“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.”—Art. 21.
In connection with this article of the church order and the subject of Christian schools in general, a number of important questions will have to be considered. There are, for example, such matters as the following: What constitutes a good Christian school? What is the aim of Christian instruction? What necessitates the establishment of Christian schools? Whose is the task and duty to do so? What is the relation between the church and the school? What is parental responsibility? What is meant by the demands of the covenant? These and other related matters will occupy our attention as we try to decipher the twenty-first article of our church order which, at first glance, would seem to favor the idea of parochial Christian education which, for reasons which will later become apparent, we cannot approve. If this is so, we seriously question whether this article can stand in the light of Scripture and the Biblical conception of the covenant.
The present reading of Article 21 is the product of the revision of 1914 and is not materially the same as the article that appeared in the original Church Order of 1618-19. Circumstances in our country affecting the church and. the schools are quite different from those of the Netherlands in the seventeenth century. These differences necessitate a change as far as the subject matter of this article is concerned.
Back in the years following the Reformation, the idea of parental Christian school societies and free parentally controlled Christian schools was a thing unheard of. This is understandable if we bear in mind the political-ecclesiastical situation as well as the fact that in Reformed circles the doctrine of the Covenant was not yet developed and did not occupy the important place in the conception of the church which it does today. Later we will show that this conception is very fundamental to a correct understanding of Christian education. Naturally then, one’s covenant view determines many things and by no means the least of these is the question as to whose responsibility it (is to establish and maintain good Christian schools.
Following the Reformation the church and state for some time were one. The state did not, as today, assume an attitude of so-called neutrality toward religion and the matters of the church but it was very definitely committed to either the Roman Catholic Church or to the faith of Protestantism. Furthermore, the governments also sponsored and supported both religion and education. The salaries of both the ministers and the school teachers were paid by the state. In the Netherlands the Reformed Churches enjoyed this favor of the government and, consequently, the day schools were also Reformed and Christian because much of the operation and supervision of the schools was left to the churches by the government.
With these conditions the Reformed Churches acquiesced. They urged the state to establish and maintain good schools where the children might receive instruction in the service and fear of the Lord for they realized deeply the importance of sound training for the youth. Although, as we wrote, they did not as yet conceive of the idea of parentally controlled schools, they did, through their Synods, advise consistories in this matter and urged them to action. Consistories were advised to urge the state to provide good Christian educational facilities everywhere. In 1574 the Synod ruled that consistories should see to it that there were competent teachers who were not only able to instruct in language and other things but who could also teach the doctrine of the truth. And the ministers in various places were instructed to see to it that in every place school teachers were appointed, to request the government to provide good salaries and to ask the government’s cooperation in compelling the teachers to subscribe to the confession of faith and submit to the government of the church.
Later Synods followed this same pattern so that in 1618-19 the Synod of Dordrecht adopted what had already been decided by the Synod ‘s Gravenhage in 1586 and what was originally the twenty-first article of our church order. Translated freely, it read as follows:
“Everywhere consistories shall see to it, that there are good schoolmasters who shall not only instruct the children in reading, writing, languages, and the liberal arts, but likewise in godliness and in the Catechism.”
In the Holland language this is: “De Kerkeraden zullen alomme toezien, dat er goede schoolmeesters zijn, die niet alleen de kinderen leeren lezen, schrijven, spreken, en vrije kunsten, maar ook dezelve in godzaligheid en in den Catechismus onderwijzen.”
Our present article is quite a change from the original reading. It is plain that the twenty-first article historically did not express nor imply that it was the duty of consistories to appoint school teachers but only that they shall exert influence upon the state to appoint teachers who could be trusted with the instruction of the children. The consistories, as also today, surely had an interest in the education of the children but they had no jurisdiction over the schools. They were then state institutions, maintained and governed by the state even though the latter often used the churches as an intermediary agency to promote the affairs of the school. Both church and state at this time were under governmental control, however right or wrong that may have been.
It is also of interest to note here that the Heidelberg Catechism was then taught in the schools. The Heidelberg Catechism was, of course, originally designed as a text book and also used for that purpose. In the state schools the ten commandments, the twelve articles of faith, the institution of the Lord’s Supper and baptism, morning and evening prayers before and after meals, were also taught. Apart now from the question as to whether all of these things properly have a place in the school, we must notice the vast difference between the State Schools then and those of our own land in the present day in which all that pertains to God is banned by order of our highest court in order that the State may assume a strict neutral (??) position with respect to all matters religious. These differences are too great to pass by unnoticed and, furthermore, it is in part at least, these differences that brought about our present system of Christian schools.
If it is asked how such differences can be explained, we must point out as one thing, the fruits of the French Revolution which in effect brought about the separation of church and state. When this occurred in the Netherlands, the church lost the controlling hand which she once had in the schools and the schools then soon became the instrument through which the principles of the atheistic French Revolution were inculcated into the youth. To this, especially the parents of Reformed persuasion, objected and these protests materialized in the formation of separate schools under the parental-society system. This system has also found its way into this country so that our Christian schools today are established, maintained and operated by free societies which, in distinction from the schools of former times, are free from state control and, in distinction from the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and other systems, are free from church control. Our schools are not parochial in character nor should they be. Although the church most definitely has a deep interest in and is vitally concerned about the Christian school, the latter is not under the jurisdiction of the former. Of the relation between these two we must write later. Here, in light of the foregoing, it must be evident why Article 21, under the then prevailing circumstances was formulated as it was and, further, why under our present system of free societies, the change in formulation is necessary.
“Consistories shall see to it that there are good Christian schools . . . .”
This is a duty often left unattended by consistories. Frequently the presence of “a” Christian school in a community is regarded as satisfactory-irrespective of the question as to whether or not that school measures up to the standard of “good.” That matter is not interrogated. For many years our consistories have been weak with regard to this matter and the consequences of this have also become apparent. If this matter were more seriously investigated some very alarming revelations could be made concerning the Christian schools where many of our Protestant Reformed children are still instructed five days out of the week.
What then constitutes a “good” Christian school?
A school is not good simply because it gives instruction in the Bible, opens and closes its daily sessions with prayer, teaches the children a few religious songs and, in general, is characterized by a religious atmosphere. Neither is a school good simply because its physical plant measures up to certain requirements or because its enrollment puts it in the above average class or because it is able to produce a winning ball club in the field of competitive sports. Such seems to be more and more the prevailing opinion in our day. If a school does not have an attractive building, including a massive gymnasium, is not recognized for its physical education achievements, does not have a class A or B enrollment, etc., it is frowned upon. But these things do not make a school, however desirable and appealing they may be. Next time, D.V., we will continue to narrate that which is essential to a good Christian school.