The doctrine of the covenant lies very dear to the hearts of Protestant Reformed people. It is a doctrine that distinguishes us from most other denominations. It is a truth that we defended fiercely in 1953 in the face of much opposition, because the covenant is not a doctrine that can be compromised. And it is a truth that we must still defend and proclaim today. This covenant truth which the Protestant Reformed Churches have defended and maintained establishes the basis for our good Christian schools. Our good Christian schools, built upon the sweat and tireless labors of our parents and grandparents, are an essential aspect of friendship and fellowship in this covenant.
One cannot speak about friendship and fellowship in the covenant without first speaking about the Trinity. Within the triune God there is eternal, perfect fellowship and friendship, something we lowly sinners cannot even imagine. There was no necessity that required God to create man and establish a covenant with him. There was no lack or want in the Trinity that demanded the creation of Adam. God has perfect harmony within himself for all eternity.
It was only by his mere good pleasure that he created and only by his mere good pleasure that he elected certain people to be saved in Christ Jesus. By his death, Christ paid for the sins of the elect and drew us into the perfect fellowship of the Triune God. He brought us into that harmony. His death earned for us the right to be in the covenant. As the Canons 2nd Head, Article 8 says, “…it was the will of God that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby he confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem…all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given him by the Father.” This covenant then is that everlasting relationship of friendship between God and his people in Christ Jesus. The elect people of God are united as one in the Body of Christ.
As one Body, we are called to live as one in communion and fellowship. The covenant is not a group of elected individuals; it is these elected individuals united as one. Therefore, we must live as one, striving to put off all jealousy, hatred, and anger one towards another. We are called to “love the Lord thy God” and “love thy neighbor as thyself’ (Matthew 22:37-40). In its treatment of the sixth commandment, the Heidelberg Catechism states clearly that “he (God) commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves; to show patience, peace, meekness, mercy, and all kindness towards him, and prevent his hurt as much as in us lies; and that we do good, even to our enemies.”
But, where do we learn to live like this? How are we able to imitate the fellowship of the Triune God? The answer lies in our good Christian schools. It is in these Christian schools that our covenant children learn to live in fellowship with other believers. They are taught from a very young age to live peacefully one with another. They develop close friendships with other students that last a lifetime, friendships that are vital to life in the church. Without the friendships amongst believers, life in the church would become unbearable. Members would dread coming to church and having to face other unloving members.
It is the calling of a minister, and the elders along with him, to promote these good, Christian friendships. The minister must encourage the young people in the church to seek out God-fearing friends. He must ask the young people who they are friends with and what things they do on weekends. He must admonish the young teenager who is looking for unbelieving friends of the world. The minister must steer the young man or woman toward the Christian friends that are found in our schools.
In our good Christian schools the children of believing parents learn many things, but most importantly for the life of the church they learn confession of sin and forgiveness. Children (and adults for that matter) tend to argue and fight with one another. One child doesn’t get his way and attempts to get back at his schoolmate. A young girl might be friends with another girl one day and then be talking behind her back the next. Our children are not perfect; they, have an old man of sin just like we do. One might argue then that our children should be removed from this atmosphere, that it would be better if they avoided the mocking and backbiting all together. However, our children must not be removed from our schools. The sins of our children provide an opportunity for us to teach them confession and forgiveness, fundamental aspects of fellowship in the church. We must teach our children to confess their sin to the classmate they wronged and ask for forgiveness. We must also teach them to forgive the sinful classmate in love. We teach our children to pray “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Our heavenly Father forgave us much and made a covenant with us, even though we are completely undeserving of his favor. So too then we can and must forgive our brothers and sisters the small amount which they have harmed us.
This is so beautifully set forth in Ephesians 4 where the life of the church is described. The section ends in verse 32 by saying, “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Our children must learn to forgive in order to live in peaceful communion when they are older and the leaders of the church. If they are taught at a young age to forgive, they will forgive when they are older. Only with confession of wrong and the forgiveness of a brother can there be peaceful relationships in the church of Christ.
Our good Christian schools teach this to our children. A minister must also teach this to them. In preaching on the Heidelberg Catechism, a minister begins with the subject of our great sin and misery and how we must confess that sin. The next part of the Catechism deals with forgiveness: how Christ forgave us and how we must forgive one another. A minister must proclaim both together. Only with confession can there be forgiveness.
Our good Christian schools play another vital role in the establishment of covenant relationships. In our schools, we gather together young men and young women of like faith. There are few better environments in which a young man might seek out his wife and a young woman might find her husband.
This is one of the deepest desires of God-fearing parents: that their children grow up in the Lord and marry someone of like faith. Our father Abraham had the same desire thousands of years ago. He would not have his son Isaac marry an idolatrous Canaanite woman, so Abraham sent his servant back to his homeland to find a God-fearing wife (Gen. 24). His desire then is our earnest desire today.
The covenant relationship between Christ the bridegroom and his bride the church is pictured by our earthly marriages. Our marriages are to be a reflection of that one heavenly marriage. As Christ loves the church, so also a husband must love his wife. They must live in a covenant relationship, in covenant communion.
Our schools are the proper place to look to establish these relationships. A child that does not attend a good Christian school will have a more difficult time finding a God-fearing spouse. They will be tempted to look elsewhere to find a mate. And when they look to the world for a spouse, they will be sorely troubled just as Israel of old was in the time of the judges. The Israelites took wives of the idolatrous nations and God sent his judgment down upon them. This must not be the case with our children. They must not look to the world for a spouse. In our good Christian schools they will find God-fearing husbands and wives with whom covenant relationships can be established.
A minister must see to it that the young people are looking for a spouse in the right places. He must encourage them to seek a mate from amongst the many God-fearing classmates at our Christian schools. The minister must warn against the dangers of marrying an unbeliever. He must see to it that they are developing relationships that are God-centered and are edifying to life in the church.
Our good Christian schools are the result of great labor on the part of our forefathers and we cherish them deeply. The reason we cherish our schools so much is that they are based on a doctrine that we as Protestant Reformed people cherish so much: the doctrine of the covenant. In our covenant schools, our children are brought up in the fear of the Lord and are taught to live as a united body of believers. They begin to establish lifelong relationships of friendship that mirror the relationship we have with God in the covenant and that are essential to life in the church.
As a minister, one must support and promote our good Christian schools. He must preach the Christian school as a “demand of the covenant” (see Prof. David J. Engelsma’s book Reformed Education). When the minister whole-heartedly supports our schools and preaches their vital importance, then there will sprout up relationships of godly friendship and fellowship that are essential to life in the church of Christ.