If the purpose of the school is to help parents to nurture their children so that they know, love and serve the LORD—and so that they walk in covenant fellowship with Him as Christ’s prophets, priests and kings—then it follows that the teachers at school must be well qualified for that vitally important task. A reformed teacher, well at home in Scripture and confessions, can help students to rejoice in the promises which their covenant God, their heavenly Father, has given them and consciously choose to serve the LORD. Hence the teachers must wholeheartedly love the LORD, be soundly reformed and constantly remember that at school they function in the place of the parents.
Of course, the parents must also be soundly reformed. They are the ones who said “I do” and who promised to instruct the child and have him instructed to the utmost of their ability. The primary responsibility remains theirs. But as Rev van der Jagt said in a sermon on Psalm 78,[i] the reformed school is not there to replace the home; it is an extension of the home. The teachers have a secondary or derived responsibility. So, to some extent, does the rest of the church community. Nevertheless, the primary responsibility remains with the parents.
However, this does not diminish the profound responsibility of the teachers. Employed as they are to help the parents keep the promise they made at baptism, they are responsible to both the parents and to God and are to work in tandem with the parents in nurturing children for God’s glory and kingdom in accordance with His Word. It follows, then, that they must be sincere, godly people, well versed in Scripture, the confessions and the great deeds of God in the history of the church. The great 1816/1819 Synod of Dort even adopted a Subscription Form for teachers whereby they promised faithfulness to the church and its confessions.[ii] The Synod of Dort recognised that the reformed character and purpose of the school is so important that a teacher’s reformed knowledge and lifestyle are more important than their academic qualifications.
This is something also highlighted by the late Dr M B van ‘t Veer.[iii] In a speech about the school which Calvin established in Geneva, he said that Calvin expected the teacher above all “to teach the children to love God and to hate sin” and therefore full attention was given to the teacher’s “walk of life”. Calvin considered it a “serious and incalculable error if, in the appointment, the applicant’s knowledge and capabilities – we would say the many certificates – are decisive. Or when all attention is given to the teacher’s ability to teach”. The teacher had first to be God-fearing, a faithful witness, of good behaviour, reliable, attending church faithfully and one who would apply himself diligently to whatever task was given him.
Indeed, after the school was established in Geneva, it lacked a good principal for many years. There were plenty of men available with impressive names and degrees. But Calvin “did not want a headmaster who could not be fully trusted in the matter of religion or whose life was not in harmony with the Gospel”; he wanted a “man who fears God”, who sets a good example to the students and then in the second place he must be at least of average ability. The same went for all the teachers. Calvin “kept demanding that the teaching staff should harmonise in doctrine and life with the Word of God”. For Calvin, a teacher must, above all, be an example of “true and real piety”.
Moreover, they are to teach in the awareness that both they and the students share in the covenant promises and obligations of which the baptism form speaks so beautifully. The late Rev. Clarence Stam says that reformed teachers
“regard their pupils as co-heirs of the covenant, one with them in sin and sinfulness, one also in Grace. The teachers are fellow-workers, whose combined goal in the different classes and subjects, is to bring about covenant awareness and responsiveness in the pupils. … [Reformed teachers] will strive to entertain a good relationship with the parents…. In the criticism which can arise towards one another, [teachers] shall not become personalistic, but shall strive to better the education of the children. Covenantal fellowship stresses unity in faith and therefore mutual dedication and utmost co-operation. I realize that I am making personal, well-known statements, but nevertheless, I am convinced, that seeing one another as fellow-workers in Christ, and the children as co-heirs of the Covenant could use some emphasis. This will help to reduce some of the tension which normally occurs where adults and children must work together on a daily basis.”[iv]
Hence a reformed school is to be characterised by teachers who see themselves as co-heirs of the covenant with the children they teach and with the rest of the church community. Moreover, they will see themselves as standing in the place of the parents with a highly responsible task. They will be godly examples in their walk of life, reflecting love for God and obedience to His Word. And they are to endeavour to instil that in the children. For these children are to grow up to promote the Kingdom of God (LD 48) as those who share in Christ’s anointing and, as prophets, priests and kings (LD 12), live according to God’s Word and to his honour in all they do.
[i] Preached in the Free Reformed Church, Byford, 1st February 2004.
[ii] Rev K Bruning, “Karacter, Doel en Opzet van de School” (Character, Aim and Purpose of the School), Una Sancta, Vol. 10, No. 17, 18th May 1963.
[iii] Dr M B van ‘t Veer, “First Principles of Calvin’s School Establishment”, Una Sancta, Vol. 34, No. 3.
[iv] Rev. Clarence Stam, “Covenantal Education”, a speech held for a group of principals in Burlington, Canada, in 1979. https://defenceofthetruth.com/2015/07/covenantal-education-by-rev-clarence-stam/.