Will the NUCS Remain Christian?

Will the National Union of Christian Schools remain Christian? The answer to such a question seems almost self-evident, for the NUCS has labored unceasingly for years to develop and maintain a school system true to the Word of God. How could it conceivably change its total direction?

But such has happened in other Christian organizations. Churches, colleges, and theological seminaries that once were stedfast in their stand for Christ have become permeated with the very anti-scriptural ideologies they were founded to oppose. In a sinful word, vigilance is required. No Christian dare say “It can’t happen to my organization.”

So I ask, in all seriousness: will the NUCS remain Christian? And I have a special reason for asking it at this time. For in my view the current program of constitutional revision is fraught with spiritual perils.

A word to the wise – Before we get started on the specific issues; a word to the wise: find out what’s going on! I am extremely distressed to find how few NUCS people are even aware of the different proposals for constitutional revision and the profound differences between them. Fewer yet have studied these proposals in detail.

At the annual meeting in Langley, B.C., last August, I was astonished to find how few delegates were aware that the overall direction of the NUCS was at stake in the proposal brought before that meeting by the board of directors. These issues are profound ones, and everyone should be made aware of them: every teacher, every administrator, every school board member, every association member, every Christian parent, every school child over twelve!

Opposition to a traditional commitment – The first major issue, as I see it, concerns the traditional commitment of the NUCS to the Reformed Creeds and Confessions. One group within the organization opposes this commitment on the ground that these documents are “ecclesiastical creeds” and therefore should never be part of the basis of an educational organization.

But consider the cost of eliminating this commitment: The Reformed Standards contain the clearest, fullest, most accurate summaries of Scriptural teaching now available: wonderfully concise and precise statements on Scripture, God, creation, sin, redemption—doctrines which determine the whole direction of our educational task. Do we really want to lose all this, replacing it with a mere skeleton of Christian doctrine, as some propose?

The Reformed confessions are not mere “ecclesiastical” creeds if by that is meant creeds concerned only with the workings of the visible ecclesiastical organization. They simply expound the Biblical Gospel—that Gospel which demands obedience in every area of life. That Gospel, and hence the confessions which proclaim it, addresses the heart of man, not merely some particular aspect of his life. Thus it is entirely appropriate that such creeds be included in the Basis of any Christian organization.

It might, of course, be desirable for the NUCS to supplement the creeds with a contemporary statement applying the Gospel-teaching to the specific area of education; but the proposal to eliminate these creeds would greatly impoverish our testimony.

The 1971 shock and now a reversal – Another point, however, must also be made in this connection: The 1947 constitution of the NUCS, which contained in its Basis a commitment to the “Reformed standards” also declared that this commitment was “unalterable.” At the 1969 annual meeting, it was proposed that the 1947 constitution be set aside in favor of a revised set of “By-laws” which omitted that historic commitment.

Some argued that as long as a new constitution was being adopted, the “unalterable” articles of the old one could not be considered binding. Others, however, rejected this argument: for on that bash any unalterable article could be altered, simply by saying that the alteration created a new constitution! The delegates then voted to retain the commitment to the Reformed standards; and only after that did they agree to adopt provisionally the revised by-laws (amended to include this commitment) in place of the old constitution.

Most of those delegates went home thinking that commitment to the Reformed standards was now a closed issue. Imagine their shock to find in 1971 that the board proposed another new basis which again eliminated commitment to the Reformed standards in defiance not only of the “unalterable” commitment of the original constitution, but also of the mind of the membership as it was clearly expressed in 1969! Why the board supported this proposal so persistently—contrary as it is both to the historic position of the NUCS and to the current thinking of the organization—is anyone’s guess; but the 1971 annual meeting also refused to endorse it, choosing: rather (with virtual unanimity) to retain the 1969 provisional Basis for another year.

Most recently, the board has reversed itself on this crucial issue and now has come to endorse continued commitment of the NUCS to these confessions. This reversal was in my view most wise and courageous, and though some will not approve of it, I believe it deserves our enthusiastic support. The NUCS has a moral obligation, imposed upon it by those who adopted the 1947 constitution and respected consistently by the delegates at the UCS annual meetings, to retain its historic commitment to the Reformed Standards.

A serious charge – The importance of this point is underscored even more emphatically when we consider that the proposal offered to the annual meeting in 1971, because of its elimination of commitment to the Reformed standards, would have failed (had it been adopted) even to commit the NUCS to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is a serious charge indeed, but it is not difficult to demonstrate. That document did speak of certain consequences of “sin” and “redemption” for education; but nowhere did it tell us what sin and redemption were. If indeed that document had included commitment to the Reformed Standards, it would thereby have directed the organization to some very good definitions and accounts of these matters. As it was presented, however, it said nothing about sin and redemption that a modern religious humanist could not say!

Those who argued that this proposal offered to the NUCS a broader appeal to the evangelical community by its omission of the Reformed creedal commitment failed to ask themselves what evangelical (Reformed or non-Reformed!) with any discernment would be happy in an organization failing even to endorse the simple Gospel! The proposal in fact risked a drastic narrowing of the NUCS constituency!

But worse than that, it left the organization with no constitutional defense against the same false teaching that has permeated the public schools. It thus betrays the trust of the great numbers of Christian parents who have given sacrificially to provide their children with an education true to God’s Word.

What of the authority of Scripture? – But wait! Didn’t this proposal commit the organization to the authority of Scripture? And wouldn’t that commitment insure the evangelical character of the NUCS? This brings us to the second major issue now confronting the NUCS: the doctrine of Scripture.

It is true that the proposal presented to the 1971 annual meeting spoke of Scriptural authority, but in my view it presented the matter very ambiguously. It said that the NUCS was based on the Word of God “manifest in creation, incarnate in Jesus Christ, inscripturated in the Bible as it is confessed to be God’s Word in the Reformed creedal confessions.” Note the following:

1. To speak of God’s Word as “inscripturated in the Bible” is in itself to say almost nothing in the context of modern theology. Many liberal, radical, or humanistic theologians would grant freely that the Word of God is somehow “inscripturated in the Bible.” (And of course these would add that there are other things “in” the Bible too—legends. myths, falsehoods, etc.)

2. If we want to say more than that—i.e., that the Bible is the Word of God, why don’t we come right out and say it plainly? Why the circumlocution ascribing this belief to the Reformed confessions? Historians of doctrine know that people invariably use such circumlocutions in creeds as pretexts for minimal interpretations of them.

3. Specifically: the circumlocution is unclear about the relation between our view of Scripture and that of the Reformed confessions. The conjunction “as” is notoriously ambiguous. Would we be using it to assert precise identify between our view and that of the creeds (cf. “The experiment turned out ‘as’ it did before”)? Or would we be using it to assert a mere similarity between the two views (cf. “That little girl is good ‘as’ gold”)—possibly in the respect that both views find the Word of God “inscripturated in the Bible”? Or would we perhaps be using “as” merely to cite the confessions as examples (cf. “That figure occurs in many authors, ‘as’ in Shakespeare”) of views that find the Word of God “in” the Bible? This lack of clarity would have opened the door wide for unscriptural teaching in the NUCS.

4. The three-fold correlation between creation, Christ, and Scripture is misleading unless it is also said that Scripture must govern our interpretation of creation, and that Scripture is our only access to the Word of Christ. Otherwise. an evolutionary biologist, e.g., could claim that he was basing his teaching on the Word of God in creation (as observed by Darwin) even though that “Word” contradicts Scripture. (He would doubtless hasten to add that Darwin contradicts only that part of the Bible “in” which the Word of Cod has not been inscripturated!) Also: a Barthian Bible teacher, say, could criticize the Bible on the basis of his alleged independent access to “Christ.” Whatever might have been gained by this threefold correlation would surely have been lost by the ensuing practical confusion, since the document failed to give any account of the relations between creation, Christ, and Scripture in the concrete educational enterprise.

A call for support – On this issue, as on the issue of the Reformed Standards, the board of directors has recently reversed its previous position and has recommended dropping entirely the concept of the threefold Word and confessing unambiguously that Scripture is the Word of God. Again, I applaud their action. But they will need wide support in the NUCS to maintain that position. There will be opposition to it from the same group that favors the elimination of the NUCS commitment to the Reformed standards.

It seems to me, however, that without a clear commitment to the authority of Scripture the very Christian character of the NUCS will be in jeopardy. The Basis proposed to the August 1971 annual meeting had no clear confession of Scripture and no clear confession of the Gospel of Christ. Had it been adopted, the NUCS, I believe, would now have no official commitment to Christianity at all! Although the board has significantly changed its position, there are still those in the organization who will want something like the above-criticized positions.

We must all be considering these issues thoughtfully and prayerfully lest we risk bringing upon ourselves that awful curse which the Lord Jesus Christ pronounced upon those who cause his little ones to stumble! We must adopt a Basis which expresses clearly our allegiance to Christ, His Gospel and the Scriptures; else, I fear that the NUCS may quickly lose its usefulness to the Kingdom of God!

John M. Frame teaches systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA.