“Dear Professor Hoeksema:
“I am a student at Illiana Christian High School in Lansing, Illinois. I have a problem which disturbs me to a great extent, and it’s this: ‘Why is not doctrine taught in our Christian day schools?’ Or to rephrase the question, ‘Why do we not learn why we are Protestant Reformed essentially until after we are in the eighth grade or ninth grade or older, because it is when we get to high school that we really can use this knowledge?’ See, we go to a Christian Reformed High School, and we have confrontations every day and they ask us why we are separated from them. Now when some of us cannot answer clearly, or even not at all, it’s a shame. I don’t blame this on either church, school, or home. I think, however, because we have Old and New Testament History taught in catechism through the seventh grade, that it would, for those of us who have this problem of confronting Christian Reformed students, as we have here in South Holland, be wise, say, in the 8th to 9th grades to have for at least 6-9 weeks instruction on ‘Why Protestant Reformed?’ This would be very helpful for when we go to Illiana. So my question is essentially: why don’t we have any doctrine taught in our Christian day schools? Must we leave it all up to the church?
Yours very sincerely in Christ,
First of all, I want to state that I am very happy about this letter for more than one reason.
In the first place, I am happy because it shows an interest in our Standard Bearer on the part of a high school student. This is a good sign! And I sincerely hope that there are more of our Protestant Reformed high school students who have such an interest in The Standard Bearer, and who will also turn to The Standard Bearer with their questions and problems. I say this, not because The Standard Bearer is in any way in competition with Beacon Lights, but because I heartily believe that our young people certainly should include The Standard Bearer regularly in their reading.The Standard Bearer contains much that is beneficial and that ought to be of interest to our Protestant Reformed young people; and it is certainly within the bounds of their reading capacity. It may be true that you have to put on your “thinking-cap” to read and digest The Standard Bearer. But this is good! You had better don that “thinking-cap” and reap the benefits. For there is nothing more important than that covenant youth be thoroughly instructed and equipped to be distinctively Protestant Reformed.
In the second place, I am happy about this letter because it evinces an interest and a concern exactly about being distinctively Protestant Reformed, in knowing what being Protestant Reformed is all about, and in being able to explain and to defend that Protestant Reformed position. This, too, is good! It is a healthy and encouraging sign when this is the concern of a covenant young man or young woman. This is especially true in our day, when the tendency to minimize differences, or to ignore them, or to think that they are the concern only of older folk, and when the temptation to be a little more “liberal” and a little more loose, and a little less distinctive and strict, and to justify a less distinctive position by asking the question, “What’s wrong with it?” rather than, “What is right with it?”—when, I say, this tendency and this temptation are very strong. I love to hear that our young people are genuinely concerned to know why they are Protestant Reformed!
Hence, I am also happy to make a few suggestions in answer to the problem posed in the above letter.
My suggestions are the following:
1) It is not the business of our Christian day schools to teach doctrine as such. This is not to say that Protestant Reformed doctrine has no place in our Christian schools. It has a place, indeed. But that place is this, that the principles of Reformed doctrine—and to me, this means Protestant Reformed doctrine—underlie and undergird all the instruction in the various subjects which are taught in our Christian day schools. This means that there is no such thing as a “secular” subject. Instruction in doctrine as such, however, is the business of the pulpit and of the catechism room, and of the home. I may add, in this connection, that Young People’s Society is also an auxiliary means and opportunity for the study of doctrine.
2) I believe that instruction in Church History has a legitimate place in the curriculum of the school, particularly in junior and in senior high school. And I believe that in 8th and/or 9th grade it could be very beneficial to begin this instruction in Church History. Especially would I recommend this for those junior high students who do not have the advantage of attending a Protestant Reformed High School after graduation from 9th grade. I can see great benefit in a course in Church History which would concentrate on the history of the Reformed churches, going back to Reformation times, and which would lead up to and teach our Protestant Reformed Church history. There is ample source material for such a course; and particularly would I recommend the book, The History of the Protestant Reformed Churches, which covers our early history, from our origin up to about 1935. Naturally, such a course of study would involve one to an extent in the doctrinal issues which led to our origin. But the emphasis would be upon the history. In fact, I believe that as the third and fourth generations of our Protestant Reformed Churches grow up and take their place in the churches, there is a grave danger that a generation will arise that is not acquainted with that history, i.e., is not acquainted with the wonderful works of God in our Protestant Reformed past. And if that ever should be the case, it would be highly detrimental, if not fatal, for our Protestant Reformed cause!
3) I would not underestimate the proper place of the home and of personal reading and study in this regard. I have in mind in this connection questions and discussions which may arise in the course of family worship, and questions which may arise concerning our Protestant Reformed position which children and young people may bring to their parents, for example, in connection with something mentioned in Sunday’s sermons or which has been written. And I have in mind the ample supply of Protestant Reformed writings which are available, and much of which any student of high school age who is of average intelligence can certainly begin to read. I am referring not only to books and pamphlets and brochures which have to do specifically with the Three Points of 1924. These, too! By all means! But remember that our position is not merely a negative, anti-common grace position. It is also a positively Reformed position. And there is a wealth of material available in this regard. For example, any high schooler can read with much benefit a book like Behold, He Cometh. Bear in mind that in a book of this kind there is a positive and consistently Reformed line presented which is directly based upon and related to the Scriptures. There is a wealth of instruction here. The same is true, by the way, of the volumes on the Heidelberg Catechism which are currently being republished under the title, The Triple Knowledge. There is a wealth of material here which our young people can use for their personal and private enrichment, as well as for their preparation for catechism; and this material is entirely within the grasp of a high school student’s intelligence. You may have to put on your “thinking-cap,” I say once more. You may have to expend some effort. But what you can obtain without expending any effort is not worth obtaining!
4) In. the fourth place, I do not believe that it is entirely accurate to say that until the seventh grade your instruction is limited to Bible history. It is true, of course, that through the study of Old and New Testament History for Seniors in our catechism system, the instruction is oriented around Bible history. And there is sound reason for this. We must not merely know doctrine; and we certainly must not know doctrine divorced from the Scriptures. But we must be trained to understand that the Reformed position is indeed the truth of Holy Scripture; and we must be well-versed in Scripture above all. Now it is precisely the purpose of our Old and New Testament History for Seniors in catechism to give instruction in Bible history with the emphasis upon the meaning and thesignificance of that history, so that at the same time the instruction of these courses forms a transition to direct doctrinal instruction. As one example, let me refer to the book of Rev. J.A. Heys; a catechumen who receives that instruction will be pretty thoroughly instructed at the same time in the antithetical line of sin and grace, of the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman, as this line runs through the history of the old dispensation. Now that is Reformed!
Furthermore, under our system of catechetical training, when our young people become 13 and 14 years old (eighth and ninth graders), they receive instruction inThe Heidelberg Catechism for Junior Catechumens. In this course, there is offered instruction not merely in the positive Reformed line of the truth, following the order of our Catechism; but at the end of the aforementioned book there are two special lessons which are of great importance. Lesson 29 is about the Protestant Reformed Churches and their origin; and Lesson 30 is about our Reformed Standards. If this book is taught, and if these lessons are taught—and I personally, when I used to teach catechism, more than once took time out to give a few extra weeks attention to these lessons—then our young people will certainly have been instructed in the rudiments of “Why Protestant Reformed?” before they get to high school.
6) Finally, I would strongly advise—and I would expect—that our Protestant Reformed covenant youth pay increasingly careful and discerning attention, as they grow up, to the instruction of the preaching of the Word—preaching of the Word which I would expect will be not only positive but also antithetical, warning against the errors of false doctrine and emphasizing our specific Protestant Reformed position.
In the light of all the above, I can see no reason why a high school student cannot be well equipped and instructed to face confrontations outside our churches when the occasion arises.
Provided, I say again, that the student is interested and is willing to put on his “thinking-cap.”
Once again, young friend, thanks for your letter. And, call again!