For many years now we have seen Christian School buildings standing in prominent places in our communities. These have become familiar landmarks for us. We speak lovingly of them as “our schools” because there we were first introduced to the disciplines of learning from a Christian viewpoint. Concerning them we have countless precious memories. Strange as it may seem, what is so familiar to us is very unfamiliar in areas where Calvinists of Dutch extraction have not settled. Yet, we are thankful to God for these landmarks of Christian obedience to God’s command to educate our children.
To the eyes of the traveler our schools are often outstanding dots on the landscape, not a few of them rivaling some of the fine structures for public education. Our history tells us that it was not always so, and our knowledge of the present tells us that even now this is not always so. We may well take pride in our system, while being thankful for even our humblest places of education. But the Christian School is more than a building and a system. It is easy to forget this when for some of us the days of struggle are past and the school has gained a position of respectability in the community, no longer being looked down on by “outsiders.”
Without being alarmists we must ask whether there am dangers which now threaten this fine educational system organized by devoted Christian parents. It would be as dishonest to say that the Christian School is free from any danger as it would to say that any other organization taking a positive stand is free from danger. With open eyes we must guard what Cod has given us. Certainly we want the best for our children and grandchildren —and for the Christian the best means that which is according to God’s Word.
Neglect of basic principle
One of the imminent dangers to Christian Education is the ease with which the “why” of Christian Schools is forgotten. In some minds the reasons for having such schools are fuzzy at best. Would that we knew as well as our forefathers why these buildings stand in our communities. Through ignorance we can sell ourselves out to the very opposite viewpoint, thereby losing all justification for having our precious institutions.
Our forefathers saw education as an obligation placed upon them by God. Reverently they heard God as he spoke to Israel: “Hear, O Israel: Jehovah our God is one Jehovah: and thou shalt love Jehovah thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words which I command thee this day, shall be upon thy heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and thou shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thy hand, and they shall be for frontlets between thy eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the door-posts of thy house, and upon thy gates ( Deut. 6:4–9).”
God said that the obligation of a full education was up on their shoulders and that this education was to be, without any hedging, a God-centered one. To them God had said, “even when thou walkest by the way”—when you are busy with the daily activities of life your children must have an education which is after God’s law. Being aware of the conglomerate make-up of the state, never could they hope: that the state would offer fulfillment of this command. Besides, it was their responsibility.
Education according to God’s covenant
They saw education as intimately related to God’s covenant. Education was not just to fit the child for his place in society; it was to teach the child of God’s hand at every point. All through Scripture the covenantal relationship of the child with God is made clear: “I will be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee…” Remembering this there was simply no other recourse than an education with God at the center. Education that excluded God was not fit for a member of God’s covenant. For the covenant child, education had to be related to God the Creator, Jesus Christ the Savior, the Holy Spirit and the Bible as the Word of God.
At the baptismal font there was an acknowledgement of this conviction before God and his church. The parents were asked: “Do you promise and intend to instruct these children, as soon as they are able to understand, in the aforesaid doctrine, and cause them to be instructed therein, to the utmost of your power?” It is true that many did not recognize the relation of this question with education. Yet those with the vision to establish Christian Schools knew what this meant without any question! To answer “yes” was to vow the complete education of the child in the way of the Lord. Anything less than this was not remembering the full implications of this vow.
But is there a different trend today? Many danger signs seem to indicate that the reason for Christian Education has changed in the minds of those who have faithfully participated. Such a trend could be disastrous.
There seems to be a growing lack of concern for that very doctrine of the covenant of grace which is so precious to every knowledgeable child of God and which is the very foundation and corner stone of Christian Education. The argument is often given that this doctrine is not genuinely evangelical. This betrays an unhealthy concept of the covenant, as well as the influence of individualistic and often man-centered Fundamentalism. If through apathy and carelessness we think of education in another light than that of God’s covenant and its clear implication for us, our children, the church and community, we will lose the very basis for Christian Education. Then while the building stand and systems move forward to greater goals the real ideal of Christian Education will crumble into the dust of the twentieth century.
False reasons for Christian schools
Along with this growing lethargy toward the covenant, a “reason” for having our schools has developed which is not one which our forefathers had in mind. By some people the schools are considered to be something like a “status symbol.” For these, many of whom have some financial means, schooling such as this sets them off from the rest of the community. It is assumed that by sending the children to the “proper” school they will meet the “proper” people, and this is better than using the public school where the “ordinary” children go. Before condemning this as nonsense, ask around and see why your neighbors send their children to that school where you send yours! Unless your neighbors are extraordinary at least one or two will say, “All the other children go there.” This writer knows of several cases where it is readily admitted that Christian Schools provided the “right social crowd” for their children. While some may extol the Christian School as a private education with Bible included, how m,my will say, “It is a privilege to be able to fulfill my God-given duty in the education of my children?” The moment we think of Christian Education as a status symbol and not in terms of the covenant and our covenantal duty, we sec the principles undergirding that grand institution begin to crumble.
Still another attitude is a serious threat to sound Christian Education: “I must not have my child in the wicked state school!” When this is the justification for Christian Schools, it is no wonder that some people reason that the public school systems in Zeeland. Holland, Orange City or even Grand Rapids might do the job of educating since these cities are different from Chicago or Detroit and the percentage of Christian teachers in the public school system is higher. Of course, if these folks moved to Chicago or another cosmopolitan city they would, they say, unhesitatingly place their children in “the inner sanctum” of the Christian School. Why? Because their children must not be in the wicked state school! What they are saying is that the Christian School is something like a “Christian refuge” where they can place their children and nothing will harm them. Of course, those who want a “Christian refuge” are the first ones to complain that the school is anything but “Christian.” Having looked at externals and not the underlying reason for such a school they make this judgment.
Equally devastating to the whole system of Christian Education is the home that uses the school as an end in itself. The parent must never say that Christian Education is a substitute for his work. Rather he must see it as a supplement. A parent who sees it thus is a covenantal parent who realizes that everything is to be geared to the right upbringing of the child of God.
Losing true distinctiveness
Another imminent danger to the Christian School is the desire to be as much like the public schools as possible. While this may not yet be our most pressing problem, the beginning of this strange and subtle and sinful desire is to be feared as much as its fulfillment. In many ways we must exercise caution lest we lose what God has so graciously given us.
With our great affluence today it is possible in our educational enterprise to attempt to gain community respect by spending our monies so as to outdo the state-supported schools. Stewardship, then, takes a back seat to the show of material things. None of us ought to desire “the good old days” when in some respects the standards of our education were too low and the one-room school was an inescapable must. But the opposite emphasis on “frills” and “extras” ought to be guarded against as well. We must be good stewards of the Lord’s money and guardians of our children.
It is no secret that we live in the midst of an educational revolution. For years the struggle has been going on. Here again we must exercise caution. There is always a tendency to see the “nice ways” of teaching adopted by public school systems and to desire for ourselves these new and different methods. But wait! On what philosophical basis have these been built? Is the foundation man’s inherent goodness or his sinfulness? Is it faith in one’s self or in the triune God? Does it issue in the service of God or of man? Now, it is true that these arc difficult questions. Nonetheless, they are questions we must endeavor to answer since the school is charged with the education of our God-given jewels after a godly manner.
Further, the emphasis on education can easily develop the unhealthy idea that man’s mind is the end of all things. Any time the mind becomes the end of all things, we have failed in our Christian Education and God has been dethroned. Thought is not to be discouraged, but rather encouraged—yet always in a Christian context which seeks to bring all our thought in captivity to Christ who is the way and the truth and the life.
Care must be exercised in teaching so that while deep and controversial subjects are discussed the student always learns what the Christian answer is. This is not “hot-house” education; it is a Christian Education with its life-and world-view which declares the answers according to the Scriptures. If an educator in a Christian School insists on sowing seeds of ideas in the student’s minds without providing him with the Christian understanding of the subject he has done only part of his job—and a part, it might be added which could be done in the public school. The criticism of some parents that the schools are becoming apostate may well grow out of such an incomplete approach to education in the classroom. As soon as an incomplete and undirected education is given, the old triad of the home, church and school is shattered. Rather than complementing one another, the home and church fall heir to repairing the damage brought about by the incomplete education in the Christian classroom.
In a word, the Christian School must guard against a creeping secularization that stubbornly tries to catagorize God and religion so that none of the educational disciplines are seen in their true relation to him.
In a positive way, we have much in our schools for which to be grateful to God. As one experienced teacher once said, “They are the best we have.” How true! But Our fine systems and our solid principles can easily be lost by indifference when there is a growing dearth of dedicated Christian concern for education. We must not be like Israel of old when they said, “Nay, but we will have a king to rule over us.” There is a danger in being a carbon copy. Let us take care that the central ideal in all our education is the fitting of our children to serve and glorify God as their covenant God and Father for Christ’s sake.
Reformed believers have long championed the cause of distinctively Christian schools. The Rev. Jerome Julien, pastor of the Rogers Heights Christian Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, Mich., turns our attention to the dangers which threaten these schools from within and thus imperil their high purpose.