As the reformed church schools in Australia begin a new term it’s good to remember the strong bond between church and school. Our schools have always played a vital role in our churches, and vice versa; though there are some who appear not to see that pivotal relationship between church and school. There are some who have lost sight of the importance of belonging to the true church, and of the God-given and God-glorifying purpose of the church’s school, and the privilege of supporting it as part of the communion of saints. Rev K Bruning, back in 1963, had some pertinent things to say about the church-school link in this article[i]:
Character, Aim and Purpose of the School
It will be necessary to limit this wide topic to a few areas of most importance. The most important element is this: the character of the school is directly determined by the church. If the church is the mother, then the school is the daughter.
This strong tie between church and school is evident from history. Every reformation in the church brought with it a reformation in the school, for the simple reason that deformation in the church drags the school down with it. After the reformation of the 16th century the school was soon an issue. This emerged at the Synod of Dort in 1574; the Synod’s pronouncements about the education of the youth made it clear that church members saw the relationship of church / school very sharply.
The well-known Synod of Dort in 1618/1619 was on the same track. A form was devised, which had to be signed by all teachers, wherein teachers promised their faithfulness to the church and her confessions. The strong bond between church and school is also evident from the (i.e. in 1963) Church Order which devoted an entire article to this matter.[ii] You meet this same strong tie between church and school soon after the Secession in 1834. Much has been written about this by Rev H Bouwman.[iii]
Finally, we can look at the history of the church during and after the Liberation in 1944. Not long after the Liberation, activities to do with reformed education accelerated. In several places, true reformed schools were re-established; not only primary schools but also secondary schools. Thus also in the church reformation of 1944 people were strongly convinced of the bond between church and school.
From this brief historical survey it is very evident that our fathers took up the school issues immediately after the church returned to obedience to the Word of God. The lesson is clear: the church and the school are totally interwoven. They form a unity which we cannot break without punishment.
UNDER ONE ROOF
The church and school are under one roof; they have one entrance and are linked by an open connecting doorway. When the church goes into deformation the school also goes to ruin. When the church blossoms, the school does too. We can also say: those who accept the church, also have the school; those who turn their back on the church of the Lord, also spurn the treasures of the school.
Why is there such a close connection between the two? Because the church has a special character.
MEANING OF CHURCH
I will not go into details about the meaning of the church. The confessions say so much about it that it is impossible to describe it all and do justice to it in this article. We will mention that which is relevant for this occasion. Through His Word and Spirit Christ gathers for himself a church chosen to everlasting life. This church is the holy congregation and assembly of true Christian believers, gathered out of this world to life and communion with Jesus Christ.
This church of Jesus Christ receives from her Lord and Saviour all the treasures and gifts gotten by the Saviour through His crucifixion. It is not possible to count or oversee these treasures and gifts. They are endless and rich.
COMMUNION OF SAINTS
In Lord’s Day 21 of the Catechism the church confesses that one of the first gifts of Christ is the communion of saints. This communion of saints means, among other things, that the believers may labour TOGETHER in the kingdom of God and for His coming glory. Through and from within the church springs the communion and co-operation of the children of God. For the church has the living Word that institutes, feeds, leads and maintains our new lives and communion. Through the church and the Word we see that in the church the bonds and relationships begin to flourish.
Through the church the family becomes a truly Christian family. Through and from within the church we develop true Christian and Scriptural political and social activities. And through the church – you can also say through the Word of Christ, yes through Christ Himself working in the church – we can develop a truly Christian school.
The Word calls us to that work and provides leadership in that work. In short, the preaching of the Word of the Lord in the church institutes new life, and gives to the members of Christ the treasures of the kingdom of heaven.
RESULTS OF LEAVING CHURCH
Some people, also among us, consider that the issue of the church is not so sharp and vital. They consider that to leave the church does not have many consequences for other areas in life. Not being a member of the church would not prevent the possibility of co-operation in other areas of life, such as the school. Not being a member of the church would not mean that we cannot be a member of the School Association and that our children would not be able to attend the school.
But the question immediately arises: what will we be left when we leave the church of Jesus Christ? What will remain for our children when we no longer appreciate the church? We can say: he who does not want the church will have nothing left, neither for himself nor for his children.
Let us hear Scriptures. We think of Noah’s time. “Christian” society refused the safety of the church, the ark and communion with Noah. What remained for the people? Nothing. All sadly perished, also the children and the babies in the cradle. They received the terrifying judgment of the righteous God.
Sodom and Gomorra fared no better. They were all burned, including the newborn babies. Don’t we find that cruel? Do our hearts not protest against this “cruelty” that does not even spare little ones? Our humane heart protests when it sees the children’s destruction along with the corrupt parents.
INIQUITY OF THE FATHERS
God however is righteous; we see His majesty reflected in the second commandment. The Lord visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children in the third and fourth generations of those who hate Him. (The word “hate” refers to the sins against the second commandment – the sin of self-willed religion.)
The New Testament also shows that parents’ unfaithfulness ruins life and that they drag their children into such ruin. Scriptures are one. Those who rejected Christ said it: His blood is on our heads and our children. This is being fulfilled to this present day.
It is a fact that he who leaves the church, or does not appreciate it, will lose all the treasures of the church for himself and his children. The evil and unfaithfulness of the parents can even result in the judgment being called over their children. See for example Psalm 137 which speaks about Edom (Esau, an unfaithful covenant child), which became increasingly hostile towards the church of the Lord. And did not the inspired psalmist pray:
“Remember 0 Lord, against the sons of Edom the day of Jerusalem, who said “Raze it, raze it, to its very foundation … Happy shall be he who takes and dashes your little ones against the rock.” Oh, the frightening majesty of the second commandment!
Woe to those parents who become enemies of God’s church. They pull onto themselves and their children a grievous lot which continues in history. For example, the unfaithful choices made during the 16th century Reformation have resulted in many generations being and remaining Roman Catholic, unless the Lord in His mercy tears some of them out of that church.
DO NOT TRIFLE WITH THE CHURCH
We must see that those who break with the church also break with the communion of saints and the riches that are given there. Those who do not belong to the church and do not appreciate it must not think that they protect their children or bring them to Christ by taking them to a general Christian school.
Lord’s Day 25 of the Heidelberg Catechism teaches us how we are saved, how we are brought to faith and become partakers in the riches of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are not to trifle with or minimise the question regarding church.
People do say: they have broken with the church, that is wrong; but they have become members elsewhere. This talk about a kind of church pluriformity is then supposed to camouflage the horror of breaking with the church. And on that ground, they say, we have to open the school, or keep it open, for those who are no longer members of the church of the Lord.
But that kind of talk takes away the seriousness of the matter of the church. We trivialise the Scriptural seriousness that instructs us that someone who cuts himself off from the church also cuts himself off from the church’s blessings and riches. To think that it is not really so bad when someone tears himself away from the congregation of Jesus Christ is a denial of Scripture when it says: “They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of your house” (Psalm 36:8).
Allowing children from outside the church into the school throws away God’s order which says: but “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). This order is also confessed in Lord’s Day 21 of the Catechism. Allowing children into the school from outside the church also takes away from their parents the seriousness of having to make the choice for the church gathering work of Jesus Christ. We lead them into the temptation of false rest. The character of the school must remain pure; it is to be a school for the children of the church.
CHILDREN NOT EVANGELIZED
The school must also work further with what the church preaches and gives. The school has a “fill-in” role, as much as is possible within its determined boundaries. The power of the church must surge through the school.
The school does not lead little ones to Jesus Christ. It receives children that are already with and belong to Jesus Christ. The school opens its doors for those children of which the preaching has said that they are God’s children, future builders and fighters in the kingdom of heaven. The education needs to be tuned to this. We do not have an “evangelisation” school. We have a school that goes with the church, a school that is united with the church.
We say rightly that the school is a parent-run school. But that means that the parents support the school, not just financially but also in a principled way. Do not oppose the work; instead support and pray for this “church” education. Parents who reject the church or are hostile towards it can no longer support this education with their word and prayer because the education offered at the school is in harmony with the church. When parents no longer provide that support to the school the first steps of demolition have begun.
Another important point is the solidarity of the school; better put: the communion of saints in the school and the class. Lord’s Day 21 is also valid for our children. Society has a real eye for the notion of solidarity. Examples include communist education, the Dewy philosophy in America and the education policies of Labor parties.
In the school unity must reign, the unity of God’s Word. Let nobody think this is an exaggeration. The child brings to school the atmosphere of home. The child speaks to other children in the same tone and according to the same spirit that is in the home. If the parents go to the cinema or watch television, the children will bring that to the school in their way. In this way the infection starts; the unity is affected and the battle in the spirit of the child begins to warm up. But we do not have our school for that. And let no-one say: my child can stand in that battle. That is pride (see Lord’s Days 2 and 3).
NOT TWO SEEDS IN ONE FIELD
Scriptures teach that mixed friendship is fatal for the future of children. See the battle of the prophet Ezra (chapters 9 and 10). Fathers had to cut off ties with their heathen wives and their own children! We would say: let us at least keep the children, maybe we can save them. The LORD says: all must go, for the holy seed may not be exposed to the influence of those who do not live according to the Word of the LORD, and who are not brought up in the fear of God’s Name. (See also Nehemiah 13:23 and following.) Nehemiah curses the parents and the children who no longer know the language of the Bible, but who only speak the Ashdod language.
Parents in the church must accept isolation and that also applies to the children. We want no discord in the school; two types of seed shall not be sown in one field. If things are right, the communion of saints begins at childhood. It is apparent from what I see that children, who are brought up in a Christian manner, do (despite their own shortcomings) understand something of that rich phrase and action that is expressed in the words “the communion of saints”.
In this way the school will remain only for the children of the church.
Does that make us cold towards those who are outside the church? No. For we must witness in the order given to us by God. Our witness is not: your poor children attend the State School. Instead our witness is: by your unfaithfulness your children are taken away from the church; or, not taken to the church of the LORD. Therefore go with us and do as we do. Come to the church gathering work of Jesus Christ. There you will find the treasures of eternal life. Also the school and many more things.
THE ROAD OF REAL LOVE
Call them to the church, then you are on the road of real love; then the problem about school admission will solve itself.
For “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you”. And “For whoever has, to him more will be given” (Matthew 13:12). For he who comes to the source, that is the preaching of the living Word, will be comforted and refreshed. He will find grace and riches, for this life and also for life eternal.
[i] This article was originally published in the Una Sancta of 18 May 1963. Translation by J Bruning in Vol 45, No 20.
[ii] This was article 21 of the Dutch Church Order which said: Consistories shall see to it that there will be good school teachers who not only teach the children to read, write, speak and learn the arts, but will also instruct them in godliness and the Catechism. (My translation. JB.)
[iii] See “Calvinistisch Jongensblad” Vol 12, no 8 – 13 and “De Reformatie” Vol 33 Pages 383 and following.