The Concern of the Reformation for Christian Education (10)

We conclude our evaluation of the Reformation's concern for Christian education with the observation that the Reformation did not adequately guard against the subversion of Christian education by humanism. This leaven eventually leavened the whole lump of Christian education in Germany and ruined it. This has significance for us who have the zeal of Luther and Calvin (and Paul and Moses and Abraham) for the Christian instruction of covenant children. For humanism is a persistent threat to the Christian school and is, at present, in the process of destroying much of Christian education.

Humanism, as the word itself indicates, is the evil of making man, rather than God, the end of all things. It is a sin of man's spirit, or heart; humanism is a spiritual power. The humanist is man-centered in all his thinking, willing, and doing. His ultimate goal is man's good and glory. Humanism, therefore, is nothing else than the basic sin of man from the beginning, pride. The essence of this pride is man's will to be god, in God's stead. In the sphere of education, humanism fulfills its lust to deify man by making man the center of the whole educational enterprise, by directing all of the education towards the goal of man's glory, and by subjecting all of the education to the authority of man's will and wisdom. This last piece of arrogance is an unmistakable mark of humanism. Although a sin of the spirit, humanism always manifests itself by refusing to subject all of education to the Word of God, sacred Scripture. It denies, or removes, or smothers God's Word and replaces it with a word of man, whether that be the word of Plato, or Darwin, or Mao, or the latest sage in educational philosophy. 

Luther clearly saw that this was a basic evil in the schools before the Reformation. In his trumpet blast of 1520, "An Open Letter to .the Christian Nobility of the German Nation concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate," in proof of his claim that "the universities also need a good, thorough reformation," he wrote: "What else are the universities . . . than as the book of Maccabees says, 'Places for training youth in Greek glory,' in which loose living prevails, the Holy Scriptures and the Christian faith are little taught, and the blind, heathen master Aristotle rules alone even more than Christy" Luther was enraged because of the dominance of the philosophy of Aristotle over all of the education of that day. He railed against Aristotle, and, by implication, against every form of humanistic education: "It grieves me to the heart that this damned, conceited, rascally heathen has with his false words deluded and made fools of so many of the best Christians. God has sent him as a plague upon us for our sins." All of Luther's writings on education breathe his zeal for God's glory, as the one great goal of Christian education. Because this goal is attainable only if the Scriptures rule in the schools, he demanded schools in which the Word of God alone would reign. 

Nevertheless, humanism soon intruded itself into the Christian schools established by the Reformation. There were several reasons for this, First, humanism was a powerful force in the world at the time of the Reformation. It was developing and asserting itself in that great movement known as the Renaissance, which arose and spread alongside the Reformation. Secondly, some of the humanists allied themselves with the Reformation, at least for a time, and thus exercised some influence upon it. Such were Erasmus and Hutton. Thirdly, not all of the Reformers remained untainted by humanism. It was the delusion of some then, and remains the delusion of some today, that humanism and the Christian faith are compatible, even allies. The chief culprit was Melanchthon, who never completely cast off the humanism with which he was infected. But it was Melanchthon to whom was entrusted the task of establishing Christian schools in Germany. It was he who gave concrete form to Luther's ideas concerning Christian education. Fourthly, the Reformation handed the Christian schools over to the civil government, from the very beginning. This, by itself, guaranteed that the schools would soon lose their Christian character. 

Looking back, we are sad that the flame of Christian education, rekindled to burn so brightly at the Reformation, was soon snuffed out by an enemy of light not sufficiently guarded against. We recognize in this lamentable fact the truth of the warning of Luther that the Devil is the great foe of the Godly education of the children of the covenant. Here also, we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world, spiritual wickedness in high places (Ephesians 6:12).

This same evil, humanism, sorely afflicts Christian education today. Its presence and power are apparent from its unmistakable marks. There is little, if any, zeal in the schools for God. God is rarely, if ever, mentioned. If He is mentioned, He serves only to further man's purposes. Man is at the center of things. Whether the professors and students will say so openly or not, "divine man" is the end of education. One important aspect of this idolatry in education is the uncritical acceptance and adoration of the wisdom and beauty of the world. There is a glorying in the culture of the natural man. So far, then, from rearing the children of the covenant to be citizens of the City of God, these schools actually push the youth towards this or that city of this world. They are, as Luther bitterly remarked of the schools of his day, "Places for training youth in Greek glory." This characteristic of humanistic education, its sin of the spirit, although plain enough to those who have eyes to see, is difficult to pin down. It permeates all of the education, but it does so subtly. When the humanistic professor, or the administration that connives with him, is called to account, he can shift and evade and piously call on God and John Calvin. This is impossible, however, with the other basic mark of humanism, its denial of Holy Scripture. Humanism in education refuses to have the Holy Scriptures as supreme, unchallenged authority. The humanist will not bow before the Scriptures with an unquestioning, child-like, humble, total acceptance of them as the very Word of God. Humanism cannot have Scripture as the only authority, because Scripture proclaims the glory of God as the end of all things. The humanist will not submit to the Word of God, because he is a proud man, who insists on the authority of the word of man. By this objective standard, we are to judge the schools. In education also, one tries the spirits by the touchstone of the Word of God. 

The denial of Holy Scripture in the schools is a raging plague today. One fundamental form of this denial is the attack upon the Scriptural account of the creation of the world by God in six days, as recorded in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. The Word of God is subdued by the words of Charles Darwin, that all things originated by evolution. Denial of the account of creation is necessarily accompanied by a denial of the historicity (truthfulness) of the account of Adam's fall in Genesis 3. This, in turn, leads to the denial of the entrance of death into the good world by the sin of Adam, Paul to the contrary in Romans 5and I Corinthians 15 notwithstanding. 

This assault on the Word of God in the realm of Christian education and the tremendous implications it has for all of education, indeed, for all of life, are clearly evident in Jan Lever's little book,Where Are We Headed? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970). Lever is professor of zoology at the Free University of Amsterdam, the university established by Abraham Kuyper to be an institution of Christian and Reformed learning. Lever's book is the publication of "nine short talks on the general subject of the Bible and science." In this work, Lever teaches that the earth is about five billion years old, having come into existence "through some astronomical event in the solar system" (p. 43); that man is about two million years old; that life evolved by the sun's rays striking upon the soup-like oceans; that all of the forms of life now existent evolved from the simplest life-form over billions of years; and that man gradually evolved from the animals, specifically, from a certain kind of ape. Although, like most "theistic evolutionists," Lever presumably would hold that God may have the credit of having created the original matter, he does not even expressly state this. Lever summarizes his teaching this way:

In order to see clearly the position of man one must, as it were get a bird's eye view of the entire development we have sketched. In a process that took billions of years, we see how the initially uninhabited earth gradually became populated. Step by step the ladder was climbed to the ever higher possibilities that lay hidden in creation. First, organic matter, then very simple forms of life, then plants; after that animals that could observe with their senses, then the successively higher structured types of vertebrate animals, with brains which became bigger and bigger, and more and more complex, and with behavior patterns that became ever richer and more varied. Then, at the end of this long evolution, within creation, from a branch of the primates, there emerges man, a creature who lives on an entirely new level (p .45).

This view of the origin of the world has far-reaching implications, which Lever is not afraid to make explicit. Sin and death did not enter the world at a certain time because of the disobedience of Adam, but they are simply part of the nature of the creation from the very beginning. Lever ascribes man's violent, murderous nature to man's origin from the animals, as a carnivore (p. 56). The effect of these notions is to absolve men of their guilt, apart from the blood of Jesus Christ. In asserting the evolution of the world, Lever disparages the idea that "God in the course of the creation week reached down from above, as it were, several times in order to add completely new things out of 'nothing.'" In fact, he flatly' asserts: "The Creator does not intervene locally or temporally." This is, at one stroke, to deny all of the miracles of the Bible, including the Incarnation and the Virgin Birth. One aspect of the gradual evolution of man is the development also of religion, from within man himself. At first, man was polytheistic, and "A caste of priests also arose, whose task it was to channel and to give form to the expression of religious emotions" (p. 49). In other words, the worship of God and the knowledge of God were not a matter of God's own self-revelation, but a matter of the gradually developing religious consciousness of the humanized apes. In keeping with this pagan notion, man has made his own laws governing his conduct: "On the basis of his experience he forms rules for his conduct, which in turn become norms within the context of freedom" (p. 46).

This is a science lesson that does not remain in the science classroom, but goes out radically to revise every subject in the curriculum. It aims at the creation of a whole new world-and-life-view on the part of the students and, thus, the restyling of the Christian's entire life in the world. 

Basic to this teaching is Lever's denial of the authority of Scripture and his replacement of God's Word with another authority. Lever rejects Genesis 1and Genesis 2 (as well as Psalm 33Proverbs 8Hebrews 11:3, and innumerable other passages) as the true, authoritative revelation of the Holy Spirit concerning the origin of the world. He prefers the two-fold authority of man's mind and the latest speculations of scientists, which he calls "modern science." He rejects Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, because "anyone who reads the Bible with common sense can reach the conclusion that a literal reading of the Genesis account is wrong" (p. 27). "Common sense" is the criterion. This same "common sense" rejects a birth from a virgin, the resurrection of dead bodies, the swimming of axe-heads, and every other miracle. Having grown fat and lusty by devouring the wonderful works of God, it will proceed to deny the wonderworking, Triune God Himself. Common sense is another name for the mind of natural man, which is spiritually ignorant and foolish. The other constituent element of Lever's authority is "modern science." When he asks about the origin of life, he at once turns to "the view of present-day scientific thought concerning the origin of this earthly reality" (p. 31). When he leads us in a search for the origin of man, he advises us that "we do well fast to examine what kind of scientific data are available to us concerning the origin of man" (p. 37). He does not first examine the Word of God, Who should be able to tell us about our origin, but "scientific data," for Scripture is not his authority. This denial of Scripture is the objective, perfectly plain mark of humanism lording it over education. 

The other characteristic of humanism is also obvious in Lever's thought, namely, the crowning of man as god. At the conclusion, when Lever must explain Christianity's significance in this evolved world, he declares that Christ arid the gospel "can really assist us in our search for solutions to the great problems of today and tomorrow. For Christ teaches us the universal equality of all men without distinction of race or color. Christ teaches us social concern, love of neighbor, peaceableness and personal responsibility. Following him therefore means the arresting of aggression in all its forms, and the realization that brute force should be replaced by a real solidarity, each of us being prepared to make sacrifices to his fellow man" (p. 58). Earthly progress, earthly peace, earthly comforts, that is, Man, are the goal of all things. God, Jesus, and the gospel are able to advance Man's cause. This is their place. 

Lever has the name of a Christian man. He calls himself Reformed. He teaches in a Reformed university. He is by no means unique, but he is a particularly clear example of the threat to Christian education today by humanism. Not only the science courses, but all of the subjects in the schools are cut loose from the authority of Scripture and are, in this instance, enslaved to the lordship of Charles Darwin, who was a "damned, conceited, rascally heathen." 

The fruits of such an education are dreadful, far worse than the consequences of illiteracy. Calvin warned us long ago, in his commentary on I Corinthians 3:19:

The liberal arts and all the sciences . . . must be looked upon as empty and worthless, until they have become entirely subject to the word and Spirit of God. If, on the other hand, they set themselves in opposition to Christ, they must be looked upon as dangerous pests, and, if they strive to accomplish anything of themselves, as the worst of all hindrances, and are much to be dreaded."

Humanistic education produces a proud, carnal, skeptical, but capable breed of young people, capable, that is, to implement their pride, carnality, and skepticism in every sphere of life. It tolerates and even promotes immoral behavior, so that the schools are, as Luther complained, places "in which loose living prevails." Lever's own explanation of humanistic education makes plain that the answer to the question which is the title of the book, "Where are we headed?" is, in simple, sober truth: The Kingdom of Antichrist. 

What, in the light of all this, must we do, who have inherited the Reformation's concern for Christian education and who desire that our children not head where man-centered education will drive them? We must establish and maintain sound, faithful Christian schools, to the utmost of our power. We must insist on education that is God-centered and God-glorifying and that is, for that reason, absolutely, but joyfully, subject to the authority of Holy Scripture, God's Word. This is not the suppression of truth, not in science, not in history, not in music, not in any facet of God's creation, but it is the liberation of truth. 

To have this education, we must constantly take heed to ourselves as churches. There is a vital relationship between the school and the church. In this relationship, the school, in its way, helps the church. But the main relationship is the dependence of the Christian school upon the church. This is not to say that the Christian school is a church-school, or that it is to be dominated by the clergy. But it is to say that the school will not be and cannot be stronger than the church to which belong the parents, the children, the teachers, and the Board that make up the school. It is no accident that the establishment of truly Christian schools arose in history out of the reformation of the Church. Show me schools that are free from humanism, and I will show you churches that burn with the 1ove of God and zeal for His glory. Show me schools that magnify man, challenge the Scriptures, and tolerate wicked behavior, and I will show you churches that have departed from Christ. This is why the labor and sorrow of conservative Christians expended over their schools are an exercise in futility. Reform the Church, and the reform of the schools will follow.


Education in the world today is overwhelmingly in subjection to lord Man. China educates its millions in total subjection to lord Mao; Russia, to lords Marx and Lenin; America, to lords Plato, Darwin, and Dewey; dead heathens, all of them. It seems good to us, and right, to instruct our children under the sovereign Lordship of Jesus Christ, the only living Lord, "Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible . . . all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist . . . that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell." 

(The Board of the Loveland Protestant Reformed Christian School has printed, in quantity, a brief pamphlet entitled, "The Christian School: Why?". If anyone desires to have a copy, or a number of copies, he can obtain them, without charge, by writing the Board at 705 E. 57th St., Loveland, CO 80537)