The consistory shall ensure that the parents, to the best of their ability, have their children attend a school where the instruction given is in harmony with the Word of God as the Church has summarized it in her Confessions.
From the outset we have refrained from giving many historical particulars or describing extensively the history of a certain article. Also in connection with Art. 58 we shall restrict ourselves to what provision the churches have set forth in the present article.
Once again we point to the fact that the task of the consistories is described in the Church Order and not the task of the parents. We do not state that the parents shall endeavour to establish Reformed schools, or that the parents shall engage teachers of whom the church approves. We describe the obligation of the consistory to take heed of the flock also in parents discharging their responsibility regarding the instruction their children receive at school.
Whoever scans the decisions of previous ecclesiastical assemblies regarding the point we deal with in this article will discover that some of them made the assertion that by providing Reformed education for their children the parents fulfil a promise which they made at the baptism of their children, namely, to have them instructed in the doctrine of salvation. Our Netherlands sister churches have even introduced it in their Church Order: “The consistories shall ensure that the parents, as much as they are able, have their children receive a schooling which is in agreement with the doctrine of the church, as they have promised at baptism.”
These churches are not the only ones who made such a statement. One can find the same notion in pronouncements and declarations by ecclesiastical assemblies in the previous century. Although we do not claim to have consulted the records of all earlier ecclesiastical assemblies, yet we have received the distinct impression that the element of the promise made by the parents at the baptism of their children entered the picture only in the nineteenth century. The early ecclesiastical assemblies held after the great Reformation occupied themselves often with matters concerning schools and teachers, but we have not discovered evidence that they appealed to the promise mentioned above.
But these assemblies did stress the parents’ responsibility towards the education of their children. “The parents, as shepherds of their families, shall be exhorted, in order to form their children in the fear of the Lord, not to send them to schools or whatever other institutions there may be, where they could be corrupted or steeped in wickedness of conduct or doctrine.” (Antwerp 1565)
It appears to us that making the parents’ obligation as we mention it in Art. 58 part of the promises made at baptism is putting something into these promises which is not there. It is what might be called “sound-dogmatics” (“klankendogmatiek”), that is, going by the sound of the words and subsequently build up a theory without asking whether this is the meaning of the words indeed. The reasoning sounds convincing enough on first sight: a. Parents promise that they shall have their children instructed in the doctrine of God's Word; b. Reformed schools give instruction on the basis of God’s Word and also teach the doctrine of Scripture; c. Ergo: parents promise that they shall send their children to a Reformed school. This syllogism sounds simple and logical, but the reasoning makes a few impermissible jumps from one category to a different category. We shall show this by asking what the parents promise and what the character is of an institute for learning. What do the parents promise at the baptism of their infants? In the first place that they shall teach their child in the doctrine of God's Word, the doctrine of salvation. This refers to their own activity at home, where they teach their children to pray and to show reverence when God's Word is read; they also teach them God’s Word and gradually make clear to them what the Lord has promised us and asks of us.
Further, the parents promise that they will have their child instructed in this doctrine. They keep this promise and fulfil it by taking the child to church and, at the appropriate time, sending it to catechism classes where it receives the instruction given by the minister. It is in this manner that their promise is fulfilled. To extend the promise to include the school is putting something into this pledge which was not there and does not belong there either.
To what purpose do parents establish a school? To have their children taught in the doctrine of salvation? Not at all! They establish a school because the civil authorities demand that all children shall receive instruction at school, shall be able to reach a certain level of education. That is the purpose and task of a school: instruct the children in all sorts of subjects so that they may reach that level. The school is not an extension of the parents’ obligation to have their children taught in the doctrine of salvation. It is an institute for learning.
It is a blessing from the Lord that our parents are permitted to establish such an institute for learning which is under their control and where the entire instruction is based not on unbelieving and revolutionary theories but on the infallible Word of God, particularly as it has been summarized in the Reformed confessions. Certain courses not found at other institutions may be included in the curriculum, such as Bible Study, Reformed Confessions, and Church History, but these are just three courses among all the other courses. These three courses do not constitute the Reformed character of the institute for learning or of the instruction given at it. This character is determined by the basis of and the method of instruction in each and every course, whether it is history or biology, chemistry or arithmetic. Instruction based on and dominated by God’s Word in all courses (even at a Reformed school) cannot justly be called a “teaching in the doctrine of salvation” and be qualified as a fulfilment of the promise which parents make at the baptism of their infants.
We are to reject the notion that by the act of establishing Reformed schools
and sending their children to them the parents fulfil the above promise. On the other hand, we should maintain and stress that parents, by establishing these schools, correctly drew the consequence from their promise. How could they permit that at school is ruined what they build up at home and in church? The life of a Christian cannot be cut into various sectors and zones which exist separately and independently. The same grace and mercies, but also the same obligations and responsibilities cover all our activities.
Bringing up their children in the fear of the Lord, as they have promised, the parents are also to see to it that whatever danger may jeopardize this upbringing be eliminated as much as possible. They owe it to their children and, indeed, to their promise at baptism, that they protect their children to the best of their ability and use any opportunity to support and promote what is taught at home and in church. No one, therefore, should have the impression that the education of the children has nothing to do with the promise at baptism or that the promise has nothing to do with the education of the children. The point in the above is that even a good cause is not served or promoted by an incorrect argument. As for the rest, it is not without meaning or reason that this article follows immediately after the one dealing with baptism. The promise made by the parents has great consequences also for the education of their children.
Meanwhile we do bear in mind that in this article we speak of the duties of the consistories in this respect. The above elaboration was necessary, however, to receive the proper perspective on the task of the consistory and the nature of their exhortations and admonitions.
When parents do not live up to what is mentioned in this article, and this constitutes a breach of the promise made at the baptism of their children, and when the consistory's admonishing them does not result in changing their way, disciplinary action should be taken. One can speak “weighty” words, such as “as they have promised at baptism,” but then one also has to face the consequences. Otherwise it is better to swallow the words and never to utter them again.
The oversight of the consistory extends to the whole of life and all the activities of the members. The consistory must pay special attention to the manner in which the parents safeguard what is taught at home and in church. Do they also endeavour to have their children receive an education which is permeated by the Word of God? Or do they allow their children to be exposed to such instruction by “which they could be corrupted or steeped in wickedness of conduct or doctrine,” as Antwerp 1565 had it? If necessary, the promise at baptism could be quoted, and the parents could be asked whether letting their children be exposed to unbelieving teaching is in agreement with that promise, the more so since other possibilities exist. The consistory’s supervision extends only to the members of the church as such. Parents and teachers alike are under the consistory’s supervision as members of the congregation; schools are not, nor is any other society or organization. The perennial debates about the question whether schools or other societies are included in the supervision of the consistory and whether the schools should be visited by the office-bearers in their official capacity were an unnecessary waste of time and energy.