Prof. Dykstra is professor of Church History and New Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
With this issue, the Standard Bearer restores an old and honored department, namely, a rubric devoted to covenant education. The SB has from early on shown a dedicated concern for Christian schools and the instruction of covenant children. This had been my general impression, and a search of the index confirmed this, no rather, astounded me. Articles on the Christian school are found in the first volume of the SB. From that volume to the present, 44 SB articles discuss Christian schools in the Protestant Reformed Churches; 179 articles explore Christian schools and/or education; 47 more deal with education in general; 29 discuss “the government and Christian schools”; 22 articles are written on just plain “instruction”; 47 of the many articles on the covenant focus on children and the covenant; and 35 articles address the topic “children” directly. Are you keeping track? That comes to 403 articles! This does not include the many articles which, in discussing a particular philosophy or trend, also address its possible effect on children or the Christian schools.
This history of writing about Christian education in the SB runs parallel to the activity in the Protestant Reformed Churches of providing Christian education for covenant children. The first Protestant Reformed school began instructing students in 1934 in the basement of the Redlands ( CA) Protestant Reformed Church. A two-room school building was erected in 1941, and the school operated until 1954 when, decimated by “the split of 1953,” it ceased operations. The Redlands congregation rejoices today in the new school started in 1975.
The second Protestant Reformed school movement began in 1937 with a meeting in the basement of the First Protestant Reformed Church of Grand Rapids. Soon after, a society was formed for the establishment of a Protestant Reformed high school. The determination to seek a high school was due largely to the influence of Rev. Hoeksema, who had some ten years earlier begun to plead for the founding of such a school (SB, Vol. 13, p. 508). However, four years later (1941), the society changed its goal—it would strive for an elementary school. It was not until 1950 that Adams Street Christian School opened with 235 students.
By that time, Hope Protestant Reformed Christian School had been in operation for three years on the other side of Grand Rapids. The beginnings were more modest (51 students), but the society had taken only a year and a half after organization to put the school into operation. The early fifties saw the Protestant Reformed congregations in Hudsonville and Holland join the effort.
The congregation in Edgerton, MN organized a school society in 1940, and opened the doors of the new school ten years later.
In 1956, members of the congregations in South Holland and Oak Lawn formed a Protestant Reformed School Society, and within five years had a school in operation.
A school society was formed in northwest Iowa in the late fifties, and the Northwest Iowa Protestant Reformed Christian School opened in Doon, IA in 1967.
The congregation in Loveland, organized in 1958 as a Protestant Reformed Church, made quick work of establishing their own school. By 1961, their school was up and running.
Another huge milestone in the history of Protestant Reformed schools occurred in 1968 when Covenant Christian High School began its opening day of classes.
In the last twenty-two years, the drive for Protestant Reformed schools has not faltered. The 1970s saw three more Protestant Reformed schools begin classes— Redlands in 1975 (as noted above), Hull Protestant Reformed Christian School in 1976, and Covenant in Lynden, WA in 1978. The school in Lynden even included high school grades from 1979 to 1991! Additionally, the newly organized (1977) Trinity Protestant Reformed Church in Houston, TX maintained its own school from the start and held classes as long as it was feasible, with many in the congregation helping with the instruction.
By the early 1980s, overcrowding in Hope school caused the society of Hope to see the need for a new school in the Hudsonville area. The result was the commencement of Heritage Christian School in 1985.
In addition, the belief that the demands of the covenant apply to all children in the sphere of the covenant prompted the Hudsonville consistory to call a meeting in 1983 to encourage the formation of a society for educating children with special needs. The result was the Society for Special Education in the Grand Rapids area which began offering special education classes in Hope in 1985 and continues today with its own room in Heritage.
The serious and dedicated devotion to Protestant Reformed education over the years is evident from the formation of other related organizations. The Federation of Protestant Reformed School Boards was organized in 1957 by the boards of Adams St., Hope, and South Holland. Through the years it has grown to eleven schools.
In 1955 a handful of teachers started the Protestant Reformed Teachers’ Institute for mutual encouragement and instruction. It held meetings and annual conventions in the Grand Rapids area and in South Holland for the first twenty-five years of its existence. In 1980 it agreed to meet in NW Iowa every fifth year. It has also published its own quarterly magazine, Perspectives in Covenant Education, since 1974. At its last convention (held in northwest Iowa in 1997) seventeen new teachers joined the Institute, and ninety-nine teachers were in attendance!
Those are indications that the cause of Protestant Reformed education flourishes today. There are others—the start of Faith Christian School in Randolph in 1994; the existence of the Lacombe School Society (Alberta, Can.), formed shortly after the church organized in 1987; and Hope’s 50th anniversary celebration held this past summer, where many generations were represented. And we note that enthusiastic parents and supporters in the northeast side of Grand Rapids started their own school this school year (Eastside Christian) when Adams St. was forced to move.
The secondary school movement is showing life in at least two areas of the country. The society for secondary education in the area south of Chicago recently took the positive step of purchasing land with a view to the building of a high school. In addition, a new society for secondary education was formed in 1997 by members of the congregations in Doon and Hull, Iowa, and Edgerton, Minnesota.
Other schools report excellent support from the congregations, including building projects being planned or paid off. Many pastors speak of the unity of focus and support for the schools established by the members of their congregations. Others point to the truly encouraging fact that the younger generation is enthusiastically throwing its support behind this work of love.
Great things? Yes. Significant things? Yes. In the eyes of the world? No. In the opinion of most of the church world? Probably not. No doubt to many these efforts appear small and insignificant. They do, however, demonstrate the keen interest in and support for good, Reformed, Christian education in the Protestant Reformed Churches. In addition, I contend that great things do happen in these schools! Covenant children, hundreds of them, are reared in obedience to the command of God given to parents; equipped to walk down their God-ordained paths in harmony with the Reformed truths; and trained to stand as representatives of God in this present evil age. With the obvious exception of the preaching, is there a more significant work anywhere in the world?
The question begs asking, Why do parents, grandparents, young couples, and single individuals zealously support and labor for these schools? Why are men willing to devote long hours to school board meetings, committee meetings, and the like, without pay? Why are teachers ready to spend themselves in the effort of teaching, when the same level of education as well as the number of hours spent in the business world might well make them rich? Why? The schools are not exclusive, well-equipped academies that promise superior graduates and guarantee entrance to the best universities, though they do stress excellence to the glory of God. These schools do not promise an academic “free ride” for children who do not care to study, though they are zealous to help the struggling student. These schools do not advertise freedom from all the evil influences of the world, though they have no tolerance for sin. Again, we ask, Why this labor, sacrifice, and determination, why these millions of dollars, when other schools are available at no cost, why this enthusiasm by a relatively small band of people for the work of educating their children?
In a word, the answer is, God’s covenant. The life and walk of a Christian must be determined by the truth he confesses. The lives of Protestant Reformed people ought to be governed by the eternal covenant of grace that God has established with them. This is especially true in the area of covenant education. To this we will turn in the next installment, the Lord willing—God’s gracious covenant with His people, the basis of Protestant Reformed schools.