The Berkhof We Don’t Remember (2)

In our May issue, we started a series under this same title. Our readers may remember that we quoted from an old volume Subjects and Outlines by Louis Berkhof who wrote in outline-form for young people. Some of these theses of this spiritual stalwart are not above criticism. At the same time, they are reminders that we who profess the Reformed religion have largely forgotten much which is basic to real Christian life, largely because our leaders have not been Reformationally busy, have not truly continued to theorize for practice in the power of God, That we and this world may profit, we re-publish and comment on another outline entitled THE RISE OF STATE (public) SCHOOLS.

1. Conditions Preceding Their Establishment

a. In the Middle Ages the Church (1) was the foster mother of the schools. She not only established and maintained them, but also controlled the instruction that was given. The privileges of education were limited to the children of the higher classes and the instruction was almost exclusively religious (2).

b. The Reformation brought about some important changes. It emphasized the necessity of free (2) schools, i.e., schools for the people in general, and the obligation of parents to have their children educated. It enlisted both the Church and the civil government in the work of education and gave secular (2) studies a larger place in the curriculum.

c. During the eighteenth century the work of education in Europe was at a low ebb. The parents were generally negligent of their duties, and little schooling was provided for the mass of the people.

2. The Change Wrought at the End of the Eighteenth Century

a. A great change was brought about by the French Revolution, which was to a great extent a reaction against the exactions of the rich and the oppression of the poor by the privileged classes.

b. A new idea of the State was placed prominently in the foreground, viz., that the State is an organization composed of free citizens that have equal rights and are subject to no higher authority. The nation, organized into a State, now becomes the measure of all things (3).

c. This conception of the State naturally led to a general education by the State and for the State, an education from which the religious (2) element was gradually excluded by force of necessity (3).

3. The Principles on which the State Proceeds in the Work of Education

a. The State is supreme and an end in itself (3), and its preservation demands that its cit1zem, who are the real rulers (3), be well educated.

b. The right of the State to self-preservation carries with it the right to establish schools and to demand a certain kind and degree of education.

c. If there is no general voluntary attendance at the schools, the State naturally has the added right to make attendance compulsory.

d. And this again makes it necessary that education be offered gratuitously. This only would make it possible for children of all classes to obtain the required instruction. Moreover, it also necessitates the exclusion of all religion (3).

Our Commentary:

A very Bible-believing Baptist minister and his wife who sent their children to our Christian Schools in Edmonton once made the remark that the State has no right to be in the education business. If we read Berkhof carefully, one cannot help but note that once the State entered into public education as it did, it began to destroy education and to use it as a tool to absolutize that State and nation. Now, therefore, the so-called American way of life is largely become a way of death. Notice the following in connection with the arabic insertions above:

(1) The Church-institute is authorized to determine the faith-life of God’s people. She should solely concentrate on that. Besides, we should see the need of educational creeds for all Christian schools. History has pretty well demonstrated that the Church-institute creeds are largely inadequate for the educational task.

Such an educational confession is only just and fair. Children of a variety of truly evangelical Church-institutes ought to be brought together in one kind of Christian school. It will not do to call such Christian schools “inter-denominational.” They should not be considered ecclesiastical at all. The Church-institute simply does not have the mandate to develop human functions by formative education (cf. May issue, p. 14). Christian schools should always be a Reformational deliverance from domination by clergy and be given opportunity to exercise the Christian general prophetic office in Christ.

To be sure, believers arc always members of the Church-institute. But for that very reason they should always be allowed to respect the creation order. We ought always avoid a Church-school which would make a continuous catechism class of all of life. In such a truly evangelical Christian school, teachers, it is true, would have to exercise self-control as to Church-institute convictions. However, self-control need not mean concealment. Most of all, this world needs a truly ecumenical educational enterprise which without more leads to true recognition of Christ as King!

(2) We in Michigan have a parochiaid bill which uses the distinction of religious and secular subjects. By now, however, we know that there is no education in any area of study which is neutral in confession. Neutrality is only a theoretic concept. Whoever is silent about Jesus denies Him. And that is not being neutral at all. This applies strongly in education, public or otherwise. One may never prevent youth from coming to Christ. In that sense, the religious and secular subject distinction stands condemned. All of life, also learning, is religion.

To put it another way, a school is an educational or instructional community of teachers and pupils or students established to prepare the latter for meaningful participation in society. The Christian school, in its own unique way, must be an expression of the coming Kingdom of God through which the Lord Jesus Christ restores the direction of creation in all its fullness through history. The Word of God, as it comes to man in the order of creation, in the Scriptures (controlling), and in Jesus Christ (John 1), gives the foundational direction to the life of Christ-followers in its entirety, and thus also to education.

(3) Berkhof prophetically exposes the French Revolution notion of the State. They say that the “nation is the measure of all things” and that the State is “supreme and an end in itself” and that “the citizens are the real rulers.” It is true of course that the State is an achievement of culture and a result of human form-giving. And it is also true that the government docs not bear the sword in vain. But the government, says Romans 13:1–7, is instituted by God to put fear into the hearts of the wicked and to protect the just for the good of its subjects. Being God’s servant, it is to express and apply the sovereignty of God in the life of the State according to the Divine ordinance.

However, the government may not transgress the limits of the sphere of competency assigned to it by God. It is to regulate for public interest so that all individuals and societal relationships can flourish. Thus, historically understandable as it is, it should not play the schoolmaster. It has not been appointed to be an educator. To be instructionally involved as it is in the State (public) school, it over-extends itself. Besides, to be of “necessity” busy as it is, it ought to be “neutral” (which it cannot be) amidst actual religious diversity in national life. Thus, the State (public) school should be highly exceptional. It is true of course that government has an interest in education. It should subsidize all instruction so that our nation keep up in the race of nations. It ought to make demands about educational standards. But it may never enslave “free” education, nor be intensely involved in inculcating the wrong “religion.” This is a matter of life itself.

Rev. Henry A. Venema is pastor of Rogers Heights Christian Reformed Church, Wyoming, Michigan.