“Do you promise and intend to see these children (this child), when come to years of discretion (whereof you are either parent or witness), instructed and brought up in the aforesaid doctrine, or help or cause them to be instructed therein, to the utmost of your power?”
This is the third and final question asked of parents at the baptism of their children. An extremely important question it is, for an affirmative answer involves them in a most sacred pledge. It is not a temporary thing that, upon the completion of the baptism rite, can or may be ignored or forgotten. Neither may this solemn pledge be side-tracked at the parents’ convenience in preference to other interests which all too often crowd into our lives at the expense of the proper training of the children which God has committed to our care. It is a vow to GOD which is binding upon us every day and the confrontation of which is inescapable. It involves a most profound responsibility from which we cannot shirk with impunity. And in it we pledge, not a partial dedication of effort, but the undivided consecration of all our powers to a task that merits every expenditure of time and resources for it concerns the training of the seed of the covenant of Jehovah. To equate that with such things as the procurement of physical luxuries, the accumulating of temporal possessions, the pursuit of our social or economic ambitions, is most unjust; for there is really no comparison of value here. Yet we often act as though the proper training of our children is” only a matter of secondary importance and with vehement protestation do we rise up against the probability of its interfering with our mad and carnal pursuit after temporal interests. We murmur and complain about the high cost of the instruction of our children but we do not hesitate to spend many times its equal for the things of this world that please us. Have we perhaps forgotten that we did not vow to God that we would spend our every effort to amass wealth and riches unto ourselves in this world, but we did promise, to the utmost of our power, to bring up our children in harmony with the demands of His covenant? Spiritual sensitiveness to the awesome character of the sacred baptismal pledge presses us into a channel of duty that runs contrary to our flesh. All this tends only to magnify the difficulty of adherence to that vow, but in no way does it minimize its necessity. Though we, the parents, are askew, the calling is the same, and our obligation to it remains unchanged.
Of significance is the vow contained in this third question, not only for the parents, but for the entire church as well. Her future well-being is intimately bound up in the fidelity of parents to the baptismal vow. Without a rigid adherence to this sacred pledge the future of the church stands in jeopardy. This thought may not be construed to mean that the existence of the church is dependent upon man or man’s efforts. Neither is the future of the church conditioned by or dependent upon our action or lack of action as parents over against our children. On this point we are agreed as unitedly we sing, “The Lord our God builds up His church, He seeks her wandering sons,” and unitedly confess, “That the Son of God from the beginning to the end of the world, gathers, defends, an preserves to Himself by His Spirit and Word, out of the whole human race, a church chosen to everlasting life.” (Lord’s Day 21)
However, let it not be overlooked that our God is a God of means and order. Even as the Old Testament is replete with warnings, examples, and admonitions directing us to the fact that God would not bless and prosper His people Israel when they walked not in His ways, but He visited them with plagues and consumption, so we are assured that our future generations will not stand in the defense of the heritage of truth we cherish today except that they are most punctiliously brought up in that doctrine throughout their formative years. We cannot afford to neglect our solemn pledge to God. He is not dependent on us but we and our children are wholly dependent upon Him. And since He is holy and just He will not regard our negligence with impunity. Invariably we reap as we sow.
It is the opinion of this writer that one of the most serious, if not the most serious, defect in the history of our churches has been our failure to establish a sound and complete system of education for our children. We have proceeded too long on the false assumption that if only as churches we maintain the pure doctrine we would be unaffected though our children are left to be educated by Christian Reformed and, in some instances, worldly educators. We have neglected the tri-unity of church, home, and school; and this neglect has already reaped its toll. We do not overlook nor deny that there were serious doctrinal issues involved in the split of our churches in 1953; but this notwithstanding, undersigned feels that this compromising position on education has not abated but contributed greatly to the fact that over half of the denomination could and did leave the truth in that history.
It may be argued that the matter of education is strictly a parental responsibility which is of no direct concern to the church whose calling it is to preach the Gospel. We are not advocates of the parochial system of education. With this we express no dissent; but we must, nevertheless, point out that the argument does not completely absolve the church. Her task is certainly to demand compliance with the sacred vows which are spoken and witnessed in her midst. And here a weakness in the emphasis upon her insistence that parents bring up their children in harmony with the doctrine in the school as well as in the home and church easily creeps in because the strength of her admonition is thwarted by practical argumentation. The result is a continuance in an inconsistent and wrong way which can only bring about deterioration instead ofthe strengthening of the church’s fortifications. From this point of view our future is not promising unless, by the grace of God, there is a resuscitation of interest in Protestant Reformed education, a breaking loose from all apathy and a rededication to our baptismal vow, manifested in a united determination and effort to provide for our children without compunction of material sacrifice. The vows spoken in the love of God cannot be realized except by the love of God springing out of and filling all the heart and mind and soul and strength. And without this the vow had better be left unspoken.
That the third question of the baptism vow relates to the matter of education is further evident from other Protestant Reformed writings.
In a recent lecture by Rev. D. Engelsma in which he criticizes the position of those who deny the covenantal basis of Christian Day Schools, we find the following statements: “And if you read that article by Dr. Daane (spokesman for the view criticized) you will notice that he makes a very strong point of it that if his substitute basis for Christian education be accepted, ministers of the Word and consistories and parents may no longer appeal to the baptism vow any more in support of these distinct institutions of learning. If the parents do not stand before the obligation before God to establish and maintain separate and distinct institutions of learning, those institutions of learning are doomed.”¹
In another lecture, given several years ago by Rev. R. Veldman, we come upon statements like these:
“Beloved, our obligation, our own moral responsibility, is toward the cause of Christian Education itself and toward the will of God and our own solemn baptism pledge to bring up our children in the aforesaid doctrine to the utmost of our power. And so, beloved, by no stretch of the imagination could it possibly be our calling and responsibility to have our children instructed year in and year out, generation after generation, by those that cast us out.”²
Again, “It is said, beloved, to mention another objection, it is said the home and the church are the basic agencies in the educating of our children. If you are faithful there you are doing your duty. You have nothing to fear. And the rest will follow. You are adhering to your baptismal pledge to bring up your children in the aforesaid doctrine to the utmost of your power. Now these people ought to know, beloved, that that has never been the position of the Reformed Churches and the Reformed people . . . that the baptismal pledge has always been applied in the past to the schools as well.”²
But once more: “And so its time to conclude. On the basis of all this, what principle can be more right than that of Protestant Reformed Education because we can teach them God’s Word as we see it only in that light, because a world and life view is inculcated, and it’s got to be the right one because we are not living up to our baptismal pledge as we should the way it is now. You know you can say, “But the home and the church counteract whatever evil there is in the school;” but by the same token whatever evil there is in the school counteracts the home and the church. After all, non-Protestant Reformed people and anti-Protestant Reformed .people cannot instruct Protestant Reformed people; and for all these reasons the principle is not difficult to see. In this way we shall educate our children . . . . . . . Among us as Protestant Reformed, the man of God must be constructed. If you are going to construct a brick building you use brick don’t you? And you don’t use Christian Reformed material to construct a Protestant Reformed man. If you are going to build a Protestant Reformed man out of your child you’ll have to use Protestant Reformed material!”²
We might add that this is precisely what we promise to do to the utmost of our power when we present our children in baptism. Let us never forget that!
Finally, we quote Rev. H. Hoeksema as he comments on the third question of baptism. He writes:
“The third question: This question demands of parents a promise, or sacred pledge: (1) That they assume responsibility for the instruction of their children:
“(a) They must either instruct them personally or through others: ‘help, or cause them to be instructed.’ This means that they are responsible for the instruction of their children principally as parents, not only in the home, but also in church and school.
“(b) This instruction must be in the aforesaid doctrine, and therefore, in the Reformed truth as indicated in the second question.
“(c) This instruction must be to the utmost of their power. The fathers certainly emphasize the seriousness of the education of their covenant children according to the Reformed faith.”³
In conclusion for this time, we quote the following comments from The Banner:
“The third question is based in a sense upon the second. Now parents are asked to promise that they will instruct their children in that doctrine. This begins, of course, in the home. Yet the phrase “to the utmost of your power” plainly includes more. Parents obligate themselves to insure Christian training for their children in both the church and the school. Only churches and schools where the ‘aforementioned doctrine,’ that is, the Reformed faith, is taught and championed, can satisfy the requirements of covenantal education for our seed. When parents minimize the need of church attendance and catechetical training for their children, they are breaking their solemn vow. And how is it possible for parents who have made this promise in sincerity to be lukewarm to the necessity of distinctively Christian schools in an age when godlessness and secularism like a plague have infected tens of thousands who bear the mark of the covenant? No means at our disposal may be neglected.
“Although no influence of home or school or church will automatically guarantee the salvation of our children, we may surely believe that all who honor God by obeying Him in the covenantal training of their children will be honored by Him. He may test our faith in this respect often, but He will never put to shame those who trust His word of promise.”4
¹ Rev. D. Engelsma, “Protestant Reformed Education—Some Thoughts on Principles.”
² Rev. R. Veldman, “The Ideal of Protestant Reformed Education.”
³ Rev. H. Hoeksema, “Liturgic Notes.”
4 Rev. P. De Jong, The Banner, July 9, 1954.