The contention of those that oppose the movement to establish our own schools is that such a movement is morally wrong, as long as we have not done all that is in our power to keep and support and improve the existing schools. In other words, they claim that we are morally obliged: 1. To join an existing school society, and to support an existing Christian school, wherever there is one; 2. To remain member of that society, and continue to support that existing school, even in cases where it is possible and preferable to organize a separate society; 3. To continue to send our children to that school, even though we know that they do not receive the education they should receive, and though it is possible to provide for them the education that is in harmony with our own convictions.
Now, I have never read or heard any sound argument in support of this contention. As far as I know it is a mere contention. We are simply told that this is our moral obligation, but on what basis this obligation rests, by what principles it is motivated, or by what moral standards or rules it is governed, has never been demonstrated. And I am afraid that, if the brethren that make this contention, would attempt to prove it, they would discover that this would be quite impossible.
That a man has a moral obligation in respect to a society of which he is a member, and as long as he is a member of it, we all grant. His obligation rests in his membership. But that he must remain a member of such a society, even if he can serve more effectively the cause represented by that society by establishing a separate society,—that would seem incapable of being proved. And we deny it most emphatically.
That Christian parents are morally obligated to provide a Christian school education for their children, and, therefore, to work to the utmost of their power for the cause of Christian instruction, may be taken for granted among us. But that parents are morally obliged to support and further this cause only through concrete, existing societies and schools, even when they can more effectively advance this cause by organizing their own schools,—that has never been demonstrated and is incapable of proof.
Suppose that in a certain place the only existing school was Lutheran. And suppose that in the same place there were a small number of Reformed families, too small to establish their own Christian school.
Suppose further for the time being these Reformed parents sent their children to this Lutheran school, in order to provide for them a Christian education “to the utmost of their power.” And, finally, suppose that this number of Reformed families gradually increased, and became strong enough to organize their own society. Would they now be morally obliged to continue to send their children to the Lutheran school, and make the best of it?
You say, perhaps, that this is different, because we have no parochial or denominational, but free Christian schools.
Nominally this is true; actually however, the existing schools are Christian Reformed, even though they are supported by societies. They are entirely controlled by the Christian Reformed Church, and based on Christian Reformed principles. Where do the Protestant Reformed people have any influence, except in as far as they can let their voice be heard in a few local societies? The Union of Christian Schools is wholly controlled by Christian Reformed leaders; the Christian Home and School Magazine is a Christian Reformed publication; and, last but not least, the normal training of prospective teachers is furnished by a department of Calvin, and is, therefore, officially under the control of the Christian Reformed Church. And what is a school really but a staff of teachers?
Do not misunderstand me. I do not blame the Christian Reformed people for making their school education conform to their own convictions. I merely state a fact, and a very patent one. And I claim that their principles are not ours, and that, although I believe that our parents should send their children to the existing Christian schools where there is no other possibility, rather than send them to the public schools, that they cannot possibly have the moral obligation to do so wherever they are strong enough to establish their own schools, and to educate their children in harmony with their own convictions. On the contrary, I maintain that it is their sacred obligation to take the latter course, wherever possible.
And I am sure that no Christian Reformed man or group can blame us for taking this course.
We do not even have to point to certain evils existing in the Christian schools as we know them, as if they must be the reason why we should organize our own movement. This has been done too much, I think, with the result that the main issue has been lost sight of. If the situation were such that we could work on a common basis, and were fundamentally agreed as to what our children should be taught, but that, in spite of this fundamental agreement there were certain evils to be fought and removed, I would agree that we must attempt our utmost to remove these evils.
But this is not the case.
There is a fundamental difference between the Christian Reformed and the Protestant Reformed Churches since 1924, and this fundamental difference, as officially expressed in the “Three Points,” profoundly affects the education in the schools. And this is the reason why we should have our own schools wherever possible, in order that our children may be “brought up in the aforesaid doctrine,” and that we may cause or help them to be brought up in that doctrine to the utmost of our power.
But let us try to analyze this question of our moral obligation a little more in detail.
It may not be superfluous first of all to ask the general question: what is meant by moral obligation, and what is our moral obligation in regard to the education of our children in the schools?
Surely, it must be agreed that moral obligation consists in obedience to the will of God both in respect to our relation to Him, and to our relation to our fellowmen. If one talks to me about my moral obligation in a certain case, he must be able to point out to me that what he considers my moral obligation is the will of God. If he cannot do this, he should refrain from insisting on it.
Now, with respect to education, what is the primary relation in which the will of God must be known and obeyed, and concerning which we may, therefore, speak of moral obligation?
The answer is plain: it is the relation of parents to their children.
Education is the duty of the parents.
On this we are all agreed.
And the moral obligation of the parents is rather clearly expressed in: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord. And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when hou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.”
One dare not say that this injunction was given to Israel of the old dispensation, and that it concerned the Old Testament law.
For the very form of this injunction is such that it applies to the people of God of all times. Still the Lord our God is one Lord, and still it is our “part” of the covenant of God to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our mind, and with all our soul, and with all our power. And, therefore, it is still our moral obligation as parents to teach these words to our children, when we sit in our house, or walk by the way, when we lie down, and when we rise up.
Besides this is the same injunction as comes to parents in the New Testament: “bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord”.
This is the moral obligation of which we are reminded in the Form for the Administration of Baptism. There, too, we are reminded that our “part” in the covenant is “that we cleave to this one God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost; that we trust in him, and ‘love him with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our mind, and with all our strength; that we forsake the world, crucify our old nature, and walk in a new and holy life.”
And we are made to assume this moral obligation with respect to the education of our children, when we are required to answer affirmatively two questions. The first is this: “Whether you acknowledge the doctrine which is contained in the Old and New Testament, and in the articles of the Christian faith, and which is taught here in this Christian Church, to be the true and perfect doctrine of salvation?” And the second 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?”
Don’t overlook that little but significant phrase: “here in this Christian Church,” in the first of these two questions. Our fathers inserted that phrase quite intentionally. In fact, in the past there has been a rather heated controversy about these words, and repeated attempts were made, either to eliminate them, or to ascribe to them a meaning different from their intended significance. But in spite of it all they were retained.
And they mean just what they state.
When in a Protestant Reformed Church a child is baptized, the whole congregation confesses, and the parents of the children that are presented for baptism expressly state, that they believe the doctrine of the Protestant Reformed Churches to be the true and perfect doctrine of salvation.
And it is in that connection that the second of these two questions must be read: the parents, in answering this question affirmatively, promise that they will bring up their children in the “aforesaid,” that is, in the Protestant Reformed, doctrine, and that they will help or cause them to be instructed in that doctrine to the utmost of their power!
This, then, is our primary and most sacred moral obligation with respect to the education of our children.
On this we are all agreed.
And as we speak of our moral obligation to the existing schools, this primary and basic obligation must constantly be borne in mind.
How this basic obligation affects the particular question we are discussing, we hope to consider in another article, D.V.