Thomas R. Patete
What makes a Sunday school curriculum Reformed? Is it the biblical content presented or the teaching methods employed or the way lessons are illustrated? Certainly these elements are driven by and reflect the publisher's theological standards. But it goes much deeper for us here at Great Commission Publications. We operate with the conviction that nurturing covenant children in the faith is a crucial part of Christ's mandate to be disciple makers. And that mandate must be carried out in sync with our heritage and the distinctive doctrines of grace.
Before we write a single lesson, we begin with an attitude toward Scripture. Our approach is to regard it as "the whole counsel of God." It is important, we believe, to see the entirety of the Bible as God's complete, unified revelation. Every small piece of biblical truth is part of a whole, and all the pieces ultimately fit together perfectly to comprise the message that God wants to convey to us.
There are two practical implications to this underlying perspective. First, we examine each part of Scripture in light of the whole. Second, we teach children the story of the Bible, along with teaching them the stories in the Bible.
In a catalog of principles that we use in GCP's editorial process, we express the following commitment:
Under the conviction that the Word of God is verbally inspired and infallible, we seek to handle Scripture as a whole and each individual passage with great carenot adding or deleting, not speculating or embellishing, emphasizing both by content and means of teaching that these are God's words and not ours.
Reformed theology constantly redirects our attention to God as the sovereign Creator, Redeemer, and King. When we open his Word, we should always be alert to what we can learn about who he is, what he has done, and how we should respond. Such a Godward focus colors Bible study at every level. For kids in Sunday school, it means that we regularly connect the dots between the divine truths they learn and the character of the God from whom those truths come. The bottom line is to ask Shorter Catechism Question 1, "What is the chief end of man?"and to be sure the answer is solidly grasped: "Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever"!
In addition to this general emphasis, certain topics that underpin a God-centered life show up repeatedly across the GCP curriculum. For example, we treat the creation account in Genesis at several age levels, believing that children must get these facts straight in order to be equipped to know God as he intends and to be armed against the prevalent philosophies of today's culture. Also, there are three quarters on worship, two on the Ten Commandments, and a high school course on knowing God. In lesson artwork, we further seek to honor our heavenly Father by not depicting him with any earthly image.
The diverse writing in the Bible have an all-encompassing, unified theme: the unfolding story of Christ, the promised Savior. From Genesis to Revelation, we see Jesus both foretold by God's messianic promise and fulfilling it. Dr. Edmund Clowney, one of the architects of GCP's original curriculum, states, "To teach the Bible story we must present the Savior." He exhorts us to avoid the trap of moralism, whereby biblical narratives and characters are used as models for telling children to be good or as warnings not to be bad. All of our Sunday school lessons, taken together, from toddler to high school, "present Jesus Christ as the Revealer of the Father and the Savior of his people ... [and] children are pointed to Jesus to know and trust him."
We acknowledge that covenant children are noncommunicant members of the church, and that as such they have "interest in the covenant and right to the seal of it [i.e., baptism] and to the outward privileges of the church" (the OPC's Directory for the Public Worship of God, IV.B.2). In a very real sense, we regard them as believers unless they show clear evidence to the contrary at an appropriate age of accountability.
Nonetheless, parents and teachers must look for every opportunity to make the gospel clear to children under their care. Our Show Me Jesus curriculum supplies the Christological story line to promote understanding, and even assent, as children mature. Our prayer is that each one of them, at the right time, will make a formal profession of faith and graduate to communicant membership.
Covenant theology, covenant family, covenant children, and the covenants of life and grace are important truths of our Reformed faith. The idea of covenant is important because it explains how we relate to God and God to us. Therefore, it is to be a part of our daily lives. When children receive the sacrament of covenant baptism, we promise to teach them what that sign and seal is all about as they grow. Starting with Adam and Eve, expressed more fully in Abraham, Moses, David, etc., and then accomplished in Christ's atoning work, covenant is the thread on which the story of salvation hangs. The apex of the Show Me Jesus curriculum is the junior high course, in which God's covenant is brought to light as the common denominator that helps put all the pieces of Scripture together.
GCP materials are characterized through and through by a covenantal focus. That translates into teaching that is moving toward the goal of body buildingbuilding the body of Christ, that is. As we confront students with their individual relationship to God through his faithful covenant promises and the ensuing spiritual connection to others, the communion of the saints becomes a dynamic reality to them and helps identify them with the corporate church.
Finally, we believe that the mission of passing our faith on to the next generation calls for a collaborative effort involving both the home and the church. Believing that parents are primary to the spiritual nurture of their children, we provide lesson components to facilitate a partnership with them. The goal is to reinforce the teaching that children receive at church.
In the younger age levels, GCP's weekly "At Home" papers summarize core elements of the lesson, including the central Bible story, and give parents ideas to use informally or in family worship. The classroom music is available, as well, to use at home. A Sunday school lesson by itself is not enoughthe follow-through during the week makes lessons increasingly real for kids and helps them in their daily practice of faith. At the older levels, we encourage students to read and study the Bible on their own. In addition, we advise teachers to communicate with parents to ensure that they are aware of what their children are learning and are thoroughly engaged in the discipling process.
Psalm 78sometimes called the Christian education Psalmspeaks of generational succession in 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.
Keeping our publications on a consistently Reformed track is not rocket science. It's simply making sure our purpose and our execution are rooted firmly in the Westminster standards. The proof will be in the lives of those who "grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ" (Eph. 4:15).
The author, a PCA minister, is the executive director of Great Commission Publications. Reprinted from New Horizons, April 2005.