Bigger Vision in Christian Education

Difficult Times

Education faces mounting difficulties in our land. This is true of all school-systems: Public, Roman Catholic and Christian, though the problems are not identical in each. Goals, philosophy, curricula, methods, standards, manpower and costs are areas fraught with many questions and few answers. Christian schools have not been spared these problems. In many of our churches there is a division among the members concerning Christian school support. Schoolboards and consistories worry about children being transferred from Christian schools to Public schools. The problem of a teacher shortage remains with us. Some teachers have crossed lines to Public schools, some have entered other professions. Financial needs press heavily.

Back of all this lies a deeper issue. Is the Christian school constituency growing in love for the cause of Christian education? Is there a deepening understanding of the nature and goals of Christian education? To be sure there are many faithful supporters of Christian education who will never back down from their commitment. But it is also true that there exists within the Christian school constituency a segment for whom Christian education has become a burden that is carried without much conviction. Our Christian schools are facing a future of many obstacles. Pressures will mount. Demands will be made which only the dedicated will meet. The Christian community must open the Word of Cod and ever discover the divine imperative for Christian education. Without vision the people perish, and Christian schools as well. Only the Biblical vision generates courage and love.

Are We Slipping?

We may thankfully note that the Scriptural motives for Christian education have been voiced regularly among us. And God’s people have lent their leaders an ear. But we may well ask ourselves whether there is growth in this respect. Speeches and articles about the why of Christian education become less popular. Reading, listening and reflection are crowded out by more immediate daily concerns. School societies are free-wheeling on the basis of an urgency generated in past years. Schoolboards and PTA’s don’t readily organize meetings at which the Christian philosophy of education is. discussed. Here lies the real crisis which our Christian schools face. Financial hurdles, discipline, teacher shortage, sub-standard teaching, and switch:overs to Public schools are the result of haziness about the will of Christ the King in education and We as a whole. We are not holding our own in wrestling for Biblical light in the education of our children.

All Inclusive Kingdom Claim

The Biblical rationale for Christian education, as it has been accepted among us, can be summarized as follows. The covenant riches and responsibilities have traditionally spoken powerfully to the hearts of our parents and teachers. Besides, mention was made of the claims of Christ as Lord and Redeemer on the whole learning process. The matter of a Christian atmosphere has received increased attention and not without blessing.

Though thankfully acknowledging all these blessings it may be contended that a basic weakness in our Christian-school-mindedness lies in a narrowness of our Biblical vision of life itself. The question which every educator must have settled is: what is life and society all about from a Christian point of view? Schools prepare a child for that life.

The Bible is not mysterious about this matter. It pictures the grand design of Paradise, marred by sin, but restored in Christ. This is the Father’s world. His children are the rightful occupants of the Father’s territory. In all sectors of the human commonwealth man is called to live openly and consistently under the banner of Christ the King. Here we have failed as Reformed Christians.

We stood in awe when we saw the smallness of Christianity in society and the bigness of the forces of secularism and unbelief. It seemed impossible to get our feet on the ground in such a society. So we said, let us enter into a covenant with people who propose to conduct statesmanship on a basis of a constitution that consciously fails to recognize God. Soon we began to accommodate our principles to suit our practice. We said, there are certain areas in life where Christian faith has no direct bearing on our conduct. Politics, we seemed to say, is one area where believer and unbeliever stand on common ground in their quest for good solutions to the nation’s problems. In labor-relations we did the same thing (although our Synods recommended Christian organizational activity). We joined those who wrote their union constitutions, and conducted their labor affairs, consciously without reference to God and the Christian faith. Christ is King, we said, of our life, but not of the union’s basis, not of the bargaining room, not of the political party, not of the farmer’s organization, not of charity and not of community life.

It may be objected that the above is not closely related to Christian education. Not so. These considerations are of direct importance to the schools. For the school opens up life to a child. Christian education opens up life under the banner of Christ.

But here the problems pinch hard. For we have declared, by implication, that several sectors of human concern fall outside of Christ’s rule. We have agreed that Christians could well pledge allegiance to organizations in society which were a direct embodiment of the humanist’s stipulation that God and the Christian faith be left out.

This inconsistency is now our big educational obstacle.

Our educational institutions open the windows toward societal developments but they lack the conviction to let the Word of God shine on them in all its discovering and saving power.

Thus our Christian schools gradually have shifted toward emphasizing personal individual Christian Jiving, while failing to follow this up by pointing out the need for communal Christian living, because the Body of Christ is scattered. An un-Biblical, dualistic view of created reality has crept into our Christian schools. A distinction has been made between “spiritual concerns” (equated with the Kingdom of Christ) and “material concerns” around us. Thus the Kingdom concept in our schools has shrunk in scope and in power. Our teachers cannot compellingly impress the students with the all-inclusive claims of Christ the King and Redeemer since we have made exceptions to that rule in accepting the neutralistic framework as normative. Thus we have diluted the urgency of Christian education. In setting up Christian schools we have closed the front-door to neutralism, hut we have admitted it through the backdoor in our view of society. We have said, Christ is King of every subject in the curriculum, but we meant that His Kingship needs not to be expressed in the constitutions and practices of the several organizations we join in society. Thus there is a breach between what we teach the students in school and what the Kingdom community practices in actual life. As a result love has begun to wane. Om inconsistency has caused confusion, confusion has darkened vision, and dimness of vision has robbed us of courage, love and devotion. Here lies the heart of the problem that faces us in education.

All this is the more amazing and painful since almost every educator will point out the close interaction between school and society. John Dcwey’s philosophy which is responsible for the direction of the American Public school education deeply affected American society. And this is how he meant it to be. The (pagan) religious motive of public education today is “good citizenship and public morality.” Without a Christian view of life in society, Christian philosophy of education is paralyzed in its effectiveness.

In the Beginning It Was Not So

Reformed beginnings and tradition in the U.S. evidenced a wanner appreciation for Christ’s Kingship in public life than we find among us today. Dr. A. A. Hodge saw the close ties between school and society. He wrote nearly a century ago,

“I am as sure as I am of the fact of Christ’s reign that a comprehensive and centralized system of national education separated from the Christian religion, as is now commonly proposed, will prove the most appalling enginery for the propagation of anti-Christian and atheistic unbelief, and of anti-social nihilistic ethics, individual, social, and political, which this sin-rent world has ever seen…”

Of much interest to us are the views prevalent among Reformed Christians in Michigan during the years just preceding the establishment of the Christian Reformed denomination. Following is an excerpt of the minutes of Classis Holland of 1852 which indicates a view of Christian education geared to train the children to form a “Christian civil community”:

“Classis Holland, Minutes September 1st, 1852. Art. 3, page 101. Rev. Vander Meulen desires to speak to this meeting about the importance of the education of the youth. He says that it has just been heard out of the minutes that we have in our midst an institution for the education of our youth …, but informs the assembly that…a lack of funds of the parents is an obstacle that prevents the children from making use of this precious gift; that he is deeply impressed with the necessity of finding a way out of this matter, namely, by unitedly, in all congregations collecting means…in order that we may no longer let the years go by without training our posterity to fill the various positions and important offices in the church, school and civil government; .. since without earnest effort to be so prepared, certainly we as a people can neither discharge the responsibility of civil government, or can we exercise such a Christian influence in this country as we ought…

Page 102. At the same time it was pointed out that…we are formed by God into a civil community, so that all positions in society must be filled from among us. Moreover, that also in our capacities as citizens of the United States, we shall be able, without development in knowledge, science, (through the Christian schools) to exercise our Christian influence, which God demands of us, in which case we should rightly reap a harvest of shame and contempt…”

Page 104 (3) . Because this work of education really is a work to train a people so that it can be useful as a Christian people, a Christian civil community, by which we hope…that…our civil needs will be met,…and that persons shall be trained to carry the light of truth to the blind heathen, therefore the Classis judge it appropriate to advise the churches to devote to this intended purpose the funds collected,in the monthly meeting of prayer for the spread of the truth.”

This view apparently persisted in Christian Reformed circles till at least after the turn of the century. In 1907 an address was delivered at the commencement exercises of Calvin College by H. W. Korfker, entitled “The Christian in Politics.” In it he spoke of the need of independent political action and the need for Christian political activity. From the fact that Mr. Korfker expressed these views at a graduation ceremony we assume that a Christian approach in public life was then a real concern among our people. The following lines are taken from his address in 1907.

“The Christian citizen has a higher calling. Our government must be made to realize that she rules by the grace of God. God has ordained that man shall rule men by His divine grace and shall first of all be responsible to Him. God is absolutely sovereign over all creation. The whole universe is His handiwork, created to further the glorification of His holy name. God’s sovereignty, therefore, should be the sound basis upon which the Christian citizen should found his principles in politics and through which he should attempt to exert a widespread influence upon his surroundings. The prince of darkness does all he can to draw men away from God and His revelation, and offers them the fatal draughts of socialist intoxication. Therefore the duty of Christians is evident. Christian citizens should form a party. The root principles of this party must be that God is sovereign over man’s whole life, that God entrusts authority to the government, and that she is responsible to Him as His servant. The principles of the Republican and Democratic Parties have outlived their usefulness.”

If this vision had grown among us, there would be today a flourishing Christian Action movement on the American scene. Especially our Christian educational systems would have benefited from it. Our schools are now in a situation much like the father who taught his son chess from a book of rules and theory but who failed to get out the board and pieces for an actual game of chess. It is not too late for the Reformed Christians to break out of this isolationistic individualism and to enter upon the various realms of society as Kingdom community under the banner of the King. The Word of God will speak relevantly and consistently when the Christian community lives and voices it in unity in society. Christian education will flourish when it becomes the training ground for manpower for the great challenge that awaits the Christian community, for the coming of the Kingdom and the well-being of society. The vision and the accomplishments of the Kingdom community will, in turn, inspire and challenge the schools. Christian education and a Christian communal social movement need each other, because they stool on the same root.

Rev. L. Tamminga is Pastor of the Bethel Christian Reformed Church of Sioux Center, Iowa.