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.