Concordia Observation #1: Churches and Schools

The Preface to the Christian Book of Concord records the intent and agreement of those who signed their names to the Formula of Concord and the other confessional documents of the Lutheran Church, which are contained in the Book of Concord. It provides a glimpse into just some of the issues present at the time and the reasons for their confession.

One of the things that jumped out at me during my reading of it was how often the phrase “churches and schools” is used. 18 times in these 9 pages Chemnitz and Andreae use this phrase. Only seldom do they mention their churches apart from their schools.

At first, it made me wonder what kind of schools they were talking about. Could they be referring to schools like the University of Wittenberg, which became a central source of teaching in Lutheranism? It was the teachers in these schools (like Philip Melanchthon, for example, who penned the Augsburg Confession and its Apology) who were among the first to stand up as confessors of the faith.

But after reading it, I am inclined to think that these schools were more than just their institutions of higher learning. These were schools which were attached to their churches. The churches and schools confessed the faith together. They were attacked by false teaching together. Ministers served in both churches and schools.

I still don’t know much about the form of these schools. It’s something I would like to investigate if I had the time. I would be interested to know how these schools relate to the kinds of Lutheran schools we have today.  But what I notice here is simply the fact that the earliest Lutherans identified themselves as “churches and schools.”

The Lutheran Church has a long history of operating schools in connection to their congregations. And when Lutherans came to America, confessional Lutheran synods were also quick to start schools. Lutheran schools, especially at the elementary and middle school level, have been a stronghold in church bodies like the Wisconsin and Missouri Synods. Of course, not every congregation had a school. But the confessors recognized a crucial role for our schools. The schools were a vital part of confessing the true Christian faith. And confessing the faith was the most vital part of their schools.

Today it seems that schools are viewed more as a liability than an asset. Schools cost money. Lots of money. And therefore, they are viewed as an optional luxury for congregations that can afford it. I’m not suggesting that every congregation must or should operate a school. I’m simply observing a different way of viewing our schools.

In addition, I think sometimes there is a thought that because our schools are viewed as an “outreach tool” (not a bad thing, necessarily), the confession in the Lutheran school must be somewhat muted, so as not to turn off non-member parents. Often parents aren’t looking for a specifically Lutheran education. Anything generically Christian will do, or at least a school that teaches “Christian values.” So we won’t make such a big deal about being Lutheran in the school, or at least we ‘ll just save that for the pastor’s catechism class for the older students.

I don’t recognize either of these attitude in our Lutheran confessions. Their schools were a part of their identity, and the confession of Lutheran doctrine was their school’s identity.

We regularly hear news that our schools are not in the best of shape. Schools are closing. Others are shrinking. There are all kinds of reasons for these things, from the economy and the cost of tuition, to the parents’ priorities or the congregation’s level of support. Our congregations don’t have as many children as they used to, in part because parents don’t have as many children as they used to. In short, there are all kinds of things that ail our Lutheran schools.

But I believe the ultimate answer—if we want to keep Lutheran schools—is to keep our schools Lutheran. This means that our teachers ought to be well trained in Christian doctrine, including these Lutheran Confessions.We ask our school teachers to conform all of their teaching according to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. It means that the mission (even vision or objectives) ought to flow from this same confessional standard. It means that our main objectives are those things that allow church and school to confess the faith together. It means that our curriculum is going to have Lutheran catechesis as a central element rather than an awkward appendage.

I think about these things quite frequently, as I have always been (since kindergarten) involved in some sort of Lutheran school, and now also serve as acting principal of our school. And we are currently working through the accreditation process for our school, which has us documenting and articulating the purposes and plans for our school. So when I came across this constant repetition in the Preface to the Book of Concord, these words struck me as a most excellent model for own churches and schools:

We conclude that nothing more agreeable could happen or should be sought more eagerly and prayerfully from almighty God than the following: (a) both our churches and our schools should persevere in the pure doctrine of God’s Word and that longed-for and godly oneness of mind, and (b) as was the case while Luther was still alive, they should be regulated by the divine Word, which was handed down to posterity in a godly and excellent way.

Related post: Our Schools

1 thought on “Concordia Observation #1: Churches and Schools”

  1. Great observation! I just finished Aaberg’s history of the ELS (from 1918-1968), “A City Set on a Hill” and in his description of the history of educational institutions in the Little Norwegian Synod he made some trenchant remarks about the necessity of Christian education.

    He quoted an essay, I’m sorry I don’t have the book to hand for the direct quote, that made the point that as go the Christian (and it goes without saying, Lutheran) educational efforts of a family, a congregation, and a Synod, so goes the welfare of the Synod.

    A Synod that is catechizing youth at home, in the parish, and in the parish school, a Synod that is providing day school, high school, and college, a Synod that is training its pastors and teachers vigorously and faithfully according to the Word in prep, college, and Seminary levels, is a Synod that is thriving — not necessarily in numbers, but in the ways that matter, in the proclamation of the pure Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments, a church where there is the Church in all its glory.

    I’ll have to reread the Preface tonight to take note of your observation. Thanks!

    Grace and peace,

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