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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“The One Thing to Tell Pregnant Moms: ‘Congratulations’”

Today I call your attention to this post written by Brittany Meng for Christianity Today’s blog called “Her - meneutics.” She opens by writing, “I’m pregnant with my fourth baby right now. Any mom who’s bore that many children—and even some with just two or three—knows what it's like to share the news of another pregnancy. People are quick to make comments…” I won’t repeat all of the comments Meng lists. Suffice it to say that they are all insulting comments that meet the news of another pregnancy with disbelief, dismay, and/or sarcasm.  

Meng explains that such comments are to be expected from people in the world. She writes, “in a country where more women are delaying childbirth and having fewer children, “big” families are bound to face pushback. Parents are told that it’s not financially responsible. Or that it’s bad for the planet.” But Meng writes, “the comments I heard all came from faithful, Christian women.”

I do not agree with all of the logic Meng uses to reach her conclusion, but it is a correct conclusion: “No matter the context, the gift of a baby is always worth affirming—without judgment, without eye-rolling, rude comments, or snide remarks. Just celebration. Just ’Congratulations.’”

I also agree with Meng that Christmas time is an appropriate time for Christians to celebrate God’s gift of children. Mary was given a special and unique gift, the opportunity to give birth to Immanuel, God with us. God may not use other believing women to bring forth the Savior of the church. But he does use believing women to bring forth the elect children of God who are gathered into the church. Meng argues that every pregnancy should be celebrated as a life created by God. And I would not argue with that. I would only add that it is all the more appropriate for the pregnancy of a believing woman to be celebrated because the child is not only created by God but also incorporated by God the Father into his covenant and church, redeemed by God the Son, and sanctified by God the Holy Spirit.

This is not to say that God saves every child of believers. He saves only the elect, and he has promised to give elect children to believers. God uses believing families to build up the family of Christ! Is this not reason to want many children and to rejoice over the “big” families in the church? Prof. Engelsma comments on the fact that Christ uses Christian marriage to build his family (church) in Marriage the Mystery of Christ and the Church (the RFPA informs me that the reprint of the 2nd edition is due in about two weeks). In a section entitled “God’s Large Family” Prof. Engelsma writes,

Even the fruitfulness of the marriage of believers belongs to the symbolism of marriage as a picture of the marriage between Christ and the church. . . Christ begets many sons and daughters by his word and Spirit . . . Christ brings these children forth from, and rears them by, the church, his bride. The union of Christ and the church is fruitful in many children of God . . . So closely connected are the symbol, our marriages, and the reality, Christ’s union with the church, that God uses the symbol to bring forth those who participate in the reality (p. 73).

As Christians we need to be careful not to give women who bear children a special, sainted status above women who do not have that privilege. And those who have many children should not be viewed as more saintly than those who have fewer. But do we not also need to recognize the danger that also in our Reformed circles we begin to have a bad attitude about the “big” families in our churches? For some of the mothers in our churches the next pregnancy may be number 12, 13, 14, etc. Are you ready to thank God for another precious, covenantal gift? And are you ready to say to the mother and father, CONGRATULATIONS!?

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