Confessing Christ In Education

by J. Olthuis and B. Zylstra

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According to the Scriptures, profession that leads to salvation is upon the lips and faith that leads to righteousness is in the heart. (Rom. 10:9f) This does not in the least mean that profession is a matter of lip-service. Profession of Christ is a matter of the heart; it is an act of faith in obedient response to the Word of God. Having acknowledged Christ as the only point of certainty in life, as the foundation upon which to stand, the Christ-believer develops a life-view from that vantage point and on the basis of that foundation. He begins to view himself, his fellows, and the world in the perspective of Christ's redeeming reign and thus begins to walk in the Way of the Lord.

On the Nature of Confession

Since individuals do not exist in themselves nor walk by themselves, because they are members of a body, their profession and walk of life are of a communal character. Profession must be confession: a saying along with others of the same thing. (cf Eph. 3: 18, Rom. 12:5, 1 Cor. 12:25) The basic unity of the act of confessing is found in the Word of God written as the norm for all confession. Because of this commonly held confession, because of this common response to the Word, the members are knit together into a body.

The members of the Body of Christ are united in that most fundamental and totally encompassing confession which can be expressed in the words: "Christ is Lord." (cf. John 20:28, Rom. 10: 12, 10:36, Eph. 4:5, 1 Tim. 6:15) Every confession of Christ-believers is an elaboration of this confessing act of self-surrender. But this root-confession calls for an ever growing richness of confessing response in tune with the rich diversity in the Lord's creation. The confession of the Master's servants is never isolated from the context in which it occurs. For this reason there is a need to confess in diverse ways, geared to and relevant to the diverse life-situations in creation. With the unfolding of creation in history and with the appearance of ever new situations and new social contexts, the followers of the Lord will strive for a more specific confession as an elaboration of their first submission: Christ is Lord. With respect to the many-sided society of our day the confession of Christ as Lord ought to take place within the particular societal spheres or zones, e.g. the institutional church, the family, the school, the body politic and the industrial sector.

Such a confession need not of course assume a written form in every instance. But as affairs develop and become more complex this may be necessary for the sake of clarity in direction. A written confession, too, is a response to the Word and specifies the demands of the Word in a certain time for a certain situation. As such, written confessions have all the strengths and weaknesses of being time-conditioned documents drawn up by believers with a certain level of spiritual insight into the Scriptures in a particular stage of cultural development. The confession of Christ-believers cannot be bound and limited by the specific response to the Word of a specific period of history. If there is an alive Biblical faith among believers, their confessions should continually be amplified and revised in order to make use of new insights into the Scriptures and in order to make the act of confessing a living and fresh response to the inexhaustible Word for each generation.

Confessions are authoritative in that and insofar as they are specifications of the Word. At the same time it should not be forgotten that confessions are open to critique in that they are human and fallible reiterations of the Word. What the Lord demands of us in the church, the state, the school, and industry is completely trustworthy and has infallible authority. This divine appeal ought to be heard in the fallible confessions. The confessions and creeds are normative. But, since they are the words of men, they are never self-sufficient or final and must thus always be under the test of Scripture. Confessions serve always as secondary norms, and it is blasphemy to identify them with the primary norm, the Word. This is readily admitted, for instance, in the Belgic Confession: "Neither may we consider any writings of men, however holy these men may have been, of equal value with those divine Scriptures, nor ought we to consider custom, or the great multitude, or antiquity, or succession of times and persons, or councils, decrees or statutes, as of equal value with the truth of God, since the truth is above all." (Art. VII Believing and confessing in their roots are one. But, as we noted above, the working-out of the heart-confession takes on the form and shape of the diverse contexts of Kingdom service. The result of the Christian community's confession of Christ in all of the zones or 'rooms' of the creation is a multiformity of confessions all having their basic unity in the Word. First comes the unity of our confession, then the pluriformity of its forms.

The institutional church has composed a series of very significant ecclesiastical creeds as a response to the Word of God and often in battle with heresy. The act of confessing within the institutional church is defined and shaped by the confession of the church. Since the non-church areas of life are also subject to the Word of the Lord, it is our conviction that there too the Christian community ought to confess the Lordship of Christ as it pertains to these areas. When the time is ripe and the need is there we feel that for the non-church areas of life written confessions or 'creeds' can also be formulated. For example - and that is our concern in this article -a school confession or an educational creed should indeed be drawn up which specifies the main Scriptural guidelines for education in our time. Such an educational creed ought to be a link between the Scriptures and the educational process: it norms, defines and shapes the direction of activities in the school.

Until today most of the creed-writing energies in the history of the Christian Church have been devoted to the life and confession of the institutional church. Since Christ is Lord over the whole of human life His servants must confess Him in the major areas of human culture. In the complexity of contemporary civilization that confession ought to be given a measure of clarity in terms of written statements of principle - which in this context we will call 'creeds' - so that Christians may reflect and act together in the non-church areas of life and so that the world may know the direction and goal of our Christian walk of life. In saying this we do not want to minimize the importance of ecclesiastical confessions. But we do want to articulate more clearly the nature of our confession in areas beyond the institutional church. Since in this essay we are interested in making a contribution to the development of an 'educational creed' it is necessary in view of the historical situation to examine for a moment the relation between church creeds and educational creeds.

Educational and Ecclesiastical Creeds

The confessions of a (denominational) institutional church should not take the place of a Christian educational confession since a school is a school and an institutional church is an institutional church. Each of these structures requires a confession relevant to that structure, though in each instance a response to the Scriptures. We would suggest the following considerations for this position.

The creeds of the institutional church were not intended to be and should not be looked upon as school creeds. They were written at a time when schools as we envision' them today were largely absent. They do not specifically express the directives of the Word of God for an educational enterprise and thus do not deal with modem educational problems and current anti-Christian views of the schooling process.

Reliance upon ecclesiastical confessions as a sufficient basis for Christian education may readily lead to spiritual sterility and even principial bankruptcy in the educational setting since the educational relevance of the Word of God is not brought explicitly to the fore. This narrowing of the basis of Christian education to the ecclesiastical creeds may occasion great confusion. This is present, for example, in the frequent practice of appointing teachers and professors who are members of a church confessing these creeds when in effect the appointees cannot clearly articulate the fundamentals of Christian education. Adherence to church creeds may even serve to hide the absence of a Scripturally directed educational curriculum. In addition, it should be noted that many denominations adhering to identical creeds have not found it imperative to draw from these a set of principles relevant to Christian education.

To act as if a church creed can be a school creed is to confuse and mislead. For one is then readily given the false idea that schools can't only be of a Christian character in an indirect manner, namely through the institutional church and its creeds. In this way the church as institute is somehow identified with the entire range of the Kingdom of God so that all non-ecclesiastical organizations must to a smaller or greater degree be subject to and dependent on the church if they are to maintain a Christian character. The result of this approach in effect is the establishment of church schools. It is an expression of ecclesiastical imperialism against which the Reformation fought and which today even many Roman Catholics are beginning to question. The issue in this context is plain: how can ecclesiastical imperialism be avoided if Christian education must be based on the church's creeds?

The church must Preach the Word, nurture the faith of its members and their children, establish a place of communal worship and the celebration of the sacraments, and stretch out a helping hand the needy. But the institutional church does not embrace the totality of Christian life as it is restored in Jesus Christ. (cf Eph. 5, 6; Col. 3, 4) For this reason we regard it as unbiblical to maintain that all Christian activity and witness must be channeled directly or indirectly through the institutional church. To think and act in this manner is to confuse the Body of Christ as the New Humanity (cf. Eph. 1:22f and 2:15) with the ecclesiastical institution, which is one of the ways of the Body of Christ in the world. To think and to act in this manner is also to deny the office of all believers which is part and parcel of the tradition of the Reformation.

Moreover, to employ church creeds as school creeds is to take the easy way in a difficult situation - as if our spiritual fathers had worked it all out correctly and in detail for later centuries and for later developments. It is to take the way of fear - as if the Spirit no longer leads His people so that they grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ attuned to His Word. Actually, it may be the way of little faith - refusing to heed the admonition to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is the Lord Who is working in us. (Phil. 2:12f)

Finally, to place church confessions in a school constitution in a North American setting - where the institutional church is tragically fragmented in hundreds of denominational pieces - is to obstruct the desired development toward an (inter)national system of Christian schools in accordance with the Biblical injunction to be of one mind and of one spirit. If Christ-believers are willing to come together in allegiance to the one Lord in a new dimension of Christian witness then it is not imperative to maintain the present fragmentation in that new dimension.

All this is not to suggest that there is no connection between the various confessions within the Biblically attuned Christian community. The multiformity of confessions must not result in the disintegration of our confession. On the basis of our position we believe that the opposite is the case. There is indeed a unity to our confession, but it is not to be sought for in the confessions of any one area of our life, not even in an area as central as the institutional church. The unity is found in the Word of God as the norm for all confessional activity. The point is that the required unity should not be sought in the subordination of all non-ecclesiastical witness and action to the one ecclesiastical confession, but at a deeper level. When one seeks the unity in the church institute, he is forgetting the deeper religious root of life, the Covenant renewed in the Second Adam which embraces all of life.

Toward a Christian Educational Creed

An educational confession which purports to be Scriptural should be most explicit in regard to a number of fundamental matters. And since such a confession must be a living document, it should speak out especially on the key issues of the day. To begin with, over against the encroachments of the overwhelming humanist context of education, an educational confession must emphatically state that the foundation of all nurture and training is to be found in the revealed Word of God.

The supreme standard for all matters of education shall be the written Word of God, known as the Old and New Testament Scriptures, as it opens our eyes to know the Word of God as the structuring and upholding principle of creation and as it leads us to confess Jesus Christ as the Word Incarnate.

Confessing that the Scriptures are profitable for instruction (II Tim. 3:16) we must go to the Scriptures to be instructed as to the nature of the Word of God. The first thing we discover is that the current debates about the nature of the Word of God are misplaced and indeed out of order. Today 'liberals' are concerned to maintain that only Christ is the Word , - if they are even willing to grant that - and 'conservatives' are convinced that the Holy Scripture as well as Christ is the Word. Both groups are beside the point on an important issue. For the Scriptures emphatically testify that "by His Word the heavens were made, by the breath of His mouth all the stars.... He spoke; and it came to be. He commanded; it sprang into being." (Ps. 33:6-9) The Psalmist further testifies that "the waters are frozen at his touch; He sends forth his word and it melts them." (Ps. 147:17f) "Fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy winds fulfilling His Word." (Ps. 148:8) "By the Word of God heavens existed long ago." (11 Peter 3:5f)

The Word of God is the very law-order of creation by which everything was created and by which everything is upheld to this day. When liberals and conservatives alike ignore this plain testimony of the Scriptures, they emasculate their confession that Christ and the Scriptures are the Word. For without the Biblical view that the Word of God structures and directs creation, it is impossible to understand the meaning and purpose of the Scriptures as the Lamp by which mankind is to walk in creation. Further, without the Biblical view of the Word as the Law-Word for creation, it is impossible to do justice to the Word Incarnate as He in whom all things exist and cohere. (cf Eph. I and Col. 1) Isolating Christ from that Law-Word one cannot begin to understand properly the confession of John I that all things were made through the Word and that without Him nothing was made. One cannot grasp the meaning of Hebrews I that the Son of God sustains the universe by His Word of power.

The Christian Church must recover the fullness and unity of the Word of God. The Word of God is one. But since man's fall, that Word comes to us in a three-fold form. When mankind fell in Adam, it no longer heard and understood the Word in creation. To make it possible again for man to hear and do the Word, and thus live, God gave the Scriptures to enlighten man as to, his place, his nature and his task. Finally, in the "last days He has spoken to us in His Son." (Heb. 1: 1) The Word in its unity and in its forms is the Power of God to life. That Word is "alive and active. It cuts more deeply than any two-edged sword." (Heb. 4:12)

Since the Word is one, it is as illegitimate to play off its forms against each other (e.g., 'Do you go by the Law-Word or the Scriptures?') as it is to deny that all the forms are the Word of God. In order to obey the Word of God Written it is necessary to confess that the Word is not exhausted in the Scriptures. The Word of God is every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. And since the Lord is faithful and His words trustworthy, the words of God are the one Word.

After the basis article concerning the Word of God as the foundation of education, an educational creed should contain a statement of fundamental principles relevant to education. The range of such a list depends upon a variety of factors, notably depth of insight into educational issues normed by the Scriptures. During recent years two North American educational institutions have been engaged in the formulation of a coherent and up-to-date educational creed. Already in the early sixties the Association for the Advancement of Christian Scholarship accepted such a creed as the heart of its constitution. The results of this effort have been widely distributed in the reformed community. More recently the staff of Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights near Chicago also proposed a provisional statement (if educational principles. And the Association which is responsible for the Free University of Amsterdam recently accepted a new formulation of the basis article in its constitution. Finally, Calvin College has published the excellent study Christian Liberal Arts Education: Report of the Calvin College Curriculum Committee and a Statement of Principles drafted by the Calvin Graduate Studies Committee.

The newly accepted basis article of the Free University is brief. It reads as follows: "The Association (for scientific education on a reformed basis), for all of the activity that proceeds from her, especially for the scientific and research which occur at the Free University, stands on the basis of the Gospel of Jesus Christ which, according to the revelation in the Holy Scriptures, calls man in his entire life to the service and glory of the one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and in this to the service of oneís neighbor."

The educational creed of the Association for the Advancement of Christian Scholarship and the provisional statement of the staff of Trinity Christian College are more elaborate. In the following paragraphs we will rely heavily on these statements in describing some of the elements that we think should be part of an educational creed.

1. Life. Human life in its entirety is religion; it is service of God or of an idol. Education is therefore never neutral but unfolds in obedience or disobedience to the Lord.

2. Creation. God created the world in all its ways by His Word and upholds it by His Word. The meaning of creation is focused in the covenantal communion of God with man in Christ. In the fall of Adam mankind chose not to have this communion with Jehovah God. This root disobedience is sin.

3. Scripture. The Scriptures, the Word of God Written, teach us of God, of His Word which structures creation, of man as God's servant, and of Christ as the Redeemer.

4. Christ. Christ, the Word Incarnate, redeems and renews all of life, including education. from the power of sin.

5. Knowledge. Knowledge of God, of His Word, and of creation, is the work of the Holy Spirit in manís heart. He sets us in the truth and directs us to educate in accordance with the Word.

6. Teaching office. The body of Christ is called upon to subdue and develop the earth by, among other things, guiding students into a deeper understanding of Godís world and its history. Through the execution of this teaching office in the school pupils and students are attain cultural maturity grounded in the Biblical faith so that they can take up their specific responsibilities and vocations in life in a manner pleasing to the Lord.

7. Scholarship. The communal pursuit of theoretic thought is also a matter of obedience to the Lord. Research must be initiated in order to develop a systematic account of the structure of creation. In this way manís knowledge can be deepened and his lifeís activities more meaningfully ordered.

8. Reformation. Teaching and scholarship not Biblically normed is still teaching and scholarship because the structure of creation is one and holds for all men. Thus, even though their findings and overall perspectives are distorted and fragmented, teachers and scholars who are not committed to faith in Christ can provide a valuable contribution toward understanding creation. However, since unbelief expresses a total spiritual vision, it deeply affects and distorts the direction of education. For this reason, the Biblical way in Christian education is to reform the scholarship of those who are not in Christ rather than to annex it in the way of accommodation.

9. Freedom and responsibility. Teaching and research, executed in harmony with relevant norms, are free and responsible activities of men called to these tasks. The teaching staff of an educational institution, under the care and supervision of the proper governing bodies, is directly and communally responsible to the Lord for the execution of the educational task. The responsible freedom of the educator and scholar must be protected against any constraint or domination of the state, the industrial complex, the church, or other societal structure.

10. Curriculum. The educational curriculum is the unifying framework which ties the teaching staff, the students, and the subject matter together in the setting of the school. While parents have the responsibility for determining the spiritual direction of their children's education, the body of educators in the Christian community has the office of articulating the content of the educational curriculum.

11. The child in the school. The student as an image-bearer of the Lord is a whole person to be guided in the educational process toward responsible maturity in preparing for his calling in the unfolding of creation and the coming of the Kingdom of God. A Christian view of the child in the educational setting rejects the classical curriculum-centered approach since it tends to reduce students to the status of intellectual absorbers of information without paying heed to the individuality of the child. At the same time ' since education takes place within the structures of creation, a Christian view of education rejects the child-centered approach in which creation is considered as a chaos without order and in which man is heralded as the creator rather than unfolder of order and meaning. In the curriculum-c entered view the teacher's authority becomes an end in itself; in the child-centered view the pupil's freedom is uncurtailed; in a Biblical view the authority of the teaching office, given by God, is for the sake of the freedom and responsible nurture of the pupil. The basic focus in education is not on the teacher-curriculum - the 'subject matter' in the traditional sense - nor on the student. The teaching team of a school, through the unifying curriculum, must guide and lead the pupils so that they come to learn about creation in the context of the all-inclusive nature of the Kingdom of God. In this light the students in the school are not to be taught adjustment to the morality or the prevailing attitudes of our society; instead they should be led to understand the norms which hold for the various sectors of life as normed dimensions of the Lord's Kingdom and Reign in human history. In this way the school takes its place in leading the child to the understanding that life is meaningful if that child assumes his place in society as one of God's representatives.


These statements are sufficient to indicate the direction which we think the Christian community should follow in the formulation of an educational creed. Our suggestions here are tentative and not at all complete. For instance, we have not dealt with the relationship between the family, the state, and education. We hope to do this in another context at a later time. In this article it was our intent to place the matter of confessing Christ as Lord in education in a somewhat different perspective. Since confession is a communal endeavor on the part of Christ-believers we hope that many readers will respond with constructive comments.