LD 38. What does God require in the fourth commandment?
First, that the ministry of the Gospel and schools be maintained…
Second, that all the days of my life I cease from my evil works, let the Lord work in me by his Holy Spirit, and so begin in this life the eternal sabbath.
Why ‘schools’ in Lord’s Day 38 includes Christian day schools
We confess, in Lord’s Day 38, that the 4th commandment requires us to support the schools. Some say the term is limited ‘schools of theology’; others say it includes Christian day schools. Dr Riemer Faber, tracing the history of the relationship between church and school, shows that following the Great Reformation reformed churches have understood the term ‘schools’ in Lord’s Day 38 to include Christian day schools. [i] But this raises the question why the Lord’s Day about the command to rest on Sunday includes the need to maintain Christian day schools. The answer is: because of the deep significance of the 4th commandment for our whole life.
God links the 4th commandment to creation when He commands us to rest “because in six days God created the heavens and the earth and rested on the seventh day”. But what does it mean that He ‘rested’? It cannot mean that He was tired after creating the world in six days and needed a breather, for God is omnipotent and does not tire. He rested because He had completed His work of creation and rejoiced in all he had made because “it was good”. The seventh day was a celebration of His completed work.
That celebration was, in the 4th commandment, made a pattern for mankind. God wanted man, the crown of His creation, created after His image, to celebrate what He had done. So He set apart a day in which man could, unhampered by work, devote himself completely to rejoicing in the great deeds of the LORD. God had created man to enjoy a covenant fellowship with Him and to share in this festive Sabbath, to marvel at and rejoice in God’s goodness and greatness.
However, whilst the Sabbath was set apart specifically for this purpose, all of life was to be a celebration of God’s greatness and goodness leading to the constant praise of His great and glorious name. Although the terrible fall into sin plunged mankind and God’s whole good creation into decay and put a stop to this celebration through man’s wickedness, God did not let go of His original purpose. He promised a Redeemer who not only would pay for the sins of His people but also renew them by His Word and Spirit so that they would more and more begin again to fulfil the purpose for which they were created, to celebrate God’s goodness and to live to God’s glory.
Scripture teaches that the perfection that existed before the fall won’t be fully regained until Christ returns but in Lord’s Day 38 the church, God’s covenant community, confesses that the LORD works by His Spirit so that “we begin in this life the eternal Sabbath”. That is, we again begin to live more and more as God’s image bearers to God’s glory, in all fields of work and life, as intended at the beginning, and we do that by “resting from our evil works” and steadfastly applying God’s commands – commands which all reflect God’s good character – in all of life, in love to God and one another.
That’s why our confession about the Sabbath (LD 38) emphasises that in the church services the ministry and the schools need to be maintained. The schools of theology to produce ministers because these direct God’s people to the Word by means of which Christ’s redeemed people, renewed by the Spirit, put on the “new man”, the new nature, being more and more restored after God’s image so that they again function to God’s glory.
However, if that’s the purpose of the ministry of the Gospel, it’s no less the purpose of Christian day schools. If our John Calvin Schools do nothing more than teach Christ’s covenant children in the various subjects in a ‘neutral way’ (assuming that were possible) along with teaching a few weekly Bible and church history lessons and learning some Psalms, we may as well close down our schools, disband our school association and teach these lessons at home.
But if parents and teachers are imbued with an understanding of what we confess in Lord’s Day 38 – that the Sabbath day, now the first day of the week, directs us to live according to God’s Word as people who begin in all avenues of this life the eternal Sabbath, as was intended from the beginning, glorifying God in and for His creation but now additionally glorifying Him for what He grants in Christ – salvation and sanctification – then all education at church, at home and at school will again be directed to that end (LD 47).
That is, every subject at school will be linked to that glorious goal and will be approached from out of Scripture and Confession, applying the preaching in the daily lessons in order to prepare students to serve and glorify God in their handiwork. To quote Rev C Stam:
“In the sciences we will attempt to show how all the earth is the Lord’s and was created by Him in wisdom with unnumerable resources and possibilities to be developed to His glory and man’s wellbeing. In the historical subjects we attempt to show his providential care and sovereign government directing the history of mankind to His goal and glory in Christ, destroying all wicked designs of the Evil One. Language shall be promoted as a God-given means of communication to serve Him and edify one another, while literature shall be examined and discussed in the context of the antithesis God has set between Christ and Satan … we shall approach the mathematical laws as set by God, as belonging to the order of his creation … covenantal aspects will emerge when we talk about the application of mathematics (in economics and science and statistics, etc.) … In other words, in all subjects, in the use of language, in the study of literature, in the application of mathematics, the children are to become more and more ‘men of God’ complete, ‘equipped for every good work’.” [ii]
Church, home and school will unite to promote the cause of God’s kingdom which, we confess in LD 48, manifests itself where people, ruled by God’s Word and Spirit, more and more submit to Him in all areas of life. That submission to Christ will be shown in how they handle the tools of their trade, engage in business dealings, care for the children entrusted to their care, etc. In short, all education will be directed at preparing children to see who their God really is and to show them that every aspect of life is governed by God’s Word. Reformed education prepares children who share in Christ’s anointing to honour and serve Him as prophets, priests and kings (LD 12) wherever they are in whatever they do.
LD 38’s reference to schools includes Christian day schools because along with, and subservient to, the ministry of the Gospel the schools will, to the extent that they are faithful to their purpose, work to restore God’s covenant children to their Sabbath rest – meditating on the great deeds of the LORD and glorifying Him for them, showing in their daily walk of life the godliness and wholesomeness in which the LORD finds his delight, steadfastly applying God’s commandments in all they do. Sharing in Christ’s anointing children will, as prophets, speak according to the Word of God, as priests they will sacrifice their lives in thankful service to God, and as kings they will rule over this creation and faithfully fight against sin and Satan. In this way these children will grow up to be a piece of healthy leaven in this otherwise decadent world.
We know the school is not there as an end in itself or to acclaim its own greatness in the sense of “Look at what we’ve achieved!”; it’s there to help parents fulfil their baptismal vows – that heavy and at the same time magnificent responsibility that we share in covenant fellowship with God and one another, presently in weakness and with sin, but one day in perfection, a perfection God calls us to strive for in this life, and to which He gives us the sanctifying work of His Spirit. Seeing the Sabbath rest’s significance for a whole life to God’s honour, is it any wonder why reformed churches through the centuries have seen the command to maintain the schools, as we confess it in LD 38, as including the Christian day schools? Like the ministry of the Word, in submission to that Word and dependence on the Spirit, Christian day schools seek to prepare children for a life of obedient service to the honour of their God “and so begin in this life the eternal Sabbath”.
That is why with all our heart we seek to promote and support, in prayer and practice, the wellbeing of the reformed Christian day school.
[i] Dr Riemer Faber, “The Churches’ Care for the Schools: The Relation between Church and School in Historical Perspective”, Clarion Vol 53/16 and 17 (July/August 2004). It was presented first as a speech to the Canadian Reformed School Society of Owen Sound in February 2004.
[ii] Rev. C Stam, in “Covenantal Education”, (a speech held on Professional Development Day, January 26th, 1979, Burlington).