In his editorial entitled “Creeds, the Believer, and the Sufficiency of the Scriptures” (the Standard Bearer, February 15, 2009), the Rev. Kenneth Koole takes aim at what he calls “independentism.” What comes under his fire, specifically, is an “independentism that smacks of individualism, which individualism, in the end, borders on an autonomy of self.”
Included in the range of the Rev.’s editorial gun is homeschooling. It is “the simple fact,” according to the Rev. Koole, that not all, but “much of what belongs to the homeschooling movement today is infected with this same spirit.” “The spirit of individualism,” we are told, “is the driving force behind the movement itself.”
Due to the fact that “homeschooling” is indeed, as the Rev. Koole notes, “a sensitive subject in our own circles,” and because of the seriousness of the Rev.’s charge, it is reasonable and fair to request some explanation.
*Are homeschoolers themselves the problem? Is it clearly evident that homeschoolers are, by and large, self-seeking independentists who have no regard for the rest of the body of Christ?
*Or is home schooling itself the problem? Is the veryidea of home education opposed to the cause of a community of believers who are concerned for the nurture and edification, not only of a few, and not only of a few families, but of that large and glorious “family” that is the body of Christ?
*Or are both the problem—homeschoolers and homeschooling?
Just what is the Rev. saying?
Most importantly importantly, what do the Scriptures say? From God’s all-sufficient Word, and from any creed of the church that might give insight into what the Scriptures have to say about homeschooling, we believers wait to hear.
Rev. Mitchell Dick
First of all, we find it a bit strange that one who knows where the SB over the years has stood in promoting the establishment of good Christian schools (presenting it always as a calling laid upon covenantally-minded parents) would take exception to our referring to the home-school movement as being shot through with the spirit of independentism.
This is the movement’s history to begin with. Its beginnings did not originate with professing Christians but with unbelievers with an anti-government bent. They wanted nothing to do with the government setting the standards and requirements for education of its citizens. Nor were their children going to be taught to pledge allegiance to a flag that symbolized what they basically despised.
Sadly, this same spirit carried over into much of the religious side of the movement, as more and more became disenchanted with and disturbed by what was being taught in the public schools. We experienced this firsthand a few years back in our church extension work. Families that had fled another state attended the services for a time. They were evading truant officers as they insisted on their constitutional right to educate their children at home without having to register with the state. They confessed the Reformed religion, but it soon became evident that their homeschooling convictions tied in with a number of other issues, such as refusing to have social security numbers, as well as to pay taxes (all business transactions were in cash). When questioned about this troubling disregard for lawful authorities, they informed us of the large network of like-minded supporters they had nationwide.
That this virus of independentism moving in the direction of autonomy (suspicious of any and all outside their own home or not of their mentality) is loose in the movement simply cannot be denied. But even where this radical spirit does not rule, one will still find an anabaptistic spirit governing many in the movement.
And second, I carefully distinguished between the spirit of individualism characterizing much of themovement and putting all homeschoolers in that category, which you note, and then ignore.
Thirdly, though the questions you raise are really extraneous to the point made in our SB article, your letter gives us opportunity to address the issue of homeschooling, lest there be any misunderstanding where we stand on this matter.
Evidently you would like to read my reference to the home-school movement as a reference to all who homeschool, and therefore as an indictment of all who decide to educate their children at home. This is not what we wrote, nor is it our conviction. There are any number who educate their children at home who are not infected with the spirit of independentism. We do not dispute that. Nor will we allow you to place upon us that mantle. There are God-fearing parents who, in our judgment, are in a position where they have little option if they are going to protect their children from unbiblical, anti-Christian education and counteract the world’s influence. They are going to have to separate their children from untrustworthy teachers and from children who for the most part are devoid of the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, and they will have to educate their children as much as they can and as well as they can on their own.
Placed in a situation where I had little option, I would most likely have homeschooled my children too (or looked for like-minded believers who had the same concern, with whom perhaps my wife and I could share the burden and demands of homeschooling). No little enterprise, I am sure.
I am well aware that there are some saints in Wingham, ON, Canada as well as in Redlands, CA (with high-school-age children) who are faced exactly with what I am talking about, and are doing just that.
I say, God bless them in their joint education labors in their homes.
If you think I am being facetious, you are wrong.
If I were their pastor I would be praying mightily in congregational prayer for these ‘homeschooling’ mothers who have the heavy, daily burden of formaleducation added to their already demanding calling of having to provide everything for their children’s physical well-being and biblical instruction as well, praying that they might not become exhausted in this additional burden placed on them. Such a mother, while teaching three or four children, might have to go through the rigors of child-bearing, as well as having to nurse a little one, while trying to tend to the formal education both of grade-school and perhaps also of high-school-age children. No small matter. That I know. I can understand why some, before good Christian schools were established, if they had a little wealth, would bring in a tutor or two, so that the mother could tend to the little ones who were not ready for school, little ones who really require nearly undivided attention early on. Surely, the more that little ones have the mother’s undivided attention in these pre-school years, the better for their development. I cannot imagine there can be more than one school of thought on that!
But now we come to the crux of the issue in our circles these days. Though extraneous to the SBarticle that is the object of Rev. Dick’s questions, we address it nevertheless in the interests of the explanation requested. The crux of the issue, we say, is that where good Christian schools have been established by God-fearing, like-minded Reformed believers, and where trustworthy teachers have been hired, there is an option that would present itself for believing parents. With this option, I would not need to harbor those great fears and suspicions that would compel me to consider homeschooling. I could freely send my children to such schools, knowing that if undue worldly threats were to surface in that school, or sinful behavior (which almost certainly is going to happen with our spiritually immature children), those other believing parents, whom I consider my brothers and sisters in Christ, would have the same concerns that my wife and I have, and they would, therefore, also work to resist and oppose those worldly threats. To be sure, some with greater and some with lesser zeal, but how is that any different from what each of us finds in his own beloved congregation?
Surely if such an option presented itself (all these co-laborers interested in the same goal that I have in educating our children), one would be foolish to go it alone.
Or would you not agree?
The question arises, if I do not make use of those schools where the Holy Spirit dwells in little sinner-saints being slowly sanctified, what is the option? This? The children of the parents who belong to the same family and household of faith that I do may very well be interacting together on one playground—but mine are in my backyard, with a strong fence between the two. How that would show that I view these other spiritual sons and daughters of Abraham (filled with the beginnings of the life of Christ’s Spirit) as belonging essentially to the samehome and family as my children do, I fail to see.
Well, for the sake of argument, let us say that you hesitate to agree to all the above.
Then I would have you consider this—why would one, living in a community of like-minded believers, that is, with good, Bible-believing sons and daughters of Father Abraham (of my own spiritualfamily, mind you, who struggle with the same sins and spiritual weaknesses that I do, looking to the same Elder Brother for His Spirit day by day), I say, why would one hesitate to join with these other God-fearing parents to make use of believing teachers who are ready to use the gifts given them of God Himself and developed through focused study, and not send his children to them?
I believe it was no less an educator than Dr. Luther who stated that such teachers were worth their weight in gold. Almost as much as that of a minister, if memory serves me right. No, I am not making that up. I recollect quite clearly, that Luther said that if he could not have been a minister of the gospel, he would have wanted to have been a God-fearing school teacher, so useful are such persons to the kingdom of God. But then the thought crosses my mind: Of what service would Luther as a teacher have been, if no believing parents really cared to send their children to him and others of his caliber?
Quite a missed opportunity and waste of gifts given by God, I would say.
But I am convinced that this matter of our making use of the good Christian schools that the consistory itself wholeheartedly approves of and promotes rests on more than that it has these dedicated and God-fearing teachers to whom we can entrust our children (or at least we should, it seems to me: they come from our own congregations after all).
Still, I suppose there might be, on the rare occasion, a couple so gifted and educated that there is not a subject in the whole curriculum that they could not themselves teach as well or better than those hired to do so for them. For the sake of argument we grant it the possibility. Why, then, send their children to the good Christian school to grow up with the children of the church of Christ, children related to Christ by inner birth, when they can do just as good a job, or maybe even better, instructing their children at home in the various subject matters?
Let me put my answer in the form of a question. Are we to suppose that the Lord gave us our children, with their gifts and personalities and His Spirit as well, in order that we might withhold them from the rest of the members, thus preventing them from adding to the lives of those other elect seed what would otherwise come to those other children from your and my homes though our children?
As officebearer to officebearer, I would especially ask that question of ourselves (pastors and elders). For officebearers ought to be the most spiritually mature, and thus their homes should exert the greatest positive influence on those schools and the seed of the covenant in them. If those schools need the involvement of any believers’ homes, it would be those of the officebearers first of all. This will be for the greatest good of the very families of one’s own congregation who use those schools.
You mention an interest in hearing what the Reformed confessions have to say about this issue. Article 21 of the Church Order comes to mind. True, the Church Order is called a minor confession, to distinguish it (and some others) from the Three Forms of Unity, but it is a confession for all of that, based on principles that are lifted out of the Scriptures, as those scriptural principles are brought to bear on the church’s life in that society in which she happens to find herself at the time. Our perspective towards the wisdom of the Church Order for our churches found in North America in the twenty-first century is nicely described in the Ministerial Certificate of Dismissal and Testimonial (a document, as you know, that follows a minister from Classis to Classis). The pertinent phrase speaks of the recommended minister faithfully “adhering in doctrine and life to the Word of God, as interpreted by our Forms of Unity and the Church Order” (emphasis ours—kk).
So, as an officebearer of the PRC, this is what I have subscribed to—that what one finds in Article 21 of the Church Order is a faithful interpretation and application of the Word of God as applied to our churches in our present society and circumstances. As long as the article remains unchanged, that is what I intend to promote without apology. I am called to. Besides, it is based on covenantal wisdom.
You inquire about scriptural basis? Take those texts that speak of parents called to bring their children up in the fear of the Lord, and add to them those that urge believers, and heads of homes in the covenantal community in particular, to do those things that edify (build up the church) and enhance the unity of life of the members of Christ’s church as the family of God, and you are well on the way to an understanding of the Scriptures that lie behind the Reformed and covenantal wisdom of Article 21 of the Church Order.
The unity of life of which the Scriptures speak (and which they call us to foster and nurture with zeal) is not simply unity in church on Sunday, but unity in the whole of our lives together as the new, redeemed humanity. And I say without apology that good Christian schools (starting with our own) are not only a wonderful expression of that unity and the Spirit who ties its members together, but they are also a powerful tool to begin to nurture that unity of life and walk of our children from early on. I want my children and grandchildren growing up with the other sons and daughters of Abraham as much as possible, not differentiated from them.
Such instruction, carried out properly and prayerfully, can only be for the well-being of the church herself (having to do with nurturing her organic life and unity), since she is made up of the very families and homes using those schools.
In light of the above, surely no Reformed man should take umbrage with a statement that indicates that much of the home-school movement is shot through with individualism. Much of it knows very little of the covenantal and organic view of things.
—Rev. Kenneth Koole