Keeping the Excellence in Education


Here are some ideas to help keep the excellence in education.

I. The School is not the Church

Church and school serve different functions in the Kingdom of God. The holy Christian church is to be found where "the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel" (Augsburg Confession VII 1). In a Lutheran School, the Gospel will be heard and the sacraments will be studied (not administered). But if that were all that a school did, it would be a monastery, not a school. The Christian school should look at the world as well as the Word. Christian schools are to "consider the wondrous works of God" (Job 27:14) and "tell the next generation the praise worthy deed of the Lord, His power, and the wonders He has done" (Psalm 78:4). The first priority of a Christian school is education; the first priority of a Christian church is evangelism.

It has happened in some Lutheran schools that education has taken a back seat to evangelism. The result is that such schools measure success in the number of baptisms performed rather than in the test scores of their students. But teaching about Jesus is no excuse for a poor education. We do a disservice to our children if we fail to teach them well. Moreover, we do a disservice to the Kingdom of God if we fail to teach, train, and equip our children to be leaders (better than ourselves) in their homes, communities, and country. Ironically, Christian schools, which emphasize evangelism at the expense of education, wind up driving their children away from the church when those children realize that in the name of Christ they have been given a poorer education than their peers.

In what sense then can we think of our Lutheran schools as being "mission driven?" The first mission field of any parent is his children. He has the responsibility to teach his children to "set apart Christ as Lord," to equip his children to "always be prepared to make a defense for the hope that is in them," and to train his children to "do this with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15). Christian schools are to help parents teach, equip, and train their children. The mission of the Lutheran school is to tell the next generation the praiseworthy deed of the Lord and the statutes He decreed (Psalm 78:4,5). The mission of the Lutheran school reaches into the future to raise up a generation who "would put their trust in God and not would forget His deeds but would keep His commands" (Psalm 78:7). Such a well-taught, well-equipped, well-trained generation would be a bold witness for the Gospel of Christ and a powerful defense for the truth of His Word.

II. The Law Must Play a Prominent Role in Christian Education.

In Deuteronomy 6, God tells the Israelites, "These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts, [and] you are to impress them on your children." Psalm 78 tells us that God "decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which He commanded our forefathers to teach their children." Proverbs instructs us that "folly is bound up in the heart of a child," and, consequently, you are to "discipline your son, for in that there is hope." St. Paul likewise commands each father to "bring up your children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." He also speaks of "the law as our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith." Clearly the law is necessary.

The law is necessary for order in the school (1st Use of the Law). Without rules, a classroom becomes a playroom and learning is lost. The law is necessary; furthermore, because only in the context of the Law does the Gospel have any meaning (2nd Use of the Law). Unless we know of our sin (revealed by the law - Rom. 3:20), we do not believe we have any need for a Savior. Thirdly, we must learn God's law if we are to walk in the way of righteousness (3rd Use of the Law). These are all educational functions.

When a Christian school neglects the teaching of the law it may try to win the cooperation of students by providing a "loving and nurturing" or even a "fun" environment rather than a "disciplined" one. Like casting pearls before swine, they speak profusely of God's forgiveness to those who don't think they need it. The result is students who despise the Gospel and detest God's commandments. To avoid this, the law must play a prominent role in a Lutheran School. Aubrey Nelson Bougher, pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Rosedale, New York, and Headmaster of their Lutheran School explains:

The proper distinction of Law and Gospel must be maintained. One never maintains discipline, structure and command procedures as though one thereby were earning salvation, although one may be thereby earning a good grade or the right to a certain honor or privilege within the school community. And one does not disdain the use of structure or discipline with a false view of the Gospel that becomes nothing more than mushy sentimentality in the antinomian sense. Without the Law there is no Gospel. The structure itself created by the Law is the arena within which the Gospel may be proclaimed. In itself the school is [a] structure of Law, created so that the Gospel may be proclaimed in the life of the community. ... There is no room for sloppy confusion of Law and Gospel [in a Lutheran school], [such as] saying that because Jesus loves you, you don't have to study your spelling. – The Parochial School As Evangelical Catholic Mission, Aubrey Nelson Bougher, Lutheran Education, May/June 1997, Volume 132, Number 5, page 257

III. There is No Such Thing as a Secular Subject

When it comes to knowledge, understanding, and wisdom, Scripture makes clear what is its only true source. Solomon states, "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge of the Holy One brings understanding" (Proverbs 9:10). He further urges, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him" (Proverbs 3:5,6). St. Paul bids us to "take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5), and again he writes, "see to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ" (Col. 2:8). And the reason for his warning, Paul says, is because "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ" (Col 2:3).

Likewise, when it comes to the Christian school curriculum and instructional materials, Christ is either the Lord of all of it, or He is the Lord of none of it. Douglas Wilson wrote:

Education is a completely religious endeavor. It is impossible to impart knowledge to students without building on religious presuppositions. Education is built on the foundation of the instructor's worldview (and the worldview of those who developed the curriculum). It is a myth that education can be nonreligious.... It is not possible to separate religious values from education. – Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning, Douglas Wilson, Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois, 1991, page 59.

Teachers and textbooks, materials and methods should be Christian in philosophy and content, too. When classes in the Christian school are taught just as they are in the public schools and from the same materials; when the Christian element is merely added by means of Bible classes and a chapel service, as though God's truth were just another "perspective," another way of looking at things; when the Christian school fails to understand the "fundamental antithesis between Christian culture and unbelieving culture" (Wilson); then it is no longer Christian but syncretism. We demand "pure doctrine" in our sermons, in our hymnbooks, and in our catechisms, but when it comes to our school texts, we willingly embrace humanistic, evolutionary, and moralistic texts for the instruction of our children. Lamenting the lack of appropriate texts in his day, C.F.W. Walther wrote:

“There are indeed legions of books but as yet there is no text which we can place into the hands of our dear children for the purpose of edifying them without placing them in jeopardy. Most books currently available are cheap moralistic and rationalistic productions that rather than edifying our children will ruin them.” – C.F.W. Walther: The American Luther, Walther the Educator, Arthur H. Drevlow, Walther Press, 1987, page 179

IV. Christian Schools Assist (Not Replace) Christian Parents

God instructs parents to "train," "teach," and "discipline" their children. Schools can help, but it remains the responsibility of the parents. This of course does NOT mean that parents decide how the school will be run, what the school will teach, or what the rules will be - these should be determined on the basis of Holy Scripture and sound reason. But a good Lutheran Day School can be a tremendous asset for godly parents to do for their children what God demands in the way that God commands.

Schools who presume to take over the job of parenting not only bite off more than they can chew, they also sin against God. Imparting values and shaping attitudes to turn students into well-adjusted and compliant citizens becomes the main thrust of secular education that usurps the role of parents. Christian schools, which make this mistake, tend to see their teachers as "ministers" to a "congregation of children" (the class). These "ministers" (teachers) are encouraged to befriend, counsel, and nurture their "congregations" (children) rather than teach them. The result is poor education and even worse theology. Schools are to help parents teach, train, and equip their children in the way they should go so that when they are old they will not depart from it (Proverbs. 22:6), and so that the children in turn will teach their children the eternal truths of God (Ps. 78:6).

These are some general concepts, which if followed, will keep the excellence in Lutheran education.

William C. Heine, 23 June 1997