We have been considering the immediate and strong concern of the Reformation for Christian schools. In this article, we will take note of the curriculum of these schools, as proposed by the leading Reformers, Luther and Philip Melanchthon.
First among the subjects to be taught in the Christian Schools was Scripture itself, according to Luther. This would include instructing the students in the gospel, in Biblical history, in doctrines, in the law, and in prayer.Luther demanded this teaching of “Bible” in the schools in his An Open Letter to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation (A.D. 1520): “Above all, the foremost and most general subject of study, both in the higher and the lower schools, should be the Holy Scriptures, and for the young boys the Gospel. And would to God that every town had a girls’ school also, in which the girls were taught the Gospel for an hour each day….” The Christian schools which the Reformation established did include “Bible” as one of the subjects. The man mainly responsible for directing the Christian schools in such a way that the first class studied, among other things, the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, and other prayers. The second class of older students was required to learn “the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, the Ten Commandments, and to commit (to memory) a number of psalms. They must study the Gospel of Matthew, the two Pauline Epistles to Timothy, the First Epistle of John, and the Proverbs of Solomon.” (Melanchthon, Saxon Visitation Articlesof 1528).
This partially explains the concern of the Reformation for the establishment of Christian schools. These schools had to perform the task of teaching the children of believers the knowledge of God, as it is revealed in Scripture.
We believe that this was a mistaken view of the function of the Christian school. It is the duty of the Church, not the school, to give instruction in the Bible itself. The Church carries out this duty, through the minister or elders, in the catechism classes. It is even questionable whether “Bible” should be included in the curriculum of the Christian school. If Scripture is not present, a school is not and cannot be Christian. But its place in the Christian school is not that of a subject alongside the other subjects in the curriculum.
What then is the place of the Bible in the Christian school? The Bible should be present in two ways. First, its presence should be a devotional one. That is, the teacher should begin each day’s work in the school by reading the Bible and making a few applicatory remarks to the children. This shows the children, and reminds the teacher, that the work of the day must be done to God’s glory and in harmony with His Word. In addition, the Holy Spirit will use this devotional reading of the Bible to stir up the teacher and the children alike to seek God’s honor by faithful work throughout the day.
Secondly, the Bible must be present in the Christian school as the light, the foundation, and the rule for every subject that is taught. The Bible is not a subject alongside the other subjects, but it must be at the center of the instruction of every subject in the curriculum, so that they all are taught in the light of the Word of God. This does not merely mean that nothing is taught which contradicts the Scriptures, although it does mean this also. It means that the truth of the Scriptures sets forth the truth of every subject, the real, full truth of history, of geography, of science, of arithmetic, of literature. To attempt to teach any subject apart from Scripture and apart from what the Word of God says about that subject is to preclude the possibility of teaching the truth about that subject and is to engage in teaching the lie about that subject. This is the wickedness and the folly of the public schools in the United States. Teaching every subject in the light of Scripture and in its connection with the Word of God is the essence of the Christian school This makes a Christian school Christian, and not the fact that “Bible” is one of the subjects taught. It betrays a wrong understating of the Christian school, therefore, when a parent says that he does not care what marks his child gets in the other subjects as long as he gets an “A” in “Bible.”
If the Bible occupies this rightful place in the Christian school, there will be in the school the living awareness that the whole creation, and every marvelous facet of it, is the handiwork of God the Creator, Who is revealed in the Bible. This awareness will include the understanding that the whole creation reveals the praises of its Creator, that its chief end is the praise of God by His people, and that the main purpose for learning about the creation is that we may better know and praise that God.
In this concrete and vital way, the Bible is present in the Christian school. It is the foundation of the instruction. Therefore, the Christian school is not guilty of the basic sin of fallen mankind: Going about its business, leaving God out.
Let us see how this will affect the actual instruction. Because the Bible is at the center of every subject, the Christian school teacher will quote, explain, and apply to the present subject passages of the Bible. He will do this often. He will do this at crucial points in the teaching of a subject. He will read and explain Genesis 1-3, not only at the beginning of the science course, but also at the beginning of the history course. This and other Biblical passages on the origin of all things in Divine creation will be fundamental for the whole development of the courses. Time and time again, the teacher will come back to them, overtly. In connection with the American Revolution and in connection with the revolutionaries now destroying our country, the history teacher will have the students read Romans 13, so that the teacher can explain, and all can discuss, that revolution by citizens against the authority of their rulers is rebellion against the authority of God. Reference to Ephesians 1 will make clear that such revolution is rebellion against the authority of the exalted Christ. The teacher will let the light of the Scriptures shine on all the subjects that have to do with reading, writing, and speaking, such subjects as spelling, phonics, grammar, and literature. He will point out that all these fascinating, wonderful subjects are grounded in the fact that the God of the creation is a personal God Who knows, Who speaks, and Who has communication with Himself in the Trinity by speech (in the Word).
Although we may disagree with the early Reformers when they make the Bible a subject in the curriculum of the Christian school, we do not disagree with their underlying concern. We lay the duty of teaching the Bible upon the Church and, of course, upon the parents in the home. But we fully agree with the Reformers’ insistence that the Word of God reign in the Christian school.
It was not the case, however, that the Reformers limited the curriculum of the Christian school to the Bible, and thus conceived of the Christian school as a Bible school, a Sunday School, or a catechism class. They required many other subjects to be taught in the Christian school for the welfare of the children of believers.
(to be continued)