I send my children to a private, Canadian Reformed Christian school. For some time now, I’ve had some thoughts on how we should use the blessings God has given us through these schools to benefit others. Recently, an article in Reformed Perspective Magazine caught my attention, as did a reader’s response and the editor’s reply. I’ve since written a letter of my own, but wanted to publish something here too.
Currently, our schools welcome only members of the supporting church communities. Those are, naturally, Canadian Reformed churches, who founded and built the schools. Occasionally a school will make an exception for a family that attends a church with which we have ecclesiastical fellowship (e.g. NAPARC). But in general, our schools are for Canadian Reformed families only, and therefore closed to everyone else.
And I can’t squelch the nagging feeling that we’re missing something.
For some time I’ve had concerns about our schools. I grew up going to a Christian school and am thankful for the biblical worldview and solid education I received to this day. I want to maintain that. But I also know that sequestering our kids so completely can have unintended consequences too.
I’m not talking about sending them in the first place. Sheltering them for a time from what sometimes seems like a public education system gone mad is appealing. Moreso, teaching them, through each subject that they are God’s children and calling them to repentance and the Christian life are what I value most.
I think where I get most uncomfortable is with an attitude that sneaks up on us – children and parents alike – that we’re better than those who don’t go to our church or school. Put a different way, when our schools are closed off to everyone but us, we become scared of those around us. We know we’re called to follow Christ and that makes us different, but it sometimes gets translated into “they’re not like us, so we should avoid them.”
Taken too far, the closed system becomes entangled with a church cultural fear of our neighbours and a false assurance about what being in the covenant means.
God has blessed us with Christian schools
In my opinion, at the heart of the closed school model is the idea that we have built something and that it is ours. We want to protect it, which is good, but we’ve somehow decided that protecting it means not letting anyone else have it. This applies to unbelievers, and as I mentioned, to other Christians too. And I think that’s wrong.
The truth is, we haven’t built it. I hear this often at school meetings, but I wonder sometimes if we really believe that. If we did, we wouldn’t be so afraid to step out in faith, because we have an awesome God who does wondrous things. Instead of hoarding this blessing, I think we should consider what God’s purposes for the school might be. Did he really give it to us to keep it to ourselves? God has blessed us immeasurably with these schools, and now we’re going to stand before him and say, “we will not share them with sinners”. This may not be expressed out loud, but it seems to lurk just beneath the surface. We are worried that “they” are going to come into “our” clean house and infect it with all manner of sin and evil.
Which leads to a false sense of security about being in the covenant. The Bible teaches clearly that we are ALL conceived and born into sin. I don’t want to argue here about the timing of regeneration amongst covenant children, but we would all agree that each of us is dead in sin without God’s gift of faith through his Holy Spirit. Our children, like you and I, must contend with our sinful nature until we are fully healed and enter heaven. That means our biggest concern should be with the sin inside US, and inside our children. Does this mean we shouldn’t discern whom our kids play with? No. But thinking that only non-christian kids will be a bad influence on ours reeks of a false belief about our covenant children.
Let me speak specifically, to a few common arguments against opening our schools.
Our kids are not missionaries.
I’ve heard this often, and I agree. But classifying all Christian witness as missionary work is incorrect. Setting up a Christian school, with a Christian worldview, organized and lead by Christians, but open to all is not sending them out. We would be inviting others IN! When I let my kids play with neighbour kids or join the public soccer team, I do not expect them to evangelize per se. But I do teach my child to live like a Christian wherever they go, including at a Christian school. Letting our light shine in every sphere of our life is not the same thing as evangelism. Having them sit beside a non-christian in a school developed to teach from a biblical worldview is not asking them to evangelize. Living as a Christian in the world is simply the call on every believer at all times.
Other open Christian schools would prefer not to be.
Our churches have been faithful in prioritizing Christian education. We have sacrificed, volunteered and worked hard to make them not only available, but accessible to our members. Though I would consider Christian schools a privilege and a blessing, you need not be rich to come to our schools. Not all Christian schools have the ability to keep costs down, or to keep the doors closed to other denominations. They need wider support. Technically, we don’t. Not yet, anyway.
As a result, we look at schools that have opened their doors wider to other denominations and we see how over time, some have lost their distinctly reformed character. I understand this fear, which means we cannot stop prioritizing Christian education in our churches.
But I would like to challenge the belief that these other Christian schools would prefer to be “closed” if they could. Would they actually prefer that Christians of one denomination only would be best? As I mentioned earlier, I like that I can provide some shelter for my children, but it is never my intent to completely block them off from unbelievers and different Christians around us.
Bad Company Spoils Good Morals
This one actually gets me a bit hot under the collar. The Bible tells us to avoid sharing company with fools and unrepentant sinners because there’s potential that we might slide into an immoral lifestyle. And yet Jesus ate with prostitutes and tax collectors and we’re called to share the reason for the hope that we have with those around us. How can we do that if we can’t hang out with sinners? Did we forget that we are too? (I’m not even going to entertain the idea that Christians from other denominations are considered bad company, even if some believe that to be true.) This way of thinking twists the warning of keeping the company of fools and assumes that bad morals are only found OUTSIDE our church community.
We all would agree that every school has church kids that we’d prefer your kids didn’t play with. And if we’re honest, we might also agree that sometimes (or maybe often) it’s our kid who’s being the bad influence. I too appreciate the protection our schools can provide from social-engineering elites who want to push a secular worldview, but sending them to Christian school does not absolve me of knowing who my kids are playing with and what’s happening on the playground. It’s my responsibility as a parent, in any school, to know what’s going on. MY child needs to hear the clarion call to repent at school. Non-christian kids need to hear that call too.
We can reach our neighbours in other ways.
This is the final argument, that attempts to find middle ground. It says, we should engage our neighbours at home, or on the soccer field, but we don’t need to invite them to our school to love them. While technically true, it rings false, because if we have the opinion that we can’t mix with them at school, there’s a good chance we’ll have the same view at home. There is so much irony in this idea. We would all agree that our greatest expression of love comes through telling them about Christ, and yet, we insist on keeping our schools out of reach. It’s as if we’re saying, “yes love them, but don’t share one of the richest resources God has given us to love them with.” Telling them about Christ is precisely what our Christian schools would do!
Open Christian schools are a more faithful use of our gifts.
For all the protection we want to provide and all the knowledge we want to instill, our children are not called to hide their lamps under a bushel during their formative years. In fact, if we teach our children that that’s how it works, they may never learn to let them shine. We send our children a strong message about who deserves salvation and who doesn’t when we teach them to be suspicious and afraid of their neighbours. At that point, with that attitude, I don’t believe we’re protecting our kids anymore. I think we may be harming them, and warping the full message of the gospel.
And if this is the prevailing attitude in our schools, then it’s likely a reflection of the church. An “us” verses “them” mentality is at least partially, if not completely to blame for why most of our churches rarely grow in any way other than from within. I don’t believe God has given us the great riches of the reformed faith, a robust church community, and schools founded on those things so that we can keep them to ourselves under the guise of “protecting” them. Because let’s be honest. It’s not just our kids we’re sheltering. We’re avoiding engaging those around us too because it’s just easier and safer to hang around with like-minded people. To paraphrase a quote from Rosaria Butterfield:
“In places where everyone thinks alike, I find that very little thinking actually takes place.”
A time of building and establishing our schools is over. It’s time to seriously reflect on what God has given us, and what he might want us to do with it.