Faith in Focus

Reformed Christian Education: Repairing the Ruins


Reformed Christian Education: Repairing the Ruins

by Martin Keast, Principal.

The end then of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright and out of that knowledge to love Him. To imitate him, to be like Him, as we may the nearest by possessing our souls of true virtue, which being united to the heavenly grace of faith makes up the highest perfection.
John Milton

Reformed Christian Education is a term to describe the consistent outworking of the Reformed faith in the area of Christian education. Reformed churches have a history of establishing and supporting Christian schools and this practice continues today in New Zealand. Wainuiomata Christian College is unashamedly Reformed in faith and practice, since we believe the Reformed faith to be mature, full-orbed biblical Christianity and we want our children's education also to be mature, full-orbed, and biblical. It is only in this way that we can effectively begin to 'repair the ruins' caused by sin.

Reformed Christians believe that the children God gives them are members of His Church. By this we mean that they are within the covenant community of God's people, that they are to walk before the Lord and be blameless, and that God has promised to be their God. This covenant was first clearly revealed in Scripture in God's dealings with Abraham (Gen 17:7) but is, we believe, God's method of dealing with His people from earliest times, since the covenant is tied to the biblical concept of the family. It was the family that was instituted first (Gen 2:24), and from the family both the civil state and the Church have subsequently been derived. The children, therefore, are required by God to be taught in His ways so that they may serve Him with all their strength, might, and intellect (Deut 6:4-9). We note that the father is responsible before the Lord for this task to be discharged (Eph. 6:1-4).

In order to understand the outworking of the Reformed faith in the educational endeavour, I have divided the topic into several key areas which will, I trust, give the reader a better understanding of what Reformed Christian Education aims to do.

The Scriptural Worldview

A fundamental concept to any educational activity is what is known as a 'worldview'. Reformed Christian education will seek to establish a genuine biblical worldview as underpinning the educational philosophy operating in the school (or home school where applicable).

Many Christian schools have failed at this very point by adopting a number of alternative approaches which have 'missed the mark'. Some have simply taken the fundamental curriculum as operating in the state schools and added prayer and Bible class and (maybe) a course on creationism. This is based on the idea that knowledge is something neutral to which we can add the faith as a sort of icing. Others (usually the old traditional Christian schools founded last century) have kept the biblical terminology but watered down the content; they talk of 'dialogue' between faiths - Christianity in such a school is only a perspective rather than the truth. The other common approach is for the Christian school to flee from the world and become a kind of refuge from the condoms, drugs, atheism etc. of the state schools. While fine as an approach for starting a monastery, such a view does not make for a positive biblical vision for education.

Our approach is to seek to establish Scripture as the only foundation on which to build all knowledge. Education is inherently involved in passing knowledge from the older generation to the younger. Jesus Christ is Lord of all, and hence every fact, every thing can only be rightly understood when seen in proper relationship to Jesus Christ. Such an approach presupposes the truth of Christianity and this is where we see the antithesis between true biblical faith and all forms of unbelieving thought. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. J. Gresham Machen stated it this way: "The Christian cannot be satisfied so long as any human activity is either opposed to Christianity or out of all connection with Christianity. Christianity must pervade not merely all nations, but also all of human thought."

Culture and the antithesis

Culture is the outward manifestation of a religious world-view or outlook. We live in a nation that has committed itself to the idea of multiculturalism, that is, that all cultures are equally valid and worthwhile. On the face of it, this sounds good and right; in reality, this relativistic approach denies the nature of the antithesis between Christianity and all unbelieving forms of thought. It can be said that multiculturalism is simply the outworking of the ungodly philosophy of relativism in the cultural setting. It follows therefore that multiculturalism will not be adopted as part of the worldview in a Reformed Christian school.

Western culture has historically been moulded and influenced by Christianity over an extended period of time; in fact, the history of Christianity and that of the West are so intertwined that they cannot be understood apart from one another. This means that we will seek to provide an education grounded in the culture of the West; this is the cultural river we have been placed in - our children have no ability to flow in a different stream. This does not mean that we will ignore New Zealand aspects of culture but they will be seen as minor eddies in the great stream of our western cultural heritage. Nor does it mean we uncritically accept everything in western culture, for there are many unsanctified areas in it, and these are growing as unbelief becomes more pervasive as this century progresses. However, we do believe and maintain that it is only as we appreciate and understand our own culture, that we can also appreciate and understand other cultures.

Personal holiness and the school

The Reformed faith teaches distinctive and specific doctrines relating to the Gospel, such as the total depravity of man, justification by faith alone, and so on. The centrality of Christ's righteousness imputed to us by faith alone provides the only possible foundation for righteous Christian living. This will be the significant factor in standards of personal holiness and discipline adopted at Wainuiomata Christian College. A biblical Christian school will take care to ensure that the nuances of godly living are understood and practised (Heb 5:14 and 2 Cor. 2:15-16). The standards must therefore be high for the staff. We cannot expect students to manifest a godly approach to their work if the staff are manifesting an ungodly approach to their own work. Students are expected to behave in a godly manner as befits their age and maturity level. Biblical methods of discipline will be adopted as this is part of teaching students about God and His character.

Egalitarianism and Reformed Christian education

A common modern error is that which is known as egalitarianism - a philosophy which assumes all men are the same and then applies different standards to each in order to achieve this. This particular philosophy is what lies behind the drive in the New Zealand state sector to abolish examinations (which have marks and grades assigned) in favour of the National Qualifications Framework 'unit standards' approach (in which a student either has or doesn't have a 'unit' - no grade is assigned, no encouragement of excellence). The biblical Christian educator will adopt the approach of applying the same standards and getting varying results, even to some failing to pass.

Egalitarianism shows itself in taking the easy path of retarding the progress of the brighter students rather than the harder one of bringing the slower students up to the higher standard. One of the central follies of egalitarianism is that education should be "fun", a view promulgated through the so-called 'educational' programmes on television as much as by the Ministry of Education. Our danger is unthinkingly using this criteria to evaluate our Christian schools; we should be looking at the work to be done and bringing our children to that standard. Rather than minimising the work, we should be striving to get our children to enjoy hard work. We should also expect there to be a mix of abilities and consequently in achievements among a group of students, because God does not give to each person the same gifts.

The Servant school

Reformed Christian education is based on the premise that the family was the first human institution with Adam clearly the leader (Gen. 2:23). It is clear that the father, not the mother, has the responsibility to ensure his children are thoroughly trained (i.e. educated well), in the Lord. As such we welcome parental involvement in the work of the College. We do not see the staff at the College as lofty "professionals" but as servants of the families who entrust their children into our care. As such we want to establish and maintain a good and open relationship with families as we seek to reinforce what parents are inculcating into their children. What we do not provide is replacement parenting: we see ourselves as assisting parents in discharging their responsibilities, not as replacing parents.

In terms of our relationship with the government, we see ourselves as seeking to honour the primacy of the family in the education of children. We are not agents of the state in this regard which has a completely different idea and agenda for taking care of our children. As such we count on parental support for those areas of conflict between ourselves and the state such as discipline and curriculum content.

Conclusion

It is a joy and privilege to work as a teacher with various covenant children, and especially to be able to strive to implement and to apply truly biblical education. May God grant us the grace and wisdom to be able so to do, and His blessing on what is done.

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Faith in Focus /NZ Reformed Church / gmilne@xtra.co.nz / revised July 2000 / Copyright 2000