September 1, 2020 Standard Bearer preview article
Reformed Free Publishing Association
This article is written by Prof. Barrett Gritters and will be published in the September 1, 2020 issue of the Standard Bearer.
Preserving our good Christian schools
We can truly say about our good Christian schools, “The Lord hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad!” (Ps. 126:3). The more I think about what God has given us, I want to say this. Even the heathen, if they would look at our schools carefully and judge honestly, would say, “The Lord hath done great things for them” (Ps. 126:2).
We have twenty good Christian schools, in which communities of like-minded parents and supporters are banded together to teach the covenant youth the world and life view they embrace, teach all the subjects of the curriculum from the viewpoint of the Reformed faith, the faith of the Protestant Reformed Churches. Among all the Protestant Reformed communities in North America, only five or six small groups of believers have found it not yet possible to band together to do what no single set of Christian parents is able to do. For all the rest, the parents have the high privilege to run and maintain a good Christian school. Some small and struggling, others large and flourishing, but all—from kindergarten through secondary school—are a parent’s efforts to be faithful to their baptismal vow: “I promise and intend to see these children, when come to the years of discretion, instructed and brought up in the aforesaid doctrine…to the utmost of my power.”
Under the richest blessing and undeserved favor of the Lord, Protestant Reformed communities enjoy what is almost unique in all the world. Church, home, and school—a threefold cord that cannot be quickly broken (Eccl. 4:12)—all dependent on God’s unfailing covenant promises.
From the first Protestant Reformed Christian school in Redlands, California in 1934, where my father taught in the 1940s with only one other young teacher (in their first year teaching together their combined age was only 36), to what we have today in 2020, a strong consciousness has developed that Protestant Reformed communities of believers need good, Protestant Reformed Christian schools.
These schools are maintained only through greatest sacrifice and continued vigilance. Large or small, modern and well equipped or always just making do with more dated amenities, none will survive unless the entire community sacrifices time and money to keep them going. And without continued vigilance, the devil’s constant assaults (from the world or through our own sinful flesh) will bring them down. And there are plenty of these.
Assaults of the unbelieving world
The value of our good Christian schools for Christ’s cause makes them the objects of the devil’s assaults. We have always known that. These days, extra vigilance and even greater sacrifice may be needed.
On the one hand, the devil may use the civil government to bring the schools down. The government is making advances in its wicked definitions of ‘hatespeech.’ Soon, authorities may forbid any teacher to say that sexual aberrations are sin, or other religions are false. School boards are alert to these threats. What we may not forget is that the clamping down against biblical teachings may come as suddenly and unexpectedly as the COVID-19 restrictions. Nothing should surprise God’s people anymore.
Some government assaults may be more subtle and come in the form of enticements rather than frontal assaults. Civil governments may offer money to our schools or parents. And love of money is the root of all kinds of evils in the Christian schools too. True, civil governments may have a difficult time convincing tax-payers to support Christian schools financially, just because the present setup is easy for them: Christian parents now pay for both the Christian education of their own children and the public education of their neighbors. But efforts are always being made to relieve this double burden of these Christian parents. Various forms of government aid for parochial and Christian schools have been proposed for decades. Maybe it’s the system in which all parents are given a voucher to be used at whatever school they choose. Whatever form the government support of the school may take, we need to remember the adage that ‘whoever pays the piper calls the tune,’ and governments are always interested in calling the tune in Christian schools. Beware, the government will first addict us with money, no strings attached. But soon the aid will be only for ‘government approved’ schools, and the designation ‘government approved’ will require the Christian schools to compromise. The compromises will be little by little, but they will be required. Christian parents would do well to read the many Standard Bearer articles by Homer Hoeksema and Prof. H. Hanko (starting in the 1960s) on the grave dangers of receiving aid. School boards could consider making these articles recommended reading for their members.
More recently, this money temptation appeared in the form of a plan to have the church pay the school tuition of the members’ students. First, parents pay the cost of education to the church, tax free, of course; then, the church in turn will pay the school. With a twenty-thousand-dollar tuition bill, a family could save thousands in taxes each year. The only problem is that this method requires compromise. First, it requires the church to promise to pay the tuition of all their members’ children whether their parents contribute or not. Second, it turns the schools into parochial schools (church run, as Roman Catholic and Baptist schools are) rather than parental. The Reformed view has parents, not elders and ministers, establishing and maintaining the schools.
Let us keep the government out of our schools. Regarding financial aid, we need to adopt the spirit of Israel at the time of Ezra when their unbelieving neighbors offered them aid: “Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the Lord God of Israel” (Ez. 4:3).
Assaults from believers’ sinful nature
An improper view of education, or an improper view of the schools, also will do damage to our cause of covenant education.
In our modern age, it is a temptation to adopt an improper—really a naïve—view of education. When the Internet is full of quality videos that give instruction in almost any area, when even universities are offering ‘online degrees,’ and when our schools of late have been compelled to do some of their work online because of government restrictions, we may be tempted to think that Christian education can be done that way—online and with videos. This view forgets that truly Reformed education is more than filling a mind with information, and that education requires interaction inasmuch as this is possible. It’s naïve to think that proper instruction of children is accomplished merely by making them learn facts, and thus that reading books and watching videos suffices. That is not proper any more than it would be for a consistory to teach catechism by handing out a book to read or having the minister pre-record Bible lectures that the children can listen to at home.
Good instruction requires interaction. Good instruction requires teachers to listen to their students, to judge whether they understand, to know when to repeat something, or whether to restate it in a different way. Good teachers read faces and body language. A teacher needs to see his students, which is why it was a great challenge for me (and all teachers) this past spring to teach remotely for some weeks. I could see the men sitting behind their computers, but I could not ‘read them.’
Most basically, good instruction requires good teachers, and a good teacher is a trained teacher. He or she is trained in the principles of education, the methods of teaching and testing, and is knowledgeable in the subjects he teaches. In a Christian school that means knowing how to teach the subject in the light of God’s Word and the Reformed faith. Good teaching requires hard work, which every teacher knows and most students understand. Our schools may be compelled, at times, to hire untrained teachers; and we are very grateful for these men and women who are willing to teach our children. But untrained does not mean unqualified, and those who teach without training must soon become more qualified in extraordinary ways.
For me to believe, years ago, that I could have taught my six children well, without the help of trained and experienced teachers, would have been naïve. It reminds me of the times I put new brakes on our family’s cars to save a little money. When my mechanic friend saw the fruits of my amateur labors one time, he kindly but pointedly said to me, “Pastor, why don’t you make sermons and let me fix your brakes.” He was right. To do a job well, training and experience are required.
An improper view of our schools is another danger.
Let me be positive first. I pray that each of us can say, “The schools are my schools, in which I and other believers give our children the best education we can give them.” The emphasis on the pronouns in that sentence is intended to remind me not to talk about “the” schools and especially not “that” school, but to speak of “our school.” It is too easy, when I find something I do not like in the school, gradually to place myself in my own mind outside of the school rather than as a part of the school. A disaffected member of a church or denomination can do that too. Then he begins talking about “the churches” or “these churches” rather than “our churches.” Likewise, disappointed by one thing or another in the schools, instead of viewing the schools as his own work, he mentally and emotionally distances himself from them as though the schools are someone else’s work.
Then, if the devil has his way, the man or woman gradually begins viewing the school like we might view a business. It provides a service. If we do not like the business’s service, we shop at another store. We have options.
But our schools are not simply ‘service providers.’ What they truly represent is a significant part of our effort as a covenant community to serve God by carrying out our baptismal vows. I pray that I will speak properly about our schools, and that teachers and administrators speak to us not as their customers but as their employers, and of themselves as our servants.
Maybe this would be a good way to think about the schools. Draw a circle in your mind. Label the circle “school.” Do I see myself in the circle or outside of the circle? Properly viewing our schools has me in the circle. Now take this a step further. If I would put myself and all the other parents outside the circle, what would be left? If I say, “the school is left,” I would have a wrong conception of the good Christian school. For the school is the parents and supporters. Take away the parents and supporters, and you do not have a school. There may be a building with teachers and an administrator, but there is not a good Christian school as we have established them.
The teachers, administrators, and school boards are our servants. Parents have hired or elected them. The school is the parents.
Practically speaking, then, because this covenant community is composed of weak and sinful members— you and me—there will be disappointments, just as in my church and in my family. When I see those weaknesses, I will not reject the school because of them. Rather, humbled by them, in humility I will work with all the other parents and supporters to do better, to correct our weaknesses, and to bear with all the other sinners in the community whose sins are not as great as mine.
When the new school year begins in North America (August/September), there may be more government-imposed hardships that will test our resolve to be faithful as a covenant community. They may well expose in us whether our Christian schools are a strong preference or a deep-seated and unshakable conviction. That would be good for all of us to consider. A preference that I am willing to give up when hardships come? Or a conviction from which I cannot be moved even when the sacrifices are greater than they are today?
Let us, who are in such privileged areas where we have our own schools, make some school commitments: “We will not take our schools for granted. We will thank our teachers and administrators regularly. We will not wink at errors or culpable weaknesses, but carefully correct what must be corrected and allow love to cover the multitude of others, even sins. We promise, for the sake of our generations, that we will not give up on our schools. When we are fearful or disappointed or even angry, we will not venture out on our own any more than we would if we were rowing together on a boat across the stormy Atlantic. We will stick together for the sake of all the children in our covenant community, even when we may believe that our chances of survival may be greater on our own.”
On behalf of the covenant communities in which we live, I say, “Thank you, teachers, for your devotion to our youth, for giving up your lives for their sakes. Do not weary in your well-doing; and please do not allow yourself to become complacent. Find joy in your work as you labor before the Lord with our sinful children. Thank you, administrators and boards, for your willingness (some of you volunteer many hours and evenings without pay) to oversee the schools. Do not weary in your well-doing, even when we parents are not expressive of our gratitude for your work, and even at times are critical. And thank you, parents, who hold our teachers to the highest standards, understanding that each one has his or her own gifts. You parents, who pay enough for this education that you forgo many other earthly pleasures, great is your reward in heaven.”
To all involved in our covenant Christian schools: God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love, which ye have shewed toward His name (Heb. 6:10) in this service to all the children of the covenant. Oh, that men would praise the Lord for His goodness (in our Christian schools) and for His wonderful works in providing us the good Christian schools that we have! The Lord has done great things for us, whereof we are glad.