(Speech delivered at the last consistorial league meeting).


I have been asked to introduce the following question: Do Lord’s Day 38 of our Heidelberg Catechism, Article 21 of our Church Order, and the Baptismal Pledge enjoin us to have schools of our own?

Two remarks of a general nature may serve to introduce my introduction.

First, I am not too concerned about the question whether or not these particular passages directly enjoin us to have our own Protestant Reformed Christian Schools. You understand, I am not indifferent toward the idea of our own schools. I believe we must develop our own educational system. I believe no Protestant Reformed parent may and will dare to oppose either the principle or its realization. I believe that without our own schools our churches are doomed. I agree fully with the opinion expressed recently by a minister of the Christian Reformed denomination. When asked, Do you think our Protestant Reformed Churches have a future? this leader replied: If they establish an educational system of their own, yes; otherwise, no. Still, I am not too excited about the question: Do these particular passages directly enjoin us to have our own schools? If the matter is indeed one of principle it must and does rest on much more than a few individual passages; it rests on truth and principle as a whole; it is based on the whole principle of Christian training, and the whole of our mandate as Christian parents to know God and teach Him to our children as He is, according to our faith in His revelation. For this reason, I hope and expect to discuss these passages dispassionately and in all fairness. I have no desire and will make no effort to make them say anything they really do not say. I do not feel that the matter of our own schools stands or falls with these places. Hence, let them say what they intend to say, no more, no less; and let the chips fall where they may.

Secondly, I would caution you: stick to your subject! The question is not: Do I or do I not desire Protestant Reformed Schools? Are they mandatory for us? Are they necessary? Shall we begin with a grammar school, or is it the better part of discretion to direct our attention toward the establishment of a high school first? How must we go about this thing? Shall it be now, or later; at once, or after further efforts toward reforming the present schools? Remember, this is not a propaganda meeting, designed to press a certain cause. This is a consistorial league meeting and the question to be discussed is: Do the above mentioned places enjoin us to have our own schools, yes or no?

What about Lord’s Day 38 of our Heidelberg Catechism?

The Lord’s Day in question reads as follows: “What doth God require in the Fourth Commandment? First, that the ministry of the gospel and the schools be maintained; and that I, especially on the sabbath, . . . .” Do these “schools”, for us who are Protestant Reformed, mean Protestant Reformed schools?

It is the Lord’s Day on the sabbath. To sabbath means to rest. God rested; we must rest. The implication is: we must rest God’s rest. Our lives must be patterned after the life of God. We must be busy eternally in the things of the Lord, in the glorification of His name and His work of redemption in the Lord Jesus Christ. That heavenly life takes on tangible form, in this spiritual work we are busy, the sabbath we remember and keep, especially in connection with the instituted church with its ministry of the Word and the sacraments. We need that church and that ministry of the Word. We need them to instruct us, admonish us, exhort and comfort us with respect to the things of God, the revelation of His Name and the work of salvation. In connection with this church and its ministry of the Word the “schools” are mentioned. We desire and need a well-trained ministry. This trained ministry is made possible by the schools.

From all this we may draw some definite conclusions:

1—The immediate reference is to those schools that are directly responsible for the training of the ministers of the Gospel, seminaries and all schools of theology. Ursinus, chief author of the Heidelberg Catechism, the late Dr. A. Kuyper and all expositors of the Catechism agree on this point.

2—However, this does not mean that we need or should exclude our other schools, elementary as well as secondary. All expositors of our Catechism agree on this also. Ursinus refers in this connection to these other schools and he calls them: “Planthoven der gemeente, waarin de jeugd niet alleen in het lezen en schrijven, of eenige andere eerlijke kunsten, maar voornamelijk in de kennis en vreeze van God, onderwezen moeten worden; opdat er altijd mogen zijn, die men tot den kerkendienst zal kunnen gebruiken.” Dr. Kuyper assumes a similar position. Says he: “Christian schools also have the purpose of preparing for the preaching of the Word. . . . This is impossible if children receive heathen education and hear another language only on Sunday. Children must always hear the same language. It should be clear to all, that I do not quote these lines to suggest that the education our children receive in the present schools is “heathen” education; I only wish to emphasize the principle that our children may not hear a different language during the week than they hear on Sunday. (R.V.) We need schools, also with a view to the ministry of the Word, where preachers learn to preach and listeners to listen.” Says Dr. B. Wielenga: “The church owes much to Christian Schools also with a view to its ministry. Support of the Christian schools is certainly our sabbath obligation”. For two reasons, therefore, Lord’s Day 38 may certainly be understood to refer, not only to our theological school, but to all our Christian schools. First, the training of our children as such belongs to the idea of the sabbath, the idea of entering into God’s rest and being busy in the spiritual things of the kingdom of God. Secondly, the Christian schools are definitely involved in the training of the ministry of the Word.

3—In the face of all this, the conclusion, with a view now to our subject, should seem forced to no one: a. That not only the seminaries, but all Christian schools are referred to in this Lord’s Day. b. That for our people this should mean, that not only the former but also the latter must be Protestant Reformed. Our children must enter into God’s rest and be trained to be busy in the things of God in the way, not of the lie, but of what we are deeply convinced is the way of truth. If, as the late Dr. Kuyper suggests, preachers learn to preach and listeners learn to listen in the Christian school (and this is a deep truth), we shall certainly have to have Protestant Reformed schools. A Protestant Reformed seminary on the foundation of Christian Reformed schools, Protestant Reformed preachers and listeners trained all their lives by ardent supporters of Christian Reformed churches and doctrine, is illogical and inconsistent, to say the least. On this basis the Protestant Reformed ministry of the gospel (and that is the specific point in this Lord’s Day) cannot and will not survive, any more than the Christian Reformed ministry of the gospel would survive if their preachers and their people were taught, year in and year out, by a staff of Protestant Reformed teachers. Even our opponents, I am confident, must see our point.

What about Article 21 of our Church Order?

Article 21, as we have it today, reads as follows: “The consistories shall see to it that there are good Christians schools in which the parents have their children instructed according to the demands of the covenant.” What is meant here by “good” Christian schools? What must we understand by “the demands of the covenant”? Does this article, then, enjoin us as Protestant Reformed parents to have our own schools?

This article has a history. Originally it read considerably different than it does today. Translated from the Dutch, the article, adopted in the year 1586, read as follows: “Everywhere Consistories shall see to it, that there are good schoolmasters who shall not only instruct the children in reading, writing, languages and the liberal arts, but likewise in godliness and in the Catechism.” (The translation is from “The Church Order Commentary” of Van Dellen and Monsma). The main difference between the original reading and the present version, therefore, is this: According to the original Consistories must see to it, that there are good teachers; according to the present reading, they must see to it that there are good schools.

At that time, almost four centuries ago, free, parental, Christian schools such as we have now, were unknown. All schools were owned, controlled, supported by the government. They were public schools. This does not imply, however, that they were neutral schools. Today “public” and “neutral” mean to be synonymous, because the government is no longer committed to any specific religion. In the days of our fathers this was quite different. The government, it is true, owned, controlled and supported the schools. The lines between state and church and home were not drawn as tightly as they are now. However, every government in Europe stood committed to some church, either Roman Catholic or Protestant. Such a government left the management, the supervision, the actual care of the schools to the churches to which they were committed. These churches saw to it that schools were established wherever they were needed. They appointed and examined the teachers; they watched over the instruction; and they took the necessary measures against such teachers as did not meet with the requirements of such a church. That made the schools, not neutral schools, but church schools in practice, wholly controlled and supervised by the church.

In the Netherlands the schools thus became Reformed Christian schools, though government sponsored. The Reformed faith was spreading rapidly about the time this article was written in its original form. The government stood committed to the Reformed churches; consequently it was to them that the management of these schools were entrusted. These churches saw to it, that the government established schools wherever needed; that teachers were appointed, who were members of a Reformed church, who professed the Reformed faith, who signed the Reformed confessions, who walked in a godly way and who knew and could teach the Heidelberg Catechism. The result was: Reformed schools. Our fathers were satisfied with nothing less. Hence, this article. “Everywhere Consistories shall see to it, that there are good schoolmasters, etc.” Yes, it was a matter of reforming the setup that prevailed at that time. But, theirs was not a hopeless attempt, like that of us who would reform the present schools. They were not content with having a Reformed teacher here and there. They reformed the schools from top to bottom and wanted only teachers committed to the Reformed truth.

About two score years ago this article was changed to read as it does today. The change was made for two reasons. There was the practical reason that the government withdrew more and more from the domain of the church and became neutral. Consequently, the church lost its grip on the school entirely. This necessitated an entirely new course of action. There were also the principal reasons, that the instruction of our children is not the work of the government at all; that also the church has not this task; that parents have the duty to instruct their children, and therefore to establish and support the schools. Hence, the present reading.

We should notice, however, that the fundamental principles involved have not changed. Our fathers of the 16th century saw, that the schools were of vital importance; that the welfare of the churches was wrapped up in that of the school; “that”, says Joh. Jansen, an authority on Church Order, “the seed of the Reformation would take no root, if the children continued to be instructed in the Catholic doctrine in school”; that everything, after all, depends on the school teachers who instruct our children. Consequently, they wrote the article as they did. They accommodated themselves to the conditions of their times. They needed no more to reach their immediate purpose. The later fathers saw, that the education of the child is the work of the parent, and that the teaching of the Catechism does not belong to the task of the school. Therefore, certain changes were called for. However, they also saw, as did the fathers ages ago, that the schools are of vital import; that the welfare and future of the church is bound up in that of the school; that, say Van Dellen and Monsma in their very helpful Church Order Commentary, “the church cannot tolerate, to see much of her teaching contradicted and silenced 5 days a week, year after year, in school,—in the formative years of life.” Hence, the article as it reads today, an improvement, to be sure, but no change fundamentally.

In view of all this the conclusion is not sought or forced: that this article does enjoin us to have our own schools. We adopted the Church Order with application to our own churches. To the Protestant Reformed man the Christian schools of today are not “good”. Any fair-minded individual will understand that. In the schools of today our parents cannot instruct their children “according to the demands of the covenant”. To our parents that should mean: “in the aforesaid doctrine.” If, somehow, the present schools can be made to serve this purpose, well and; good. If not, there is only one alternative. Schools are still of vital importance. The welfare and future of the church is still wrapped up in that of the school. If it is true “that the seed of the Reformation would take no root if the children continued to be instructed in the Catholic doctrine in school”, it is also true, that the seed of our Protestant Reformed doctrine will take no root as long as our children continue to be instructed in the Christian Reformed doctrine. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. To us, too, apply the words of Van Dellen and Monsma: “The church cannot tolerate to see much of her teaching contradicted and silenced 5 days a week, year after year, in school,—in the formative years of life.” That our teaching is contradicted in the present schools is obvious to all who are willing to see.

One need only to read the article carefully to be convinced: “The Consistories (our consistories, of course) shall see to it that there are good Christian schools, in which the parents (our parents, of course) have their children (our children, of course) instructed according to the demands of the covenant (Protestant Reformed doctrine, of course; not Christian Reformed)”.

Plainest of all is the Baptismal Pledge.

It reads as follows: “Whether you promise and intend to see these children, when come to the years of discretion, instructed and brought up in the aforesaid doctrine, or help or cause them to be instructed therein, to the utmost of your power? YES.”

There are many things here on which we must certainly agree and which we may regard as axiomatic as far as our discussion is concerned. Everything, it seems to me. We agree: 1. That “these children” refers to all our children; all who are born and baptized in our Protestant Reformed: churches. 2. That “the aforesaid doctrine”, in the mouth of a Protestant Reformed man, refers to the Protestant Reformed doctrine. “Aforesaid” here refers to the preceding question. There our form speaks of “the doctrine which is taught here in this Christian church”. That can mean only one thing. 3. That “instructed and brought up in the aforesaid doctrine refers not only to the indoctrination of our children in the narrower sense of the word, but also to their daily instruction in school. That has always been the position of the Reformed churches. 4. That “to the utmost of your power” means exactly that.

What is the only possible conclusion? We agree also, do we not? that the present schools do not fill the bill, for us. I know we agree on this. It cannot be denied. Our parents are not bringing up our children in the “doctrine which is taught here in this Christian church.” Nevertheless, this vow must be kept. True, the pledge does not mention schools at all. It says nothing about moral obligations, reforming the present schools, etc . Hence, if this vow can be kept and this purpose reached in any other way, well and good. But, if not, there is only one alternative: Schools of our own.

Certainly, looked at now solely from the viewpoint of principle, the thing is as plain as the sun in the heavens. The present schools cannot properly instruct our covenant seed. They cannot be made to do so for a thousand reasons. Christian Reformed boards and teachers simply cannot instruct, and cannot be expected to instruct, and cannot be made to instruct our children “in the aforesaid doctrine”. They themselves will corroborate this in no uncertain terms. Our children, from the viewpoint of our churches and our doctrine, are slowly but surely being weaned away. Our own schools is the only answer. Else, our churches are doomed, because we refuse to keep our pledge. Or should I say: our reluctance to want to keep our Baptismal Pledge is proof, that we are lost already?