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New Horizons

Christian Education

Thomas R. Patete and Danny E. Olinger

A toddler learns the language of faith as she memorizes the timeless truths about God in First Catechism.... One 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 that diligent Christian education can have—not just any Christian education, but that which is doctrinally driven (particularly rooted in our Reformed heritage), biblically clear, and warmly personal. The fruit tells the story.

In his Great Commission, Christ defines and mandates 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 ourselves and others grow in grace. Everything we do in terms of internal nurture and external proclamation radiates from that central purpose.

The broad category called "Christian education" is sometimes shuffled to the back burner—at least in our thinking and planning. Dr. Allen Curry, OPC minister and professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, states, "All too many people look at Christian education from the maintenance point of view. They don't expect very much from it; they aren't sure how it got started, but since it's here, they feel they should keep it going." Instead, the crucial function of nurturing God's people must be intensely intentional and carried out 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 the start, the OPC was steadfast in facilitating appropriate biblical education among its congregations. And that included a publishing ministry to provide the distinctive resources needed. Ultimately, the name Great Commission Publications was adopted for the denomination's publishing ministry. VBS materials, Sunday school curricula, Trinity Hymnal—just to list a few—are the results of that endeavor.

The Committee on Christian Education (CCE) began very modestly with tracts and mimeographed youth materials. These initial resources were intended primarily for the OPC in an attempt to steer the new denomination aright and to hedge against the errors that had necessitated its establishment. In 1942, churches were surveyed to find out what Sunday school curricula were being used. The responses revealed a variety of use and widespread dissatisfaction with the choices. This prompted CCE to produce a series of Sunday school lessons (also in mimeograph form) that would "provide Reformed teaching and good pedagogy" (a quote from the OPC's fiftieth-anniversary volume).

In the mid-1950s, planning began on a complete, professionally published Sunday school curriculum for grades 1 to 12. With this came a renewed intent to serve other churches and the resulting push to develop materials with enhanced format, graphic design, and teaching helps. For a denomination the size of the OPC, such a project was ambitious and seemingly impossible. Yet with resolute commitment and sights set on a lofty goal, CCE proceeded in spite of the financial and other obstacles. And, in God's providence, a curriculum was introduced in 1961 and completed by 1973.

Fast forward three decades. Today, Great Commission Publications (GCP) continues as a partnership between the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church in America. This year will mark the twenty-ninth anniversary of that cooperative venture. The foundational principles and much of the original content developed by the OPC still stand as the underpinning of the work.

The Sunday school curriculum has undergone multiple revisions over the years in order to keep it fresh and up-to-date. And, along the way, Toddler and Preschool courses were added, as well as music recordings and other ancillary materials. The name Show Me Jesus was selected for the curriculum because it reflects the redemptive-historical perspective of Scripture and the Christ-centered focus that undergird the curriculum. In fall 2005, the elementary courses (grades 1 to 6) will be restructured into three two-year courses.

Janice Tomer, a veteran Sunday school teacher of grades 4-6 at Trinity OPC in Hatboro, Pennsylvania, tells us about her experience with GCP materials:

Over the years that we have used GCP's Show Me Jesus curriculum, I have found it to be very God-honoring. The Junior lesson content is excellent—with substance for covenant children and applicability for unchurched children. The material stresses God's sovereignty, yet challenges the children to respond to him. I love how the curriculum covers the scope of the Bible, while showing God's covenant and his relationship with his people.

In good Presbyterian tradition, the OPC has consistently supported the catechizing of covenant children. One of CCE's first publishing projects (in 1954) was Bible Doctrine, a two-year course for young people based on the Shorter Catechism. In recent years, GCP introduced First Catechism, an updated version of the original children's catechism, and Kids' Quest! Catechism Club, a new curriculum for preschool and elementary ages. In addition, catechism memorization is being incorporated more into the younger-level Sunday school departments.

In keeping with the missionary vision of its parent denominations, GCP has been privileged to serve the church at large with Sunday school material and other publications. More than a third of our sales now come from denominations such as the RPCNA, the ARP, the CRC, Reformed Baptists, the EPC, and the conservative movement of the PCUSA. The fruit of that expansion has been growth in GCP's resources and greater ability to develop new materials for growing needs within our own OPC and PCA congregations.

Scripture establishes many times over the priority of training up children in the Lord. For example:

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise (Deuteronomy 6:6-7).

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).

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 Commission—specifically the aspect of it that we call Christian education—and the mission to which Christ summons us. Let us stay the course!

—Thomas R. Patete

The New General Secretary in Perspective

As the new general secretary of the Committee on Christian Education in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, I have the privilege of replacing my dear brother—and my first OP pastor—Larry Wilson. Since my wife Diane and I first joined Grace OPC in Columbus, Ohio, in the 1980s, the paths of the Olingers and the Wilsons have frequently crossed. I had the opportunity to serve as administrator and teacher at Covenant Christian School, a school which Larry and his wife Holly had been instrumental in starting. Since I have been ordained to the gospel ministry, Larry and I have served on the same Presbytery of Ohio subcommittee and have worked together on numerous reports and overtures. When Larry received the call to become general secretary of the Committee on Christian Education, I had the honor of preaching at his installation service.

In the Lord's providence, our paths have crossed yet again. As regional home missionary of the Presbytery of Ohio, I urged Larry to consider becoming the church planter at our mission work in Indianapolis, Indiana—Christ Covenant OPC. When Larry decided to accept the call to Christ Covenant, the Committee on Christian Education called me to replace him as general secretary. Larry is now in position to labor among people whom I love and have loved serving in preparation for their being able to call a man to minister full-time among them. I know that my brother and friend will serve them faithfully, as he seeks to serve the King, the Lord Jesus Christ. I now find myself in the position of following Larry as general secretary, knowing that he has served well in this office and has prayed diligently for the man who would succeed him.

But, I follow not only Larry, but also every general secretary who preceded him, from Floyd Hamilton to Tom Tyson, with the awesome calling of being a servant-teacher in a church that has recognized the importance of Christian education from its beginning. When the First General Assembly met on June 11-14, 1936, it considered the creation of the Committee on Christian Education to be a matter of great importance. On the second day of meetings, June 12, the Assembly determined that a Committee on Christian Education be nominated by the moderator, J. Gresham Machen. On the next day, June 13, Machen nominated Ned Stonehouse, Calvin Cummings, John Clelland, Robert Atwell, R. Laird Harris, and Gordon Clark. No other nominations were put forth, and the nominees were elected to the committee with the responsibility of reporting to the Second General Assembly.

In the opening words of its initial report, these men stated why the Orthodox Presbyterian Church should always be devoted to Christian education:

The Committee on Christian Education wishes to express its conviction that the triumph of unbelief in the old organization (Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.) was due in no small measure to the prostitution of existing educational agencies through compromise with unbelief, on the one hand, and to the lack of a full-orbed and consistent system of Christian Education on the other.

The Committee then added that if the new Church sought to be a truly Reformed church, "activities in the sphere of education, however humble, cannot be initiated too soon," and that it was "necessary also to take steps toward the development of a comprehensive program of Christian education."

Such a perspective on the importance and value of Christian education continues today in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. It is my desire as general secretary, and the desire of the Committee on Christian Education, to provide biblically Reformed resources and training in order to assist the OPC in its service toward bringing God's people to maturity in Christ. Our shared objectives are:

  • To help encourage, equip, and assist the members of the OPC to grow in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ—as individuals, as families, and as congregations.
  • To help encourage, equip, and assist ministers and prospective ministers of the gospel for faithful and effective ministry.
  • To help encourage, equip, and assist the officers and prospective officers of the church for the faithful and effective discharge of their responsibilities.
  • To help encourage, equip, and assist the OPC to reach out to unbelievers with sound, biblically Reformed evangelism.
  • To help encourage, equip, and assist the OPC to serve uninstructed and misinformed believers in the church catholic.

This is what Larry Wilson and all the general secretaries before him sought to do. This is what the men of the first Committee on Christian Education of the OPC and all the men who have served after them as members of the Committee have sought to do.

Please pray for me as I seek to serve Christ and his church in my new role as general secretary, and please pray for the work of the Committee on Christian Education. Pray that the work of Christian Education would be informed by, and conformed to, the Scriptures, our church's Confession and Catechisms, and our governmental standards.

—Danny E. Olinger

Mr. Patete, a PCA minister, is the longtime executive director of Great Commission Publications (www.gcp.org). Mr. Olinger is general secretary of the OPC Committee on Christian Education. Reprinted from New Horizons, April 2004.

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