Who asks this question? Your pastor never asks you the above question in singular form. He may not ask whether he may help train your child in the fear of the Lord. It is his God-given calling to do so, and he may not even give you the opportunity to answer this question. He may not leave the impression with you that you as a covenant parent have the right at all to refuse to allow him to help you train your child in the fear of the Lord. He must rather admonish you and remind you that it is your God-given calling and duty to send your children to him in catechism and to bring them with you to the services upon the Lord’s Day. He is failing in his calling to instruct you in the fear of the Lord if he fails to demand your child’s faithful church and catechetical attendance.
Nor is the above question to be found in the mouth of the school teacher. Not only is she hired by you for the purpose of finishing the work you with your limited time and abilities cannot complete, but the State sees to it that she need not beg for a class of pupils to train. Education up to various ages is compulsory in every state in the union, if I am not misinformed.
There is, however, another sphere wherein the above question, “May we help train your child?” is asked. It is asked by those who are not officially hired, called or ordained to the training of God’s covenant youth in His fear but who nevertheless desire to do this and find joy in doing so. It is the Sunday School teacher who asks this question. He is not called by God to this work in the sense that officially through the church institute God demands this work of him. He has therefore no right to demand that you allow him to help you train your child in the fear of the Lord. But he may ask you to give him the privilege of teaching your child God’s fear.
There is still another way in which we are instructed in His fear which is not official and yet which is valuable and blessed by God. We are thinking of the societies in the organism of the church wherein the Word of God is studied and our spiritual knowledge is advanced. We might even add a third way, namely: such means as the Standard Bearer and other religious papers and books which are not the official proclamation of the truth and yet help to train us in the fear of the Lord. However, in this and the five subsequent installments to appear in this rubric, “In His Fear” we intend to write on these first two means of training in the fear of the Lord which though unofficial are valuable and very really serve the purpose of working in us the fear of the Lord. In recent essays in this rubric “In His Fear”, both by the undersigned and others, the home, the school, and the church instruction in the fear of the Lord has been treated. We have deemed it fitting therefore now to explore this other realm of training and instruction wherein in an unofficial capacity the man of God is led into the fear of the Lord deeper and more deeply. We begin in this installment then to consider the Sunday School. And it is the Sunday School teacher we have in mind when we ask the question, “May we help train your child?” He may not ask you that personally by a visit to your home. But he does ask this question in a general way every time his class meets on the Lord’s Day.
The Propriety of this question. Among reformed churches the Sunday School has had a rather fluctuating career. At first it was very generally frowned upon and refused a place in the church life of its members. There are still today churches who do frown upon it and forbid its introduction. There are also good reasons of the fear which has prompted such a stand, for in many churches today the Sunday School has been raised even above the level of the official preaching of the Word of God by His ordained servants. Of course, even if the Sunday School teacher is an ordained Minister of the Word, His instruction here in the Sunday School class is still not to be classed with the official proclamation of the truth before the congregation in the presence of the consistory. Be that as it may, recently I heard someone state over the radio that the future of the church depends upon the Sunday School today. Against this dangerous notion the church should stand guard. But that does not condemn the movement as such. Simply because some misuse the Sunday School and exalt it above the office that Christ has instituted and through which He exercises the keys of the kingdom of heaven it does not mean that there can be no good in the Sunday School. We believe that it should be given a place and then be supervised carefully by the consistory. We believe that the consistory may allow the Sunday School teacher to ask by the conducting of his class each Lord’s Day, “May we train your child?” If the Sunday School presently displaces the official training in the preaching of the Word and catechetical instruction, it is not due to the fact that the Sunday School itself is so sinful but that the consistory has not performed its work of supervision as it should have been done.
There is indeed today that other side of this fluctuating career of the Sunday School in reformed churches that its place in the church is far too great. It has assumed more than it has the right to enjoy. It forgets that it must ask the question, “May we help train your child”, and instead it demands the child or even introduces carnal entertainments and practices to get your child to come.
To condemn the Sunday School simply because it is unofficial instruction in the fear of the Lord we certainly should not do, and that we do is very inconsistent. Which parent who refuses to send his child to Sunday School simply because it is not official instruction deprives his child of reading any Christian story books? They are by no means official means to instruct us in the fear of the Lord. And what then of the children’s Bible story books written by laymen? They are not official means of instruction in God’s fear either. We give these to our children as gifts. But let us be consistent.
There is another argument which is far more weighty, which however does not condemn the Sunday School and show that it is wrong to allow Sunday Schools to exist in our churches but rather shows us that if not properly supervised it can become dangerous and even sinful. The argument is that having a Sunday School threatens to displace the catechism class, as we suggested above. Parents do sometimes have the opinion that if they send their child to Sunday School they need not send them to catechism. The reason for the choice of Sunday School over catechism is usually then simply convenience. On Sunday they are at church, and during the week the great distance involved to take them to catechism (this is true especially in rural districts) makes it far more convenient for them to wait after the morning service for their children while they attend Sunday School than to make a special trip during the week. Such parents must be enlightened by the consistory. They must be made to see the difference between the Sunday School which is only a society in the organism of the church while the catechetical instruction belongs to the official work of the institute of the church. It is the duty of the consistory to see to it that such a lifting up of the Sunday School over catechetical instruction does not take place. That we believe belongs to the task of the consistory in its work of supervising the Sunday School. It must keep it where it belongs. That too is supervision.
By supervision of the Sunday School we emphatically do not mean that the Sunday School should be made an organ of the consistory to be its official means of instructing the covenant youth upon the Sabbath and that the consistory appoint men and women to perform this work for it. That would indeed be a dangerous thing to do. Then you would tempt the parent to send his child to one or the other and not to both. And as we stated above, the Sunday School would receive first choice if only for convenience sake, or perhaps because the Sunday School gives a Christmas program and the catechism class does not. Parents like to see their children take part in a program and perhaps get a box of candy or a book of some kind for learning their lessons well. The catechism class does not do this and should not. Of course, if the Sunday School becomes an organ of the consistory, the consistory would have to eliminate these present practices. But the fact remains that the parents would not see the need of two ways in which the consistory provides instruction for the youth of the congregation one on the Lord’s Day and one during the week. The Sunday School should remain a society wherein the children receive instruction in addition to which they receive in the home, in school, catechism and in the church on the Sabbath.
The supervision of the Sunday School by the consistory however should be such (1) that the consistory passes judgment upon the spiritual qualifications of those who wish to teach. The consistory should supply the Sunday School with a list of names of those whom it deems to be strong in faith and well founded in the truth. Or else the Sunday School should submit a list of names, and the consistory should pass judgment upon this list. The consistory at any rate must see to it that men and women who understand the truth and do not have leanings toward any form of the lie are on the teaching staff. It may not allow Arminianism or any false doctrine to be taught the children. (2) The consistory ought to visit the Sunday School periodically and also the Sunday School teachers’ meetings, if they are held. One cannot be too careful in this respect. In Men’s Societies and Ladies’ Societies it is somewhat different. There you have many opinions expressed, and a conclusion is reached after the discussion. The child in Sunday School receives one explanation. It must be the right one. (3) As stated above, the consistory must constantly be alert and keep the Sunday School in its rightful place as a society.
The value of the Sunday School when conducted along these lines, as also it is in our churches, lies especially herein that it trains our children in the memorization of passages of Scripture. Each week the child learns a new “Golden Text” or “Memory Verse” as they are called and likewise another stanza of a song of praise to God. This is very valuable training for the children and something they simply do not get in catechism on the same scale. Even if they did, a few more texts memorized and stored away in the mind are always valuable. Besides, in the Sunday School a lesson is taught in connection with that particular text. One cannot overestimate the value of such committing of God’s Word to memory. And the Sunday School should have a place in our church life if it serves this purpose. Most of us will admit that it was in Sunday School where we learned our Dutch Psalms, our Psalter songs and various verses from Scripture.
Your Answer. Thus your answer to the Sunday School teacher’s question should be an emphatic, “Yes, you may help me train my child.” And you ought to live up to that answer too and send your child every week with his memory work firmly established in his mind. Remember that the Sunday School teacher only asks whether he may help you train your child. You must co-operate with him. (He will arrange the series of verses for memorization. He will listen to the recital in these verses, and he will explain the Bible story that is connected with that verse. You must send your child well prepared. And by doing so you tell the Sunday School teacher that you desire his help.