When the men of De Afscheiding came to this country in the middle of the nineteenth century they confessed that one of the reasons for their coming was “That we may enjoy that great privilege of seeing our children instructed in Christian schools, a privilege that we lack here, since in the public schools a general moral instruction is given which may offend neither Jew nor Romanist, while free schools are barred.” (Pamplet; Landverhuizing, Brummelkamp en Van Raalte).
So there came to this country at least a nucleus of men who clearly saw that Christian Instruction was necessary. They had written it as their conviction that “Christian parents cannot answer for it that they have not the opportunity to have their children instructed according to their convictions, yes, every heart trembles when they take the baptismal vow because they swear falsely” (Gedenkboek, Vijftigjarig Jubileum, P. 6).
From which historical facts it seems to be evident that the men who landed on our shores in and around 1850 felt the necessity of positive Christian instruction and based the necessity for this also upon the promise they had given at Baptism that they would educate their children religiously.
But now one finds a very strange thing, and that is, that although these people purportedly came to these shores to find Christian instruction, yet one has to search the pages of history with a spot-light to find mention of any such schools existing. A careful study of history from about 1840 to about 1890 shows that very, very little came of any actual Christian school movement. It is true that in and about 1849 we find a report reading as follows: “Schools were erected but few in number.” And Dr. Wyckoff also reported that “the colony is paying as much attention as possible to schools and Christian education . . . . they have a Dutch school and an English one in the City and at Zeeland a Dutch School” (Yearbook, Chr. Sch. 1925-1926, P 81-82). Nevertheless in the year 1875 came this report, “Outside of Grand Rapids there are three places where Christian instruction is given, in Muskegon, Grand Haven and Kalamazoo.” A good twenty five years had passed and yet the matter of Christian instruction seems, to have been woefully neglected. A Christian school made its appearance in Grand Rapids in 1855-1856, in 1875 Williams St. school appeared. There were also churches here and there where the pastors gathered the children in the church building or in private houses and gave them instruction.
In De Wachter (1870) we hear the sigh, “How terrible and discouraging is the condition in America . . . . we feel painfully the serious want and unjustifiable neglect of our children” (Yearbook, 1925-1926, P. 86). An attempt was made at a school in Pella in 1861 but in 1867 it had ceased; to exist (The Christian Reformed Church, Beets, P. 139). And from 1849 on, for several years a school was maintained by Peter De Jong. But after all it remains a fact that the Christian school did not take hold in America until about a half century after the men of de Afscheiding landed here. It seems the Pioneers had either forgotten their high ideal or were content with something less than positive Christian education in the Christian school. The Pioneers for instance settled in Holland 1847-1850 yet the first officially established Christian school is 1902; in Pella they arrived in 1847 yet the school dates at that place from 1911. We could go on to show that almost one half century went by without an established Christian school, barring then the few exceptions which we mentioned above.
Now, what happened during that near-half-century? This article must be historical rather than an interpretation of tendencies, but it is a matter of history that during those fifty years two things happened:
First of all on April 7, 1894 (where seven members were present, alas) there was a discussion of the burning question, “Why is it that Christian instruction in this country does not make any progress?” And at that time there were three answers given. I shall quote just one at this time, and that was as follows: I quote again, “The ministers do not show enough interest” (Yearbook, 1925-1926, P. 92). In many cases there was even active opposition. These ministers, in turn, often reflected the sentiment of the consistories. It is. a matter of history, e.g. that in 1883 a certain Mr. Tuininga asked the church of Grand Haven to use the basement for the purpose of giving covenant education. It was denied him. We read further that attempts were made to interest the consistories of the 1st and 2nd Christian Reformed churches there, but these attempts met with the same failure. There were also ministers who were exceptions to these rules, there were some who championed the cause with might and main and we often read of ministers who dared the wrath of their consistories, even to such lengths that consistory members laid down their offices and families left the church. In Patterson, for instance, the minister, Rev. Van Vlaanderen had an elder say to him, “If you mention it again I will walk out.” And the Rev. answered him thus, “You are not brave enough to do that.” Later, as a consequence of this, we read that practically the entire consistory resigned.
From these things it is evident that it took much fighting of the good fight to establish Christian schools. A great many people in those days simply did not realize the necessity of Christian education, and neither did they want to pay the expense of such schools of their own.
But one cannot leave it there. We ask, how could it ever be that people did not realize the need of Christian schools? History bears me out when I say that many people at that time (as today also) thought that the public schools in this country weren’t so bad. Weren’t they neutral? And couldn’t the existing public schools be “christianized?” People were slow to detect what Mr. Hodge had said about the instruction in the public schools being anti-religious. Many people argued that a Christian home and a Christian church was enough. At public gatherings you might hear a speaker say “Let us do everything in our power to make the public schools Christian.” In De Wachter of Feb. 5, 1896 you may read an article saying, “Let us at least make an attempt to save the public school before establishing a separate school.”
But there were everywhere men who by the spoken and the written word fought on, insisting that “a christianized public school would never satisfy” and that a “public school cannot be made Christian” (Mr. Bennink).
Gradually we see the Christian school gaining foothold. Slowly on churches, pastors and consistories awoke to their high calling.
And thus the flourishing era of the Christian school period began. We find schools in Chicago since 1884, Patterson, N.J. since 1892. In Wisconsin, Sheboygan, 1898, Holland Michigan 1902. From there it travelled toward the regions beyond the Mississippi. Sioux Center being one of the first, 1903, Orange City 1904, Hull, 1909, Rock Valley 1911.
Today it numbers about one hundred schools in about eighteen states and Canada. It has grown into a mighty plant. We are in danger of becoming popular. It is a mighty plant, but there are signs of root disease, some branches bear no fruit and some bear bitter fruit of world conformity. Except we abide in the fundamentals of covenant, antithesis, and heavenly mindedness we make sad history today.