Luther suggested that there were two main purposes for educating the children of believers, a “spiritual” purpose and a “temporal” purpose.

By the first was meant the spiritual welfare of the Church and the spiritual welfare of the child himself. The welfare of the Church requires an educated ministry. Those that will be the theologians and preachers in the Church must be learned in the languages, not only their own native tongue, but also the original languages of Holy Scripture, Hebrew and Greek. And because so much of theology has been written in Latin, they must also know the Latin language. Both for defending the faith against the heretics and for the positive work of the ministry of the gospel, especially, the expounding of the Word, the young men who aspire to the ministry must be well educated.

In proportion then as we value the gospel, let us zealously hold to the languages. For it was not without purpose that God caused his Scriptures to be set down in these two languages alone—the Old Testament in Hebrew, the New in Greek. And Let us be sure of this: we will not long preserve the gospel without the languages. The languages are the sheath in which this sword of the Spirit

Eph. 6:17

is contained; they are the casket in which this jewel is enshrined . . . 

(“To the Councilmen of Germany”)

Luther’s idea was that all of the children would be given several years of schooling and that those young men who showed themselves to be capable and who inclined to the ministry would go on to more advanced education. 

But the “spiritual” purpose of education was not limited to those boys who would become ministers. It was the contention of Luther that every child must be educated, at least, for several years. Also girls must go to school.

And would to God that every town and a girls’ school also, in which the girls were taught the Gospel for an hour each day . . . 

(“An Open Letter to the Christian Nobility”) 

In like manner, a girl can surely find time enough to attend school for an hour a day . . . 

(“To the Councilmen of Germany”)

The insistence of the Reformation that every child is to be educated was something new. Prior to the Reformation, only some of the boys received any schooling, while the girls were almost entirely deprived of an education. The Reformation desired this universal education of all boys and all girls because it desired their spiritual welfare. As children of believers, they must all be able to read the Scriptures, in the Church, to confess their faith intelligently, and to instruct their own children in time to come. Without schools, these basic requirements would be severely hampered or rendered completely impossible. Living as they were in the midst of widespread illiteracy, the Reformers saw the evil consequences of this ignorance for the basic callings of every believer. 

There is a relationship, a close and important relationship between the school and the Church, and between education and one’s spiritual welfare. The Reformation saw this at once. The great Dutch Reformed theologian, Dr. Abraham Kuyper, explained this relationship in his commentary on Lord’s Day 38 of the Heidelberg Catechism:

Indeed, when in the church of God the preaching of the truth goes forth, there must not only be someone who speaks, but there must also be those who hear and this hearing is impossible (gaat niet) unless the hearers, from youth on, are established in the paths of truth. Hearing in the church is not merely a listening but a being able to follow what is spoken; a penetrating with the entire consciousness into that which one hears; and also spiritually to “live along” with the preacher. Now, this is impossible, if our children are educated “heathenishly” and then once a Sunday are placed in an entirely different world of thoughts. Such an unprepared faculty of hearing hears sounds, but understands nothing. . . . For the right blossoming of the preaching it is, therefore, not only necessary that there be schools where the preachers learn to preach, but, likewise, schools where the hearers learn to hear. (E Vote, Vol IV. My translation from the Dutch—DE).

The Reformation cried out for the establishment of Christian Schools. One reason was its desire that all the children be able to read the Scriptures and to carry out the spiritual duties they had from God with regard to the truth of those Scriptures. This concern for the Christian education of all of the children of believers had a profound, theological motivation. 

First, it reflected the Reformation’s fundamental belief that God had given Holy Scripture into the hands of every believer, for every believer to read, to understand, to confess, and to teach to others (especially, to his own children). It never was important to the Roman Catholic Church, and still is not today, that her members read the Bible. According to Rome, it is enough that the member be joined to the Church Institute, that he use the sacraments, especially, the Eucharist, and that he believe what the Church tells him, simply on the authority of the Church itself. Rome even has a teaching that it is sufficient for a man to have “implicit faith,” that is, that he have a disposition to believe whatever the Church holds as truth, although actually he is ignorant of the truth, having no idea what it may be. Therefore, it did not trouble the Church institute just prior to the Reformation that many of the members were totally ignorant of Scripture and were even unable to read it. The Reformation, however, restored Scripture to its central place in the life of the Church and of every believer. It called on each man, woman and child to read, understand, defend and confess the truth of Scripture. Schools, naturally, have an important place in seeing to it that all the children of believers have the ability to work with the Scriptures. 

Secondly, the concern of the Reformation for the education of all the children stemmed from the Reformation’s teaching of the priesthood of all believers. Prior to the Reformation, the corrupted Church concerned itself only with the education of the priests. Only they had vital work to do in the Church. The Reformation grasped the truth of Scripture that all believers (girls included) are priests. As a priest, each believer has vital work to do in the Church and also in his daily life in God’s world. Essentially, his work is to consecrate himself and all his family, possessions and labor to God in thankful love. Education, if it be Christian, serves to equip all believers for this priestly calling. This leads us into what the Reformation considered the second purpose of education, namely, the “temporal” purpose.

(to be continued)