Christian Education and the Reformed Baptism Form (4): Duty Bound

The Christian instruction of covenant children is a duty that is bound upon the Reformed parent. We read this in the third question asked of the parents in the Reformed Baptism Form. We now turn to this second section in the form that speaks of Christian education.  

In previous posts we have discussed that parents stand in the office of prophet, priest, and king with regard to their children. In this post, we look at the vow that parents take in the Reformed Baptism Form with regard to Christian education: “Whether you promise and intend to see these children, when come to the years of discretion (whereof you are either parent or witness), 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 question, the parents say a hearty, “Yes.” What happens here? Wielenga explains this on page 348 in his book The Reformed Baptism Form: A Commentary. He writes, “The promise here also bears the character of a pledge that the parents are indebted to pay the Lord out of the gratitude for the kindness shown to them.”

The story of Samuel immediately comes to mind when one reads this part of the form. In 1 Samuel 1 we read of godly Elkanah and Hannah giving Samuel unto the Lord. After Hannah had poured out her heart unto the Lord and asked God for a covenant child, the Lord granted that request. This name Samuel means, “asked of the Lord.” Then, in a moving scene, godly Hannah presented Samuel to the Lord in 1 Samuel 1:27-28: “For this child I prayed; and the LORD hath given me my petition which I asked of him: Therefore also I have lent him to the LORD; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the LORD. And he worshipped the LORD there.” Thanks be to God for his gift of covenant children!

The purpose of this blog has been the encouragement of godly parents as they perform their vows taken at baptism. As teachers, we see the sacrifice that parents make to perform their vows.  The vows that they take are solemn and weighty. As Wielenga states, “When the parents take the child to the place of worship, there is in the “offer” of the child to the Lord something of what moved Elkanah and Hannah to bring the young Samuel into the temple” (348). When this happens, godly parents are showing that the child belongs to God and not to them.

This is a source of deep humility on the part of parents, teachers, ministers, and the congregation who bring up the covenant children. While the covenant child is under the authority of the parents and especially the father, nevertheless that child is often under the supervision of others in the church. Many of those hours are in the Christian school.

Over the years of my teaching, I have had the honor of discussing Christian education with many parents. I have learned especially that the task of Christian school teaching is deeply humbling. For thirty-six weeks a year, six hours a day, we instruct the covenant children of godly parents. As one wise father told me, “You have my child six hours a day. You probably see my child more during a week than we parents do. I have to trust you that you will teach my child the truth.” Parents, we teachers know that we stand in your place for many hours and we are humbled that you trust us that we will teach your children the truth.

I write this blog as another year of covenant education has drawn to a close. The classrooms in school are bare of bulletin boards and the colors of education. I often wonder: “What keeps the children coming back each year for another year of covenant instruction?” The answer is that parents have made a vow which they willingly keep! When the form says that parents “promise and intend” to teach their children, the idea of “intend” is very strong. Wielenga states, “The text would be more in accordance with the original intention if it were to be replaced by, whether you promise and decide for yourself” (349).  The vow is intentionally taken by God’s grace. As parents and teachers we pray that God will bless our efforts in the godly instruction that is given in accordance with these weighty vows!

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This post was written by Mike Feenstraa member of the Protestant Reformed Church in Crete, Illinois. Mike also teaches fifth grade at a Christian school in Indiana. 

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Christian Education and the Reformed Baptism Form (3): Instructing the Children

Our covenant children are royal children. Once they come to years of discretion we are called to hold before them, “Do you know, my child, that when you were very small something solemn, something holy happened to you? You were baptized in the name of the triune God. You are not a heathen child, but a child of the covenant” (Wielenga, Reformed Baptism Form: A Commentary, 182). All instruction in the home and at school has that at its core: our children are separate as royal children. Added to that truth, the Reformed Baptism form calls parents to instruct their children “herein when they shall arrive to years of discretion”.

Parents can heed this calling only through the grace of God in his gospel.  By nature we have irretrievably lost the privilege that God should be our God (Wielenga, 180). To this the Lord answers, “I do not wish to be only your God, but also the God of your child” (180). This humbles the believing parent and gives them hope. As a priest and a prophet, the parent is called to pray for the child and teach the child.

As a priest, the parent is called to be as Job: “And it was so, when the days of their feasting were gone about, that Job sent and sanctified them, and rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all” (Job 1:5a). As a prophet, the parent is one of the chief teachers of the children. The children must be taught their “misery that necessitates the cleansing signified by baptism, deliverance that is expressed in the promises sealed by the water of baptism, and also the life of gratitude to which the blessings of baptism urge” (Wielenga, 182). Here, the author of the Baptism Form commentary echoes the three divisions of the Heidelberg Catechism, which is the basis of all Reformed instruction in the home.

The instruction in the Christian home is essential for Christian school education to thrive. As this blog is a celebration of the work of our parents in the home, I want to take this opportunity to relate some wonderful highlights that we teachers see each day in the school.

Devotions at school are encouraging because teachers can discuss the Word with children who are well versed in the gospel. These children have the language of the Reformed faith on their lips. (At times, we hear “the speech of Ashdod” on the lips of the children, but then we instruct the children to cut out these evil words.) The teachers are very thankful for the instruction the children receive in how to pray. Instruction in prayer ought chiefly to happen in the home and not in the school. From their earliest years, the children ought to be taught to pray. Instruction in prayer takes years and years of work. Before a child even crosses the threshold of the kindergarten room, he or she already has five years of instruction in prayer. From the mere “Amen” a mother says over the child when the child is a week old, to the first full reciting of the Lord’s Prayer (which takes a long time in itself), to the full spontaneous prayer of a young person who is permeated by the Word, the prayer instruction of the child is arduous work. Parents, we thank you for this instruction. It is a delight for teachers to see its fruit. We stand with you and will work also with the children to continue it.

Class discussions concerning spiritual matters are the source of gratitude for teachers. The children often relate stories from their lives that illustrate the truth discussed. Take United States geography for an example.  In my class we do a report on a state within the U.S. A. Without any prompting, children often write about a true church that is located within that state. These children are aware of other fellow saints and want to have communion with them! They are always extremely interested in the people on the mission field. We can learn from these children! I often wonder, where does this excitement come from? The answer is that these children are royal children who are sanctified in Christ. They speak the speech of a child raised in a covenant home. 

Parents, we see the fruit of your work teaching these children in the home. Be encouraged that you are fulfilling your vows.

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This post was written by Mike Feenstraa member of the Protestant Reformed Church in Crete, Illinois. Mike also teaches fifth grade at the Protestant Reformed School in Dyer, Indiana. 

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Christian Education and the Reformed Baptism Form (2): Heirs of the Kingdom of God

Picture a glorious king seated on a throne in a royal palace with watchful advisors standing at attention and waiting for the bidding of the sovereign. Then in comes the royal children. They need not stand at attention, but they run joyfully into the lap of the king and are received with familial love. We as children of God are also received in God’s favor and love!

The children of godly parents are heirs of the kingdom of God. In the Protestant Reformed Christian schools the children are taught with this in mind. Parents willingly sacrifice thousands of dollars to pay for tuition.  As an educator, I have witnessed that parents give up a vacation to a warm locale so that they can pay for Christian education. At other times, I have seen mothers work diligently school night after school night helping a son or daughter who struggles at school. These stories warm the heart of any Christian educator.  Covenant parents see their children as heirs of the kingdom!

By nature covenant children do not belong as heirs! Our baptism form states at the beginning that covenant children, “cannot enter in the kingdom of God” except they are born again. We thank our God that the covenant children are baptized because they are born again: “Since then baptism is come in the place of circumcision, therefore infants are to be baptized as heirs of the kingdom of God and of His covenant.” As Wielenga aptly states, “The cherub threatens no longer with a flaming sword at the entrance, but in the Lord’s name the messenger of the gospel steers the covenantal child inside” (p.  177). What a wonderful scene when the covenant child of believers is received into the bosom of the King!

Wielenga then directs our attention to the phrase, “infants are to be baptized as heirs” (emphasis MF). He states, “Pay attention to the word as!”(p. 178). In a masterful section, he explains, “That the children are not baptized in order to enter into God’s kingdom or to be admitted to the covenant, but the other way around, because they are already children of the kingdom and of the covenant” (p. 178).  The conditional covenant would have the children do something to enter into the kingdom. The Reformed Baptism Form is the exact opposite. The children of believers are already in the covenant, so they ought to be baptized. The instruction is not intended to get the child saved, but rather to teach an heir of the kingdom.

Protestant Reformed educators are very thankful for parents who confess the unconditionality of the covenant.  Otherwise, discipline in the school is impossible. A child who is an heir of the kingdom will heed covenant discipline. A child who is not an heir will not! In my experience, parents and teacher are supportive of each other in how to discipline a covenant child most of the time. This is a joy to the parents and teacher alike. The reason for this is that both parties agree that the child is an heir of the kingdom. When parents and teachers are on the same page in discipline, the phone call or email discussing the situation is a peaceful experience.  Often these emails and telephone conversations end with, “I support you and we are thankful for your work as a teacher.” Parents, we teachers hear these words and are encouraged by them.

Parents and teachers must continually hold before the children that they are loved by King Jesus. We must encourage them to live a holy life as kingdom citizens. The children must know that, “They do not stand on an equal footing with the children of the heathen, because they are born under the promise” (p. 178). The solemn institution of baptism is a sign to the world that covenant children are separate. They must be instructed separately from the world as heirs of the kingdom. Even in earthly nations, the heirs to the throne are given a higher education separate from other children. In the heavenly kingdom, it is demanded that the children receive royal instruction. The Church Order states in Article 21 that, “The consistories shall see to it that there are good Christian school in which the parents have their children instructed according to the demands of the covenant.” As parents and teachers, let us endeavor to maintain good Christian schools for the instruction of our royal children.

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This post was written by Mike Feenstraa member of the Protestant Reformed Church in Crete, Illinois. Mike also teaches fifth grade at the Protestant Reformed School in Dyer, Indiana. 

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Christian Education and the Reformed Baptism Form (1)

We are excited to announce another writer who is joining the existing pool of writers for the RFPA blog. Mike Feenstra is a member of the Protestant Reformed Church in Crete, Illinois, and also teaches fifth grade at the Protestant Reformed School in Dyer, Indiana. This is his first blog post.

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The existence of the Protestant Reformed Christian Schools is a testament to the covenant faithfulness of our Heavenly Father.  As an educator in these schools, I thank God for godly parents who faithfully carry out their vows according to our Reformed baptism form. Recently, the RFPA has published The Reformed Baptism Form: A Commentary by Bastiaan Wielenga.

Wielenga speaks in vivid language about the prayers of godly parents for their covenant children. In a moving section, he writes on the prayer used during baptism, “’Oh that thou wilt be pleased graciously to look upon this child, that is, do not judge this child according to his sins; do not look upon him in anger, but in mercy. Do not regard him with the eye of a judge, but with the eye of a father.’ This prayer has something of the publican’s cry of distress. ‘O God, have mercy on me!’”

This book has inspired me to write about the three sections of the form that speak directly on the education of covenant children.  

The first section is found directly preceding the prayer before baptism: “And parents are in duty bound further to instruct their children herein when they shall arrive to years of discretion.” Future blog posts will deal with our children as heirs of the kingdom and Christian parents’ duty to instruct their children.

The second section is included in the questions directed to the parents: “Whether you promise and intend to see these children, when come to the years of discretion (whereof you are either parent or witness), instructed and brought up in the aforesaid doctrine, or help or cause them to be instructed therein, to the utmost of your power.”  We will consider the aforesaid doctrine that parents are called to teach their children, and we will discuss the calling of parents to do this to the utmost of their power.

The third section concerning education is a lengthy section in the prayer of thanksgiving. We hope to discuss that our children are governed by the Holy Spirit; that they grow up in Christ; that pious and religious education must be given to them; that they are under the Teacher; that we must ask that God’s goodness and Fatherly mercy be upon them; and finally that our children will be militant until they enter into heavenly glory.

Dear reader, as we discuss the form of baptism and the education of covenant children, let us fix our eye upon our Heavenly Father. May we instruct these covenant children as children of light.

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The Reformed Baptism Form

The Reformed Form for the Administration of Baptism is one of the most important of all the secondary confessions of many Reformed churches worldwide.
The commentary sets forth the Reformed doctrine of baptism as sign and seal, the doctrine of the covenant of God with the children of believers.

Order your copy today!

 

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IN REVIEW: The Reformed Baptism Form

The Reformed Baptism Form: A Commentary, by B. Wielenga (Edited by David J. Engelsma and translated by Annemie Godbehere). Jenison, MI: RFPA 2016. 448 pages. $39.95 Hardcover. [Reviewed by Rev. Martyn McGeown]

The publication of this book will interest—and even excite—all those who love baptism, and in particular, all those who love the Form for the Administration of Baptism used in Reformed churches. Many church members and officebearers have heard the Form read, or have used the Form, hundreds of times as baptism has been administered to the covenant seed. But have we sufficiently pondered the beautiful language of the Form?

Bastiaan Wielenga (1873-1949) was a Dutch Reformed minister who not only studied the Form, but who loved the Form, and delighted in its clear, Reformed, biblical, devotional, and pastoral language. He wrote the commentary on the Form not for scholars, but for the ordinary child of God who loves the covenant and the God of the covenant. The RFPA has done the Reformed church world a great service by offering this book—the first English translation of a commentary on this priceless liturgical form—to the reading public.

Wielenga carefully explains (even exegetes) the language of the Form, dividing his material according to the divisions of the Form itself, the doctrinal section (misery, deliverance, and gratitude), a defence of infant baptism, the prayer before baptism, the questions to the parents, and the prayer of thanksgiving after baptism. However, he does not treat the section on the baptism of adults, which, although used on the mission field, is used less frequently in the established church.

Some of the outstanding features of the commentary are the following.

First, Wielenga’s writing is devotional. Wielenga is a very capable theologian and exegetes with the heart and language of a pastor, and even of a poet. The beautiful and moving passages in Wielenga’s writings are so numerous that a reviewer could not possibly do justice to them. Credit for this, of course, must also go to the translator, Mrs. Annemie Godbehere, with whom the reviewer was personally acquainted. Undoubtedly, it was her skill that helped bring Wielenga to life for an English readership. One example of Wielenga’s beautiful turns of phrase will suffice. In this quotation, Wielenga is explaining the need believers have for assurance and the richness of God’s supply in holy baptism:

Do we still need another seal? Does this confirmation need to be confirmed again? The seal sealed?
Yes, it must—because the Lord knows his people. He knows how they lack courage and how feeble they are. He knows that man, because he is in his own existence deceitful, distrusts and disbelieves others, even God.
Hence the Lord God, if he will ever see the mansions filled in his paternal home, cannot be stingy with promises, oaths, and seals. An overflowing source of assurances must let its streams of grace overflow the weak believer. Indeed, our covenantal God repeats his manifold declarations so many times that man, if he were less pathetic, with a dark purple blush of shame about his obstinacy would call out, “Lord, I do believe you; yes, Lord, it is enough, I know it already.”

Because it is exactly the opposite, and the godly constantly ask for stronger assurance, the cry of “Help thou mine unbelief!” does not grow silent before death closes their lips. Thereby God, who takes more pity on us than an earthly father, seals the covenant of grace in baptism. Even with this, he does not account the measure of his undergirding grace full, for in the Lord’s supper he has joined a second and no less royal and divine seal to the covenant (72-73).

Second, Wielenga’s doctrine of the covenant is (mostly) orthodox and mainly in line with our Protestant Reformed understanding. Although he does slip into “agreement” language on occasion, and although he does make a few statements on conditionality within the covenant with which we strongly disagree, Wielenga does view the covenant as an intimate relationship between God and his elect people. “That the Father establishes a covenant with us and adopts us as his children is intimate. That Christ makes us members of his spiritual body is even more intimate. But that the Spirit comes to dwell in us is the most intimate conceivable intimacy” (103).

But baptism, this holy baptism, is a seal and indubitable testimony that we have an eternal covenant with God. It is a covenant not entered into for a time, but rooted in an eternal election. It is a covenant not established on the proof of and dependent on the goodness of men, but anchored in the mediatorial heart of Christ who paid for all the sins of his people and accomplished all obedience.

Note, this is the power and beauty of Reformed doctrine as it shines brilliantly in our form: salvation not promised conditionally, but absolutely guaranteed! (143).

There are places where Wielenga slips into conditional language, but they do not appear so frequently as to mar the book. The astute reader will take note of them.

Third, Wielenga defends that view of covenant children which regards them as regenerate in infancy, and as partakers of a real, spiritual, and not merely external, holiness. This view does justice to God’s promises, rightly explains the language of the Form, and gives great hope to Reformed parents in the rearing of their children. “Just as the children, included in Adam, their covenantal head, are partakers of an internal depravity, so also are the children, included in Christ, partakers of an internal regeneration and holiness” (155). “The compilers of this form also did not regard the children of the congregation as spiritually dead but as spiritually alive” (220). “We are certain that any view other than that of an internal sanctification is out of place in the baptism form and is also not in keeping with the doctrine of the covenant that predominated in the church of the Reformation” (326).

If this child, shortly after baptism, came to die, the parents, if they have come to understand something of the eternal comfort in life and death, may find in this baptism a ground for the hope that their early-deceased darling entered into glory. If the child grows up, the parents may proceed with the rearing from the supposition, or if this word displeases you, from the hope, the quiet expectation, that the God of the covenant has already laid the new germ of life into the child’s heart (407-408).

Wielenga regards the opposite view as Methodism, a Methodism increasingly common in Reformed circles today:

In contrast to the Methodist, who in the rearing only focuses on conversion, making of Sunday school and Christian education a conversion institute, the Reformed parent, who has learned to live out of the covenant, prayerfully looks to the God of the covenant. He pleads the promises of the covenant for his child so that he increases and grows up in the Lord Jesus Christ (408).

Fourth, Wielenga discusses a good number of practical questions concerning the ceremony itself, and there are times when he is unsparing in his criticism of certain practices that had arisen in the churches of his day: should baptism be delayed until the mother recovers or until relatives from out of town can arrive; who should hold the baby; how many times should the water be applied, once or thrice; and should the minister say “Amen” after the baptism? Although some of these matters are historical curiosities to us, some of them are still serious issues today.

Not out of custom! May this reverberate in our ranks. Let us battle against the great enemy of all spiritual life, called custom; against this large monster, which in its cold embrace spiritually smothers thousands—and by its icy breath spiritually murders thousands (286).

Every young parent—especially the fathers, who seek baptism for their children in the consistory room—would do well to read this book. It would be worthwhile for married couples to read this book as they rear the covenant seed. And it would warm the hearts of all Reformed church members to read this book carefully and devotionally, whether they have children or not, for the doctrine of the covenant and of salvation is the joy of our souls.

Reader, may the fruit of the joint contemplation of our precious baptism form be that the word with which this prayer and thus our entire form concludes may find in all our hearts a warm echo. That is to say, on all these truths, promises, and admonitions, may your whole soul pray and worship. Amen (425).

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The Reformed Baptism Form by B. Wielenga now published in English

Brought into English for the first time is this commentary on the Reformed baptism form by Bastiaan Wielenga, a prominent minister of the word in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKN) in the early to mid 1900s. This commentary sets forth, defends, and applies the creedal Reformed faith concerning the covenant of grace—the foundation of baptism. This commentary will be especially helpful to Reformed churches, ministers, and other members in its explanation of the baptism form’s authoritative treatment of covenant and election in relation to the baptism of infants.  The faith of every believer concerning the sacrament of baptism will be expanded and enriched by the commentary. 

From the author’s preface: “The ardent desire of my heart is that by the publication of this writing many people reading this work learn to regard baptism more purely, appreciate it more warmly, and more zealously plead the covenantal promises on behalf of believers and their children, before the throne of him who calls himself I Am That I Am."

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