REV. HUGH KOOPS ON THE COVENANT AND OUR CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS
November 6, 1958 Champaign, Illinois
To the TORCH AND TRUMPET and to Mr. Raymond J. Geerdes, principal of the Christian High School in Ripon, California, I must extend a word of thanks for the appearance of the “frankly critical” article entitled “The Future of Our Christian Schools” (TORCH AND TRUMPET, September, 1958). At the very least it gives me the occasion to clarify for others my thinking on this matter. There arc at least some who wonder whether my views on the relation of the doctrine of the covenant to Christian education call for the suspicion directed toward them by this article. Moreover, I find it rather vexing that Mr. Geerdes should suggest that I, along with others, can find personal integrity only outside the Christian Reformed Church.
But Mr. Geerdes is not only frank; he also displays a measure of discernment. He has placed his finger upon a very important problem when he writes: “This then is the central point, this matter of the covenant and its interpretation.” However, while Mr. Geerdes has been able to recognize the problem, it is unfortunate that he has not been able to offer more guidance in solving this problem. I would suggest that this is so only because Mr. Geerdes has looked for a foundation for a separate school system in the wrong area. He has turned to Christian theology and come up with the doctrine of the covenant. Is Christian education so bankrupt that it must turn to another discipline to find a foundation for our schools?
Of course, Mr. Geerdes is not alone in having searched the theological quarries to fi nd a cOrnerstone for our Christian schools. This has been very common, on the popular level, for many years within the Christian Reformed Church. But it has been neither very helpful nor very fruitful. Prof. Louis Berkhof already thirty years ago bemoaned the scarcity of Iiteraturo relating the covenant to education. He proposed to remedy this defect, but did little more than show how the covenant can be used to justify Christian instruction. He did not lay a foundation for a separate Christian school system in the doctrine of the covenant. As Dr. John Kromminga has remarked, the relation of the doctrine of the covenant to our Christian schools is “easily argued.” Unfortunately it has not been thoroughly argued. And once again Mr. Geerdes has fallen before the temptation to assume what must yet be shown, that the doctrine of the covenant demands a separate Christian school system.
I have said (The Banner, Jan. 10, 1958): “Surely the doctrine of the covenant alone does not demand a separate school system.” This is true regardless of which relationship one refers to when speaking of the covenant, whether one refers to the God-man relationship or to the parent-child relationship. (For a fuller exposition of the necessity of making this distinction see the article, “Education, Evangelism, and the Covenant,” in a forthcoming issue of The Refonned Journal.) The above statement, quoted by Mr. Geerdes from
The Banner, was followed by these remarks: “This doctrine holds parents responsible for the education of their children. But it does not dictate how they are to meet this responsibility . . . The decision for a separate Christian school system stems not only from the doctrine of the covenant but also from an examination of the various possible ways in which parents may meet their covenantal responsibilities.” (I have used the term Covenant in its secondary, and frequently abused, sense, referring to the parent-child relation.)
I have said this because it is so obviously true. Allow me to illustrate. 1 am also responsible for the arrival of my child at the school building when school opens. I may meet this responsibility by driving myself, or by arranging a car pool, or by purchasing a bicycle for my child, or by placing my child on a school bus. This bus may even be operated by the state. t do not prefer state-owned and operated modes of transportation. But this is for neither theolOgical nor educational reasons.
Somewhat tho same situation holds when one looks at the various possibilities for meeting the requirements of the doctrine of parental responsibility. Parents may train their children in their own home, and if the covenant determines the structure of the educational system this would be demanded. But efficiency, not parental responsibility, may require other methods. Perhaps the parents wish to hire a Christian tutor for their children. They may wish to build a separate school building. They may desire to cooperate with other parents in hiring teachers and erecting buildings. Maybe the state can provide adequate Christian education. These arc all possibilities. The decision for one of these methods over the others depends upon much more than a recitation of the demands of the covenant. The requirements of the covenant, that aU created relationships must acknowledge their relation to Cod, may be met by all these possibilities. Now the educator must determine, on the basis of Christian educational principles, which of these methods meets his educational requirements. I believe a separate school system is the best way to meet both the requirements of the Christian parent and the requirement’s of sound educational principles. But let us recognize at least this, that the covenant does not determine the system, the structure, of the educational system. The covenant says that all structures, all relationships, are amenable to grace. But it does not define the structures. The covenant only requires that a Christian education be provided; it does not demand a separate school system.
It would not be so necessary to emphasize this distinction between “Christian education” and “separate Christian school systems” were it not for the fact that only by making this distinction can we engage in a polemic with the Reformed Church in America. Their contention is not that the parent has no responsibility regarding the Christian character of his child’s education. They acknowledge this. Their difficulty is that they think they can meet the demands of the covenant by sending their child to a public school. I do not agree with this opinion, as many within the Reformed Church know. But my disagreement stems not from the doctrine of the covenant, but from an analysis of the anti-Christian elements in educational principles underlying many modern educational trends. But these trends are not so easy to recognize. I can only thank many Christian educators for helping me recognize them.
The doctrine of the covenant tells the Reformed Church in America no more about education than they already know. This is not their problem. Yet they have been attacked on this doctrine of the covenant. Thus I wrote my letter to the editor of The Banner, convinced that the editor did not know the problem the Reformed Church is facing, equally convinced that continued admonition on the doctrine of the covenant could only antagonize without meeting the issue, and also convinced that neither the Christian Reformed Church nor the editor of her paper should judge a matter more educational than theological. The Reformed Church in America, on this matter, can profit more from listening to our educators than to our theologians. Wisely, our educators consistently refuse to build a school system upon the doctrine of the covenant. Occasionally the doctrine is mentioned; this occasional reference is also the product of their discretion.
Perhaps we can help the Reformed Church in America. But only if we are willing to face their problem. For this we need our educators. Mr. Geerdes might qualify, if he would remain in education and stay clear of theology; if he would recognize the distinction between a theological truth such as the doctrine of the covenant which demands Christian instruction, and educational principles which demand a separate school system. But this distinction he does not recognize for while he quoted what I said: “does not demand a separate school system,” he misquoted in repetition and rephrased my words to say: “Does not ‘demand’ Christian education.” I can understand being misinterpreted; I cannot understand being misrepresented.
One other item was particularly grieving to me. I must tell Mr. Geerdes that I cannot understand what prompted him to place a quote from my letter to The Banner alongside a quotation fro m Dr. Zylstra’s book. Am I suspected of being unconcerned about the souls of children? Dr. Zylstra and I were discussing very different matters. I was talking about matters which justify the establishment of a Christian school system. Dr. Zylstra was discussing matters which justify the conduct of a Christian school teacher—and these apply in any school system. I can but assume that even Mr. Geerdes himself was not too sure how these statements were related for he writes: “We would not greatly argue this point.” I can easily understand his reluctance.
It does not grieve me that our theologians can find no theological ground for the establishment of a separate school system. It does grieve me that an educator like Mr. Geerdes can find no educational ground for our school system, and must take recourse to what must be shaky ground for him. I certainly hope we can soon find some basis for Our Christian schools.
I must sympathize with Mr. Geerdes’ concern for our Christian schools. But, to make them strong, let us not build them upon the doctrine of the covenant. The concern of Mr. Geerdes is the concern of all who build a theory of separate education upon the doctrine of the covenant. Their cry is that of despair: “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
I trust this letter suggests plenty for the righteous, especially the righteous schoolteacher and educator, to do. Let them erect a theory of separate education upon a foundation meant for it. Let them define Christian education in educational rather than in theological principles. Let them place in the constitutions of our school systems educational rather than theological creeds. For too long Christianity has been defined in only theological tenets; let us express our faith in educational truths as well. And then it may be that we can place our program of evangelism, rather than our program of education, upon the doctrine of the covenant. This the covenant can support; for the covenant belongs in the church, not the school; in theology, not education; in the recreative, not the creative sphere.
Finally, a closing word to the Reformed Fellowship, Inc. I was happy to note that reprints of Mr. Geerdes’ article are being sent free of charge to our Christian school teachers and board members. I but suggest that charity requires that corrections made to Mr. Geerdes’ paper belong in the same hands.
HUGH A. KOOPS
MR. RAYMOND J. GEERDES REPLIES TO REV. HUGH KOOPS
I am very happy that Rev. Koops has replied to one of the specific problems discussed in my recent article entitled “The Future of Our Christian Schools” which appeared in the September issue of the TORCH AND TRUMPET. In this article I attempted to sketch several areas that I believed would be problems for our schools in the years to come.
Rev. Koops’ contribution then is extremely helpful in bringing the issue and problem under public scrutiny. I am now convinced that my previous appraisal was essentially correct. There are now ministers and educators in our circles who wish to separate church and school, theology and education, and who now openly contend that the doctrine of the covenant is not the foundation of our Christian school system. Now the issue is in the open and we may expect a full discussion. Already articles have appeared which support the ideas advanced by the Rev. Koops.1 Others may follow. I am certain that those who support our traditional view, and who are better trained in theology than I will thoroughly explore the issue also. (Contributors to TORCH AND TRUMPET expect to do this in a later issue or issues –Managing Editor.)
I do not intend to reply to the Rev. Koops in full. I have had my ‘day in court,’ so to speak, and now it is Rev. Koops’ turn to reply. A few things, however, demand a reply. Rev. Koops contends that I misquoted him, or rather, wrongly rephrased his words to read “Does not ‘demand’ Christian education.” Let me quote from his letter to Rev. Vander Ploeg: “The second feature of this editorial2 which I found extremely disconcerting was the very weak argument for Christian education. Surely, the doctrine of the covenant alone does not demand a separate school system.” This is the exact way J quoted him in my article. He himself uses “Christian education” and “separate school system” interchangeably. He does so again in his Banner letter as well as in the present letter to the TORCH AND TRUMPET. Fair-minded people will know that I nowhere implied that the Rev. Koops or the Reformed Church in America is against Christian education in its broader sense. Fair-minded people will recognize also that the term ‘separate school system’ implies a negative withdrawal concept. Please refer to our schools as Christian schools.
Rev, Koops is pathetically weak when he states, “I certainly hope we can soon find some basis for our Christian schools.” He would make it appear that our schools now have no satisfactory foundations and are presently built on sand. We are not casting around for a rationalization for our schools, nor are our thousands of Christian school supporters doing so. We thank God that to most of us “our embracing the cause of Christian education is primarily an act of love, a total commitment to our total faith.”
Rev. Koops’ contention that “our theologians can find no theological ground for the establishment of a separate school system” must come as a surprise to many of our faithful ministers who have been preaching otherwise for many years. Our theological heritage is a rich mine with educational implications that we have only begun to tap. I have no argument against clearIy enunciating these truths in their fullest educational meaning, but I am convinced that Rev. Koops does not mean this. He does not want our theology to be our educational fountainhead.
The Rev. Koops becomes a bit presumptuous when he writes that “it does grieve me that an educator like Mr. Geerdes can find no educational ground for our school system, and must take recourse to what must be shaky ground for him.” The ground that to the Rev. Koops is shaking earth is to me the terra fima of God’s truth. Without this rock of truth we become sand blown by the multifarious winds that blow back and forth across the desert of American educational wastelands. Neither is it true that J can find no educational grounds for our schools. I believe that our schools should be schools in the fullest educational and academic sense. But I refuse to participate in expensive competition with the state on a purely secular basis. Then our school would be truly divisive, as Dr. Conant and others openly contend.3 What sort of a leavening influence would we be, how much light would we cast, how much redeeming quality would we have left, were we to simply plunge into the educational stream with our common grace as the point of contact, instead of the unique truths of God? Unless we ground our schools first of all in God, his Word, his Covenant, his Kingdom, his Truth, we shall have no message, no purpose, no mission and we shall not redeem society but be engulfed, enslaved, submerged by it. Christian education receives its light from God’s truth and thereby illumines all other truth. If our lamps go out it will be awfully dark.
I would find it easy to ask brother Koops what he is doing in education since he states that I should “remain in education and stay clear of theology.” I am very happy, however, when our theologians become involved in education. I recognize no false dichotomy between doctrine and life. Just what does the brother mean when he asks, “Is Christian education· so bankrupt that it must turn to another discipline to find a foundation for our schools?” Are our schools bankrupt? Does our theology make them such? What is this “other discipline”? Is it something only for professional theologians to speculate and articulate? Is that what the careful years of catechetical instruction and doctrinal preaching each Sunday are for? Is this “other discipline” only an artificial thing? It would seem, dear brother, that you have lifted the meat-ax and smote apart our Reformed theology and our Christian schools. If our theological principles do not inform and give meaning to our theory and practice of Christian education, then what is there that may be regarded as “Christian” in such theory and practice?
The Rev. H. Koops has been, according to his own words, at various times “exasperated,” “vexed,” and particularly “grieved” by those who would find justification for our schools in our distinctive truths. I believe that he is taking the problem too personally. His forthrightness will help us clarify this problem, which concerns us all.
I have a high personal regard for Rev. Koops’ apparent ability, demonstrated in several recent articles. He is a young man of promise. I am not against him in any way personally but I am committed to a principle which he obviously would change. We remain brothers in Christ. Rev. Koops has clarified his point of view, and has contributed to a solution of the issue.
However, I do not agree that Rev. Koops has made “corrections” to my original paper that “charity requires” to be made public. It should be the presses and not the writers that groan. I have never implied that the Rev. Koops was not a supporter of Christian schools, or that he personally should seek communion elsewhere. More pointedly he becomes a bit rash to believe that he was suspected of being “unconcerned about the souls of children.” I placed the quotation from Dr. Zylstra’s book alongside a quotation from Rev. Koops’ letter to The Banner because Dr. Zylstra had the matter of the responsibility of the Christian school teacher for bringing her charge to Christ specifically correct while Rev. Koops seemed to have the proper responsibility confused. Let fair-minded people reread and judge.
The issue is now before us. Is our distinctive Reformed theology the fountainhead of our Christian schools? Or is some solely “educational” discipline the justification for our schools? The future of our schools in the second half of the Twentieth Century depends upon how we answer this question.
1. See the articles by Donald Oppewal, “The Roots of the Calvinistic Day School Movement,” in the September, November issues of The Reformed Journal.
2. “Van Raalte’s Anchor of Hope,” The Banner.
3. We heard this argument again recently from a Presbyterian minister in a public debate in Stockton over Proposition 16, on amendment to the state constitution which would have taxed private elementary and high schools in California. The Proposition was defeated by a two to one vote.
4. I presume the brother refers to our Christian schools when he mentions Christian education.