Monday, October 31, 2011

A Reformation Sermon on Christian Education

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
Matthew 23:1-12
Christian Education
Proper 26A, 30 October 2011
Reformation Sunday
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
As Reformation Day nears on the calendar, my heart and mind turn to reform in the Church. We are Lutheran Christians, spiritual heirs of the 16th Century Reformation of the Christian Church. Christians are always in need of repentance. The Church, from a local congregation, to a regional group of congregations, a church body or denomination, or Christianity as a whole, is always in need of reform.

I don’t mean “social justice.” There are always wrongs to be righted and ample reason for righteous anger to be channeled as passion for helping the aged, unborn, poor, and oppressed, but God’s justice is discovered in what Scripture says, not a sinful heart, a social fad, or what some group determines to be popular or “politically correct.”

Psalm 51 shows humble submission to God’s Word, heartfelt and mindful repentance and amendment of life, and faith in the only One who can or could have mercy, blot out transgressions, wash from iniquity, and cleanse from sin: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit.” (Psalm 51:10-12 ESV)

The Church of Christ Jesus always has need of the same kind of humble submission to Holy Scripture, repentant and honest scholarship, and willingness to admit and correct false teaching and sin. This is done for the sake of the Gospel of Christ, He who creates in us that clean heart, right spirit, salvation, and eternal joy through His sacrificial Calvary death and victorious Resurrection.

Where do today’s Christians, congregations, and denominations need reform? I would suggest that we look to the past for answers. No, no one really sees a modern problem with “selling forgiveness,” but some media ministries get very close. One of the historic errors within Christendom was reliance on human wisdom, power, authority, or “doctrine” over and against what the Bible says. Every sermon, Bible study, devotion, book, show, movie, or website that claims to be Christian should be subject to rigorous Biblical scrutiny by Christians before it is shared with the world at large. Teachers and teachings that contradict the clear and in-context text of Scripture should be admonished and corrected for the sake of the Gospel.

One good occasion for repentance is listening to Jesus’ teaching about teachers in Matthew 23:
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Heed Christ’s call to following what God’s Word says, to practicing what we preach. He calls for Biblically-informed, passionate, and faith-filled teaching and practice at home, church, and school.

Christian Education has always been important to Lutheran Christians.
  • ·         Immanuel had a school before! In the 1920’s, Pastor Her, (1919-1927) taught Christian day school classes in the upstairs of the parsonage on Park Street.
  • ·         In the history of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, there were more schools than congregations in our church body from the 1870s through the early 1900’s.
  • ·         When the LCMS was first founded in 1847, there were sixteen original Lutheran congregations and fourteen original Lutheran schools.
  • ·         Why did the Saxon Lutherans leave Germany? We know there problems with unionism and syncretism, but recent scholarship shows that they were more concerned with the sad state of German schools than even the theological problems of the state church. In particular, they were troubled by the fact that what was taught in the state schools contradicted the Christian faith that was taught at home and at Church.
  • ·         Lutherans like Johann Sturm, Phillip Melanchthon, and Martin Luther revived classical education in their day, founding a proper education on Christ and His Gospel, but also advocating for education for all, including girls and peasants, and a free public Christian education paid for by the state, especially if the head of state was a Christian prince.
  • ·         The Jesuits, formed by the Roman Church as a response to the Reformation, famous yet today for their rigorous quality education institutions, patterned their schools and curricula after Lutheran models.
  • ·         Today, the LCMS is blessed with two seminaries, ten universities and colleges, more than 2,300 early childhood centers and preschools operated by congregations and Christian day schools within The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.  More than 129,000 children, ranging in age from infant/toddler to five years of age, are involved in these programs.  Additionally, our congregations operate 945 elementary schools which serve 107,000 students.
  • ·         Martin Luther Grammar School was accredited this summer by The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education. Both Mount Hope, Casper, and Trinity, Riverton, will have accreditation visits next week. Three other schools are in the CCLE accreditation process, accreditation soon to be recognized as exemplary by the Synod.
Christian education is important to Lutherans. And it all begins with the Fourth Commandment.

The editors of the new reader’s edition of the Book of Concord, Concordia; The Lutheran Confessions, provide a very helpful introduction to the Fourth Commandment in Luther’s Large Catechism: 

Commandments four through ten describe relationships with our fellow humans. Here Luther’s understanding of “vocation” is apparent. Vocation comes from the Latin vocare, meaning “to call.” God calls everyone to certain roles, or stations, in life. In this commandment, Luther describes our duty before God to honor father and mother, that is, to respect authority. God instituted all forms of authority as an extension of parental authority, for our good. There are various parental authorities, or “fathers,” in our lives, including pastors, teachers, and government officials. Another insight by Luther is about the life of good works to which Christians are called. We should not regard “Church work” as more holy than the other things in life that we routinely do. Rather, all callings and stations in life serve God and are opportunities for us to obey God’s commandments and to serve our neighbor. The key observation Luther offers is this: faith is what makes a person holy. Faith alone. Good works serve God by serving other people.[1] End quote.

As a congregation that sponsors a Christian school, sometimes we need to state and restate the obvious: parents are given to be the first teachers of their own children. Parents are to have primary authority and choice over the raising of their own children, not the state. Yes, parents are given to feed, clothe, shelter, and educate their children, but the most important education a parent can give is the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Paul teaches this in Ephesians 6: 1-4: Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

This is an important and divine responsibility. Education in this life prepares one for family, work, and leisure. Christian education is a preparation for this life AND the life to come. As you consider the education of your children or grandchildren, or if you are still thinking about your own education, ask yourself this about any educational opportunity or choice: “Will this school, teacher, or career encourage my faith in Christ, or destroy or discourage my faith in Christ?”

Luther’s day had problems much like our own. He says as much in this paragraph from the Fourth Commandment in his Large Catechism:
170 Here again the sad plight arises that no one sees or hears this truth. All live on as though God gave us children for our pleasure or amusement and servants so that we could use them like a cow or [a donkey], only for work. Or they live as though we were only to gratify our lewd behavior with our subjects, ignoring them, as though we have no concern for what they learn or how they live. 171 No one is willing to see that this is the command of the Supreme Majesty, who will most strictly call us to account and punish us for it. Nor does anyone see that there is so much need to be seriously concerned about the young. 172 For if we wish to have excellent and able persons both for civil and Church leadership, we must spare no diligence, time, or cost in teaching and educating our children, so that they may serve God and the world. 173 We must not think only about how we may amass money and possessions for them. God can indeed support and make them rich without us, as He daily does. But for this purpose He has given us children and issued this command: we should train and govern them according to His will. Otherwise, He would have no purpose for a father and a mother. 174 Therefore, let everyone know that it is his duty, on peril of losing the divine favor, to bring up his children in the fear and knowledge of God above all things [Proverbs 1:7]. And if the children are talented, have them learn and study something. Then they may be hired for whatever need there is.[2] End quote.

What did Luther say before? “….we must spare no diligence, time, or cost in teaching and educating our children, so that they may serve God and the world.” Amen. God strengthen our courage us to that end.

We have need in Sheridan, Wyoming, and the United States for faithful Lutheran Christians in every godly vocation, from husbands and wives as parents, to laborers, educators, and public servants. There will always be a need for faithful men to heed the call to the Office of the Holy Ministry.

CPH: The everlasting Gospel proclaims to us God as our refuge, our mighty fortress. The alternative is to try to make yourself a fortress—not a smart idea. We are safe inside the righteousness of Christ; neither Satan nor sin will be able to conquer us or do us harm. This righteousness is a sheer gift, bestowed on us by Him whose Word of truth frees us from all attempts to justify ourselves.

Dealing with sin is not a matter of training, discipline, or education. If you train a sinner, you get a trained sinner. Discipline a sinner and the result is a disciplined sinner. Educate a sinner, and you get an educated sinner. A sinner forgiven in Christ is still a sinner, but that sinner is now also a saint. Training, discipline, and education cannot accomplish that! Only Jesus’ love can! Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Reformation Day is a time to mourn the sad divisions within Christendom, caused by sinful rejections of God’s Word. Yet, we also rejoice that the Lord still today preserves a faithful remnant, no matter how much the devil, the world, and even our own sinful flesh would oppose the true preaching and teaching of God’s Word.

While it is true that Jesus prays “that they all [all Christians] may be one” (John 17:21a), it is just as true that Jesus asserts in the same prayer, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17). This is the same plea St. Paul makes in 1 Corinthians: “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that united in the same mind and the same judgment.” (1:10)

That, too, is my prayer. I don’t want to “agree to disagree” or paper over or ignore doctrinal differences between Christian traditions. Let’s honestly talk about them and then measure all teaching by the standard of Holy Scripture. Can we reject mere “people pleasing” (Galatians 1) and stand for the content of the Christian faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3)? Are we doomed to fall away from what God’s Word actually says and follow false teachers who tell us “what it really means”?

Instead, let us honor Luther and Walther and our spiritual fathers and mothers in the faith across all time and space by submitting, in humble faith, to our One true Rabbi, Teacher, and Instructor, Jesus, the Christ, and the Eternal Word of Our Father who art in Heaven. Happy Reformation Sunday. Amen.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

[1] Concordia : The Lutheran Confessions. 2005 (Edited by Paul Timothy McCain) (370). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.
[2] Concordia : The Lutheran Confessions. 2005 (Edited by Paul Timothy McCain) (378). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.