This axiom, of course, explains so much about Bob Godfrey, but I digress before I begin. Don’t worry, somewhere, in a coffee shop in Escondido, Bob is insulting me to some bewildered stranger. Merry Christmas Bob!
Kevin Efflandt has an excellent reminder today at PCC. Our congregations (whether new or long-established) ought to always have available copies of the Reformed confessions for visitors and members. We might be surprised by the percentage of folk in our congregations who don’t have a copy of the Three Forms or who have lost theirs.
Let’s be brutally honest here. Many of our congregations don’t know their catechism very well. There are many reasons for this. Chief among them is that long ago many Reformed congregations stopped requiring their children to actually memorize the catechism. Don’t worry. I have a plan. If our children actually started memorizing the catechism they would learn our vocabulary, our way of reading Scripture, our theology, piety, and practice. Without that work it isn’t going to happen.
Parent: “My children don’t know Swahili.”
Pastor: “Did you teach your children Swahili?”
Parent: “Well, no, I thought they would just pick it up. After all, we send them to the local Swahili-themed school, they go to Swahili School on Sunday Mornings and you preach Swahili sermons every week. Isn’t that enough?”
Obviously, the answer is no, that isn’t enough. If the children aren’t made ever to actually sit down and memorize Swahili vocabulary and grammar, they will never actually learn enough Swahili to speak it, especially if it isn’t done at home.
If it is obvious that our children will never learn a second language without actually being made to learn it. They won’t just get it by osmosis or by induction. Yes, our children do learn their home language by induction, but even then we send them to school to learn proper grammar and the like. They learn their home language by induction because they hear it spoken constantly, but the catechism isn’t the home language. The first thing you say to your child in the morning is probably not, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” That might be a little over the top. It’s a second language, and that’s okay, but as a second language it must be learned deliberately.
Sending our children to Christian school (many of which have become deeply influenced by broad, revivalist, pietist, evangelicalism and where the catechism has come to be regarded as an artifact of “dead orthodoxy”) isn’t enough. Christian education (whether at home or in a traditional Christian school) is a wonderful and necessary thing, but we need to think carefully here. Christian school is not magic and we have an additional problem if, as has happened over the years, the local Christian school is, in some ways, actually working at cross purposes with your local confessional Reformed congregation.
One experience that begin to make me re-think the way things are often set up is my experience as a catechism teacher many years ago. The ninth graders walked into class as if it were the Bataan Death March instead of a 45 minute discussion about creation and redemption. Why were they so reluctant? Over several weeks they revealed that “we hear it all week long.” Well, as it turns out, they didn’t actually hear the catechism all week long but they didn’t distinguish between the daily Bible instruction they received at school from catechism instruction at church. Sunday morning catechism was just another school day to them.
I don’t blame them for being tired of it. I’m grateful for the hard work of those Christian school teachers who are trying to be faithful but if the faith has been reduced to just another “subject” like physics or PE then Sunday begins to look like every other day. In our effort to make the faith “relevant” and to make sure that our children develop a Christian “world and life view perhaps we have unintentionally made the Christian faith pedestrian. This is what I meant above by the verb “inure.” We’ve inoculated students against learning catechism at home with Mom and Dad and against studying it with the minister on the Sabbath.
I have a radical idea – well it might not be as radical as it seems–but in our current context it’s likely to seem radical. Perhaps it’s time for our Christian schools to stop teaching the Bible? Before you go on the warpath hear me out.
Is everyone authorized to teach the Bible? Yes, we believe in the priesthood of believers, but does that mean that just anyone can anoint himself a “Bible teacher”? I guess most of us would say no, it doesn’t. Well, who authorized the local Christian school to teach Bible? Most Christian schools are operated by a board, a private society — which is perfectly appropriate. Where does Scripture teach the establishment of such societies for Bible instruction? It doesn’t. To whom did Jesus give the “Great Commission?” He gave it to the visible, institutional church (Matt 28:18-20). He did not commission the local Christian school to baptize or to make disciples or to preach the gospel. Christ has ordained the visible church to preach the gospel, to administer the sacraments, to make disciples (Christian education) and to exercise church discipline.
The visible church is not called to operate schools, to teach history, geography, math, or physics. The school has these vocations. The Christian school has one sphere of responsibility and the Christian Church has another. They are complementary. There is one God who our Creator and the same God who is our Redeemer but that doesn’t mean that we don’t distinguish between creation and redemption. The same God who created and by his providence sustains and governs and operates through creation also redeems through the preaching of the gospel, but that doesn’t mean that we hike at church or preach in the forrest.
In the same way Christian schools should focus on creation (nature) and let the church instruct our children about redemption (grace). Do we really need our math teacher to show how math relates to redemption? No. What we need is for the math teacher to teach math and, perhaps, to show it relates to the rest of creation. Is our math teacher really trained to explain the Bible? Is our Christian school Bible teacher actually trained to explain the Bible? Does he or she read Hebrew and Greek? Has he or she taken courses in Church History, Systematic Theology, Biblical Theology and the like? Has the Christian school Bible teacher been examined by a consistory and a classis? I guess that few Christian school Bible teachers are so prepared. Most of them have a BA from a Christian college. Perhaps your Christian school Bible teacher had a Bible major.
Whatever the case regarding the Christian school teacher, your minister is so prepared and he doesn’t (or shouldn’t) pretend to be a math or physics teacher. Let us (follow Kuyper) and distinguish the two spheres of creation and redemption and our children will actually be better catechized because of it.