School and Covenant
The Form for Baptism says that in all covenants there are two parts—a promise and an obligation—and two parties—God and man. Those two parties together engage in a particular task or activity; they aim to achieve a common goal. This covenant dates back to Paradise. Although the first chapters of Genesis don’t refer to the word covenant, it is evident that God established a covenant with the people He had created, for we read that God blessed them. That is: I go with you and accompany you. Later Jesus said much the same: you and Me go forward together: I call you my friends, but then you must do what I command. That unity of relationship and purpose is what constitutes the covenant. If that relationship and purpose is to govern our lives, it follows that it is important also for the reformed school.
So, to understand the school’s purpose, we need to go back to the beginning. The mandate to establish Christian schools can be traced back to the mandate given in Paradise – Genesis 1:26 & 28 – to Adam and Eve where God blessed them and told them (and through them their descendants) to be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it, rule over the fish, the birds, the animals and over all the earth.
Therefore, we see here what God wants to see happening through the course of history. He wants mankind to go forward in covenant fellowship with Him, being fruitful, subduing and hence developing the earth, and teaching the children to do so and how to do it. In this covenant activity mankind was to be blessed by God. For although God had created everything good, the earth still needed to be cultivated and populated. Through creation God wanted to establish a Kingdom and in time wanted to come to the full number of the people of the Kingdom and to the full maturity in the service of the King.
Hence the command to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth. What God began to do (Gen 1 and 2), He now wanted to see continued with the people He had created to be His fellow workers. They were to have dominion over the earth as His vice-regents. God’s earth was full of undeveloped potential which required activity in discerning the potential riches, sorting them, exploiting and developing them. Mankind had to develop and build on creation.
But this second mandate (develop the earth) can only be achieved if the first mandate (be fruitful and multiply) is obeyed. The marriage task includes, where God allows it, bearing children because only in them could the earth be filled and developed. The children that are the fruits of marriage need to be educated about that mandate from the beginning, for it continues through the ages and needs to be passed on from generation to generation. Parents have the obligation to pass it on to the children.
And this is where the school plays a role. One generation is to continue and build on the work of the other. The one must introduce the other to the work and to the further development of that work by educating the next generation. It needs to be schooled – it must learn to read and write, to learn geography and other subjects. One generation may not abandon the work or retire without having introduced the next generation to the work. But it’s a beautiful task which they may carry out with the blessing of the LORD, in the awareness that they have covenant fellowship with Him. God commands parents to educate their children in this awareness and have them educated.
Okay, you may say, that was the original aim, the first task given in Genesis 1, and we can see how this would have worked out perfectly had it not been for the fall into sin. That catastrophic event of sinful disobedience by our first parents, Adam and Eve, allowed sin to enter the world and affect and infect mankind. Wouldn’t that change the original purpose?
Well, we note that after the fall into sin, family life continued and so did the development of the earth. But although people had children, marriage life was not dedicated to filling the earth. Instead of spreading over the earth people made a tower to stay together (Gen 11). And by not filling the earth the development of the earth was also stifled. Hence man would not be active in following the God-given direction. Consequently, children were no longer instructed in the way God directed, but in a man-centred activity contrary to God’s direction. Instead of blessing there was curse. By breaking the covenant, they forfeited the blessing; it was withheld.
However, although sin entered the world through the wilful disobedience of Adam and Eve, God did not let go of His purpose. After the fall into sin the covenant was graciously re-established through the mother-promise of Genesis 3:15. Christ was to come, and because of this mankind could fulfil his task and receive the blessing. In promising the “seed of the woman” God re-established the covenant.
But that mother promise also spoke of the seed of the serpent. Those who rejected the mother promise relating to the seed of the woman (the seed being Christ and those who belonged to Him) were of the seed of the serpent (Satan and those who followed him). Jesus later called the Pharisees snakes and said, ‘You are of your father, the devil.’ Much of mankind turned away from the Lord; they rejected the terms of the covenant.
Hereby the antithesis came into the world and that antithesis affects also the world of school life. Seed of the serpent is the desire of the fathers to have the children nurtured in their ways. Seed of the woman, on the other hand, is the desire of the fathers that the children learn to do the will of Him who is in heaven. The seed of the woman could therefore never entrust the children to be taught, educated, nurtured by the seed of the serpent. Hence the need for reformed schools, governed according to God’s Word.
People throughout history have tried time and again to rub out the antithesis (Gen 6). Notice how very soon marriage alliances were established with aim of developing the earth for selfish purposes – as Lamech and sons did. But after the great Flood, and the widespread turning away from the Lord, comes Abraham. Also in that period the cultural mandate remained in force, but to fulfil that it was necessary that the Christ–revelation would for a time be restricted to Israel. In Israel there was home-schooling but in connection with redemptive history.
Later, when that redemption had been fulfilled through Christ, the Holy Spirit was poured out on people from all nations. With Pentecost the promise came to all. Therefore, the possibility to fulfil the cultural mandate was again for all. Hence, the call to provide Christian education applies to the whole world. The Paradise calling to be fruitful and fill the earth and rule it in covenant fellowship with God is maintained through Christ’s sacrifice.
But even after Pentecost, not all accept this. We’re now confronted with situations where, for example, in one town there can be two schools: one based on covenant faithfulness, and one on covenant rejection. These schools stand antithetically over against each other.
For our reformed school with the Bible to be faithful to the covenant obligation we must remember that it’s the parents who made the covenant promises; they are and remain responsible. They must ensure that the coming generation can exercise the mandate to develop the earth in service to the Lord. They are to promote a culture of godliness, of living in obedience to the covenant law, of walking with the LORD and confessing and serving Him in all avenues of life. They must therefore ensure that their children attend the school where education reflects that purpose.
The Board of governors must function on the basis of the mandate given to the parents. The school will stand or fall on this basic principle. The Board must keep this covenant principle before it in everything.
The Staff is to be governed by this Scriptural position. Teachers at school stand in the place of the parents and must help the parents fulfil their task. They must act out of awareness of covenant service and that must determine all their efforts. Becoming a teacher is not just a job but it is to live out of the great responsibility of helping parents fulfil their task: developing the earth according to the covenant obligations, promoting a God-glorifying culture in thankful service to the LORD. They must therefore function as His co-workers in history and work toward its culmination.
And the education must truly be education with the Bible. Not just an hour of Bible lesson but Bible instruction in all the subjects. In that way the Bible is not just a book of interesting stories but a revelation of God’s work and will that is to impact every avenue of life. It is a book of the triune God, who established and maintains the covenant and holds us to it. That is the blessing of our schools with the Bible.
And now we know from God’s Word that the time will come when we won’t have these schools anymore. Before Christ returns all your schools will be closed, the Board deposed, the staff dismissed. In the antithesis the seed of the serpent will for a short while have the upper hand. But even then, the calling of the parents remains; for Christ remains the same yesterday and today and tomorrow. And whoever does the will of God remains forever.
What remains? The way of Faith. The faith that God’s blessing is bound to the mandate remains whatever happens. Doing God’s will we await a new heaven and a new earth where our children no longer need to be educated because the world will be as full of the knowledge of God as the waters of the sea cover the sea bed.
Then there will only be communal singing of parents and children together, a song of instruction about the greatness and goodness of the Lord who has kept His Covenant.
Everything is governed by the Covenant, the covenant that God made with Adam in Paradise. God kept that covenant in place despite the fall into sin. Thereby He maintained His purpose with creation until it is worked out to its completion.
We must be governed by the awareness that to live out of the Covenant is to have a mandate, to be office bearer by the grace of God—prophet, priest and king in covenant fellowship with Him. He maintains His purpose with creation—to rule everything in subservience to Him. His perfect law must govern every square centimetre of earth and hence we are to oppose all the attacks of the antichrist in his attempt to rule every square centimetre of earth.
(This article is based on notes taken during a speech by Rev J Kapteyn shortly before he was nabbed by the Gestapo and eventually died a martyr to the faith. The notes were included in a Dutch biography of Rev Kapteyn and titled Een Bloed Getuige der Kerk [A Martyr of the Church] by Rudolf van Reest. To flesh out the notes into an article such as this involves ‘filling in the gaps’ and fleshing out details. The responsibility for the contents of this article therefore rests with me, J Numan.)