For a considerable time the question of government aid to schools has appeared on the front pages of newspapers and in various articles in church periodicals. On the one hand, when Russia launched its first sputnik and the people of America were given a glimpse of the scientific progress of their enemy, the immediate reaction was to blame the American educational process for falling behind in the education of its children and young citizens. There were not enough schools, not enough teachers, not enough good education, not enough emphasis on science in the present schools. The solution to the problem was sought primarily in federal aid to education to step up the building program, raise the salaries of teachers to attract more and better people to the profession, and gear education to a scientific society. This issue of federal aid to education is still an issue today, and President Kennedy has made various proposals to Congress to accomplish this objective.
On the other hand, this question also affects those churches who operate parochial schools or whose parents operate private schools not supported by the government. These schools include primarily the Roman Catholic Schools, Baptist Schools, Lutheran Schools and schools of parents of Reformed persuasion. The parents who through societies or churches operate such schools not only must pay taxes for the existing public schools, but also support their own private schools through tuition, church collections and drives.
This whole matter is of importance also to our Protestant Reformed people who must, through taxes, support the public schools in their districts, but who must also support the schools to which actually they send their children. And most likely, taxes would go up if the federal government engaged in a gigantic spending program to aid public schools.
The immediate question is whether or not federal aid to education should also be given to private and parochial schools; and whether or not we would be justified in accepting such aid should it be offered. The proposals now before Congress specify only public schools. Francis Cardinal Spellman sharply denounced this entire proposal on the grounds that private schools had as much right to federal aid to education as public schools. He said in a recent speech,
“I cannot believe that Congress would discriminate against Lutheran, Baptist, Catholic or Jewish parents—Americans all—in the allocation of educational funds.”
With these sentiments, Dr. Oswald C.J. Hoffman of the Lutheran Churches did not agree. He responded,
“Let Cardinal Spellman speak for himself. He does not speak for us Lutherans. As Americans who accept the traditional American policy of Church-state separation, we Lutherans would not feel discriminated against if Federal funds were appropriated for public schools only. In fact, we think that Federal assistance, if there has to be such assistance, should be restricted, to public schools.”
The whole problem does not simply involve, however, federal aid to private schools, but also involves the free transportation of children attending private schools on public school buses as well as the participation of private schools in the government’s free lunch program. Our Sunday Visitor, a national Catholic action weekly, has gone on record in a series of articles as favoring federal aid to private schools as well as public schools. In answer to the objection that if people do not want to take advantage of the free education of public schools, but prefer the education of private institutions, they must pay the consequences, the Catholic press insists that this is denying the citizens of America their religious rights and freedoms. Because they chose to instruct their children according to their own faith, they are discriminated against, in the allocation of federal funds, and all but forced to send their children to public schools. This involves a violation of their rights to believe and teach as they please.
Whether the Catholics will be successful or not in gaining federal aid for their schools and all private schools remains to be seen. But should aid be offered to our own schools, the temptation would be very strong to accept this aid and relieve somewhat the burden carried by our people in supporting a school for their own children. Yet such an acceptance of funds from the government would be very dangerous and wrong. It is not difficult for one to see the justice of the government’s giving relief to our people and others who support schools of their own through excusing them from taxes or through making tuition deductible on income tax returns. But direct aid by the government to our schools we should never accept. Certainly, in the first place, if we sincerely desire the distinctive education for our children which our own schools provide, we alone must pay the cost of educating them. It is our covenant responsibility, and therefore also our financial responsibility. On the other hand, it is impossible to imagine that the government would contribute sums of money to the operation and maintenance of our schools without also determining how that money should be spent. They have the right, and no doubt will exercise that right, to lay down certain conditions which must be met before the money can be used. This is especially true since the immediate occasion for the granting of federal funds rises from the fear that the Russians are out-stripping us in scientific technology. These conditions will involve not only the building of schools as such, but also what must be taught in the schools, and perhaps even what must not be taught in them.
Now also the government, whether federal or local, has a certain amount of control over our schools. They have a building code which must be met, and they even determine to a certain extent the curriculum which must be taught in order for schools to gain accreditation. This is bad enough, and has recently led to trouble for some of the existing Christian Schools. We should be very wary therefore of any more government control of schools, for if we do not, we will gradually lose our own schools where our children can be and are taught the truth as we confess it. This may require considerable sacrifice on our part, but if we ever succumb to the temptation of letting the government direct what may be taught even through the allocation of funds, we are better off without our schools altogether.
In The Banner of January 13, under the column “A Reader Asks,” a question appears and is answered concerning the matter of when a covenant child is “on his own.” Evidently the reader had been arguing with a Baptist about when a child reaches the “maximum age at which covenant children can still be regarded as being under the parental wing and therefore the object of covenantal promises made to parents and their children.” The implication of this question is that there comes a time in the life of a covenant child when the promises made to his parents and therefore to him are no longer valid, and the child stands on his own, his salvation dependent upon his own personal commitment to Christ. This is evident from the fact that the question is phrased,
“Suppose a 17- or 18-year-old child of covenant parents dies without making public confession of his faith, is he lost since he failed to give confessional evidence of covenantal life by that age? Or may he be regarded as saved? At what age is the dividing line?”
After pointing out that the Baptists have as great or even a greater problem than the Reformed, the answer is given,
“There is no flat, definite answer that can be given. We cannot say, for instance, that at the age of 15 the promises per se cease and personal responsibility takes over. There are many factors that enter into this important decision of taking a public stand for Christ. There are some who reach maturity much sooner than do others. Our business as parents is to acquaint them with the riches of God’s forgiving grace, remind them that they must personally plead for forgiveness and lay personal claim to the covenant promises in Christ, and urge them to follow through in the promises symbolized in their baptism by making a personal commitment to their Savior. There is no one set are to press these claims home. Some may be ready for it at 14 or 15; others are not. Evaluate their stage of maturity and when you judge that they have reached the level of responsible decision, bring to bear upon them these claims of Christ and pray the Spirit to impel them to confess before men that they are on the Lord’s side.”
It is obvious that the main point of the questioner, a point conceded by the answer, is that there is a certain period in a child’s life when the promises of God are sufficient to save. But there is also a point which is reached in a child’s development, somewhere in his teens usually, when these promises are null and void, and the covenant youth stands before God without the strength of these promises, his salvation now dependent from that point on his own personal acceptance of Christ.
This is a very strange view and certainly not in harmony with Scripture. In fact, it is a principle concession to the Baptist’s view of adult baptism and a capitulation to the Arminianism inherent in the Baptist’s position. All kinds of questions necessarily arise. When do God’s promises cease to be effective? At the time when a child makes confession of faith? But what if he never makes confession of faith? Is he heir to those promises always by virtue of his not making confession of faith? Or does a child reach a certain age when suddenly those promises cease regardless of whether he makes confession of faith or not? Does this mean that once he was an heir to the promises of God, but suddenly ceases to be? And if only confession of faith will restore those promises to him, what did it mean in the first place when he had them? What good did they do him? Is it only in case he should die that the promises which he received through his parents were of any value? By what power does he make his personal commitment to Christ? Is this the power of his own will if it is not the power of the promise? Is it true then that the promises of God can be trusted, to carry a child through only a brief period of his life, to be followed by a period in which he is thrown on his own resources?
Of course, it is evident that this position follows from the position which the Christian Reformed Church has taken regarding the character of the covenant. They have defined that covenant as an agreement between two parties, and by doing so have committed themselves to the position that the covenant is not in force until the child born within the church has accepted that covenant and entered into its agreement. But then it is also no longer true that that child can be carried through infancy on the strength of the promise of God. For where no covenant is, there can also be no promises. If the covenant is not established with children, as it cannot be if the covenant is an agreement between two parties, then the promises of that covenant cannot be claimed by children either. But then one must retreat to the position of the Baptists, for the ground for infant baptism has been destroyed. Baptism is a sign of the covenant, established in the line of generations. And this certainly means that the covenant is established with believers and their spiritual seed; that the promises of the covenant are to these believers and to their spiritual seed throughout their entire life; that these same promises of the covenant are the power in the hearts of the spiritual seed to lead them to confession of their faith and to cling to the cross of Jesus Christ. For these promises include also the gift of faith merited for the spiritual seed of the covenant, and given by grace alone. But then the covenant is not an agreement any more between two parties, but it is a gracious bond of fellowship which God mercifully and graciously establishes with us and with our children, and which He Himself maintains throughout life, yea, into all eternity.
To speak of the covenant as an agreement between two parties is to undermine the foundation of the whole of salvation. It is a position that must carry one into the camp of the Baptists and into the Arminianism inherent in the Baptist views.