More than thirty years ago the writer heard a Methodist minister of the gospel make this statement before a group engaged in a study of Christian leadership in Protestant churches, “Unless tho Christian church undergirds gospel preaching with a sound educational program centered in the Scriptures she will find her influence decreaSing rapidly,” This brother in the faith was referring to a church program in religious education. He accepted schools and schooling as we have it in our public schools as the only democratic answer to the need for a well-informed citizenry. He expected the church in a well-planned religious education program to make the necessary impact upon young minds for Christian life and service. We recognize that he is the spokesman of many Protestant leaders today. What he said, however, has a far wider application than he himself realized.
When we look into the history of the Christian Reformed Church, we find that her founders, a century ago, had no such illusions as that of the Methodist preacher. Instead they took the very thought expressed in the words of the Methodist minister and gave it full application. They realized that a religious education apart from instruction in the day schools fails to educate youth in the full religious life. From the beginning they sought to make all schooling Christian.
But we are not satisfied to know that Christian education has been a major concern of the Christian Reformed Church. It must remain so. We should then raise the question, How are we to conceive of Christian education today? We live in another period of time than the founding fathers. Truth must ever find new ways of expression and application as circumstances vary. And another question presents itself, namely, how are we faring with the great heritage of Christian education? What are we doing with it in our generation?
Let us take a good. look at these questions after we remind ourselves whence we came.
Developing Emphasis upon Christian Education in the Christian Reformed Church
The Church Order In the Christian Reformed Church Order we find the historical antecedent to the present emphasis upon the Christian school. We read it in Articles 21 and 41.
We first quote Article 21.
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.
Article 41 speaks of the constituency meetings, and task of classis. Among the questions the president of classis is instructed to direct to the delegates at every meeting, and which must be answered orally or in writing, is this one.
“Does the Consistory see to it that there is (are) a good Christian School(s) where the parents have their children instructed, according to the demands of the covenant?”
We are informed by J. L. Schaver1 that this question was among the original five that came down to us from Reformation days.
This leads us back to the origin of the Christian Reformed Church Order. It is a translation from the Dutch as found in the Church Order of De Gereformeerde Kerken of the Netherlands. The latter is in its origin translation from the Latin dating back to the Synod of Dordt (1618–1619).
We should know that the text of Article 21 incorporates a mandate by the government of the Netherlands to the churches to establish schools. The relationship of church and state was based on common interest in promoting and maintaining the Christian faith. Article 36 of the Belgic Confession dealing with civil government points to the same common purpose. In Article 21 of the Church Order the church assumed the responsibility upon order of the state to establish and maintain schools. The Reformed faith being the official religion of the state, the Church Order instructed churches to see to it that the schools met the demands of the covenant in their instruction. The question asked at classis originates in the same mandate. It was asked to check on local consistories in the fulfillment of the mandate, Articles 21 and 41 no longer apply to schools in general in the Netherlands. The growing liberalism in theology during the nineteenth century affected the schools, so that the establishment of free Christian schools, independent of state and church, became necessary to assure instruction according to the demands of the covenant.
In this country too Articles 21 and 41 were made applicable to the free Christian school. But this was a very gradual process in the Christian Reformed Church. At first an attempt was made to Christianize public school instruction in localities where the constituency of the church sent their children. Apparently it soon became evident that this was difficult, if not impossible. Agitation for free Christian schools started as early as 1870, thirteen years after the organization of the Christian Reformed Church. Beginning with the Synod of 1870, the church began in her official declarations to strengthen the Christian school movement by binding the urgency for such schools upon pastors and consistories, and by calling upon them to promote Christian education in preaching and in family visiting. As early as 1875 the church began to take upon herself the responsibility for the professional education of teachers for Christian schools.
Apparently because of the history of Articles 21 and 41 of the Church Order, and, no doubt, because of the rapid increase and extension of Christian school education, the Synod of 19362 proceeded to give an official interpretation of the terms “schools” and “support the cause of Christian schools.” The church reaffirmed her strong support of Christian schools in these words, “…if, in the judgment of Classis, a ConSistory does not support the cause of Christian schools, Classis shall continue earnestly to admonish such a Consistory publicly in its classical meeting and privately through the church visitors until it truly repents.” The Rules for Church Visiting further execute the desire of the church that Christian schools be maintained, when the following question is asked of the consistory, “Do the parents as far as possible send their children to Christian schools?”
Increase in Percentage of Attendance
Throughout the years the percentage of children of Christian Reformed churches attending Christian schools has increased. Many congregations have reached 100% or nearly this in attendance record. Several have increased their attendance in the past fifteen years from approximately 30% to 70% or 80%. According to recent statistics gathered by the National Union of Christian Schools 60% of the families of the Christian Reformed Church with school-going children were sending their children to Christian schools in 1950. In that same year 250 out of 341 congregations had children in Christian schools. The last figures have changed in 1956 to read 324 of 481, showing a slight drop in percentage because of the rapid increase of member churches in Canada. For the United States in this same year the figure stood at 302 out of 362 churches. Of the 60 churches in the United States not having Christian schools, 20 have Christian school societies, indicating intentions of opening a school as soon as possible. In Canada 26 of the 97 churches not having Christian schools have organized Christian school societies. Many of these churches have been organized only recently as immigrants increased in number.
The vow which parents take at the baptism of their children the church interprets as a commitment to Christian education, this to include the Christian school when it is available. Among the questions parents are asker! in this one: “Do you promise and intend to instruct these children, when come to years of discretion, in the aforesaid doctrine, and cause them to be instructed therein, to the utmost of your power?” The clause, “and cause them to be instructed therein” involves a pledge that they will avail themselves of the means. provided for the Christian education of their children.
Principles of Christian Education
The Christian Reformed Church in several ways stands committed to the Christian school as the Kingdom agency for the education of the children of the church. This commitment has been intensified over the years, culminating today in a statement of principles of education commended to the churches by the Synod of 1955. Further reference to these principles follows.
What is Generally Understood by Christian Elementary and Secondary Education?
What does the membership of the church generally understand by Christian elementary and secondary education?
The Free Christian School
They mean first of all a Christian school, that is, a school operated by a Reformed constituency for the purpose of instructing children of Reformed families according to the Reformed faith. They furthermore mean a free school, that is a school independent of church and state administration. Not that the church and the state have no interest in what is taught. Quite on the contrary, the school pays close attention to what is required by both church and state, for the children are members of the church and citizens of the state. In organization and in subject areas of learning, they are outwardly the same as other schools of these levels, with the exception of the inclusion of systematic Bible history and Bible doctrine in the Christian schools, and in the public schools, especially in urban centers, more of home economics and shop in junior and senior high schools.
Looking at these schools a little more closely from an instructional point of view, we find that the membership supporting Christian schools generally have in mind something definite as to the character of these schools. The thinking as to what constitutes Christian education in Christian schools may be expressed in three statements.
(1) The Christian school is an institution for transmitting and disseminating formal adult knowledge and the training of the mind.
(2) The knowledge and training must be related to God as Creator and Master of all.
(3) Instruction is to be given by Christian teachers who set a Christian example b y word and deed.
With reference to the first, Reformed churches have always stressed the need for a well-informed church membership, not merely pertaining to religious truths but pertaining to the world in which we live. This is God’s world and we are to live in it as stewards of the blessings God gives us. But one is not merely to be well-informed. He, as a Christian, is also to be disciplined in his thinking and his way of life by this information. Hence, Christian schools have always emphasized both knowledge and discipline. And Christian schools can pride themselves justly on maintaining emphasis on fundamentals when in some schools these have been given a secondary place.
The Reformed churches have emphasized, too, that both knowledge and discipline must be related to God as Creator and Sustainer of all things. He is the lawgiver. God is truth, and all authority is His. In all instruction, then, God and what God says and does constitutes the standard by which we judge all things.
And as to number three, God-centered instruction in the schools can be expected only from teachers who themselves arc God-centered in thought and life. This the church has realized as she encouraged the establishment of Christian schools. Hence she early took a part in the professional education of teachers, and does so in increased measure today.
The Christian School and Educational Reform
The question is being raised today whether transmitting and disseminating formal adult knowledge and training the mind meet the needs of the children of the church today. The issue is not whether they need knowledge and discipline. No one questions this. The issue is rather whether transmitting and disseminating formal adult knowledge and training to the mind provide for children the knowledge and discipline they need to become the men and women of the church of tomorrow.
Nature of Educational Reform
In this connection it is well that we observe that as Americans we find ourselves in the midst of far-reaching educational reform. The schools of yesterday are undergoing basic changes, not only in outward appearance, buildings and equipment. The external is beginning to demonstrate what is happening inside. The entire educational program is in process of change. This may not be obvious to the casual observer, but it is real. Many question whether it can be called reform. Several vehemently reject it. Some newspaper columnists and certain academicians decry the changes as fads and frills of educationists or professionals in education. But those who are professionally well informed recognize that significant changes are taking place, even though, as in every reform movement, there arc lunatic fringes that make honest reform look ridiculous at times.
What is happening in American schools? (In European schools too, for that matter, for the reform movement had its inception there. But in Europe it has centuries of tradition to overcome, whereas in America we are still pioneering in several ways.) The change may all be summed up in one phrase, I believe. It is this. A better understanding of human relations and of the dynamics, the driving force, of these relations. This better understanding is transforming classrooms. The fields of psychology, sociology and psychotherapy are disclosing forces in human relations and ways of dealing with them which are simply amazing. We wonder at the discoveries in physics and chemistry and at the gadgets produced because of increased knowledge in these fields. Likewise in the sphere of medicine. But the least bit of acquaintance with the areas of psychology, sociology and psychotherapy is even more revealing.
Secular in Perspective and Application
Unfortunately nearly all of the study in human relations is taking place in a framework of thought that takes no account of who man is, namely, a son of God who fell in sin and who can by faith receive salvation for this life and the life to come. The framework of thought in which human relations and its dynamics are interpreted allows for no higher causal and purposive relations. It takes no account of the fact that human relations are understood aright only when seen in the light of man’s relation to God. But this does not alter the fact that the studies in human relations are very revealing and of great significance for Christian education. The fact that most nuclear scientists are non-Christians does not alter the fact that tremendous sources of energy are being placed at man’s disposal. Likewise in education. The facts of human relations cannot be denied. They must be rightly understood to be rightly used.
Effect of Reform on Christian Schools
What is happening in the Christian schools in the midst of educational reform? Is a better understanding of human relations and its dynamics transforming Christian school classrooms too? Or should it? Careful observation will disclose that the reform movement is affecting Christian schools in one or more of four ways. Frequently two or more of these effects can be observed in one school or even one classroom.
The first is a reactionary attitude. It condemns the entire reform movement as a departing from fundamentals. Advocates of this view think they find evidence for this in many pupils who seem to lack mastery of the necessary skills and knowledges, and manifest undisciplined thinking. They hold that intellectual mastery of formal subject matter is the school’s primary concern. Everything else is peripheral What is known as human relations follows as a by-product of mental discipline. Knowledge is power. Give children right ideas and they will live right. Young minds are formed by adult ideas, it is said.
A second effect can be observed. Under the influence of changing concepts of education, some teachers are incorporating reform ideas into the schools uncritically, or at least without adequate appraisal as to their appropriateness in the pattern of Christian education. Some seem to display a zeal for reform without the necessary knowledge of what it is all about. Others take over a new idea because they read it in a book or heard it in a class, and it sounded good.
There is a third attitude. It is that of the “natural” in the classroom, the so-called born teacher. He embodies in his personality (as do some mothers) an insight in human relations that makes for dynamic communication with youth. He can make the most formal subject matter live in the lives of children. He mayor may not understand what the reform movement is all about. If he does, he finds it rather natural to incorporate the better ideas and reject the undesirable. If he does not, he somehow feels that human relations have always been a vital part of his teaching, There have always been such teachers, though not many at anyone time. We have them in a respectable number in the Christian schools today. Men and women of God who can communicate with young people. Nearly every lesson they teach “goes over,” They make subject matter, whatever it is, educative in its effect.
There is a fourth group, and there is an ever increasing number of this group in the Christian schools as professional education of teachers is improved. They are making an honest attempt to reappraise Christian education. They are willing and able to face the question, What constitutes Christian education? They make a serious study of the reform movement in education and appraise its contributions as to their meaning for education that is God-centered seeking to provide in school what is needed for the development of a child in Christ, the covenant youth. They realize that just as a Christian may not be indifferent to the contributions of modem medical science, so he may not remain unconcerned when studies in human relations disclose new insights in the development of human personality.
Educational Reform has a Message
We can expect the Christian to view with a certain alarm the developments in modem education because of its extreme secularism. which means centrality of man and human rights without regard for God and the ordinances of God. But we should not hesitate to recognize that even in this ungodly education the Lord is disclosing to us truths and values that we may not ignore. The words of Scripture in comment on the commendation of the unjust steward have application here too. We read. “….for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.”3
Is the Christian School meeting the needs of today?
The question whether the Christian school is meeting the needs of child development today is not out of order. And surely the church may not be indifferent to the question, for the church must reach the youth of today with the claim of the gospel upon their lives.
The Needs of a Few
What must the answer be? It is partly contained in the description of the four varying attitudes toward educational reform. Let me put the answer this way. If the Christian school is an institution for the transmission and dissemination of formal adult learning and training of the mind. it will meet some of the needs of a few boys and girls. Some pupils are able to make the most of an inadequate situation because they are so constituted. We sometimes remark how surprising it is that a certain child develops so normally in view of a background which was anything but promising. There is another redeeming feature the so-called born teacher we refer to above. In his natural aptitude to communicate with youth he transforms formal adult learning into a living body of truth that youngsters can understand.
The Needs of Many
Fact is that schools are made up of young people from the ages five to eighteen, of varying interests and background. Fact is, too. that many abilities formerly learned in family relations are no longer achieved there today. In more frontier and rural life chores about the home furnished ample opportunity for children to give expression to their developing interests and attitudes. Today most of these chores have disappeared. especially in urban communities. Now how is a boy or girl to have the opportunity to discover latent talent in himself? If we fail to provide a positive source of activity meaningful to him, he may find it in delinquent conduct. This is a source of many so-called discipline problems in school. Has the Christian school a challenge here? Will a formal lesson from a history textbook provide this opportunity for every boy and girl, necessary as the study of history is for all pupils? I trust we see the implications. Human relations are involved and a study of them with reference to the education of the youth of the church is imperative.
How can the Christian School profit from Educational Reform?
The Christian school can profit, I think, in four ways from educational reform movements of our time.
Philosophy of Christian Education
First it can profit by giving thought to the philosophy of Christian education. This does not me..”In that one person, or even a committee, sets forth in so many words a set of truths on which Christian education is based. A philosophy of education is not set forth by assignment, nor by the initiative of one or a few. We hear and read the statement again and again that we need a philosophy of education. One gets the impression that some people look for a kind of formula or fixed body of formulated truth in handy pocket size to guide one in educational thinking and practice. While formulations have their place, they will not suffice. As a matter of fact we now have several formulations. The trouble often seems to be that we do not use what we have. What is a philosophy of education? It is a living conviction finding expression in meaningful concepts that guide one in his educational theory and practice. This living conviction should constitute a part of every teacher’s personality. It is the heart of a teacher education program. Teachers with convictions well formulated in their thinking can appraise modern reform activities in education, select from the reforms, and organize their ideas and practices into a genuine Christian theory and practice.
School and Classroom Organization
The second benefit that accrues to Christian education is one of organization. The school is to be organized as a community in which each is for all and all for each. While a certain amount of competition is wholesome, it is always to be subordinated to the good of all. While levels or grades are necessary, they should never prove barriers to the total development of every individual. While standards must be set, they should always serve the purpose of the development of every learner. The pupil is not to be fitted into a fixed mold, but is to develop as an integral part of an organic whole which calls forth the best resources of a learner and guides these resources in their expression to conform to the will of God for his life.
Well Educated Teacher
The third is personnel. A weIl-educated Christian teacher is an artist. He is first of all a Christian. Being well educated means that’ he is a mature student of the Bible, historically and doctrinally, of the culture and civilization in which we move, and of the theory and practice of education as it functions in the school. When so qualified, he can be an artist in the classroom. He knows what he is doing and why, and can manipulate the tools of his art in a resourceful way . Teachers not well educated in the sense spoken of cannot be artists. At best they “keep school” as one may keep house without being a good mother or father to a child.
A fourth is methodology. This is no magic word covering “tricks of the trade.” Every teacher knows that he needs these too, and plenty of them. Methodology has reference to making learning effective in the lives of boys and girls. Almost anyone, for example, can device tricks by which memorizing a poem is accomplished with the least possible amount of resistance, even with a degree of satisfaction and culminating in a good mark. But to have a poem come to life in the experience of a child so that what be memorizes he has come to understand and feel, and is thereby disciplined in his will function—this is teaching. The former is a toying with tricks and devices. The latter is methodology.
The Bible points the way
We shall give thought to these things when we are fully aware of what Scripture has to tell us about education. Not about the school, for Scripture has nothing to say about the school as we know it today. The modem school is a social institution, a product of our society, established to meet the needs of boys and girls of today. We look in vain in Scripture for a mandate pertaining to schooling. We find mandates for the family, for the church, and for government, for they are divinely ordained institutions among men. Not so the school.
Then what does the Scripture give us? Two things that help us, a mandate that we educate youth and a view of education. The mandate is clear from various passages of Scripture, both direct4 and indirect.5 Education is viewed as nurture or bringing up the whole man6 to understanding, wisdom, and righteousness.7
When we take this scriptural injunction seriously, and view the social changes involving child life and development, shall we still think of the school as an institution for transmitting and disseminating formal adult knowledge and training the mind? Or shall we be thinking of schooling in more inclusive terms of developing the total personality of a child? It would seem that the answer is obvious if we see educational problems of today realistically and honestly.
The Christian Reformed Church speaks on the meaning of Christian Education Synodical Report
What the Christian school does with current educational reform is of vital concern to the Church. “The Christian Reformed Church stands committed to the Christian school as the agency that can make Christian education effective in the totality of life.”8 These are the words of a study report to the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church on the principles of education. Of this report the Synod of 1955 had the following to say,
(1) That Synod express its deep appreciation for the excellent work of the committee. (2) That Synod commend this report to our churches as a general statement of principles of Christian education.9
When Synod commended this statement of principles to the churches, it was saying in effect that the Christian Reformed Church reaffirms her position as to the Christian school and that she would have the Christian school think of its task in broad terms of human development and not merely in terms of transmitting and disseminating intellectual knowledge and of mental discipline. These principles mean to say just this if they mean anything.
Education and the Church
The Christian Reformed Church has made her stand clear once again with reference to the relationship of church and school. She wants to keep the school as Kingdom agency distinct from and independent of the church administratively. This too was reaffirmed in the principles of education commended to the churches.10
With reference to the church and her educational task these principles have the following to say:
“Her instruction is moral-spiritual in character. The church through her teaching ministry brings the oracles of God, the living Word, to the understanding of youth that they may grow up in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and learn to be well pleasing to Him. The church seeks through her instruction to develop covenant youth in the living faith in the hope that, when come to years of discretion, they may voluntarily profess their faith before the church and enter into the full communion of Christ and the saints.”
The educational work of the church is in the hands of the consistory. It is carried on generally by the pastor in the catechetical classes or under his supervision, and by members of the church in the Sunday School.
Education and the School
The Christian school, however, is a product of the society of which we are a part. Our complex social order has made the modern school a necessity. Of the school the principles of education have the following to say:
“But to say that the school is a social institution, a product of the social order, is not to say that it should be secular in character. For covenant youth all education is education in Christ. The subjects of the elementary and secondary schools must present a medium, a milieu, in which the covenant child’s life in Christ can develop into its fullness in all areas of living. No area of thinking and living may be divorced from God and His Christ for the covenant child. It is for this reason that the Christian Reformed Church stands committed to the Christian school as agency to make the Christ-like life effective in the totality of life for every covenant child.
The church is obligated to see to it that parents as members of the church fulfill their promise made at the baptism of their children. Since the Christian school is the only agency that can provide a Christian education for the youth of the church, the church is duty bound to encourage and assist in the establishment and maintenance of Christian schools.”
This principle clearly sets forth the relationship of the church and the Christian school. It says in general that the church must insist upon education appropriate for the total development of a child in Christ. Subject matter, then, must be selected and organized for this purpose. It furthermore states that the church must urge parents to seek this education for the covenant youth. In order to strengthen her position with reference to the Christian school, the church declares it her obligation to “encourage and assist in the establishment and maintenance of Christian schools.”
What are the prospects for the future?
May the Christian Reformed Church look with confidence to the future as to tho further development of Christian education? There are signs that are most encouraging. But there are also reasons for grave concern.
Signs of Progress
Let us look briefly at the more hopeful indications.
We have already mentioned the increase of percentage of children of the church attending Christian schools. Many communities where Christian Reformed Churches arc located, not now having Christian schools, have organized Christian school societies looking forward to the establishment of schools as soon as possible. Some church communities that have had struggling societies for years without making an impact upon the local church as a whole have suddenly experienced a new vision and have taken courage to open schools. New schools are being opened every year, and more would be opened if qualified teachers were available.
In buildings and equipment many Christian schools have made amazing progress. New school buildings in some communities and addition upon addition to existing buildings in other areas have been the order of the day for the past several years. Buildings and equipment in many localities meet every need for the general well-being of Christian youth in their growing years.
The professional education of teachers has improved greatly. The National Union of Christian Schools gives us these figures for the year 1955–1956: of the 1,286 teachers engaged in the schools, 497 have a bachelor’s degree, 168 a master’s degree, and 3 a doctor’s degree. More than hall of the teaching personnel have four years or more of post-high school education. We may not be satisfied with this percentage, of course. But it does represent a decided step forward in the competence of teaching personnel. When we say this, let us not forget that academic and professional preparation is only one essential qualification for teaching, and not the most important. There are teachers in the Christian schools who have earned no college degree, but who in educational qualifications compare favorably with the best. Let us not confuse values.
We are developing a better understanding of the meaning of Christian education. Professional gatherings of teachers and administrators give evidence of growing insights. Periodicals are carrying articles coming to grips with theoretical and practical problems. We have a long way to go, but the progress is encouraging. Let us not be disturbed by the fact that we hear and read of some differences of opinion. This is necessary to sharpen the thinking of all of us. The Christian school personnel should be encouraged to develop a professional consciousness that is ready to undertake the study of Christian education with a view to improving it over the years.
We see developing too a greater community awareness of the responsibility for Christian education. Strictly speaking the responsibility for the education of children rests with the parents. But other institutions share with the parents a vital interest in their children. The church, the state, society—all stand to reap the fruit of the quality of the education of youth. Hence, they interest themselves in it. It is right that the entire Christian community share the expense of Christian education in Christian schools. The Christian school is the school of the Christian community as much as is the public school of the larger community. No one objects to his school tax though he may have no children in the public schools. Why should Christians reason that parent’i alone must pay the cost of Christian education? The church recognizes the wider responsibility when she places the Christian school in the budget for a given amount, or when collections for the Christian school are announced regularly. More recently Christian people within local churches are organizing to collect the full cost for the Christian education of the children of the church from the local church membership. The church can help establish a broader basis for the financing of Christian schools. This is in keeping with the task of a church committed to the Christian school.
A concerted effort is being put forth in the churches to encourage young people to prepare for teaching in Christian schools. Through the National Union of Christian Schools many churches are supporting scholarship funds for prospective teachers. The need is great. Economic prosperity affords young people areas of work more attractive financially than teaching will ever be. Many children in the church are being brought up in a luxury that they will find difficult to surrender and may therefore by-pass teaching as a vocational choice. Through scholarship aid worthy young people who have a real desire to teach but lack the funds to attend college can secure assistance needed for this purpose without feeling they are objects of charity.
These are some of the signs of strength that characterize the pillar of Christian education. We are grateful to God for these evidences of progress. And they are not the only signs. Others can be mentioned, such as increasing leadership from the pastors, a rising educational level among board members, and greater effort on the part of consistories in encouraging Christian school attendance. The founding fathers and mothers of two generations ago or even less would stand amazed. were they to see what God has done for their sons and daughters.
Signs of Decline
Are there signs of weakness too? Axe there dangers besetting the Christian schools to which the Christian Reformed Church should address herself as she reappraises her task in this Centennial Year?
The Christian school was born of the deep conviction of our forebears that Christian education is the outgrowth of the covenant of grace. The child in Christ, they firmly believed, must be nurtured in the Christian faith from early youth and this nurture involves every area of life. No phase of living they would leave untouched. by the impact of the gospel as young people develop into maturity. In our day this demands a Christian school. And these forebears could give a reasonable account of their conviction. Are their sons and daughters making progress in this conviction, they who have enjoyed the benefits of the Christian schools? Surely, there are men and women among the membership of the Christian Reformed Church who can give an account of their Christian school convictions in terms of the covenant of grace and the kingship of Christ in the entire domain of life.
However, a recent survey of a certain area of the Christian school constituency proved anything but encouraging on this score. Of those who replied to a questionnaire a decided minority gave dear indication of reasoned conviction concerning the Christian school. We cannot enter into an analysis of the data. But on the basis of the returns the question is in order whether the Christian school is for some an appeaser of a conscience that feels somehow a weakness in the Christian influence in the home life. Sending one’s children to a Christian school may placate a feeling of spiritual inadequacy in one’s life as a parent. Other questions may be raised. Some are tempted to wonder whether the Christian school has become cheap private education for a number of the well to-do among the Christian Reformed membership. The results of the survey give rise to questions of this kind. With the increase of budgets for the Christian schools the test will come whether the Christian community is ready to make real sacrifices to maintain the Christian schools at all costs.
Disturbing as the sign of weakening conviction may be, the danger of secularization is even greater. They are related, but not necessarily as cause and effect. They may be symptoms of a deeper spiritual problem.
What is the problem of secularization? Secularization means to remove God from the central place in life, whether it be from all of life or from certain areas. We should recognize that as the secularization of life during the nineteenth century found its way into the schools and divorced all education in the schools from positive Christian truth, even militated against it, the demand for the free Christian school arose and increased. But now we face another phenomenon. In addition to further secularization of public education, secularized living is eating its way, very subtly in cases, into the Christian home that still sends the children to the Christian school to escape secularism in education. We need not dwell on the symptoms. They are easily recognized. Teachers in the Christian schools can point to homes represented in their classrooms where home life no longer supports the Christian ideals and instruction of the Christian school. The time has come when for some children in the Christian school Christian education is no longer covenant education, but child evangelism, because their parents appear to be quite worldly people. That the names of the parents are still on the church roll and that they manage to escape church discipline does not alter the apparent fact. The Christian school is facing the problem of combating a creeping worldliness among a part of its constituency, as the Christian Reformed Church is confronted with the issue of growing worldliness in the midst of formally professed orthodoxy.
Closely allied to both alarming situations discussed is the decline of home and family life in some of the best homes. By the divine order of things the family is the matrix for child development. Not only are the father and mother to be channels for bringing children into the world, but they are to bring them up to the God-intended goal as well. No fellowship can substitute for a family community to give a child the security he needs for adequate, balanced development. What is on the decline in many homes? The feeling of solidarity that comes when families do things together. Modern life tends to break this up. Mothers are employed during the day. Fathers have their bowling and golfing and club activities when they should be with their families. Children go their ways. When members of the family get together they are tired, and conflict ensues. In several cases children hear more conflict and argumentation than fruitful, participating discussion. These families lay their homes open to develop mental problems in the lives of their children. And let us not close our eyes to the fact that Christian schools have several such problems among their constituency.
Then too the problem of the poorly prepared teacher is still with us though much progress has been made in the professional education of the teaching personnel. The shortage of teachers for the past decade accounts for it in part. And comparatively low salaries in many schools have aggravated the shortage. As a result school boards had to press into service personnel who do not have the learning, and in many cases the interest, to profit from the best in current educational theory and practice. The church is looking to the Christian school for the undergirding for her message in the fulness of Christian living. And all that some teachers can do is follow a textbook in arithmetic, drill youngsters in “sums,” or run through a history book with them, assigning them facts to memorize, hearing them recite, etc. etc. They know neither what they are doing nor whither they are going in the learning-teaching process. Youngsters are not stimulated to goal-consciousness that grips their lives. In such cases Christian education hardly exists. We face this awful problem. Teaching requires more than personal piety, necessary as this is. It requires more than a willingness to stand before a class and dictate lessons.
There is another danger that be..us mentioning. It is this. Are church and school co-operating as they should? The Christian Reformed Church as a denomination stands committed to the Christian school. But this requires more than making pronouncements, such as those concerning principles of education, and more than taking collections. It demands spiritual leadership covering the entire Christian school idea. But church and school lack the contacts for mutual benefit. What are consistories doing to interest themselves in doctrinal purity and the spiritual dynamic of the schools? Generally leaving it to the school boards? What are school boards doing to seek spiritual counsel from spiritual leaders in the church? Only selecting a few pastors for a speech now and then? Generally it is “hands off the schools” to the pastors. The school board runs the school. Let the church help to get the funds and preach Christian education in season and out. But this attitude, so general, it seems, is not conducive to benefiting one another as Kingdom agencies. School board and consistory should find each other periodically in mutual problems pertaining to the education of covenant youth.
One need not be an alarmist or a pessimist to say that the Christian school as institution, in spite of all the progress made during the past half century, faces serious internal problems. The threat is not so much from without. We thank God that we live in a land where the right of the Christian community to establish Christian schools is not challenged, yes, even encouraged by authorities. The foe is primarily within the gates, within ourselves. The very forces that seek to undermine our deep consecration to God and His Kingdom are the forces that threaten the Christian school. They arc the forces of materialism, worldliness, and secularism. And we face these issues when we should be busy in the superstructure of Christian education for which Our forebears laid a solid foundation. Only a wholehearted commitment, an all-out for Christ can carry the Christian school through the present urgent situation.
We as a Christian Reformed Church thank God for the vision of the founding fathers, for the loyalty of our fathers and mothers to their covenant vows, and for the sacrificial service of the many Christian teachers who served the cause of Christian education faithfully. Let us in this Centennial Year decide ourselves to the covenantal loyalty that motivated them. The principles of education commended to the churches by the Synod of 1955 need to be carried forward. Christian education should become increasingly an actuality among us as well as an ideal. Let us go forward unitedly in faith. And the God of our fathers will bless us.1. J.L. Schaver, The Polity of the Churches, Vol. II, p. 123. 2. Acts of Synod, 1936, Art. 77, pp. 36–37. 3. Luke 16:8b. 4. Deut. 6:6–9; Eph. 6:1–4; Col. 3:20–21. 5. Ps. 78. 6. Rom. 12:1; Ps. 24:1; I Cor. 10:31. 7. II Chron. 2:12; Neh. 10:28; Ps. 119:34, 73, 125, 144, 169; Prov. 3:13; I Cor. 1:30; Prov. 3:6. 8. Acts of Synod, 1955, Supplement No. 15, p.196. 9. Ibid, Art. 84, p. 48. 10. Ibid., Supplement No. 15, p. 199.