On October 31, we celebrate the 450th anniversary of the Reformation. On the 31st of October, 1517, Martin Luther posted the 95 theses, an act which God graciously made the onset of the Reformation and the deliverance of His Church. Included among the innumerable and precious benefits of the Reformation, as one of the chiefest of them, is the Christian education of the children of believers.
It is not widely recognized that the practice of educating children, grossly neglected prior to the Reformation, was encouraged and in large part established by the Reformation. In 1524, seven years after the posting of the theses, Luther addressed the civil authorities of all Germany (and those of much of the world) on this matter:
I beg you all, my dear lords and friends, for God’s sake to take care of the poor youth, and thereby, to help us all. So much money is spent year after year for arms, roads, dams, and innumerable similar objects, why should not as much be spent for the education of the poor youth?… It is a sin and shame that we should need to be admonished to educate our children, when nature itself and even the example of the heathen, urge us to do so…
Anticipating an objection, Luther continues:
We admit, you say, there should and must be schools, but what is the use of teaching Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and other liberal arts? Could we not teach, in German, the Bible and God’s word, which are sufficient for salvation? Answer: Yes, I well know, alas! that we Germans must ever be and abide brutes and wild beasts, as the surrounding nations call us… The arts and languages, which do us no harm, nay, which are a greater ornament, benefit, honor, and advantage, both for understanding Holy Writ, and for managing civil affairs, we are disposed to despise; and foreign wares, which are neither necessary nor useful to us, and which, moreover, peel us to the very bone, these we are not willing to forego. (quoted in P. Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. VI, pp. 514, 515)
But the education demanded by Luther was a thoroughly Christian education. It is striking that Luther saw the necessity of Christian education for the youth so quickly and so clearly. As early as 1520, a mere three years after he posted the theses, in his powerful work, “An Open Letter to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate,” Luther wrote:
The universities also need a good, thorough reformation. . . What else are the universities (schools—DE), if their present condition remains unchanged, 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 Christ… “In truth, much depends upon it (the reform of the schools—DE); for it is here that the Christian youth and the best of our people, with whom the future of Christendom lies, are to be educated and trained. Therefore I consider that there is no work more worthy of pope or emperor than a thorough reformation of the universities, and there is nothing worse or more worthy of the devil than unreformed universities… where the Holy Scriptures do not rule, there I advise none to send his son. Everyone not unceasingly busy with the Word of God must become corrupt; that is why the people who are in the universities and who are trained there are the kind of people they are… I greatly fear that the universities are wide gates of hell, if they do not diligently teach the Holy Scriptures and impress them on the youth. (Martin Luther, “An Open Letter to the Christian Nobility,” Three Treatises, Muhlenberg Press, 1960, pp. 9-111).
The historian D’Aubigne is correct, therefore, when he says: “It was not the public worship alone that the Reformation was ordained to change. The school was early placed beside the Church, and these two great institutions…were equally reanimated by it.” (J.H. Merle D’Aubigne.History of the Reformation, Vol. III, pa 172)
From the very beginning, the Reformation emphasized the importance and even the necessity of an education of the children of the Church in all branches of learning that is based upon and permeated by the Word of God. There are several, related reasons for this.
First, the Reformation regarded all of God’s people, not only the priests and monks, as prophets. All of God’s people can know God and all of God’s people are called to praise God. Indeed, to know and to praise God, as a true prophet, is the central, most important aspect of the life of God’s child. Implied is the truth basic to Christian instruction, that the children of believers belong to the covenant and Church of God.
Secondly, the Reformation insisted that the entire man belongs to God and is redeemed and justified in order to praise God with all his being and faculties in every sphere of his life. The Reformation simply did not see the new life of liberty as a monastic, hole-in-the-wall kind of life. The lofty calling addressed by the Reformation to the Christian man was not solely to cultivate the piety of his soul. The believer’s mind and talents must be developed and utilized, but in strict subservience to the Word of God.
Thirdly, the Reformation saw the oneness of all truth; it saw that ultimately all truth is theology; it saw that the divorcing of any science or branch of learning from the Word of God renders the instruction of that science the teaching of the lie. As D’Aubigne puts it, “The Reformation perceived the close tie that connected all the sciences; it saw that, as all knowledge is derived from God, it leads man back to God” (ibid., p. 175).
In establishing, maintaining and relentlessly advancing our Christian School, we are not doing something new or strange. It can seem so only to those who do not know or do not care about the vital principles of the Reformation. We are showing ourselves genuine sons and daughters of the Reformation.
We do well on this 450th anniversary of the Reformation to note the credentials of Christian education.
We do well to rekindle our zeal for this cause in the fire of the Word of God that, 450 years ago, set the world ablaze.
We do well to provide Christian education for our children over against secular schools whose godlessness and “Biblelessness” are not only obvious but even prescribed by law.
We do well to provide Christian instruction, as those whose all-dominating concern is still that of the Reformation: Through the reign of His Word, let God alone be glorified.