Having considered in previous articles (cf. Torch and Trumpet, vol. II, nos. 5, 6) the significance of a growing interest in the Christian junior college movement together with the growing need for such institutions, we now turn to the problem of organizational and administrative arrangement. Perhaps some of our readers are awaiting in this series an article on the vital question of the educational justification for the Christian junior college. Certainly there is real difference of opinion among us as to whether the junior college is a worthy project as such, regardless of place or circumstances. On this most important phase of the problem we hope to air our views, the Lord willing, in a later article. Now we would address ourselves to the question of organizational set-up.
A Controversial Matter!
We are very conscious of the fact that by plunging into this particular subject we are entering into the field of controversy. The issue is involved in the struggle between the parochial, Church owned and controlled system of organization and the society-type, parent-controlled school system. Frankly, it is our personal contention that this is not as momentous an issue as some would have us believe. It is very fortunate that proponents of both sides of this debate are fount! in the Reformed community. And the keeping alive of this debate is indeed healthful. Thereby is achieved a balance between the extremes of either point of view. But let there be balance! For proponents of either side to champion their contentions as exclusively Reformed is both uncharitable and contrary to fact.
This article does not aim at defending or opposing either of the two positions. Our purpose is merely to summarize those details of school organization and administration which find acceptance among us, and then to show that the history of the Christian school movement as it underwent the test of experience with its trials and errors has resulted in a common practice which gives sanction to both views, that is, Church and parental control. If God’s Word is clear as crystal on this issue, or even if the Holy Scriptures could be shown to give sure and solid proof only by inference and implication, who among us doubts but that in the one hundred years of our history we would have achieved a larger measure of unanimity?
The Actual Situation
What is actually the situation? Reformed people are committed to the principle of a distinctively covenantal Christian education. To safeguard this type of education state sponsorship and control is repudiated. Parents therefore unite to form a society which organizes and maintains a Christian school, the basis [or which is the Christian convictions which they share.
In all of this the Church has a vital concern. This project is essential to her continued existence. In a very real sense this matter of education is an integral part of her high calling. For Christian education concerns the character formation, the character molding of the covenant children. The covenant lambs of the flock are to he developed. Their covenant potentialities are to be realized in Kingdom service. In this light one can proper!y understand Article 21 of the Christian Reformed Church Order, in which it is stated that “the consistories shall see to it that there are good Christian schools where the parents have their children instructed according to the demands of the covenant.”
Surely no one will dispute the argument that ideally it is a sound procedure for the consistory (the ruling body in a Christian Reformed congregation) to spur the people of the local church or community to set up Christian school societies which shall elect boards whose mandate it is to manage the school in the name of the parents. Actually this practice has predominated among those schools which have been established by Christian Reformed parents.
The Church officially should keep out of the management of the school as much as is possible. But it is just as true that circumstances have arisen in certain localities in which wisdom demanded that the Church enter into the organizational affairs of the school. And not only in such instances, but even in those cases in which the Church is not active in organization and administration affairs of the school the close interest and enthusiastic financial backing of the Church is required or the school flounders and fails. We believe that history furnishes a warning that unless a close cooperation exists between Church and school—so that the Church has a real voice in the matter—serious consequences doctrinally and morally more readily arise.
In reply to this last observation some may say that history also furnishes examples of colleges and seminaries under Church domination which have succumbed to Modernism. We hasten to state that a great cause for the victory of Liberalism in such institutions is not that they were Church controlled but rather the tragic neglect of such churches and denominations to promulgate Christian education on the lower and secondary levels. These churches were not Christian school minded. They have been engulfed in the stream of neutral education under state domination.
How Far Should the Church Go?
Just how far the Church may or may not, should or should not enter into the administrative affairs of the school depends upon circumstances. Some lower grade schools, though owned and operated by a school society, do not charge tuition but raise their necessary funds by way of Church offerings, which they take great care not to label as “quotas.” Other schools, also society-controlled, present their business matters in conjunction with the local congregation’s annual meeting, using time immediately following the execution of the congregation’s business, but before the meeting is adjourned.
In many cases to all practical purposes Church and school are virtually one. The Church deals with strictly ecclesiastical matters through its consistory, although even here the school is within range of its discussion. The school society runs its affairs through a board, whose task it is to handle educational matters. At its board meetings, however, the Church is also very much in the picture. Various examples of this close relationship can be cited. We have heard of one group of churches that cooperates with its local Christian high school by giving assurance that a stipulated amount of financial aid will be given on a per family basis. This is incorporated into the church budget as a congregational quota. Other school societies include in their by-laws a rule that representation on their board shall be proportionate to the number of pupils attending from the different congregations. Some give the ministers an ex officio membership on the school board. And Calvin College has continued for several years under denominational ownership and control.
In the instances cited above the demand of circumstances has justified this variety of interaction and inter-control. When it comes to the question as to how our junior colleges should be organized, certain objective factors gleaned from this variety of experience and methodology appear to give help in the shaping of our course. An observation which we feel to he very much to the point is this: it will be difficult to demand or to expect uniformity of organizational pattern among our junior colleges. Basically, however, they will be as kindred in form and arrangement as are existing Christian primary and secondary schools.
Taking all things into account, whatever type of organization is effected and utilized it should offer and maintain real opportunity for intimate cooperation between school and Church.
The Financial Factor
Three factors loom large as being greatly responsible for the cooperation of Church and school. These are very pertinent to a consideration of the junior college project.
The first is financial. To maintain a school on the higher levels of educational activity demands solid financial support if it is to he a respectable, accredited institution. The Church can he a real bulwark at this point. Some will smile at this, and be quick to taunt us with the charge that we are quite unprincipled in our desire to “slip” the Church into the set-up only in order to get money from its members. The obvious sincerity and integrity of many of our leaders, some old and wise, some younger and more active, some laymen serving as elders, staunch and true—truly aflame with devotion for our Reformed heritage—belies this unjust charge. Fact is that if only our churches had always been solid in their support of many a Christian school we would not have to face the unnecessary disgrace that reflects upon us because of poor equipment and inadequate salaries.
The current situation here differs from that of the Netherlands. We are not referring to salaries and equipment there of which we have a very meager knowledge. We have reference to the source of financial support. Though it may be true that we do not desire it here, the fact is that in the Netherlands the Christian schools receive government aid. That the Church need not offer financial support there is quite easily understood.
But in our country it is otherwise. To reply that this is not the business of the Church, advocating that the Church ought only to preach the principle of the matter, is entirely impractical. Why has the Christian Reformed denomination levied stipulated congregational quotas for missions rather than he content with freewill offerings prompted by the preaching? To say that missions is the work of the Church and that therefore quotas may be levied to insure a regular income [or its purposes but that Christian education is not the business of the Church and hence only free-will offerings may be taken for its support is to draw a very thin line indeed. Fact is, it is so thin that it borders on the imaginary!
For the very same reason that we find the quota system advisable for other causes, we, under certain circumstances, need this method also for educational causes. This is applicable to the Christian junior college. Regular Church support by way of a fixed, per family quota would insure the support of all for the extremely urgent welfare of all. This does not at all mean that we should get all our required funds through the Church, nor even the bulk of it, but it does suggest the wisdom of getting such support as will take the edge off the weight of that heavy burden which the faithful would have otherwise to shoulder alone.
Guarding Moral and Doctrinal Purity
The second factor we would list is the problem of guarding the moral and doctrinal purity of the institution. Here again some will raise their eye-brows and charge that we entertain unfounded and unwarranted suspicions. Is it not wholly un-christian to move with such a distrust of one another?
Again we remind our readers that there are many well-respected and thoroughly qualified people among us who tenaciously maintain that the Church should be allowed a friendly guardianship over Christian educational institutions provided and guaranteed by definite constitutional, organizational arrangement. History and experience has deepened their convictions on this matter.
A proper alliance of Church and school officially secured does not constitute nor encourage something of the nature of distrust. It is rather the greatest evidence of sympathetic interest and of mutual trust. It is a pooling of forces to achieve and to guarantee to the satisfaction of all the best in Christian education. It is when we insist on walking separately, using the dangerous “hands-off” policy, that we find the seeds of distrust active to produce trouble.
Prestige and Accreditization
A third important factor is that gaining recognition by responsible accrediting associations and of maintaining prestige. It is a fact that the quality and reliability of a school’s backing plays a very important role in the gaining of that much-desired accreditization. Accrediting associations are impressed with Church support, if it be solid and enthusiastic. And so we see again that to rally our people behind this cause, building strength for the future, a close relationship with the Church is virtually indispensable.
In the light of this cursory study the type of organization worked out: for the Mid-West Christian Junior College Society—submitted recently to a meeting of some 600 men representing 45 congregations, at which it was adopted almost unanimously—may be described with profit.
Basically, the Mid-West Christian Junior College is to be started and controlled by the school society. T he area it represents is to be divided into five or six districts, each of which is to for men for the central board as elected by the several districts. This central board will determine policy and be responsible for the major activity of the school. From this board will be elected an executive board which is to operate the school in accordance with the dictates of the central board. In all this the Church has nothing to do. The society concerns itself as such with the school. It makes all the decisions, plans the operation, selects the teachers, and raises the main burden of expenses.
However, the Church is invited by the society through the classis* to join in with the movement ill the following manner. It is asking the Church to be represented on the central and, perhaps, the executive board, by the delegation of one of its ministers to serve there in an advisory capacity. Furthermore, the society gives to the Church the privilege of exercising a friendly guardianship over the administration in the light of the organization, assuring the Church that if there is any dissatisfaction with any school policy or activity it shall have the right of a hearing.
Thus the classis is invited to be represented, to give counsel through its appointee to the central board, and the Church is free to inquire concerning things that may have transpired at any time. Yet the Church as such does not assume the responsibility of educating. And, finally, the society solicits the good-will and generosity of the Church, recognizing its position and influence. Concretely it asks the Church to help shoulder the burden, to give the movement real stability by granting quotas of financial aid from its membership.
To our way of thinking this is by no means a union of opposing principles deserving of nothing but condemnation. It is rather a fusion of two equally sound principles without destroying or impairing either. These are the principles of society control and that of Church cooperation and support. This fusion has been realized among Reformed supporters of covenantal, Christian education right along with a high degree of success.
*The Classis in the Christian Reformed denomination is the equivalent of the presbytery in a Presbyterian denomination.