Among the greatest gifts God has given us as parents and as church members is the gift of covenant children. The greatest privilege He bestows on us is the duty of raising these children to His glory. In this respect, as in every other, our Christian privilege is also our obligation, and our obligation as Christians is at the same time our privilege. Educating our children according to our obligation before God raises difficulties often unpleasant to face. School boards have their problems in setting up their budgets, so that the needs of the school may be properly met, and at the same time figured so closely that the parents will not be unduly burdened. Parents who have one or more children in school, particularly some in high school and some in the lower grades, feel the financial pressure very keenly. Even the deacons and elders in the church become involved either directly or indirectly with this problem. The question has been raised: “What is the responsibility of the church toward those who cannot pay school tuition; how far should the diaconate become involved, and when does it become a matter for the elders?”*
Viewing the problem of school tuition from that aspect, immediately various principles come to mind. These principles may not be overlooked in our discussion. But there is particularly one principle that stands out among them and should be strongly emphasized. This is the principle of Christian stewardship or of Christian giving. With that in mind, I would like to discuss this basic principle first. Then we can take a look at the various problems involved in regard to school tuition. And finally, we may be able to reach a definite conclusion, even though we may not be able to come to a solution of all the problems involved.
Although the emphasis falls on the one principle already mentioned, that of Christian stewardship, there are obviously many other principles involved, which cannot be entirely ignored.
First of all, there is the principle of Christian instruction.
We are insistent, and correctly so, that it is the duty of every parent to bring up his children in the fear of the Lord, and that not only in the home, and in the church, but also in the school. The school we say, is an extension of the home. The teachers represent the parents, assisting them to prepare their children for their life calling as men and women of God in the midst of this present evil world. Therefore the Christian home requires a Christian school. In fact, a home where Protestant Reformed convictions are maintained requires a Protestant Reformed school. There must be perfect harmony between the church, the home, and the school, not only to avoid confusing the child in that most important realm of his spiritual training; but also to fit him properly for his own calling before the face of our God. This is a part of the vow that we make when we present our children for baptism.
We are insistent that these schools must beparental schools. It is not the calling of the State to instruct the child, but of the parent! We do not send our children to Moab or to Philistia to be trained for their Christian life and walk in the world, but we train them in the home, and thus in its extension, the Christian school. Nor is it the calling of the church to teach the child the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic, with all that this involves. The church instructs the child in sound doctrine, which the parents must apply in instructing their children, according to the calling of our God. Since this duty rests entirely upon the parents, and since particularly in this complicated age in which we live it is impossible for the parents alone to carry out this responsibility, we have our schools where parents together instruct their children through the teachers they hire. The parent sends his child to school with strict orders: You listen to the teacher even as you listen to me. You obey the teacher as obeying me. You diligently learn everything the teacher requires of you, even as you would for me. And you accept all that the teacher teaches you, even as you must accept it from me, and that for God’s sake.
Therefore, since the school is an extension of the home, it follows that it is the duty of each and every parent to support the school and pay for the instruction of his children. A parent of one child assumes the responsibility for that child completely. He feeds and clothes that child, cares for it in all its needs, even paying the doctor and hospital bills when the child is sick. He assumes all the responsibilities involved in bringing up the child, also its spiritual training in the church and its Christian education in the school. The best instruction is not too good, even as he has vowed to train this child in the fear of the Lord to the utmost of his power. If the Lord has entrusted five or more children to him, he also readily assumes that responsibility in the confidence that He is doing his duty before God. And this duty is the privilege the Lord has committed to him.
So far we have not met any realm upon which there can be any disagreement.
Now we come to another principle that involves God’s church and covenant.
We have already established that church and school are two separate entities. Yet it cannot be denied that they are nevertheless, closely related. The same individuals that send their children to the school are also members of the church. The children that are trained in the school are instructed in the catechism. As members of the church, even of the body of Christ, we are, therefore, intimately related to one another by the common bond of faith and love. In that sense it can even be said that these children are not the sole possession of the individual parents, but they are our children. The Psalmist of Psalm 78speaks of “our fathers’ children.” The children of believing parents are included in the covenant seed which God gathers in the line of continued generations of believers throughout history. Therefore, when these children are presented for baptism, not only the parents, but we all confess that these children are “conceived and born in sin, and therefore are subject to all miseries, yea, to condemnation itself; yet that they are sanctified in Christ, and therefore, as members of His church ought to be baptized.” In that respect we all have a responsibility toward those children, and are deeply concerned about their welfare.
This means that both parents and children fall under the jurisdiction of the church, or of Christ as He ministers to their needs through the church. These children, along with their parents, are under the preaching of the Word; They are fed with the Bread of life, strengthened in their faith by the power of Christ operating through the Word. These parents and children, along with the rest of us, are under the jurisdiction of the elders. They are Christ’s sheep, which must be fed, guarded, protected. They must be instructed, admonished, warned, and cared for according to every spiritual need. These parents and children also experience the mercies of Christ in the office of the deacons. In as far as they are able, they themselves give liberally to the deacons to express the mercies of Christ as they experience them in their own hearts and lives. If the need requires, they do not hesitate to appeal to the mercies of Christ for financial aid and spiritual comfort. Where better can they go than to the bountiful hand of Christ through the church and the deacons? So daily they receive all things from Him as from God’s merciful Fatherhand. Blessed it is to give, but blessed it is also to receive.
These are some of the basic principles which we must have before us as they pertain to the subject of school tuition.
This brings us to another important principle, which actually must receive all the emphasis, namely, the principle of Christian stewardship.
When we speak of church or of Christian schools we cannot avoid the term covenant, because God’s covenant is so intimately related to both. Our covenant relationship to God is actually basic for our place in God’s church and for the very existence of our schools. In God’s covenant we are His friend-servants, even as He is our sovereign Friend. The very name “Christian” implies that we are partakers of Christ’s anointing, and therefore by the Spirit of Christ are called to serve our God in the office of believers. We are prophets, priests, and kings, to know Him, love Him, and devote ourselves to Him in love with our whole being, our entire life, including our family. That is our Christian stewardship, in which we confess: “All that I am I owe to Thee.” Of this stewardship we must also give account in the great day of days, as those who must give account of all that is done in the body, whether good or evil. We will be judged as to our eternal place in glory accordingly.
Now the very idea of friend-servant means that we have a calling, a duty, or obligation to love the Lord our God with our whole being and in all that we do. This duty, as has already been suggested, is also our privilege. We must, but we also can, we also will, and we also MAY. Our duty and our privilege are always intertwined in all that we say and do. There is a Dutch Psalm that says, “Thy service of love has never yet wearied me.” We serve God willingly, because we love Him with all our hearts.
That is where our Christian giving comes in. Love must express itself. The Psalmist asks in Psalm 116: “What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me?” To which his heart answers: “I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord.” To put it slightly differently: “I will express my thanks by acknowledging all that the Lord has done for my soul. But I shall also extend to Him eager hands in asking for more and continued blessings.” Love expresses itself in asking freely, confidently, for we are assured of receiving all that we ask, and even far above all that we can ask or think. Love also expresses itself in giving. If there should happen to be any question in our minds about the fact that love expresses itself in giving, we need only be reminded that God gave His Son, and that the Son gave His life as a ransom for our sins. Greater love has no man than that, that he gives His all, gives himself, gives his very life. The love of God finds its reflection in us. Paul speaks of that in II Corinthians 8:5. Let me explain a moment, that Paul is speaking of the churches of Macedonia which were gathering offerings to help the afflicted and impoverished churches in Judea. The apostle tells us that these Macedonian churches were themselves in difficult financial straits, yet they gave according to their ability, even beyond their ability. He says that they gave beyond anything that he had hoped. For, he adds, “They gave themselves.” Yes, they gave themselves to the LORD. Now that is real giving. We must first give ourselves, and we must give ourselves to the Lord. That is what Scripture means when it speaks to us as sons, saying, My son, give me thine heart.” As sons and daughters of God we confess that we belong to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ with body and soul and with all that we possess. In our giving we confess that we are the Lord’s in life, in death, and in eternity. We are simply expressing our love to God in saying, “All that I have in Thine, even as I am Thine.” That means that we can even give with a certain holy abandon. Scripture warns that we should not give grudgingly, but willingly, for God loves the cheerful giver. Then it is actually no concern of ours how much we give. We even prefer that our left hand does not look over our shoulder to spy on what our right hand is giving. That is none of its business. Regarding the matter of school tuition, this means that we count it a privilege to have our own schools and to be able to instruct our children in the truth of the Scriptures according to the convictions of our hearts in a God-centered instruction. We are daily thankful for those schools. We would not want to lose them for anything in the world. Since the spiritual welfare of our children is our chief concern, school tuition has priority on the list of financial obligations. We pay that first, even along with our obligation to the church, because that fills our greatest need, as far as our children are concerned. No sacrifice is too great to give our children covenant training according to the truth of God’s Word, that they may grow up to be men and women of God in His church and kingdom.
I assume that this is exactly where the shoe pinches. There are parents who are financially burdened because of a large family. Our high standard of living has boosted the cost of living to staggering heights. The income is often hardly sufficient to meet all the expenses involved in raising a family. With so many other obligations, the church budget and the school tuition become an even greater drain on resources. Tuition especially is high, because the cost of educating our children keeps climbing along with everything else. If one can keep up with this monthly tuition the matter is not so serious, but if one gets behind the burden begins to weigh so heavily that it becomes unbearable.
Then there are those who realize that they have an obligation to the school, but feel that there are others, who probably have no children of school age, who could well share this heavy burden with them. I can also sympathize with them. There are people in the church with a good income and a small family. They do not realize what it is to struggle under a heavy burden of financial obligations. There are also older people whose children are grown up, and who do not have the problem of tuition any more. Maybe they feel that they have done their duty when they had school-age children, and now the younger generation had better carry the load. Those who object that we older people, or single persons, should also share the burden with them do have a point. We often content ourselves by saying that we went through the depression. We had to pay for our children’s education in much harder times than these. We had to take our tuition from the food of our tables and from the clothing on our backs. Many in those days would take their small weekly income, first take out for church and school, and then ask themselves how much was left for household needs. They felt keenly that by all means church and school must be kept going.
Now that may all be true, but let us not hide behind that as an excuse not to help where there is a real need. We certainly have to carry out our stewardship in this world even today. Our boast of what good stewards we were in the past does not make us good stewards today. The children of the covenant, the spiritual seed of the church, are OUR children. If we take as our yardstick for our giving the Old Testament law of tithing, I think most of us would fall far short of giving a tenth of our gross income. There are possibilities of giving in the church collections, in the various drives, or even with outright donations for the school. How wonderful it would be if each one who could afford it would assume the responsibility of one student, either in high school or in the grades.
Yet, on the other hand, this may never be an excuse for those who must pay tuition. As I said before, the obligation to support the children God has given to us rests first and primarily on the parents. Besides, for all of us applies the command of Jesus, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these (other) things shall be added unto you.” When Elijah came to the widow of Zarephath, he required of her, “Make me a little cake first, and bring it to me, and after make for thee and for thy son.” There we have the same principle of seeking first the kingdom of God. The amazing thing is, that this widow had received the faith to do just that, She made a cake for the prophet of God first. Then I am inclined to say: “I have not found so great faith, no, not even among us.”
Finally, there are those who entirely ignore the principle of seeking the kingdom of heaven first. These are the ones with whom the school boards, the deacons, and the elders are most concerned. There are those who put the church and the school last on their list of obligations, maybe because these creditors are liable to pressure them the least. It is an evil that we can so readily fall into, if we are not constantly on the alert. Our sinful inclinations are to become poor stewards who lose from sight the privilege of being friend servants of God. Or maybe we have never learned it. Young people marry, buy a new home, modern furniture, a car, and other necessities, and find themselves burdened with mortgages, loans, and what not. The child they had not reckoned with in their budget comes along sooner than they had intended. Unforeseen doctor bills pile up, and soon the wolf stands howling at the door. How easy it is to put off paying the school tuition just for once, in the hope that somehow that also will be paid in the future. If the school board could present a budget to the society that would anticipate such contingencies, there still probably would be no problem. But school boards must figure down to the penny in order to keep their annual running expenses down to a minimum. So when the money does not come in someone is bound to suffer. That is what raises the question: How far is the church responsible in this matter?
Maybe the first thing that I should offer as a possible solution to the entire problem is, that the pulpit should lay more stress on the calling and privilege of our Christian stewardship. I know that our Protestant Reformed Churches have always been reluctant to discuss money matters from the pulpit, especially to beg for money. We proceeded from the principle that Jesus is no beggar, but loves a cheerful giver. If a person gives grudgingly, he may better not give. But I blush with shame when I think of how I personally have failed in my duty to instruct in Christian giving. The Word of God must give direction also in these matters. In the meantime all sorts of devious means have been invented to raise money. While the deacons in the churches complain that there are no poor today, so that they can hardly fulfill their calling, the members of the church have all sorts of drives, socials, suppers, sales, and what not. It has occurred to me that someone some day might write a book on “One Thousand And One Ways To Raise Money For The School.” I do not criticize the zeal and devotion of particularly those women who devote so much time and effort toward raising money for these worthy causes, nor would I suggest that you cease to support these efforts. But it does appear that there is something sadly wrong here. People will go to the State for State Aid, and do so without pangs of conscience, but they will absolutely refuse to “humiliate” themselves to go to Christ to receive aid from Him through the deacons. Many seem to give freely to all kinds of efforts to raise money, but they drop a quarter or a dime in the collection plate for the benevolent fund. Maybe we have not learned that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Maybe we have not learned that it is, nevertheless, also blessed to receive, when we receive from the hand of Christ through the church, which eagerly expresses its love to God in its giving. Maybe our whole system of benevolence needs a thorough investigation.
In the second place, it must certainly be stressed that it is the calling of the church, and particularly of the deacons, to administer the mercies of Christ. Where there is a real need the deacons must gladly help. It is no disgrace to be poor. Christ was poor, lived from donations all His life, yet He never complained about it. Are we better than He? It is certainly no disgrace if the deacons call on us to ask us whether we need their aid. And deacons are not going beyond their privilege when they do this, But neither must we be ashamed to go to them when the need is there. Much less must we be concerned about what gossiping tongues might say. More than likely the deacons would advise you to pay your obligation to the school and church first, as good stewards of God, according to the principles laid down in the Scriptures. They would also inquire about your income and expenses; which is their duty. A free and open discussion with the deacons concerning all your financial problems can only prove spiritually stimulating and also beneficial as far as your needs are concerned. You will notice that I do not suggest that the deacons pay the school tuition: This is not wise, since the problem lies much deeper than that. But I do suggest that the church budget and the school tuition be considered a part of our entire financial privilege which God has given to us, a means whereby we may carry out our Christian stewardship before His face.
Finally, there are those who present the real problem. They do not pay their school tuition, because, as they say, they cannot afford it. They refuse to go to the deacons for aid. They do not want anyone prying into their personal affairs, even though they are confident that the deacons keep these things in strictest confidence. The preaching of the Word evidently does not reach them. They become objects of discipline, mind you, not because they fail to pay their tuition for their children, but because they are poor stewards before God. I do believe that the elders should work long and with much patience with these individuals, careful to instruct them in their God-given calling. Even elders must consider that only he who is without sin has the right to cast the first stone. But the elder does not come in his own name, or on his authority. Let him deeply realize in all humility that he comes in the name of Christ. He does not present his own ideas, but he comes with the Word of God, showing that this is the will of God that we live as those who must give account of our stewardship in the great day of days. Let them not fail to point out that it is indeed a privilege to train our children in the truth of Scripture. Let them be the first to admit that we are all sinners and unfaithful in our calling, but that this is the more reason that we spur each other on, in order that we may be a help as good examples to one another. If after long and patient labor and admonition, the individual shows only scorn for that high calling, he must be placed under censure, not for some debt that he may owe or some particular obligation which he failed to fulfill, but for despising the office of mercy in the church or failing to fulfill his own calling as steward in God’s house. Even that censure our fathers called “a last remedy.” It is never applied to destroy, but to save.
How dependent we all are on the grace of God, which is always abundantly rich in supplying all our needs. How necessary it is for all of us to be constant in prayer for ourselves and for one another, that God’s church may prosper, and that our schools may also prosper. They mean so much to us, even though we often take them for granted. Let us never forget that educating our children is a great privilege as well as an awesome responsibility.
* This is in essence the contents of a paper delivered at an officebearers conference in Classis West.