One of the first themes that the freshman student at Calvin College was required to write in English 103 some years ago was: “Should Calvin College Be a Church-Controlled School?” This question was asked because it was one which was debated at considerable length by clergy, faculty, members of the board of trustees, and even by some members of the student body.
A topic such as this may hardly seem apropos or of importance to us in the Protestant Reformed Churches because we are not currently faced with the difficulty nor obligation to finance and administer a church school in the area of secondary education. In the Christian Reformed Churches the Synod is responsible for the administering of a school which has mushroomed into a liberal arts college from a small school dedicated to the training of ministers and teachers. The Synod carries out this obligation by appointing a board of trustees who appoints experts in the field of secondary education.
Even to many which belong to churches which support colleges a topic such as this seems unimportant from an academic point of view. From a financial and material standpoint I would imagine that the question assumes more serious proportions for these. There are many who cannot understand why the church should be “taxed” to help future doctors, lawyers, and engineers, business administrators, and professional chemist, to name a few, get their start in these secular professions.
This question is not only aired and discussed in professedly Reformed circles but is also discussed by professors and leaders in the so-called Bible Belt of the South. Under the caption, “Why Evangelical Colleges Die,” C. Gregg Singer of Catawba College in North Carolina discusses a problem related to this whole problem of church supported and controlled colleges. He attempts to answer the question by investigating the historic reasons for the decline of the Christian position and the eventual total denial of the historic Christian position by many colleges which were previously founded on Christian principles.
The author of the article mentioned takes the position that Christianity is exclusively true and that it transcends all human systems of thought and must therefore be sovereign over the minds of men. He contends that the situation is deplorable and lamentable when this basic position is denied. He gives four basic reasons for the sobering fact that colleges that were previously dedicated to the Christian position have now long departed.
He cites as the first reason a loss in church control. Particularly colleges which were founded by those churches using the Congregational or Baptist form of government have defected. A basic weakness in the political structure in the church has made departure from doctrinal orthodoxy possible. Colleges which operate in this loose political structure permit a proclamation of theological independence from the founding church.
The second reason given by Dr. Singer is the inherent theological weakness in many of the churches which supported these colleges which have become secular. Arminianism and semi-Pelagianism became official positions of these churches and these theological positions are considered by the writer as “conscious accommodations to humanism and unbelief to the extent to which they deny the sovereignty of God and the depravity of the race after the Fall.” This professed Arminianism has been “the Achilles heel of much evangelical education effort in this country.”
The writer also stresses that a sound philosophy of education cannot be developed by educators unless there be a sound theology which supports a Christian world and life view. “Many churches which were historically evangelical in outlook have singularly failed in their educational activities simply because their theology did not provide the necessary foundation for a philosophy of education that would bring the teachings of Scripture sharply to focus on the educational program.”
Because of a decided theological indifference the educational level was reduced to a culling of prevailing humanistic philosophies of education. The college program came under the control of those who did not care to examine problems of scholarship and culture in terms of the Scriptures.
The shunning of intellectual issues is given as the third reason for the decline of Christian colleges. The great intellectual questions that arise in educational circles were avoided and the whole counsel of God was not presented in all its grandeur and fullness. Pietistic leaders began to proclaim that learning was dangerous and because learning was dangerous it was to be avoided. Because the educational enterprise demands trained personnel many colleges were forced to employ competent scholars without too much regard for their doctrinal standards. It was simply assumed that these professors could not infringe upon the faith of the students because they did not teach courses in Bible or theology. Dr. Singer keenly observes on this point: “The finest educational philosophy must remain ineffective unless it becomes the guiding principle for competent scholars who are, at the same time thoroughly grounded in the Scriptures and committed to the historic Christian faith.”
Conformity to environment is stated to be the last great reason for this decline. Christian colleges attempt to accommodate their own program to the cultural milieu of the day. Colleges have conformed “to the demands of the American way of life and democratic philosophy.” The writer sagely insists that “the basic differences between contemporary non-Christian philosophies and the plain teachings of the Scriptures in regard to God and man, sin and salvation and meaning of the human drama itself are to be the basic teachings in Christian educational effort.
It is certainly true that there are decided dangers in the educational endeavor. Natural man is always ready to pervert the truth. Only when one in guided by the principles of the Word of God and as these are stated for us in the Three Forms of Unity does one remain distinctive and antithetical in his teaching. Basic philosophies of education one must hold and these must be based on the Word of God.
Church controlled colleges are not absolutely essential but because of the depravity of men this type of college seems to be most feasible. A strong church institute which is interested in the maintenance of pure doctrine and is willing to oppose, expose, and dispose of all offenders of the faith is a necessary requisite to the maintenance of the truth and the development of the truth in the educational endeavor.
We do not intend to cast stones but our Protestant Reformed students do well to observe the results in today’s colleges.