Below is the third part of a speech Rev R Eikelboom delivered at a Canadian Reformed office bearers’ conference in 2002. In the earlier articles he has shown that Reformed Education is not just the parents’ business but the responsibility of the whole church, and hence of the office bearers. He has shown that God set our children in the covenant and now wants them trained in the Word of the covenant—which covers every part of life from the cradle to the grave. In this article Rev Eikelboom focusses on some practical ways office bearers can act in relation to the Reformed Education.
As in the previous articles, references are to the Canadian situation but are as relevant for our situation in Australia.
The Task of the Office Bearers (What can we do?)
In this context [of what’s been said so far] I would like to make some practical suggestions on what the office bearers can do. You may find some of my suggestions impractical and idealistic. But then I would respond that the Bible is rather idealistic as well. Here are my suggestions.
In the first place, I would like to say something about the preaching. I have the impression that the walls between Canadian Reformed Churches and evangelical churches are not as high or as solid as they used to be. On the positive side of the ledger, this means that we have learned from the evangelicals that the Lord requires a personal faith, a personal commitment, a personal relationship with him. And in my preaching I have certainly tried to emphasize this.
But when we deal with the subject of Reformed Education, I am reminded of the importance of the communion of saints. And I am also reminded of the fact that God is saving a Church for himself! In this context it becomes obvious that the evangelical emphasis on the individual cannot really benefit the church in the long term. And here I need to adjust my preaching. I don’t mean: I have to mention Tyndale Christian School [the Canadian Reformed school in Calgary] in my sermons or my prayers more often. Instead I mean: my preaching has to encourage the congregation members to have a living, active interest in each other! For the future of the church.
And – elders – you can do your minister a great service by reminding him of this! Listen carefully and remind yourself that the preaching must hold us all personally responsible for what we do, but God’s people must also be confronted with their collective responsibility. And it is the task of the elders to keep this issue in mind!
Another thesis which I would like to expand on, but cannot, is this: to the extent that preaching is covenantal, it will encourage the church community to support Christian education. Not in the sense of: sign up and start paying your membership dues. But: God is saving a people for himself. And if you serve each other, and you support Christian education, you are building the church of the future! And if you don’t support the education of our children – meaning the children of the congregation – this congregation has no future!
In the second place, I would like to say something about the way that our schools function. We said that we established a Reformed School because we are concerned about the future of the church. To give this concept a different spin: the school exists for the wellbeing of the church. That means: the school is not there just for one part of the community. The school is not there just for the sake of its members; instead, the school is there for the whole church community.
And this is the challenge that our school boards and staff need to consider! What are we doing for the church community? Do we look for opportunities to reach out to all our brothers and sisters in the church, especially those children who are being home-schooled, or educated elsewhere? Do we try to include them? Are we interested in serving them? If we believe that the school exists for the wellbeing of the whole church community, we must encourage the school to show it and live it.
Thirdly, we should encourage the school to make the connection with the church as clear as possible. Let them pray for the ministers! When they have an opportunity, let them connect Bible stories and other activities with the preaching! Advertise your events in the church bulletin. And why not let the minister know what psalms the children are learning at school, and hopefully we can sing some of them in the worship service. (If you give the minister a list for the whole school year in September, by November it will have disappeared! So ask him if you can send him an e-mail occasionally!) Let the school invite the minister to teach Bible or catechism or church history at school! For about five years now, I have been involved at Tyndale Christian School. This is with the full support of consistory, and it is an obvious way for the church to show that it views the school as important!
And on talent evenings, or when the school has an open house, let the whole congregation be invited! And let the membership structure of the school society reflect the fact that every communicant member of the congregation can be a member, with full voting rights! Let the constitution of the school reflect the fact that the school association is working for the congregation under the supervision of the consistory! For example: if there is a dispute between the school board and a staff member, or a parent, does the school board make use of consistory in any way? Or if there are discipline problems; if a student, a member of the church, is expelled? Instead of having the principal, or some members of the school board meet with the parents, why don’t we involve the district elder? We claim that the school is connected to the church! We claim that our school provides covenantal education. Well, let the school demonstrate this first!
Perhaps some of you think: “Hey, it’s not the consistory’s job to promote the school. Instead this is the school-board’s responsibility.” But – even technically – that is incorrect. Because those parents who are interested in Reformed education elect a schoolboard, and the schoolboard runs the school. The school board is – in no way – responsible for promoting the school and trying to attract members. I am not saying that the school board should not have a public relations committee. And neither am I arguing that the school board should stop fund-raising. But we need to understand that Article 58[i] is not in the constitution of the school association. The school-board does not have a task to recruit members. Instead the Church Order gives a certain responsibility to the consistory. And the consistory may not shove this responsibility off onto the school board. [Again, I am thankful for the opportunity to think all this stuff through, brothers. Because it reminds me that in Calgary – as well – we have work to do!]
In an essay on ‘the Christian Character of the Reformed School’, Prof. van Bruggen argues that the school is no stronger or weaker than the community it serves. If things are going wrong in the homes, if the families are not really Christian families, the school cannot do much about that. And then it is not the task of the school to reform the church. The hands of the school are very much tied. But the hands of the elders are not tied. Instead, they go on home visits, where they meet teachers, and the principal, and the board members; and they also talk to the students. Eventually the elders also report on all these visits to the consistory. If we agree with van Bruggen’s statement that the school is no stronger or weaker than the community it serves – and I do agree with this statement – then problems of a general nature which surface in the school must receive the attention of the elders and the preaching.
And only in this context, where the school is showing that it is connected to the church, and where the church shows that it is connected to the school, only in this context can it be beneficial that the elders raise this issue with the parents. But – please – the elders should not begin by telling the parents what they should and should not be doing. Instead the elders should begin by trying to understand the parents. Why are they making this particular decision for their child? And when the parents have answered this question, ask them what impact they think their decision will have on their children. If parents choose one school above another for financial reasons, for example, remind them that their children will surely understand that, for dad and mom, money is most important! And if a decision is motivated by the relative status of the schools, the academic options available, the sports program – tell the parents that their children will understand clearly what is the most important in their parents’ lives! Obviously it’s not love of the Lord! And do not be afraid to warn them, brothers, that faithfulness leads to blessings, but unfaithfulness leads to curse. In fact, I must remind you of what the prophet Ezekiel writes in chapter 3: if you see danger, and you warn the people involved, their sins will be on their own head. But if you don’t warn them, God will hold you responsible. God will hold you accountable for their blood.
And if the parents are convinced that their decision is best for the child, the elders may well ask the parents another question. And that is: how does your decision affect the school community, and therefore the church? If some parents have the necessary talents and the opportunity to home-school, there are certainly other parents who do not. And this is a question of selfishness, perhaps; but – more importantly – in 1 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul compares the communion of saints to a body, and he points out that we need each other.
And therefore we may challenge each other. As elders, it is our duty to ask the people of God: is this really best for your child, and for your family, and for the church community? After all, it is a Biblical principle that – as communion of saints – we must support each other, not just where we absolutely have to, not just where we can’t manage by ourselves, but wherever we can and may. And with respect to education, we really can help each other! So, again, the people of God need to be challenged to do what is best, not only for themselves, but also for everyone else.
(to be continued in the next – final – instalment)
[i] Art. 58 of the CanRC is Art. 53 of the FRCA, though the latter is more elaborate.