Covenant Education: Fellowship within Our Christian Schools

After reading through the mission statements and goals displayed on the websites for various Protestant Reformed Christian schools, I found that each statement directly related the development of these schools to the doctrine of the covenant as confessed by the Protestant Reformed Church. Since the children of believers are members of the covenant of God, parents have the duty to see that their children are “piously and religiously educated,” as stated in the form for the administration of baptism. Protestant Reformed Schools were established to ensure that this demand of the covenant was upheld—our parent run schools provide an extension of the scripture-based instruction found within the church and home. Because children are included in the covenant, God demands that parents rear them in his fear, for “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10a).

An article by Professor David Engelsma entitled “A Covenant School,” states that the main purpose of Christian education is that children grow up to serve God and praise him. Even though our Protestant Reformed Schools are not meant to be the complete source of moral teaching for covenant children, godly instruction cannot help but include the doctrines contained in the scriptures and our Reformed confessions. Our Christian schools must teach children how to live in their relationships with God; this in turn should lead children to see how they must live in relation to one another.

Although the doctrine of the covenant is clearly explained and connected to Christian education in respect to the baptismal duty of parents to properly instruct their children in the truth, I feel that the idea of the covenant needs to be applied to a different aspect of education. While all of the mission statements of our Protestant Reformed Schools carefully explain how the schools are an extension of the home, and thus, are integral in the covenant education of our children, not many speak of the covenant in respect to the bonds of friendship and fellowship that are so vital in the Christian’s life. A Protestant Reformed education allows students to develop friendships within the sphere of the covenant, and makes it possible for older generations to share their knowledge of God’s word with a new generation that is in desperate need of the truth.

One of the greatest benefits of Christian, covenantal education is the relationship created between different students. Attending a good, Christian school allows solid friendships to be formed. Some of our churches do not have the numbers and resources to develop a specifically Protestant Reformed school for their covenant children, but for others, children have the blessing to receive a Protestant Reformed education from kindergarten to 12th grade. During these years, important relationships are made. At a time when children are developing in their faith, our christian schools allow them the freedom to grow spiritually within the safety of a solidly Reformed setting. When the child matures, graduates, and leaves the confines of their Christian schools, Lord willing, they will have been trained in the way that they should go, and will not depart from that instruction (Prov. 22: 6). They will have a friend base that reaches beyond their home church, including members from other Protestant Reformed churches, and by God’s grace, these friendships will outlast the post-school years and provide them with the benefits of the communion of the saints.

Covenant education teaches children that their relationship with others is just as important as their relationship with God. Children are taught to love, fear, and obey God, and in this obedience, to love their neighbors as they love themselves. This is taught as early as kindergarten when they learn the “golden rule.” They must treat others as they would like to be treated (Matt. 7:12). This implies that the sporty student must treat his ‘less coordinated’ neighbor with respect; the straight ‘A’ student must not look down upon the average student; the Hollister-clad stud must not mock the skinny boy in a faded t-shirt.

It would be wonderful if we could say that none of the above instances happen in the Protestant Reformed schools. It would be nice if we could say that every student that has grown up with a Christian education will graduate with close-knit, god-fearing friends. Yet, the truth of the matter is, we are not free from the same sins as the world. We cannot turn a blind eye and assume that we are above this. A Christian school is not sinless, but it can and must discipline for such sins. The covenant that we have with God is unchanging. It remains despite all of our shortcomings; still, a covenant without conditions doesn’t give us the option to sit back and allow sins to fester. If we confess to be part of the Covenant of God, we must live in a way that shows this.

The doctrine of the covenant is not complete without the doctrine of the antithesis. Covenant education allows students to walk the antithetical life. In the Covenant, God called us apart from the world. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (I John 2:15). In the midst of a sinful world, we must live to praise God. As God’s friend-servants, we must live a life that shows our love and devotion to God despite the world around us. The causes of Christ’s kingdom need to come before our desires.

Our friendships must be formed within the church, home, and school realm. The antithesis requires separation from the wickedness of the world, and that is especially important in our relationships. There are so many instances in scripture where friendships with the world create disaster for the people of God—look at Lot and his wife and the Kings of Israel. Yet, it is the beautiful friendships between believers that are a blessing I Samuel 18 speaks of the covenant made between David and Jonathan and the joys that their friendship gave them in the midst of their trials; look at Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, as they labored through their imperfections and together learned the importance of God’s word. Friendships based on common beliefs and doctrines are so special for the children of God. Covenant education allows for this.

Beyond the friendships that are developed between students, the fellowship between teachers and students is also vital in covenant education. Teachers must establish a relationship with their students that permits their wisdom to be freely shared between the generations. Psalm 78 emphasizes the importance of this when it speaks of the older generation sharing the works of the Lord with the present generation and the generations to come. It’s crucial that teachers are examples of godliness for their students in their relationships with other members of the staff. The covenant requires teachers to view each of their students as a child of God, and therefore, the covenant teacher has the high calling to watch for the souls of his students and give account of their performance in that duty (Heb. 13:17). They must not only share the liberal arts, but incorporate Christ into each of those subjects.

It is from covenant homes, the church, and especially the schools, that children learn how to respect those in authority over them. Every day children must open their minds to the instruction given them by their teachers. Since both teachers and students are laboring for the common goal of glorifying Christ, from early on, a special form of fellowship is created. This respect by children for the generations that have come before will prove beneficial in their lives as members of their individual church congregations. Covenant fellowship as taught in the schools will be reflected within the communion of the churches these students and teachers belong to.

The doctrine of the covenant is the basis for our Protestant Reformed Christian schools as it gives the requirement for parents to train their children in the truth; but even more so, the covenantal bonds of friendship and fellowship between students and teachers clearly demonstrate how vital covenant education is for the Christian. In the end, as children continue in the things they have learned in the Holy Scriptures, they will become wise unto salvation through their faith in Jesus Christ (II Tim. 3:14, 15).