Christian Education: To Believe, Live, Pray, Suffer, and Die

And so the hymn sings: “The day is surely drawing near…”

Of course, the hymn is talking about the Lord’s return in glory on the Last Day, but it’s ringing in my head at this moment because I know that the school year is just around the corner, and with that, the empty hallways will once again be a flurry of activity—students, teachers, families, visitors—all gathering in a singular locale established by Christ through the efforts of His people here at Our Savior for the sake of extending His kingdom.

This is a good thing. It is an exciting thing. But it can also be a nerve-racking thing.

It can sear the nerves because it means personal schedules get ramped up in intensity. It means homework, field trip schedules, sick days, and everything else stirred by responsibility and dedication and love for an idealized goal.

To be completely honest, I rarely feel as though any project around here is ever completed—which is one reason why I’ll go into the church and mop the floor. It’s often my only chance to do something that has a beginning and an end that I can actually see and experience. In a sense, what we do here, at its heart, doesn’t ever end. It continues on until we breathe our last and are standing in the presence of Christ in heaven. Then—and only then—do the goals to which we labor and strive in this church and school truly find their completion.

This is important for our church and school families to know.

And there’s something else.

While most of us get the importance of the church, we need to know why it is important for us to continue to bother with a school, especially when current statistics report that for every Lutheran school that opens, five more close. In the past, in order to do this, I’ve usually tried to send time with the terms we use. For example, people will refer to us a private school and others will refer to us as a parochial school. What the difference?  Well, for the record, by strict definition, a private school is one that’s supported by a private corporation or organization apart from the assistance of the government. Most often, membership in the governing organization is required, and dues/tuition are required to support the school’s existence.

A parochial school is one that’s supported by a religious group. Its primary purpose is to integrate religion into its academic instruction. Usually, the school’s efforts are provided to church members as an afforded “right” of membership. Non-members often pay tuition. Of course, we’ve gone a step further with this by actually removing tuition for non-members. We are of the mind, for example, that when Saint Paul did his work in the public square, he didn’t let the local Christians listen for free while charging non-Christians a fee. The Gospel was given to all, and it was given freely. Our model stands on this very important Biblical principle, and it makes our school a truer thread of Word and Sacrament flowing into the community.

Still, we need to know another distinction—the academic distinction. With that, we consider the difference between a public education and Christian, namely Lutheran, education.

Again, in the past, I’ve typically shared with folks the two main schools of thought on public education. The first would say that the purpose of the public school is to create workers who have skills and personal styles to fill and perform jobs. The second is to develop active citizens who recognize their own capacity for personal achievement and contribute to the society.

Both of these sound great, and Lutheran Christian education, in a sense, contains both while being so much more. In his Treatise “On Keeping Children in School” which was written as a thorough oratory for keeping Christian education alive in Germany during the restlessness of the Reformation, Luther battled the root issues of this difference on three fronts.

First, Luther said that the issue of the value of Christian Education was a battle with Satan himself. Satan doesn’t care if your children are educated or not. What he will not tolerate is for children to be raised to know the true Creator and the details of His world—namely, to know Christ, the One who has redeemed us from this world. Satan does not want us cultivating a Biblical worldview in our children. He does not want us immersing our kids, day in and day out, in God’s Word and the faith that saves.

“Oh how that wretch of a Satan is now attacking us on all sides in this with force and guile.” (LW, Vol. 46, p. 217)

Next, Luther added that the battle extends to the parents as the devil gets a foothold with them in their indifference to the whole conversation. And be warned, Luther didn’t hold back here. He let loose and chided Christian parents rather sternly by saying that this was a “great and shameful ingratitude into which the devil is so craftily leading them.” (Ibid, p. 218). He then went on to say that God’s fiercest anger in this was most deserved:

“Ought not God to be angry over this? Ought not famine to come? Ought not pestilence find us out? Ought not blind, fierce, and savage tyrants come to power? Ought not war and contention arise?… Indeed, it would not be surprising if God were to open the doors and windows of hell and pelt and shower us with nothing but devils, or let brimstone and hell-fire rain down from heaven and inundate us…” (Ibid, p. 254)

Lastly, Luther said that the world of commerce had sown the seeds of materialism as the only reason for a school and that the truth of God’s Word in this life was being considered secondary, or perhaps even unnecessary.

“The run-of-the-mill miser despises such learning so deeply and says, ‘Ha, if my son can read and write German, do arithmetic, that is enough. I am going to make a businessman of him.” (Ibid, p. 251)

The purpose of our school is clear, and as you can see from the following mission statement, we don’t hide it:

“Our Savior Evangelical Lutheran School is an extension of our church to teach the Word of God’s Law and Gospel. Our goal is that all of our students and their families will know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior within the setting of academic excellence.”

In other words, yes, we do what public schools do (and we are constantly striving to be better and better in the effort), but we also do what they cannot. We truly are holistic. The education here at Our Savior arises from the objective truth of the Gospel, the good news of the forgiveness of sins through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Gospel shapes our lives. It gives the only true alternative point of orientation to every plan from every culture for all aspects of life in this world. Quite simply, the children and families of Our Savior Evangelical Lutheran School are raised in the Christian faith which clings to Jesus Christ, thereby being shaped rightly and holistically, as Luther defined so precisely and ultimately, “to believe, to live, to pray, to suffer, and to die” (LW, Vol. 47, pp. 52-53).