In our previous articles, dealing with the subject matter of the twenty-first Article of our Church Order, we have attempted to make clear the following: (a) The origin and history of this article, (b) That good Christian schools are those that thoroughly furnish the child of God unto every good work, (c) That requisite to the establishment of such schools and, therefore, the basic problem of Christian education, is the capable and properly trained instructor, (d) That the consistory is obliged to do its utmost to procure such teachers for the instruction of the youth of the church as well as see to it that the parents use the best possible means available for the instruction of their children.
In connection with this last-mentioned matter, we will discuss this time the responsibility of believing parents to provide Christian education for their children and, more particularly, the duty of Protestant Reformed parents to establish and maintain schools for their children wherein they are instructed in harmony with the principles of the Protestant, Reformed faith. Failure to realize this responsibility will give justification to the cry of our children who, with the prophet Jeremiah, will say, “Our fathers have sinned and are not; and we have borne their iniquities.” (Lamentations 5:7)
That the duty to educate rests firstly and principally with the parents is evident from all Scripture. It was once correctly said, “Parents feel duty bound to feed, to clothe, and to provide shelter for their own offspring. We believe that the upbringing of the children intellectually and spiritually (as well as their upbuilding physically) is a divinely imposed parental responsibility. Unfaithfulness in the discharge of this our God-given duty is unfaithfulness toward God who ordained it thus.” And another said, “Let us always remember that the duties of parents to children are two-fold: They must give them both physical and spiritual nourishment. Tell me how a parent divides his money, his time, and his effort in the discharge of these two parental duties, and I’ll tell you what his personal interest is in the kingdom!”
The seriousness of this matter lies in that we have to do with GOD, THE LORD, before whose eyes all things are open and naked. If it were a matter of personal choice or even of conflicting opinions of individuals as to whether we should or should not sacrifice and struggle to provide our children with a daily training that is commensurate to our faith, we might ignore the whole matter with impunity but never is this so when we deal with God. We are confronted with His holy word and then it is not a matter for us to decide for HE HAS DECIDED IT FOR US! His word is never retractable simply because Jehovah is the immutable one. He speaks and for us it is either obedience in the way of which we enjoy His blessing and favor or rebellion which invokes His just displeasure and wrath. And He speaks to us with unmistakable clarity:
“And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” (Deuteronomy 6:7)
“Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)
“And ye fathers . . . nurture them in the chastening andadmonition of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)
To these other passages can still be added but this is sufficient to place us directly before the express Word of God. Whether the Lord says it once or a hundred times does not alter the fact that is so strikingly evident from the passages quoted. The command is “teach them diligently . . . train them in the way they should go . . . bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Pious parents will understand that the realization of this high calling of God necessitates a complete system of education and training that is based upon sound and pure principles of faith . . . the truth of the Word of God. So important a matter may not be entrusted to those who do not confess the truth. We would not think of asking a physician without surgical knowledge and experience to perform an operation upon our child nor would we have those who know nothing of dentistry look after their teeth. Why then do many of us persist in having those who do not confess the truth train our children? Are we unaware of the serious ill-consequences such practices inevitably bring forth? Let us be consistent! We confess the truth and that truth we strive to live by in our worship in our churches, in our homes, in our manifestation of life in the world of business and labor, in our recreation and pleasure! And the truth is the Protestant Reformed faith! Indeed so! Let us then also be Protestant Reformed in the rearing and instructing of our children!
In this way our vow before God, made in the baptism of our children; comes to its more perfect fulfillment. Believing parents are reminded that “baptism is not a custom or superstition but an ordinance of God.” Using this ordinance they are urged to answer sincerely this question: “Whether you promise and intend to see these children, when come to the years of discretion, instructed and brought up in the aforesaid doctrine, or help or cause them to be instructed therein to the utmost of your power?” To this, we who have our children baptized, answer sincerely, “Yes!” Before God we answer, “Yes!”
Before His church, in the presence of many witnesses, we answer, “Yes!” Further that “Yes” is sincere!
Two things are of special importance in connection with this answer. Before we speak of these, we wish to freely translate a few lines of the writing of Rev. B. Wielenga in, “Ons Doops Formulier.” (Our Baptism Form). He writes in connection with the third question of baptism:
“There we read further: ‘to the utmost of your power to instruct or to be instructed’. In these words the principle (beginsel) of CHRISTIAN INSTRUCTION is expressed. The father, ordained of God, is the instructor and the mother is the natural instructor of their seed. But where they themselves evidently cannot do this, because of time or ability, an agreeable organization must be set up where the baptized children are instructed in agreement with the foresaid doctrine.
Such an establishment is first of all the Christian school which, on the basis of the baptism promise, may not proceed from the state or some other organization apart from the state or some other organization apart from the parents but must be established and maintained by the parents themselves.
The founding and maintaining of the school with the Scriptures is the giving of instruction to which parents, with an oath, have obliged themselves: Unnecessary it is to say how great in the light of the doctrine of baptism and the promise of baptism, is the sin of parents who entrust their children to a school which in practice honors atheism and brings up children in unbelief.
But, from the promise to instruct, also follows the task of parents to work with the ministers of the Word who give official ecclesiastical instruction to the baptized children of the church and to support him in this task with all the means at their disposal. Parents must consider that the catechetical instruction of the minister, in part at least, is the fulfilling of their baptismal promise. They are obliged, therefore, to work with the minister and at home to exercise careful control over when and how the children perform their assigned tasks.
May it be that also in this respect the proper significance of the baptism promise be somewhat more felt by us ‘Reformed people’. How much more pleasant and agreeable for our teachers and ministers would then their difficult and now so often unappreciated task become.
But notice also that it says, ‘TO THE UTMOST OF YOUR POWER to instruct or be instructed’. Two things we note here. The moral sluggard who is always ready to let it fall upon someone else instead of himself is herein condemned. On the other hand, herein is a duty laid upon Christians to lend a helping hand to those parents for whom it is manifestly impossible to have their children instructed ‘in the aforesaid doctrine’. For the hearer, who has enough on a half-word, it lies in this baptism promise that the church has the duty through a ‘Supply or Charity Fund’ to help needy parents attain Christian training.”
It is evident then that in the third baptismal question, we firstly promise to bring up our children, to instruct them “in the aforesaid doctrine.” The aforesaid doctrine is the doctrine contained in the Old and New Testaments and in the Articles of our Christian faith astaught (interpreted, maintained) in the Protestant Reformed Churches. This doctrine is the Reformed truth, the Reformed way of life. It stands opposed not only to the atheistic way of life promulgated by the ungodly and unbelieving and to the many religious views that are not considered under the nominal heading of ‘Reformed’ but also to those views which are generally regarded to be historically Reformed butin actual fact are not. In that doctrine we promise to instruct our children.
Secondly, we promise to do this “to the utmost of our power.” We will go to every possible limitation. We will endure every necessary hardship, to say nothing yet of a few minor inconveniences which we frequently complain about. We will forgo luxury and pleasure. We will sacrifice all things that our children may be instructed in this doctrine. Nothing that we can possibly do will be left undone in the realization of this task for we promise “to the utmost of our power.” Just as our baptism form speaks of our part in the covenant of God as consisting in this, “that we love the Lord our God with ALL our hearts, with ALL our souls, with ALL our strength,” so do we promise to use ALL our power in the realization of our calling to properly educate our children.
Are we not rather inclined to exert but little effort and when that meets with the least obstacle, we become discouraged and doing nothing try to convince ourselves that the Lord requires of us the impossible? That is our sin! To be sure we must understand that wecannot educate our children as we ought in our power but the “utmost of our power” is equal to “the utmost of our faith” and faith is not a power of us but of God. By faith we can! By it the seemingly impossible and insurmountable obstacles are conquered for faith is victorious. It stops for nothing until complete triumph has been attained. Mountains which appear impossible will appear before us!
But, then, do not the Scriptures speak of removing mountains by faith?
Lord, increase our faith!