The Three-Legged Stool

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Matthew Biemers makes a compelling case for Christian day schools. But frankly, I don’t need convincing. I’ve reaped the benefits of Christian schools from first grade back in the Netherlands right through Calvin Theological Seminary. My kids have also been well-equipped to be contributing kingdom citizens through their Christian schooling. Margo and I are deeply grateful for the blessing of Christian schools. We’ve found them well worth the money and the significant sacrifices they demanded.

It’s sad to see so many miss out on this deeply formative influence in their lives. Increasingly the only Christian schools that are viable are those that attract mostly students outside of our denomination. Just as so many other Christians are catching the vision for Christian schooling, it seems that CRC parents are losing it. The reasons are diverse—and some are certainly understandable.

Christian day schools are very expensive and therefore require a great deal of sacrifice on behalf of many families.
Another consideration is that not all Christian schools are well equipped to offer what some of our children actually need. That problem is compounded by governments that provide necessary support services only through the public system.

Also, many of our folks live out of reach of established Christian schools. Maybe not every high school kid can be expected to spend three hours a day on public transit like yours truly did—though it did me no harm: I read lots and got a good jump on my homework.

However, Christian school education has always been expensive, not all students readily accommodated, and distance a challenge. So what explains the serious decline in numbers?  Could it be an erosion of those Christian values that once inspired us and spurred us on to make those difficult sacrifices? In many cases our commitment to a full-orbed biblical lifestyle and a fully integrated Christian community appears to be heading south. It seems that the dominant culture in which we live is making a definitive impact on the way we choose to live and how we raise our kids. That’s scary.

Christian schools and Reformed churches have served each other well, mutually supporting each other in proclaiming, celebrating, teaching, and living out the lordship of Jesus Christ inside and outside of church. We cannot afford to lose that.

Not to say for one minute that every kid must attend Christian day school—or that the public system and Reformed Christian teachers and students within those systems don’t make significant contributions!
But the fact remains that it takes a community to raise a kid in Christ’s ways, especially in a world as profoundly intertwined with secular culture as ours. We need to keep the three-legged stool of home, church, and Christian school as our default option.

Biemers gives us good reasons to do so. I hope you agree—also with your wallet. It shouldn’t just be parents who make those financial sacrifices. We all need to step up and make good on the promises we make right along with the parents at each and every infant baptism.

About the Author

Bob De Moor is a retired Christian Reformed pastor living in Edmonton, Alta.

See comments (4)


An unconditional "amen."

The question of Christian schools goes to the heart of the discussion on what makes the Christian Reformed who they are. Schools can be a plus, but they also present a limitation. Since most baptized children will be found in publicly-funded schools, the denominational stance has a necessary level of particularity to it. What then is the meaning of this particularity? Too often it remains a religious glossing on other sociological factors, principally those of national origin and of socio-economic status. Before we retreat to onze kindred, we should at least consider how this commitment relates to our understanding of baptism: are we baptized into one Body, or a local body? do the vows we make to raise and support the baptized child's faith only apply for that particular chld, or do they apply sacramentally to all baptized children? That is, should we think of baptism through the lens of the family, or of the larger (non-CRC) church? I would suggest that baptism pushes into areas of public conversation where the Christian school conversations are all too often muted, if that.

A better path would be to consider not only the question of Christian schools, but of our common societal engagement in education -- that's structure, and of how Christians actually participate in the educational enterprise.

I've attended local public schools, federal schools (Bureau of Indian Affairs), and Christian schools (one Lutheran, one Calvinist).  My children also have attended local public schools, federal schools (DoD Dependent schools), Christian schools (both in a Reformed-Baptist vein), and have also for a time been home schooled.

The best all-around school during the time I was connected with it, whether as a parent or student (schools go through cycles, too), was the DoD high school at Camp LeJeune from 2003-2005.

The worst was the DoD elementary school on NAS Sigonella, Italy (1995-98).  This failure was why we home-schooled for 3 years.

Of the three Christian school systems I've been connected with - Grand Rapids Christian (1979-82), Norfolk Christian School (Virginia, 1999-2003, 2005-07), and Sioux Falls Christian School (2007-11) - I'd rate the first as the best academically.  The other two high schools were, in my opinion, rather mediocre, especially in the humanities (English in particular), although Norfolk Christian had a very good math program.  All three had (and have) issues with isolationist (Festungskirche) and elitist tendencies which can mar the church's witness in the world.

What I've seen, however, in all of these instances is that the primary driver for school quality, academically, spiritually, and socially, rests with the community from which that school derives.  And I would also say that the primary driver for the quality of a student's education (again, academically, spiritually, and socially) rests with the home from which that student comes.  Ultimate responsibility for a child's education rests, and must rest, with the parents and/or guardians of that child.  Time, location, the personality of the child(ren), and myriad other factors may mean one school is more helpful to the parents than another at different stages in their child's development.

In this regard, it is worth noting that the vows we make at baptism are twofold.  First, to include the child in the community of faith, and second to help instruct them (receive in love, pray, help instruct, encourage, and sustain in the fellowship).  The community helps instruct.  It does not usurp instruction.

Christian schools can be an important part of that helping.  They are not the only means of helping.

What makes the topic of "Christian schools" a bit difficult is that the variables can be so many (e.g., what the particular public schools are like in the area, what the particular Christian schools are like in the area, the capacity of parents to home school, the costs of the Christian schools and the support available from the broader community, etc).

Bill's and Eric's posts contain valuable observations and make excellent points.

My major points would be these: (1) public schools are not lawfully allowed (in the US at least) to teach any subject through the lens of Christian worldview; (2) many public schools -- although not all -- obey the law as to point #1; (3) although it is more true as to some subjects than others, the worldview lens through which teaching happens makes a significant difference in all kinds of ways; (4) some parents are more capable than others of "making up for" or "countering" a contrary worldview that their kids may be taught under (whatever school they attend) -- and children/students vary on this as well; (5) Christian education is, admittedly, spendy; (5) on the whole, teaching children through a Christian worldview lens, however done, is much better than doing otherwise, but the many variables involved may cause parents to do otherwise.

Said in another way, Christian parents should have the goal of teaching their children all that should be taught through the lens of a Christian worldview, and while the precise way to do that may vary, the Christian schools created by Christians are often times a valuable or invaluable way for parents to get that done.