My own introduction to Christian education came comparatively late in life. My education through high school was in the public schools of the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, area where the only religiously oriented schools of which 1 was aware were the parochial schools of the Roman Catholics and the Lutherans. When I thought of those institutions at all, it was with the disdain which an adolescent reserves for those who are different from the accepted pattern. However inconsistent it may seem, that disdain was carried along when I enrolled in Hope College, Holland, Michigan, and came into contact for the first time with Reformed Christian schools. My attitude of disdain and mild antipathy continued unchanged into seminary years simply because I never thought the issue through to the point of substituting a rational attitude for an emotional impression.
In the second year of seminary, our class in Christian education was assigned a brief analysis of a report prepared by the Board of Education of the Reformed Church in America which criticized and rejected the idea of Christian day schools on the elementary and secondary lcvcl. The report spoke to my prejudices, but I had to admit that its arguments were weak and shallow. With sophomoric enthusiasm, I set out to improve upon it. I thought that I would go to the Grand Rapids headquarters of the National Union of Christian Schools, get these people’s own materials, and show from their own words that the Christian school movement is nothing but the shriveled fruit of narrow-minded provincialism.
Among the books given me at the National Union of Christian School headquarters was The Dilemma of Education by Dr. Cornelius Van Til. It looked like a good place to start my study. I sat down to read and arose a few hours later persuaded in spite of myself that Christian education is a necessity for covenant children, and that the Reformed faith is unique in its ability to provide a theological foundation for valid education. I had never seen such trenchant Biblical and theological thinking in this area before. This, I thought, is the way I want to think and preach and train my children; in each area building consistently, logically and irrefutably from the infallible Word of God. I began to understand that Christian education is not simply the insertion of the Bible and certain religious practices into the educational curriculum, but rather the founding of aU knowledge upon and the submission of all knowledge to the authority of the Word of God. I saw that the real issue in education is epistemology—the question of the source and validity of knowledge -and that the only solution to the epistemological problem is the God who knows all reality exhaustively and bas revealed Himself, His absolute truth, in His Word. I support Christian education today because I believe in an infallible Bible and the noetic effects of sin, and because, candidly, I can see in my own denomination and others the devastating effects of the abandonment of a self-conscious emphasis on Scripture as the touch-stone and standard of all knowledge: the demise of genuinely Reformed thinking in favor of either intellectually uncontrolled modernism or intellectually unconcerned fundamentalism.
If the reader will pardon the autobiographical method, let me speak of another epoch in my own pilgrimage. A few years ago, I read a book entitled Atlas Shrugged, by the atheist philosopher Ayn Rand ( Random House, New York, 1957). Although I can scarcely recommend the book from the moral point of view, it did my heart good to read it. From her own philosophical point of view—rational objectivism—the author devastates the liberal social-political-economic planners and manipulators as capable of neither creating nor conserving anything of value, as capable only of seizing what other men have created or conserved and doling it out in a vast leveling process piously described as “meeting the needs of people.” I wrote to Miss Rand expressing appreciation of her demonstration of the utter bankruptcy of the liberal position. In the letter I added that it was interesting that she, an atheist, was of real help to me in delineating the issues in the struggle between conservatism and liberalism in ecclesiastical circles. Miss Rand wrote back to say that she was aware of the ‘“historic tension within Christianity between the conservative and the liberal position,” but that that was not the real issue at nil. The real issue, she said, was epistemology. She went on to point out that the fatal flaw in socialistic humanism is simply that it does not have an adequate epistemology, i.e., who knows what is good for people? What is good for people is determined by the emotions or the manipulators and “experts.” And the people, rather than being served, eventually become the slaves of the planners in government. Miss Rand’s answer is objectivism, i.e., the idea that every individual’s enlightened self-interest, his desire to succeed, to create and to build, provides a practical, working epistemology in which truth is judged by its ability to make a positive contribution to this objective. And, granting Miss Rand’s atheistic presuppositions, I venture to say that she is right. Enlightened self-interest is a better basis for society than is the legally enforced altruism of the socialistic humanist.
But philosophical objectivism, although it may well be the most practical and useful of atheistic epistemological systems because it turns the basic selfishness of fallen man to its own purposes, cannot hold a candle to an epistemology based on the infallible Word of the omniscient, perfectly righteous and perfectly holy God of creation and providence. The Bible says that our God makes even the wrath of man to praise Him. In His wondrous providence, God used the writings of an atheistic philosopher to make clear to me that the all-embracing answer to socialistic humanism is an epistemology rooted in the infallibility of the Word of God.
I found myself beginning to apply this insight to various contemporary problems. For example, the problem of “the one and the many” in the area of government, or collectivism versus individualism. The socialistic humanist with his epistemology based on the greatest “good” for the greatest number of people would say that the goal and purpose of government is to do just that. The atheistic objectivist would say that the goal of government is to keep the way clear for the unhindered expression of individual creativity. Both systems are vulnerable because they have no standard either for what is good or what is creative. In both, men are ultimately enslaved to those whose definitions of good and creative happen to prevail. In contrast, the Biblical Christian must maintain that the goal of government is to be the “minister of God” for righteousness and “a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil” (Romans 13:4) in accordance with the definitions of good and evil that are revealed in the law of God. Here is an objective standard (granting, of course, the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture), a standard which does not enslave to men but rather brings men into “subjection to the Father of spirits” (Hebrews 12:9). There are those who will object to this answer to the problem, but their objection is unmasked for what it is in Psalm 2:1–3:
“Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his Anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.”
To follow through on this line of reasoning: the social humanist sees the individual as just another cog in the vast social machinery, his freedom as submission to the will of the majority and his rights as determined by the majority. To the Biblical Christian, the individual is the discrete and unrepeatable creation of God. Since he is responsible in every detail of his existence to God, he must be free to do what is right before God in accordance with the Word of God. His rights are not the decision of men (even the overwhelming majority) but the revelation of God in His Word. For the socialistic humanists, charity is a tool in the complex work of social-economic-political manipulation. For the Biblical Christian, charity is service to God; it is voluntary, and it is controlled in its nature and scope by the Word of God. For the social humanist, prosperity is provided by collective planning; it is a human creation. For the Biblical Christian, prosperity is a blessing of God on righteousness (Psalm 33: 12 and Proverbs 14:34). 1t is a divine creation.
This brief analysis may be carried a step further to show that when human governments claim to define “the good,” insisting upon the submission of all to that definition, and when human governments presume to control and distribute prosperity, they are no longer the ministers of God, but are taking the prerogatives that belong to God alone. The ultimate in such presumption is the communist dictatorship which pretends to take from each according to his ability and distribute to each according to his need—both ability and need being defined by the state! The truth of the Word of Cod is that men are to work with all of their ability not as unto men or governments but as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23), and that we are to expect all things not from an almighty state but from the hand of God (Matthew 6:11). The Bible calls the government that usurps the place and prerogatives of God “the Beast out of the Sea” (Revelation 13:1) and says that its seat and power and authority are not of God but of Satan (Revelation 13:2).
It is only a Bible-based epistemology which can lay down a direct and effective challenge not only to communism but also to the leftward socialistic tide in the social-political-economic life of our own land. And if this is true, the importance and value of the Reformed Christian education is beyond estimation. For the simple truth is that there is no other source in our country today that is capable of producing men and women who are able to think through these pressing issues on the basis of the authority of the infallible Word of God. There is no other educational agency in American life with a general curriculum based on a self-conscious and well-articulated Bible epistemology.
The large “traditional” denominations of our country are a part of, and are deeply committed in their educational work, to the National Council of Churches. Not only has the ecumenical movement as represented in our country by the National Council of Churches nO regard for the infallible and inerrant Bible which underlies Reformed Biblical epistemology, but it is plainly committed to the faulty epistemological basis of socialistic humanism: the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Hence the National Council of Churches together with its member denominations is wholly committed to racial integration by means of federal legislation and has thrown its collective weight behind legislation in which government defines and guarantees certain human rights at the expense of the rights of property specifically guaranteed by God in His Word (Exodus 20:15). The watch-word is “human rights are superior to property rights.” It sounds pious, but it is simply not true. And in its falsehood the epistemological bankruptcy of ecumenical thinking would be amply demonstrated even if the same thinkers did not show themselves allied with collectivists in government in such other areas as technology and automation, poverty relief and peace through cooperation with anti-Christian communism. It is plain that there is no challenge to the designs of Satan to be found in ecumenical Christianity. Indeed, Revelation 13 describes a second Beast, “the Beast out of the Earth” that looks like a lamb—masquerades as Christian—but has the voice of the dragon, Satan, and uses its power and influence to bring the whole world to its knees before “the Beast out of Sea,” the God-supplanting government.
Fundamentalists oppose ecumenical Christianity. Can we look for a challenge to Satan’s designs on the prerogatives of God through government from the Fundamentalists? The answer is—probably not. Fundamentalism’s critique of ecumenical Christianity has most often been at the point of ecumenism’s denial of certain key elements of the doctrine of salvation. True and devastating as that critique is for the Bible-believer, it misses the fact that ecumenical thinkers simply do not deal with the realm of personal salvation. They are concerned rather with matters social, political and economic. Fundamentalists assert that ecumenical thinkers are wrong in emphasizing these matters rather than the things necessary for salvation. But few Fundamentalists seem to recognize that even apart from that, the ecumenical-collectivist coalition is essentially wrong: wrong in its root, a false epistemology, and wrong in its fruit, an intrusion on the prerogatives of God. It is likely that no adequate challenge to the designs of Satan is to be expected from Fundamentalism.
It hardly needs to be added that the real challenge to collectivism will not be found either in even the strictest political conservatism. Unless such conservatism is founded on the infallible Word of God, it is without epistemological moorings and must inevitably drift. It can never rise above the residue of Biblical Christianity or Theism left in our culture.
The desperately needed challenge to socialistic humanism, to collectivism, to Satan’s usurpations can come only from Christian men and women trained in schools where every idea, truth and fact is submitted to the final and binding authority of the Word of God. Christian men and women who are persuaded beyond doubt that every idea must be judged for its validity by the Word. Christian men and women who are taught how to continue through their lives to judge truth by the Word of God for themselves. Christian men and women who see clearly that every system grounded in the human mind and human experience ultimately enslaves, that men must know the revealed Truth and the Truth will make them free. 1 know of no other way to produce such men and women than through the rigorous application of the principles of Reformed Christian education.
Of course. if all of this is true, Satan knows it too. And he will seek to destroy the noble and indispensable potential of Christian education at its most vulnerable and strategic points. As I think about it, I see two such strategic points:
1) The graduates of a Christian school are inevitable students of their teachers, bearing the imprint of those who taught them. When it comes to this matter of screening all knowledge through the Word of God, pupils will become no more proficient in the practice or persuaded of the principles than their teachers before them. And those teachers will probably be no more proficient or persuaded than their professors before them. Weakness on the authority, infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible in the college classroom or private conference session must inevitably vitiate the effectiveness of the Christian school, so that it will miss its destiny and be no longer worth the cost. Whether that weakness be the result of enchantment with modern “biblical theology” and criticism or whether it be the result of liberal thinking in other realms that rejects the idea of objective authority, it is poison in the system of Christian education.
2) And speaking of the cost of Christian education brings up the other strategic point from Satan’s point of view. Quite apart from the issue of fairness in the question of whether Christian schools should share in public funds, is it not quite apparent that if government is moving in the direction of collectivism, and if Reformed Christian education can provide the only adequate bulwark against the trend, then government with the encouragement of the “leading theologians and Churchmen” (who unfailingly represent the ecumenical majority in American Protestantism) will seek by every means available to bring the Christian school around to the socialistic humanist point of view? In the struggle for the minds of our children, shaH we permit ourselves to be financially beholden to the enemy?
God grant us Christian schools that are able to fulfill their high destiny because they are persuaded of the Truth, proficient in applying it, and free to be faithful to it.