By Tom Patete. A toddler learns the language of faith as she memorizes the timeless truths about God in First Catechism. A first-time Sunday school teacher tells of his growth in the doctrines of grace through teaching the primary class. A sixth grader professes faith in Christ after lessons about Stephen in Acts 7. Parents report that their young teen began personal devotions as a result of being consistently taught God’s word in Sunday school. A recently divorced mother is comforted by her daughter’s reminder that God is sovereign.
These testimonies provide a small glimpse into the impact diligent Christian education can have. Not just any Christian education carries such weight, but only that which is doctrinally driven. Above all, it must be rooted in our Reformed heritage, biblically straightforward, and warmly personal. The fruit tells the story.
In his Great Commission, Christ defines and orders the church’s work. He calls us to be disciple makers ? to perpetually pass on the faith once delivered and to be instruments in God’s hands to see others and ourselves grow in grace. Everything we do in terms of internal nurture and external proclamation radiates from that central purpose.
The broad category we call Christian education is sometimes shuffled to the back burnerat least in our thinking and planning. Dr. Allen Curry, an OPC minister, professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, and one of CEP’s regional teacher trainers, states, “All too many people look at Christian education from the maintenance point of view.” (Equip for Ministry, March/April 2004.) By contrast, the solution is for us to be intensely intentional about nurturing God’s people and carry out that crucial function with every bit of fervor we can muster – that is, if we expect to be faithful to God’s calling and indeed be disciple makers.
R. B. Kuiper challenges us with this perspective: “The church must maintain a proper balance between its task to the inside and its task to the outside. But this does not mean that it should do a little of each. It means that it must do much of both.” (The Glorious Body of Christ, chapter 25)
From its beginning, the PCA has demonstrated a commitment to the priority of Christian education. Even before the first general assembly, plans were being discussed to encourage and facilitate leadership development, Christian day schools and catechetical training. Also, talks with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church had begun toward a partnership to adopt their Sunday school curriculum and other publications (see inset). Here is an excerpt from one of the CEP Committee’s earliest reports:
The church teaches because God has commanded her to do so … [and] he has decreed that the objective, propositional truth of his revelation is the primary means by which men are to be identified and sanctified.
GCP’s primary contribution always has been graded Sunday school curriculumcalled Show Me Jesusfor age two through high school. Building on the original curriculum inherited from the OPC, additional courses and components have been added plus multiple revisions over these 29 years to keep the materials fresh and up to date. Starting with fall quarter 2005, the elementary departments will be restructured into two-year groupings, grades one and two together, etc. Next, the youth-level courses will be redesigned for application in a variety of settings.
Sunday school stands as a central means by which churches nurture the flock, but what is the future of this venerable staple of the American church? Changing needs and patterns have put it under the microscope by church leaders todaywith many wondering if it should be recast or perhaps even replaced. If this is a “wasted hour,” as some have judged, it is a product, at least in part, of neglect and loss of focus. Future alternatives and new paradigms notwithstanding, we must set our sights on the purpose to which God has called us: go and make disciples. Sunday school or any other form Christian education takes has to be done with biblical clarity and life-changing consequence, or indeed it is a waste of time!
Psalm 78, sometimes called the Christian education Psalm, speaks of generational succession of the faith. In seeking to be obedient to every aspect of the Bible’s instructions for Kingdom building, we dare not overlook our responsibility to covenant children. In fact, this is where we begin. Susan Hunt reminds us that the strategy for church growth commences with the “Jerusalem” of our own homes, parents and children (chapter 5 of her Heirs of the Covenant explicates this further).
GCP’s resources are uniquely suited for our churches, both in form and content. First, Scripture is approached as a complete whole that embodies the unfolding story of salvation through Jesus Christ. Every passage ultimately points to and helps unwrap the entirety of God’s revelation to us, and the materials are covenantally focused. That translates into teaching that is moving toward the goal of bodybuilding- the body of Christ, that is. As students are confronted with their individual relationship to God via his faithful covenant promises and the ensuing spiritual connection to others, the covenant family becomes a dynamic reality to them and helps identify them with the corporate church.
Why do we in the PCA and OPC need our own curriculum when other options abound? The answer is rooted in our theology and our experience. Both denominations were formed around the issue of doctrinal integrity, and we pay close attention to staying in sync with our convictionsespecially as it affects our teaching ministry. Content is crucial to churches fulfilling this mandate with faithfulness and excellence.
GCP, unlike most curriculums on the market, is solidly Reformed in its theology. It does not present the Bible as a collection of unrelated stories that teach moral lessons. Instead, GCP recognizes that the message of Scripture, from Genesis through Revelation, is about redemption in Jesus Christ. It is a unified message. GCP helps our kids see the big picture and not just the individual stories.
The vision of GCP’s founders was to reach beyond our denominations’ boundaries with sound CE resources, and the outreach opportunities have increased significantly in recent years. Almost 40% of sales are now among other churches such as the ARP, RPCNA, Reformed Baptists, EPC, CRC and the conservative movement within the PCUSA. The impact of that expansion has been additional growth in our ability to develop new avenues of service within the OPC and PCA.
Dr. Kuiper makes the case that the church is to “give foremost attention to its covenant children” as we carry out the glorious task of teaching God’s Word. He further challenges us, “How necessary that the church teach its youth Christianity as a story, as a doctrine and as a life! Few if any tasks will bear such rich fruit … [and] insure the future of the church.” (The Glorious Body of Christ, chapter 34). His simple three-fold design: story, doctrine, and lifesupplies the grid for teaching that will be obedient and eternally worthwhile.
At GCP we design our work around the following objective: To be a catalyst for discipling God’s people at all ages … so they will be knowledgeable of Scripture in its entirety, committed to the tenets of Reformed doctrine as taught in the Westminster Standards, faithful in embracing a biblical worldview and equipped to live, worship and serve in the Kingdom with a God-centered focus. This articulates the Great Commissionspecifically the aspect we call Christian educationand the mission to which Christ summons us. Stay the course!