The Fight for the Christian School as a Fight for the Christian Worldview

It is obvious from the outset that it is of the fundamental character of the public school to be literally godless, that is, without God!

(Der Kampf um die christliche Schule als Kampf um die christliche Weltanschauung)
Theologische Quartalschrift, Vol. 7, 1910, p. 204-221
By John Schaller
Introduction and translation by Michael Holmen


John Schaller (1859-1920) was a professor and the director of Dr. Martin Luther College in New Ulm, MN from 1889-1908. From 1908 until his death from influenza in 1920 he was the director of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Wauwatosa, WI.

Schaller is often referred to as one of the “Wauwatosa theologians” because of the new emphases that he developed with his seminary colleagues, J. P. Koehler and August Pieper. These seminary professors wrote challenging and stimulating articles for the seminary’s journal, the Theologische Quartalschrift. Instead of focusing on dogmatic and practical theology (which were the dominant theological fields in Synodical Conference circles), the Wauwatosans emphasized historical and biblical theology.

John Schaller is often overshadowed in secondary literature by the esteem that is given to his colleagues, Koehler and Pieper, but he is an outstanding theologian in his own right. Perhaps because of his tenure at Dr. Martin Luther College, which was a teachers’ college, he always was concerned about excellence in education. He wrote much more in English than his colleagues ever did. He is very good at stating things clearly and succinctly. The brevity and weightiness of his books, Pastorale Praxis in der ev.-Luth. Freikirche Amerikas (1913) and Biblical Christology (1918), are evidence of that.

The article printed below, “The Fight for the Christian School as a Fight for the Christian Worldview,” shows the seriousness with which our forefathers viewed Christian education. Freedom of religion in America provided the opportunity for our churches to form and shape good Christian men and women through quality education. This endeavor also required sacrifices, however, which were not always forthcoming. This article appears to have been written to stimulate interest and devotion for the great task that is given to all Christians to educate. Education is necessarily religious. The Christian Church must always be interested, therefore, in how all its members are being educated. M.H.

In our circles the question of whether Christian schools should be established is far too often considered to be something altogether indifferent—having no bearing on a person’s standing with Christianity. That is why the matter is dealt with carelessly. This works against us and causes great harm to the Church, because the necessity of the Christian school is not emphasized. Far-reaching principles are involved with the school question in our American situation. With the fight for the Christian school we are in a contest between two worldviews that are diametrically opposed to each other. When this has been realized, it is impossible as a Christian to be indifferent in the matter. When the honor of the great God comes into consideration it is not possible to remain indifferent.

Despite whatever superficial differences may exist, there are basically two possible worldviews. They are as different from each other as day and night, light and darkness, heaven and hell, God and the devil. Yet they are so completely decisive that a man’s standing as a child of heaven or hell is determined by whether or not one or the other worldview is what is ruling him.

The Beginning of the Two Worldviews

To get to know these worldviews in their simplest, most unveiled form, we will go back to the gray primeval dawn of history, the first period of the world. At that time, when men had just been created, the two worldviews arose immediately one after the other and in the sharpest contrast to each other. One or the other of these worldviews is what still governs the thinking and the will of every human being.

When God created man, He looked at what He had done and behold, it was all very good. Since God looked at everything, man also was very good. Many things can be drawn from this. Thereby God testified that man completely fulfilled his position in the visible creation and with his power as ruler could not enter into conflict with any creature. He grasped his earthly work in all directions and had the necessary understanding to carry it all out. Most importantly, however, he was in complete harmony with his Creator and was not aware of any opposition to Almighty God. Thus, as he was created, he was given the worldview which, according to God’s judgment, was good because it agreed with God’s intentions. The innermost essence of man, also his entire will, was made in the image of God, and so his will was in perfect harmony with God’s will. What was obvious to the sinless man was that everything surrounding him was there only for the glory of God. No selfish thoughts, no striving for personal advancement could be said of Adam, because his poetry and aspirations were entirely engrossed with God. It did not bother him that he was forbidden to eat from the tree in the middle of the Garden. God had made this prohibition known as His will, and man, created in the image of God, saw in it no limitation to his freedom, but only a part of God’s will with which he naturally found himself in harmony. He was fully conscious and aware of all the circumstances, and without any inner conflict he was such a creature who pursued only God’s honor. That was the divine worldview which the Creator had implanted in him. That worldview was absolutely theocentric.

Then the lie from hell accosted man and destroyed what God had so beautifully created. The tempter tricked Eve with a question that looked like a friendly inquiry: “Did God really say? Might it not be possible that you humans have misconstrued that?” And then, when she very emphatically repeats the commandment, Satan is at hand with his “Enlightenment” [Aufklärung]: “God knows that in the day that you eat of it your eyes will be opened!” That is a blatant blasphemy of God, but at the same time it is an attempt to teach Eve a new, devilish worldview. Eve should think of herself. She should covet and pursue an advantage for herself. Thereby God would be ousted from His ruling position in the hearts of men, and selfishness would take the place of the love of God.

Eve gave in. In a masterly way the succinct Biblical account shows us how Eve’s heart was changed sequentially. First, she looks at the tree with completely new thoughts. Yes, she looks at it, whereas before she probably only saw it as she passed by and had not thought of the tree as anything more than the self-evident reminder of the divine prohibition. Suddenly it dawns on her that the tree is lovely to look at. Her hungry eyes greedily trace the outlines of the object of her desire. The forbidden fruit entices her. Up to this point she did not even realize that this was a forbidden delicacy, but now she feels the irresistible craving to enjoy what she has been deprived of, and to make up for lost time. Besides, according to the tempter’s word, she had a rich profit in store for herself. She was promised an almost unlimited expansion of her spiritual power over the world.

She ate because her worldview had been inverted. God had moved out of the center and her own self [das Ich] had taken His place. How easily and horribly fast the change had come through, by which the whole standing of man had been changed from Godlike to diabolical! The essence of man was now anthropocentric, and a separation from God, the highest good, happened with it. From now on man is no longer heard to say: “God above everything and to Him alone be the glory!” In the place of this divinely intended motto is the diabolical one that has been reverberating through the centuries: “Every man for himself!” Without knowing it or intending it, American folk-speech has a phrase that exactly expresses the damnable corruption of human nature. It calls one’s own self [das Ich]: “Number One” [in English in the original].

But we know there’s more to the story. By God’s undeserved grace, the original, godly, and right worldview was restored through the Gospel immediately after the fall. The consolation of the Word concerning the woman’s seed led Adam and Eve back to God and fixed their thoughts on God again. Since then, also by God’s mercy, there has never been an absence of a church that has held fast to the “Soli Deo Gloria,” albeit with great imperfection. All men are born as Adam’s children. They bear his image and bring with them into life the worldview that is hostile to God. “No one seeks after God,” is what the One who knows everything says of those who have not been born again through the power of grace to a new life in God.

From the beginning until now these two worldviews have fought bitterly. The battle has been going on for thousands of years—ever since Cain strangled his brother. There is the legitimate fruit of this new worldview: fratricide. Cain executed Abel because he hated his brother’s godly worldview. That is how it always happens in the world. Whenever the children of God make their confession of God earnestly and seek [God’s] glory rather than the world, the opposing forces rise up, serpent-headed, and the battle commences. It is therefore not surprising that the Christian school, born from a God-given worldview, should be recognized as an opponent to the public school, shaped by the world, and consequently be the target of the bitterest hostility.

The True Character of the Public School System

In a life-and-death struggle there can be no hope of success if the enemy is misjudged. The true character of the public school system is recognized among us all too little. All too often we are inclined to concede to it all sorts of good qualities. It is therefore important in our own circles to be crystal clear: the public school, as it is among us, is not grounded in the godly worldview, does not advocate for it, and therefore can only produce its opposite. Furthermore, with our circumstances, we presuppose that some kind of school system is required for the education of young people, and that therefore the school can be described as a relatively necessary institution.

The American public school differs from the German [public school], among other things, in that it is religion-less. It does not explicitly teach any of the recognized religions. This is sometimes regarded as a good thing, but that is only making a virtue out of what is a necessity. Under our circumstances, especially with the fundamental separation of state and church, the state simply had to refrain from taking up the role of religion teacher. That is altogether correct, for the state doesn’t have a call to teach people religion. Wherever it tries to do so, it only causes harm. But then it is obvious from the outset that it is of the fundamental character of the public school to be literally godless, that is, without God!2

The teacher of the public school knows nothing of God, so far as the calling is concerned, and has nothing to say of divine matters. If he does it anyway, then he is overstepping his bounds. When it comes to moral questions that he cannot avoid, he fails to point out the binding power of the divine will. He has no choice but to refer moral requirements to social conventions or the authority of the policeman’s billy club. Since this school ignores God and divine things as a matter of principle, we can easily see that the theocentric view of the world simply does not come into consideration for them. Since all education, if it wants to be intelligently oriented at all, must necessarily be based on a worldview, the only remaining basis for the public school is the worldview which led Eve into enjoying the forbidden fruit.

This [godlessness] even stands fully in agreement with the goal that the public school has set for itself. According to the theocentric worldview, the children of men rightfully belong to God, their Creator and Redeemer. He also clearly demands: “Show My children, the work of My hands, to Me!” [Isa. 45:11]. But nobody is even claiming that the public school intends to educate their students to be God’s children. Of course sometimes you hear that the three R’s—Reading, ’Riting, and ’Rithmetic—are the be-all and end-all [Summa Summarum] of the public school curriculum. Many people still think that the public school’s goal is this elementary education. But reading, writing, and arithmetic alone would be too insignificant of an aspiration for such a great institution. The teachers couldn’t get too excited about that. At their conventions, the teachers of the public school claim for themselves the task of molding the minds of the people. An educational institution is what this school will be. To be such [an institution], it has to set higher goals for itself than the rudimentary intellectual training of its pupils. Many attempts have been made to achieve something in the field of aesthetics. But otherwise, what the public school has theoretically made as its main task is the education of children to be good citizens, that is to say, patriotism. This actually sounds as though the public school did not cultivate selfishness as its chief task, but does the practice correspond to the theory? Is it really instilled in the children that they should be driven to succeed in all the subjects because it is necessary for the well-being of the state?

Anyone who knows anything about how pupils are spurred on to studiousness in the public school knows that these schools routinely operate with the very lowest motivations that exist—ambition [Ehrgeize] and selfishness. But really it is just selfishness, because ambition is just a derivation of selfishness. The students are not moved to action whatsoever by consideration of the neighbor (to say nothing of God’s will). The decisive factor is only what works to one’s own advantage. And so the students compete with each other to gain a certain honor or a good grade. They are diligent, but only so that they can be recognized. Then they can be representatives of the school and compete in games, and so on. These events are so routine that they are automatically approved as appropriate for the operation of the school. The only time anyone might get annoyed by it is if his own child is held back. The main driving force at all times is the recognition of personal achievement, of “success” [in English], which is promised to the diligent student as a guaranteed future reward. If you want to make money, then you have to learn. This is more or less the refrain that is sung to the children in every possible key. The self [Das Ich] is placed in the foreground. Egotism is diligently cultivated.

That we should promote religious awareness is hardly talked about at all. If it still existed it would be overshadowed anyway with the whole tendency of scientific and historical instruction. Our public schools up through the universities deliberately and systematically push evolutionism. They do not teach evolution in the deistic sense where God is still the root cause of all that exists and develops, but in an agnostic way, or perhaps in a completely atheistic way, so that God’s sovereignty over nature and history is completely eliminated. Wherever it is possible, the glory of men takes the place of the glory of God. Everything is directed towards the glorification of man. In short, the goals of the public school are not remotely theocentric, but entirely anthropocentric. That this is just part of the nature of a religion-less school is no excuse. It only serves as further confirmation of the thesis that the worldview which God wants us to have is not welcome in the public school, but rather the other worldview is welcome, which has been brought into the world by the devil.

And what are the results? The public school has already had more than a generation of our people in its hand and molded them according to its principles. For decades we have had to endure their screaming into our ears that this institution is the safeguard of our freedom, the very foundation of the republic, without which it cannot stand. This screaming has also impressed Christians so much that most church bodies have gullibly and blindly given over the education of their youth to the state. If the public school has done something to improve our situation, then it should be able to prove it with the results. It should be recognized by its fruits. What about the patriotism that seeks the good of country by putting aside one’s own interests? That is a ridiculous thought in a country that sighs and moans under the exploitation of greedy men unlike any other. And yet almost every moaning man would immediately trade places with the exploiters if he had the opportunity. The most horrible corruption has settled over the entire country, making our politics the dirtiest industry in the world. Every big city and a large portion of the rural districts are a Sodom and Gomorrah whose sins stink to high heaven. Everywhere there is the crassest selfishness. Man makes himself the center of the universe and claims all rights for himself. That is exactly how the devil planned it in paradise.

Will the public school take responsibility for these conditions? [By doing so] it would immediately relinquish its right to exist because of the insufficiency of its methods. [It would be] a bad school that cannot do what it should be able to do after all that investment and work. But it is understandable that a farmer who nurtured and cultivated, watered and fertilized a weed-field would not want to take responsibility for the lush growth of the most noxious weeds. But it is detestable that we Christians are often dazzled by the outward grandeur of the public school. Meanwhile the evil foe looks on with contentment as people slave away, so that the pernicious weeds that he has sown will flourish. Where the worldview that is cultivated in the public school is dominant, the devil keeps his peace. There is nothing else that he can do.

Parental Duty in Christian Education

We Christians are not called to erect educational institutions for the children of the world. Even if we did make attempts in this direction we should not expect success, because the world wants to be deceived. But God has entrusted to us our own children whom we should give back to Him. We should educate them in the worldview that corresponds to His divine will. What a damned sin it is—I’m saying what Luther said—if you fail in that! It is ghastly to think how many parents who pretend to be Christians have merited hell for themselves concerning their children. Take note: educating children to be Christian does not just mean telling them that they should be Christian. It also does not just mean that you can mentally teach them a certain repository of religious knowledge. Rather, it is to bring to them the worldview that God, their Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, is the supreme good and that His honor should be the goal of all human endeavor and that the self does not count. This, and not a hair less, is what Paul means when he says that parents should educate their children in the discipline and admonition of the Lord.

Now to be sure, all attempts by Christian parents in this matter are as deficient as their sanctification is deficient. Here also we daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness even when we have done everything that we know to be right. But how can it be justified if someone does not do everything he can for Christian education, or even the hundredth part? What’s more, if he deliberately exposes the children to influences that work against godliness? It is wretched to see how the Church in our day suffers unspeakable harm because so many Christians compromise in things that have to do with the education of their children. Worldliness is on the rise and the Christian faith is being left behind.

These compromises mainly take two forms. In one case the parents think that they completely fulfill their Christian duty by sending their children to Sunday school, while during the week they hand off their kids to the religion-less public school. In the other case, the parents put their firm confidence in the confirmation instruction, which is supposed to give a full Christian education in half a year. This is after the child has been subjected to an education that has been shaped by the world for more than six years. If the two compromises are merged, as sometimes happens, so that Sunday school and confirmation instruction come together, it doesn’t help much. This option has only negligible advantages over the individual compromises from which it is composed. In the following discussion of these compromises, it is not valid to judge whether Sunday school and confirmation instruction are valuable in and of themselves. That depends entirely on whether or not the Gospel is given its due. Also, where we shed light on the responsibility of the parents, we obviously do not have to take into account what the Holy Spirit can work in the children even through the means of the most defective religious instruction. No doubt, God can save a poor child from the abyss into which the parents have thrown him. The question for us is whether parents can give answer for throwing their child into the abyss.

Parents betray a lack of thoughtful consideration when they nourish the hope that the Christian education of their children will probably not be adversely affected when they are instructed for years on end in the public school, so long as you send them weekly for an hour of Sunday school, or after seven years of training finally entrust them to the pastor for confirmation classes. [In order for their hope to be valid], they would have to believe two things. First, that steady instruction in the religion-less school carries with it no religious implications for the children. Second, that the low level of religious instruction in Sunday school and confirmation classes is enough to provide a firmly grounded religious competency for their children.

I’d like to illustrate the first point with an example drawn from nature. Someone traveling in the Dakota prairies for the first time might notice that the few trees which have been planted by human hands never stand straight but have all grown crooked. In some it is not only the trunk that has this tendency, but the branches are also all bent so that it looks like someone’s hair has been blown over his face from back to front. If asked about this phenomenon that nature-lovers find disagreeable, the inhabitants of the area will tell you that it is because of the constant and occasionally violent winds, which come mostly from the northwest. Slowly but surely, their constant influence on the saplings causes them to deviate from a straight line of growth. Although the wind might blow from another direction from time to time, it cannot overcome the effect of the much more frequent northwest wind. That is why all the trees have grown crooked.

The application is easy. Those saplings resemble the children from Christian homes who are sent to the public school and left under its influence for years. The constant northwest wind is the religion-less instruction given to such poor children. The other winds are the few religious lessons that such children receive in Sunday school and confirmation classes that are meant to counteract the steady northwest wind. Is it really such a wonder that they are stunted spiritually and growing crooked? Day after day, week after week, year after year, the spirit of the world blows upon them. All the powers of pedagogy are harnessed so that their thoughts are directed to what is earthly—never to what is divine. All the influence that the school can bring to bear is meant to make pure children of the world [reine Weltkinder] out of the pupils. How can anyone hope that all this will pass the children by without having an effect, so that a very poor religious education offers a sufficient counterweight? Can anyone expect that such children will bring forth true fruits of godliness and serve their neighbor for God’s sake?

Anyone who thinks thus is devoid of common sense. But that’s actually how most parents think. In the thing that parents must give answer for above everything else, they act unthinkingly, and the deprived children must suffer as a result. The evil fruits only show themselves later when you cannot do much about it, that is, when the children emancipate themselves from the parents, and, thanks to their parents, follow the paths they have learned to walk. Then the parents see how their children are becoming more and more estranged from the Church. Then, everywhere, there are bitter complaints that so many confirmands are breaking their promise and running with the world. But let’s be honest with ourselves: can we really expect anything different when we raise our children the way we do?

However, it is no less of a violation of common sense, let alone of the mind of an enlightened Christian, if lasting results are expected from instruction only through Sunday school and confirmation class. Consider: What lies before us is the education of children in a godly worldview that is contrary to the endeavors and the entire way of life of the natural man. It is necessary to ground them in divine wisdom. How very true is the word of the Lord here: “The children of this world are wiser than the children of light in their generation.” [That is, they know how to educate.] A child should learn reading, writing, and arithmetic. He should be taught the basic concepts of geography and a certain cache of historical ideas should be acquired. Later on he might learn a trade. It would not occur to anyone to think that it would be sufficient for the child to be engaged with the subject only one hour a week [Sunday school], or to spend an hour a day for half a year [confirmation instruction]. There is good reason that lessons be given for years in reading, writing, arithmetic, grammar, geography, and history. Only in this way is a thorough knowledge obtained. It remains intellectual property that the child owns for as long as he lives. Only by learning in this way will children think correctly in these subjects. This is so self-explanatory that in the big cities we even have to contend with parents who do not want to give their children the time they need for their confirmation instruction. With sighs, the pastors have to acquiesce. They’ll only get the children after school when they are mentally exhausted and cannot make an effort anymore. In addition, they should expect as little work from the children as possible, because of the demands which their worldly instruction makes on them.

And now let us take up the astonishing view of many Christians that hardly any time at all is necessary for the Christian’s education. The highest wisdom that exists, revealed by God in His Word, can just be picked up along the way. Isn’t it obvious that the godly worldview [that is supposed to be acquired] is all too curtailed here? “But,” you say, “there are surely many in our congregations who must be considered dear congregation members even though they have lacked the school education that has just been described.” Well said. But also notice [their defects.] They are often driven to and fro by every wind of doctrine. They are often inclined to the world and its practices. They often show very little Christian understanding in the congregational meetings, and make worldly measures the bona fide standards for congregational matters. And what about those many thousands who were born of Christian parents, but as a result of such education were so quickly estranged from Christianity? With them it is like Christ says, “They have no root. They believe for a while, but when affliction [Anfechtung] comes they fall away.” How can you expect that the prayer of the Apostle should be fulfilled in such people?:

That He may give you strength according to the riches of His glory, to become strong in the inner man, and for Christ to dwell in your hearts by faith, and to be rooted and grounded in love, so that you may grasp with all the saints what is the width and the length and the depth and the height, even recognizing the love of Christ, which surpasses all knowledge, so that you will be filled with all the fullness of God! [Eph. 3:16-19]

The Christian School

The Christian worldview requires the grounding of youth in the Christian truth. Therefore the Church will fight for the Christian school so long as it retains this worldview. With our circumstances we must have schools, and so the preservation of the Christian school is a matter of life and death for us. In many cases the importance of the matter was obscured by wanting to have German schools as a counterpart to the public school. Even with the name, “parochial” or “community” school, many a poorly informed Christian has failed to recognize the sharpness of the contrast [between the church school and the public school].3 There may come a time when the German language no longer has a role to play among us. There may also come a time when the Christian congregation considers the establishment of a school as an afterthought. But what matters is that the German or English Gemeindeschule be a Christian school. And, O God! Let us never experience such a time that those who strive for this kind of school should become a hopeless minority in our church. Our Christian parochial school is a product of the godly worldview. Whoever fights for [the worldview], also fights for [the schools].

Even the way this [Christian] school is configured reveals its origin. It cannot deny its origins any more than the public school can. Where Christian children are educated as Christians by Christian teachers who educate as Christians, then the predominant and preferred subject matter is what makes people Christians and saves them—God’s Word. The best time of the school day is given to this subject and every school day has at least one hour dedicated exclusively to God and divine things. Worldly, earthly wisdom comes second here, as befits such a people for whom the kingdom of God and His righteousness far surpasses everything else in importance. Since the Christian still lives in the world and is to honor God by serving his neighbor, the Christian child must also be provided with worldly knowledge. [These subjects] therefore also must be taken into account in the curriculum for the Christian school. But as far as their place is concerned, they do not rule, but truly only serve. Like the Christians themselves, so also are their schools: they are in the world, but not of the world.

This fact is also recognized by the world in a characteristic way. Time and time again the Christian school has had to endure hostility from the children of the world. All the education legislation aimed directly at the distinctly Christian school provides the proof that the world instinctively knows how foreign such schools are. [The Christian schools] bear a stamp that the world cannot recognize as genuine without denying their own cause. For this reason we cannot expect recognition for the civic and social value our schools provide so long as the church pursues this work deliberately and energetically. If the parochial school is recognized by the world, then there is good cause to wonder whether it has remained a Christian school. “If you were of the world, the world would love you.”

In the Christian school the manner of teaching is also according to the Christian worldview and is therefore oriented towards God. We are not talking about the technique of teaching here—that is the same for all teaching. What we are talking about here is the sensibility [Gesinnung] that dominates all instruction. It has been rightly said that in the Christian school all the instruction is religious. Not only are the explicitly religious subjects referred to God and derived from God, but the right understanding and the right application is made according to God’s Word in all the other subjects also. The Christian teacher does not describe the necessity of worldly subjects by pointing out that man assures his earthly advancement and lays the foundation for money through them. God’s will is that we should use the gifts He has given us to serve the neighbor. The Christian lives, as a Christian, only for God and to serve God in the neighbor.

The godly worldview dominates the whole presentation especially in the more serious subjects [Realfächern]. There are no agnostic-evolutionist viewpoints being taught in science, geography, and world history. What is taught is that everything in the creature is created by God for His glory. All of man’s movements and accomplishments are in God’s hand. World history is the ongoing preaching of the righteousness and merciful goodness of the Creator. If, for example, we teach American history, then we do it from the point of view that the very foundation and ongoing preservation of our republic in God’s hand was only as a means of giving another opportunity for the free preaching of the Gospel in these last days. Is it any surprise, then, that the American world, which only wants to know its history in the form of hero worship, has condemned our history instruction as inadequate, if not hostile?

The godly worldview corresponds also to the goals of the Christian school. This has already been spoken about above in part. Since God is the highest good and union with Him is the highest happiness, the Christian school wants to do its part in the pupils becoming and remaining God’s children. The ultimate goal of [the school’s] work regarding the children is their salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. The worldly, civil education goes alongside, because it cannot be otherwise than that a man who is educated for God also is educated for what is best in the give and take of people with one another. In other words, what the Christian school is not interested in accomplishing in the first place is nevertheless attained by the power of the divine Word anyway, but in such a degree of perfection that no worldly school can ever achieve. The Christian school is sometimes accused of not teaching the children enough worldly wisdom. Therefore, the helpless little ones are put in the world’s school, where only such things are pushed. In spite of all such claims the promise holds true: “And all these things will be added unto you.” It is also fulfilled here. Whoever honestly, and with Christian sense, compares this claim with Jesus’ promise will have to admit that the blessing of God rests also on the Christian schools. They produce more in terms of solid, accurate school knowledge in less time than the best ordinary public school. Christian children in Christian school are learning, because God wants it that way. In addition, the Christian school has the only means of education that can develop a useful, good character. It is not that way in the public school. With all its training it has never produced a single truly good citizen, a single good father, a single good mother. If there is any school that can do such great things, then it is the Christian school and it alone.

With these things we have already started talking about the results of the Christian school. They are just as plain to see as the constant failures of the public school. It is not our intention to stress that the Christian school as a Christian school can have no evil outcomes. But the school does direct itself against all inborn and learned evil in man and fights it, and in the Gospel it offers the opposite good with divine power. We only need to look at the history of our church—that speaks louder than any individual can about the invaluable results of our parochial schools. How many preachers of the Gospel do we have thanks to our fathers being eager to keep Christian education for the young? Likewise, how many of our church’s excellent teachers have been educated in those schools? And in so many of our congregations there are members who have only attended the Christian school. They truly form the core, the solid foundation. Who could number them all? It is true that in our parochial schools we educate people with a firm, divinely oriented worldview. When the world calls them “institutions for making people dumb,” we take that as praise, for that which is foolish to the world is precisely what is divine.

Cultivating a Christian Attitude toward Education

The idea that our fight for the Christian school is a fight for the Christian worldview is not negated by the fact that we have to drive quite hard even to get the slightest interest in our own congregations. While this worldview cannot be entirely lacking in any true Christian, it is also immediately evident from the imperfection of sanctification in all Christians that the godly worldview does not become pervasive in all the areas of human life without effort and struggle. Unfortunately, this is especially evident in the great harm done to many children’s souls particularly when it comes to education. If a congregation opposes the establishment of its own school because it is too expensive, it clearly reveals that it lacks the awareness of what is truly the case: Our children belong to God and not to the world. The same applies to parents who cannot be persuaded to entrust their children exclusively to the Christian school. Without a doubt, they are governed by the inborn [i.e. original sin] view that, above everything else, it is necessary to make the children proficient in worldly wisdom. And even if a congregation has a thriving school system, but it has declined without any purely local reasons for doing so, then it seems to be high time to carefully observe whether the godly worldview has not been pushed into the background among them. Perhaps the Word of the Lord applies: “I know your works—that you are neither cold nor warm. Oh, that you would be cold or warm! But because you are lukewarm and neither cold nor warm, I will spit you out of my mouth!” (Rev. 3:15-16)

It is easy to see how the struggle for the Christian school should be conducted from all these thoughts. There is virtually nothing that can be done with legalistic regulations, because the right zeal for the parochial school presupposes the divine attitude that is only produced by the Gospel. The paragraph in the by-laws where the congregation members commit themselves to sending their children to the Christian school does not make anyone do it in the right way. That only has value as a reminder and belongs to the law as a rule for the Christian. It is even the case that if a father does not send his children to the parochial school, he should not be put under church discipline.4 This might just look like he is bringing them up in a way that is not at all Christian, and he should probably be asked to remove the appearance of evil. The situation is different, though, if he consciously exposes his children to the ungodly influences of the world’s school and thus puts [the child’s] salvation at stake. As soon as he demonstrates that attitude, and does so without any reservations, he surely deserves brotherly rebuke.

But success can only be achieved if the right, Christian worldview occupies the dominant position in the people who are to be taught. If a man is such that he is not eager to seek God’s glory in all things, then he must first become a Christian before the correct position in the question of raising children is set before him. But if it is only that he is deficient and has not yet understood how decisively the Christian worldview, which he has by faith, settles the question at hand, then evangelical instruction will have the task of making it clear to him. For the sake of God’s mercy, which he himself experiences, for the sake of Jesus’ love, which is given to him, he will gladly accept the instruction that shows him how he can live up to the heavy responsibility he has towards his children. The evangelical exhortation will then also give him strength to overcome the incessant resistance of his flesh. Consider, too, that this cannot be accomplished all at once, as it is with any other element of sanctification. Therefore, carry on with patience and instruction.

And what if we should grow so weary in our fight for the Christian parochial school that we fall asleep? What if the testimony goes unheard and the voices fade more and more—“What’s the use in trying?” God preserve us with His grace from such an evil time! Luther has spoken in his writing to the councilmen a prophetic word of admonition. This has lost none of its power or applicability and should now shake us up again:

Buy while the market is at your door; gather in the harvest while there is sunshine and fair weather; make use of God’s grace and word while it is there! For you should know that God’s word and grace is like a passing shower of rain which does not return where it has once been. It has been with the Jews, but when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have nothing. Paul brought it to the Greeks; but again when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have the Turk. Rome and the Latins also had it; but when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have the pope. And you Germans need not think that you will have it forever, for ingratitude and contempt will not make it stay. Therefore, seize it and hold it fast, whoever can; for lazy hands are bound to have a lean year.5

1 [The article has this footnote attached to the beginning of it:] “An expansion of an outline for a lecture given at a school convention in Milwaukee.”

2 Omitted from the translation is what immediately follows this sentence in the original: (Vgl. brotlos, ehrlos, arbeitslos u. s. w.) [cf. breadless, honor-less, jobless, etc.]. Perhaps Schaller was anticipating that the reader might be shocked by the harsh idea of the public school being “godless.” That might be seen as unnecessarily insulting. He therefore is pointing to other words that work the same way when there is a lack of something.
3 Perhaps Schaller is talking about how the German word, Gemeinde, can mean either congregation or community. Since the school was often called the Gemeindeschule, some thought that it was a community school for German immigrants, rather than a church school for the education of Christians.

4 Schaller is almost certainly referring to the so-called “Cincinnati Case” which was finally being resolved at about the time when this article was written. The “Cincinnati Case” was about a Missouri Synod congregation in Cincinnati that began church discipline against a father because he took his son out of the parochial school so that his English could be improved at the public school. After a few meetings with the leaders of the congregation the father quit attending their summons, and so the congregation declared that he had excommunicated himself. Missouri Synod officials as well as the St. Louis Seminary faculty disapproved of the congregation’s actions and suspended the congregation’s membership in the Missouri Synod. The congregation then made some overtures for membership to the Wisconsin Synod. Some in the Wisconsin Synod, including the seminary faculty at Wauwatosa, thought this was highly improper, but others fraternized with the congregation. The question of whether synodical suspension must be honored as divine testimony (similar to the way that the divine testimony involved with excommunication should be honored), is what led to the Wauwatosa faculty’s work on the doctrine of ministry and Church beginning in 1911. This would eventually develop into the so-called “Wisconsin view on Church and ministry.”

5 LW 45:352-253 To the Councilmen of All Cities in Germany That They Establish and Maintain Christian Schools


Michael Holmen

Rev. Michael Holmen is a pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Fairmont, MN.

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