Earlier this year the Standard Bearer reported and commented on a campaign to obtain financial aid for Christian schools from the state coffers in Michigan. At that time we went on record as being opposed on a principle basis to this proposal because it would involve a denial of the very idea of parental education of covenant children, and because it would involve a denial of the underlying Scriptural and Reformed character of the subject-material taught in our schools.
In the State of Michigan this is by no means a dead issue as yet. In the first place, the proponents of state aid vowed to continue the fight and have promised to have their proposal before the state legislature again. We may expect, therefore, that this will take place when the state legislature reconvenes. We may expect, too, that supporters of Christian education will again be flooded with propaganda urging them to pressure the governor and their state senators and representatives to work for passage of “parochiaid” legislation. In the second place, although no state aid bill was passed, there has been a legislative committee which has been holding public hearings on this issue throughout the state, apparently with a view to possible future legislation. Reports of these hearings have been appearing in the newspapers from time to time, and a Grand Rapids Press report of the fifth and last hearing, held August 29 and reported August 30, is the occasion of this editorial. At this hearing various supporters and opponents of state aid made known their views, on which the Standard Bearer wishes to reflect.
Meanwhile, let the reader keep in mind that this issue is not merely a Michigan issue. There are many proposals for such state aid being made throughout the country, and even proposals for federal aid are in the offing. It is well within the realm of possibility that Christian schools everywhere will soon be required to take a stand. This will include our Protestant Reformed schools also. Besides, the very principles of covenantal education are involved here. Our Reformed world-and-life view, our antithetical position as the people of God in the midst of a world that is in darkness,—this is the issue. Hence, even apart from the concrete question of government aid, we do well to refresh our minds as to these matters and to understand clearly what is involved principally in covenant schools.
Not A Financial Issue
Repeatedly in the debate about government aid the proponents of such aid employ an argument which is purely pragmatic and utilitarian, an argument based on financial needs. This argument is used as a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it is used to gain support among Christian school people. This is the scare tactic in part, and the appeal-to-covetousness tactic in part. The argument is that it is becoming increasingly expensive to establish and to operate Christian schools. If we do not obtain financial aid from the state, we will be priced right out of the market; it will simply be financially impossible to meet the expenses involved in Christian education. On the other hand, this argument is used in the attempt to get support from public school people, legislators included. Then the argument runs this way. If the state does not grant aid to private schools (whether Christian, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, or Jewish), then these -private schools will be compelled to close their doors. This will involve a tremendous additional pupil load for the public schools, and will thus involve additional state expenditures for public schools and increased taxes. Hence, it is better to give the private schools partial support than to expend large sums of money for expanding public schools.
As might be expected, Roman Catholic educators employ this weapon. According to the newspaper article referred to, the superintendent of Catholic schools of the Grand Rapids Diocese “brought the committee back from abstracts to cold, hard statistics,” and warned them that already the Roman Catholic schools in 29 counties are at “the crisis stage.”
But the same argument is used by would-be supporters of the Christian school movement. The director of the National Union of Christian Schools, John Vander Ark, testified that pupil population in Michigan Christian schools is headed for a decline and that a major reason is the “economic situation.” He pointed out that school operating costs have nearly doubled in the last eight years, and is quoted as pointing out that “still Christian school salaries are at least two years behind public school salaries.” Further, he turned the sword as follows: “Obvious implication for the state, he said, is a possible migration of Christian school students to the public schools.”
The same argument was employed by Calvin College Dean Dr. John Vanden Berg. The Press quotes him as saying: “What is happening right now is that non-public schools are closing, and the Legislature is well aware of the fiscal implications of this.” One state senator apparently saw the obvious logical implication of the position of the proponents of state aid, namely, 100 per cent state support, although Dr. Vanden Berg denied that this was the aim, calling this a “totally unlikely eventuality.”
On this I have the following comments:
1. This is a purely utilitarian method of argumentation. It is a reduction of the existence of Christian schools to a matter of mere money. It is motivated by the love of money. And it appeals to that love of money in the attempt to gain the favor of public school men and Christian school parents. It ought to be, below the Christian dignity of any Christian educator and any true supporter of Christian education to use or to listen to such an argument. If this is the point, then I say we should go “whole hog” and press for 100 per cent government support. Think of the additional hundreds of dollars we could all spend for big vacation trips, new boats, and new cars every year! But then I say too: if this is all that Christian education means to us, then let us close the Christian schools from kindergarten through college, donate or sell the property to the public school system, and all send our children to the public schools.
2. This fiscal argument ignores the principle of Christian education completely. In the first place, it ignores the parental principle: not the state is responsible for the education of my children, but I, theparent, am responsible. This is Reformed, and this is Biblical. In the second place, it ignores the principle that in our Christian schools the instruction properly is not instruction plus the Bible, but instruction basedupon God’s Word and permeated by the truth of that Word of God throughout. There is no such thing assecular, nonreligious, instruction in a covenant school that is worthy of the name “Christian.” Either these proponents of state aid must lie when they sign a statement that the instruction for which they receive state money is “non-religious,” or they must actually make that instruction “non-religious.” The former is obviously wicked; the latter is also wicked because it would be a denial of the very character of Christian education. I am afraid, however, that the latter has already become too much a reality in many Christian schools, and that this accounts for the very possibility that leaders in the movement can press for state aid such as is being proposed here in Michigan. The world with its philosophy has infiltrated the Christian school movement, and that too, as a direct result of the error of common grace. The result is that the lines of demarcation, as far as principles are concerned, have been largely erased. But I say again: if that is the case, let us be honest and close the Christian schools. Or let us at least be honest enough to say that we are interested not in Christian schools, but in privateschools.
3. Christian school supporters ought to be ashamed to make common cause with Roman Catholics in this matter. This should be obvious to all. Let it be remembered that Roman Catholic schools are churchschools, not parental schools. To press for state aid for non-public schools is to press for state aid to the Roman Catholic Church. Does not the very thought of this offend the spiritual senses of every son or daughter of the Reformation? Frankly, I care not one whit whether the Roman Catholics are able to keep their schools open or not. Let them take care of their own schools if they wish to have them. My concern and yours, as Reformed parents, is the education of our own children according to the requirements of the covenant and in harmony with the Word of God. But it seems as though in this ecumenical age anything goes, especially when it involves status and recognition in the world and money. Beware!
The Principle Is The Antithesis
According to the news report mentioned earlier in this article there were two men who drew the lines of battle rather clearly, though from different viewpoints. One was the Rev. Gerald Postma, pastor of Maranatha Christian Reformed Church in Holland. About his appearance before the legislative committee theGrand Rapids Press reports as follows:
Parochiaid was dealt an effective blow by the Rev. Gerald Postma, pastor of Maranatha Christian Reformed Church in Holland.
“I am opposed to nonpublic aid to education out of fear and faith,” he said.
“I am afraid that to get money we would have to say that our courses were of a secular nature, when according to the faith, all our courses are permeated with a religious character and are not secular.
“This is the heart and core of Christian education.”
He said he could not “go through the back door” and “sign a statement that our courses were of a secular nature. I do not believe in signing on false pretense.”
On the matter of faith, he said, “I still believe that God will provide what is necessary, that He will take care of us. Let us close the schools if our faith has dwindled.”
This is correct, although I believe that the Christian school movement as a whole has largely forsaken this position in its actual instruction and that this instruction is no longer Reformed and antithetical.
It is this last, the antithesis, that lies at the heart and core of this whole debate. That God’s people are a peculiar and covenant people, in the world but not of the world, lights in the midst of darkness, standing for the cause of Christ over against the cause of Belial,—this is the issue.
Strange as it may seem, it was an enemy of the Christian school and a friend of the world’s schools who made this very clear at the legislative hearing, though he stated this, of course, from his point of view, not ours. This was the vice chairman of Citizens to Advance Public Education (CAPE). He is reported as testifying as follows at the legislative hearing:
“We of CAPE are opposed to the appropriation of any tax moneys for the aid of nonpublic schools because we believe such aid is in violation of our state and federal Constitutions.
“In very simple, honest language, back of all the smoke screen is the bald fact that the parochial schools are fighting for the very existence of their way of life in a society which is alien to their mores.
“The answer of CAPE to your real dilemma is that you have the right to your way of life—which is more than education—if you are willing to pay for it.”
That is exactly the case.
We, as Reformed Christians, have a way of life that is alien to the society in the midst of which we live. We are pilgrims and strangers in the world. The world hates us. It stands opposed to us also in the realm of education. It is a question of our being lights in the midst of darkness and of standing for the light over against the darkness which strives to quench the light. To expect the world which stands diametrically opposed to us to support our schools is folly. The world loves its own; and the world will pay for its own. If you want the world’s money, you can only get that on the world’s basis, a basis which involves the denial of your antithetical Christian position.
It seems to me that the proponents of state aid from the Christian school movement ought to have been a little ashamed that they had to hear this from a public school man.
From all this let us who love the principles of Reformed Christian education, and who value our own schools from principle (and I refer especially now to our Protestant Reformed schools), learn a lesson. And let us be prepared to stand fast, and to be “willing to pay for” our stand.