Schools and Creeds
Church and School
In this issue, featuring education, a timely topic is the relation of schools and creeds. Right from the beginning of the reformational school movement in the sixteenth century there has been a close connection between the church and its creeds and confessions, on the one hand, and the Christian schools, on the other. One of the most striking indications is a regulation in the Church Order of the Synod of Dordrecht 1618/19. It stipulates that the consistories everywhere shall see to it that there are good teachers who shall not only teach the children reading, writing, languages, and arts, but also instruct them in godliness and the Catechism. This same Synod that prescribed a form of subscription for the ministers of the gospel, also devised a formula in which school teachers should express their agreement with the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dordt. These are the well-known Three Forms of Unity.
During the nineteenth century in The Netherlands, a second reformational school movement took place after the Secession and later under the leadership of Dr. Abraham Kuyper. The organizational bond between church and school was weakened and the responsibility of the parents for the education of the children of God's covenant was rightly emphasized. But the creeds and confessions of the Reformed churches were still mentioned in the description of the basis of school societies. "Schools with the Bible" were at the same time schools with the Reformed confessions and implicitly with the ecumenical creeds. Also immigrants to North America, Australia, and other parts of the world established their Christian day schools and based them on the Three Forms of Unity. Where cooperation with Presbyterians was desired, they sometimes added the Westminster Standards as historic confessions of Reformed Christianity.
In the last decades, however, several proposals have been made to come to what is called an educational creed. Already in the early sixties the Association for the Advancement of Christian Scholarship accepted such a creed as the heart of its constitution. Dr. James H. Olthuis and Dr. Bernard Zijlstra published a provisional statement offered to the Christian community as an opening orientation for communal reflection and discussion, entitled "Schools in the Christian Community" (December 1969). They argued vehemently that the confessions of what they called a denominational institutional church should not take the place of a Christian educational creed in the constitution of a school. Their educational creed is found in the booklet To Prod the "Slumbering Giant" (1972).
At the end of the seventies the discussion was revived in an essay by an Australian author, the Rev. Stuart Fowler. In Circular No. 15 of the International Conference of the Reformed Institutions for Christian Scholarship he published an article "The Creed and the School." But more important is the fact that Christian Schools International (formerly The National Union of Christian Schools in the USA) formed a task force to study "Strategies in Christian Education for the 1980s" and that this task force has now produced a document called Christian Educational Philosophy: A Creedal Summary. Articles written by the chairman of this task force, Dr. N.H. Beversluis, and published in the Banner and in Calvinist Contact in July and August 1981, make clear in what direction the task force is leading the Christian school movement in the United States and Canada. It is in the direction of exchanging the Reformed creeds and confessions in the constitution of the school societies for an educational creed. Let me summarize his article in Calvinist Contact of August 14, 1981:
Dr. Beversluis sees two major objectives: first, become clearer on what being Reformed in education means; and second, get that message out in some manageable and functional form to the traditional constituency, to the many inquirers coming in to schools and to the world beyond. We should clarify our educational philosophy and thereupon set it out in some sort of summary or creed. We have to consider the realities of the 1980s: There is a phenomenal growth of Christian schools among evangelicals. There is also the startling increase of non-Reformed parents enrolling their children in Christian schools. And, moreover, there is the creeping erosion of commitment to Christian education within the traditional constituencies. To meet these contemporary challenges and opportunities we should begin to produce "an instructional handbook or creed that summarizes the Reformed educational vision: its compelling theory and the range and depth of its classroom application." Such an educational creed should clearly say who we are and what we believe about Christian education. And subscription to such an educational creed by non-Reformed parents is an alternative to church creed subscription. Such educational creed
should be biblical and reformed throughout but kept free of ethnic and ecclesiastical terminology that could foreclose acceptance of it by Christians of other ethnic and denominational backgrounds. On the other hand, although there should be no direct tie-in with the Reformed church creeds, it should all along be permeated with the Reformed version of life and the world that conforms fully with these church creeds.
What Is a Creed?
When I read these words, I was astonished about the loose way in which the word "creed" is used. This can only cause confusion. When we use the word "creed" we should hear in it the original Latin word credo, I believe. It immediately reminds us of the early Christian baptismal creeds and the confession made at that most important moment of Christian life: baptism in the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Even if Acts 8:37 does not belong to the original text, it shows how the early Christian church baptism of adults was accompanied by a confession of faith: "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God."
The Swiss theologian Oscar Cullmann has argued that the original Christian confession was "Jesus is Lord." And when we see the importance of those words in the New Testament (Acts 2:36; Romans 10:8, 9; 1 Corinthians 12:3; Philippians 2:9-11), we know the significance of the Christian creed in a Jewish and pagan environment. For us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist, 1 Corinthians 8:6.
There is an important creed text which has survived in a seventh century papyrus hailing from Der Balyzeh, in Upper Egypt. It was discovered in 1907 by Flinders Petrie and W.E. Crum, and is now housed in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. It is fascinating to read those lines:
I believe in God the Father almighty and in His one and only Son our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit, and in the resurrection of the flesh in the holy catholic church.
In this Christian creed that dates back to far before the seventh century, we hear the confession of the trinitarian Name, and in the midst we discover again the proclamation of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. This Creed contained everything in a nutshell, as it were. The Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed show valuable additions, and in the Heidelberg Catechism we confess that we with body and soul, both in life and death, are not our own, but belong to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has redeemed us, body and soul, from all our sins; He bought us with His precious blood; He has delivered us from all the power of the devil, and has made us His own possession. When I consider those words of creeds and confessions, it becomes clear to me that a creed is a pre-functional confession. It is a matter of the heart, the center of human life. It responds to the word of faith which is preached. Man believes with his heart, says Paul, and so man is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so he is saved, Romans 10:10. A creed is an expression of religious commitment; in its sweep it permeates the totality of human life in a manner similar to the Word of God which it echoes.
Philosophy = Creed?
When I read Dr. Beversluis' appeal to develop a Reformed philosophy of education, I am aware of the fact that he does not mean Reformed in a creedal, or what he calls denominational, sense. Although, I do not think that we may distinguish between reformed and Reformed in such manner, I will heartily support his search for a Scriptural philosophy of education. But such an educational philosophy is on another level than the historic creeds of the Christian church. When the author speaks about "the production of an instructional handbook or creed that summarizes the reformed educational vision," the combination of expressions makes it clear that he used the word "creed" in another sense than the Christian church has done it for centuries. The first question is: What do you mean by the word "creed"? What is the character of a Christian creed?
Professor John M. Frame, in Outlook of January 1982, wrote a valuable article about the question "Are the Reformed Creeds Worth Keeping in Schools?" Although I agree with his arguments for the affirmative answer to this question, he grants that an educational creed is desirable. "The real issue is whether such a creed ought to replace the church creeds in the Christian schools' constitution, or only to supplement them." It may seem that we deal only with a matter of semantics — words, words, words — but I think it important not to use the word "creed" for a philosophy of education or an instructional handbook. We should not obscure the unique character of the Christian creeds.
May I immediately add another thing? Not only the character of the Christian creeds and Reformed confessions is significant, but especially their contents. In the sixties the Association for the Advancement of Christian Scholarship in Toronto formulated a so-called educational creed. It speaks about life, Scripture, Christ, reality, knowledge, scholarship, and academic freedom. There are some good remarks in this summary of certain basic principles relevant to education. What is good in this statement is found in broader and better form in the Reformed confessions. But it does not in a separate entry speak about sin and its devastating influence in the totality of human life. It only mentions in a theoretical manner "the central religious antithesis of direction in life." True, Christian scholarship cannot perform its task without confessing that by his fall into sin man has become wicked, perverse, and corrupt in all his ways. He has lost all his excellent gifts which he had received from God, and retained only small remains thereof, which, however, are sufficient to leave man without excuse (Art. 14, Belgic Confession). The omission of the confession of sin gives to the educational creed of the AACS a falsely optimistic slant which is enhanced by a reference to "God's gracious preservation of creation after the fall." In this educational creed we hear more of Abraham Kuyper's theological construction of common grace than of the Reformed and Scriptural confession of God's providence. Whoever studies the samples of educational summaries of principles offered during the last decades and compares them with the contents of the creeds and confessions must conclude that, if in school communities they are to replace the historic confessional documents of the Reformed churches, they will impoverish Christian life and action.
It is clear that the founders of the Association for the Advancement of Christian Scholarship desired to "bow before Christ's Kingship over all scientific work." But why did they in their Christian scientific enterprise cut off the explicit connection with the creeds of the early Christian Church and their heart-moving confession of the Lordship of Christ? And why not have the simple and direct Heidelberg Catechism — with its cognate theme of the only comfort in life and death — speak within the scholarly community about Him who made us His own possession, to whom we belong and whom we worship?
Leave Them There
One could elaborate on the contents of the ecumenical creeds and the Reformed confessions and show their significance for all education on elementary, secondary, and tertiary level, from grade school to college or university. The doctrine of the trinitarian God and the means by which we know Him is fundamental for Christian education. What the Reformed churches confess concerning creation and the place and function of man is of primary importance. In Hamilton, Ontario, there is a Reformed high school and the pupils enter it through a hallway adorned with a simple plaque with the words: "to the end that man may serve his God," taken from the Confession of Faith concerning the creation of all things. The Canons of Dordt provide excellent ammunition over against the onslaught of humanism in twentieth century educators. The exposition of the Ten Words of God's, Covenant in the Heidelberg Catechism give good guidance in ethical questions that undoubtedly will be raised in the classroom.
It goes without saying that the limitations of this article do not allow broad expositions. There is need of an instructional handbook that summarizes the Reformed educational vision, to use the words of Dr. N.H. Beversluis. But let us not call it an educational creed and let us leave the historic Christian Creeds and Reformed Confessions in place, also in the Christian schools. We will need them there, in the eighties, and in the further future, more than ever before.