When one writes an essay on the subject “Doctrinal Instruction and the Christian School” one will undoubtedly be guided by his conception of the main and fundamental purpose of the Christian School. You must have definite convictions on questions such as these: “Is the Christian School an extension of the home or is it an extension of the Church? Does the School find its origin in nature or in grace? Is the School earthly or is it heavenly? Does it deal directly and principally with matters spiritual or temporal? Is it a God appointed institution or is it an institution of man?” etc. On the other hand it seems to me that it would make considerable difference whether a Roman Catholic, a Lutheran, or a Reformed man would write on the above subject. We all know that both the Roman Catholics and the Lutherans are strongly in favor of parochial schools. But then such parochial schools are really extensions of their own churches and confined to a particular parish. It seems to be the contention of the Roman Catholics and the orthodox Lutherans that the School is first of all the business of the Church. If their contention is correct it stands to reason that the School should be sponsored, guided, controlled by the Church. Then the Church is really duty bound to give the children their elementary training. And the parents who are members of such a Church are duty bound to send their children to such a Church-school.
There are also people, even many that call themselves Reformed, who claim that the elementary education is first of all a matter of the State. Consequently they have their children instructed in the Public School. I add immediately however that the conception that the State must instruct our children is not at all Reformed. True, the State certainly is interested in its citizens and cannot very well condone illiteracy of its citizens. Hence, it stands to reason that the State should by all means encourage, even demand that our children receive elementary training. But it does not at all follow from the foregoing that it is directly the business of the State to educate its citizens.
But how about the Church then? Quite often one comes into contact with Reformed people, including some Prot. Ref. people, who would favor a Church-school. It stands to reason if we had a Church-school the Church would say to its members: “You must send your children to our School”. In other words it would become compulsory for the children of the Church to attend such a Church-school. And to be negligent in this respect would make the parents immediately subject to discipline. For then School attendance and Catechism attendance would be on the same level. I have heard more than once from some of our own people that they would look upon such system as a happy solution to the whole School problem. It is said: let us put the practical difficulties out of the way, make Church-schools, and make it compulsory for our people to send their children to our own Schools. In that way, it is said, we play safe. Usually they add: “In our own Schools our children could and should be indoctrinated in the Prot. Ref. doctrine.” And I agree that if Church-schools is the ideal thing by all means let the School indoctrinate our children. However, things are not as simple as they may seem at first glance. To mention one thing, if we want to be consistent a Church-school certainly should by all means use instructors that are office-bearers. Consequently, out go all our girls, and out go most of our men teachers. Hence, from a practical point of view it is well-nigh impossible to have a School that is in every respect a Church-school.
However, there is still more, the idea of a Church-school is fundamentally and principally wrong. We all agree of course that there exists and should exist a close relation between Home, Church and School training. It is even so that the training by the Home, Church and School is overlapping in some respects. But it is equally true that the School is not an extension of the Church but of the Home. The School does not find its origin in grace but in nature. The aim of the Church is that its members, young and old, grow in the knowledge and grace of Christ, the principle aim of the School is to prepare our children for their place in this earthly, temporal life. The Church aims at the world that is to come, the School prepares the children first of all for their place in this world and for the various spheres of life in this present world.
For all the above mentioned reasons we cannot favor a Church-school. Of course it stands to reason that the Church is vitally interested in the elementary education of its covenant children, but that does not mean that this is the task of the Church. And I am positive that even the only Prot. Ref. School which we have in our denomination is in that sense of the word not a Church-school. The idea of a Church- school may sound to be a happy solution to our Christian School problem, but it is fundamentally wrong, it is not at all Reformed but it is essentially Roman Catholicism. The School is the extension of the home. And it is the calling of the home, of the parents, to prepare their children for their future life in this world. And to that end they make use of the means of the School to help them in their task. The School is a practical necessity. Today we cannot do without it. But the parents should sponsor the School, control the School, in other words it is their School. And this Reformed principle we must maintain.
Naturally, the parents will by all means endeavor to send their children to such a School which can be of the greatest assistance to them to train and educate their children. That’s why Reformed parents who fully understand their covenant obligation toward their children will send their children to a School that is based upon the principles of the Reformed faith. And the purpose is not to have their children instructed in the Reformed doctrine, that is the special prerogative of the Church, but to have their children instructed by teachers that have a Reformed world and life-view. From the foregoing it also follows of necessity that we must come to the conclusion that doctrinal instruction is not the business of the Christian School The Church teaches doctrine, and although the School teaches Biblical history, the subject of Reformed doctrine has no place on the curriculum of the School. Doctrine is and must be taught our children by the Church and thru the office. You may never make of the Christian School a broader Catechism class. This is a point well to remember, particularly for us Prot. Ref. people. At present, and I am sure also for the future, most of our people will have to send their children to a Christian School which is predominantly Christian Reformed. However, we should insist that also in our present Christian Schools no doctrine shall be taught.
But let no one draw the wrong conclusion. All the foregoing does not mean that the teaching in our Christian Schools has nothing to do with doctrine. It most certainly has. The teaching of the various subjects is based upon doctrine. The School must and does apply the principles of doctrine. If this were not so our Christian Schools would be of no use whatever. Christian education is not colorless and tasteless, without form and lines and principles, but it is rooted in the fear of the Lord. And the spiritual quality of your teaching depends upon the doctrinal conceptions and convictions of the teacher. A Reformed teacher will base his teaching in every branch of study upon the Reformed doctrine. And this of course will have tremendous consequences for his teaching, it will color it. As the humanist and the evolutionist in the Public School necessarily teaches everything in the light of his philosophy, so the Reformed teacher teaches every branch of study in the light of his Reformed principles and convictions. After all doctrine, false or true, determines the religious character of all the instruction, of the life and the discipline in the School.
Therefore, what we need in our present day Christian Schools is not more teaching of doctrine or the introduction of the subject doctrine on the curriculum. But what we need is Reformed people who are Reformed to the core, Reformed in conviction, understanding, loving and living the Reformed truth. That is first of all really the backbone of a good Christian School. It would be better of course to speak of “Reformed School.” Water does not rise higher than its source, therefore the spiritual quality of a Christian School cannot in the final analysis be any better than the parents who support and control it.
In the second place we need men and women that are thoroughly trained in the Reformed doctrine, that love the Reformed doctrine and are able to base their teaching upon the Reformed truth.
Naturally we all realize that we are far away from this ideal. And it is also a fact that we need more Reformed people and more Reformed teachers if we are ever even remotely to approach the ideal.
In closing let me say that to my mind we should encourage our children, who have the ability and the inclination, to study for the teaching profession. Not for the money that is in it, but for principles sake. A thorough Reformed teacher is privileged to implant abiding principles into the hearts and minds of our covenant children.
Finally, in view of the foregoing I would strongly encourage our young people who study for the teaching profession, or who perhaps are teaching at present, to see to it that they thoroughly master the Reformed doctrine. This could be done perhaps by following special doctrinal course in our Pre-seminary School. I am sure that they would be more than welcome, and special arrangements could be made for this purpose. After all the Prot. Ref. conception of the truth is truly Reformed.
Therefore, we conclude that the ideal Christian School is based upon the foundation of the Reformed doctrine, although the School itself does not teach doctrine as a subject.