“Are the Christian Schools cared for?”
This is the question with which the delegates of each Consistory are confronted every time the Classis meets. The very nature of the question, together with the real tendency in our present day to dissociate the Christian school from the church (consistory) altogether, makes it imperative to reevaluate and explain the significance of this matter.
We are not, however, to discuss in this connection the relation between the church (consistory) and the school. This question belongs properly to Article 21 of the Church Order where the duty of the consistory is defined as “seeing to it that there are good Christian schools in which the parents have their children instructed according to the demands of the covenant.” We have treated this matter fully in The Standard Bearer, Vol. 31, pgs. 380 ff.
At present we are interested in the significance of the question that is put to the delegates of the Classis under Article 41. Historically we understand that this matter of caring for the Christian schools had real meaning to the consistories. For a long time after the Reformation, the schools were owned by the government. In countries such as the Netherlands where the government was Reformed, the management of the schools was left to the consistories. The latter functioned as School Boards. They examined the teachers, supervised the instruction, and insisted particularly on purity in doctrine in the schools. When then the question was asked “of de Christelijke Scholen bezorgd worden,” the question had reference to these very things. It meant, “Did the consistory attend to these matters?”
Later, however, the government became neutral ( ?) and so did the schools. As a result of this, societies were organized for the establishment and maintenance of real Christian schools. This situation prevails in our day. Our schools are not owned, operated, and directly supervised by the church but by parental societies. Our position is that it is the direct responsibility of the parents to train and to educate the children of the covenant.
This raises the question whether or not this situation relieves the consistory of the necessity of answering the prescribed question? Is, perhaps, this question of Article 41 outmoded and would it be better to elide this altogether from our Church Order? Can the consistory under the present set-up still fulfill this function and, if so, what is the intent or meaning of the question?
In reply to this we stress that the consistory is certainly duty bound to support the cause of Christian education. In fact, in view of present developments in the educational world, it may be said that this function of the consistory has become more mandatory than ever before. Although it is difficult to imagine that a consistory of a Reformed Church could oppose or be indifferent toward the cause of Christian education, we cannot ignore the cold facts of reality. It may be stated, however, that where such is the case there has already been a radical departure from the principles of theReformed faith. Even though the name Reformed is retained, it is impossible to be and remain reformed and oppose the principles of Christian education. For this very reason no man who is opposed to Christian education can be considered an eligible candidate for the office of elder or deacon in a Reformed Church. Such a man cannot fulfill the obligations of the office for the consistory is bound by the Word of God and the Church Order to support, promote and care for the Christian schools.
This duty of the consistory is not fulfilled by simply making some financial provision for the Christian schools through offerings that are received in the church. Neither is the question that is asked by the Classis the same as if it were asked whether there is a Christian school in the locale and whether the parents are urged to use this school for the instruction of their children. These things may in themselves be significant and even necessary measures by which the Consistory’s role in the matter of education is aided, but they do not touch upon the main thrust of the question asked. In seeking that thrust we must not forget the historic circumstances in which this question originated. It may even be granted that those circumstances in which the church directly controlled and maintained the schools was not ideal and even in principle wrong, yet, the main point evolving from the question raised in those circumstances is whether the consistory sees to it that the education which the children of the church receive is good, sound andReformed? Is it Christian education? Does the consistory support in every possible way such programs of education? Does the consistory impress upon its membership the necessity and urgency of such a program?
That question is certainly the business of the consistory. It has its origin not in the debatable relation between the church and the school but rather in the incontrovertible question that is put by the church to the parents in the baptism of their children: Do you promise, before God and His church, to see to it that these children, when come to the years of discretion; are instructed and brought up in the aforesaid doctrine, or help or cause them to be instructed therein to the utmost of your power?” Monsma and Van Dellen in the Church Order Commentary make the statement: “Consistories should ascertain for themselves whether the instruction which the children of their church receive is Christian, or rather Reformed. Consistories must be sure that the schools which they are supporting are not merely Christian in name or to a certain extent, but that they are maintaining their distinctive character to the very best of their ability” (pg. 188).
This is certainly true and for us that means that each consistory must promote and support as much as possible the cause of Protestant Reformed Education or desist from giving an affirmative answer to the question that is asked its delegates at the Classis. We repeat that also in this respect there is room for the president of the Classis to ask one or two pointed or direct questions in regard to the matter of Christian education. This would avert the danger of Article 41 becoming a matter of formal routine and in some instances might even reveal situations that are in need of investigation, admonition and correction before irreparable damage is done.
The Judgment and Help of the Classis
The final question that is put to the delegates of the Classis is: “Do you need the judgment and help of the classis for the proper government of your Church? — of er iets is, waarin zij het oordeel en de hulp der Classis tot rechte instelling hunner Kerk behoeven.”
We may note first of all that the term proper government is not an exact translation of rechte instelling. The Church Order Commentary explains the difference in the following quotation: “Our term is too limited. For instelling refers not merely to the government of the Church but also to its organization. It seems to refer to the governmental set-up of the churches as well as to the proper functioning of this organization. Consistories or delegates are not expected to raise all kinds of questions dealing with interesting and perhaps important matters, but they are to limit themselves to questions which are at that time actually problems to them. The purpose of classical gatherings is to help each other in the proper government of the churches. Classis is, therefore, interested in specific cases, not abstract possibilities.”
Be that as it may, we are at present more concerned with the terms “judgment” and “help” in the above question. Experience has shown that there is a difference of opinion and interpretation of this question and, it seems to me, these differences center upon the meaning of the two words mentioned above. There can be no question but that these are proper translations of the words “oordeel” and “hulp.” Yet, the question has many times arisen as to just what is proper for a consistory to bring to the classis for“judgment and help.”
It is understood, of course, that such matters must be ecclesiastical in nature (Art. 30, D.K.O.). If a consistory becomes involved in unsolvable problems due to the fact that it has meddled in unecclesiastical matters, the Classis is not going to give judgment and help but rather an admonition. This is proper and concerning this there is no dispute.
There are, however, two definite views as to when and under what circumstances the Classis gives judgment and help to a consistory that brings before it a problem of an ecclesiastical nature. According to one view, the consistory involved must definitely decide the matter and have its decision formally recorded in its minutes before the Classis will act upon the request to give judgment and help. Consistories must not be encouraged simply to drop all their problems into the lap of the Classis and expect the Classis to solve them. Classes must not be made “question boxes.” The Classis takes the position that the consistory is a self-governing body and must, therefore, make its own decisions and only then when there is doubt and uncertainty with the decision made will the Classis render assistance and give its judgment.
Although there is much merit in these arguments, there are two objections to the above position. First of all, in effect this means that no consistory will bring a problem to the Classis under the question of Article 41 except in the concrete case of a protest. If the consistory decides the matter, there is no further need to go to the Classis for judgment and help. Only if one of the members of the consistory or, if it is a matter that concerns the congregation, a member of the congregation dissents with the opinion of the consistory and considers it weighty enough to merit a protest will the matter come to Classis but even then, not under Article 41 but as an item on the Agendum. In the second place, this position makes it impossible for a consistory that really needs help to obtain it. Let me illustrate this by means of a hypothetic case. There is a consistory with four elders and four deacons. At the time this congregation is without a minister and, hence, there are only eight votes in the consistory. A certain serious problem arises concerning which the consistory is equally divided with two elders and two deacons taking opposite positions. It is impossible for the consistory to arrive at a decision and, therefore, it is decided, to seek the judgment and help of the Classis in the matter. This is done but the Classis will not come to the aid of this consistory because it has not first taken a stand.
For these reasons we consider this position to be untenable but then, D.V., we will say more about this and another view of the matter next time.