At a recent school association meeting someone said that the School Board should focus less on the covenant and instead stress more that the school belongs to the parents. That might sound okay, since parents are the ones who make the vows at baptism; they promise to instruct their child and have him instructed to the utmost of their power. Another member said the Board should not push for ‘life-time membership’ of the school association, adding that God might rather direct us to support other causes instead of the school. Both these views appear to deviate from what I and others have learnt from our reformed forebears.
To be sure, the schools are a response to promises made at baptism by the parents. Parents have the initial responsibility; they make the promises at the baptism of their children. Reformed schools were established because parents understood that their children were holy to the LORD, were to grow up to love, honour and serve Him and therefore were not to have two types of seed sown into their minds: a godly seed at home and a godless seed at school. So, while our forefathers struggled to establish homes and provide for the daily needs of their families, they also sacrificed of their hard-earned pounds to establish Reformed schools for their children.
However, to imply that the responsibility for the reformed education of the church’s children rests with the parents and not necessarily with the broader church community introduces a new direction. Our migrant parents understood the underlying position of the covenant, and the church as God’s covenant community, to mean that the school was the responsibility of the whole church. They confessed that as God’s covenant community the congregation uses its gifts readily and cheerfully for the advantage and salvation of the other members (LD 21). That was seen to apply particularly to school support and therefore School Association membership was not limited to parents with school-age children. Younger people and older members without children, too, saw it as their task to provide for the children of the church. Weren’t they together on their way to the New Jerusalem? And weren’t the children to be taught to know, love and serve the LORD and walk in the joy of covenant fellowship with Him? And as they grew up to confess His authority over everything and to fight against sin, the devil and the world, wasn’t the Lord Jesus thereby manifesting His kingdom over against the kingdom of Satan? If that, and more, was the glorious goal of educating the church’s children for kingdom service, shouldn’t everyone be keen to support it?
Our migrant ministers – Rev P van Gurp, Rev G van Rongen, Rev K Bruning – certainly thought so; they were strong advocates of the reformed school, encouraging all those who could to be members. As Rev Bruning said, the Word of God calls us to support the school. [i] Likewise, Rev van Gurp (minister in Albany from 1955 to 1964) relates how in his sermons he so frequently stressed the need for all church members to support it. [ii]
And the church members heeded their ministers. Harry Kleyn, in a biography of his father, writes: In December 1954, a School Association was formed with a membership fee set at one pound a week. Every adult member was encouraged to be a member of the School Association. His father was earning about twelve ponds a week so that a commitment of a pound a week to both church and school represented about 16% of his salary – a huge commitment at that time as immigrants struggled to establish themselves. Yet, he writes, no one complained; indeed, all were happy to contribute because they saw it as a necessity. [iii]
Prof J Kamphuis (snr) points out that those who think of the Reformed school as something which concerns only the parents of the school children have become individualistic in their thinking. We have said that the LORD has given us, together – as communion of saints, as Christ’s body – the mandate to nurture the children of the church in His ways. Hence, he says, it’s not a matter of choice; it’s a matter of working together for the common goal of educating the children in such a way that they too will direct their lives in the service of their God. [iv]
I thought that perhaps the idea that the school is the responsibility of the whole church community was a uniquely Australian immigrant view, carried over from the Church Liberation of 1944 in the Netherlands, but that it had by and large been abandoned by our brothers and sisters in Canada. And perhaps, in various provinces, that is so. However, recently I came across the following from Prof. J Geertsema of our Canadian Theological Seminary published some 30 years ago. He, too, emphasises the communal task of all those who can support the schools to do so. He writes feelingly about our joint responsibility and therefore I conclude by passing it on in full, with Clarion’s permission. Prof. Geertsema writes:
“Recently I attended a membership meeting of one of our school societies. One of the points on the agenda was the budget. As with most of our school societies, the members are placed in different categories, divided into two main groups, with their subdivisions. The first group is that of parents who have children in one school, an elementary or high school, or in both. The second main group of members is that of those who have no children in either school. Here the subdivision is that of members in general and of members who either are seniors or students.
Brothers and sisters, parents with growing children (and therefore often with the most expensive families, being in the highest category), have a tuition fee to contribute to the school of almost five hundred dollars per month. This occurs in a time of recession. It must not be easy for the school boards to present such budgets, while being aware of the economic situation. Hours of labor, of calculating and thinking, are involved here. Looking around at that meeting, I saw a number of older members who have no children at home anymore. It was good to see these older members there who belong to the second main group. They care for the school education of the youth of the church. They see the plight of the parents with children, and continue to place their shoulders under the load with their brothers and sisters.
Together the members adopted the budget. It is with thankfulness to the Lord, who provides the willingness and the means, that I write these lines. It is only through Him, through His grace that the fees are paid. We call the LORD our faithful covenant God. Allow me to make a few remarks here on one aspect of the biblical concept of the covenant in connection with Reformed school education. The covenant aspect is very important in leading us in our life, also regarding the schools. We confess that the youth of the church belong to the covenant. They belong to the Lord Who says also to them: I claim you for My own. I put My seal on you. That is why we have our Reformed schools, set up for covenant children.
Covenant means people, community, for in the covenant we find two parties: God and His people. The apostle Paul, e.g., speaks of the church, the community of believers in Christ, as a household, a family of God. Therefore, when we say covenant we say family, brothers and sisters, who are there to help and support each other. It is a joy to see the covenant at work at such a school meeting: brothers and sisters in all membership categories come together to discuss matters pertaining to the school of God’s covenant children: the youth of the church(es). Those who do not have children in school anymore maintain their membership, gladly contributing to the cause of covenant children. They accept their responsibility and calling to support their brothers and sisters in the Family of God.
The financial situation becomes a little easier when your youngest child has finished high school. Going down from almost five hundred dollars per month for one school, beside the church and other schools, to about one hundred dollars lightens the ‘burden’. Of course, it was first of all my own responsibility, as parent, to provide to the utmost of my ability. Reformed education for my children. If need would be, I had to sacrifice for it. If I were to take this responsibility easy and rely on others because I was not willing to pay the full amount, I would be unreliable and unfaithful.
Thus, it was my responsibility before the God of my children to give them and have them receive a faithful covenantal education, not only at home, and in the church, but also in school, to the utmost of my ability. I owed it to them. But also the other children in the church belong to God’s covenant. As their brother, I am also responsible for them and their parents. For a number of years, I contributed some five hundred dollars per month for my own children first of all, but together with other members of the societies, and in that way I gave support for other parents and children at the same time. If I now were to stop supporting the others in the Family, since my children do not need this education anymore, I would be covenantally unfaithful to them, parents and children. There would be with me a lack of care for my brothers and sisters, parents and children, with whom I belong to the same church and covenant. In a certain way, I would say: you should give a Reformed school education to your children in the sense of James 2:14-17. I would say to my brothers and sisters for whom it is not easy to contribute their five hundred dollars month after month, “Go in peace, be warm and filled”. Or, in this case: “Go in peace, and provide the proper education for your children.”
Therefore, if I was able to contribute four hundred or more, it certainly is still possible to contribute one hundred or a little more. How can I, before God’s face, look the others straight in the face when I would quit being a member and not helping them out? How could I justify before our God in heaven, before whom I live and who places me in the covenant and church beside the others, that I would forsake them? No, I could not justify this for the LORD, who so faithfully cared for me and my children during the past twenty and more years. No, I do not want to forsake my brothers and sisters in the church whom God gave me as my fellow Family members and who during those years set their shoulders with me under the task and calling to provide Reformed education to the children of the church. Therefore, I gladly continue my membership and contribute my fees with which I can support the others in the fulfilment of their task and calling and so lighten their “burden” somewhat.
The reader understand that continued membership is for me a matter of obedient love to our Father in heaven and of faithfulness and reliableness toward my brothers and sisters in the Family. God is pleased when His children love Him and care for each other. He has promised to bless this. He tells me too that if I do not love Him and do not show my loving care for the other members of the Family, He will get angry with me and could take His blessings away from me. I trust Him. I believe that His Word is true. What God has given in His grace, I cheerfully, in thankfulness, share with my brothers and sisters, small and great.” [v]
[i] Rev K Bruning, “Character, Aim and Purpose of the Reformed School”, Una Sancta, 18 May 1963. Republished (translated by J Bruning) in Volume 45, No. 20.
[ii] P van Gurp, in his autobiography Levensboek, 2020.
[iii] Harry Kleyn, My Father’s Journey, IngramSpark, Australia, 2022, p. 292.
[iv] J Kamphuis, “Gemeenschap-in-dienst” in Een Uitgemaakte Zaak, van den Berg, Kampen, 1987.
[v] J Geertsema, Clarion, Vol. 40 No. 10, May 1991.