I will put enmity… (Gen. 3:15)
a chosen generation … His own special people (1 Pet. 2)
Which sinner, convicted of the greatness of his guilt before God, can ever measure the splendour of belonging to Christ and His bride, the church? Which church member will not acknowledge how privileged Christ’s church is to have its own reformed school? And who, acquainted with God’s Word and church history, is not aware of Satan’s continuous attempts to rob God’s people of these riches by smothering the God-given distinctive character of both church and school? That’s why it’s disturbing to hear rumblings about opening the reformed schools to ‘outsiders’.
In a fortnight’s time (August 11th) we may again remember how God graciously freed His people in 1944 from bondage to false teaching, giving the Act of Liberation which led to the Free Reformed Churches being instituted. Last year we also remembered that the Lord had given 60 years of reformed education at the John Calvin School at Armadale (now John Calvin Christian College). It is important to uphold the principle that the distinctive character of the church’s school is tied to the unique character of Christ’s church.
Attempts to undermine the church-school link
In 1944, after some faithful ministers were unjustly deposed from office, the Lord gave us the Liberation. Some 10% of the members left the synodical churches because these churches had adopted wrong teachings and practices. They left because they wanted to be faithful to the Lord and His Church. Therefore, they established the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands (liberated).
However, when the members of those liberated churches, in obedience to their baptismal promise, proceeded to establish their own schools, many people who had stayed in the false church federation objected. They saw some of their most faithful financial supporters leaving and they hastened to say that, although we could no longer serve together in one church federation, we could still serve the Lord together in school (not to mention political, social and other organisations).
We replied that the same Truth that is proclaimed from the pulpit must drive the education at school. For example, if the false churches from which we were liberated teach that church members can’t be sure that God’s promise of salvation applied to their children (the best one could do was to assume it did) then that wrong teaching would also infiltrate the school. Our children are holy to the Lord and therefore we don’t want a mixture of truth and falsehood sown into their minds.
Moreover, we said that if we cannot serve the Lord together in church, we cannot serve the Lord together in school. Our forefathers held that the antithesis God established in the Garden of Eden, following the fall into sin, runs between the people of the Lord (Christ’s true church) on the one hand, and those who don’t belong to His church on the other hand. That separation set by God had to be maintained also in the education of our children.
The synodicals and others attempted to undermine this antithesis by claiming that the antithesis did not run between the visible church (art 27-32 BCF) and those who are not of this church. Some (e.g. H Dooyeweerd, H Westerink) said the antithesis runs between the kingdom of God and the secular world. The kingdom of God (also known as kingdom of heaven) consisted, they wrongly claimed, of all the elect (the ‘invisible church’) and, since no one could tell who the elect were, they argued that we should have schools with Christian children from different church ‘denominations’.
Our forefathers who immigrated to Australia, unable to find a true church to attend, not only instituted Free Reformed Churches here but also established schools for the church’s children. Thereby they reflected, with Christ’s church through the ages, the distinctive antithetical position God had established and maintained from the beginning. Today, over sixty years later, the triangle of church, home and school remain a symbol of the essential tie between Christ’s church and the education of the children of Christ’s church.
Letting go of this distinctive position
Changes occurring in schools of the RCN (GKv) illustrate why a correct understanding of this antithesis is so important. Already in 2007 RCN synod deputies reported shifts in thinking about the antithesis within their churches. According to their report the RCN used to believe that the ‘spiritual front’ ran between the RCN (true church) and all those who refused to join Christ’s true church (i.e. false church and world); in more recent times, however, the RCN have seen it as being between a broad Christianity on the one hand, and the secular world together with Islam on the other. Their attitude towards other ‘churches’ focuses on inclusivity, including calls to allow non-reformed Christians to attend Holy Supper.[i]
This may explain why a federation of its schools has opened its doors to students from outside their churches. The link church, home and school has been changed to Christ (or God), home and school. Student admissions no longer depend on whether the children are members of the true church but on the basis of a discussion with the parents about their Christian conviction and why they chose to send their children to a reformed school.[ii] Note the difference one little change can make. Not the church but their ‘Christian conviction’. Sounds good, doesn’t it; but it lets go of Christ’s command for believers to join His church. The result is that the parents of many of the children at school have not obeyed Christ’s command to join His church. Indeed, already back in 2007 the “Veerkracht” primary school in Amsterdam had “students from some thirty different denominations”.[iii] Teachers can hardly tell their children about the great deeds of the Lord in the history of His church (e.g. the Secessions and Liberation) since lots of children won’t even be members of that church.
Upholding this distinctive position
If we don’t take our confession about the church seriously, and don’t see the antithesis as running between Christ’s church and those who refuse to join this church, the urgency of joining the true church is diminished and we again embrace pernicious invisible church notions. Professors B Holwerda and K Schilder, two figures through whom it pleased the Lord to guide the young Reformed Churches at the time of the Liberation, emphasised that the antithesis is the basis of both the church and the reformed school. Holwerda said that if the reformed school was not based on the enmity (antithesis) of Gen 3:15 it had no right to exist. This shows how important a correct understanding of the matter is.
The Lord mercifully gave the Great Reformation, the Secessions of 1834 and 1886, and the Liberation of 1944 through men who proclaimed the Truth. Thereby He freed His people from Satan’s clutches, maintaining the separation between His church and those who were not of His church. In obedience to God’s command, His people established schools whereby the children of the covenant were by baptism “received into the church of God and set apart from all other peoples and false religions” (art 34 BCF). Here children of Christ’s church could be instructed in the true doctrine. Here they could further learn to know their triune God in order to acknowledge His goodness and mercy, to live righteously in submission to Him, and to “valiantly fight against and overcome sin, the devil and his whole dominion” (prayer at baptism). Church, home and school, united in the Truth, could function together to prepare the children to confess God’s name in daily life, to witness through loyal submission to Him, to praise Him always and to look forward eagerly to the coming Bridegroom.
[i] Dienst en Recht Commissie – verandering in GKV, 2008, p. 8.
[ii] See www.gpown.nl.
[iii] K Sikkema, “Christ, School and Family” Clarion, Oct 26, 2007.