Celebrating Reformed Education (3)
AC Breen - published in Una Sancta Volume 55, Number 10, 22 March 2008
In three articles 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 telling you about Curriculum Council's endorsement of Reformed Christian Studies in Years 10-12.
In our first article we listened to Calvin via the speech of dr MB van 't Veer on the principles of Calvin's school establishment. It became abundantly clear to us that God's Word stood in the centre in the school of the Reformation.
In the second article we focused on the contents of Reformed schooling, namely God's works and Word. We closed with a letter of JCCC's principal Mr AH Terpstra in relation to our application to have Reformed Christian Studies endorsed by Curriculum Council.
2.2 The name Reformed Christian Studies
In his letter Mr Terpstra refers to the suggestions of Mr D Byrne, coordinator of the new Curriculum Council's course Religion and Life. One of Byrne's suggestions was to change our name of Religious Studies. The name is not distinctive enough and fits as name under the umbrella of Religion and Life. But more importantly the flag does not cover the cargo. The name Religious Studies does not characterise adequately the contents, outcomes and pedagogical principles and strategies of this learning area at JCCC's senior high school as described in our curriculum.
Back to John Calvin and his emphasis on the triangle "home, school and church", and on the way he put God's Word in the centre of the school curriculum. The Word, that is the Bible, the inscriptured Word, and Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word. The Word as it should be studied and applied in a Christian life of the Reformed students. Study – Christian – Reformed …. Yes, the name is Reformed Christian Studies. Reformed: relation with the Reformed church. Christian: relation with the Christian home. Studies: relation with schooling. Or: the word Reformed refers to the relation with the Reformed churches of Christ – that is to listen to God's Word; the word Christian refers to the relation with the Reformed churches of Christ – that is to follow Christ today.
The confession "Scriptures only" of the Great Reformation is reflected in the name "Reformed Christian Studies". Its aim is that the students study God's Word as it consists of OT and NT (Bible Studies), as it has been upheld and spread by Christ's church (Church Studies), and as it is to be used as a Guide and Standard (Ethics).
Also the confession "Christ only" of the Great Reformation is reflected in the name "Reformed Christian Studies". In relation to Bible Studies: Christ is the Word. In relation to Church Studies: Christ keeps His church to the Word. In relation to Ethics: Christ guides His people by the Word. The Word is our Christian guide (Bible Studies) for our Christian faith (Church Studies) and Christian conduct (Ethics). The Word inspired by the Holy Spirit. We speak about the Spiritual Word (faith and life), the Spiritual confession (living faith) and the Spiritual life (faithful life).
2.3 The application
In our Endorsed program Application Form we explained the reason why the John Calvin Schools of Australia cannot teach their Reformed Christian Studies under the umbrella of Curriculum Council's Religion and Life.
What is religion according to the Religion and Life curriculum? "In general terms, religion is a system of beliefs and practices that guide people's everyday lives." "Some religions believe in 'gods' or a 'god'; other religions believe in 'spirits' that animate forces or objects of nature".
That means that according to this course religion is about opinions, ideologies, philosophies of life, outlook of life. Norms are based on values. Religion and Life is more Social Studies and philosophy: the study of what people think or say about 'god'.
What is religion according to our curriculum? The word religion comes from the Latin word religio and relégere which means: to consider, that is to respectfully and conscientiously consider God, the Holy One. The Holy One is not the name for god(s) or spirits, but the Name of the Triune God as He has revealed Himself in the Bible.
That means that according to our rationale religion is about worshipping God on the basis of the Bible. Values are based on Biblical norms. Reformed Christian Studies is more Theology (including Study of Religion): speaking about and to God.
What is the reason for Religion and Life (R&L)? This course should be taught because students should understand ways of interacting and communicating with people about the diversity of religious beliefs and practices. That is why they explore the nature of religion and how it offers individuals and their communities an understanding of the world around them. Basically it is about studying religion(s) and life.
Why do we teach Reformed Christian Studies (RCS)? This course should be taught because students should be able to know God through His Word and works, and to live for Christ to God's glory. Therefore they study the Bible as it consists of OT and NT (Bible Studies), as it has been upheld and spread by Christ's church (Church Studies), and as it is to be used as a Guide (Ethics). Basically it is following Christ in life.
What if we integrate RCS in R&L? We explained to the Curriculum Council that then our RCS does not derive from the John Calvin Schools' rationale and aim any more. What if we integrate R&L in RCS? We also explained that then Curriculum Council's new course is not R&L any more.
Further, we said, the John Calvin Schools have been established by Free Reformed church members who wanted their children to be taught in line with what they are taught in church and at home. That means that the John Calvin schools assist parents in teaching their children Reformed Christian Studies on the basis of the Bible and the Reformed Confessions.
We cannot see how we could offer the students R&L instead of RCS, or next to RCS, in the John Calvin Schools, since this new Course does not derive from the John Calvin schools' rationale and aim.
The John Calvin Schools stand in the tradition of the Great Reformation of the 16th century in which Christian education involves:
(1) The John Calvin Schools believe that God has revealed Himself in His Word and works. That is why they want the students to study the contents, preservation and application of God's Word (learning area Reformed Christian Studies), and all the facets of His works (in the other 8 learning areas).
- academic learning of God's Word and works (1),
- Biblical instruction in holy living (2).
(2) The John Calvin Schools believe that God has revealed Himself in His Word and works to His glory. That is why they want the students to consider how they will live holy according to God's revelation.
2.4 The outcome
Curriculum Council's response to our application came on the 11th December 2007.
Dear Mr Terpstra
I am pleased to advise that the Curriculum Council have endorsed Reformed Christian Studies 101, 111, and 121 programs.
From 2008, students completing these programs at John Calvin Christian College can count this learning towards their senior secondary graduation certificate – the Western Australian Certificate of Education (WACE).
The Council acknowledges the work you have put into the application, and wishes the students every success in completing this program.
manager VET and Endorsed Programs
Indeed, goose bumps!
On the basis of what we have considered thus far, and comparing all the definitions of Reformed schooling that have been formulated over the last 50 years, we'd like to characterise Reformed schooling as follows:
Reformed schooling assists parents in guiding their covenant children faithfully and professionally, in developmental learning of knowledge, skills and attitudes to God's glory.
To God's glory: We don't make the students dependent on teachers, but teach them to be dependent on God. With the words of the Westminster Catechism, answer 1: "Man's chief and highest end is to glorify God" (compare Rom 11:36; 1 Cor 10:31).
In 1941, the same year that Rev MB van 't Veer delivered his speech on the principles of Calvin's school establishment, Prof B Holwerda said in a speech to the parents:
"This is your calling regarding the school with the Bible: that you see and confess things in this way: that you say: my children shall be educated in the service of God for their whole life; and in no other way; that you maintain it and stand for it, whatever the consequences are: my children are for the honour and the Name of the LORD. For nothing else. You do not send them to the school because they have to know how they have to go through their life and how they can go to heaven, but in order that God's name will be glorified in all the earth."
- 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.
- AC Breen, Teaching for Real. Armadale 2006.
- ----, Teaching Covenant Children (50 years). Armadale 2007.