The early migrants who instituted the Free Reformed Churches of Australia (FRCA) and the Canadian Reformed Churches (CanRC) saw the great importance of establishing schools for the covenant children of the church. Indeed, in Australia those migrants were so conscious of the need to provide reformed schooling that they built schools before they built churches. And, here in Western Australia, they ensured, through their constitutions, that only children of the church could attend such schools. I understand it’s the same in our Canadian sister churches. That foresight by our forebears has been a great blessing for our school. However, from time to time voices are raised which threaten that principled position.
Rev P Holtvluwer,[i] in a recent article with the above title, writes: “With the Three Forms of Unity as the basis, parents, children, staff and teachers all belong to the same church community and the kids are instructed in line with the church’s faithful, biblical confessions”. He then adds: “the Lord has blessed us with such a good thing that sometimes voices are heard calling for the doors to open up to children from other denominations[ii] or even the community at large”.[iii]
We’ve heard similar sounds in relation to opening the church-based institutions to others because “we should not keep such blessings to ourselves”. Such reasoning sounds pious but is poisonous. Rev Holtvluwer asks us to consider what would be lost if we go in this direction.
First, there would be a reduced connection between church and school. After all, we confess that everyone is duty bound to join the true church and there would be students at school who did not belong to the true church. The three-fold unity between church, home and school would be undermined. As Rev Holtvluwer puts it:
“The three-legged stool of church, home and school would have one leg cut out from under it: the church. Without a confessional tie, with membership in the school society being pulled from multiple denominations, the bond with and support of the local CanRCs would weaken and diminish. It would only be one church among many. Board and staff would be drawn from many fellowships and so a close bond with the founding CanRCs could not be kept up for long. For example, the cooperation between teachers, principals, parents, and office bearers when it comes to challenging behavioural situations would be hampered, if not severed. Also, whereas presently some ministers teach catechism in our schools during school hours, that would no long be possible. Where songs from the church’s Book of Praise are currently sung daily in the classroom, the singing would have to come from a variety of sources. Our schools and churches presently have a very close relationship because it’s mostly the same people making up both communities. Because of that, each community is constantly looking out for the best interest of the other (think of how each other’s properties and assets are often shared or used without difficulty). This harmonious and mutually advantageous situation would gradually disappear.”
If you want an example of opening the school doors to others, consider what happened in the GKv (RCN). The link ‘church, home and school’ was changed to ‘Christ (or God), home and school’. Thereby the importance of the church was devalued. Student admissions no longer depended on whether the children were 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.[iv] 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. A school that accepts the children of believing parents who are disobedient to Christ’s command to join His church, in effect waters down that command. That’s what the GKv did. For example, already back in 2007 the “Veerkracht” primary school in Amsterdam had “students from some thirty different denominations”[v] and it wasn’t long before, in addition to teachers, also board members from outside the church were appointed.
But opening the school doors has further serious ramifications. In order to accommodate the sensibilities of children from various religious bodies, the truth of God’s holy Word would be compromised and parts of it avoided.[vi] Rev Holtvluwer says:
“In a school with teachers, parents, and students coming from different backgrounds, Bible teaching would have to stay general to be satisfactory to the majority. The problem here is not so much what would be taught (though there is danger there too – see the next point), but rather what would not be taught, the topics simply avoided because they are controversial or not generally accepted. A doctrine like the covenant of grace, which Reformed believers hold so dear as a major theme of Scripture, will largely go unmentioned in a general Christian school. To say the least, that would be sad and ironic since knowing God’s covenant promises and understanding our covenant obligations has been a huge factor in starting up Reformed schools. Other doctrines would also be left largely untaught, such as God’s decree of election, the sacraments (especially infant baptism), and the Ten Commandments to mention a few. Outside of Reformed churches, these Bible truths are little known or even outright rejected. Thus, in an interdenominational school the Board will direct teachers to steer clear of these topics, impoverishing the learning of the students.”
Moreover, teachers can hardly tell their children about the great deeds of the Lord in the history of His church (e.g. the Secession of 1834 and Liberation of 1944) since lots of children wouldn’t even be members of Christ’s church as characterised by the marks confessed in the confession.[vii]
One of the reasons we established our church schools was so that wrong ideas would not be taught to our children. Klaas Schilder once had a very insightful speech about this showing how the Old Testament command not to sow two types of seed into a field applied also to the minds of our children.[viii] We may not sow into the minds of the church’s children a godly seed at home and in church and then, at school, sow a seed of compromise – a seed that undermines the truth. That Scriptural principle would be undermined as the door is opened to erroneous teaching. That is the concern also expressed by Rev Holtvluwer:
“With only a general statement of faith guiding the Board, staff and teachers, the school is much more at risk to see errors being taught and promoted at the Christian school. Without the check and balance of a confessionally Reformed philosophy of education as overseen by the Education Committee and Board, teachers could unwittingly bring in ideas and practices from secular education philosophy. For example, the dramatization of Scripture stories (like the birth of Christ, or the stories of Esther or Daniel) is very popular among non-Reformed Christians but has been rightly rejected by Reformed parents and educators.[ix] Given how attractive theistic evolution is among evangelicals, as well as the idea that women may be ordained as office bearers, it is not a stretch to see such errors being promoted in a general Christian school. Further, Arminian concepts such as the freedom of the will and that Jesus died for the whole world (unlimited atonement) are the default beliefs in many non-Reformed churches. One could only expect these errors, too, to quietly infiltrate the thinking of staff and students over the years.”
And there’s still another consequence. Learning Psalms by heart and singing them together at school has been an important characteristic of our schools from the beginning. Yet they would be another casualty of opening the schools to outsiders. As Rev Holtvluwer puts it:
“Reformed churches have always treasured psalm-singing and for good reason have given preferential treatment to singing the Psalm over hymns.[x] It is regular practice in our CanRC elementary schools to have students memorize the Psalms as versified in our Book of Praise. The benefits of this are enormous: the Word of God is hidden in the hearts of the students; the unique songs inspired by Christ’s Spirit and specially gifted to his people for the comfort and edification as well as to sing back to him are being committed to memory; the singing of psalms in church on Sunday is greatly aided by how well the kids learn them over the years; memorizing and singing the Psalms strengthens the bonds between the generations as Grandpa and Grandma can sing along with their children and grandchildren the Psalms as they once learned them. All of that would stop in an interdenominational school. Outside of Reformed and Presbyterian churches, psalm-singing is virtually unknown and so any singing at school would be limited to hymns,[xi] whether traditional or current.”
Concluding his article about the dangers of opening the school doors to outsiders Rev Holtvluwer says:
“With all of that in mind, I would like to urge the members of our churches to keep our schools confessionally Reformed. There is too much to lose in removing their confessional underpinnings. Our forefathers made great sacrifices to establish these schools for the purpose of faithfully educating the children of the church in accordance with the Reformed faith (which is nothing other than the biblical faith). Those in the community who are serious about wanting to have their children attend our schools will find the door to the school open in the local Canadian Reformed church (or sister church). If they do not share the Reformed confession or have no wish to join a Reformed church, then can it really be said that we are keeping them out of our school? Is it not rather that they, by their own beliefs and choices, keep themselves and their children out?
By God’s grace our Reformed schools have served not just our church community well for decades but by extension also the communities in which we live. Our students eventually become graduates who enter the workplace and find their way in the general population as faithful Christians, serving God as salt and light to those around us. They are well-trained in the doctrines of Scripture, in the subjects of the curriculum, and in looking at this world in a Reformed manner. […] So, let’s keep our schools Reformed and pray for their ongoing long-term blessing on our society.”
We wholeheartedly share those sentiments. Satan’s attacks do not spare the church, the home and the school. If we sow two kinds of seed in any one of these areas it impacts on the unity of faith that is to bind church, home and school together. May our sovereign God make us faithful to Him so that, acknowledging His rich blessing of reformed schools, we reflect, in doctrine and life, that true unity, love and obedience that pleases Him. As John says: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 Jn 1:4). In that truth and loving obedience, church, home and school must unite to educate the church’s children, nurturing them in the reformed faith and in godliness to know their God and Redeemer and to love, thank, confess and serve Him. And they must be equipped to fight in the strength of the Lord against sin, Satan and the godlessness of the world—to His honour and the establishing of His kingdom.
[i] Peter H Holtvluwer is Minister of Spring Creek Canadian Reformed Church at Tintern, Ontario.
[ii] In several places Rev Holtvluwer uses the term denominations to refer to non-sister churches. It’s an unfortunate term that tends to give rise to the error of denominationalism with which, I’m sure, Rev Holtvluwer would not agree because it is at odds with what we confess about the church.
[iii] “Open the School Doors?” in Clarion, Vol 68, No 23 (Nov 15 2019), pp. 651-653.
[iv] See www.gpown.nl.
[v] K Sikkema, “Christ, School and Family” Clarion, Oct 26, 2007.
[vii] See Belgic Confession Article 29.
[ix] See Rev JL van Popta’s in-depth article on this topic. ‘May My Four Sons Play the Lord Jesus, Judas, Peter and Pilate in a School Easter Play?’ in Clarion, Vol 44, No 22.
[x] See Rev D Wynia’s article, ‘Why Do We Sing Mostly Psalms?’ in Clarion, Vol 68, No 8.
[xi] Granted, some classic hymns are versifications of parts of psalms. While there is much to appreciate about such hymns, yet such songs are not full-on psalm-singing in that only portions of the psalm (i.e. not the whole psalm) are set to music and quite often a great deal of poetic license is taken in forming the lyric. They are often faithful interpretations of a psalm rather than just being the psalm itself. See for example Christ Shall Have Dominion (Hy 46, Book of Praise). A Mighty Fortress is Our God (Hy 53), and O God our Help in Ages Past (Hy 54). Psalm-singing is to sing the words of entire psalms as closely as possible to what’s in the Bible.