Synod Asked to Change Unified Church School Decision

On pages 583-584 of the Agenda for Synod 1973 one finds Overture 2 from Classis Zeeland requesting Synod to change the Unified Church School decision of 1970. Mrs. Laurie Vanden Heuvel, writer of this article on the matter, is a graduate of Calvin College and the wife of Rev. Thomas C. Vanden Heuvel, pastor of the Central Avenue Christian Reformed Church of Holland, Michigan.

Classis Zeeland’s Overture – In response to the decision taken by the CR Synod of 1970 to combine the material formerly taught in a two-track system of catechism and Sunday School into a one-track “church school” plan, Classis Zeeland of the CRC is overturing Synod 1973 to: “Diverge from the 1970 decision of Synod which made the Uni6ed Church School Curriculum the pattern for religious instruction for all the churches within the denomination, and re..establish or recognize again catechetical instruction as we have known it in the Reformed heritage as an accepted mode for religious instruction.” Classis Zeeland is also asking that the Board of Publications be asked to continue to research, develop and publish materials suitable for catechism.

The grounds for the Zeeland overture indicate that: 1. All Zeeland churches intend to retain the two-track systcm of instruction and 2. An Zeeland churches consider the materials being provided in the Unified Church School Curriculum to be inadeq uate to replace the former catechism materials. Further, Classis Zeeland reminds Synod that the UCSC (Unified Church School Curriculum) places responsibility in the hands of those who are not pastors and elders. The overture concludes with the observation that the 1970 decision makes it difficult for the consistories to observe Articles 63 and 64 of the Church Order which require: 1. That the instruction of the CRC youth be done by the pastor. elders and/or special appointees; 2. That the Heidelberg Catechism and its Compendium be the basis of instruction.

An Old Adage – It is only a few short weeks ago that Rev. Clarence Boomsma in The Banner, outlined for the CRC constituency the many and varied trends of thought which threaten the unity which has always characterized the Reformed community. Some readers of his article reacted by saying, “Where will it all end?” Others said, “Is there any hope for the CRC?”

Yes! There is hope if we get back to our Bibles and back to a study of what it means to be Reformed. It seems that many people have forgotten that they are Christian Reformed for a reason. And so, as the old adage goes, “Standing for nothing” they “fall for everything.”

The method which the Holy Spirit has blessed throughout the years in keeping the Reformed faith alive and firm has been a strong and thorough catechetical instruction of the youth of the church. Having lived through many heresies and, as a result, having adopted basic Forms of Unity by which they distinguished themselves as “Reformed,” over against advocates of other brands of Protestantism, the Reformed fathers saw the need of indoctrinating the youth in those truths. This they did by means of assigned memorization and heart-to-heart discussions between pastors, elders. children and young people. It should be emphasized at this point too, that these “doctrines” which were so vigorously taught to the youth, were not something “other than Scripture,” man-made formulas, but they reflected in very truth the Word of God. The word “doctrine” is a thoroughly Biblical word. A brief look at a concordance will confirm this.

The 1970 Change – So, for all these years the CRC has stood in this tradition until suddenly in 1970 the constituency was informed that its highest body had decided to set aside the method God had blessed for centuries and to amalgamate its teaching of doctrine (based upon the Bible as interpreted by the Confessions) with the Biblical-historical approach of the Sunday School, producing a conglomerate which they hope will hear the stamp of being Reformed. Many of us are unimpressed with the first-fruits of the effort: Bible Steps. Bible Trails and even the Bible Guide (Grades 5 and 6) which. although touching some basic truths to which most Protestant denominations would confessionally agree, nevertheless passes by many concepts to which the Catechism student of years gone by would have been exposed.

The “church school” is destined to have a “leveling” influence on children, While emphasizing the great essentials of religion, to be sure. it stands in grave danger of making children (who will later become parents and leaders) forget doctrinal differences. It has the result of removing barriers and making: way for tolerance of all “stripes” of Protestantism. It is the material of which the wide road to “church merger” of the future is made. If Christian Reformed children only learn some essentials of the Christian faith common to many denominations and they never learn what distinguishes them from other brands of Protestantism, if they never see the richness of the Reformed heritage, they are not too likely to become too disturbed when ten years hence (or less) the denomination talks about merging with another or several denominations, an ecumenical move which spells disaster for the Reformed faith. These grown-up children will then see little difference between themselves and others, so why not join hands “that we may all be one?”

I would like to think that the Board of Publications offered this United Church School Curriculum to the CR Synod of 1970 (Acts, 1970, p. 206) only for reasons of convenience and for what they felt to be improved pedagogy, and NOT as an attempt to make the Christian Reformed Church of the future more palatable to America and world ecumenism. But I am alarmed to read the following paragraph in the Agenda for Synod of 1973, written by the acting director of the CR Education Department. Rev. Andrew Kuyvenhoven:

“Throughout our program we will reflect and expound the content of the Reformed confessions; but the Catechism and the Compendium WILL NOT constitute the ‘basis’ of our instruction in a formal sense. In fact, we have consciously ABANDONED the approach which makes the Catechism the only pedagogical method for teaching the truth of God” (emphasis mine).

It should be noted that the Reformed tradition has never conceived of the Catechism only as a pedagogical method, but rather as the body of truth which would constitute the content of the material to be presented to students. So the Board of Publications is abandoning a substantial content, not only a method) (Agenda, 1973, p. 116). The above statement by Rev. Kuyvenhoven reflects a deliberate violation, by an official denominational committee. of the Church Order which says: “The Heidelberg Catcchism and its Compendium shall be the basis of instruction.” Such refusal to heed the Church Order and promote the distinctively Reformed faith does not inspire confidence.

This is our task! – The overture of Classis Zeeland is a timely one and it is my prayer that the 1973 Synod will adopt it with one alteration in point 1: That Synod instead of adopting the resolution to re-establish or recognize again calechetical instruction as we have known it in the Reformed heritage as an “accepted” mode for religious instruction, adopt instead a resolution which re-establishes catechetical instruction as a “required” mode for religious instruction. This is the true spirit of the Church Order which says that the Heidelberg Catechism and its Compendium “shall be” the basis for instruction.

Let no one think that my wholehearted endorsement of the catechetical instruction of bygone years implies that I fail to recognize that the teaching was often dull and methodical, failing to touch the hearts and lives of the students. But let’s be honest and admit that this is a reflection of the sterility of the teacher, NOT the catechism!

Let no one think either, that my wholehearted endorsement of the catechetical instruction of bygone years implies an unwillingness to recognize improved, modern methods of communications, more visual aids, more pupil involvement, more colorful format and the like. But we must remember that through all these contemporary changes man has not changed; God has not changed. His truth remains “forever settled in the heavens. He has, through His Holy Spirit, led great men of God in the Reformed tradition, to reflect upon His truth and to furnish the church with the tangible evidence of their reflections, and God exhorts us His children to teach these truths “diligently to your children, . . . talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates!” This is our task!

To repeat the question asked before, “Is there any hope for the splintered Christian Reformed Church?” Yes there is but only if it returns with its children to the rock from which it was hewn: The Holy Scriptures, interpreted by the Forms of Unity, confessed and lived by the body of believers. Without such a unity, grounded in TRUTH, the CRC will have no more strength to stem the tide of apostasy than a spider web has to catch a falling boulder!