The Reformed School as Answer to the First Petition
In our schools, children are introduced to and led on an excursion through the world God created – a world of people and nations; of countries and oceans; of animals, plants, and flowers; of numbers, weights and measures. The students are led around in order that they may learn to find their place in this world of God.
Naturally, the great question always returns: how do we give the students a handle on all those matters they find around them? How can we lead them in such a way that they are not overwhelmed by this sheer volume of objects and phenomena? How can help them to uncover some of the order, laws and functions and to understand the purpose the Creator has for all of this? After all, the essence of life’s great voyage of discovery (in which the school provides such indispensable assistance), is to show everything in its place, and to exhibit its right order, its connections, its developments, and its history. Having experienced this in our youth ourselves, we know well how this works: we learn – first at home, and then at school – the names of the objects and phenomena around us.
This naming of objects and phenomena starts at an early age, even before the children begin to ask questions. By the time they enter elementary school, they have mastered many names. At school, this process of acquiring names continues rapidly; this we call “A” and that is called “B.” We start by naming ordinary concrete objects in their immediate environment, and gradually, we take them a little further away from those familiar objects, until we eventually address more abstract concepts. Slowly but surely, the school transplants our children into a world filled with many, many names. From then on, they no longer live in a silent, speechless world filled with anonymous objects and chaotic phenomena, but in a world filled with names.
We can also express it in this way: the name of an object or person is its face that is looking at us. It is the side of a matter or a person that is turned toward us and with which we make contact. A name is always about communication. On an uninhabited island, a person does not need a name. We have a name with a view to our spreading out in society: this is our name, this is how we can be reached, this is how we can be contacted, and this is how we can be asked to join in a group. Because of names, contact and society can be established.
The same applies to things. Once we know the name of objects, we can assign them a place in our world, and they can function in our lives. As we can describe them more accurately and distinctly, objects lose some of their mysterious character. Clearly, by naming people and objects we get a certain hold on God’s immense creation; we gain a form of control over it, and a measure of power.
When someone gives us his name, contact becomes possible. At that moment, our fellow man has surrendered something personal to us, and we establish contact. This person is no longer just a face – he begins to function inside our horizon. When you, if requested, provide your name to a police officer, you realize very well that it implies that you place yourself to some extent under the authority of this servant of justice.
King Under God
I now think of the story we read in Genesis 2. Adam receives an introduction to God’s creation when the animals are presented before him. He is the just-anointed vice-regent, king under God, who may rule over the creatures and subdue them. But how could Adam ever rule over this magnificent creation? First of all, of course, by naming and characterizing God’s creatures! By naming the animals that present themselves, Adam functions as image of God, as the king over Creation. God entrusted this task to man, and found pleasure in it: He presented all the creatures to Adam to see what he would name them.
This is how man started to rule the multitude of creatures and to establish relationships between himself and the world surrounding him. By giving names, he garnered a grip on creation and proved at the same time his superiority over the creatures. Just as God is not under but above the marvellous world of the stars, “and calls them each by name” (Psalm 147:4), so Adam stood under the dome of heaven and amidst the fauna surrounding him.
Thus, when at home and at school we orient our children in this world, in order that it will not be a mute and speechless world for them, we are teaching them their most beautiful task: to have dominion over creation, and be image bearers of God in this world. We strive to give them a handle on the world that surrounds them, in order that they may begin to understand their place and task in it. In the end, they walk into a world full of names they know.
We must clarify that when the children leave school, they do not enter paradise. Rather, they enter a world and a society that buzzes with names. This includes names of God’s good creatures, but also names of much that rebels against God and rejects Him, names of the great and famous of this earth, names of favourites in the world of sin, and also names of blasphemy – as we read in Revelation 17. It includes names of people who declare themselves to be god, or who are worshiped like a god. This world also, this world of sin, is turning its face toward us and our children and seeks a relationship with them.
There are concentrations of powers in this world which are not from God, and their names infiltrate all nations. There are concentrations of political and societal power, the power of a large portion of the entertainment industry and its heroes, of sex as it is called nowadays, and the idolizing of sports. All day long they all blare their advertising into the world, and force themselves upon us, including the minds of our children. It is not just the beast, but especially also the name of the beast that is the great adversary of God’s people, says Revelation 13.
When we think of the dominant phenomenon of secularization of our society, we really observe the retreat of the Name of God, the Creator: His name is no longer heard nor acknowledged in the created reality. It is replaced by other powers, and by different names. They include the names of elements of creation, torn away from God and then idolized. They include names of financial, political, and technical powers controlling prosperity. They include names of the great things and famous people of this world. All these names threaten to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ by their sheer grip on life and the spiritual climate of our life. It is striking that the apostle Paul speaks in one breath about “all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:21, NASB). Is not secularization exactly this – that all those names are mentioned in isolation from the Name of God and of his Christ? The Name of God, and of Christ are neither blasphemed nor mentioned, but simply taken out of use – much like a coin that lost its currency. It is into this world of great names, authorities, and powers that our children enter.
Now we are ready to see how immensely up-to-date the first petition is, in which we pray for the primary need of God’s people: “Your Name must definitely be hallowed.” God’s Name is entirely special and completely unique. That Name must rise above everything in impenetrable radiance. It is simply intolerable if this is not the case, as it would disrupt the entire creation.
After all, it is the unparalleled fact that God has not kept Himself anonymous, but has given Himself to us. He did so in mentioning his Name in his Word and in his work. When the catechism speaks about this in Lord’s Day 47, it mentions God’s wisdom, power, goodness, righteousness, mercy and truth. Thus, the whole world testifies to the great Name God has made for Himself as Creator, Saviour, Judge, Redeemer, and Sustainer of life. Lastly, God gave Himself completely in his greatest work: the sending of Jesus Christ, who is the centre of his creation, and who received a Name that is above every name in that creation (Philippians 2:9). Therefore, whoever does not honour, see, or understand the Name of this God, effectively commits suicide, forfeits his position, and tumbles into a senseless life.
What We Pray For
Now we pray every day, “Our Father, Your Name must be hallowed.” Lord, do this first of all Yourself: shut the mouths that give praise to others; open the mouths that do not yet know your praises; give us children who can recount your praises, in order that they may eternally glorify and praise You and Your Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit – the one and only true God. This is what we pray in church for each child that is baptized.
This is how, in the first petition, we pray against secularization, against that prevailing spirit of our age – for in our society the Name of God is taken out of use.
Thus we pray for the gift of a Reformed school as an instrument in the hands of God: we pray that it will not neglect to know the one Name which is given above every name, amidst all the names that are taught. We pray for schools, in which the children get a grasp of creation, as images of God; and not as deified, autonomous human beings who aim to take control of the earth in their own strength and have a right to a liveable existence. We pray for God’s active involvement in the hallowing of his name. Simultaneously, we pray for our own involvement, in order “that we may so direct our whole life – our thoughts, words, and actions – that Thy Name is not blasphemed because of us but always honoured and praised” (LD 47).
Thus we pray for wisdom in raising our children; and we pray for teachers who are able to point out in Scripture and in all of God’s work, in history and in geography, how highly exalted this Name is above every name. Pointing that out is exactly the aroma that lends the entire meal its flavour: the salt that keeps the food from spoiling.
Certainly, we can teach the children in Grade one the words of Psalm 75:1, "We give thanks to God; we give thanks, for your Name is near; men tell of your wonderful deeds,"
but then this Name has to be brought near, and we have to tell about that Name in this country. Failing that, life in our country deteriorates to a senseless, empty life that is filled with boredom. Consequently, the country will get engulfed with the idols of money, technology, and science, and many other names will clamour with loud and intrusive advertisements for our heart, while the one and only Name fades into obscurity. That is why the first petition is also the best for our children, as a prayer for a Reformed school and Reformed teachers. It is a prayer for wisdom to bring the Name of God near to the children – amidst all the names taught in their many courses.
Gifts of God
We mercifully received many Reformed schools from our God. That is a tangible answer to our prayers – a monumental gift of grace from God to our society. But one thing should have our attention constantly: whether we are ready to receive God’s gifts. We need not worry about whether God will give, but about our readiness to grasp what He gives. “He was unable to perform miracles because of their unbelief,” we read in Scripture. That is a bitter statement about love, which has no place to go.
But we continue to pray – for the crucial work of the teachers. After all, it is not to be taken for granted that it will continue. We pray for teachers that they may be instruments of the Holy Spirit in our children’s growth in words and language, and in their development of concepts and critical judgement. We pray for this, in order that the eyes and ears of the children may be opened for God! Then the teachers will be links in God’s history, on the way to the return of Christ. We continue to pray for the teachers, that they themselves may also always be filled with amazement, for how could they tell about God’s awesome miracles without standing in awe themselves? We pray that our teachers may always receive the spiritual resilience, clarity, and enthusiasm for their work, and that they may not be slowed down by drudgery or dejection.
We may also congratulate ourselves with the schools we received. Blessed are the parents, whose prayers God clearly wants to hear and answer!