Reformed Education 1 – Just the Parents’ Business?

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Below is the first part of a speech Rev R Eikelboom delivered at a Canadian Reformed office bearers’ conference in 2002. Although its references are to the Canadian situation, its relevance is surely for all church members – also here in Australia.

Some years ago, a Christian Reformed minister, Rev. C. Van Schouwen, wrote: “We as ministers and consistories must be deeply concerned about our Christian schools….  If we lose our Christian schools, we will eventually lose everything, as far as the spiritual well-being of the church is concerned.”[i]

I would like you to notice what Rev. Van Schouwen says, and what he does not say.  Rev. Van Schouwen does not say that parents must send their children to Christian schools.  And neither does he say what the Church Order says: consistories have to make sure that parents send their children to Christian schools.  Instead, he says: if we lose our schools, our churches are lost as well.  If we lose our schools, our churches are doomed.  In other words, according to Rev. Van Schouwen, our Christian schools are important for us all!  For consistories!  For regular church members!  For teenagers!  For parents who send their children to public schools!  For parents who homeschool!  For parents who send their children to non-denominational schools!  According to Rev. Van Schouwen, if we lose our Christian schools, there is no way that our churches can survive!

Now I recognize that Rev. Van Schouwen is just one man; and this is just one man’s opinion.  However, if we look at the history of the Canadian Reformed Churches, and – before that – the history of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, we can trace this attitude all the way back to the Reformation.  Because our Church Order says: “The consistory shall ensure that the parents, to the best of their ability, have their children attend a school where the instruction given is in harmony with the Word of God….”  Our Church order says: parents are responsible for the education of the children, and the consistory must hold the parents accountable!  Our Church Order says: the consistory has to see that the parents do it to the best of their ability!  And I don’t have a problem with this formulation.  Because I agree: education is – in the first place – the responsibility of the parents. 

This was an issue when our Canadian Reformed Church Order was written.  There was a feeling that some parents were not doing their job, and letting the school educate their children instead. And to counter this attitude the Canadian Reformed Churches decided to adopt this particular wording: the consistory shall ensure that the parents … carry out their responsibility!  But at the Synod of Dort, when our Church Order was initially adopted, our forefathers wrote: “Consistories shall see to it that there are good school-teachers who do not only teach children in reading, writing, speaking, and liberal arts (vrije kunsten), but who also teach children in godliness and in the catechism”.[ii]  You notice?  Consistory shall see to it that there are good school-teachers!  And even the Old Christian Reformed Church Order (1934) said: “The Consistories shall see to it that there are good Christian schools!”  1618: Consistories shall see to it that there are good school-teachers.  1934: consistories shall see to it that there are good Christian schools!  But our Canadian Reformed Church Order: consistory shall see to it that the parents carry out their responsibility.  I repeat: I have no problem with what our Church Order says.   But the real issue has always been that the churches, and therefore also the consistories who govern over the churches, must see the education of the children as a very high priority![iii]

And think about this, brothers!  The Reformation of Luther and Calvin spread to Holland in the 1550s and the 1560s.  Soon afterwards the heresy of Arminianism crept into the Dutch churches.  And then the churches knew how they should react!  They realized that, somehow, they had to safeguard the Reformation!  What they had learned when they liberated themselves from Rome had to be passed on to the next generation, and to all the generations that followed!  And of course, that had to happen in churches, through the preaching and the home-visits!  It had to happen in the homes through the nurturing and upbringing by the parents!  But it also had to happen through the schools! 

And that’s why our forefathers did not say: let the parents decide for themselves how they should educate their children!  No!  They said: the future of the church is the children![iv]  A church that neglects the education of its children is doomed to failure!  But a church that looks ahead to the future is – by definition – concerned about the education of its children!  And so: the consistory must ensure that there are good Christian schools with good Christian teachers, because such schools and such teachers will surely be a blessing for our churches![v]

Now you might think that our forefathers greatly exaggerated the importance of Christian schools.  After all, the Bible says nothing about Christian schools!  Moreover, there are churches – even in our federation – where they don’t have Canadian Reformed schools! Yet Scripture does teach us the importance of covenant education, as is shown, for example, in the account of Samuel.

I recently preached on 1 Samuel.  In the first chapter we met Elkanah, an Israelite man who had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah.  And you know the story.  Peninnah had children, but God closed Hannah’s womb!  Why!  God cursed Hannah – in her personal life – because of the Israelite community’s unfaithfulness (Deut7:14)!  And so the Lord reminds us: what the Christian community does has great effect on the wellbeing of the individual!  If the church is faithful, you can expect God to bless you!  But if the church is unfaithful, you will also bear the consequences in your personal life! 

And a few weeks later, when we came to 1 Samuel 7, the situation was reversed: God used Samuel to deliver Israel from the Philistines.  God used one individual to save the community! 

And the Bible contains many more examples: David, and Hezekiah, and John the Baptist, and Peter and Paul, and Augustine, Luther and Calvin, Abraham Kuyper and Klaas Schilder.  God used these men to reform his church!  God used the talents of these individuals to bless thousands of others! 

I know that not every school-child will grow up to become a reformer in the church!  And I don’t expect my children to become anything special!  But … two things: in the first place, I know that I can be faithful in my personal life; I can bring up my family in a Christian way; but one family does not make a church!  Instead, for a church to function, it needs educated fathers and mothers, well-trained school teachers, knowledgeable elders, deacons and ministers, just as much as it needs reformers! 

And that’s why I support Christian education!  Not because it concerns my children, but because it concerns the wellbeing of the church!  And therefore I put it to you, brothers: a church that concerns itself with the education of its children is wisely preparing for the future.  And therefore I do not hesitate to say that a church that concerns itself about the education of its children may expect a blessing of the Lord!  But, on the other hand, a church that does not concern itself with the education of its children has no future at all!

(to be continued)

 

[i] The Outlook (April 1979, page 18)
[ii] F L Rutgers, Bespreking der hoofdpunten van het Kerkrecht naar aanleiding van de Dordtsche Kerkenorde, Vol 1, 1892, p. 125.
[iii] The Church Order of the Australian sister churches (FRCA) has a different wording: “The consistory shall make sure that the parents honour their vows to instruct their children, to the utmost of their power, in the doctrine of the Scriptures as summarised in the confession, and to have them instructed in the same by the instruction provided by the consistory. In accordance with the same vow, the consistory shall see to it that the parents, to the best of their ability, and with the cooperation of the communion of saints, give their children education (as stipulated by the civil government) which is based on Scripture and Confession” (CO 58).
[iv] In a ‘Press Review’ in Clarion, vol 28, J.Geertema quotes PY deJong: “… I was surprised to observe that those early, enormously influential, Reformation churches gave as much attention to securing sound Bible teaching in the schools as they did to getting it in the churches.”  Geertsema also refers to Lord’s Day 38 of the Heidelberg Catechism which mentions “the ministry of the Gospel and the schools.”  He points out that Ursinus does not limit ‘the schools’ to the theological colleges.  Instead Ursinus says: “… unless the arts and sciences be taught, men can neither become properly qualified to teach, nor can the purity of doctrine be preserved and defended against the assault of heretics.”  Commentary, 570.
[v] Dr M B van ‘t Veer, “First Principles of Calvin’s School Establishment”, Una Sancta, Vol. 34, No. 3, a translation of Van ‘t Veer’s speech held in The Netherlands in 1941 as “Beginselen van Calvijn’s schoolstichting”.