Covenant means fellowship with the triune God. The promise of that fellowship was signified at our baptism. And by that baptism we and our children were “received into the church of God and set apart from all other peoples and false religions, to be entirely committed to Him whose mark and emblem we bear” (BCF 34). And that is something glorious and so undeserved, because that promise means that the almighty God, creator of heaven and earth, will surround us with fatherly care, and that His eternal Son pays for all our sins, that the Holy Spirit will work faith and renewal in us. It’s this Biblical doctrine of our covenant relationship with the Triune God that’s summarised in our confessions and which has everything to do with the education at our schools because it has everything to do with our whole walk of life.
Just how that works was spelled out beautifully by the late Prof. B. Holwerda in a speech[i] held many years ago about school education, or what he refers to as ‘the school with the Bible’. It’s as relevant for parents, teachers and the church community today as it was then and therefore I’m passing on the gist of the first section here (translated and slightly revised). It deals with how our confession of God the Father and our creation has such ramifications for the education of our children at school.
God the Father and our creation
The first thing in our school is that we believe in God the Father and our creation. That’s also the first article in our [Belgic] confession. We’re repeating here what Scripture says: “The earth is the LORD’s and the fulness thereof”. If we do not see this, we do not understand anything of the school with the Bible.
Now the school with the Bible is different than a school plus a Bible. It is something else than a school with some education in religion. The school is not a school with the Bible if the only difference from other schools is that a Psalm is to be learned, or some Bible history is told to the children. No, a school is truly school with the Bible when all of the education is governed by the Scriptures; when each and every subject is ruled by the confession of God the Father and our creation.
Holwerda says that if learning a Psalm and Bible history is the only thing that distinguishes our school from public schools, then we have little defence against the supporters of the public school who say, “Two time two equals four at your school as well as at the public school. And your students get the same results as others in adding and subtracting, in multiplying and dividing”. These outsiders go further and say: “When your children learn to write, they do this in the beginning just as clumsily as any other child. And when they learn to read, they stutter and stammer at first, and drone on with the same monotone as children at the public schools. And in history they learn the same dates; in geography they study the same map. For aren’t all these subjects neutral?”
To be sure, if our school with the Bible did not integrate what we confess about God the Father and our creation in all the subjects, we would have very little defence over against such reasoning. It would be a real attack on the Christian character of all the education. Indeed, it would fundamentally undermine the whole Christian life because it would imply that this is all that distinguishes us as Christians, that we are superficial Christians, and that what we confess about God the Father and our creation does not influence our whole walk of life.
That there are such Christians is evident from Holwerda’s lament that many parents have the wrong perspective on schooling. They are happy when their children are able to learn well because, when they have finished school, they’ll be in a better position to make a decent living; then they can nicely find their way through life. Add to this some knowledge of the Bible and, they think, all will be fine for eternity as well. But in this way life as a whole is secularized. For such Christian parents merely see a good school a vehicle for a good position.
Holwerda refers to Psalm 8, calling this the psalm which Jesus Christ had in mind whenever He thought about little children. You’ll recall how the psalmist there says: “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!” Why is that name majestic here on earth? It is because, among other things, “by the mouth of babes and infants, You have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger”. He considers the mouth of a child, the chatter even of babes, a tremendous instrument, by which God breaks, here on earth, the dominion of the evil one, by which He builds His kingdom, and reconquers the world for Himself. We are inclined to say: that is a bit overdone. After all, Satan’s dominion is firmly established and not likely to be blown down by the mouths of children. But that psalmist is confident and he knows what he says.
He enjoys the crying of a baby who is born, not because that mouth will sing Psalms later on, and will say prayers. To be sure, that is also important. But he rejoices because this child is also chosen by God to royal dominion. To this child, too, God paid attention, and also this child is crowned with glory and honour in order presently to have dominion over the works of God’s hands. The inspired psalmist knows very well that not every boy is born to be minister. Most of them will be busy in the country or in the city in other jobs. But these ‘sons of man’ will have their occupation as servants of God and in their business the name of the LORD will be glorious over all the earth. That is the expectation of this psalmist: not that these children will have a good job, but that they will become Godfearing farmers and workers; that they will keep in their business and in their job the commandments of the LORD; that each in their own place will repel the enemy and the avenger, and that they will conquer the rebellion against God.
The majesty of God’s name
Do we see the significance of our Reformed schools? Prof. Holwerda says: of course, two times two is four, also in our schools. But our children have to know that, not because they must presently be astute businessmen but in order to sanctify their business “for the LORD”.
Covenant children learn the same letters as other children, and when they begin to write, they make the same mess as the others do. But by the young brains, by the mouths and by the little fists of our children, God has founded a bulwark because of His foes, in order that His name will be glorified on earth. If that is not the case, then do not teach them at all. If your boys only have to count in order to advance in life more than father and mother were able to, then do not teach them and do not let them be taught. Then life will be profaned and desecrated, and this child will become a tool of the enemy and the avenger.
Instead, says Holwerda, they must learn to count and they learn to read because of God’s foes. The LORD, whose glory is above the heavens, is on the way to His glorious kingdom on earth also in the scrawling pens of our children.
A recruit does not learn to handle weapons without purpose. He is learning this in order to be able to fight on behalf of his king and his country. If he isolates it from that purpose, he is criminally negligent.
Well. It’s the same with our schools. Our children do not learn to read and to count as if education were an end in itself. Geography and history are not subjects which are to be considered apart from God. Children can only work with them either for or against God. There is no third way. For “the earth is the LORD’S and the fulness thereof”. The children will serve God in the world and will give thanks to Him. If they are not doing that, and if they do not learn to do that, then God will give them over to a wrong mind, because they have not honoured or thanked Him; then in their thoughts and deliberations they will come to vanity and their unwise heart will have become darkened.
Holwerda tells the parents: your calling regarding the school with the Bible is that you see and confess things in this way: that you say: my children shall be educated for the service of God in their whole life and in no other way; that you maintain this and stand up for it, whatever the consequences are: my children are for the honour and the Name of the LORD and for nothing else. You do not send them to the school because they have to know how they have to make their way through life and how they can get to heaven, but in order that God’s name will be glorified in all the earth. If the sole purpose of education would be to make them skilled for life and nothing more, then it would be alright to let them go to a public school and, if it is desirable that they know something about religion, well, then the church and the catechism class are there. But if you say: the earth is the LORD’s, then you say: never any other school, but only the school with the Bible. For us, that is the school which maintains the Reformed confession. Not all of the students will become ministers of the church – a good thing too! – but presently they have to know on the farm, in the shop, in the factory, in the kitchen and in the garage how to honour and serve the LORD.
Holwerda added: I wish that this motive of the great enmity would dominate us again; that we would learn to see again that in our whole life here on earth, in all its aspects, the name of the LORD must be hallowed; then we would understand again what Christian education is all about, and we would again fully support it. Then we would again be as immovable as our fathers were: here we stand, we cannot do otherwise. It’s for the name of the LORD on the earth! For no other purpose will we ever give our children!
Holwerda then spoke about significance for education at school of our confession about God the Son and our redemption and God the Holy Spirit and our sanctification. The full (translated) text of what he said can be found elsewhere on this site (see Your Calling with respect to the School with the Bible (3) – Defence of the Truth and Your Calling with respect to the School with the Bible (4) – Defence of the Truth).
[i] The speech, originally titled “Your calling with regards to the school with the Bible”, was held in 1941 and published posthumously in a book titled, De betekenis van verbond en kerk voor huwelijk, gezin en jeugd (The meaning of covenant and church for marriage, family, and youth), Oosterbaan & Le Cointre, Goes, 1966, pp. 89-102.