All humans worship something (in the literal sense of ascribing ultimate worth to something). All humans deify something. All schools take a position on deity. The notion that the universe-creating, death-shattering Almighty God can be constrained to the realm of private opinion, and that academic, economic, public, and professional activities can legitimately be carried on without reference to him is itself a provocative religious position. Public schools and secular private schools, while not Christian, are no less religious than Harding. God can be at the center, some other deity or deities can be at the center, an impersonal spiritual force can be at the center, human reason (individually or collectively) or some societal process can be at the center, or individual human pride or pleasure can be at the center. But one way or another, there will be a center that is functionally divine. Like Harding, all schools are religious. At Harding, we recognize it, and are unambiguously Christian.
All truth is God’s truth. We are all created in the image of God and live in God’s world. Even those who do not share our faith share a common experience of creation and a craving to know God, even though they may not express their faith in the same way. People are at different places on their journey to God. God loves them all, and so do we. We have deep respect for people from other traditions, recognize that we can learn from them, and are eager to share our faith with them. Even so, Harding is not pluralistic. We believe that God has revealed himself exclusively in the person of Jesus, and that only through Jesus is God truly known and human purpose fully realized. The foremost mission of Harding is to educate students to be followers of Jesus Christ alone.
Although we believe that the church is critical to the survival of the individual Christian, that no one makes the walk of faith alone, and we expect every employee of Harding to be part of a local fellowship, Harding is not church-centered. Harding was founded by members of the Church of Christ, a branch of the Stone-Campbell movement. Members of this movement were frustrated by the fragmentation of Christianity into an ever-increasing number of competing denominations, and sought to restore a simple vision of Christianity that went back to a time before the divisions began. They sought to be simply Christians, not a specific brand of Christian. They were often identified by their slogan, Christians only, but not the only Christians. Harding continues to embrace the best of that movement, with a focus upon the word of God, an emphasis upon spiritual and ethical formation, and a commitment to service and mission under the banner of Jesus Christ as Lord. We will not sustain human traditions when they cease to play a vital part in communicating the Good News to a younger generation. Harding Academy is not a church, but a Christian school. While we embrace and appreciate our heritage, we recognize that God uses movements in space and time for His purposes, not for their purposes and perpetuation. Jesus is Lord. His church will continue until he returns. But no specific temporal movement is lord. Harding seeks to be godly only, biblical only, and relevant to the students we serve.
Harding seeks to strengthen its relationships with all Christian fellowships who share the faith described in this document, that we may build one another up and work collectively for the growth of God’s kingdom in Memphis. It is our desire to be an institution that intentionally serves our city as a source of restoration, reconciliation, and reformation. We embrace our kingdom obligation to be a source of hope in Memphis and for Memphis. The kingdom of God is global, and so will be the world in which our graduates serve. Yes, serve. Whatever else we teach them, however highly educated they may be according to conventional standards, the highest calling is to have the mind of Christ, the God who emptied himself and took the form of a servant. Because Memphis is a place of continual struggle, we believe that it is exactly the sort of place that Jesus would serve first. The multi-ethnic stew that is Memphis is an ideal environment for students to learn how to express their faith cross-culturally and build friendships that bridge socio-economic and ethnic boundaries – the very skills and attitudes that they will need in order to thrive in a globally connected world. Harding believes that God is powerfully present and at work in Memphis. We wish to be a part of his work, and are committed to serving this city to the glory of God. We invite anyone who shares our faith to join with us in this exciting ministry.