Previous article in this series: March 1, 2014, p. 245.
Churches of the Reformation have been zealous for Christian schools, endorsing, promoting, preaching, supporting them in any way possible. Those churches also steadfastly insisted that Christian schools are the responsibility of parents. This was the oft repeated teaching of Luther, Calvin, Knox, and the churches in the Netherlands. However, circumstances necessitated that the state be heavily involved in financing the schools, and that the churches supervise the teachers and their instruction. That was the pattern established in Luther’s Germany, in Calvin’s Geneva, in Scotland, and in the Netherlands.
History demonstrated that these relationships of the Christian school to the church and the state were improper. Over time in the Netherlands, the church apostatized from the Reformed faith and injected corrupt doctrines in the schools. And the government, no longer friendly to the Reformed faith, imposed its antichristian philosophies on the instruction. Led by Abraham Kuyper, among others, Reformed parents came to understand that they needed to provide the support of the Christian schools as well as oversee them. This was accomplished through the establishment of Christian school societies. This movement spread to the Christian Reformed Church in America and her schools.
This is a fundamental principle of covenantal, Christian schools, namely, that God lays upon the parents the responsibility to raise their children. The Christian school follows directly from that responsibility. If believing parents today do not see their Christian school as their responsibility, they will not have these schools for long.
This principle of parental responsibility includes various aspects. It demands involvement in the schools from all the parents. Fathers lead the way with attendance at society meetings; willingness to serve on the board if asked; willingness to volunteer in fix-up/clean-up activities; and even attendance at parent-teacher conferences.
This editorial focuses upon one particular aspect, namely, the parental responsibility to support the school financially. Parents who understand their responsibility in this regard will make tuition payments a top priority in their budget. They will see to it that they have money set aside for the deficit collections and building drives. These monies for financing the Christian school will come before vacations, restaurants, cars, new furniture, or smart phones.
The fruit of exactly that priority rating has been the establishing and maintaining of Protestant Reformed Christian schools for well over sixty years.
I know that from personal experience that extends to my childhood. Our family did not go on many vacations, and they were largely the one-day trip variety. Eating in a restaurant was a rare treat indeed. That did not bother me, partly because most of my friends and relatives lived the same way. School tuition (as well as the church budget) came before vacations and “eating out.”
Today, it seems, it is a different story. These days a sizable number of families have the wherewithal to take lengthy trips to faraway places. Christmas vacation and spring break produce a steady stream of Protestant Reformed families heading to warmer climes. Nowadays, many fathers seem to believe that a spendy vacation is their right, and their responsibility is to insure that their children get a top-notch vacation, like “everyone” else.
But the focus must not be merely on vacations. How easily we convince ourselves that we “need” cable television, “need” cell phones, perhaps even with Internet connection, “need” whatever can make our life easier or more enjoyable or our home more beautiful, without regard to the monthly drain on the bank account, or the rising credit-card debt.
Do we recognize that such spending contributes mightily to difficulties in paying tuition, or the inability to give generously to school collections? All this applies not only to parents, but to the older generation, whose support for the schools is crucial. Our lifestyle will determine much about whether the schools have the necessary funds to continue their significant work.
The history of the Christian schools is that there have always been parents who were behind in tuition, some due to poverty, others due to poor priorities. If we parents do not see financing our schools as our responsibility, and make that a top priority, we will lose our schools.
In that connection, another danger that looms is that parents become willing to accept government aid for our schools. Once again, the history of the church and the history of Christian schools provide guidance and a strong warning.
Let us return for a moment to the Netherlands. Dr. Abraham Kuyper led the fight for government funding of the Christian schools. His argument seemed airtight. It is unfair, he rightly insisted, that Christians through their taxes finance the government schools—buildings, books and supplies, teachers’ salaries, and then those same Christians must also spend large amounts of money to pay for their Christian schools. His solution was that the government set aside money for the Christian schools. His program prevailed in the Netherlands, so that by 1889 the government was paying one third of the expenses of the Christian schools. In 1917 the law granted 100% support for these schools.
There is a good deal of irony in this. First, Abraham Kuyper developed the concept of sphere sovereignty. He divided various areas of life on earth into different spheres. One central facet of this was that the school is a separate sphere from both the government and the church. Thus neither state nor church should govern schools, but parents must. On that basis he opened the Free University—a school free from government or church control. And yet he would bring the school back into the sphere of the state for the sake of money, which led eventually to subordination of parental control to the government’s, as we will demonstrate.
Second, Kuyper was a strong proponent of the antithesis between faith and unbelief. He also insisted that Christian education be thoroughly biblical and thus Reformed. As he took on this political cause, he was joined by another political power who liked the idea of government money for their schools. That was the Roman Catholic Church. Abraham Kuyper welcomed this ally, and formed a coalition that led to his becoming the prime minister of the Netherlands. So much for the antithesis.
Perhaps Abraham Kuyper believed his concept of sphere sovereignty was able to hold off government control of the Christian schools. Of course, it was not. Writing in the 1940s on education in the Netherlands, a certain Bernard H.M. Vlekke notes that by his time the government had full control of the Christian schools. He adds very matter-of-factly, “It is reasonable enough that there should be government control of the educational structure, because almost all expenses of private and public schools are paid out of public funds.”1
Read that again, carefully. That is the conclusion of anyone who evaluates the matter objectively. If the government pays, it is “reasonable enough that there should be government control.” Accepting government money will lead to government demands on, and eventually full control of, the Christian schools.
But perhaps one imagines that the Christian school can take government funding as long as there are no strings attached—no restrictions on how to spend the money, or demands on curriculum changes. Not so. The history of the government’s dealing in the US is that once a school has taken money from the government, it has placed itself under obligation to adhere to government policies. 2
Yet, there is another issue, namely, that by accepting government money, parents have relinquished that full and complete responsibility that rests on them—they are willing to share it. And history demonstrates these parents will eventually surrender the whole financial load, and indeed the schools. A bit of relief from the heavy load of tuition in the form of government aid is addictive. It also saps the will to put the schools at the top of the list. Why give up vacation, a car, a new appliance, for the sake of tuition, if you need not do so?
This is the sad history of the Christian schools in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. These schools, built and maintained by Christian Reformed members under the conviction that the covenant gave them this responsibility, began to accept government aid. Eventually it came to the point that the parents gave their schools, lock, stock, and barrel, to the government. There are government schools in Edmonton where a form of Christianity is allowed, for now. But “it is reasonable enough that there should be government control of the educational structure, because almost all expenses of private and public schools are paid out of public funds.”
What of the future of the Protestant Reformed schools, the schools that require over ten million dollars to maintain annually? We must consciously recommit ourselves to the calling to support these schools. We must, as parents, acknowledge our primary responsibility to pay for these schools.
There is more. We must recognize the tremendous privilege to finance the Christian schools. What a privilege to have a school that is an extension of our home! What a blessing to have a teacher who confesses the same Reformed faith guide our children! What a benefit that we have teachers who devote their lives to growing and developing in their ability to teach our children in the best possible way! How can we thank God enough for covenantal instruction that sets forth Christ in every subject? If you have some doubts about that, talk to members of a smaller Protestant Reformed congregation who do not have their own school. Ask our missionaries. Inquire of our sister churches, some of whom are so burdened with taxes to support their socialized medicine that a Christian school seems simply out of reach.
Maintaining these schools will require sacrificial giving. Some of our families are already there. They will forgo vacations, restaurants, and many conveniences in their homes. Dad will work extra hours. Stretched past the limit, they will seek help for their daily need from the office of mercy.
Most of us, however, want all the niceties of life, and the ability to pay for the schools with relative ease. For the great majority of us, that is not reality.
Christians can expect that it will only become more difficult to maintain their schools. Expect more government demands, more attempts to control the teaching. And expect less and less disposable income. If financing our schools is not a top priority, they will collapse under the weight of unpaid tuition and failed deficit collections.
How could we, in good conscience, possibly allow our schools to be threatened by such a collapse, while insisting on a comfortable lifestyle?
Thanks be to God, who not only provides our daily bread, but also makes His people willing to seek the kingdom of heaven first.
1 The Netherlands, Bartholomew Landheer, editor. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1943, p. 236.
2 At least two incidents of this have been documented in the Standard Bearer. See “Parental Schools—How Long Yet?” (vol. 52, pp. 896-7) and “The Revolt Grows” (vol. 54, pp. 330-1), both by Rev. G. VanBaren, Many more articles in the SB have warned against Christian schools accepting government aid. Some thirty-seven articles are listed in the SB index under “Government Aid to Education.”