Confession and School by Dr. K.Deddens
following is taken with permission, from Clarion
Vol. 37, No. 23, 24, and 25 (1988)
What follows here was
originally a speech in which these eight theses are worked out:
1. The confession does not deal only with ecclesiastical life, but has to function in the whole life of Christians.
2. The consequence of this function of the confession is that the schools to which we send our children, must have their own Reformed character.
3. To provide for Reformed schools means much more than to respect the tradition of ancestors: we must have the same faith and the same consciousness of a calling.
4. To maintain the confession with respect to the school means to maintain that we confess our faith in our triune God, as stated at the baptism of our children.
5. According to Lord's Day 8 of the Heidelberg Catechism we have to confess God the Father and our creation, God the Son and our redemption, and God the Holy Spirit and our sanctification.
6. This confession means in the first place that our children have to learn to live to the honour and praise of the Name of God the Father,
7. Furthermore, this confession means that our children are set apart as children of God's covenant, being bought by the Mediator of God's covenant, our Lord Jesus Christ.
8. Finally, this confession means that our children are governed by the Holy Spirit, that they may be nurtured in the Christian faith and in godliness.
To say that our confessions only deal with ecclesiastical life shows a lamentable misunderstanding. Some people have the opinion: in the church we are bound to the confession, but in our common daily life we are free from it. When we think in this manner, we create a contrast. However, we are bound to our confessions not only on Sunday, but on Monday as well. We are bound not only in ecclesiastical life as members of the church, but also in daily life as members of society.
It does not need proof that we are bound to the law of our heavenly Father every day and every hour of our life. We also know that the obedience to this law is the true freedom for God's children. God's law is universal and deals with our whole life. In the same way we can say:
what we confess as Christians is universal and has to do with our whole life. There is not a so-called neutral territory, in which we are allowed to follow our own desires and to feel free from God's law.
When we say that there is no neutral zone it becomes obvious that this has also consequences with respect to school life. Such a consequence of this universal function of our confession is that - to the utmost of our power - the schools to which we send our children must have their own Reformed character. We are not able yet to establish a Canadian Reformed College or University. However, we have the calling to establish schools for our children with their own Reformed character, on the basis of our confessions as much as we can. That is not a matter of a kind of hobby of some enthusiastic people, but that is the precious calling of Reformed believers, who profess their faith by words and deeds.
It remains necessary to emphasize this our duty and calling with respect to establishing schools for our children. For it is possible that we still have a certain feeling of alliance with that which has grown in the course of history and which has been given to us by a previous generation. There can be a kind of respect for tradition, and a kind of piety. This has, of course, a certain value. However, when this piety is not motivated by an awareness of calling, it becomes a worldly matter. This danger can threaten us also with regard to our Reformed schools. We know that a previous generation struggled hard for these schools; so we can feel obliged to maintain them and to give our money for them, while we do so out of tradition. This would not be good. We should maintain our oneness in faith with the previous generation. We should retain the same awareness of calling as our fathers had. If that faith is not there anymore, then we can inherit the books with the minutes and the buildings, we can preserve them respectfully and carefully, but we would have lost that inheritance as a work of faith. So it remains very important to see the school in the first place as a matter of faith. This implies that we must act on the basis of the same confession.
If we stress that the confessions really are to function in our schools and that we must have the same contents of faith as our ancestors had, that does not mean that we want to overestimate the confession. This would be a kind of confessionalism. In such a case we would not do justice to the unique dominion of God's Word. A confession can only have a derived certainty, derived from the original certainty of Holy Scripture.
But we must say at the same time: if there is room and a calling for having a scriptural confession, then this confession may not be made suspect.
When we say: we should not go in the direction of confessionalism, we must add: neither in the direction of biblicism. It was a slogan of the Arminians: only the Bible! If the Arminians were correct then it would be possible to attach a function to the Bible which the Bible does not have. It would place the Word of God outside the reality of life, namely, outside the reality of church-life in her age-long struggle to guard and to keep what had been entrusted to her.
Exactly because of the character of the confession as confession, which is based on the Word of God, we may not abandon it, as long as the confession is not disproved with clear and firm arguments from God's Word. Even in that case we may not say farewell to the confession, but we have to go the ecclesiastical way. Therefore on the one hand there should be no over estimation of the confession, but on the other hand no under estimation either.
No dead formula
The confession may never function like a dead formula. That is what Calvin said when he stressed that the confession always has to function as a spiritual guide. He writes: "We have to esteem the confession highly. Indeed, the confession is a human writing. But the contents and the ornament of it are derived from the prophets and the apostles."
Calvin put emphasis on that fact that the confession may never become a dead formula. Just three hundred years after Calvin's death Groen van Prinsterer said the same in connection with the State Church in the Netherlands: "The confession of the Church has to be respected above every form of the Church and every regulation, and no stipulation may be considered as binding which could be an obstacle on the way of maintaining the confession of the Church."
However, there was the tendency to place limitations on the confession, especially in the sense that people would not be bound by the whole confession in each and every activity or situation. One would like to have a special confession for mission, for politics and also for education.
In an article of February 1982, published in Reformed Perspective, Dr. J. Faber pointed to the fact that there is a tendency in the U.S.A. and in Canada to exchange the Reformed Creeds and confessions in the constitution of the school societies for an educational creed.
He gave an example of a so-called educational creed formulated in Toronto, which speaks about life, Scripture, Christ, reality, knowledge, scholarship, and academic freedom. He said: what is good in this statement is found in broader and better form in the Reformed confessions, and he concludes: "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," In fact, what Dr. J. Faber warns against is a limitation of the confessions. We must be aware of the danger of going in that direction!
The background of such a desire for educational confessions or creeds can be that one has the idea that the confessions are not relevant to school life, or that one is not able to apply the Reformed creeds and confessions to the education of the children. However, consider this: what did the parents promise at the baptismal font with respect to the education of their children? It is very clear. The third and last question directed to the parents of the children of God's covenant is: "Do you promise as father and mother to instruct your child in this doctrine (that is the doctrine of the Old and New Testament, summarized in the confessions, as the true and complete doctrine of salvation), and to have him (or her) instructed therein to the utmost of your power?"
When the parents answer in the affirmative, the children are baptized into the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. From this baptism formula we can see right away what the content of our confession is. It is clearly stated in Lord's Day 8 of the Heidelberg Catechism. The articles of our catholic and undoubted Christian faith profess God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, into whose name the children are baptized. So the three parts of our confession are about God the Father and our creation, about God the Son and our redemption, and about God the Holy Spirit and our sanctification. Are these three parts not relevant to our schools and to the education of our children?
Very important and still relevant is what the late Prof. B. Holwerda said about the matter of school education in a speech held in 1941 and printed in one of the books, published after his death, namely: "De betekenis van verbond en kerk voor huwelijk, gezin en jeugd" (The meaning of covenant and church for marriage, family, and youth; pp. 89-102). I will give extensive quotations.
God the Father and our creation
God the Father and our creation: that is the first article of our confession that is also the beginning of our school. We are saying here: "The earth is the LORD's and the fulness thereof." If we do not see this, we do not understand anything of the school with the Bible . . . . The school with the Bible is something other than a school plus a Bible. It is something other than a school with some education in religion. The school is not a school with the Bible if just a psalm is to be learned, or the history of the Bible is told to the children; but a school is truly school with the Bible, when all of the education is ruled by the Scriptures; when each and every subject is ruled by the confession of God the Father and our creation.
Holwerda continued to say (in 1941):
It is still quite strongly so that for many among us the characteristic distinction between the Christian and the public schools is seen in a Bible story, in a stanza of a psalm and in prayer, while the other subjects are considered as being neutral. We have so little defense against the well-known remarks from public school supporters, that our speaking of counting and writing in a Christian way is actually nonsense. Outsiders say: "Also for your children two times two is four, precisely as at the public school. They get the same results as others in adding and subtracting, in multiplying and dividing. Of course, if two times two for Christian children would be five, then we could see a good reason for a Christian school; but not now," Outsiders say: "When your children learn to write, they do this in the beginning in just as clumsy a fashion. When they start reading, they stutter in the beginning, and drone with the same tone as at the public schools. In history they learn the same dates; in geography they study the same map. Are not all these subjects neutral?" Do we have only little defense over against such reasoning? Are we aware that in this way the Christian character of the entire education is actually attacked, and that by such contemplations the whole Christian life is fundamentally undermined?
Holwerda writes, in the war situation:
Many parents are happy when their children are able to learn well: such children have later, when they have finished school, a good possibility to make a decent living; then they can, nicely find their way through life; add to this some knowledge of the Bible and all will be fine for eternity as well. However, in this way life as a whole is secularized. For such Christian parents consider a good school a vehicle for a good position.
Should we not agree that these words of the late Prof. Holwerda are still relevant? Prof. Holwerda refers to Psalm 8, calling this the psalm which Jesus Christ had in mind, as often as He thought about little children.
This poet says: "O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Thy name in all the earth!" Why is that name majestic here on earth? It is because among other things, "by the mouth of babes and infants, Thou hast founded a bulwark because of Thy foes, to still the enemy and the avenger." He considers the mouth of a child, the chatter even of babes, a tremendous instrument, by which God breaks here on earth the dominion of the evil one, by which He builds His kingdom, and reconquers the world for Himself. We are inclined to say: that is somewhat overdone. The dominion of Satan stands firmly and it is surely not blown down by mouths of children. But that poet is confident and he knows what he says.
He enjoys the crying of a baby who is born. He does not do that because that mouth will sing psalms later on, and will say prayers. Of course, that is also important. He is doing this because this child is also chosen by God to royal dominion. Also to this child God paid attention as a son of man, and also this child is crowned with glory and honour in order to have dominion presently over the works of God's hands. He knows very well that not each and every boy is a born minister. Most of them will be busy in the country or in the city in other jobs. But these sons of man will have their occupation as servants of God and in their business the name of the LORD will be glorious over all the earth. That is the expectation of this poet: not that these children will have a good job, but that they will become Godfearing farmers and labourers; that they will keep in their business and in their job the commandments of the LORD; that they in their own place will repel the enemy and the avenger, and that they will conquer the rebellion against God.
majesty of God's name
Do we see the significance of our Reformed schools? Prof. Holwerda says further (p. 95ff): .
Of course, two times two is four, also in our schools. But our children have to know that, not because they must presently be able businessmen, but in order to sanctify their business "for the LORD."
Covenant children learn the same letters as other children, and when they begin to use a pen and ink, they make the same stains as the others do. But by the young brains, by the mouths, by the little fists of our children, God has founded a bulwark because of His foes, in order that His name will be glorious on earth. If that were not the case, then do not teach them at all. If your boys only have to count in order to advance in life and surpass father and mother, then do not teach them and do not let them be taught. Then life will be profaned and desecrated, and this child will become a tool of the enemy and the avenger.
Instead they learn to count and they learn to read because of God's foes. The LORD, whose glory is above the heavens, is on the way to His glorious kingdom on earth also in the scratching pens of our children.
Holwerda goes on:
A recruit does not learn to handle weapons without purpose. He is learning this in order to be able to fight on behalf of his king, and his fatherland. If he isolates it from that purpose, he is engaging in crime.
So it is with our schools. Our children do not learn to read and to count as if education were an end in itself. Geography and history are not subjects which are to be considered apart from God. Children can only work with them either for or against God. There is not a third way. For the earth is the LORD'S and the fulness thereof. The children will serve God in the world and will give thanks to Him. If they are not doing that, and if they do not learn to do that, then God will give them over to a wrong mind, because they have not honoured or thanked Him; then in their thoughts and deliberations they will come to vanity and their unwise heart will have become darkened.
Holwerda says 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. If the sole purpose of education would be to make them skilled for life and nothing more, then it would be alright to let them go to a public school. If it is desirable that they know something about religion, well, then the church and the catechism class are there. But if you say: the earth is the LORD's, then you say: now never any other school, but only the school with the Bible. For us, that is the school which maintains the Reformed confession. Not all of them will become ministers of the church - a good thing too! - but presently they have to know on the farm, in the shop, in the factory, in the kitchen and in the garage how to serve the LORD.
Prof. B. Holwerda added:
I wish that this motive of the great enmity would dominate us again; that we would see it again that in our whole life here on earth, in all its aspects, the name of the LORD must be hallowed; then we would know again what Christian education actually is, and we would again stand behind it. Then we would again be immovable as our fathers were: here we stand, we cannot do otherwise. For the name of the LORD on the earth! For anything else we never will give our children!
the Son and our redemption
We have listened to Prof. B. Holwerda tell us that as we educate our children there can be no question as to how we have to consider the work of God our Father. There may be no uncertainty with respect to the goal of the education of our children: that the name of the Father may be glorious in all the earth.
Holwerda goes on to speak about the relevance of the confession about God the Son and our redemption in the education of our children (p. 7ff). There should not be any uncertainty with respect to the position of our children in this world, thanks to the work of God the Son.
For there is the reality of God's covenant. There is the immovable firmness of God's promise, that our children are washed in the blood of Jesus Christ. I (K. Deddens ) quote in this respect the Form for the Baptism of Infants: "When we are baptized into the Name of the Son, God the Son promises us that He washes us in His blood from all our sins and unites us with Him in His death and resurrection."
Prof. Holwerda goes on to say:
If we lose sight of this even for one moment, then our children have become baptized heathens, maybe, with a somewhat greater chance for salvation because they are more in contact with God's grace. However, then our schools with the Bible have lost their significance because we would have erased the radical difference between our children and the children of unbelievers . . . . '
Prof. Holwerda stressed that not we, as Christian parents, ourselves, but that the LORD makes the distinction. If we had our Reformed schools only with the intention to create a distinction on our own authority, we would not have a leg to stand on. Saying, the schools are good for bringing the children to Jesus Christ, then we do not see things right. Then the unbelievers are right, saying that Reformed education is a disrupting influence. You know the reproaches of unbelievers, stating that we sow divisions in the nation; we break the national unity. But we reply: the LORD Himself made the distinction, already in the baptism of our children. The fellowship of blood and place and time is broken by God Himself where He established the antithesis of His covenant.
In line with Prof. Holwerda we say: This we have to maintain over against everyone who wants to say it differently. If we tried to dissolve the antithesis by a so-called unity, we would commit a crime over against outsiders. But now we have Reformed schools which maintain the confession because God Himself made the distinction in His covenant. "This is the second pillar upon which the Reformed schools stand: the covenant of the LORD as a great and deep reality."
Therefore, in the first place, we see the connection between God's Word with the confession based on it and the school because "the cosmos cannot be broken: the earth is the LORD's and the fulness thereof." But, secondly, we also want the connection between Bible with confession and the school because there is indeed a split in mankind. This God, to whom the whole world belongs, makes a distinction, an antithesis, in Christ Jesus. Our children are set apart by Him as children of God's covenant, being bought by the Mediator of God's covenant, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Of course, also with respect to our children we confess that they are conceived and born in sin, and therefore subject to all sorts of misery, even to condemnation. But in the same breath we also confess that our children are sanctified in Christ and thus as members of His church ought to be baptized. With that we confess that God Himself in Christ Jesus made the distinction with His covenant.
the Holy Spirit and our sanctification
Holwerda then writes about the third part of our confession: God the Holy Spirit and our sanctification. Let me first quote again from our beautiful Form for the Baptism of Infants. "When we are baptized into the Name of the Holy Spirit, God the Holy Spirit assures us by this sacrament that He will dwell in us and make us living members of Christ, imparting to us what we have in Christ, namely, the cleansing from our sins and the daily renewal of our lives, till we shall finally be presented without blemish among the assembly of God's elect in life eternal." Holwerda points to the prayer of thanksgiving after baptism where the church prays to God: "We pray Thee through Thy beloved Son that Thou wilt always govern this child by Thy Holy Spirit, that he (or she) may be nurtured in the Christian faith and in godliness, and may grow and increase in the Lord Jesus Christ." Holwerda adds:
The church professed the Holy Spirit as the sovereign Worker (of grace], as the great Governor of her children: God the Holy Spirit is working, not men. But the church also professed the Holy Spirit as her God who in His good pleasure, chooses His instruments, and who wants to govern the children of the covenant by the means, provided by Himself: the educational office of the parents. He also grants the freedom to make use of others in the education of the children, but He never allows them to pass that office to others or to have others take away that office from them.
The Holy Spirit has said to the parents [in the baptism of the children of God's covenant]: it is I who govern your children, but it pleased Me to do that via your education. He has bound them to this, to His sovereign decree. Therefore, as Reformed people we are called to establish Reformed schools, being parents of God's covenant children. This is not a right of ours, but it is the consequence of the rightful claim of God the Holy Spirit on the children of the covenant. Therefore this confession means that we believe that the Holy Spirit promised: "I am the One to rule over your children, but it pleased Me to do that through your education," p. 101. Therefore, the Holy Spirit wants the children of the covenant to be nurtured in the Christian faith and in godliness.
by God Himself
Holwerda concludes with this summary:
I believe in God the Father, the Creator; this means: I believe that if I am faithful and acknowledge His claim on my whole life, He Himself will take care that the whole earth will be filled with His glory. Maybe I do not see the results, but I trust in Him: He will do it.
I believe in God the Son, the Redeemer; this means: I believe that if I accept obediently the antithesis also with respect to the education [of the children], He Himself will realize and maintain this antithesis; . . . that He Himself casts fire upon the earth and is bringing the discord among men [namely, between faith and unbelief] ....
I believe in God the Holy Spirit who sanctifies; this means: I believe that, certainly, the rights of the parents in the school can be denied [e.g. by a government], but that never the calling by the Holy Spirit can become undone. When I remain faithful on the post where He put me, the situation can become frightening for me [1941: Hitler's occupation] and I can be attacked from several sides, but the Spirit will maintain His calling [for me] also over against those who attack it. Perhaps I cannot do this, but He will.
Therefore, we go on working, offering, praying for schools with the Bible [i.e. Reformed schools where the Bible rules over, and the confession is maintained in the entire education of our children, K.D.]. Perhaps, the time is coming when we are only able to pray. But even then we are not beaten. For God, who, in the end, will let the world perish upon the prayer of His church, will, upon the prayer for the hallowing of His Name, create the new world also in and through the [faithful Christian] school. It may not look that way at all at the present moment, but that new world will come, also via our faithfulness to the school with the Bible [and the Reformed Confession, K.D.]: O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Thy Name on all the earth.
Let us not forget this urgent appeal of Professor Holwerda.
 K. Deddens -Function of the Belgic Confession, in: Lux Mundi, III, 1, March 1984.
 J. Faber - Schools and Creeds, in: Reformed Perspective, 1, 2, Feb. 1982.
 B. Holwerda - De betekenis van verbond en kerk voor huweliik, gezin en jeugd, Oosterbaan & Le Cointre, Goes, 1958, p. 89ff.
 D. Nauta - De verbindende kracht van de beliidenisschriften, Kok, Kampen, 1969.
 C. Stam - Covenantal Education, in: Reformed Perspective, 111, 9, July 1984.
 C. Veenhof - Prediking en Uitverkiezing, Kok, Kampen, 1959, p. 193ff.
 D.K. Wielenga - De akker is de wereld, Bolland, Amsterdam, 1971, p. 33ff.
 J.R. Wiskerke - De striid om de sleutel der kennis. De Vuurbaak, Groningen, 1978, p. 35ff.