Over the last year or so there seems to have been a concerted effort to discredit any sort of “two-kingdoms” (or two-spheres) approach to Reformed ethics and this despite the long-history and pedigree in Reformed theology of distinguishing between the kingdom of God and the civil or common realm.
One of the arguments that some of the critics of the two-kingdoms/two-spheres approach is to suggest that its proponents either don’t or can’t believe in or practice Christian schooling. In part to demonstrate the falsity of such an argument, not long ago Westminster Seminary California dedicated its quarterly publication EVANGELIUM to the question of Christian education and schooling. Last month Christian Renewal, a small, Canadian magazine targeted at the Doyeweerdian, neo-Kuyperian, Dutch-Reformed community north of the border published a critique of the most recent issue of EVANGELIUM by a layman (a lawyer by trade) and URC elder from NW Indiana. The thrust of the critique is that though the essays advocated Christian schooling, they failed to do so correctly and so the advocacy of Christian schooling doesn’t count. Folks are discussing these questions at the OLTS. As part of that discussion I posted the following (lightly revised):
We have to distinguish between the pre-Christian, Christian, and post-Christian eras. If it’s true that we live in a post-Christian time/culture then we would seem to have most in common with the Christians of the early church who lived in predominantly non-Christian culture until well after the legalization of Christianity.
The testimony of the Treatise (not epistle!) by “Mathetes” (possibly Polycarp) to Diognetus (c. 150s), that the Christians had no distinct culture, no distinct language, etc, i.e., they were not Jews or Judaizers (Ebionites) is both fascinating and telling about how most of them related to the prevailing culture. The had no transformationalist agenda. One simply cannot find the early Christians (including the New Testament Christians) talking about “redeeming” anything but sinners. Nor does one find them talking about “transforming” the culture. Constantine himself merely legalized Christianity (and funded a few church buildings) and restored property stolen from Christians. Most of the decree is actually civil religion, In fact, it was explicitly pluralist in theology and with respect to religious toleration. Constantine, at that point anyway, seems to have been taking out fire insurance against offending any of the gods who might be able to bless the empire.
Much of the the discussion of two-kingdoms and Christian schooling seems to come from those who either don’t understand or accept that Christendom is over or who want to restore Christendom but as a matter of NT exegesis where do we see clear, unambiguous, unequivocal evidence that the apostolic church sett up distinctly Christian schools? This is not an argument against Christian schools but for those of us who who apparently don’t defend them correctly are wrong, where exactly is the biblical evidence to say that post-Israelite, post-theocratic, NT church established a pattern of distinctively Christian schools to avoid contaminating their children with paganism? This is not an argument for sending Christian children to state or private “secular” schools that are hostile to Christian theism but if we’re going to accuse other Christians of sinning because they question the Afscheiding-Doleantie-Neo-Kuyperian-CSI approach to Christian schooling, then shouldn’t the biblical evidence be pretty overwhelming?
Lacking such evidence perhaps this question is better discussed not as a matter of confession or sin but as a a matter of wisdom and prudence? Is it wise to send one’s children to be educated by those who are hostile to the faith when there are alternatives? Probably not but that’s not the same thing as violating the confession or sinning.
The URC Church Order requires elders to promote “God-Centered schooling” but it doesn’t stipulate how that is to be done and thus far in the life of the URCs that’s been a matter of Christian liberty.
Our confessions do not teach Christian schools per se. To borrow a phrase form our Schilderite/CanRC brothers, how is it that requiring not only a certain view of Christian schools but also a certain defense of them not a case of “extra-confessional binding”? Ursinus says that HC 103 is about what we today would call “seminary.” I should like to see the case for making Christian schools a mark of the church (as one of the commenters suggested) if only because that would be a surprise to de Bres and the the early Dutch Reformed churches. The point of the marks is to say: This is how you can tell a true church from a sect or a false church. Are the proponents of Christian schools (of which I’m one) really willing to say, however, that having not only the “right view” of Christian schools but also the right rationale and defense for them is of the essence of the church? That would seem like a pretty difficult case to make.
Such a claim is also odd since, as I recall, our critic used to argue with some vigor that the Federal Vision wasn’t really a threat to the United Reformed Churches (despite the fact that we’ve had two notorious proponents of the FV in our ministry who’ve since left to unite with the CRE; folk might also like to know that one of our classes just dealt with another FV case in the last year) and that it was a tempest in a tea pot. Interesting, I say, because 1) two synods of the URCs apparently disagreed with him by twice adopting three points on sola fide and the imputation of active obedience in response to the FV and by adopting the Nine Points against the FV in 2007 and 2) the FV question gets much closer, than the question of Christian schools, to all three of the marks of the church that we actually confess, namely, the “pure preaching of the gospel,” the “pure administration of the sacraments,” and the exercise of church discipline.
Our critic was unwilling to go to war over the FV (check out the old discussions on the Yahoo URCNA list) but he seems quite willing to go to war over not over whether Christian education/schooling is to be promoted by over how Christian education should be taught and defended. Thus, he seems like a latitudinarian on the gospel and a precisionist on Christian schooling. This suggests perhaps that his concern is more about the culture or Christendom than it is about those things with which the Reformed confession is explicitly concerned, e.g. justification, sacraments, and church discipline.
As a historical matter, the onset of the Enlightenment/Modernity created a crisis and what we think of as distinctively “Christian schools” were a response to that crisis and they became a defining part of the Afscheiding/Doleantie ecclesiastical-social culture and were a defining part of the Christian Reformed Church. Indeed, Christian schools were one of the principal reasons for the creation of the CRC.
I notice that the most recent issue of the Christian Renewal has an story about the death of a well-known Presbyterian minister who was also a member of a secret society. Here was another sticking point between the CRC and the RCA in the 19th century. it’s interesting to see that, according to the CR, it’s apparently okay to be a lodge member but it’s not okay to defend Christian schooling on the basis of wisdom. So one of the traditional marks of the CRC has gone by the wayside in favor of another?
The interesting historical thing here is that the commitment to Christian schools in the GKN and the CRC did not prevent either from losing its confessional identity, from becoming first broadly evangelical and, in the GKN, from moving quickly toward the mainline whither the CRC is headed.
This doesn’t mean that Christian schools are wrong but it does suggest that the hope invested in them, at least in the GKN and the CRC, has not “paid off” exactly, i.e., it hasn’t produced the intended results. Given the track record of the Christian school movement in the GKN and the CRC I’m a little puzzled by the temperature of the rhetoric about Christians schools and the invective used toward those who are defending Christian schools but apparently not defending them correctly.
Perhaps the time is right to take a different approach? If the neo-Kuyperian approach failed to preserve a confessionally Reformed church in the CRC, why do we think that if we do exactly what they did, the way they did it, we’ll have a different outcome.