The Concern of the Reformation for Christian Education (8)

In several articles we have now set forth the concern of the Reformation of the 16th century for Christian education. The Reformation in both its branches, Lutheran and Reformed, called for Christian instruction of the children of believers not only in the home but also in Christian schools. The result was the establishment of Christian schools very early in the development of the Reformation. It remains to evaluate this indisputable fact of history. 

Apparent in the emphasis upon Christian education is the importance of Christian education in the minds of the Reformers. One might think that the Reformers would have been too busy to concern themselves with Christian schools, occupied as they were with opposing the whole Roman Church, withstanding the Empire, and recovering and proclaiming the gospel. That they did set forward the cause of Christian education, in spite of their massive task in the Church, indicates how important they esteemed this cause to be. In fact, concern for Christian education was not so much a matter of the personal judgment of the Reformers as it was an integral part of the Reformation itself. That mighty movement of the Holy Spirit confessed and proclaimed the sovereign, glorious God Who is revealed in Scripture. The heart of hearts of the Reformation, not only in Calvin but also in Luther, was Soli Deo Gloria. To God Alone be the Glory. To the glory of this great God belong His works of creation and providence. He is the Maker of the universe and its sovereign King. He is the Lord of its history. The reason for the existence of the world and every creature in it is His praise. Therefore, the attempt to teach concerning the creation (and what other subject can there be in the schools?) while ignoring or denying God is an assault on the glory of God. To concede the possibility of education which ignores God is to acquiesce in the robbery of God of His most precious treasure, His glory. This is the crime that the ancients were unanimous in condemning as the worst of all crimes: leze majesty. Teaching that “merely” leaves God out is the lie, the fundamental lie of fallen mankind: God is not God. The inevitable, positive formulation of this lie is: Man is god—all glory be to man. What must then be said of teaching that brings the God of Scripture into the instruction, only to disparage Him, to laugh at Him, and to blaspheme Him?Soli Deo Gloria does not only imply churches in which the gospel of sovereign grace is preached. It also implies biology classes in which the foundation and the goal of the instruction are the adoration of Psalm 139:14: “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works, and that my soul knoweth right well.” It implies astronomy classes that climax in the outburst, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (Psalm 19:1). It implies history classes that study the arising and overthrow of kingdoms in the light ofDaniel 2:20, 21: “Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his: And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings. . . .” It implies science classes that begin with the assertion of Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Having this zeal for the glory of God, the Reformation required that God be praised in all His handiwork. Somewhere, Luther wrote a very sad lament concerning the future of the doctrine of justification by faith only. Because of the innate aversion of man’s nature to this doctrine, Luther feared that soon this truth would again be lost, even among those who professed to be his disciples. There is abundant reason for us, as Calvinists, similarly to lament the loss of the hallmark of the Reformed faith, Soli Deo Gloria

In addition to its zeal for God’s glory as a reason for its demand for Christian schools, the Reformation regarded the children who were to be taught as God’s own children, covenant children. It is true that the doctrine of the covenant has been developed since the time of the Reformation. But the Reformers knew the essential elements of the covenant. They knew the basic truth that God gathers the Church in the line of generations, that children of believers are, as infant baptism signifies, included in the Church and covenant of God, and that, for this reason, these children are to be reared and instructed in the fear of the Lord. Reformed people, generally, have acknowledged the importance of Christian schools. Article 21 of the Reformed “Church Order of Dordt” stipulates that “The consistories shall see to it that there are good Christian schools in which the parents have their children instructed according to the demands of the covenant.” In addition to Reformed Churches, the Roman Catholic Church and Lutheran Churches have historically advocated Christian schools. It becomes plain in our day, however, that the concern of Rome is shallow, for she is quite willing to surrender her own schools when they begin to be costly, even though she has more than enough wealth to support those schools and all other schools besides. Nor are many Lutherans impressive on this score. There are in Loveland, for example, three, large, wealthy Lutheran Churches, but no Lutheran Christian School and, apparently, no interest in one. In this as well as many other important matters, we are more “Lutheran,” that is, faithful to the teachings of Luther, than they are. 

Even in those churches which have not supported the movement of Christian education, the Christian school has had its strong defenders. In an article entitled “Parochial Schools,” written in 1846, the eminent Presbyterian theologian, Dr. Charles Hodge, urged Presbyterians to repudiate the public schools in favor of Christian schools.¹ He noted that the principle of Christian education has always been maintained by the Church: “In all ages of the Church and in every part of Christendom it has been considered a first principle that religious teaching should be incorporated with the common school system.” He regarded the attempt of the public schools in America to give instruction in “secular” subjects apart from “religion” as “a novel and fearful experiment. The idea of giving an education to the children of a country from which religion is to be excluded, we believe to be peculiar to the nineteenth century.” Hodge viewed this attempt with the greatest alarm:

The whole system is in the hands of men of the world, in many of our states, and is avowedly secular . . . Again, it is obvious that education without religion, is irreligious. It cannot be neutral, and in fact is not neutral. The effort to keep out religion from all the books and all the instructions, gives them of necessity an irreligious and infidel character.

The conclusion of Dr. Hodge was that it was the duty of Presbyterian Christians to establish their own Christian schools:

The conviction, we are persuaded, is fast taking possession of the minds of good people that the common school system is rapidly assuming not a mere negative, but a positively anti-Christian character; and that in self-defense, and in the discharge of their highest duty to God and their country, they must set themselves against it, and adopt the system of parochial schools; schools in which each Church shall teach fully, fairly and earnestly what it believes to be the truth of God.

Another Presbyterian, the philosopher, Dr. Gordon H. Clark, has more recently written in condemnation of the public school system and in defense of Christian, and specifically Reformed, education. In an excellent book, A Christian Philosophy of Education, which our teachers, Board members, and parents could very profitably read, Clark exposes the fundamental evil of the public school system:

Obviously the schools are not Christian. Just as obviously they are not neutral. The Scriptures say that the fear of the Lord is the chief part of knowledge; but the schools, by omitting all reference to God, give the pupils the notion that knowledge can be had apart from God. They teach in effect that God has no control of history, that there is no plan of events that God is working out, that God does not foreordain whatsoever comes to pass. Aside from definite anti-Christian instruction, to be discussed later, the public schools are not, never were, can never be neutral. Neutrality is impossible. Let one ask what neutrality can possibly mean when God is involved. How does God judge the school system which says to Him, ‘O God, we neither deny nor assert thy existence; and O God, we neither obey nor disobey thy commands; we are strictly neutral.’ Let no one fail to see the point: the school system that ignores God teaches its pupils to ignore God, and this is not neutrality; it is the worst form of antagonism, for it judges God to be unimportant and irrelevant in human affairs. It is atheism.²

He also proclaims the foundation of the Christian school:

There is only one metaphysics, one philosophy, that can really unify education and life. That philosophy is the philosophy of Christian theism; that metaphysics is the metaphysics of the Being of the Triune God. What is needed is an educational system based on the sovereignty of God, for in such a system man as well as chemistry will be given his proper place, neither too high nor too low. In such a system there will be a chief end of man to unify, and to serve as a criterion for, all his activities. What is needed therefore is a, philosophy consonant with those greatest creeds of Christendom, the Westminster Confession, the Canons of the Synod of Dordt, and the like. And in such a system, God, as well as man, will have his proper place. This alone will make education successful, for the social and moral disintegration of civilization is nothing other than the symptom and result of a religious breakdown, and the abominations of war are the punishment of the crime, better the sin, of forgetting God.³

Dr. Clark concludes his book with the simple question: “Does not your child deserve a Christian education from kindergarten to university?” 

(to be continued)

¹ Charles Hodge, Church Polity, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1878. All of the following quotations from Hodge are taken from his article, “Parochial Schools,” in this work. It is not necessary for our purposes to show why we reject the specific form of the Christian school which Dr. Hodge advocates, namely, the parochial school, and rather propose parental schools. 

² Gordon H. Clark, A Christian Philosophy of Education Eerdmans, 1946, pp. 79, 80. 

³ Ibid., pp. 27,28.