The above caption is a partial quotation taken from the third question that is asked by the church of parents when they present their children for baptism. It clearly defines the limitation of the sacred vow in which promise is made that we will arduously and faithfully instruct the children God entrusts to our care “in the aforesaid doctrine,” which, for us Protestant Reformed parents, can only mean the faith or way of life set forth in the Protestant Reformed credo! We will spare no effort. We will not engage in this prodigious task only if it is “convenient” or “practical” or if it fits into our planafter we have successfully realized our many other personal or family ambitions. Neither is this promise conditioned by “our financial ability to underwrite all that is involved in this instruction;” nor is it a promise that is limited to a single sphere of our life; but without qualification we pledge ourselves before God to bring up our children in the Protestant Reformed way of life in the home, in the school, and in the church. To realize this we will expend every energy and resource at our disposal, and no obstruction that we have the power to remove will stand in the way of its attainment. In this most solemn of all pledges we dedicate our will, our mind, our bodies, our all to a task that is fundamentally more important than the biggest issue confronting the United Nations. We vow to utilize to the full every ounce of mental, volitional, physical, and spiritual power that is given to us. Our task is primal!
Although the aforementioned conditions, as well as others that could be added, often deter us’ in the fulfillment of our pledge, these things do not alter in any way the clearly expressed meaning of the promise made. And if we are inclined to seek refuge from our responsibilities in these excuses, the time to voice our objection is not after but before we have so committed ourselves in the baptism of our children. Yet, it is not exactly an isolated instance where you find parents who, without reservation, speak the vow and then later come up with such arguments: as: “It is sufficient if my children are catechized and taught at home,” or, “I pay taxes for the education of my child, and I can’t afford to pay for Christian education on top of that,” or again, “The Christian school is too far from home (bus service provided), and my children can learn the three R’s just as well in the community school.” Is this taking our pledge seriously? Have we forgotten that it was to GOD that we said “to the utmost of my power?” Do we really think that with impunity we can evade the responsibilities of His covenant by hiding behind excuses’? On the contrary, but if we cannot sincerely say “to the utmost of my power,” let us say nothing at all, or at least request our consistory to revise this “loaded” question to read something like this: “To the extent that it proves to be convenient or suitable to me.”
To pledge “to the utmost of our power” implies that there is a goal or object toward which we purpose to strive. This goal is not yet reality. It must be attained through concerted effort and diligent labor. It appears before us as a worthy objective for otherwise our promise to expend ourselves and every means possible becomes most foolish. In this case that objective is the thorough training of our children in “the aforesaid doctrine,” and the intangible and unmeasurable value of this is not even subject to dispute or argumentation. And we now repeat that all our power must be exerted unrelentingly to see to it that our children are so trained in the church, in the home, and in the school. Parents are not faithful to their baptismal pledge when they view with indifference the catechetical instruction, the preaching of the Word and even the society activities of the church. By these things our children are instructed and it is our parental duty to see to it and insist upon it that these things are pure by the standard of the Word of God. Likewise parents violate their baptismal pledge when in the home they condone un-Protestant Reformed practices and. permit various worldly media to mold the minds and poison the souls of themselves and their children. And only when Protestant Reformed parents are united in purpose and striving to establish and maintain a system of sound Protestant Reformed instruction for their children in the school can it be said that they walk in obedience to the baptismal pledge. Also this responsibility is not limited to the primary or elementary level of education but extends as well into the broader and more specialized area of secondary education. We, as Protestant Reformed parents, are bound to give our children a special training, a covenantal training, not in a restricted time and area of their lives but in every sphere throughout their lives.
Whether this objective is possible of realization, its practicability, the methods to be employed in coping with the many problems that arise in this labor,—these are all matters that have no real bearing upon the issue here. The question is not how and when our goal will be attained, but rather are we agreed and do we have a united expression concerning what our goal shall be? To this question we are duty bound to answer affirmatively, and there may not be any hesitation unitedly to express this. Our aim, purpose, and goal as Protestant Reformed parents is to provide “to the utmost of our power” as much Protestant Reformed education and training for our children as possible. Such is inherently our calling as set forth in our baptismal pledge, and it is inconceivable that we would renege at this or be hesitant to express this. The argument that “the aim is impossible anyway, and therefore I am not for it” is fallacious. Rather we should say, “The aim is a worthy one, and therefore to the utmost of my power I am for it and will expend every effort to see it realized.” Only then are we ready unitedly to face the questions “how” and “when” shall we begin and “what about the many and varied practical problems that we encounter upon this venture.” Without that united expression we cannot begin to talk about the possibility of realizing our common aim, for then it is apparent that the aim itself doesn’t exist. But when there is a real determination to do “the utmost of our power” in obedience to God’s command, the Lord frequently dissipates the insurmountable and causes our most humble efforts to blossom into realities. “Weakest means fulfill His will, mighty enemies to still.”
It is but natural for us to attribute our failures, if not directly then indirectly, to the lack of God’s provision and thus attempt to put the fault on Him rather than ourselves. This may serve to placate our conscience somewhat, but it does not alter the fact that the blame is on us. God tells His people as they are encamped at the Red Sea to move forward and He does not open the way through the sea before He issues His command. He does not show them how they are to advance, but He gives them the order. He will have His people walk by faith, putting all their trust in Him alone. In that way He will perform great and many wonders, that His people may be amazed, and, overwhelmed with gratitude, will break forth with praise to His Name. This does not mean that God will do for us anything we desire if only we put forth an effort first. Neither does it mean that God’s work is contingent upon us or, as has been expressed, “God helps those who help themselves.” Not at all; but it does mean that God will not put to shame those that, in obedience to His Word, walk in the ways of His holy covenant; and in that way He will not only provide their needs but will also bless them. Conversely, God will not bless us when we assume a defeatist attitude toward the demands of His covenant and thereby indicate that in our judgment He asks too much of us. Meanwhile we continue to use the material abundance that He gives to us for our own selfish purposes and ends, ever adding to our accumulation of temporal luxuries while our children are educationally starved or poisoned. But on this point we need only to be reminded that our Heidelberg Catechism in Lord’s Day 50 instructs us in the truth “that neither our care nor industry, nor even thy gifts, can profit us without thy blessing.”
Neither can we give any credence to the argument that “the utmost of our power” is fulfilled when our children are enrolled in a Christian School, be it then of anti-Protestant Reformed principles and practices. The argument in support of this position usually runs thus: “Doctrine is not taught in the schools, and therefore whether I send my children to a Christian Reformed, Lutheran, or Methodist Christian School has no bearing upon my baptismal promise.” This argument is false because it rests on the supposition that one can instruct children in history, mathematics, the sciences, etc., without imparting to the child a distinct philosophy of life. It falsely assumes that doctrine and life are two separate entities. Now it may be admitted that there are circumstances where one is given no alternate choice. It becomes a matter of necessity that our children are sent to schools other than those that are founded on Protestant Reformed principle. A vivid example of this is found in the total lack of Protestant Reformed High Schools, necessitating that all our children of these years attend elsewhere. However, it is impossible that Protestant Reformed parents can be satisfied and complacent in such circumstances. “The utmost of our power” does not consist in our ability to enroll our children in a school, pay our tuition, and be satisfied that they are being educated. Our dissatisfaction with such an arrangement might at least be more in evidence by the organization of societies where the problem is seriously considered and studied and every possibility of altering the situation, however meager, exhausted. In such societies we have room to labor to “the utmost of our power;” and even then if our aim is not materialized, we can rest in the peaceful satisfaction that we are heeding the promise made to God. This peace cannot be our experience while we abide in complacency and assume an attitude of indifference toward this most significant facet of our calling.
“To the utmost of our power. . . .”
The words by themselves are enough to make us shudder; and when their far reaching implications are brought to our mind, we are filled with fear and trembling. Oh, not in the sense that we become afraid or terrorized, but rather so that we are humbled before the majesty of our calling and we cry out, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me do?” We all have many tasks to perform each day in the place of our labor, in our homes and in the church. Yet, in no singular task are we required to expend “the utmost of our power” as here. In the training of our children we are called upon to give all and to spare nothing. We may labor for eight hours in the shop or office, and, although perhaps tired, we still have a reserve of power to use when we return to the labors of our homes; But in the training of our children there is no let-up, no vacationing, no quitting time or diversion to another matter.
“All that I am I owe to Thee
Thy wisdom; Lord, hath fashioned me. . .”
Then Lord give us also that grace by which we may dedicate that “all” to the task before us “to train up our children in the way they must go,” so that we may also have the confident assurance of Thy Word, “and when they are old they shall not depart therefrom.”