VIII. Objections Answered
Weighty objections have been laid against the idea of a Christian education in Singapore. While it may be true that circumstances in this land make it more difficult to give our children a covenant education, it only means that we as covenant parents must be willing to make greater sacrifices for this cause. We do not let the situations in life dictate our Christian walk. Scripture, to which our consciences are bound, must always be our binding principle.
Objection: A Christian education will raise socially inadequate children. Christian education excessively shelters our children from the world, producing socially awkward adults.
The concern is valid in that if we place our children in a Christian environment throughout their childhood years, they will not know what the world is really like. They will be ignorant of how the world functions and how to interact with their ungodly colleagues in the workplace when they are of age.
Covenant parents must be assured that this will not be true. A covenant education that has its basis in Scripture teaches our children true wisdom—how to walk circumspectly and purposefully according to the station and calling God gives to them. Wisdom will enable our children to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves in the midst of this world (Matt. 10:16).
We are not raising covenant seed to integrate them into society. From a biblical viewpoint, God’s people will always be social outcasts. They are the social pariahs because they are extremely different from the people of this world. They do not share the same principles, goals and ideals in life. God’s people will always be fools in the eyes of this world, but precious and dear to him. They are preparing to live in the heavenly kingdom.
Dreadful will be the day when our children are comfortable in this world. The day they find themselves at ease with this world is the day they lose their identity as covenant children. They become comfortable with pursuing the world’s ideals and living its philosophies. That day signals the end of the antithesis between God’s children and his enemies.
We are raising our children for war with the enemy. Scripture warns that persecution will always face God’s people, and increase in measure as the return of Christ draws nearer. A solid Christian education, contrary to a public one, prepares them well for this warfare.
Objection: Christian education diminishes our children’s Christian witness to the unbelieving world.
The objection stems from the idea that if we shelter our children by giving them a covenant education, they cannot be effective witnesses for Christ, especially in the public schools.
It is very unwise to think that our young children can be effective witnesses when their spiritual faculties are not properly developed yet. Rev. Ronald Hanko writes:
It is especially important for our children, who are compared in Psalm 128 to young olive plants, to be protected from evil influences. No young plant can be immediately exposed to the elements and to the full heat of the sun and be expected to live. Nurture (Eph 6:4) is not exposure (Christian Education, http://www.cprf.co.uk/pamphlets/christianeducation.htm).
Nature itself teaches us this principle. No mother hen allows her young to wander around on their own. Turtles which hatch from the beaches are very quickly preyed upon as they make their way to sea on their own. Lambs are the easiest prey for wolves in the sheepfold.
Christ would not allow his lambs to fight the fierce battles of faith until they have been properly trained and equipped with the necessary spiritual armoury. While the calling of the Christian is to reprove the world and to shine forth as a light in the midst of darkness, he must receive a thorough and solid training before he can perform his calling effectively. One must not only have the physical strength but also training and practice to wield a sword effectively, along with the other weapons of war described in Ephesians 6:13-17.
IV. Concluding Remarks
Covenant education for covenant seed is faithfulness to Jehovah’s covenant. Public education is contrary to all the precepts of the covenant. We rob our children of their covenant privileges when we give them a public education instead of a covenant one.
It is sheer folly to expect godly, spiritually mature men and women to be raised under an ungodly education. As a corrupt tree cannot produce good fruit, so an ungodly education cannot produce godly children.
Jehovah’s calling for covenant parents is not to raise up the Bill Gates and Obamas of this world. They are raising up the Davids, Daniels and Pauls for the church of Jesus Christ. They are rearing mothers in Israel.
Educating our children carefully in the ways of the covenant will serve an important purpose. We will raise up a people who know their Reformed faith intimately; love it, confess it, maintain it, defend it, live by it and die for it. We are raising a people who are jealous of their precious Reformed heritage because they have a God who is jealous of his glory. We are raising a people whose chief end in life is the glory of their God.
It is extremely crucial for parents in CERC to understand and be convinced of covenant education. Most of our young people have already gone through the whole public education process and many suffer from its evils. If the Reformed faith is to survive and be developed in all its splendor and beauty, the next generation may not condone public education.
If CERC pursues the path of covenant education for her young, we will be very much alone. Most churches in Singapore have given their covenant seed over to the public schools and are suffering its devastating consequences. We must not be afraid to be alone, for God’s people always constitute a very small remnant.
I have no doubt that covenant education in Singapore is a path of suffering that will involve much sacrifice. It is, nevertheless, the path that Scripture directs for us as covenant parents. We need not offer any excuses. God assures us that he will bless us in the way of obedience.
God’s provision of the Protestant Reformed Churches must serve as an example to us. There is nothing cultural about the PRC’s insistence on giving a covenant education to her children. It is biblical. It is confessional. It is Reformed.
For reformation to take place in the church of Jesus Christ, we must give serious consideration to the education our covenant children receive. The education of our children is not a matter of choice. It is our covenant duty. It is our covenant privilege.
It is covenant necessity.
Rev. Ronald Hanko properly defines Christian education:
Christian education is education that is completely and consistently Christian. It is education that is Christ-centered and Bible-based. It is education that is controlled not by the civil government but by Christian parents (Christian Education, article).
Because covenant parents have the high calling to raise up children for the Lord, they must desire the highest quality of covenant education. They may not be satisfied simply with a Christian education. They must insist on a uniquely Reformed education, one that imparts to them the powerful truths of Scripture as the basis for all knowledge. It must be an education that is according to the distinctive “aforesaid doctrine” of the church, as the Baptism Form puts it. An education of this nature must rely on the church’s confessions.
Again Prof. Engelsma writes:
…we insist that the creeds must be retained as authoritative for Christian education. To let them go would be to lose Reformed, covenant education. The confessions are not an authority alongside Scripture, but they are the authoritative interpretation of Scripture for the Reformed faith…they are the truth for the redeemed, Reformed believer’s entire life (pg. 30, Reformed Education).
We cannot begin to list all the benefits of a covenant education, but they may be broadly categorized into these few headings. Scripture demonstrates numerous of these blessings to us. It is important to note that the blessings are always spiritual in nature. We are not pursuing material blessings in covenant education.
- The Vanity of this Life
Contrary to public education which sinfully promotes the pleasures of this life, a covenant education strives to teach covenant children the vanity of this life. We teach them that a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth (Luke 12:15). We teach them that all of life is vanity without God (Eccl. 2:11). We teach them that riches profit not in the day of wrath: but righteousness delivereth from death (Prov. 11:4). We teach them to count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord (Phil. 3:8). For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? (Matt. 16:26). Knowing this, covenant children confess, Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am (Ps. 39:4).
Because all of life is vain without God, we rear covenant seed so that they find their hope and strength in God (Ex. 15:2). Like the psalmist who knew the Lord from his youth, our covenant children declare, For thou art my hope, O Lord GOD: thou art my trust from my youth (Ps. 71:5). The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Ps 27:1).
- Preparation for the End Times
What makes public education so spiritually dangerous for covenant children is that it sinfully disregards the day of final judgment where the world shall come to an end. While the world promotes a life of merry-making and sinful pleasures, Jehovah’s children must be taught that the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night (2 Pet. 3:10), where he will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or evil (Eccl. 12:14).
For this reason we must teach our children to be sober, to watch and pray for the Lord’s return where persecution will increase. Covenant education must prepare our children to “suffer persecution for the cross of Christ” (Gal. 6:12). They are not in this world to enjoy its pleasures, but to deny themselves, take up the cross, and follow after Christ (Mark 8:34). They must learn to walk the narrow way where very few will tread (Matt. 7:14). They must learn that they will be hated of all men for the sake of Christ; but he that endureth to the end shall be saved (Matt. 10:22).
Covenant education functions like a camp that trains young soldiers to fight their spiritual warfare in life. Covenant parents know only too well that the spiritual battles in this life are fierce and unending. They are wrestling “against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12). Hence they must equip their covenant young to the best of their ability with the spiritual armory necessary to fight this intense spiritual warfare.
With an adequate spiritual preparation, our covenant young will not be caught unaware when persecution comes upon them as the day of the Lord draws nearer. They will stand up unashamedly for Christ according to all that they have been taught and trained for. Even if death should threaten them, they will resist the mark of the beast, for they fear God rather than men (Acts 5:29).
- Preparation for Eternity
Because the church is the only institution on earth that will abide for eternity, we must educate our children to love this eternal institution. God and his church must be central in their lives. God’s people must be their closest companions in this life, for it is they with whom our children will spend eternity with. Our children must say, I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts (Ps. 119:63).
We teach our children, in the beautiful words of the puritan Matthew Henry, “that a holy heavenly life spent in the service of God, and in communion with him, is, without doubt, the most pleasant and comfortable life any man can live in this world” (The Pleasantness of a Religious Life).
In covenant education our children will learn to look forward to the day of our Lord’s coming with “a most ardent desire,” as our Belgic Confession puts it (Art. 37). Their suffering in this life will not be in vain. Their choice to suffer afflictions rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin will be vindicated. The Lord will wipe away their tears when he returns (Rev. 21:4). He will give them a crown of righteousness because they love his appearing (2 Tim. 4:8). Then they shall reign with him forevermore in the new heavens and new earth.
In view of all these blessings, we trust that we and our covenant seed will be counted amongst those to whom the Lord shall say, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world (Matt. 25:34).
VII. The Church’s Responsibility
Our church fathers wisely understood that the church had an important role to play in the education our children receive. Article 21 of the Church Order of Dordrecht reads,
The consistories shall see to it that there are good Christian schools in which the parents have their children instructed according to the demands of the covenant.
In explaining the fourth commandment to keep the Lord’s Day holy, the writers of the catechism instructed that the “schools be maintained” (LD 38, Q&A103).
Although CERC does not have a Christian school presently, there is much that the church can do. Office-bearers, to whom Christ entrusted the welfare of his flock, can and must point out the sinfulness of public education to covenant parents. They must demonstrate precisely from Scripture the sinful and spiritually devastating consequences public education has for covenant seed. Scripture is not silent about the subject. Because they are his children, God has much to speak about the rearing of covenant seed in his Word.
When the church establishes a clear and distinctive spiritual vision for covenant education, God’s people will not perish. Covenant parents will be convicted of their high calling to rear covenant seed. They will see the need for a solid covenant education that has God’s Word as its central focus. Any knowledge gained apart from Scripture is meaningless. They will understand that covenant children must be raised covenantally.
While the establishment of a Reformed school may only be a long-term goal for now, CERC can give much needed support to her parents by offering its premises for this cause. Is it not better for our covenant seed to study, interact and fellowship with each other rather than with wicked, ungodly peers whose influence will destroy their covenant identity?
The present and growing number of parents in CERC who home-school their children ought not to be alone in their cause. The church can give much needed support, direction and instruction to them. The church is our spiritual mother that showers us with care and love.
The church that truly loves the Reformed faith will do all in her power to give her children a covenant education.
A Chinese proverb says it well that every parent desires his child to become a dragon. The meaning of this proverb is that parents naturally wish their children to succeed in life. This is naturally true of believers too. In a fiercely competitive society like Singapore, it is conceivable that covenant parents are greatly concerned about the future of their children. How will our covenant young survive in this spiritually hostile world where sin and ungodliness pervades? How will they find their means of livelihood where the wicked often seek to harm God’s people?
The comfort believers receive comes from the truth of Scripture where God has promised to be their God and their seed in their generations for an everlasting covenant (Gen 17:7). He has promised never to leave nor to forsake us (Heb 13:5). The Heidelberg Catechism confirms these promises by assuring us that we are not our own but belong to Jesus Christ, so that all things are subservient to our salvation (LD1,Q&A1). God our Father, on whom we rely so entirely, will provide us with all things necessary for soul and body (LD9,Q&A26).
God’s covenant friendship with covenant parents is sufficient assurance for them.
As covenant parents we must turn to the Scriptures to find the basis for covenant education. I wish to prove the demand on 3 grounds.
1. The doctrine of infant baptism
2. The doctrine of the covenant
3. Our Reformed fathers
- The Doctrine of Infant Baptism
Although the doctrine of infant baptism stems from the covenant and ought to be treated in the second contention, I believe the doctrine specially provides the starting platform for the contention for covenant education. Following Scripture’s command, Reformed parents baptize their children.
The Belgic Confession beautifully explains the basis for infant baptism:
[Infants of believers] ought to be baptized and sealed with the sign of the covenant, as the children in Israel formerly were circumcised upon the same promises which are made unto our children. And indeed Christ shed His blood no less for the washing of the children of the faithful than for adult persons (Article 34).
The Heidelberg Catechism affirms the truth:
[Infants of believers] are included in the covenant and church of God…since redemption from sin by the blood of Christ, and the Holy Ghost, the author of faith, is promised to them no less than to the adult (LD27,Q&A74).
When covenant parents present their children before the Lord for baptism, they confess that “infants are to be baptized as heirs of the kingdom of God and of His covenant.” They “promise and intend to see these children, when come to years of discretion, instructed and brought up in the aforesaid doctrine, or help or cause them to be instructed therein, to the utmost of [their] power”. Furthermore, they are to “be piously and religiously educated, increase and grow up in the Lord Jesus Christ”(Form for the Administration of Baptism).
Infant baptism implies that our children belong to Jehovah, since He has cleansed them by the blood of his son. They are baptized into Christ (Rom. 6:3) and are therefore partakers of his death and resurrection. The cross is as effective for them as for mature believers.
Unlike the erroneous Baptists who treat their children as unbelievers and unregenerate, the Reformed church insists that her covenant young are holy (1 Cor. 7:14). For this reason they must receive a holy education—one that instills in them holiness and trains them to lead a life of holiness. It is especially striking that the Heidelberg Catechism declares that by way of baptism our infants are “distinguished from the children of unbelievers” (LD7Q&A74). It only follows logically that the education they receive must be “distinguished from the children of unbelievers.” For this reason covenant parents may not allow their covenant seed to receive the same education as unbelieving seed. It is no less than a contradiction to the vows we made as covenant parents when we place our children in the public schools.
Children who are holy must receive an entirely different, distinctively separate education from ungodly children. Children who are sanctified in Christ must receive a sanctified education.
- The doctrine of the Covenant
Reformed parents know from Scripture that the covenant they share with Jehovah is not a contract in which they have conditions to fulfill. The education they give to their covenant seed is not a condition they have to meet to enjoy the blessings of the covenant. Believing parents know that they are depraved, spiritually impotent by nature to satisfy any of Jehovah’s conditions.
But because the covenant is God’s friendship with His people, covenant parents who enjoy this friendship know their part in the covenant. They are friend-servants to their friend-master. They confess that their covenant God saves them and their seed by establishing, maintaining and perfecting his covenant with them in Jesus Christ. They know it is not only their responsibility but also their high privilege to raise covenant seed for the Lord. And so they do it to the utmost of their power.
Covenant education serves to bring covenant seed into consciousness of their covenant friendship with Jehovah. In obedience to their covenant God, Reformed parents give their children a covenant education. It is part of keeping the covenant he has established with them. They are deeply aware that a failure to give their children a covenant education would result in them refusing to walk in his ways (Ps. 78:4-11).
Because they belong in God’s covenant, covenant parents know that they have a radically different purpose in raising covenant seed. Their goals are never aligned with the wicked world but are always sharply in contrast. They are raising children for the glory and purpose of the Lord. That purpose is beautifully summarized in the Heidelberg Catechism: “to learn rightly to know the only true God; trust in Him alone, with humility and patience submit to Him; expect all good things from Him only; love, fear, and glorify Him with my whole heart” (LD34,Q&A94). Our children must be taught to know that their chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q1).
In giving our children a covenant education, Prof. Engelsma points out:
We aim at mature men and women of the covenant (pg 92, Reformed Education).
Mature men and women of the covenant are those who are deeply conscious of their covenant friendship with God, live in obedience to Him, and who direct all of their life to His glory alone.
In raising covenant seed, parents must have the welfare of the church in mind. They love the church dearly because Christ paid the ultimate sacrifice to redeem the church from her misery. Covenant parents are spiritual visionaries. They are conscious of the truth that “from the beginning to the end of the world, [Christ] gathers, defends, and preserves to Himself by His Spirit and Word…a church chosen to everlasting life” (HC LD21,Q&A54). So they give their covenant children a covenant education for the church in her generations to come.
Prof. Engelsma is especially right on this point:
Covenant thinking reckons with the future good of the coming generations (pg. 17, Reformed Education).
Rev. Steven Key explains this point:
So this covenant instruction, passed on from generation to generation, is the means whereby each succeeding generation learns to set its hope in God and to keep His commandments (Biblical Basis & Goal of Christian Education, Standard Bearer, Nov. 15, 2005).
Faithfulness to God’s covenant demands that we raise our covenant children to know the ways of the covenant intimately.
- Our Reformed Fathers
The education of covenant seed weighed heavily on the minds of our Reformed fathers. They understood clearly the sheer importance of educating covenant children in the ways of the covenant. To neglect covenant education meant spiritual death for future generations.
We who call ourselves Calvinists can find support from the man himself:
Calvin recognized that the church would not last another generation if the children did not receive catechetical instruction, plus thorough parental Christian education. He saw the urgent need not only for training in the faith, but for secular education from good teachers…With a pastor’s heart, he also drew up ordinances for Christian schools. Calvin understood that the church had responsibility to promote the Christian education of the children (pg. 16, Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, Nov. 2009).
Luther understood that “for the church to remain faithful it must teach—explicitly, purposefully, and programmatically—the gospel and orthodox theology, and it must do so to the young” (pg. 151, Martin Luther, Stephen J. Nichols, P&R Publishing, 2002).Hence “Luther wrote extensively on education because the education of the children of the church was crucial to him” (pg 131, Portraits of Faithful Saints, Herman Hanko, RFPA, 1999).
In his condemnation of public education, Rev. Herman Hoeksema “prayed in his congregational prayer that God’s covenant people might not in the education of their children deliver them over to the gates of hell—his forceful characterization of the public school system.” He did this knowing “that the congregation was opposed in large measure to Christian education” (pg. 396, Portraits of Faithful Saints, Herman Hanko, RFPA, 1999).
Prof. Herman Hanko’s insightful observation is correct:
Covenant parents begin the instruction of their children from the moment they are born. They do so, not in the earnest hope that when these children grow older, they will remember what they were taught and then come to Christ. Parents do so because they believe that God is at work in the hearts of these elect children of the covenant, and that covenant instruction is used by God to work conscious faith and salvation in them, as small as they may be (pg. 144, We and Our Children, RFPA, 2004).
Prof. Engelsma offers sharp words:
God’s children must be godly taught; covenant children must be taught to fear God; children separated unto God must be kept apart from wicked teachers and wicked children; sanctified children must be taught and disciplined to be holy (pg. 69, Reformed Education).
The list goes on and there are plenty more Reformed men who have written extensively on Christian education. All had one thing in common: the future of the church depended on a solid Christian education for their covenant children.
The Public School Environment
Scripture leaves no doubt that God’s people are to live in spiritual distinction from the world.
“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14).
When covenant parents place their children in the public schools, they subject their children to rampant ungodliness and worldliness. They force their children to live in spiritual harmony with their ungodly peers. They force their children to speak the language of Ashdod (Neh. 13:24). Jehovah’s children are forced to agree with Belial.
We are all too well aware of the principle of peer pressure. Young children and teenagers are especially susceptible to the influences of their peers. When their schoolmates live a life of thorough wickedness, our children are tempted in extremities to live like them because sin always appears attractive. Sin is always attractive to the sinful flesh which our children are bound to. In such an environment, we allow the wicked iron of ungodly children to sharpen the countenance of our covenant seed (Prov. 27:17).
The moment we place our children in the public schools, we destroy the spiritual distinction that must always be maintained between them and the children of this world. Covenant children are to be separate from unbelieving children. Describing the antithesis between covenant children and unbelievers, Prof. Engelsma writes:
First, the life of the believer is subject to the Word of God, whereas the unbeliever’s life is independent of the Word and in rebellion against it. Second, the goal of life is different. The believer directs his life towards God. His life is God-centered. The unbeliever leaves God out. His life is man-centered (pg 57, Reformed Education).
Prof. Engelsma is precisely correct when we place our children in the public schools:
The antithesis is abolished, and the culture of the ungodly swallows up the children of God (pg 14, Reformed Education).
If they wisely refuse to integrate with their worldly school mates, our covenant children are bound to face persecution. They will be tormented in great measure because the world will hate those that do not belong to it (Jn. 15:19). The wicked shall revile, persecute and say all manner of evil against them falsely because they belong to Christ (Matt. 5:11). Instead of a place of learning, the school will be a cold and cruel environment to our covenant children. They will be left alone to fend for themselves in a spiritually hostile environment. How we allow our covenant children to be tormented like this is simply unimaginable.
We must understand that our children need friends as much as we do. Our responsibility as covenant parents is to choose the right kind of friends for them and the right environment for them to foster those friendships. The psalmist declares with great joy that it is good and pleasant for brethren—brothers and sisters who have and love the same God—to dwell together in unity (Ps. 133:1). Friendship cannot exist between God’s children and the devil’s. The seed of the woman is always at war with the seed of the serpent.
On the subject of friendship I have not found a sharper definition than one provided by Prof. Engelsma in another book:
Friendship with the unbeliever is both impossible and forbidden. Friendship demands oneness in Jesus Christ. My friend and I must have God as our God together. Whoever is an enemy of God is my enemy (pg 70, Common Grace Revisited, RFPA, 2003).
At a young and tender age, covenant children do not possess the spiritual maturity or developed faculties necessary to understand this distinction. They are young and easily impressionable. Naturally they make friends with those who are around them.
The evil environment to which our covenant children are daily exposed has tremendous repercussions on their spiritual development. Covenant parents may not be surprised when their children turn to the ways of this world and forsake their faith. The temptation to conform to this world is almost unbearable in such an environment. I have never felt more alone, more frightened and intimidated than during the years of my public schooling where my Christian upbringing and principles were tested and shaken to their very foundations. The evilness of the wicked environment is radically opposed to all that the Christian faith stands for. And in such an environment covenant seed lose their covenant identity.
- The Goal of Public Education
A discerning parent would realize that the government is only interested in educating our children to meet its own needs. A government like Singapore that places economic progress as its chief priority will necessarily train its children to be economically-minded. All other aspects of their upbringing are subservient to this cause. One who is educated by the government must necessarily become a product of the government.
Inherent in the thinking of the public education is its message to its students: study hard, establish a good career, contribute actively to society as responsible and productive citizens. There is, of course, nothing wrong or sinful with such a message. God’s people are called to render their debts to the government of their land (Matt. 22:21), to obey those whom God has placed in authority over them (Rom. 13:1-2). What is wrong about the public education is the ultimate or higher purpose it strives for.
From a spiritual perspective, the goal of public education is to raise up men and women for this world. Scripture calls it earthly-mindedness. Because the government only has its progress in mind, its citizens are naturally trained in the education system to be part of this earthly pursuit. Its aim is to train our children to construct an earthly kingdom for themselves, for the good of society and the country. An earthly pursuit like this causes our children to set their affections on this earth (Col. 3:2), laying up treasures where moth and rust corrupt (Matt. 6:19). It produces covetous, materialistic, greedy children who, like the rich fool, live to eat, drink and be merry (Luk. 12:19).
When earthly pursuits find strong roots in the lives of covenant seed, they will sacrifice their spiritual growth and find little delight in spiritual things. A weak attendance in church meetings is proof of this amongst other things. Why should studies take priority over spiritual activities? Why should spiritual activities be confined only to Sunday worship? Should not the child of God yearn for the fellowship and edification of his saints rather than burying himself in textbooks?
What is so dangerous about the education in the public schools is that it forces our covenant children to view this world like a playground, where they can fellowship and cooperate with unbelievers for a common cause. Scripture repudiates this idea when it instructs God’s people to live as strangers and pilgrims on the earth (Heb. 11:13). God’s people are aliens in this mad world of unbelievers and sin. They are called to hold loosely to earthly things, for no man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier (2 Tim. 2:4).
Covenant parents are training their children to be heavenly-minded. They are training their children to seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God (Col. 3:1). Their hearts are not settled on earthly mansions, but mansions which Christ has prepared for them in glory (John 14:2). Why train our children to fight the corporate battles of the business empires when Christ calls them to fight the battles of faith? Why seek the crown of earthly success when Christ has promised us a crown of glory that fadeth not away (1 Pet. 5:4)?
- Assessing the Damages
That public education has done severe spiritual damage to our covenant children ought to be clear for all to see. We must assess these damages from a biblical viewpoint to understand them better and in order to find a spiritual solution to these problems.
Covenant children brought up by the public education system are bound to be confused, if not frustrated. Religion placed alongside a secular education often creates great conflicts. Where the Bible teaches the world made in 6 days, the public schools teach evolution in millions of years. Where Scripture insists that sin is the cause of all the evils present in this world, society calls them social evils that can be solved through social education. Where the church teaches a day of final judgment where all things shall be brought to an end, the world promotes a perpetual earthly paradise. How, may I ask, will our children not be a confused lot when schooled in such a wicked education system?
Because of the high demands of an education system like Singapore, our covenant children inevitably cave in to its pressures. Studies come first; God and his church come later. That they cave in to such sinful temptations must not be surprising. They are, after all, untrained and inexperienced soldiers forced to fight a fierce spiritual battle. Shaped by an ungodly education and piled with pressure, their young and easily impressionable minds cave in.
Spiritual ignorance is an immediate consequence of public education. Because such a system rejects the true knowledge of God, our covenant children who go through it are destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hos. 4:6). Where the only form of spiritual instruction our children receive comes from family devotions and the weekly hour-long catechism classes, their spiritual knowledge will be shallow at best. The evident lack of a spiritual vision in the public education causes our covenant young to perish (Prov. 29:18).
Doctrinal ignorance is another product of such an education. Where academics hold the high ground, knowledge of Reformed doctrine is lost. Covenant children grow up without a strong grasp of Reformed doctrine, without a good understanding of the Reformed faith. I speak the same for myself. Instead of learning the doctrine which is according to godliness (1 Tim. 6:3), public education teaches a doctrine of vanities (Jer. 10:8).
The controversy that destroyed the ERCS revealed beyond a shadow of doubt that doctrine was loosely regarded in our midst; so loosely that the peace and unity of the church were not established upon doctrine. In the minds of many, doctrines are cold, abstract ideas which do not apply to the life of the church.
Where the only lessons on history are secular, the history of the church is unheard of. Our covenant children know not the old paths that their spiritual fathers walked in. They know not the sweat and blood these spiritual warriors sacrificed to deliver the Reformed faith to us. They know not that the greatest battles in history were fought by faith and not by sword. They know not of the great debt they owe to the church of ages past for the blessed Reformed heritage they now possess.
When church friends hardly see one another during the week, their spiritual bonds of friendship will be very weak. I often questioned during the years of my schooling why covenant young people had little else to talk about other than studies, school life and the trivia of this world. Why were spiritual discussions amongst covenant youths so rare? Why were doctrinal discussions only present during the weekly hour of catechism? Rarely do friendships like that of David and Jonathan exist in the church.
In an education system like Singapore where students are forced to devote excessive amounts of time to their studies and school activities, covenant homes suffer. Family worship caves in to the high demands of the children’s school timetable. Time for family bonding has to make way for academic pursuits. No wonder covenant homes are spiritually weak.
It must also be evident that public education is the channel by which the floods of worldliness rush into the church. An ungodly education drains the spiritual life out of our covenant young and moulds them to become servants of mammon. The ungodly education breeds covetousness in their hearts. It formulates materialism in our covenant young, teaching them to seek the treasures of this earth rather those of heaven.
Heavily under the influence of ungodly peers, our covenant young follow after their ungodly ways. When we allow the wicked iron of ungodly peers to sharpen the countenance of our covenant young, we must not be surprised when our children learn from them. We must not be surprised when our young people begin to speak, dress and behave like them. God is not mocked when He warns his people to be separate from the ungodly.
The long-term effects of such an education are not difficult to foresee. Covenant boys raised under this system are bound to be ambitious, career-minded men whose priorities to do not lie with the church and their families. Boys trained to be great leaders for the world will be weak leaders in the home and church. Covenant girls are lured into the evil trap forsaking their homes to enter the workforce. It is alarming that the newspapers often heap praises upon women who are able to balance work and family life. Scripture knows nothing of this nonsense when it commands covenant mothers to be keepers at home (Tit. 2:5).
In the final analysis, an ungodly education produces spiritually impotent, doctrinally indifferent and ecclesiastically unconcerned children. This accounts for so much of the spiritual weakness present in the church today. How poignant and true are Rev. Ronald Hanko’s words,
Children who are taught in the unbelieving world and by the unbelieving world will seldom be a blessing to the church of Jesus Christ. Even if in time to come they do turn to the Lord, they will be beginners in the faith, having learned little or nothing of Christian doctrine and of the Christian life. And how few of them do turn from the way of the world! (Christian Education, http://www.cprf.co.uk/pamphlets/christianeducation.htm).
I have much sympathy for our covenant children who are needlessly placed in such a system where they suffer daily torments from its wickedness. They suffer needlessly. We as covenant parents can do much to remove this needless suffering. We can and must give them an education that is radically different—one that is based on Scripture alone and experiences the joy of knowing God in every subject.
III. The Evils of Public Education
If there is anything more responsible for the spiritual decline in our midst, I rank the public education of our covenant children as chief. The public education system has drowned our children in its seas of evil, and choked them with every sin imaginable. Untold damage has been inflicted upon them since the day they started school. The cause of God’s covenant suffers tremendously as a result of the great evils in the system.
Let it not be mistaken that there is anything evil about education per se. Education is the necessary means of developing a covenant child into a spiritually mature and socially responsible adult. Indeed Scripture insists on educating our covenant seed. Train up a child in the way he should go, says the Preacher, and when he is old, he will not depart from it (Prov. 22:6).
As much as the public education in Singapore has reaped many benefits for our children, desperate evils exist within the system. So subtle yet powerful are these evils that they threaten to extinguish the flame of religion in our covenant seed. These evils are the deadly instruments of the devil, the roaring lion that seeks to devour our covenant young. They deserve not only to be exposed, but also due examination and condemnation in the light of holy Scripture. God’s Word must be our guiding light in the sphere of a sinful public education our children live in today.
Public education is essentially wrong on four grounds. Scripture provides abundant evidence against these evils and has many things to say about them.
- The Educator
- The Content of Public Education
- The Public School Environment
- The Goal of Public Education
- The Educator
The moment we enroll our covenant children into public schools, we are entrusting their education to the government. We entrust their upbringing to the government. We allow the government to shape their minds. We allow the government to construe their perspectives in life and their worldview. We allow the government, ultimately, to construct their characters.
God’s Word is extremely clear that this is wrong. The education of covenant seed belongs solely to the responsibility of covenant parents. A clear teaching of this is found in Deut. 6:4-9:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.
Thus we see that the education of covenant children is the full-time responsibility of parents. This responsibility is exclusively theirs. And the one goal of such an education is the love of Jehovah.
Rev. Ronald Hanko is incisive on this point:
This calling does NOT belong to the civil government, but to parents. Search the Scriptures and you will not find even one passage that suggests that the civil government has any calling to instruct the children (Christian Education, http://www.cprf.co.uk/pamphlets/christianeducation.htm).
Commenting on the duty of covenant parents in child rearing, Prof. David Engelsma writes:
On the one hand, this instruction of their children is one of the outstanding covenant responsibilities of parents, that is, one aspect of their calling as God’s friends-servants to love, serve, and glorify God. On the other hand, it is the means by which God brings the reborn covenant child to spiritual maturity so that he or she becomes a developed man or woman of God, capable of a life of good works (pg. 6, Reformed Education).
A godless educator is essentially an ungodly one. He denies that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7). In all of his instruction he teaches that knowledge begins with and ends with man. God is not in all his thoughts (Ps. 10:4). To such a person we certainly may not entrust the upbringing of our children.
- The Content of Public Education
I have often wondered in the years of my public schooling: Where is God? Where is God in the history of Singapore? Where is God in the biology of the human anatomy? Where is God in the logical laws of mathematics?
It is precisely this point that makes public education so evil. God is not in it. The fear of Jehovah is not in public education. Not only is he absent, he is disregarded, despised and spat upon. Public education assumes that God does not exist. It assumes the form of the fool who says, There is no God (Ps. 14:1). Consequently, all public education gears towards a secular form. Man decides the content of our children’s education, not God.
Prof. Engelsma’s forceful characterization of the public schools is apt:
The exclusion of Scripture makes the public education of today not merely non-Christian but antichristian. This is the reason why God-fearing parents find the public schools unacceptable…To banish the Word is to banish God, and to banish God is to invite the devil (pg. 21,Reformed Education).
One clearly sees the devil behind such an education. Evolution is the accepted explanation for the origin of this world because most scientists agree on the theory. Moral standards fluctuate according to the times. Fornication and abortion are merely social evils that can be treated with sex education. Homosexuality must be accepted as an alternative lifestyle in the modern world.
Rev. Carl Haak echoes the same sentiments:
To exclude the Bible from any subject is not only to teach the lie about that subject; it is to teach weakness, to teach knowledge that has no power or meaning to it. This is exactly the weakness of the public schools. They go about leaving God out and the result is that the instruction is weak, empty, and vain. Only when God’s word is seen in every subject is true knowledge attained (pg 11, Perspectives in Covenant Education, 1983).
A key, but spiritually fatal principle running through secular education is the principle of relativism. This principle has done grave damage to the minds of our covenant young. According to this principle, there is no such thing as absolute truth since the world is constantly changing. As cultures and social perceptions undergo change, so must our children be willing to adapt their thinking according to the times. History leaves God out and can be interpreted in boundless ways so long as there is a rational line of reasoning. Science and technology can be advanced in countless ways as long as a pragmatic justification is given. Questions on morality have no certainty because everything in this world is relative to the individual’s moral judgment. This kind of education reminds us of the time of the Judges, where every man did that which was right in his own eyes (Judges 17:6).
What is so dreadful about the principle of relativism is that it denies absolute truth, and, consequently, an absolute God. Relativism forces our covenant children to make subjective judgments. Our knowledge of God is relative to the society we live in. The Scriptures are relative to the individual’s interpretation. Sin and evil are relative to one’s moral judgment.
Even if public education were to admit that God exists, he would be thrust into the realm of subjective religious knowledge that has little or no meaning. The idea of God as taught in the public schools expresses itself in the various religious groups of Singapore. One is taught the main teachings of each religion but there is no need to subscribe to them. To the public educator (the government in this case), religion is merely medicine for the masses. Knowledge of religions only serves to protect the religious harmony of the land. There is little substance and use for religious knowledge in a pragmatic world.
No education, however, can be purely secular without running the risk of developing immoral children. Even the government realizes the need for a moral education in the public schools. There is a need for civility and good order in society. This is especially true in a multi-religious and multi-racial society like Singapore. The slightest upheaval in social harmony can have devastating consequences on the nation. Moral education must therefore serve to protect this social fabric.
A moral education also serves to instill moral values in our children. Family values are emphasized because the family is the building block of society. Values of patriotism are instilled in young minds to teach them loyalty to the country. Racial and religious harmony are strongly promoted by the schools to steer the students to be sensitive and tolerant citizens in a land of great diversity. One is educated to be a responsible and productive citizen.
Should we as covenant parents not then be satisfied with this moral education that our public schools offer? After all, such an education will train our children to be morally upright and law-abiding citizens. They will learn how to live righteously in the midst of this world, obey the government and live peacefully with their neighbors of differing races and religions. Are we too extreme in insisting on a covenant education since the public education takes care of our children’s moral upbringing?
The answer is an emphatic NO. Scripture insists that covenant children be raised in the fear of Jehovah alone. They must learn Jehovah’s standards of holiness, not man’s moral standards. They learn to live righteously in this world because of the righteousness that Christ imputes to them. They learn to live in peace and harmony with their neighbor in this world because Christ has given to them the peace that passes understanding through his cross. Prof. Cornelius Van Til wisely writes that the Christian must “maintain without any apology and without any concession that it is Scripture, and Scripture alone, in the light of which all moral questions must be answered” (pg 71, The Defense of the Faith, P&R Publishing Company, 1955).
Public education negates, in fact, despises the truth that God must be the center of all education, for only his truth is sure. Knowledge apart from God is the devil’s lie.
Prof. Engelsma writes:
Knowledge apart from knowing God, all activity not motivated by the love of God and directed to Him, and life itself lived apart from God and away from God are vain (pg 86, Reformed Education).
Thus the very essence of public education is rebellion against God.
The Nature of Education in Singapore
Although minute in land mass and population, Singapore has renowned acclaim for its education system. Countries worldwide have applauded the government’s efforts in establishing a strong and effective system which has been the backbone of the nation’s economic prosperity. The education system has been responsible for training productive citizens and developing them to drive the nation’s progress.
In a land-scarce country like Singapore which is deprived of natural resources, the citizens are the main resource the government has. Because the government wisely recognizes this, extensive efforts have been made to develop them. Education is the key arm of the government to develop its citizens and to sustain the nation’s progress. By regulating the education its citizens receive, the government ensures that the knowledge and skills they acquire can be directed to the appropriate sectors in society. Since the services sector occupies the bulk of Singapore’s economy, education necessarily gears our students towards that sector.
Supervised by the Ministry of Education (MOE), all the public schools are stringently regulated. From the teaching faculty to the curriculum, the ministry makes the final decision. Regulation is necessary not only to streamline the instruction students receive but also to siphon them according to their academic abilities. At the end of primary, secondary and junior college standards, students have to sit for national examinations to test their academic proficiency. Their academic grades will determine what kind of schools and courses they can move on to.
Students in polytechnic and the institutions of technical education receive a diploma at the end of their course. Those in junior college have the fastest access to university if they qualify for it in the national exams.
To qualify as teacher in a government school, one has to graduate from the National Institute of Education (NIE) after completing a basic degree in a recognized local or overseas university. Upon graduation from NIE, he is subsequently posted to a government school according to his field of discipline and place of residence.
Academic rigor has not only been characteristic of the Singaporean education system but also the lifestyle of Singaporeans. From the first day a child enters into a public school in Singapore, his life is subjected to grueling academic drilling. Almost every teacher he meets expects him to excel academically because it is critical to moving on to better schools and university courses. A teacher’s performance in school is also primarily assessed by the grades his students achieve.
On a larger scale, a student’s academic performance also affects the overall performance of his school. To encourage improvement and competition amongst schools, the ministry of education has a ranking system in which each public school is annually rated for its performance. Aside from its academic achievements, other factors like its sports and musical achievements are also taken into consideration. The better a school is ranked, the better the appraisal it receives from the ministry and the public.
Aside from academics, students in the public schools have to participate in co-curricular activities (CCA). These range from sports to musical ensembles and clubs of various activities. They are part of the ministry’s initiative to establish a well-rounded education. Competitions are held every year for these CCA groups so that schools which perform well are recognized for their achievements.
Interestingly, many of the public schools in Singapore are Christian by name. They were founded by Christian missionaries during the formative years of the nation. For six years I attended two Roman Catholic schools and two years in an Anglican junior college. The Roman Catholic schools held their mass every now and then on special occasions, although non-Catholics were only required to observe. Covenant parents may not be deceived into thinking that there is any spiritual instruction from these schools. There is nothing religious, nothing Christian about them. Rather than a Christian institute, the Anglican junior college I attended resembled a synagogue of Satan.
Every Singaporean parent knows that competition is the driving principle behind our education system. It is a system based solidly on merit, where the best students with the best academic grades get into the best schools and best courses. Competition to enter the best schools is extremely fierce, because these schools are famous for churning out top students. With top grades, one has better opportunities to choose the more prospective courses in university. Job opportunities are also usually better for those who come from the top schools.
Being a meritocratic society, rewards are naturally in place for those who perform well. The government, along with many business corporations, offers hundreds of scholarships to those who excel academically. These scholarships range in value and prestige. Some of the most prestigious scholarships include the President’s scholarship and the Public Service Commission scholarship. These are awarded by the government to top students who wish to serve as civil servants. These prestigious scholarships allow and pay for them to study in the world’s top universities. Upon the completion of their studies, these scholars return home to serve in various sectors of the government. In many ways their career paths are tightly secured, along with promotion opportunities and well-paying salaries.
Placing the brains at the high positions in government and business corporations has worked well for Singapore. Elaborate planning and wise policies have transformed Singapore into one of the finest cities in the world. That Singaporeans today enjoy high standards of living and technological advancements is beyond doubt due to the wise leadership of their government.
It is not my purpose to examine the benefits and advantages of our public education system. Our children are fine products of this system. The system has made doctors, lawyers, engineers and other kinds of professionals out of our covenant children. My purpose is to demonstrate the spiritual devastation this system has caused to our covenant children, in the hope that we as covenant parents will realize the absolute necessity of giving them a covenant education. The future of the church depends heavily on this.
Dear Covenant Parents,
Few subjects deserve greater spiritual attention than the education of our children. As guardians of the sacred Reformed faith, we confess the blessed truth that Jehovah establishes his covenant with us and our seed. In a wonder of sovereign grace he purposed to save us and our children in their generations in Jesus Christ. These are “the children which God hath graciously given” (Gen. 33:5) to us his servants. In giving to us covenant seed the Lord entrusts us with the high calling to raise them up according to his ways. This is covenant privilege of the highest kind, for in raising covenant seed we proclaim together with the psalmist, “One generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts” (Ps. 145:4).
Scarce attention has been given to the education our covenant children receive in Singapore. It has become a norm for most parents in our midst to send their children to government schools to receive a public education. On average a covenant child receives such an education the moment he reaches nursery age and continues all the way until he reaches university and beyond. This accounts for almost 20 years of his life. Thus the building blocks of a covenant child’s life are in many ways established by the government.
The call to review and examine our children’s education in the light of Scripture is desperately urgent. Many covenant parents are not sufficiently informed about the radically changing nature of education in Singapore. The public schools are no longer innocent places of learning where our children simply receive an education in the languages, arts and sciences. They have become more assertive and influential in the lives of our children, especially as they climb the education ladder. It is not groundless to say that we have allowed the education system here to shape the characters of our covenant children more than we would like to.
A generation of public education has done very substantial damage to the cause of God’s covenant in Singapore. The education system has eroded much of the spirituality in our young people. Why has the world drowned the lives of our covenant seed? Why is doctrinal ignorance prevalent amongst the young people? Why are the youth meetings declining in attendance? Why are the young people indifferent to spiritual things? Why is there a lack of desire to serve in the church? Why are our young people so engrossed in their academic and career pursuits that they have so little time for spiritual development? Why do our young choose their companions from the world rather than the church? Why do we occupy ourselves with temporal things and give little concern to matters of eternal weight?
These questions cannot be answered without admitting that our children’s education in the public schools is largely responsible for the spiritual decline in our midst. We as covenant parents are fundamentally responsible for this, for God has given us charge over the education of our children. We have subjected them to an ungodly education that has sown ungodly seeds and produced ungodly fruits in them.
Since the institution of the Evangelical Reformed Churches in Singapore (ERCS) over 20 years ago, the churches have been on a steady spiritual decline. The Reformed faith has lost its distinction and vigor. Let us be very clear and honest about this. Let any who believes the contrary only examine the doctrinal controversy that destroyed our denomination a few years ago.
A serious call to reform the education our covenant children receive must be issued. It must be a call that has its basis in Scripture. It must be a call that is in harmony with our confessions. It is a call rooted in our covenant obligations as Reformed parents to raise covenant seed in the fear of the Lord. Scripture directs our attention to the truth that our children are an heritage from the Lord (Ps 127:3), entrusted to us for our utmost care and upbringing. As covenant parents we vow to teach our children the ways of the Lord, to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph 6:4).
There is much for parents in CERC to learn from our brethren in the Protestant Reformed Churches in America (PRCA), who understand the critical call to raise up covenant seed. Many of their parents do this with great personal sacrifices, knowing that faithfulness to our Lord’s calling will come at great costs. Their maturity in the faith is indeed remarkable, and they have a heritage from which we will greatly benefit to learn.
I am indebted to the PRCA for all that they have taught me on this subject through their literature and especially their schools. A trip to Grand Rapids in the winter of December 2006 opened insights for me to see what Reformed schools were really all about. Far more important were the spiritual lessons they taught me. If we are to be serious about our high calling to raise covenant seed for the Lord, it is imperative that we learn from them. I would rather the readers of this paper read Prof. David Engelsma’s book Reformed Education: The Christian School as Demand of the Covenant (RFPA, 2000). It is a far better and thorough argument than this paper can provide. On this book I must rely extensively for the strength of this argument.
The idea of a Christian education has not been given much support in our midst. I think a chief reason for this is the fear of placing our children in a socially disadvantageous position. The government universities require qualifications from the government schools for enrollment. In many sectors of the job market employers give priority to those with government school qualifications. If we give our children a Christian education, they will suffer. Many will find it harder to find jobs. Career opportunities will be restricted. Promotions will be hard to come by. Incomes may be meager. From a social and material viewpoint, our children will suffer loss.
Persecution is also inevitable for our covenant seed if we place them on the path of a Christian education. Our children will suffer scorn from the world. They will be mocked at for studying in the school of Christ rather than enjoying the academic pleasures of this world. They will be ridiculed for wasting their talents to the cause of God’s kingdom instead of developing them to gain the riches of this world.
Nevertheless, our covenant duty must stand firm. It is our most sacred obligation to raise up covenant seed in the ways of God, and Scripture is crystal clear that God’s ways are often accompanied by suffering. All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer. Our children are not excluded, for they are also members of God’s covenant as much as we are.
The subject of a Reformed education has weighed heavily on my soul throughout the years of my public schooling. The desperate wickedness of a public education and its sinful influences that threaten to destroy covenant young people struck me forcefully during these years. I am absolutely convinced that we in CERC shall have little to speak of the Reformed faith if we further subject our children to another generation of public education. The young people are the future of the church. For this reason the education they receive from infancy onwards ought to prepare them for God’s kingdom. There is only one kind of education that covenant children must receive—a covenant education.
It is my prayerful hope that the covenant parents in CERC will realize that raising covenant seed demands covenant education. I am much encouraged by the present growing support in our midst to give our children such an education. Great will be their reward. May the Lord use these words to promote the cause of a covenant education to our parents to the end that they may see the wonders of Jehovah’s blessings upon them and their children.
With love for God’s everlasting covenant of grace, Aaron Lim.
The Lord willing, the remaining parts of this essay will be included in 6 subsequent installments.
“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18)
The goal of God’s covenant friendship with us is his glory. He befriends us for his glory. He saves us for his glory. The church is his glory. For her he gives himself; loves, cherishes and nourishes her according to his marvelous perfection. We experience this warmth and tenderness because we are part of the church. We are members of his covenant.
As a mother who feeds and nourishes her child, so does the faithful church feed and care for her members. The child of God is duty-bound to honour and to promote the cause of the church in the world. For the church he must spend and be spent. For her he must be prepared to lay down his life. His pursuits in this life must revolve around the church as he seeks her welfare.
A covenant young person seeks courtship and marriage to promote the welfare of the church. Covenant courtship is not meant solely for his personal desires but for the church of Jesus Christ. When godly marriages and families are established, the church is strengthened in her cause. Happy covenant families testify of the goodness of God. His truth is developed and promoted as it is passed down from one generation to the next.
If our young people love the church, they must be concerned about her welfare as they enter into courtship. They must ask: does my relationship with my partner promote the cause of the church? Does my courtship properly reflect God’s covenant love for his church?
CERC is placed in a unique position in Singapore to serve the cause of God’s covenant. It is necessary for our parents and leaders to treat the covenant courtship of our young people seriously because they are the church of tomorrow. If we are lax in our preaching and instruction on covenant courtship, our young people will find partners outside the church. If parents fail to instruct their children on what covenant courtship involves, they will love pleasure more than God in their relationships. Their relationships will be carnal, worldly, pleasure-seeking and spiritually empty. This spells destruction for the church of tomorrow.
We must be prepared to sacrifice the Reformed faith if we allow our children to marry outside the church. When they marry without being doctrinally and spiritually united, the faith of the church is weakened. The faith of the next generation grows weaker. The Reformed faith loses its distinctive power and character. It gradually grows cold, abandoned and despised. This paves the road for false doctrines to creep into the church and spirals her into apostasy.
In contrast, there is hope if we treat covenant courtship with its due biblical importance. If we teach our children to date and marry in the unity of the Reformed faith, there is hope for the next generation. Our children, being spiritually united, can then develop the faith entrusted to them. They will echo the voice of their fathers and confess the beautiful Reformed truth with all its power and sharpness.
As covenant young people, it is our most high privilege and honour to carry on the faith of our fathers. Courtship is a time where we fulfill this faithful calling to God. I know the insistence on dating in the unity of our faith places many of us in difficult positions. But if we love the church and our Reformed faith, this is necessary.
I know it seems difficult to date somebody in the church that we have known all our lives. Perhaps when we know so much of the person we are familiar with his flaws and weaknesses. This has the natural tendency to put off dating that person. I believe we ought to place our perspectives in a spiritual focus when we consider this. Is it not an advantage to me that I have known this boy or girl all my life? I am very familiar with his background, family, siblings, friends, character, personality, habits and goals in life. True; he may have his own set of flaws as much as I do. But he believes in the same faith and loves the same God that I do. He confesses the same doctrines that I have been brought up in and hold so dearly to my soul. Should not this unity in the faith thrill us enough to date within the church?
When we date and marry in the unity of the faith, we promote the cause of God’s covenant. We reflect our spiritual unity with him who is our covenant Friend. May the Lord so teach us as covenant parents and young people to approach covenant courtship to the end that we may enjoy his covenant blessings!
“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6).
The blessedness of covenant truth is that God’s covenant friendship extends to believers and their seed. God purposes to save not only individuals but families in their organic lines as well. He does so by instructing covenant parents to teach their children his ways, raising them up in the fear of Jehovah. As covenant parents discharge their parental duties faithfully, covenant children grow up in the consciousness of their salvation in Christ and their membership in the church of God. In so doing God’s people are saved in the lines of their generations.
Part of covenant instruction in the home involves teaching young teenagers what covenant courtship involves. Covenant parents play a crucial role in the way their children engage in courtship. In the first place covenant parents teach their children what kind of partners they should choose. On one occasion I had a conversation with an elder of a Reformed church. During the course of the conversation I asked him what kind of Christian he would want his children to marry. His reply was that he would be satisfied so long as their partners are godly and sincere Christians.
The Reformed believer questions: What is the measure of godliness and sincerity? I believe the answer lies in 2 parts: 1) A biblical confession of God as he reveals himself in Scripture and 2) A godly Christian walk according to his confession.
These two fundamental aspects make up the Reformed believer’s understanding of godliness and sincerity. It is necessary to confess God rightly. This means knowing who God is as he reveals himself in his Word. It means confessing him as the sovereign one who governs and purposes all things according to his counsel. It means confessing the cardinal truths of Scripture as expressed in the five points of Calvinism and the Three Forms of Unity.
When a believer confesses God rightly, then he will be able to live aright with God. He will walk in humility as he acknowledges the absolute sovereignty of God in his life. He will love God and his neighbor aright when he appreciates God’s eternal and predestined love for him in Christ. The truth of God is the moral compass by which a Christian directs his life and the course of his courtship.
In the next place covenant parents are living examples for their children to follow. How covenant parents relate to each other and govern the life of the home will affect their children’s way of managing their own courtships. A young man whose father rules over his wife and the home in love will likewise learn how to lead his girlfriend in love and care for her needs. A young girl whose mother obediently submits to her husband will learn the importance of submitting to her boyfriend as God’s divine will for her. As covenant children learn from their parents, so they will learn how to treat and live with their partners in courtship.
Covenant parents also serve to be good counselors for their children. As their children are engaged in courtship they will be able to supply them with a wealth of advice from their own experiences. The problems and heartaches arising from courtship are not few, neither are they all easy to solve. Sometimes breakups happen which cause great emotional turmoil to the individual. Covenant parents are placed there by God to comfort and ease the pain of their children. Godly counsel from covenant parents therefore serves to make our children wiser and better equipped to manage courtship.
The dangers for covenant parents are not insignificant. They can sometimes be indifferent to the relationships their children are involved in, preferring to let them handle things completely on their own. Such parents care little about who their children are dating, or the spiritual character of their partners. I find it very tragic that Reformed parents would allow their covenant children to date unbelievers outside the church or Christians from vastly different denominations. We risk losing our faith when we allow our children to date flippantly. The Reformed faith insists on unity in the faith between covenant couples. Covenant parents must do all in their power to warn their young people about the consequences of dating outside the church.
Sometimes overly-concerned parents can be too stringent in managing their children who are engaged in courtship. They want to decide who their children date. They pry into every single detail of their children’s relationships and sometimes intrude upon their privacy. This is inappropriate as it creates unnecessary fear and suspicions in the minds of the young people. It also restricts the proper development of a covenant couple who are learning to live independently as one flesh.
It is necessary, therefore, to establish trust between covenant parents and their children. The young people must be given sufficient, guided freedom to pursue the course of courtship with their covenant partners. When trust is established they will not hesitate to share all the abundant details of their courtship with their parents, seek their godly counsel and follow after them.
In a small congregation like CERC, dating within the church can sometimes be a tricky situation. A couple who begin dating is naturally brought under the spotlight and scrutiny of the congregation. Members of the congregation can sometimes be rash to point out the flaws, incompatibility and weaknesses of the couple. Such criticism is most unwise and harmful to the couple’s relationship. It is necessary that the people of God exercise love and wisdom towards the young couple, encouraging them in the way of the Lord.
Another problem arises when the parents of the couple sinfully assess each other’s child. They set ridiculous standards for their child’s partner according to their misconceptions on what a good married life ought to be. This is sinful and it injures the unity amongst fellow members of the congregation. Covenant parents are to be concerned, above all else, with the spiritual character of the young person their child is dating. They must insist on the spiritual element of the relationship. The person whom their child dates must be godly, one who fears God and who will fulfill his calling in the church and home. Such a person must provoke their own child to godliness and union with Christ. Covenant courtship is spiritual.
Covenant parents are ultimately responsible for who their children date. God has given them the authority to instruct and discipline them according to his ways, all in obedience to him. Although the common excuse from many parents is that their children are already young adults with minds of their own, it nevertheless remains their sacred duty to discipline them. Covenant parents are authoritative influences for their children. In love for their souls covenant parents must exhaust themselves and all their resources to ensure that their children engage in godly relationships.
In ensuring that their covenant children enter into godly relationships, covenant parents preserve the precious faith that God has entrusted to them and their children. Children are an heritage, says the Scriptures. This means that the children whom God entrusts to us to raise are living testimonies of God’s faithfulness to us. For them we must labour and train up to the end that they will be well-equipped to carry on the faith of our fathers.
In the final sense I think covenant parents carry the sacred responsibility of envisioning what the church should be in the generations after them. Do I, as a covenant parent, want the church in my children’s generations to be strong? Do I want my children to continue in the faith that the Lord has entrusted to me? This is indeed a heavy responsibility for which the Lord will require our accountability in the day of his coming.
If we prize the Reformed faith, we must teach our children to marry in the unity of the Reformed faith.
“For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Eph 5:31-32).
The covenant God who establishes the institution of marriage purposed it to be a reflection of the marriage between Christ and the church. As he binds two believers with body and soul in the union of marriage, he testifies to them of the unbreakable bond that he shares with them. His covenant with his people is unbreakable because he maintains it. He has given his only begotten Son as proof of his sovereign power and love for his church. He is her husband, a covenant friend who establishes, maintains and perfects her salvation in the cross of Christ.
As discussed in the early chapters, covenant courtship is to be approached with all seriousness because it is the necessary platform to marriage. It is oftentimes tempting to enter into relationships rashly with somebody we fancy. God made us as emotional beings with the desire to love and to be loved. Our emotions are powerful sources of energy that affect our thinking and actions. Courtship is a time where strong feelings and emotions are very active. Covenant young people risk bearing emotional scars and painful experiences when they treat courtship lightly. Without understanding the responsibilities and implications of courtship, those who rush into it do so to their hurt.
In truth covenant courtship prepares a couple to leave their parents and cleave to each other as one flesh. As they grow in an intimate knowledge and love for each other, they must prepare themselves for a lifelong commitment. God ordained marriage to cure man of his loneliness. He gave man a woman to make him complete. For this reason God demands an inseparable union between husband and wife throughout their lifetime.
The form for marriage insists that each spouse “faithfully assist the other in all things that belong to this life and a better”. Courtship demands responsibility. It demands faithfulness to care exclusively for each other’s needs as brother and sister in Christ. It is a constant giving of oneself for the other’s benefit as Christ gave himself for the church. A man of God promises, according to the form for marriage, “never to forsake her, to love her faithfully, to maintain her, as a faithful and pious husband is bound to do to his lawful wife.”
As covenant couples commit themselves to a lifelong bond, they must be profoundly aware of all the dangers that threaten this commitment. These dangers sometimes appear in the form of false doctrines that creep into the church. False doctrines have their source in the devil whose interest is to defile the institution of marriage and to hurt the cause of God’s covenant in this world. It is deeply grievous that even in Reformed circles there are churches who deny the lifelong permanency of the marriage bond. They falsely assert that the Scriptures allow divorce to destroy the marriage bond. This is nothing more than a sinful convenience out of a broken marriage. This evil doctrine cheapens the grace of God that always sustains a covenant couple’s relationship through all its ups and downs.
Another danger that threatens a couple’s lifelong commitment is the sinful tendency to take each other for granted. How often we fail to appreciate the friendships we have around us. It is all the more saddening that in marriage, the best of friends can fail to love and appreciate each other adequately. They are constantly arguing and picking on each other’s faults, refusing to surrender to each other as God calls them to. The lack of God’s love in their relationship becomes increasingly apparent.
A couple who is truly committed to the God-ordained institution of marriage will understand that God is the One who binds them in true love and faithfulness. Marriage counselor Dr. Ed Wheat writes accurately that “it is God’s will in every marriage that the couple love each other with an absorbing spiritual, emotional and physical attraction that continues to grow throughout their lifetime together”. It is nothing less than amazing that an old couple, having been together for so many years, can still find so much to be attracted to in each other. I think of Prof. and Mrs. Hanko, whose loving and godly marriage ought to be an example for our young people to follow.
A covenant couple prizes the grace of God because they know that without it, their relationship will give way to the dangers that threaten it. We need his grace to prepare for marriage. More so when we enter into marriage and live in it. Marriage implies faithfulness. Only a God who is faithful can enable his children to be faithful to each other. May the Lord help us to be faithful in our courtships and marriages.
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