About the value of Christian education (if he were a neo-Calvinist):
This, then, is the point. The war between Christ and Satan is a global war. It is carried on, first, in the hearts of men for the hearts of men. Through preaching and teaching in the church and in the home, through the witness borne individual men everywhere, the allegiance of men is turned away from Satan to Christ. But the warfare is also carried on where you might least expect it. It is carried on in the field of reading and writing and arithmetic, in the field of nature study and history. At every point Satan seeks boys and girls, as well as men and women to take the attitude that he got Eve and Adam to take at the beginning of history. Everywhere and at every point Satan’s theme-song is: “Let’s be broad-minded; at the beginning of our research your hypothesis about God’s creating and directing the course of history is as good as mine and mine is as good as yours. Now let’s
be open-minded and find out from the facts, whose hypothesis fits reality.”
And now the reason why we are willing as Christian believers in general, and as Christian parents in particular, to sacrifice so largely for the sake of having Christian schools is that we want our children with us to see the vision of the all-conquering Christ as he wrests the culture of mankind away from Satan and brings it to its consummation when the new heavens and the new earth on which righteousness shall dwell, at last appears.
We would have our young men and women become true soldiers under Christ as with him they go conquering and to conquer every domain of life for Christ. When they thus become good soldiers of Christ, they will be free and be truly themselves. They will share in the trophies which Christ wrests from Satan’s power: “For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death, or the present or the future, all are yours; and you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor 3:22) (Cornelius Van Til, Essays on Christian Education)
Well, maybe Van Til would not have been so antithetical in testimony before Congress. But since neo-Calvinists keep telling us that religion must not be cordoned off behind the church parking lot fence, that dualism is anathema, that we need more religion in public, I wonder why it would wrong to think that Van Til would have said this in Congress. Not that there is anything with saying this in Congress. It is a free country. But this is clearly not the way Machen chose to address matters of public life, whether education or the Sabbath.
In which case, it is striking how Machen did address the Christian school teachers (in the quotation that neo-Calvinists love to cite). This is how the talk begins (no antithesis, just American politics):
The Christian school is to be favored for two reasons. In the first place, it is important for American liberty; in the second place, it is important for the propagation of the Christian religion. . . . In the first place, then, the Christian school is important for the maintenance of American liberty. We are witnessing in our day a world-wide attack upon the fundamental principles of civil and religious freedom. In some countries, such as Italy, the attack has been blatant and unashamed; Mussolini despises democracy and does not mind saying so. A similar despotism now prevails in Germany; and in Russia freedom is being crushed out by what is perhaps the most complete and systematic tyranny that the world has every seen.
But exactly the same tendency that is manifested in extreme form in those countries, is also being manifested, more slowly but none the less surely, in America. It has been given an enormous impetus first by the war and now by the economic depression; but aside form these external stimuli it has its roots in a fundamental deterioration of the American people. Gradually the people has come to value principle less and creature comfort more; increasingly it has come to prefer prosperity to freedom; and even in the field of prosperity it cannot be said that the effect is satisfactory.
The result of this decadence in the American people is seen in the rapid growth of a centralized bureaucracy which is the thing against which the Constitution of the United States was most clearly intended to guard.
Machen goes on for several pages to discuss various legislative initiatives at the state and federal level. Still no mention of God, theology, w-w, or the antithesis except the one between liberty and tyranny:
But someone will say, Congress will never in the world be so foolish as that; the amendment does give Congress that power, but the power will never be exercised. Now, my friends, I will just say this: when I listen to an argument like that, I sometimes wonder whether the person who advances it can possibly be convinced by it himself. If these stupendous powers are never to be exercised, why should they be granted? The zeal for the granting of them, the refusal of the framers of the amendment to word the amendment in any reasonably guarded way, show plainly that the powers are intended to be exercised; and certainly they will be exercised, whatever the intention of the framers of the amendment may be. I will tell you exactly what will happen if this amendment is adopted by the states. Congress will pass legislation which, in accordance with the plain meaning of the language, will be quite unenforceable. The exact degree of enforcement will be left to Washington bureaus, and the individual family will be left to the arbitrary decision of officials. It would be difficult to imagine anything more hostile to the decency of family life and to all the traditions of our people. If there ever was a measure that looked as though it were made in Russia, it is this falsely so-called “child-labor amendment” to the Constitution of the United States. In reality, it can hardly be called an amendment to the Constitution. Rather is it the complete destruction of the Constitution; for if human life in its formative period — up to eighteen years in the life of every youth — is to be given to Federal bureaucrats, we do not see what else of very great value can remain. The old principles of individual liberty and local self-government will simply have been wiped out. . . .
Against this soul-killing collectivism in education, the Christian school, like the private school, stands as an emphatic protest. In doing so, it is no real enemy of the public schools. On the contrary, the only way in which a state-controlled school can be kept even relatively healthy is through the absolutely free possibility of competition by private schools and church schools; if it once becomes monopolistic, it is the most effective engine of tyranny and intellectual stagnation that has yet been devised.
For Machen, education was primarily a family matter and it needed protection from the ever-reaching arm of the state:
I believe that the Christian school deserves to have a good report from those who are without; I believe that even those of our fellow citizens who are not Christians may, if they really love human freedom and the noble traditions of our people, be induced to defend the Christian school against the assaults of its adversaries and to cherish it as a true bulwark of the State. But for Christian people its appeal is far deeper. I can see little consistency in a type of Christian activity which preaches the gospel on the street corners and at the ends of the earth, but neglects the children of the covenant by abandoning them to a cold and unbelieving secularism. If, indeed, the Christian school were in any sort of competition with the Christian family, if it were trying to do what the home ought to do, then I could never favor it. But one of its marked characteristics, in sharp distinction from the secular education of today, is that it exalts the family as a blessed divine institution and treats the scholars in its classes as children of the covenant to be brought up above all things in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Kuyper too feared state overreach and on this they agreed (though I don’t think Machen would have cared for Kuyper’s progressive reforms as prime minister). But when thinking about public life Machen did not wield the antithesis the way that Kuyper and neo-Calvinists do. I suspect that a major difference on this score is that Kuyper, being European and therefore much more philosophical than Americans like Machen, looked at most things philosophically, or he tried to see things whole. Machen, whose background both at home (legal) and in the church (Old School), thought about matters much more as an attorney and so what was legal according to the constitution of something. The U.S. Constitution secured religious freedom. The church had a definite constitution that prescribed its functions and defined its ministry. American constitutionalism may have had a weak philosophical basis (or so I’ve been told since my mind doesn’t really work philosophically). That didn’t trouble Machen. He tried to play by those rules and those rules governed both God’s friends and enemies, at least within the borders of the greatest nation on God’s green earth.
Postscript: for those wondering where Machen defended communists, they need look no farther than his essay, “The Relation between Christians and Jews”:
Tolerance, moreover, means not merely tolerance for that with which we are agreed but also tolerance for that to which we are most thoroughly opposed. A few years ago there was passed in New York the abominable Lusk Law requiring private teachers in any subjects whatever to obtain a state license. It was aimed, I believe, at the socialists, and primarily at the Rand School in New York City. Now certainly I have no sympathy with socialism. Because of its hostility to freedom, it seems to me to be just about the darkest thought that has ever entered the mind of man. But certainly such opposition to socialism did not temper in the slightest degree my opposition to that preposterous law. Tolerance, to me, does not mean merely tolerance for what I hold to be good, but also tolerance for what I hold to be abominably bad. (Selected Shorter Writings, 418-19)
Interesting to see that Machen’s reason for opposition socialism is not the law of God, w-w, the cosmic contest between God and Satan oozing out of 1789, but a love of freedom. But of course, Machen is no libertarian.