A School of Sons and Daughters (2)

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The following is the second and final part of Dr C van Dam’s speech.[1]

Memory Work

            Scripture makes clear that parents have to entrust the great deeds of God to their children. God’s works have to be written on their hearts (cf. Deut 6:6-9). Undoubtedly much was therefore committed to memory. Nowadays memory work is often viewed with disdain. But it was and still should be a very important means by which the father and mother can fulfil their task. Also the school parents should ask their students to memorize, for with memory work great principles are at stake.

            Judging from the first part of Psalm 78 these principles include in the first place the transmitting and remembering of the great deeds of God in life and, in the second place, in this way to learn from the sins of the parents and so to be encouraged in true obedience to God with the result of having life with God (Ps 78:4- 8). It was therefore important that the fathers tell their children the great deeds of the Lord, lest they forget the Lord and stray from his ways.  Fathers are repeatedly told to keep on telling the Lord’s doings to their children, continually, whether they were sitting, standing, lying down or rising (Deut 6:7-9). In this way, God’s works would be committed to memory. Sometimes the Lord aroused the curiosity of the children to help them remember his saving works. For example, stones were placed in the Jordan River so that the children would ask their parents concerning them (Josh. 4:4-9, 20-24).

            This continual instruction and the memorization that went with it resulted in later generations being able to speak of the Exodus in detail that exceeded the written record so that the Lord could use details of the memorized accounts to be included in his Word at a later stage. So, for example, one can find in Psalm 77:18-19 a reference to thunder during the crossing of the Red Sea which we do not read about in Exodus. Clearly the fathers had an important task. They had to keep operative in the lives of the people the reality and greatness of their God.

            There was an added urgency in passing on God’s great deeds for written copies of the Bible (as far as it was then written) were probably relatively scarce. In all likelihood, only the priests and the wealthy had access to written copies of the Word if the example of the Middle Ages before the advent of printing can be of any guide. It is possible therefore that for many the Scriptures were the memorized words of the Lord as they had been handed down by their parents and the priests. If this was the case, as it appears to be, then the memory aids which the Lord gave, such as the piled stones (Josh 4:4-7) and feast days (e.g., Deut 16:9-12) take on added significance. The Word of God and the great covenant deeds had to be kept alive in the memory of the people.

The Living Word

            Keeping the contents of the Word functioning is perhaps where the greatest challenge lies today. We do not have to worry about the Bible dying out, in view of the many printed copies available. The easy access to the Scriptures discourages committing the Word to memory. When we need it, we can always read it. But then the Bible is not readily integrated into the fullness of life the way it was to be in ancient Israel by speaking of it during the day and by being reminded of the Lord`s great doings in everything they did (Deut 6).

            This integration of the Word into life is of course the beauty of a Christian school. It can thus be a great help to the home, for in a controlled atmosphere of a school we have “fathers” and “mothers” who teach students subjects all day long in the light of God’s Word. At school the great deeds of God can be transmitted in such a way that they are not left forgotten in a book, but are relevant and meet the needs of the day. At school all facts, whatever the subject may be, can in one way or another be related to the Lord and his plan for us and the world. Then teaching is “torah”, giving direction for life, for the full life in Jesus Christ on this earth, but which is at the same time the beginning of life eternal.

            In view of all the subjects and circumstances one can meet in the classroom, this direction will be given concretely, for the wisdom of God is not an abstraction, but relates to real life. We see this relevancy for example in the book of Proverbs, but it is true of all Scripture. The Word of God never speaks of things on a theoretical plane. Rather it relates to life`s issues and temptations so that one can learn from the sins of the previous generation and be encouraged into a true and full life in fellowship with the Lord. The “fathers” and “mothers” in school must therefore bring the truth of the various subjects to bear concretely on the lives of the students, their “sons” and “daughters.” Such teaching in the fear of the Lord is the beginning of true knowledge which is so relevant to life here on earth which is to be the beginning of life eternal.

Fathers and Their Sons

            The above has important repercussions. We are once again reminded of how great the influence of teachers can be. They are like fathers and mothers, for they fill the lives of their “sons” and “daughters” in a very real way. Daily and systematically, with the authority and discipline which come with a school situation, the students are worked on, at a time when they are most productive and attentive. When the biological parents see them, they have already given their best. The potential impact of the “fathers” and “mothers” in school is therefore immense! We should never underestimate it. Life direction is given in the school. Yes, life—which must include eternal life.

            Such is the impact that the successful teacher literally moulds his “children” in his image. Just as a biological parent has children in his or her image. This can happen and does happen in the classroom. Teachers are like parents. They give life instruction and influence life outlook and the very image of their students.

            One can sense that this can raise problems. A teacher`s influence is immense. Is it not too great? Do parents not have the first right to influence? Do the sons and daughters not belong to them? An Aramean story recounts how a mother took her child to school and entrusted him to the teacher with these words: “His flesh is yours, his bones are mine.” That is, the teacher is given the authority to teach and discipline the child, but the child belongs to its parents. The flesh is given to the teacher to be moulded or beaten, if necessary, but the bones, the basic structure, remains with the parents.

            There is something sound about this approach, for the teacher is not to remake the child he receives; the child belongs not to the school but to the parents. We are reminded that the first five or six formative years are in the parental home. This is also of comfort if one happens to be living where Christian education is not possible. However, the fact that children belong to their parents is also a reminder that we cannot just leave our children in the care of the “parents” at school without any further involvement, no matter how good the school is. The school is to be an extension of the home; that`s where the real father and mother are. Therefore parents must be very much involved with the teachers at school.

            This involvement does not mean interference. It means praying for the teachers. It means using the channels available to show interest in their work and to find out how our children are doing. It also means equipping the teachers as well as possible so that they can do their work and calling with undivided attention. It means above all that our children clearly see that there is no competition between the home parents and the school “parents” but that in the unity of the faith both are steering the child in full obedience to the Lord in all areas of life.

            This unity of home and school is the beauty of true Christian education. The “problem” of the teacher moulding students in his or her image is then in a sense always limited. For when our children are moulded in the image of the teacher, it should not be a direct source of concern, for both the “father” in the school and the father at home have another Teacher to whom they both submit. He gives true wisdom, yes, he is true wisdom. He gives and is life, even life eternal (1 Cor 1:30). He was not called “father” as a title of honour, as teacher, for his teaching ministry revealed the great Father in heaven. Those who saw him, the Lord Jesus, were to see the heavenly Father (John 14:9), and those who obeyed him would be the image of Father on earth (Rom 8:29; Col 3:10)! And is it not the image of that Father that we seek to impress on our sons and daughters, also in school?

 

[1] The previous instalment of this speech may be found here: https://defenceofthetruth.com/en/2020/10/a-school-of-sons-and-daughters-1/