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Christian Education Sunday

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Text: “12 [T]ake care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Deuteronomy 6:12)

Educating In Forgetfulness

As we begin a new school year, it seems fitting to remember the words of Martin Luther: “I am afraid that the schools will prove the very gates of hell, unless they diligently labor in explaining the Holy Scriptures and engraving them in the heart of the youth.”
We take for granted that education is a good thing. It is seen as the remedy for virtually all of society’s ills. It would be quite an undertaking to count up the number of organizations working to “educate” people about particular health concerns, dangers in our homes, or problems in our culture. In fact, how often have you heard the problems in our society chalked up to ‘ignorance’? No matter what the ill might be, education is the answer. But is that an accurate assumption? You certainly can’t criticize efforts to educate people on fire safety, for example. But is education always necessarily a good thing?
You are probably perfectly willing to allow that not all education is necessarily useful— especially the subjects that you never quite grasped. But are you willing to entertain Luther’s suggestion that schools could “prove the very gates of hell”? Luther is known for making really exaggerated, over the top statements in order to make his point sometimes. Does that explain it?
Before you dismiss Luther’s words as exaggeration, consider a similar idea from C.S. Lewis:
“Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.” (C.S. Lewis)
Does that begin to illustrate the truth of Luther’s words? The problem— as with most things— isn’t education. The problem lies with man.
What class can educate the greed out of man’s heart? What textbook can instruct the hate away? What teacher can train the Old Adam— your inborn sinful nature— to be a child of God?
Apart from God’s Word, education only serves to give the sinful nature new tools to serve its wicked ends.
Knowledge can become a false god. In fact, arguably, it has become a false god for many in our day. You and I are tempted to rely on it as our confidence for the future. Especially as American Christians, education is the foundation, the assurance, of your financial security. It is your shield against so many of the troubles of this life. And, when the shadow of death starts to creep over you, you comfort yourself with the power of medical science and the false hope that it offers of immortality.
“I am afraid that the schools will prove the very gates of hell unless they diligently labor in explaining the Holy Scriptures and engraving them in the heart of the youth.” To this, as well, we must say: This is most certainly true.
“12 [T]ake care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Deuteronomy 6:12) Sadly, what is happening in so many places is that our children are being educated into forgetfulness.

Binding God’s Word to Ourselves

Now, at the same time, it would be completely wrong to think that Luther opposed education. One of the ways that Luther left a mark on our world was through his emphasis on the importance of education. There is a reason why, to this day, the congregations of our Lutheran Church— Missouri Synod operate roughly 100 Lutheran high schools, nearly 1,000 elementary schools, and about 1750 early childhood centers. Luther was a huge supporter of education. For him, the point of education, first and foremost, was to teach our children God’s Word.
God’s Word is not like a math textbook. It’s certainly not just a history book. It is the living Word of God that still has power to save.
When Moses told the people to write the words on their hearts, to talk about them at home, to talk about them when they’re away from home, to have them on their lips when they lie down and when they rise, it wasn’t just about remembering what God did, way back when. They were to remember it because He was still delivering them.
They were to remember that He had led their fathers out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, had brought them through the wilderness and had given them the Promised Land filled with “cities that [they] did not build, 11 and houses full of all good things that [they] did not fill, and cisterns that [they] did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that [they] did not plant” (Deut. 6:10b-11), they were to remember all that in order to assure them that He was still protecting them, still providing for them, He was still there in their midst.
That’s still true today.
What class can educate the greed out of man’s heart? The one that teaches them about the One who took upon Himself the greed that has brought such suffering and destruction to this world and paid the full price for it on the cross.
What textbook can instruct the hate away? The Book that tells them of the God who loved them by giving His only-begotten Son to die for them.
What teacher can train the Old Adam— their inborn sinful nature— to be a child of God? First and foremost, the one who takes God’s Word, combines it with water as Jesus commanded, and applies it to them in baptism— drowning their sinful nature and raising them to new life as children of God. The one that joins them to Christ in His death and raises them, with Him, to a new life.
God’s Word is not just a record of what He did for others, long ago. It’s the promise of what He continues to do for you, as well. It’s the ongoing invitation of Jesus Christ: “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:16). It’s the means of gathering one and another and another and another into His kingdom.

Education In the Kingdom

If schools without God’s Word will prove to be the gates to hell, schools with God’s Word will prove to be gates to the Kingdom of God.
And, as if that weren’t enough, here’s the beauty of education in which God’s Word is foremost: it sanctifies every other subject. The centrality of God’s Word does not make math and science and social studies and English less important; it makes them more important. (Maybe not any easier or any more interesting, but more important!)
While the world around us is simply producing “cleverer devils,” by the power of God’s Word, we are creating children of God .
While the world around us is simply producing “cleverer devils,” by the power of God’s Word, we are giving our children the tools to love and serve God by loving and serving their neighbor.
In fact, let me go one step further. Some of you saw a quote that I shared on Facebook this past week that is very much on point. It’s a quote from the writer T.S. Eliot. He made an incredibly powerful point about the modern world:
“The World is trying the experiment of attempting to form a civilized but non-christian mentality. The experiment will fail; but we must be very patient in awaiting its collapse; meanwhile redeeming the time; so that the faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us; to renew and rebuild civilization and save the World from suicide.”
That is the point, the great value, of Christian Education: to sanctify and bless our children and our world.
Teach God’s Word diligently to your children, talk about it when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise. Bind it as a sign on your hand, write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. “12 [T]ake care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Deuteronomy 6:12). It has not and will not stop doing His work of bringing His Kingdom into this world.
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