Sunday School in the Protestant Reformed Churches

This is the second of three articles by Mr. Doezema on the topic of Sunday Schools. (2)
In the last issue we attempted to show that Sunday School teachers, though not called by God officially through the church institute, do, nevertheless, perform an important work in the church. Through their instruction the covenant seed gains familiarity with the Bible stories, and acquires a deeper insight into these stories. But his is only the beginning.
In discussing the importance of Sunday School we could not fail to call attention to the program of memory work. There’s little doubt that this constitutes one of the most important aspects of Sunday School. The importance of committing to memory as much of scripture as we possibly can, simply cannot be overemphasized. God’s Word should be very close to our hearts. There are many passages that are so beautiful, so full of comfort and instruction for God’s people, that to have them fixed in one’s memory would be of untold value to the child of God. The Sunday School papers this year provide two verses to be studied each week. One is part of a passage which is to be learned in its entirety. The other is a verse which illustrates a truth brought out in the lesson story. We feel that both of these are important. By the end of the season, the students will have not only a Bible passage memorized, but also various scattered proof-texts which cannot help but aid them in their later dealings with Scripture, Whether that be in Societies or in their own individual Bible study. To my knowledge, catechetical instruction does not include the memorization of verses on the systematized level of the Sunday School. The day schools undoubtedly provide it, as do, perhaps, some homes. But even if one were to assume that children memorize a great deal of Scripture in the schools, and that every single home had a systematic program of memorization, it cannot possibly be argues that a little more would be useless. It’s more likely true, though, that some parents would tend to neglect this all-important area of instruction, and are, therefore, happy that the Sunday School provides both the program and the incentive.
That brings us to what we consider the most important service performed by the Sunday School, namely, that it provides opportunity for the parents to busy themselves, with their children, in a study of God’s Word and a discussion of those things which pertain to God’s kingdom. Now, I’m not a parent, myself, so I can’t speak from experience. But it seems to me that as the children become older and go off to school, it would become increasingly difficult to sit down with them and study the Bible. The temptation would be to limit that “study” to the reading of a chapter at the supper table. I cannot help but think that I, were I a parent, would be pretty thankful that the Sunday School provided something with and towards which to work. The Sunday School papers deal with the Bible form the historical-chronological point of view. I, as a parent, could, therefore, use those papers to study the historical narrative with my children. I could read the Bible passage to them, study the lesson story in the paper with them, memorize the verses with them, and review both the story and the verses.
It is, of course, the duty of the parents to instruct their children in the fear of the lord. Concerning the commandments of God, we read in Deut. 6:7, “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.” “To see these children, when come to the years of discretion, instructed and brought up in” the truths of God’s Word is, and should be, of primary concern to covenant parents. And yet, we have our own sinful natures with which to contend. It’s all too easy to be so busy with “pressing” matters, that there’s no time left to do that which should come first. Perhaps we even feel somewhat unqualified and would prefer to leave this instruction to the catechism and the school. Fact is, though, we are qualified; and for the degree to which we are deficient, shame on us. As adults, we should have a knowledge of and “feel” for God’s Word that reflects the years spent in catechism, society and under the preaching of the Word on the Sabbath. I dare say that, with few exceptions, the qualifications are there. But the same cannot always be said about the will. And that’s where Sunday School could come in. Just as we attend the various Societies to provide ourselves opportunity to be busy with spiritual things, we could make use of the Sunday School program to serve not only as a stimulus for, but also an aid in our instruction of our children.
I hope I’ve made myself clear. It’s something that I find to be true in myself. And I figure that others must experience somewhat the same thing – I’m not all that different. Permit me to illustrate, for the sake of emphasis and clarity. It happens that I make a point of preparing rather thoroughly for Mr. and Mrs. Society Bible discussions. Now, even though I am well aware of the fact that I profit immensely from this study, I know very well that, were it not for the fact that Society was meeting soon, I would have been just too busy to have spent time studying that chapter, or any chapter, in depth. Society, therefore, was of great benefit to me because it forced me to something that I otherwise would have sinfully neglected. And I think that I would experience the same sort of thing in connection with instruction of my children. I would find myself busy almost every night and would, thus, rationalize away my responsibility as a parent. But with the Sunday School paper staring me in the face, I would be forced to have second thoughts. If I encouraged my children to take Sunday School seriously, and if I took it seriously myself, then I’m sure that I would pick up that paper and go to work. That lesson, you see, would not only give me some content with which to work with my children, but it would also provide me with a goal, something towards which to work, namely, an understanding of the lesson and a mastery of the verses. As I said, I’m sure it would help me; and I can’t help but think that others would find the same thing to be true if they would only give it a try.
It goes without saying, therefore, that I find an important place for Sunday School, as a society, within our churches. It is not, as we mentioned before, on a level with catechism. Attendance at catechism is required, as is attendance at church services. Sunday School, on the other hand, is a voluntary sort of thing. And yet, it seems to me that parents are saying something about themselves and their sense of values if they do not send their children to Sunday School, and send them well prepared.
So far we’ve dealt only with the proper attitude of parents toward Sunday School. How about that of the church? I imagine that in all of our churches, Sunday School teachers are approved by the consistory. This is as it should be. The teachers are giving instruction to the covenant seed. It’s important that this instruction be given by those who understand the truth, who have no leanings toward the lie. The consistory is, naturally, in a much better position to pass judgment on the spiritual qualifications of prospective teachers than is the superintendent of Sunday School. But I would think that this ought not to be the extent of the consistory’s concern. Even though the Sunday School is not the organ of the consistory, through which it provides instruction for the youth of the church, the consistory should have an interest in that instruction, an interest that goes beyond mere approval of prospective teachers. They should visit Sunday School classes periodically as well as the teachers’ meetings. A visit to the teachers’ meeting will, doubtless, make the superintendent squirm; and visits to the classes will do the same for the teachers. But that’s all right. It keeps them “On their toes.” Besides, it tells the pupils something about the importance of Sunday School. Most importantly, with respect to that instruction being given, the consistory cannot be too careful. We could mention, incidentally, that at First Church, at least, the minister visits the classes occasionally. In my opinion that does a lot for the children. If the minister thinks that Sunday School is important, then, certainly, they should too.
What do you know about that? We still need more space. How about it, Mr. Editor, can you squeeze us in again next time? Most assuredly. Editor

Originally Published in:
Vol. 30 No 6 October 1970