Consistorial Promotion of Christian Schools

Rev. denHartog is pastor of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Redlands, California.

“The consistories shall see to it that there are good Christian schools in which the parents have their children instructed according to the demands of the covenant.” 

Article 21 of the Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches

From the time of the Reformation, Reformed churches have been convinced of the urgency of promoting good Christian schools for the instruction of the covenant youth of the church. Faith in the truth of God’s covenant, according to which God gathers His church in the line of continued generations, convinced the earliest leaders of the Reformed churches of the great benefit such Christian schools serve for the future welfare of the church and the strength of her members. She was convinced that the church, even as institute, has a calling and obligation to promote such Christian schools. This conviction is expressed in Article 21 of the church order. The original form of this article had its birth already in the late 1500s. This conviction is further emphasized by one of the questions of Article 41 of the church order, in which each Consistory at classis meetings is asked whether “the poor and Christian Schools are cared for.”

Article21 as adopted by the great Synod of Dordt had a somewhat different form than the present article does. At that time it read, “Everywhere Consistories shall see to it, that there are good schoolmasters who shall not only instruct the children in reading, writing, languages and liberal arts, but likewise in godliness and in the Catechism.” The reason for this particular formulation had to do with the fact that at that time free parental Christian schools were not yet known. The state and the church were considered to be related in the matter of the education of children. The government of Holland was largely committed to the Reformed faith, and it promoted this faith also in the schools. The government used the Reformed churches to establish and promote and supervise its schools. The church could greatly influence the instruction given at the schools through the appointment and support of good school teachers. The church also gave catechism instruction in the schools.

Article 21 in its present form was first adopted by the Synod of Roseland in 1914. The change in the wording of this article is in accord with a recognition of the proper separation of church and state. It was carefully formulated to avoid the suggestion that the church as institute should involve itself in the actual establishing and governing of schools. Reformed churches do not support the idea of a church-run school. This is contrary to the teaching of Scripture, which makes the education of children the first responsibility of the parents. Secondly, the Reformed church does not believe that the instruction of children in reading, writing, math, sciences, the arts, etc. properly belongs to the calling which the Lord has given to the institute church. She must not entangle herself in these kinds of matters because her sole calling is to preach the Word, and thereby also to instruct and buildup the youth of the church to take their place as full members of the church in their later life. Catechetical instruction properly belongs to the ministry of the church. Preparing children and young people for their secular occupation in life does not belong to the task which the Lord has given to the church. This is the responsibility of parents. The Reformed Christian school is therefore a parental school, established by a society of parents and governed by this society.

There are however several reasons why the church must be greatly interested in promoting good Christian schools. Article 21 suggests that parents should consider the matter of good Christian schools as implied in the “demands of the covenant.” When we bring our children to be baptized we promise that we intend to “see these children, when come to years of discretion (whereof you are either parent or witness), instructed and brought up in the aforesaid doctrine, or help or cause them to be instructed therein, to the utmost of your power” (Form for Infant Baptism). The church has the calling to see to it that parents fulfill their covenantal obligation and keep the vows they made at the time of the baptism of their children.

Furthermore it is absolutely fundamental to the Reformed faith to understand that “all of life is religious.” Our religion is not something isolated to our worship of God on the Lord’s Day or to our involvement in the life of the church. The Reformed Christian must live his whole life, by the grace of God, from a Christian perspective, applying the principles of the Word of God to every area of life and living according to the doctrines taught by the church. When parents instruct their children they must inculcate this. This is very important. This must be one of the chief motives for Christian parents to establish Reformed Christian schools.

If at all possible we want to have our children instructed in schools where the instruction is permeated with biblical principles and perspectives. Not only that, we want the instruction to be distinctively Reformed, if at all possible. When we in our baptism vows promise to instruct our children in the “aforesaid doctrine” this doctrine is the doctrine of the Reformed faith as believed and preached and taught in our churches. Our doctrine will greatly influence the whole of our perspective on life. This is of course true because doctrine and life go together. Our doctrine will determine the perspective of instruction in our parental schools. The church is greatly interested in there being good schools where instruction is given that is in harmony with the Reformed doctrine taught in the church. The ideal that we must strive for is the so-called “triple alliance” in which church, home, and school are all laboring together for the glory of God, for the spiritual welfare of the children of God’s covenant, and for the promotion and defense of the Reformed faith which we love and which we believe to be in every point based on Gods Word. As a church we are greatly interested in having the youth of the covenant instructed also in the day school in such a way that their instruction helps to prepare them for their role as church members and for their calling as Reformed Christians in the midst of the world and in the kingdom of Christ.

The consistory, including the ministers, elders, and deacons, promote good Christian schools in several specific ways. First of all, of course, the minister of the Word is obligated by this article of the church order to emphasize the great importance of good Christian schools regularly in his preaching. He must by the power of the Word of God exhort Christian parents wherever possible to band together to establish good Christian schools. He must strongly exhort parents to send their children to such schools. The minister who regards Article 21 of the church order encourages existing Christian schools by frequently praying for them and for the teachers in these schools as he leads the congregation in prayer. The consistory fulfills this obligation by mentioning this matter on family visitation. The consistory must admonish parents who do not use good Christian schools when they are available. The consistory fulfills the demands of this article by encouraging serious Christian young people to consider teaching in a Christian school as a high and worthy occupation in the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. Consistories promote Christian schools by encouraging giving for the financial support of such schools. These schools are becoming increasingly expensive to operate. In many cases, especially the larger families have great difficulty in paying tuition bills. It is certainly proper that regular offerings for Christian schools be collected in the worship services. This is certainly a worthy cause. It is good to encourage those who are not parents to contribute also regularly to Christian schools – especially those who are grandparents. The latter is in harmony with what Psalm 78 states about the concern we should have, not only for our children, but even for our children’s children in the covenant of God.

The seriousness of the calling of consistories which Article 21 requires can hardly be over emphasized. Ours is a day of increasing ungodliness. This ungodliness is promoted by the wicked, humanistically oriented, ungodly schools of our land. It is certainly dangerous to send covenant children to such schools. These schools in their philosophy and perspective of education are under the dominion of the evil one. They are mighty instruments of the devil to influence the youth of the world and to seek to lead astray the members of the church of Christ.

It is not always possible in every case, because of various circumstances, for parents to establish a Christian school. Nevertheless, striving for this ideal certainly belongs to our calling to instruct our children in a godly way “to the utmost of our power.” Maintaining good Christian schools is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive. Doing this requires great sacrifices on the part of parents. It is contrary to the sinful nature of all of us to want to make such great sacrifices. The history of the establishing of our own Protestant Reformed Schools has been one which always involved great struggle. Opposition to our own schools has been great. Sometimes this opposition has come even from the members of our own churches. Consistories must labor towards unity of purpose among God’s people and to impress upon parents the urgency of their covenant calling.

In connection with Article 21 several questions have often arisen. The question has been asked: “Are parents who oppose Christian education for their children and refuse to send their children to available good Christian schools the proper object of church discipline?” As is the case with all questions of discipline, this must be carefully answered. Reformed churches are always careful about discipline. On the one hand, there may be legitimate special circumstances according to which parents decide not to send their children to a Christian school. There is an area where this whole matter must be left up to the conscience of God’s people as parents. As long as it is evident that such parents are seriously striving to the utmost of their power to nurture and admonish their children in the fear of the Lord they are of course not to be disciplined. However, carnal reasons for opposition to Christian schools may not be tolerated in the church. And there are of course many carnal reasons for being opposed to Christian schools. Parents who are evidently negligent in fulfilling the demands of the covenant and are careless about the instruction of their children are proper objects of church discipline.

It has also been asked in the past whether men who are opposed to Christian schools ought to be nominated for the special offices in the Reformed church. One who is openly opposed to Christian education obviously could not submit to Article 21 of the church order and ought not to be nominated.

Another question that has arisen often in our own churches in connection with Article 21 is whether this article implies the necessity of establishing our own Protestant Reformed Christian schools wherever possible rather than just using already existing Christian schools in the community. In harmony with what has been said about promising to instruct our children in the “aforesaid doctrine,” Article 21 does imply this. Again, it is not always possible everywhere for parents to establish our own Protestant Reformed schools. God in His providence rules over the circumstances which make this possible or not. Furthermore, when parents are diligent in fulfilling their covenant calling with respect to their children in areas where there are no Protestant Reformed schools, they can be confident that the Lord will preserve their children according to His will.

Already early in the history of our churches this whole question was debated. It was seen at that time already, for example, that the error of “common grace” had very serious implications for the instruction given in many of the existing Christian schools. It was recognized that this error in the philosophy of education and in the life-style promoted in those Christian schools was no minor, insignificant matter. This error was in large part the basis for a philosophy of education which borrows much from humanistic and worldly, supposedly great leaders in the philosophy of education, and seriously compromises the calling of Christians to live antithetically in every area of their life. History has proven that this error has had serious consequences for the direction in which many of these schools have gone.

When today we look at existing Christian schools in most communities, we see them being far from ideal as “good Christian schools.” Many of them are overrun with humanistic philosophy and even promote teachings such as the ungodly theory of evolution, feminism, laxity towards morality, and worldly entertainment among the youth. As the church world becomes more and more apostate in doctrine this is also reflected in the schools. This of course is to be expected; it could not be otherwise. As time goes on there is increasing urgency on the part of the parents of our churches to labor to “the utmost of their power” to establish Protestant Reformed Christian Schools. Article 21 of the church order obligates consistories to do all within their calling to encourage and promote Protestant Reformed Christian Schools.

Let me conclude with a personal note. For the first time in the history of our family, since we have come to Redlands to be pastor of the church we have the great privilege and blessing to send our children to one of our own schools. As a pastor I witness the tremendous blessing this school has been for our children and I can see the great impact it has had on the life and strength of the church. I for one am deeply grateful to those who have gone before and endured the struggles, suffered the hardships, and made the great sacrifices necessary to establish this Christian school.