Church and School

When we speak of the school, we mean the existing Christian Schools, or more specifically, our own, Prot. Ref. Schools. And when we speak of the church we have in mind the local congregations with their consistories, as their families are represented in the school. We could express it this way, what is the relation between the church as institute and the Christian School at any given place? 

This problem is more complex and more important today than would appear on the surface. 

As you can readily see, there are many questions involved. Such as, should our schools be church schools or private schools? Is it better to speak of parochial schools or parental schools? Do the church and the school each have a different creed? Does the church have control of the school, does it have supervision over the school, or does it merely give the school its moral and financial support? Or again, do they exist as independent units, or should there be some cooperation between them? 


Let me state the problem once more. There can be no doubt about it but that there is a very intimate relationship between the church and school as far as constituency is concerned. The members of the church send their children to the school. The children of the church are instructed in the school. Members of the church serve on the school board, and are teachers of the school. In one word, the church as organism expresses itself also in the school. There is therefore also a close relationship between the function and purpose of the church and school. The church trains the child with the emphasis on doctrine with a view to confession of faith as a member of the church in full communion, while the school instructs the child with doctrine as a basis for all its training, but with a view to the place that the child shall take in secular life. The two are very closely related, since, as we all maintain, God establishes His covenant with His people in the line of continued generations. The covenant of God is realized in the church and is the basis for all real Christian instruction. 

But that makes the problem the more acute. Since the same members of the church make up the church as institute and the organization of the Christian School, what is the relation of the institute, or let us say, of the consistory of the church to the school? 

As you may know, there is an article on this subject in the Church Order. I am referring to article 21. 

What you may not know, and what may also surprise you, is the fact that this article read quite differently in its original form as it was adopted by the Synod of Dordt, 1618-19. At that time the article read: “The consistories shall see to it that there are good school teachers, who not only teach the children reading, writing, languages and free arts, but also instruct them in godliness and in the Catechism” 

That is strong language. The consistories must see to it that there are school teachers. They must appoint school teachers. And good school teachers at that. Moreover, these teachers must instruct in the subjects commonly taught in the elementary grades, but also “in godliness and in the Heidelberg Catechism.” That would seem to place the school under the direct authority of the church and commit to the school the instruction that rightfully belongs to the church. In one word, that sounds very much like a church school. 

But in order to understand this article we must know something about the history. At the time of the Reformation, the schools were controlled by the government, but the Catholics had charge of appointing the teachers from each parish or district. The schools were Catholic public schools. Since the Reformed fathers objected to submitting their children to this Romish yoke, they made the rule that wherever possible good teachers should be appointed. By this they meant that consistories should see to it that teachers of Reformed persuasion were placed in the schools. They sought to establish Reformed public schools. The Synod of Dordt even expressed that the Heid. Catechism should be taught in the home, in the school, and in the church. Teachers should be sound in doctrine, pious in their walk, ready and willing to sign the confessions. Ministers and elders should regularly visit the schools and have supervision over them. Thus for many years the schools were government controlled, but under the supervision of the local church. 

In the early part of the 19th century, the government of the Netherlands introduced the idea of neutrality in the schools, insisting that no specific doctrines might be taught there. As a result, Christian Schools came into existence as independent schools, or private schools. And because of the past position of the church that the schools should be under her supervision, the Christian Schools actually became church schools or parochial schools. That was the idea carried over by the early immigrants who established the Christian schools in our own country. 

It was mainly through the influence of Dr. A. Kuyper that this situation was changed. As you know, Dr. Kuyper was a strong proponent for “sphere sovereignty” as applied to home, school, church, and state. He maintained, and a correctly so, that every sphere has its own authority, and that authority must be limited to its own sphere. It is not the calling of the state to prepare and control the instruction of the child, since to the state God has entrusted only the sword power to maintain law and order. Nor is it the calling of the church to provide for the secular education of the child, since to the church are entrusted the keys of the kingdom, the preaching of the word, the sacraments and Christian discipline over its members. But to the parents is entrusted the sole responsibility of the instruction of the child, particularly in secular matters, so that the school is nothing more than an extension of the home. 

It is hardly necessary for us to prove this position from the Scriptures. That was the command of God to Israel both in Deut. 4:9, 10 and Deut. 6:7, 20, that parents must diligently teach their children the word and commandments of the Lord. Also in the New Testament, particularly in Eph. 6:4 and Col. 3:20, 21 parents are instructed to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. 

According to this principle, Christian School societies were organized for the establishment and supervision of Christian schools. In 1914, article 21 of the Church Order was revised to read: “The consistories shall see to sit that there are good Christian Schools in which the parents have their children instructed according to the demands of the covenant.” You will notice that in this revision the word “school teachers” was changed to “schools.” The consistories shall see to it that there are good Christian schools. Moreover, the idea is introduced that the instruction of the children is the obligation of the parents, not of the state or the church. And finally, nothing is said about instruction in piety and in the Heidelberg Catechism, but simply that all the instruction shall be according to the demands of the covenant. 

With that I think we can all agree. Church and school have a separate existence, are a separate domain, and the one should not intrude upon the authority or domain of the other. 


Yet this by no means dissolves our problem. In fact, in many ways it only accentuates it. The question still remains, what responsibility does the church have to the school, and what responsibility does the school have to the church? The answer to that question has actually divided the church into two separate camps today. 

There are those who maintain that the church must maintain supervision over the school and the school must recognize the authority of the church. They argue: (1) That the church is the pillar and ground of truth and is therefore the only competent judge of Christian education. (2) The members of the church are also the parents in the school society, pupils in the school, teachers or principals or board members. The vow that was made at baptism was made before the church. And therefore the church is responsible to see to it that they all live up to that vow. (3) The church supports the school and must therefore insist that this money be used for the purpose for which it was given. How this should be carried out is often left to local circumstances, but I shall return to that later. 

On the other hand, there are those who defend an absolute Separation of church and school, so that the one is entirely independent from the other. They insist: (1) That Also others than those of Reformed persuasion can be members of the school society and of the Board, can instruct and be instructed in the Christian Schools. (2) That the Bible and the Three Forms of Unity are sufficient basis for the church, but they are not sufficient basis for a Christian School. The school should be based on Scripture, but should also not hesitate to base its instruction on the findings of science and the philosophy as developed by the great thinkers of every age. The creeds of the school should also recognize the science of pedagogy, etc. The church should give the Christian Schools their moral and financial support, but as for the rest should allow them to be free and independent. Those who take this position appeal to the fact that our schools are parental schools, or private schools and they are ready to accuse those who take another position as being guilty of defending the old error of church schools. They insist that it is not the calling of the school to help any particular denomination to grow and remain healthy, but rather to instruct the child with a view to the position he must hold in the midst of this world. The final outcome must be that the school will be Christian only in name. 

Now I am sure that we agree with the first group rather than with the second. Rather than to maintain that church and school are entirely independent from each other, we would hold that there is a mutual responsibility of the one to the other. 

The church certainly does have a responsibility to the School. Even our Church Order states that the consistories must see to it that there are Christian schools. And not only that, but also that there, are good Christian schools. This is also to be understood. Life is a unit. We may not make the false distinction between the spiritual and the secular, as if the church is only interested in the life of its members in the church, and not in their daily walk. At the time of Confession of Faith as well as at baptism the members of the church confess to believe and promise to maintain the doctrine as taught in this Christian church. The church is therefore also interested in having its members live up to that vow. 

And, likewise, the school is responsible to the church. There may be no conflict between the instruction of the church and the instruction of the school. The parents have vowed that they will maintain the doctrine of the church, and they must certainly do that in the instruction of their children. The teachers have vowed to maintain that doctrine, and they are also duty bound to do so in their instruction. No compromise is possible in the sphere of education, no more than in any other sphere of life. Therefore we are certainly correct in insisting on having Protestant Reformed education for our children. And both church and school must insist on that. That is their mutual responsibility to each other. 


From this follows, that to carry this out requires a necessary cooperation between the church and the school. 

As far as the church is concerned, she must insist on solid covenant training for the children of her membership. 

She can do that in various ways, but always through the parents. She may never impose her authoritydirectly upon the school. Thus, for example, the church must emphasize the necessity of sound covenant training in the prayers and sermons from the pulpit. Consistories can also stress this matter on family visitation by a more personal discussion with the parents. If necessary, the consistories can encourage meetings where these matters are discussed, and where efforts are put forth to establish schools or improve existing schools. It may even be a good idea that members of the consistory are also members of the school board, or that a committee from the consistory pay a friendly visit to the school at regular intervals. And, of course, the consistories must give the school their complete moral and financial support. 

As far as the school is concerned, she also must cooperate with the church in every way possible. The school board may not be lax in supplying the school with teachers who are sound in doctrine and upright in walk. Especially in our day the school board must insist that the teachers are not given to the evolutionistic theory of long periods of creation or of an old world. Those responsible for the instruction of the covenant seed must hire only those teachers who believe implicitly in the infallibility of the Scriptures, who know and love the truth of God’s sovereign grace, and who adorn sound doctrine with a godly walk. I need only mention that instruction in Bible history is good, but is not enough. All the subjects that are taught must be taught according to the truth of Scripture. 

The closer the cooperation between the church and the school the better it will be for our Christian homes. There, too, unity and harmony are maintained only by a basic unity between the church and the school. The closer the harmony between the church and the school the better it will be for our churches. The future of the church depends upon a united front against the onslaughts of error. The children who are being instructed today are the parents of tomorrow. 

And, last but not least, the closer the unity between church and school the better it is for the school itself. A school founded upon the truth of Scripture cannot go wrong in the instruction of the covenant seed. God commends His blessing there.