The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America



Why Lutherans care so much about it

Editor’s note: This series is intended to be a public conversation among teaching theologians of the ELCA on various themes of our faith and the challenging issues of our day. It invites readers to engage in dialogue by posting comments online at the end of each article at www.thelutheran.org.

The series is edited by Philip D.W. Krey, president of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, on behalf of the presidents of the eight ELCA seminaries.

If you ever spend time in another country (or county) on a mission trip, a semester abroad or on vacation, you might experience culture fatigue.

In a new context, customary patterns are unsettled and everything around you is new or different. Your brain will search to decipher what is familiar and will work overtime to process what is different. You’ll feel tired and need more sleep. You might even develop a headache or feel stressed out and defensive. These are natural bodily reactions to new information.

To be honest, it’s much easier to conserve energy and forgo encountering something new. Reptiles have it easy, right? Their life depends on the instincts that they have at birth. Human beings, however, need more than instinct to survive. Humans need to learn. Education is a matter of survival.

Good education helps you set up patterns and practices to conserve energy. Through learning, the wisdom and practice of earlier generations become valuable for interpreting and framing the contemporary moment.

But there is another side as well. Good education also liberates. Education is liberating when the learner critically reflects on the present and expends energy to imagine different possibilities. Sometimes these different possibilities are radically new and sometimes they are rediscovered.

God expects God’s people to learn. The writer of Deuteronomy makes clear that the commands of God are to be passed on from older generations to newer ones. When a child asks about the meaning behind the law of God, parents are to tell the story of God delivering the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.

A Christian who learns, learns not for herself alone but for her neighbor. The Great Commission in Matthew emphasizes that we become disciples in order to participate in the process of making disciples. Education for Lutherans is learning the stories of who we are created to be, learning to be disciples of Jesus Christ and learning to respond in faith, making disciples and serving our neighbors wherever we are, as we are able.

Martin Luther desired for Christians to encounter the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection and live a Christian way of life. For Luther the Small Catechism (containing the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, a summary of the sacraments, daily prayers and household duties) was a brief digest and summary of the entire Scriptures and contained all the Christian needed to know about a life of faith. He encouraged mothers and fathers to teach the catechism to their household daily.

At the same time, Luther insisted that parents send their children to school to learn how to read and write because this would enable them to also read Scripture and the catechism. Luther held on to the long view of learning. Children would one day grow up to become the heads of their own households or perhaps even become a pastor. Mothers and fathers who could read and write would be equipped and competent to teach the Scripture and the catechism to their family. To be prepared for this holy vocation, Luther said, children needed to attend school.

Education is learning to be human and learning to be faithful. When Lutherans support schools, both public and church-related, they follow the greatest commandment to live freely by loving God and loving neighbor.

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