Principles of Christian Education
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Education in the schools is under fire today. Criticism is being leveled against it from several sources. Especially two weaknesses are found in education by its critics, namely, failure to achieve mastery of the fundamentals of human knowledge, and the absence of biblical truth as normative for thinking and acting, generally known as secularism. It is especially the latter of these weaknesses which concerns the church as organization, though she cannot be indifferent to the former to fulfill her task in this world. The growing secularism of life as a whole as well as in education, the Christian church views with alarm, well aware that it represents a threat to the church herself as well as to the state and to society. Inadequate mastery of the fundamentals of human knowledge poses a problem to the church in its teaching ministry.
The apparent weaknesses of current education have a deeper source than mere neglect. They are the result of an impasse which modern educational theory and practice has reached. Modern educational philosophy has abandoned the belief in truth as the forming power of the individual and of the group. For the unchanging norm of truth it has substituted the process of adjustment to a changing social order. And- adjustment, it is claimed, is achieved by successful experiences which in themselves contain the all-sufficient ideals, norms, and ends of life. The result is that biblical, transcendent standards of thought and action are obscured, distorted, or even rigidly exluded, and that educational theory and practice are thrown into a flux that is nothing short of chaos.
The situation becomes even more desperate when we consider the crying need for the light of truth in an educational program that has become universal for all citizens of a democratic society. More children attend school than ever before, and they remain in school longer. We readily recognize that universal educational opportunity is needed in a democracy where individual initiative and private enterprise within the framework of law are rightly promoted. Democracy needs an enlightened citizenry if it is to function as a free society. Universal education is charged with the responsibility of giving light that the citizens of a democratic society may judge and act wisely. But while modem education seeks to give light, it has no light within itself to give. It has its face turned from the light, which is the Word of God. It must be said that teachers schooled in and committed to current educational theory and practice are by virtue of their personal views incapable of helping children in a learning and teaching situation to lay hold upon a biblical interpretation of ideals, attitudes, knowledges, habits, and skills generally and of the subjects of study specifically.
In the face of an educational situation that is becoming daily more desperate, the church's testimony must be unmistakably clear. The Christian church, true to the God who has revealed Himself both in His general and special revelation, is called upon to interpret all of human endeavor in terms of this revelation. Only education founded on the Word of God can overcome the impasse in educational theory and practice associated with the concept -modern education. Christian education has the true goal, the true standard, and the true motivation. The true goal is the forming of personality as image of God. The true standard is the truth of God's Word. The true motivation is the "new obedience" which is the obedience of faith.
The Christian Reformed Church stands committed to the Christian school as the agency that can make Christian education effective in the totality of life. Meanwhile the Christian Reformed Church considers the family the foundation of all educational effort and charges the parents, on the basis of the covenant promise and mandate, with full educational responsibility. And she employs catechesis to instruct the youth of the church in the fundamentals of the Christian faith.
In view of her great interest in education it is well that the Christian Reformed Church periodically reaffirm her position concerning education and express herself in a way which is relevant to the problems and issues of the day. In keeping with its mandate, therefore, your committee submits the following declaration of principles, based on Holy Writ in its normative, directive, and mandatory character as summarized for us in the three forms of Unity of the Reformed Churches.
Basic Commitments in Christian Education
1. Christian education has its foundation in the Creator-creature relationship taught in the Scriptures. God is the sovereign Creator of the universe who in His divine providence upholds and directs all things according to His will and purpose. Man is created in God's image and can use, manipulate, and rule God's creation, and make it subservient to His praise. Because of the Creator-creature relationship, man can know the truth and communicate it. He can explore the world about him meaningfully because God has spoken to him.
2. The Creator-creature relationship continued though man fell in sin, but man lost true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. The natural man now holds down the true knowledge of God in unrighteousness. (Rom. 1:18-23) In the midst of the darkness of sin, the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ sounds forth, that whosoever believes in Christ shall not perish, but receive the light by faith. (John 3:16; Rom. 1: 16-17; Is. 5:20). Christian education is education in Christ.
3. God gathers from a ruined human race, groping in the darkness of sin, a chosen people (Eph. 1:4) that they as sons by adoption (Eph.
1: 5) may show forth "the praise of the glory of His grace." (Eph. 1:6) The sovereign God works in His children to will and to do according to His good pleasure (Eph. 2: 10; Phil. 2:13). The restored son of God works out his own salvation (Phil. 2:12) according to the truth as God makes it known to him in His Word. Christian education is education of the man in Christ.
4. Man is a religious being (Gen. 1: 27; 2:7). His deepest needs are spiritual in character. As religious being he attains his God-appointed ideal in heart commitment to the truth (John 8:31-32). Secular education divorced from the truth cultivates heart commitment of the religious being to substitutes which are man-made, and therefore idolatrous. Christian education is education of the religious being in the truth in order that he may commit himself to the truth, and the truth may make him free.
5. True education has its inception in the fear of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom. (Ps. I 11: 10; Prov. 1: 7: Prov. 9: 10). The Bible holds before us the attainment of understanding, wisdom, and righteousness as the goal of life. (II Chron. 2:12; Neh. 10:28; Ps. 119:34, 73, 125, 144, 169; Prov. 3:13; 1 Cor. 1:30). A dualistic view of education which calls some education religious and other secular fails to grasp that all understanding, wisdom, and righteousness are the fruit of faith. In all our ways we are called upon to acknowledge God, and He will direct our paths. (Prov. 3:6).
6. Education is the nurture or bringing up of the whole man, (Rom. 12: 1) and comprises all of life. (Ps. 24: 1; 1 Cor. 10:31). Man is an organic whole in whom the physiological and soul-life are one. Thinking, feeling, and willing as functions of the soul-life of man can be distinguished, but not divorced from each other, nor from the body as physical structure in and through which the soul-life functions. The whole person, body as well as soul, is said to be the temple of God. (I Cor. 3:17; 1 Cor. 6:19). The human intellect cannot be parceled out for instruction independently of the emotional life or the life of the body. Human volitions cannot be educated apart from the intellect and the emotions. To bring all faculties into spiritual service (Rom. 12: 1) and to bring all of life's activities under the discipline of God's will, education should be of one piece in which a person's earthly relations and functions, as well as his relations to heaven are centered in and directed by the norm or standard of God's Word.
7. Children born of Christian parents are members of the Church of Christ. They. are children of the promise. God calls them His own. (Gen. 17:7; Mark 10: 16; Acts 2:39). In the providence of God they have been placed in covenantal relationship to Christ and their education must be in keeping with this relationship. It must be education in Christ. Secular education divorces an area of life of the child in Christ from Christ Himself. Christian education is education in Christ for those who are in God's providence placed in relationship to Christ. A covenantal relationship demands a covenantal education.
8. The responsibility for education rests upon the parents. (Deut. 6:6-9). In parents has been vested the authority and upon them rests the responsibility to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and to do this in wisdom (Eph. 6:14; Col. 3:20-21). The parents are to instruct their children and cause them to be instructed in the "new obedience." Parents have the right and duty to avail themselves of assistance in the education of their children by means of social institutions which are able and willing to carry forward their God-given task. To entrust their children's education to agencies which violate their divinely-ordained task represents, on the part of parents, a flagrant violation of their stewardship.
Agencies Engaged in Christian Education
Since Holy Writ is normative for all of life and directive for all of conduct, the commitments enumerated apply particularly to the following institutions: home, church, and school, and their affiliated educational agencies.
1. The Family
It follows from the basic commitments stated above that the family unit is to be considered foundational in the educational program. God instituted the family as the mother of human society. Children are to be born of the wedlock of one man and one woman who have joined their lives together in love. God gives children to parents and charges them with the responsibility of nurturing them to maturity according to His commandments. The natural ties of the family unit provide the atmosphere most conducive to normal development of child life. Parents are obligated before God and man to make the family unit productive of good in the lives of their children. They are to instruct their children in the first rudiments of obedient living. Both society and the state have a right to look to parents for the exercise of their parental prerogative pertaining to the upbringing of their children.
To parents professing the Christian faith, God gives the covenant promise that He will be a God to them and their children. To the children of the covenant home He says, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right." (Eph. 6: 1). To the parents of the covenant home He says,
nurture them in the chastening and admonition of the Lord." (Eph. 6:4). Upon Christian parents rests the obligation of the second part of the covenant, namely, to nurture their children in the fear of the Lord and thus to do their part in making the covenant promise effective in the lives of their children. Parents of Reformed homes make this sacred pledge before the church of God in response to the question, "Do you promise and intend to instruct these children, when come to years of discretion, in the aforesaid doctrine, and cause them to be instructed therein, to the utmost of your power?" (Form for the Baptism of Infants).
2. The Church
Children of Christian parents are members of the church of the living God. God calls them His own. He includes them among the saints. (Eph. 1: 1, 2; Col. 1: 1, 2.) Together with the saints they are to be instructed and admonished by the church. The teaching function of the church extends to children as well as adults. Among the saints are those in need of the milk of the Word. (Heb. 5:12)
The church, therefore, likewise serves as an agency in the education of youth. Her instruction is moral-spiritual in character. The church through her teaching ministry brings the oracles of God, the living Word, to the understanding of youth that they may grow up in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and learn to be well pleasing to Him. The church seeks through her instruction to develop covenant youth in the living faith in the hope that, when come to years of discretion, they may voluntarily profess their faith before the church and enter into the full communion of Christ and the saints.
3. The School
The family and the church are institutions called into being by divine mandate. This cannot be said of the modern school. It is a product of human civilization, and therefore a social institution. Formal schooling as we know it today has become a necessity in the complex society of the modem day. Parents cannot fulfill their God-given mandate in our culture and civilization without calling upon others to assist them in their task. This is recognized in the Form for the Baptism of Infants in these words, ". ..and cause them to be instructed therein."
But to say that the school is a social institution, a product of the social order, is not to say that it should be secular in character. For covenant youth all education is education in Christ. The subject matter of the elementary and secondary schools must present a medium, a milieu, in which the covenant child's life in Christ can develop to its fullness in all areas of living. No area of thinking and living may be divorced from God and His Christ for the covenant child. It is for this reason that the Christian Reformed Church stands committed to the Christian school as the agency to make the Christ-like life effective in the totality of life for every covenant child.
The church is obligated to see to it that parents as members of the church fulfill their promise made at the baptism of their children. Since the Christian school is the only agency that can provide a Christian education for the youth of the church, the church is duty bound to encourage and assist in the establishment and maintenance of Christian schools.
4. Other Agencies Engaged in More Informal Education Activities
Besides the school, parents can avail themselves of other agencies engaged less formally in the education of youth. These are boys' and girls' clubs, summer camping activities, youth Bible conferences, and the like. Some are sponsored by organizations within the church, as the Young Calvinist organization. Some are of a broader community character. With reference to each of these it should be said that in order to fulfill their responsibility to parents they should be educationally significant for covenant youth and provide activities in keeping with the covenant of grace. Parents are obligated to appraise with care the youth organizations in which their children participate. The same holds true for the church. The officers of the church are obliged to check on the educational character of organizations in which the youth of the church take part.
None of these organizations, no more than the school, are church-sponsored. If functioning within the organized church, they naturally are encouraged by the church and come under the supervision of constituted church authorities.
When they function on a broader scale socially, the church is obligated to help parents appraise them in their educational and spiritual significance for their children.