Not Two Kinds
In my late teens, with older brothers toiling on the farm, I worked weekends in a clothing store selling anything from Levi-Strauss denim jeans to Wilson & Glenny virgin wool designer suits. Among others, the job also had me face questions about boundaries of composition, style, and decency. One case linked to Leviticus 19:19 (and its Deuteronomy 22:9-11 parallel): "You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material" (ESV). The first phrase was for my brothers, of course, but the second was for me: Apart from Levi-Strauss and Wilson & Glenny, most items of clothing contained blends of fiber. Was peddling it acceptable, if wearing it was not? My own wardrobe had mostly mixed materials: At school, a designer suit was socially insufferable, and, as denim was associated with Beatles and other revolutionaries, jeans would raise parental eyebrows. Seeking a solution, I found that some exegetes of Leviticus affirmed God's authority as Supreme King, but then called the current relevance obscure or limited to practical aspects: Mixing fibers generates laundry issues and static electricity. With my mom's Miele front loader, it became a non-issue, and I kept wearing and selling blends. My question lingered, however, until I stumbled on Rev. Klaas Schilder's application of about half a century earlier. It was in line with Article 25 of the Belgic Confession, and in this article I incorporate important elements from his approach.
One evening in 1919, Rev. Schilder spoke to promote Christian education. Sidestepping (but not ignoring) passages like Deuteronomy 6 and Psalm 78, he focused on "not planting two kinds of seed" (Om Woord en Kerk, Vol. I, pp. 140-146). Clearly, in Leviticus, God just set his people free from slavery, and he wanted them to be wholly devoted to serve him only, as a holy people. That was the covenant, and, as promised to Abraham, through them all nations would be blessed – first by living as shining lights under God's care, and later through Christ. To let that light shine, however, between Israel and the Canaanites a clear distinction must be maintained, which allowed no contamination with sin-enslaving and wrath-incurring pagan practices. This was serious: God's blessing required tangible holiness, and his wrath implied devotion to ruin (think Jericho, and Achan).
It is of interest that the 1917 Dutch Constitution had just sanctioned full recognition of and government funding for "Schools with the Bible." The impact was visible in school enrolment statistics: In 1900, just over thirty percent of all Dutch students attended Christian schools; by 1920, nearly fifty percent did; and by 1940, it would climb to seventy percent (Algra, Dispereertniet, Vol. III, p. 398). However, in 1919, many children did not yet attend a Christian school - for various possible reasons. Decades of underfunding resulted in cramped, drafty, and often ill-equipped facilities and limited learning materials, often less-qualified teachers, longer travel times, and an adverse stigma. Some consciences may have been appeased by "turning out OK" with public school promotions of "civil and social virtues" (updated from earlier "Christian and social virtues"), or myths of tolerance and a "religiously neutral" program; some wavered perhaps because it was "beyond their meager means;" and bitter school-related experiences may have contributed also. In short, there remained room for growth in Christian schools.
Schilder noted that God, as Creator of both the physical and the spiritual world, also addressed both. The antithesis of Genesis 3 came after the Fall, it remained when the woman's seed mixed with Satan's, the now violent earth needed to be purged in the Flood, and a very small remnant was saved. Later, rescued from bondage, Israel was physically set aside from pagans to support their spiritual devotion to God alone. The antithesis was further made explicit with daily reminders in both temple worship and physical metaphors. Practical commands for the natural world exemplified the spiritual: Not mixing unequal parts (like cloth or seed) implied that God wanted the Israelites not to engage in syncretism. Mixing cloth meant more than static electricity, and mixing seeds went deeper than harvest-issues: Both joined metaphorically what should be separate, and so obliterated the antithesis, and it spelled wrath. Not mixing with pagans and their practices, avoiding syncretism and keeping the covenant, spelled blessing and life. Breaking the covenant led to the bread of adversity and to the water of affliction, or to exile as spiritual drought and to physical excommunication.
This call to be holy could never be separated from raising children. Immediately after restating the law, Moses gave its imperative implications, as in Deuteronomy 6:4-9:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
That is: Love no other gods, but the Lord alone; take this to heart; teach your children; remind each other always, everywhere and in every way. Indeed, without these instructions and reminders, they would go astray. With the support of the community, it was the parents' holy obligation to teach their children how and why to be dedicated to their covenant God only. They faltered.
After a seventy-year exile, some of the returned remnant devoutly studied the law, but a number of them came to cherish and follow its letter as though there was merit and life in moralism. They missed the intent summed up before the exile by Micah as a call for acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with their God (6:8), or as a call for the heart rather than man-made rules, as Isaiah pointed out (29:13). Our Lord Jesus rejected the Pharisaic use of the law as a set of meritorious external-good-look rules, and re-established the law as a claim for whole-hearted commitment to God. To inherit eternal life, one must give up personal merit: Only those who put their trust and faith in Christ alone are righteous before God and live. The old law to love God and the neighbor remained; our devotion must not be to symbolic reminders (however valid they are), but our hearts should be lifted up to Christ. A life of thankfulness is not a mindless affair of following rules or traditions, but of grateful service and devotion to God with all one's heart, mind, soul, and strength.
With covenant community support, and in view of their baptismal vows, New Testament parents are leery to send their children unprepared to a street or a cyber gate or a school that would distract them from being holy. Godly parents are supported with prayers and finances and reminders when they plant covenantal seed at home, and avoid having others add worldly weeds at school; or when they dress their children in holy cloth at home and oppose godless fiber elsewhere. Rather than repeating aged excuses, these parents know that public schools distort the antithesis to man-made opposites. These schools prohibit serving God, confessing him as the Creator and Christ as the Savior of the world, and they do not pursue the unity of purpose between home and church and school. When God wants our lives to be saturated with love for and dedication to him with all our heart and mind and soul and might, there are no exceptions.
Schilder was also quite aware that some think they can leave the "Christian part" of education to others. Apart from presuming that it can be teased out as a separate rather than a fully integrated component, that too, would be mixing seeds and blending fibers. Children would quickly note the deadly hypocrisy of their parents' mouth proclaiming one thing and their actions another. How would they be trained in godliness and Christian character if it is not pursued at home? How would they be able to discern and choose in a way that pleases God, as they explore their life's options for action if it is not supported at home? It is not impossible, but someone would not be acting responsibly.
For Israel, the prohibition to mix seeds or fibers was a reminder of God's call to be devoted to him alone, and not to mix messages. The principle of being holy remains, along with a call to live by the Spirit and to keep the command to love. This has implications for the schools we choose for covenant children; for having home, church, and school united in purpose; and for our commitment to help those for whom it is a challenge. How would the Lord have us raise the children he has given us, how would he have them schooled, and how would he have us help each other when there are challenges? Nearly a century after Schilder's speech, funding for our schools may not be forthcoming or it may be curtailed, and neither the teachers nor the schools have attained perfection, but the antithetical call to oppose syncretism remains. In gratitude for our salvation in Christ, let us lift up our hearts to him, be clothed with him, and carefully and explicitly stress the single kind of covenant principles he showed us to teach and have our children taught. Which seed will we plant, which message will we peddle, and which cloth will we have our children wear?