Position Papers: 1973 - 1998
6th General Assembly, 1978, Appendix G, III, p. 209 and 6-75, III, 16-18, p. 88..
The subcommittee on Higher Education of the Assembly's Committee on Christian Education and Publications continued discussion with the Board of Covenant College as directed by the Fifth General Assembly. Particular attention is called to those matters referred to the Committee by the Fifth Assembly.
In response to the Assembly's directive to "draft a definite statement regarding the relationship of the church to non-theological education," the Committee approved the following statements:
Adopted as amended by the 6th GA.
Part One: The Church's Role in Higher Education
There is general agreement among Protestant Christians that they should be involved in higher education. Among the Presbyterian and Reformed family there is a great desire to establish institutions of higher education thoroughly committed to a Biblical World and Life view.
Foundational to this desire is the recognition that man is to glorify God in every legitimate vocation or profession. No area of life can be viewed as purely secular.
Every area of life presupposes a particular view of God and man. Therefore, nothing is irreligious. Education is a religious exercise which assumes a certain commitment to either the Living Triune God or some idol. Hence, while every Christian does not require a technical seminary-type education, nevertheless every Christian does need an education thoroughly grounded in the Word of God.
A study of ancient, medieval, and modern history will underscore the important role that Judeo-Christianity has played in education. As one would expect, education philosophies outside the Judeo-Christian tradition were humanistic in approach. Only Judeo-Christianity was concerned to construct a Biblical world and life view. Believing that God is a personal Deity who created this world and all things therein and reveals Himself to man who is made in His own likeness, it takes into account the present sinfulness of man and his need for redemption. Christianity views reality through the eyes of the Mediator as it seeks to "think God's thoughts after Him."
This Revelational foundation gives Christianity a new approach to education. The goals and ideals for man were derived from God's truth and required obedience to it. They challenged the Greek concepts such as believing that the universe is divinely mysterious and unknowable and that man is his own authority.
The science of knowledge and learning, investigation, observation, and experimentation are not impossible but are in fact demanded by the Triune God. His first world-oriented command instructed us to "subdue the earth and have dominion over it" for His glory.
Through the organized covenant community, i.e., the church, these beliefs were expressed. Educational programs were developed to incorporate the truths. And later in history during the medieval period, the Roman Catholic church, after the fashion of Biblical days, was the guardian of education, especially higher education.
When the institutional church slipped into humanism, God raised up the Protestant Reformation. Its leaders Luther, Calvin, Knox, and Zwingli were advocates of a Christian educational system for covenant children.
Calvin was a leader in developing a Biblical educational system. It serves as a good case in point. In the ordinances of 1541, Calvin said, ". . . since it is necessary to prepare for the coming generations in order not to leave the church a desert for our children, it is imperative that we establish a college to instruct the children and to prepare them for both ministry and civil government."
Calvin's educational philosophy was distinctly based on a Biblical world and life view, that built on the belief that the Triune God is the Lord of the Universe and predicate of all knowledge. Every area of life must be seen through the eyes of the Word of God.
The system developed in Geneva led to the establishment of the College of Geneva. Education was compulsory. Ordinarily, people were fined for not sending their children to school. Much time, energy, and monies were spent developing the College. The government, after the Old Testament pattern of theocracy, was the overseer. The city played a major role, and yet the family responsibility was maintained.
Church history shows that Christians have always been and must always be involved in education. That education must be built upon the written Word of God. The Scriptural Revelation is the only dependable authority to assist in constructing a world and life view, realizing as the Psalmist stated, "In thy light shall we see light."
Whose role is covenant education?
The question must be raised, whose role is it to see that covenant children and adults are educated? Does it belong to the family alone? Is it a responsibility delegated only to civil government? Does the church, as the covenant community, have the right and responsibility to become involved in higher education?
Assuming that God assigns certain responsibilities to His institutions within creation, does the concept of "sphere sovereignty" developed by Abraham Kuyper restrict education only to one of the three institutions, the family, the state, or the church? A statement from a Dordt College faculty work, Scripturally Oriented Higher Education, states a popular view within Reformed circles, "Naturally the church does not have responsibility to execute this task as the church. The schools are not to be parochially controlled.
While sympathizing with this position, we feel that such a view virtually causes the church to withdraw in isolation from the world. We believe that Scripture gives us a different approach.
We agree that the church's primary assignment is the proclamation of the whole counsel of God revealed in Scripture. Such a task must be carefully maintained; yet we believe that the church has rights and responsibilities in other areas, and especially in higher education, with some qualification. The very Scriptures that Reformed Christians see as the basis for the Biblical world and life view and Christian Education are the Scriptures committed to the church. When the apostle Paul wrote of parents' responsibility in training their children, the letter was addressed to the church. (Ephesians 6:1-4, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor thy father and mother (which is the first commandment with promise), that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath; but nurture them in the chastening and admonition of the Lord." Colossians 3:20, 21, "Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing in the Lord. Fathers, provoke not your children, that they be not discouraged.")
Historically, it is not legitimate to maintain that in the Biblical days nor days thereafter covenant children were educated in schools controlled by parents instead of the church and state. In the Old Testament period, such was not the case.
Let us consider the role of the church in education. First, let us realize that the church is a covenant community of God, i.e., a body of believers and their children gathered around the Word of God. Believers and their children are members of Christ's visible body and are under its discipline.
Within the covenant family we see that God has assigned parents the primary role in the educating of their children. But as someone has said, "this does not mean that the parents alone must teach them everything there is to know" but that the parents cannot be relieved of their responsibility. Yet, the parents are not left alone; they have assistance from the church in the spiritual nourishment of their children. But, a balance must be maintained.
It should be recognized that while the parent has the primary responsibility, it does not have the sole responsibility. In Baptism the child is placed under the care and discipline of the church. The church therefore, has a responsibility to assist the parents in the rearing of their covenant children. Deuteronomy six and eleven are clear in setting forth the parent's role. But, we also see in passages such as Deut. 17 that the church has an assisting role to play. The parent cannot fulfill his parental assignment without the church, nor can the church do it for him. There must be cooperation.
In Sketches of Jewish Life, Edersheim points out that in Old Testament times the children were under the direction of their parents, but at the age of six years, the boys would be sent to schools that were attached to the Synagogues. At the age of 16 the lads were generally sent to the Rabbi's academies.
Another procedure used during Old Testament times was the parental hiring of teachers when 25 students were together. The church maintained a special offering to assist the parents in the financial support of their children's education.
From Bible days to present time the parents have had the primary responsibility of a child's education, and they must not relinquish that role. Ideally, Christian parents should band together, pool their resources, and develop Christian schools. They should be morally, spiritually, and economically responsible.
But if the church becomes involved in parochial education does that mean that she has invaded the parent's realm and has done what the government, today, is doing in its public (government controlled) education? We think not as long as the parental assignment is preserved and encouraged.
Without usurping the parental authority of the educational assignment, we believe, Biblically, that a church can and should assist parents in establishing schools of higher education. We could offer good pragmatic arguments to this end; however, the principle argument is that the church's assignment in the cultural mandates of the Great Commission has given her a right and responsibility in education.
The church does not violate her nature and mission in assisting parents with the higher education of their children, on the contrary, such assistance is the Biblical pattern.
We could also be pragmatic and point out that during the dark ages and even the Reformation, that schools were under both church and state. We could demonstrate that the schools which our children attend -- government or private -- are not under parental control but rather under boards.
In commissioning the church, not para-church groups, Jesus said, "teaching all men to do all things whatsoever I command." That summarizes the role and responsibility of the church. It does not detract from her task to proclaim the whole counsel of God but commits her to "teaching all things whatsoever God has commanded."
We believe that higher education (Biblically developed) necessitates an organization beyond the basic family unit for its accomplishment. In a non-Christian culture it is vital that the church see her Biblical responsibility to assist her covenant parents in that organization. This is better than allowing an institution of higher learning to become a separate entity apart from church and family. Independent institutions are not usually parentally controlled.
Some may argue that a distinction should be made between the church and the Kingdom of God. It is true that the Kingdom appears to have a broader connotation than the church; however, we should be careful in applying such a distinction to the point of saying that the church can or cannot do this or that and be faithful to her mission and nature.
The church is the "ground and pillar of truth." (I Timothy 3:15, "But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how men ought to behave themselves in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.") She cannot be non-involved in certain areas of reality. She cannot and must not attempt to run or oversee the civil government, and yet as our Westminster Standards maintain, she must at times give advice and even by humble petition speak what she believes to be the revealed will of God.
R.J. Rushdoony has said, "the concern of the church is the Word of God, but the Word speaks to all of life. If the proclamation of the Gospel be not catholic, then it has ceased to be the Gospel; it is no longer good news for every area of life and the claim of God to total sovereignty" (Foundations of Social Order, page 185).
The church has a direct role in all the affairs of the Kingdom of God. She must not isolate herself, nor dichotomize her role in a neo-platonic fashion or the Aristotelian-Thomistic Nature-Grace trap. Such a view tends to assign the church to the upper grace-spiritual realm and leave other areas of reality to others than the covenant community (the church).
In the final analysis the parents are primarily responsible for their child's education but the church does have the role of assisting parents in this task.
The structure of Covenant College is an attractive one. Elders of a particular Assembly, representing both Churches and families, because they are chosen from church families, elect a governing board to run, manage, and oversee the college. The immediate control is in the hands of the board, not the Assembly. The president of the college is chosen by the board, not the Assembly. The board is the final authority; the church has no veto power, nor is the college financed from the Assembly's budget. The Assembly merely elects the board. This gives the church the opportunity to express its Biblical interest in Christian Higher Education without sacrificing its primary task of proclaiming the whole counsel of God. It gives its families an opportunity for providing a Biblical education to their children, which in turn builds up the church, extends the Kingdom and glorifies our Triune God.