Protestant Reformed Education – A Unique Enterprise

Prof. Hanko presented this lecture, sponsored by the Protestant Reformed High School Circle, at Hope PRC on September 23, 1965


When the committee discussed with me the topic for this speech, they made clear in the first place that they did not want a speech which spoke of the need of a Protestant Reformed High School. Presumably, they meant, at least in part, that the need of our own high school was apparent and that therefore there is little point in stressing this aspect for you.  I take it that this is true and am happy about this, for I concur entirely.

Rather they wanted a speech which would spell out in some detail the manner in which a school of our own would differ from existing schools.  This, I think is a worthwhile subject to discuss; indeed it is the fundamental point.

You understand, I take it, that this can hardly be divorced from “need.” If there is to be no difference, there is no “need”; if the difference is slight, the “need” is slight.  But if the difference is most fundamental and basic, the “need” is urgent.  If it comes to our attention that the food our children are eating is not adequate for the requirements of their health and, in fact, is making them ill, we had better attend rather speedily to this matter of providing a different diet.  And, as we often say when our children are in the hospital, no price is too great to pay to restore them to health.

You notice that I have chosen as my topic “Protestant Reformed Education.” There is occasionally some question about the wisdom of using the name of our denomination to define the type of education we give our children.  Some prefer to omit the name of our denomination and simply speak of “Christian Education.” I do not doubt that by the word “Christian” they mean Christian absolutely in the sense of the only proper education one ought to give to his children.  And I have no objection to this, of course.  But I have always failed to appreciate the hesitancy of calling education in our schools “Protestant Reformed education.” I can’t, quite frankly, see the point of the objection.  And I want to make it as certain as it is possible to make it that we mean tonight education which is in harmony with the confession we make as churches—a confession which is Scriptural and of the historic Reformed faith.

With these remarks we shall proceed.  Three things I would have you notice as you ponder with me the fact that Protestant Reformed education is a unique enterprise:

I.   Its unique Basis

II.  Its unique character

III. Its unique advantage


I.  Its unique Basis.

That we claim a unique basis for Protestant Reformed Schools implies that the basis upon which the schools of our alternative choices have different bases which are unsatisfactory.  There are principally three such alternatives.

First of all there is the public school system. Very briefly we ought to trace the origin of these schools and their development to their present position.  They were originally founded as parental schools, and many of them, consequently, were Christian.  But gradually as the population increased and became more varied, many different denominations were represented in these schools and many people sent their children who had no religious convictions at all.  The result was that the schools more and more lost their Christian character as the segment of the population which despised religion protested the teaching of it to their children. Along with this same trend towards secular instruction in the schools went also a trend towards government interference in the operation of the schools until the various state governments along with the federal government forbade religious instruction of any kind.  This position has been strengthened recently by various rulings of the Supreme Court.  It may not be generally known, but the fact of the matter is that these recent Supreme Court rulings are only several decisions in a long series of decisions beginning more than thirty years ago in which the government took the same position for the most part.

The basis for these various rulings of the Supreme Court is the principle of the separation between Church and State which is incorporated into our Constitution as the First Amendment.  The argument is that the government which controls and regulates the public school system, must be neutral with respect to religion and must, therefore, forbid any religious instruction of any kind in the schools under its jurisdiction.

This is an impossible position, for it implies that there is a grey and in-between area in religion which can be described as neutrality.  One can be neutral over against God.  We remember, however, the words of the Lord Jesus which are applicable also to this situation: “He that is not for us is against us.”

The result of all this is that the public school system is not neutral at all, but is rather the propaganda agent for a terrible atheism.  There is no alternative.  I recall a statement made by Prof. A. A. Hodge of Princeton Seminary: “I am as sure as I am of the fact of Christ’s reign that a comprehensive and centralized system of national education, separated from religion, as is now commonly proposed, will prove the most appalling enginery for the propagation of anti-Christian and atheistic unbelief, and of anti-social, nihilistic ethics, individual, social, and political, which this sin-rent world has ever seen… It is capable of exact demonstration that if every party in the state has the right of excluding from the public schools whatever he does not believe to be true, then he that believes absolutely nothing, no matter in how small a minority the atheists or the agnostics may be.  It is self-evident that on this scheme, if it is consistently and persistently carried out in all parts of the country, the United States’ system of national popular education will be the most efficient and wide instrument for the propagation of atheism which the world has ever seen.”

This has indeed happened.  Obviously, the public school is not an acceptable alternative.

There is second the alternative of what is called the “shared time program.” This program has recently become very popular.  It is a sort of compromise between private school education and public school education.  Its main purpose is purely financial.  It intends to cut down the cost of education by saving money in financing private schools and by getting some benefit from the taxes which parents who support both school systems must pay.

The idea is this.  There are, supposedly, two different kinds of subjects in the curriculum.  There are “religious subjects” and there are “neutral” subjects.  The former presumably include Bible, courses in religion, perhaps ethics, history and maybe geography.  The latter include the sciences, mathematics, literature, gymnasium, etc. Because of this division in the curriculum the religious subjects only really need to be taught in the private school which is religiously colored.  The other subjects can very well be taught in the public schools where no religion enters in—and money can be saved for there will be no need to hire extra teachers, build laboratories and gymnasiums, etc.

We need not spend too much time pointing out why this alternative is also not acceptable to us.  Once again we come face to face with that error of neutrality.  There are no subjects in the curriculum which are neutral.  They rightly are all religious.  The Roman Catholics who are the main ones supporting this position ought to know better.  If this policy is adopted, once again the results will be that our children are given some instruction in the truth and some instruction in atheism.

The third alternative is, of course, the existing Christian Schools.  I have no intention of going into this alternative in detail tonight.  I presume that when the “need” for our schools was discussed, this matter was also discussed in some detail.  And, as I hope to point out, the basis for a school of our own excludes, by definition, the existing school even though they are “Christian.”

What is this unique basis upon which our schools are built and which makes them principally different from any other schools in the whole country?

The point is, of course, that we want to teach our children the truth.  A few remarks must be made about this.  God is Himself the truth.  He is the only truth that there is.  This is fundamental.  From this it follows that God’s revelation is the truth, for God’s revelation is that which God has Himself told us about Himself.  He has told us about Himself—bout His being, His glory, His works, His majesty and power, His excellent virtues.  This is the truth.

It might be worth our while to notice in passing that this gives to us an objective standard of truth.  This is worth emphasizing because this fundamental point is often contradicted today.  In fact, more and more, in the pulpit, in the classroom, in the home, in society, men rebel against an objective standard of truth.  They insist that truth is relevant; that truth is whatever a particular man wants to believe to be the truth; that whatever he may claim as truth is truth for him.  And on this basis he is permitted to live his life.  I hear even our own people sometimes talk here and there this kind of language.  They say, e.g., that a man who believes the lie is nevertheless to be commended because, obviously, he is sincere, and we must admire his sincerity.  As if to be sincerely wrong is some kind of Christian virtue.

No, rather we have an objective standard of truth.  And this standard of truth is to be found in God’s revelation.  We have the record of that revelation in the infallible Holy Scriptures; and we accept the Scriptures, therefore, as the written record of God’s Word concerning Himself which is the rule of faith and lie.

Concerning this revelation of God we must also add that it is to be found in both Scripture and in creation. (Let me remark parenthetically at this point that by “creation” I mean of course all God’s works in the world, including those works in the brute creation itself and God’s works in history.  They are equally God’s works, for God is sovereign over all.)  But just as soon as we say that God reveals Himself both in creation and in Scripture, we must hasten on to explain what this mean lest there be some false ideas about this.

This does not mean that there are two separate revelations of God.  The point is not that God speaks two kinds of language concerning Himself—one language to be found in the words of Scripture and the other to be found in the words of creation.  Somewhere along the line we have gotten this all mixed up.  But this is a sorry mistake nonetheless.  In fact, I am inclined to think that current teaching with regard to the period theory based on the evidences of scientific investigation is precisely rooted in this error.

Nor do we mean that God gives two different revelations for two different kinds of people.  Some want to hold on to this position.  God speaks to His people in Scripture, and God speaks to the wicked in creation.  This is not true either.

Rather, it ought to be established that both Scripture and creation constitute one revelation of God.  And the fundamental principle of unity is Jesus Christ.  Both in Scripture and creation God reveals Himself through Jesus Christ.  This has a couple of important implications.

First of all, this means that all revelation of God is only for the people of God.  There is no revelation in the truest sense of the Word to the wicked. I presume, now that I have said this, that this should have a little more explanation especially in the light of what Paul writes, e.g., in Romans 1.  But I cannot go into this now. Let it simply be established that the true revelation of God which conveys the true knowledge of God is for the elect alone.

Secondly, that all revelation is only through Jesus Christ means that there is always the closest possible relationship between the revelation of God in the Bible and in creation.  For several reasons (the chief of which is the horrible reality of sin and the curse) it is utterly impossible to see God in creation and know Him through creation without seeing Him and knowing Him first of all in Scripture.  Calvin in his Institutes correctly calls the Scriptures the spectacles through which we must look to see God in the things that are made.

Now the schools have particularly to do with the revelation of God in creation. You can understand somewhat therefore the beautiful harmony that exists between the Church to which you belong and the schools to which you send your children.  The Church is the means of grace where the revelation of God in Scripture is given to Gods people.  This is always first, and must always be first.  But when this happens in the Church as it does in our Churches, then the school takes up what the Church has done and teaches to the seed of the covenant the revelation of God in creation.  The Church puts on the spectacles.  The school points to where the pupil ought to look in God’s world to see God.

But the point which I must emphasize now is that every single subject in the curriculum is the revelation of the knowledge of God.  There is no single exception to this rule.  There cannot be.  If we are engaged in a search for truth in the school, we are engaged in a search for the knowledge of God.  It makes no difference whether we are studying history or hymnody, natural science or social science.  What I have said must of necessity be true.

This does not mean that one can divorce the teaching in school from the Bible.  Quite the contrary is true.  While Scripture is not a textbook on zoology, botony, ethics or astronomy, it is nevertheless a book which contains the fundamental principles which are included in every one of these subjects.  They are revelations of God to us only insofar as they take their starting point in the Scriptures and derive their fundamental principles from the Word of God.

This, at last, leads me to something which needs saying very badly.

You may have anticipated this already, and, indeed I hope you have.

There is, following from all I have said, an absolute antithesis between the truth and the lie.  There is a certain school of thought (and this school of thought is to be found primarily among Reformed thinkers) which maintains that this is not true.  This school maintains (and here again we are back to our old bug-a-boo) that there is a certain area of neutrality between the white of the truth and the black of the lie.  The members of this school maintain that there is in the world a whole host of what they like to call “bare facts.” These “bare facts” are, in themselves, neither truth nor lie, but somewhere in between. Or, as some others say, these “bare facts” are really truth, but a truth which the righteous and the wicked share together in common.  It is easy to produce some examples.  They are all the facts taught in the schools. That 2+2=4 is such a fact.  That Columbus discovered America in 1492 is another such fact.  The law of gravitation is yet another.  These bare facts (and myriads of others) are true for both believer and unbeliever.  That 2+2=4 is a fact which is not only true for a child of God, but it is also true for the wicked.  The difference, so they claim lies not in what a man says are the facts—all are agreed on this point.  The difference rather lies in what one does with these facts which are common to all.

I want to protest against this idea as vehemently as it is possible.  And I want to submit to you that if this is the case we have absolutely no business at all in building and operating a school of our own.

There is this absolute antithesis between the truth and the lie.  The antithesis is total.  So total in fact that when the believer says that 2+2=4 he tells the truth; but when the unbeliever says this he lies with a lie from the bottom of hell.

I hope you understand this.  The reason is clear enough it seems to me.  The wicked takes this “fact” that 2+2=4 and lies when he says it.  He lies because he is divorcing this fact form God.  He is using it to deny God. Consciously, purposely, deliberately, he is denying God when he says it.  And that makes it a lie. Satan is speaking through him.  It is a part of the plot of hell to overthrow God and to establish the kingdom of the devil.  This is black, awful and utterly repulsive to us.  Indeed when anyone who denies the truth in any of its parts says to his pupils “2+2=4” he is telling his pupils the most awful lie imaginable.

It is quite different in our schools.  The child of God takes this “fact” in his hands with fear and trembling.  He has something holy and pure that he has received.  He possesses a gift of God.  God is giving him a word through which God is telling this little insignificant speck of dust something about His own glorious and adorable being.  He sees this, understands it, hears the Word of God and trembles in awe and reverence.

It is at this significant point that we part ways with all existing schools. And because this is so true, so awfully true, we had better get on with this business of doing it.

(to be continued, D.V.)