Celebrating Reformed Education (1)
AC Breen - published in Una Sancta Volume 55, Number 8, 23 February 2008
The government we are subject to - for there is no authority except from God (Rom 13:1) - has recognized Reformed educational quality in Western Australia. We are thankful for such a positive testimony given by the school registration authorities over the past few years, since the aim of Reformed education is to faithfully and professionally equip God's covenant children for kingdom service as His children and stewards.
Not only that, the registration panels also appreciated the way our schools bring the principles of Reformed education into practice. We are thankful for this recognition since the aim of Reformed education is to faithfully and professionally equip God's covenant children for kingdom service as His children and stewards.
The Lord has blessed us with the government's approval of all our schools. We may continue to teach God's children all aspects of His work and all that He has revealed in His Word. What a wonder of grace: to teach and learn on the basis of and guided by His Word. May the Lord bless the John Calvin Schools in Australia. May our dedicated teachers teach covenant children faithfully and professionally in a land of freedom to God's glory.
In three articles (edited as always by my colleague Mr A Plug) we will highlight both the faithful and the professional aspects of equipping God's children. We do so by considering the principles of Reformed schooling and by informing you about Curriculum Council's endorsement of Reformed Christian Studies in Years 10-12.
1. Principles of Reformed schooling
1.1 John Calvin
In order to find out what the principles of Reformed schooling are, we have to go back to the time of the Great Reformation, and especially to the principles of Calvin's school establishment. MB van 't Veer, who obtained his doctorate in 1942 with a thesis on Calvin's catechesis, delivered a speech on the principles of Calvin's school establishment for the Association of Christian teachers in the Netherlands in the Spring of 1941. In this section of my article I will quote extensively from Van 't Veer's speech (my translation – ACB).
Holy military service
"To Calvin it was of first and vital importance for the church that there would be good schools, in which instruction would be given according to the Word of the Lord. For the knowledge of God and the true religion can only be preserved "when schools are established in which the seeds of the divine Word are sown, and they, who would be appointed to the office of schoolteacher, serve the church".
"The reformer has but one goal in view for all education: to form men of God who are always ready to serve the Lord. To prepare and equip them for this military service is the main task of the school. Beza expressed this beautifully in his inaugural address in 1559, when, in speaking to his students, he described the goal of schooling in these words: "so that you, instructed in the knowledge of religion and of all the fine arts, may be able not only to magnify the honour of God, but also adorn your fatherland and be a help of those who are yours. You ought always to remember that you must give account to the highest King of this holy military service."
"Equipped for the militia Christi (the military service of Christ), that indeed is the aim to which the school must contribute. Therefore it is out of the question that Calvin would have advocated a purely intellectual education, or may have unintentionally promoted that. Calvin's vision of school establishment was all about the forming of the whole person, but this forming was sought in a life based on the true knowledge of God with as its purpose the Gloria Dei. Life in its totality is one holy military service: it is under the demand of the service of God, always, everywhere and completely. The true man is the man of the 'vera religio', the true religion."
The whole person
"This one goal: "to teach the children to live according to God and His Word" dominates all of instruction, and it makes Calvin's creation an amazing unity. The Word of the Lord is given a dominant place in all of education, and it calls everyone to the activity of the 'sancta militia' (holy military service). In this way, all dualism in education is avoided; any dualism between intellectual and moral forming, between 'knowledge' and 'life', between logos (doctrine) and ethos (life). It all comes together in the all-encompassing service of the Lord. This school, then, aims for more than just intellectual development – it sees man as a unity, and life as a unity, and Christian calling and service as a unity. Whoever has understood that, will be kept from labeling Calvin an intellectualist, for he continuously uses the expressions that the children must be instructed in the "knowledge of God" and in the "true and pure service of God". To him, it is always a knowledge of the heart, and a service of the heart, which engrosses the whole person."
"This religious goal so completely dominates the school of Calvin, that we hardly can speak of an institute of instruction; it is more an "Erziehungsanstalt" (the German word for 'institute of upbringing'). The children must be brought up, formed, not just in some aspects, but as whole persons, more particularly as servants, as office-bearers, as children of God. And the school does it in its own way, by means of instruction. But in doing so it may never lose sight of its high purpose. And that goal always remains, no matter in how many different ways Calvin expresses it: bringing up the whole man for the service of God."
"Calvin is of the opinion that only the person who knows God's Word and who lets himself be guided by this Word in every sphere of activity is capable of rightly taking his position in the world (state, society, church). The existence of the church, as well as of political life; the wellbeing of the congregation, as well as of the state, country and people will depend on the question whether its leaders have learned at school to subject themselves to the Word of God and the service of Jesus Christ. If a school, if teachers do not intentionally contribute to that aim, they contribute to the destruction of God's church as well as the destruction of their nation."
"It's inevitable that a mind as consistent as Calvin's would also express this all-dominating goal in the entire curriculum, in the course of education and in the subject matter itself. First of all this is evident in the prominent place given to religious instruction. The school order of 1538 required the school principal to teach the Christian doctrine to all the students every day. This mainly consisted of instruction in the catechism. Besides this, much was done for the religious forming. It would be interesting to elaborate on the timetable of the boarding school. This would show that the whole schedule was designed in order to prepare the students to take their place in the world as Christians. To that end everything was directed to let them know Scripture, to found them in the doctrine of Scripture and to train them in true godliness."
"But that was not all. Religious instruction wasn't unrelated to the instruction in the other school subjects, not for one moment. In fact, all of education was based on God's Word, and all the learning areas were subservient to the one purpose: to promote the true knowledge of God. Consequently, the same school order mentions that study of science and fine arts is related to "the true service and obedience which man owes to God."
"All school instruction must serve the forming of the child for its all-embracing calling: to know the Lord and to serve Him. According to Calvin, the school may not content itself with any other goal."
"There is no contrast between 'being human' in the real, true sense and being 'God's servant'. The truth is: those who see man as a servant, an office bearer, an instrument in the hand of his God, and who want to form him for that, have found the only way which can lead to the full development of all the gifts and strength given to man. It is only as God's servant that man is really, truly, fully human. Besides that, there is nothing left which one might overlook. To achieve that in man, to guide the child to that goal through all of education, is the high calling of the school. But then it is also according to the principle of Calvinist reformation that people, for God's sake, will not let anything or anyone keep them from fulfilling this calling. Another motto may never replace this lofty ideal, which dominates Calvin's vision of school establishment."
"Calvin refused to accept the dualism between science and piety, and kept on demanding that the teachers should behave themselves according to the Word of the Lord in doctrine and life. He'd rather have no school at all than to have teachers appointed who do not fully contribute to the great religious goal for which the school was established. Above all, the teacher must be an example. Not just an example for whatever humanistic ideal of virtue, but an example of true and real piety."
I do hope that once again it is clear why the influence which went out from this reformer is so widespread. He saw the high calling of the school, and in this he stood his ground. He saturated all of education with the spirit of Scripture, and by doing this he formed a generation that could endure the tempest of later days. He knew of no other calling than to educate the seed of the church to be fighters for the honour of the Lord; to cooperate that everyone would exercise his office and occupation as 'miles Christi', i.e. as servant of Christ."
"Just as it was then, the school today is at the forefront of a spiritual battle. It has been entrusted with a great and beautiful calling. A calling, however, which requires faithfulness from all of us. Faithful to the Word of the Lord. For God's sake. The future of the church, and with it – as Calvin so beautifully connects – the future of country and people also will depend on what the school does. Should the Christian school become unfaithful to its Divine calling – then decay and destruction cannot be stopped. But if it remains faithful in the strength of the Lord, today also a generation will grow which will stand solid in all kinds of troubles; firm in the active service of the Lord, in the militia Christi, to which the school also must educate them."
Thus far from Van 't Veer's speech on the principles of Calvin's school establishment.
to be continued
- MB van 't Veer, "Beginselen van Calvijn's schoolstichting" [Principles of Calvin's school establishment]. In: Correspondentieblad, 13 June 1941; Una Sancta, 12 and 26 September 1959.
- ----, Catechese en catechetische stof bij Calvijn [Calvin's catechesis and catechetical contents]. Kampen 1942.