Released Time Religions Instruction:
Recently the Supreme Court of the United States decided that all religious instruction in the public schools even on a voluntary basis was unconstitutional. This decision was made in connection with an appeal of a woman and mother from Illinois protesting such “released time” religious classes in that state. It is not our purpose to comment on this decision as such except in so far as it brings home to us once more the neutrality (?) over against religion in our public schools. For the plaintiff in this case was a self-announced atheist. And where neutrality is the rule, the one with the least religion, in this case the atheist, controls the instruction!
Rather in connection with this it is our purpose to call attention to the matter of “released time” religious instruction as it is being promoted in many places by concretely calling attention to the attempt made to begin this program as it was carried out in Oskaloosa.
We quote the Oskaloosa Dail Herald from an article entitled “Time out for Religious Instruction”: “The Oskaloosa Parent-Teacher Association is endeavoring to get some kind of religious services for pupils in the public schools. In order to avoid any differences of opinion, one suggested plan is to give the pupils a short period of free time to attend services in the churches of their choice. . . .”
“A good many years ago Dr. David James Burrell, speaking on the broader subject of Bible readings in the schools, said: ‘We are not carrying on our public schools as they are in some countries, for the sake of pouring information into the minds of young people. Our schools are the bulwark of our national security. We are making citizens. We cannot afford not to have public schools because every young boy is a sovereign in his own right. But the three R’s cannot make a good citizen. They do not affect moral character one way or the other. The Bible is our only textbook of morals; and we have taken it out of the public schools. Nor have we anything there to take its place. What do our educational authorities mean by undertaking to make citizens in America without teaching them the Decalogue or the Sermon on the Mount? If the Bible must be removed what textbook on morals shall supplant it? We must put something else in. We shall not complain if you can find it. Shall it be the Analects of Confucius? Shall it be the three Baskets of Buddhism? Our public schools cannot be left without some textbook of morality; for we are making citizens there and the welfare of our country depends upon it’.”
In connection with this plan the following letter was sent to all the ministers of the locality: “A delegation of ladies representing the local PTA groups, appeared before the school board last evening. This group asks the board to consider a plan of week-day religious instruction.”
“Under the plan proposed, school children in grades 4-8 would be released from school for one hour on Wednesday afternoon, if they desire to attend a class for religious instruction. Attendance at the class for religious instruction would be optional, and those who did not go would be retained at school for the regular time. The children would attend their regular church or any church of their choice if they had no former church connections.”
The board is now considering the suggested plan. They need the opinion of the local ministers, and feel the most satisfactory way to secure this opinion is through an individual conference. . . .”
To this letter of the school board we replied as follows: “Thank you for your recent letter regarding the proposed plan for week-day religious instruction.
“I am indeed sorry that I cannot give my wholehearted approval to the plan outlined in your letter, which I understand to be in the nature of a supplement to the present religiously-neutral instruction offered necessarily in the public schools. As you perhaps know the group with which I am affiliated has taken the position, to which I also fully subscribe, that, strictly speaking, there can be no neutrality, especially not in the educational field. To quote the words of our Savior, “He that is not with me is against me. . . .” For this reason we have opened our own “School for Christian Instruction” in which our children may be given Christian training in every branch of the curriculum. This we believe to be the only answer to the problems which I feel your group also detects in the present set-up.” “Incidentally, such classes for religious instruction we already possess, meeting every Saturday afternoon.” “I shall, however, be at your service at any time to meet with you in individual conference in order to more fully explain the position outlined above.”
The above we believe explains itself.
Who Makes Divisions in the Church?
To this our mind was directed when we read the following paragraph from an article entitled “That they may be one” by Rev. Jacob T. Hoogstra in the March Calvin Forum: “Woe to the man who doesn’t hesitate to start rifts in the church! He is doing more than cutting the seamless robe of our Lord, to use the language of Cyrian. He is toying with the holy Trinity.”
It is not our purpose to review this article but rather to use this opportunity to point out a few things in connection with the question above.
Oftentimes the one who by God is called upon to start a new denomination is automatically looked at askance and his work is considered to be of the devil because he was found guilty of splitting the church. Nor do I mean to defend every and each division which is caused and split that takes place within the bosom of that which is called church. But fact is that, as far as the true and faithful church is concerned, the mother denomination is usually the one who is guilty of causing rifts in the church. And the true church goes on, through the process of reformation while the old becomes the false church and while claiming to be the church has really become a sect—a group guilty of heresy.
We are glad that this is seen, at least to a certain extent, by Mr. Hoogstra as is evident from another paragraph which we quote, “Denominations have been under God of immense value. They have broken impersonal, anti-spiritual church machinery that raised the organization above the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of a believer. They have kept the torch of religious liberty undimmed in the night of inquisitions. Through them a great diversity in the expression of Biblical truths has come to light. They have called the church back to the one source—the Word of God. Let no man call our liberators sinners! Bigoted men? But may not our very criticism be a token of our own bigotry, perchance?”
From the same Forum we wish to quote from an article by Henry R. Van Til, Associate Professor of Bible, Calvin College, entitled “Doctrine: A Scriptural Evaluation”. “The same spirit of unconcern for matters of truth, i.e., doctrinal issues, the same listless complacency may also be found in the Christian Reformed Church. Its members no longer welcome and appreciate doctrinal preaching when it is controversial. By the latter term I refer to the type of preaching in which some form of the modern denial of the truth is scored, or the positive principle is concretized by the simple expedient of pointing out the ecclesiastical heresies that must be avoided. Another evidence is the fact that our men’s societies, which have been organized to study the doctrines of Scripture, no longer attract more than a fraction of the male membership of the church. Bowling is far more popular. Besides, one never hears our members discussing doctrine; we are interested in methods and programs and campaigns but to implicate ourselves into the truth, to grow in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus has very little appeal today. This general lethargy is certainly not discouraged but rather abetted and promoted when ecclesiastical dignitaries issue a ukase (a command, a proclamation or imperial order having the force of law—hence any official decree—J.H.) warning consistories not to permit our Dutch cousins to present their doctrinal differences lest we should become embroiled in the issue. The fact that no protests are forthcoming is mute evidence either that thought control is almost complete or that doctrinal indifference is so strong that we no longer are alert or interested to know what the truth of the matter is. However, this docility, this seeming readiness to think only by hierarchical decree may well prove a boomerang for the church. As a result the individual’s consciousness of the integrity of his office of believer and his consciousness of being called and restored to the office of prophet are undermined. Consequently the apostolic admonition to try the spirits to see whether they be of God becomes a dead letter or must be turned over to Synodical committee. Indeed, this procedure of maintaining a deathlike silence on controversial issues in order that we may have peace may perhaps achieve its objective; but, to my mind, it will result in the silence of the cemetery, the stillness of the tomb.”
To begin we would point out that we are simply quoting from the introduction of Mr. Van Til’s article and do not intend to discuss or evaluate it as a whole.
With regard to the above paragraph however we would first of all extend a word of commendation to the author, both for the clear evaluation of the danger present and for the stand which he takes. And if this article together with one to which we called your attention in. a recent number of the Standard Bearer is an indication that there is a growing awareness of and opposition to the hierarchical actions of recent time in the Christian Reformed Churches we can only rejoice. And once again we would repeat and emphasize—except there be free and open discussion on every subject bound only by the Word of God and the Confessions, the church dies.
However, it seems to me that much of what Mr. Van Til writes in the above paragraph can also be applied to the Protestant Reformed Churches and as such it should also be a warning to us. When I think of the impatience, even in our own circles, with ‘doctrinal’ sermons and the greater attraction of sports over against the study of the Word of God I believe we also should read and take warning and “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.”