The members of the Protestant Reformed Churches place a very high value on the covenantal instruction of their children. Each year the members of these churches bring up well over ten million dollars to maintain the four high schools and the thirteen grade schools. That huge sum will pay for the utilities, the teacher salaries, the books and supplies that are required to run the schools for one year. This figure does not include a building payment or building remodeling projects that any given school is financing. Simply the running of the schools for one year. That is a sobering reality. Year after year, God has provided the employment, the income, and above all, the willing hearts to enable these schools to continue.
The bulk of this money comes from hard-working parents. Parents have the primary responsibility for the schools’ financial support because the Christian schools of Reformed persuasion are parental schools. These are schools established by parents. These schools are governed by parents, and they are maintained by the parents.
This is right and proper because the responsibility for the rearing of children lies squarely upon the believing parents. At the baptism of their children, believers promise to see to it that their children are instructed and brought up in the Reformed faith, or help or cause them to be instructed, to the utmost of their power (the third question of the form for the administration of infant baptism). This is in harmony with the Lord’s demands laid specifically upon the individual parent in such passages as: “And thou shalt teach them diligently to thy children….” (Notice the singular pronouns thou and thy.) And in the New Testament nothing changes, as the father is admonished to bring up his children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” ( ).
Whenever possible, parents band together to get assistance in this divine calling to instruct their children. They form a school society and elect a school board to oversee the school for the parents. Upon these parents lies the responsibility to finance and govern the school.
These schools are covenantal in essence. For God establishes His covenant with believers and their seed in their generations. Obviously believers have much interest in the covenant seed in subsequent generations. The Bible often speaks of the believers’ children and their children’s children. Parents have an intense desire to instruct their children in the fear of the Lord so that they will, in turn, teach their children in the same way. This is the expressed desire of the inspired psalmist, who promises, “We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done” (). The psalmist goes on to show that this desire is also an obligation. For God “established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children” (5, 6). And the highly desirable goal: “That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (7).
Due both to this demand of God and the earnest desire of godly parents, school societies include more than parents. Their membership always includes men whose children have already gone through the school. Many of them are grandfathers. The membership includes also uncles and unmarried men young and old. It is very good for the school that its governing includes the wisdom of grandparents both in the society and on the school board.
For the same reasons (God’s demand, and the godly desire) the financial support of the school is borne by more than parents. Deficit drives, church collections, and many voluntary contributions from grandparents, uncles and aunts, single believers young and old contribute significantly to the financial basis that gives the Christian school the money needed every year to fulfill its high calling.
The astute reader will notice that the financial basis of the Christian school does not include government money or church contributions. This we will address later.
The arrangement described is familiar to most of us. It is the way Christian schools in the Reformed branch of the church have operated all our lives. It might be good to realize that this is a relatively new arrangement, something that began to develop in the Reformed churches in the Netherlands about 140 years ago. In the Christian Reformed Church in America, from the beginning of her history, the Christian schools were consistory-governed and the church officially determined the budget and contributed money to the school. About 120 years ago the shift began to society-governed schools. By 1914 the transformation was officially recognized in the change of Church Order Article 21. Formerly it read: “Consistories shall see to it that there are good schoolmasters….” That indicates the consistory’s rule in the school. The new reading was: “Consistories shall see to it that there are good Christian schools in which the parents shall have their children instructed, according to the demands of the covenant.” The new reading clearly indicates that parents, not consistories, have the responsibility to establish and maintain the schools.
But what about Christian schools before the CRC, in the history of the Reformation?
Luther strongly supported Christian schools for the children. In the Middle Ages (prior to the Reformation) most schools were found in the monasteries or in the cathedrals. With the coming of the Reformation, that changed drastically in the lands where the Reformation overthrew the domination of Roman Catholicism. The monasteries closed, and the schools with them. Cathedrals were closed or converted to Lutheran churches. The result: no money for schools, very few teachers, and no existing structure for Christian schools for the children.
Luther’s response was twofold. First, he taught the people that the responsibility for the education of their children rested on the parents. He used every opportunity to remind parents in the most emphatic way of their calling before God. Second, he wrote a lengthy treatise to the German nobility, the magistrates in the Lutheran territories, demonstrating that they would need to establish and finance Christian schools. The people, largely uneducated, could not begin to know how to organize or run a school. And, being extremely poor, they could not pay for such schools. The only hope was that the Christian magistrates would do it for the poor, uneducated parents. Thus it was that the schools were essentially public schools, established by the Christian magistrates on behalf of the people.
Calvin found a similar situation in Geneva. Under Roman Catholicism, the schools had been the domain of the church. With the Reformation coming to Geneva, that changed. Calvin, like Luther, emphasized that the responsibility for educating children lay on the parents. Yet, the magistrates had to be involved if schools would be available to the parents. Accordingly, the magistrates of Geneva maintained control of the schools, financing them and requiring that parents send their children. The church would find the teachers (approved by the magistrates) and determine the content of the instruction.
The Netherlands followed the model of Calvin in Geneva. The schools in the Netherlands had been Roman Catholic institutions. The government more or less gave the schools to the Reformed churches. The understanding was that the churches would appoint the teachers and determine the content of the instruction. The government paid the teachers.
Accordingly, the Synod of Dordt in 1618-’19 adopted several provisions regarding the instruction of the youth. First, the synod insisted on the principle of parental responsibility:
The office of parents is diligently to instruct their children and their whole household in the principles of the Christian religion, in a manner adapted to their respective capacities; earnestly and carefully to admonish them to the cultivation of true piety; to engage their punctual attendance on family worship, and take them with them to the hearing of the Word of God.
Second, the synod called upon the government to establish schools throughout the Netherlands:
Schools, in which the young shall be properly instructed in the principles of Christian doctrine, shall be instituted not only in cities, but also in towns and country places where heretofore none have existed. The Christian magistracy shall be requested that well-qualified persons may be employed and enabled to devote themselves to the service; and especially that the children of the poor may be gratuitously instructed, and not be excluded from the benefit of the schools.
Third, the supervision of the schools and the instruction was placed under the consistory:
[It is]…the duty of the ministers, with an elder, and, if necessary, with a magistrate, to visit all the schools…frequently, in order to excite the teachers to earnest diligence, to encourage and counsel them in the duty of catechising, and to furnish an example by questioning them, addressing them in a friendly and affectionate manner, and exciting them to early piety and diligence.
This arrangement worked for a time. The government was friendly to the Reformed churches. The churches were faithful to the Reformed faith. Parents could send their children to the schools knowing they would be instructed in harmony with the Reformed truth.
But over time, all that changed. The churches apostatized. The government did not remain friendly to the Reformed faith, or even to Christianity. And the schools necessarily changed with them.
Reformed parents learned the hard way, that Christian schools were not to be left to the magistrates, nor to the church. Rather, in harmony with the principle that the instruction of the covenant children rests on the parents, so also must the schools be established, maintained, and financed, by the parents. Not the church. And not the government. This history teaches us.
… to be continued.