When, in this article, I speak of Christian education in our country, I refer especially to such education as is taught, not in our churches or even in the Reformed Churches in general, but by far the majority of the large denominations outside of our churches.
We have, first of all, the systematic religious education conducted by the church officially in our catechism classes which all the children of the church and also our young people before they make public confession of their faith are obliged to attend. In these catechism classes they are not merely instructed in some general knowledge of the Bible but are also indoctrinated in the Reformed faith.
Besides, we have our Christian day schools, in which all the instruction is, or is supposed to be, based on Christian principles.
But in by far the majority of the American Churches this instruction of the children and young people is left to the Sunday school.
What kind of instruction is offered in the Sunday school?
This question is answered by David W. Baker in an article that appeared in Christianity Today of Feb. 29, 1960.
The author is an ordained minister in the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. He reveals rather astounding facts concerning this instruction in the Sunday schools of America.
First of all the Rev. Baker informs us that there are two types of lessons used by the Sunday schools: Uniform and Graded lessons.
As to the first, the Uniform Lessons, he informs that they are designed to give “consideration of some aspect of the life or teaching of Jesus and some challenge to the Christian way of life.” He also expresses his opinion that it is “amazing how little of the total content of the Bible is studied during the entire course of two or three cycles; also which doctrinal passages are dealt with, and which are omitted.” This last is not surprising in view of the fact the lessons are chiefly designed to consider “some aspect of the life or teaching of Jesus.”
He then informs us that there are different Graded Lessons. One series of lessons is produced by the Methodist Church. It contains a study for the Adult Bible course on the book of Romans. Of this the author remarks that it is not altogether satisfactory because “it leans heavily on liberal commentaries, and too easily espouses the views of critical scholarship.” Another example of graded lessons is a book for three-year-old children. This book, according to the author, may or “could be used equally well in anypublic school, or in any private nursery school enrolling Unitarians, Jews, and Moslems!”
The author then discusses the theological principles which the lessons are supposed to embody and which reflect the views of the National Council of Churches. He quotes from an article that appeared in theInternational Journal of Religious Education which is the official organ of the Division of Christian Education of the NCC (National Council of Churches). The article discusses the subject of the Word of God, and this especially from the viewpoint of authority. He writes, and now I quote from the article in Christianity Today:
“Where does the Christian go for authority? Does he simply consult his own experience to discover his relation with God and God’s activity in life? Does he accept the dogmatic interpretations of an infallible Pope? Or does he find authority in an infallible Scripture? In wrestling with this question theologians have rediscovered the Protestant concept of the ‘Word of God.’ God’s Word is neither an infallible book or Pope, nor individual experience. It is God’s action in human life, revealed partly in human experience and fully in Jesus Christ. The Bible has authority insofar as through it God’s living Word is spoken to men. The Church has authority only as it speaks God’s Word . . . According to this view, the Bible is a book which historical criticism must analyze. It witnesses of the fact that ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself.’ The Christian is not bound to particular words as God’s Word. The Bible is not simply history, but the record of God’s mighty action in history . . . God speaks his living Word through the Bible and the Church . . . The authority of the Bible rests in neither words nor creeds, but in their witness to the mighty act of God in Christ.”
Poor Sunday school pupils that are taught such a mixture of Barthian-modernistic-orthodox theological principles! The Bible is not infallible. It is not the Word of God. It has no authority except in so far as the living Word of God speaks through it! And who determines whether the “living Word of God” speaks through it in any particular moment or by any particular passage of the Scriptures? The inevitable answer is, of course: Man. There is no authority except the authority of Man who hears the living Word of God. And, of course, that living Word of God Man does not only and not necessarily hear in a certain portion of the Bible, but he may hear it just as well, say, in Shakespeare’s Macbeth or in some other writing. Once more I say: poor scholars that are taught on the basis of such vague and good-for-nothing conglomeration of so-called theological principles!
But there is more. But this must wait till our next issue.
We are writing on the covenant between God and His people in Christ Jesus as one of the most important elements of the Protestant Reformed faith.
We repudiated the idea that the covenant consists of an agreement between God as the first party and man as the second.
We also repudiated the notion that the covenant is essentially a conditional promise.
And at the close of my last article we expressed the idea that Adam stood indeed in covenant relation to God in virtue of his being created in the image of God but, at the same time, we rejected the notion of a covenant of works.
The essence of the covenant relation is, according to our conception, a bond of friendship.
This, we remarked in our last article, is based on Scripture. This we will now demonstrate.
First of all, then, we must once more refer to Adam in the state of righteousness. We read that he was created in the image of God: “And God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness . . . So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him.” Gen. 1:26-27. That image of God which as we know from Scripture consists in true knowledge of God, righteousness, and holiness, is, on the part of man, the basis of the covenant relationship. For on the basis of this image of God he knew God and had covenant fellowship with Him. Moreover, we read that, as His image-bearer, God gave him dominion over all things in the earthly creation: “and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” Gen. 1:26. And again: “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”Gen. 1:28. In other words, Adam as he was created in or after the image of God, and as he stood in covenant fellowship with Him, was also God’s king-servant. Indeed, Adam was a glorious creature, far more glorious than we can even imagine. If we do note that after his fall, according to our Netherland Confession, “he lost all his excellent gifts, which he had received from God, and only retained a few remains thereof,” and if then we see how that fallen man still reveals his power in the accursed creation, how wonderful and glorious Adam must have been in the state of righteousness!
But this in passing.
Certain it is that Adam, as he was originally created, was the friend-servant-king of God.
Besides, we read of the saints that they walked with God, an expression that denotes intimate fellowship and friendship with God. Thus we read of Enoch: “And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years, and begat sons and daughters . . . .And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.” Gen. 5:22, Gen. 5:24. The same we read of Noah: “These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God.” Again, we read that they talked with God which is another manifestation of covenant fellowship. God revealed His counsel unto them hid nothing from them: “And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying, And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you.” Gen. 9:8-9. And in Gen. 18:16ff. we read: “And the men rose up from thence, and looked toward Sodom: and Abraham went with them to bring them on the way. And the Lord said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do; Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I know him, that he shall command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.” And thereupon the Lord revealed to Abraham all that was in his heart concerning Sodom and Gomorrah. After this Abraham, as he was walking with God also talked with Him and made intercessory plea for the righteous that might still be in those cities.
Moreover, Abraham is called the friend of God: “But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend.” Isa. 41:8. And again: “And the Scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God and it was imputed to him for righteousness, and he was called the friend of God.”Jas. 2:23.
Again, this idea of the covenant was symbolically expressed in tabernacle and temple: God dwelling with His people under one roof.
Also, it is well-known that again and again the marriage relation, that most intimate of all human relationships, is presented as a figure of the covenant of God with His people, and that violation of the covenant is called adultery.
In Psalm 25:14 this idea of the covenant is almost literally expressed: “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he will show them his covenant.” Here the Hebrew word for “secrets” may be translated by friendship or by intimacy or familiar intercourse so that we may read: God realizes His covenant with those that fear Him by drawing them into familiar intercourse with Him.
Frequently we read in Scripture that God dwells in and with His people. In that sublime prayer of the Lord that is found in John 17 we read the well-known words: “I in them, and thou in me, that they may be perfect in one.” And in II Cor. 6:16 we read: “I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”