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Previous article in this series: February 1, 2017, p. 197.

The concept of an institution for training Protestant Reformed teachers was proposed in the late 1940s when the Protestant Reformed school movement was picking up steam. The congregation in Redlands, CA established the first Protestant Reformed school in 1934. Hope Protestant Reformed Christian School (Walker, MI) started in 1947, and three years later Adams St. Christian School (Grand Rapids, MI) and the Free Christian School of Edgerton, MN opened their doors. In other congregations, societies for Protestant Reformed education were being formed.

Recall from the last editorial that the Synod of 1949 faced two requests having to do with training of teachers. The Society for Protestant Reformed Education (in Grand Rapids) came via the PRC Theological School Committee, requesting that the Seminary provide some such instruction. In addition, Synod received an overture from the consistory of Randolph “to consider ways and means of establishing our own Normal Training School to train prospective teachers to teach in our own Christian Schools.” In response, Synod placed “this matter before the faculty and the Theological School Committee for study and possible execution.”

What happened next? The PRC Acts of Synod, 1950 gives the report of the Theological School’s report on this mandate (Art. 26).

The material concerning the normal course for teachers is read.

4. Relative a normal course for teachers in our own schools, in connection with the decision of the 1949 Synod, your committee can give you the following information:

a. That we have tried to execute the wishes of the Synod. After consulting the faculty, we were advised to make arrangements for a course in the Principles of Education. Rev. H. Hoeksema drew up an outline of such principles, which can serve as a guide in teaching this subject.

b. It was further decided to have a six weeks summer course and to contact the School Boards who requested a course of this nature (five in number) for cooperation with the teachers to take this course. It was also decided to make announcements regarding this course in our periodicals, which was done. Rev. G.M. Ophoff was requested to teach this course.

c. That we received no response from any of the School Boards. We did receive requests from three other prospective teachers for more information. However, they could give us no assurance that they would take this course if it would be given, due to other plans of studying, work, etc.

d. That two years ago a Teachers’ Club was organized in Grand Rapids which has been meeting once per week ever since, with Rev. Ophoff giving them instruction. According to him this instruction was very much like the proposed outline given by Rev. H. Hoeksema. Consequently, the members of this club do not see the need of a summer course of this nature at this time.

e. The committee took no further action regarding this matter. Since the information under d. reached us shortly before the time of Synod, we are submitting the whole matter to your body.

f. Rev. Ophoff consented to teach this course if it be given during the regular school term.

Notice that the Theological School Committee worked with the two seminary professors to make arrangements for a course in the “Principles of Education.” Rev. Hoeksema drew up the principles, and Rev. Ophoff was willing to teach the course. We notice also that teachers felt the need for training, and had formed a Teachers’ Club for this purpose (meeting once a week), at which Rev. Ophoff had been giving instruction. Five schools or school societies desired some course for their teachers.

Synod responded by approving the work done by the TSC and receiving their report for information. And that was the end of it. Nothing more came of these efforts.

From that time to the present, only one more relevant decision is found in the Acts of Synod. In 1969, the Theological School Committee reported that the TSC had received a letter written “on behalf of teachers and other interested individuals that certain seminary courses which would relate directly to their work be made available to them by having them taught in the evening” (Suppl. VI, p. 57). The synod declined to grant this request on the ground that “it would take up more time for our professors who are already busy” (Arts. 29-31).

Where does this leave us today? It is clear that the synods were in favor of some teacher training, and in favor of seminary involvement in this training. Synods recognized the need for teachers in Protestant Reformed schools to have training to fit them for this work. On the other hand, school boards and teachers have recognized the need for training beyond what teachers receive in college, and have sought help from the seminary to provide some instruction. Synods never opposed the seminary professors assisting on grounds of principle.

But we have not faced the question of whether the responsibility for providing this institution and instruction is ecclesiastical or parental.

A Different History

Before going forward in Protestant Reformed history, we might at least take notice of what the church has done in the past. In Calvin’s Geneva, the education system was a cooperative effort between the church and the magistrates. The ecclesiastical ordinances drawn up by John Calvin included provision for schools from the young children to the seminary (academy). The teachers were to be supervised by the church. On the other hand, the money was supplied by the magistrates. The magistrates in Calvin’s day were supporters of the Reformation in Geneva—quite a different age. Therefore, this model is hardly helpful for us today.

Here in America, the majority of colleges established in America’s early history had religious support and control. They were established as schools to train ministers of the Word. They included just enough language, history, and other necessary subjects to prepare the men for theological studies for the ministry. In most cases, the next interest to arise was training teachers. From there, the colleges broadened their instruction to give a liberal arts educational training for many vocations.

The same is true closer to home, in the Christian Reformed Church. Calvin College was originally established for the purpose of training ministers. Eventually, Calvin developed a complete course for teacher training, and from there continued to expand the academic offerings. In time, Calvin College separated from Calvin Theological Seminary.

In addition, it is worth noting that the Reformed churches in the Netherlands were very much involved in the Christian schools, and particularly in the approval of the teachers. The national Synod of Dordrecht (1618-’19) had much to say about Christian schools. First, Dordt mandated that

(s)chools, in which the young shall be properly instructed in the principles of Christian doctrine, shall be instituted not only in cities, but also in towns and country places where heretofore none have existed. The Christian magistracy shall be requested that well-qualified persons may be employed and enabled to devote themselves to the service.

Concerning the teachers, the fathers decided that

(i)n this office none shall be employed but such as are members of the Reformed Church, having certificates of an upright faith and pious life, and of being well versed in the truths of the Catechism.

And they added,

They are to sign a document, professing their belief in the Confession of Faith and the Heidelberg Catechism, and promising that they will give catechetical instruction to the youth in the principles of Christian truth according to the same.

And who must see to it that the instruction in these schools is proper, Reformed instruction? The consistory, said Dordt:

In order that due knowledge may be obtained of the diligence of the schoolmasters, and the improvement of the youth, it shall be the duty of the ministers, with an elder, and, if necessary, with a magistrate, to visit all the schools, private as well as public, frequently, in order to excite the teachers to earnest diligence, to encourage and counsel them in the duty of catechising, and to furnish an example by questioning them, addressing them in a friendly and affectionate manner, and exciting them to early piety and diligence.

All this is very much in harmony with the original Article 21 of the Church Order:

The consistories everywhere shall see to it that there are good schoolmasters, not only to teach the children reading, writing, languages, and the liberal arts, but also to instruct them in godliness and in the Catechism.

This educational tradition moved to America with the Secession immigrants led by Albertus Van Raalte who settled in Holland, particularly the churches that eventually formed the Christian Reformed Church. The consistories helped establish the schools, supervised them, and hired the teachers. Over the years, however, especially the good influence of Abraham Kuyper led the Reformed churches to recognize that the responsibility for Christian schools was not ecclesiastical, but parental. Control of the schools gradually shifted from the consistories to societies.

This is entirely proper, and the main reason why also the responsibility for establishing a teacher training institution lies not with the churches, but with the parents.

That it is not the responsibility of the churches is plain from the fact that the work of the church is ecclesiastical, not educational. Consider the three marks of the church of Christ—the preaching of the pure gospel, the proper administration of the sacraments, and Christian discipline. That also defines the work of the church. One can add to that the work of the deacons, caring for the poor. In all of the work, the preaching of the gospel is the central calling of the church. That cannot be squared with the effort to establish an institution for training teachers for the Christian schools.

On the other hand, such a responsibility fits with the calling of the parents to train up their children in the fear of the Lord. God lays the responsibility for instructing covenant children squarely upon the parents. And if, in this time in history, parents wisely band together to form a school to assist them in their covenant calling, yet the parents remain fully responsible for the instruction of their children. Parents are responsible before God for every word of instruction in their schools. They are responsible for the method of instruction, for the world-and-life view that is conveyed, and for the discipline exercised.

Since that is the case, clearly, parents need to supply the teachers for their school who will teach—properly teach—their children. And the parents need to provide the training in order to equip teachers to give instruction that is truly Protestant Reformed. What kind of institution ought to be established will be the subject of a future editorial. Before turning to that, however, we will examine some serious efforts to equip teachers for service in Protestant Reformed schools.