The Concern of the Reformation for Christian Education (4)

The other of the two main purposes for establishing Christian schools was, as Luther put it, welfare of the “temporal estate.” Christian schools did not only have importance for the spiritual realm” of the reading of the Bible, the preparation of ministers, and the general training of children to live and work properly in the Church. They also had to serve the purpose of enabling the children to live and work as responsible Christians in the various spheres of temporal, earthly life. Both of Luther’s major works on education, “To the Councilmen of Germany” and “A sermon on Keeping Children in School,” are divided into these two parts: The Purpose of the Christian school for the spiritual realm and the purpose of the Christian school for the temporal, earthly realm.

To this point we have been speaking about the necessity and value of languages and Christian schools for the spiritual realm and the salvation of souls. Now let us consider also the body. Let us suppose that there were no soul, no heaven or hell, and that we were to consider solely the temporal government from the standpoint of its worldly functions. Does it not need good schools and educated persons even more than the spiritual realm? (“To the Councilmen of Germany”)

This second function of the Christian school consisted, first of all, of the preparation of young men for a position in government. The State needs many men, rulers, judges, lawyers, scholars and the like. These men ought to be well educated. Luther stressed this aspect of the work of the Christian school: “this one consideration alone would be sufficient to justify the establishment everywhere of the very best schools for both boys and girls, namely, that in order to maintain its temporal estate outwardly the world must have good and capable men and women, men able to rule well. . . .” (“To the Councilmen of Germany”). To plead for Christian schools on this ground seems strange to us, who scarcely entertain the thought of a Christian in government. It is true that Luther’s stress on the necessity of schools to provide good men and women for the State reflects the peculiar, close relation between civil government and the Lutheran branch of the Reformation-Church. Nevertheless, we do not do well to skip lightly over this suggested importance of the Christian school. In asserting this function of the Christian school, Luther was opposing the downgrading of civil government by the pre-Reformation Church in the interests of papal supremacy. Luther was proclaiming anew the truth about the State set forth in Romans 13, that it is ordained of God and that it has a good work to do as “servant of God.”

Worldly government is a glorious ordinance and splendid gift of God, who has instituted and established it and will have it maintained as something men cannot do without. (“A Sermon on Keeping Children in School”)

Because the State is a good institution of God and because it has a valuable, temporal work to do, the child of God may, and even ought to, work in civil government. The Calvinistic branch of the Reformation agreed with this view of the State, as Article 36 of the Belgic Confession shows. Basic to Luther’s desire that children be trained to work in civil government was the intention that they work there as Christians.

We know . . . how essential and beneficial it is—and pleasing to God-that a prince, lord, councilman, or other person in a position of authority be educated and qualified to perform the functions of his office as a Christian should. (my emphasis—DE. “To the Councilmen of Germany”)

Therefore, the schools that do this qualifying must be Christian. Perhaps, we are not much affected by the call to provide schools for the preparing of our children to take up a position in government. Even then, the Christian school does provide training that bears on our children’s relation to the State: It trains them to be good, faithful, obedient citizens of the State, according to God’s requirement in Romans 13. In our day, when the non-Christian schools are the seedbed of revolution against the State, this is no incidental matter. 

But Luther by no means saw this second, main purpose of Christian education in terms only of preparation for a position in government. The “temporal” purpose of the Christian schools was nothing less than the preparation of the children of the Church to live and work, as Christians, .in every sphere of earthly life. This is the important implication of Luther’s stress on the need for schools to train men to work in civil government. Implied is the conviction that God’s calling for believers is not exclusively that they worship on the Sabbath and cultivate their spiritual life throughout the week in prayer and Bible-study. This was Anabaptism. The Reformation proclaimed that God called His people to serve Him in this world;in the ordinances of marriage, labor and government; in the use and enjoyment of all the aspects of the creation. Christian schools, now, must instruct the children with a view to this calling. This is their “temporal” purpose. They must explain the world, its history, its ordinances, and its many aspects (e.g., music). They must develop the abilities of the children, the ability to read, the ability to understand, the ability to analyze, the ability to reason, the ability to write (prose, poetry, music), and others. 

The purpose of Christian education, therefore, is very broad. It is not limited to teaching children to read, so that they can read Scripture. It is not limited to equipping some boys to serve in the State. The schools will help men on the farm and men and women in the homes.

(The Christian school will make) men able to rule well over land and people, (and) women able to manage the household and train children and servants aright. (“To the Councilmen of Germany”)

The schools will produce “a pious jurist and true scholar” (“A Sermon on Keeping Children in School.”). They are important for training men for writing, which “is a divine office and work” (Ibid.). In addition, “how many educated men are needed in the fields of medicine and the other liberal arts. Of these two one could write a huge book and preach for half a year” (Ibid.). In each case the fundamental concern of the Reformation was that covenant children work and play in the world as Christians, and therefore the Reformation required Christian instruction in the schools. In a fascinating and profound passage, Luther explains concretely how Christian education in the schools can help children live in the world as Christians:

But if children were instructed and trained in schools, or wherever learned and well-trained schoolmasters and school mistresses were available to teach the languages, the other arts, and history, they would then hear of the doing and sayings of the entire world, and how things went with various cities, kingdoms, princes, men, and women. Thus, they could in a short time set before themselves as in a mirror the character, life, counsels, and purposes—successfully and unsuccessful—of the whole world from the beginning; on the basis of which they could then draw the proper inferences and in the fear of God take their own place in the stream of human events. In addition, they could gain from history the knowledge and understanding of what to seek and what to avoid in this outward life, and be able to advise and direct others accordingly. (“To the Councilmen of Germany”)

Luther dared to propose a third reason for the Christian school, in addition to the “spiritual” benefit and the “temporal” benefit. This was the “pure pleasure” of studying.

I shall say nothing here about the pure pleasure a man gets from having studied, even though he never holds an office of any kind, how at home by himself he can read all kinds of things talk and associate with educated people, and travel and do business in foreign lands; for there are perhaps very few people who are moved by this pleasure. (“A Sermon on Keeping Children in School”)

The child of God need not be apologetic about this pleasure. 

(To be continued)