Rev. A.J. Torgerson
1921 Synod Convention Essay
“So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter. Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee, He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.” John 21,15–17.
These words describe a remarkable conversation between Jesus and the apostle Peter, a conversation that necessarily makes a deep impression on the meditative reader.
We note first Christ’s question, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?” Three times the same question is asked. .Once we find these remarkable words: “more than these.” “Lovest thou me more than these?” Peter had once boastfully said: “Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.” Math. 26,33. Was it for the purpose of reminding Peter of this his selfconfidence that the Lord added these words, “more than these?” As if he would say, Wilt thou yet exalt thvyelf above others? Hast thou now learned to know thine own weakness?
“Lovest thou me?” This is the simple, plain question that the Lord wants an answer to. A question so easy that a little child can grasp it and answer. And still — how pregnant this question? We may know much, do much, talk much, confess much, suffer much, give much, and on the whole make a pretentious show in our religion, and yet, for want of love be as nothing before God and go down to the pit.
Do you love Christ? This is the great question. Without love your christianity is nothing. Without love we are but sounding brass and tinkling cymbals, dead wax figures. Where love is wanting there is no spiritual life. “Lovest thou me?” says Jesus.
Now note Peters answer. Three times the apostle says, “Thou knowest that I love thee.” Once be says, “Thou knowest all things.” And note the pathos of these words: “Peter was grieved because be said unto him the third time.” Did the Lord purposely inflict this wound? Without doubt. He, the Alwise physician, wanted to open his heartwound, make it bleed for the very purpose of helping him. He wanted to heal and strengthen the life that would willingly sacrifice itself in love’s service.
“Thou knowest that I love thee.” This humble answer every child of God can an must make his own. A Christian may be weak, unstable, ignorant, and failing in many ways, but with all his infirmities he is, as sure as he is a Christian, sincere and earnest in his love. A Christian may during trials and temptations doubt his own state of grace. Yes, where is the child of God that has never been afflicted with doubt? Where is the Christian that at all times cheerfully could give an affirmative answer to such questions as these, Are you a child of God? Are you in the state of grace? Are you justified? Are you elect? Does not our own personal experience force us to admit that there has been times when our answer would have been, I do not know. But ask such troubled souls the question, Do you love Christ and the brethren? The answer will invariably be, Yes. Many will without doubt add that their love is not as fervent and sincere as it should be, but where is the child of God that will deny that he loves Jesus? Where there is indwelling grace, where the Holy Spirit has kindled the true faith there (conscious) love of Christ will invariably be found. Therefore the apostle of love writes: “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” 1 John 3, 14.
This love will be proportionate to each individual’s knowledge and comprehension of the fundamental truths of christianity. That is the more we appreciate Christ’s atonement, His payment of our debt to God, His victorious suffering and death for our justification and salvation, the more we shall love Him for having loved us and given Himself for us. Our comprehensive knowledge of Christ’s atonement as well as other doctrines may be defective. Our ability to “answer every man that asketh us a reason for the hope that is in us” (1 Peter 3, 15) and defend our faith in argument may be small. But when we once have been impressed by the magnitude of Christ’s love, the atonement by His blood and the forgiveness of our sins then we will say with the apostle Peter, “Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee.”
This love will then constrain us to note well Christ’s command: “Feed my lambs, Feed my little sheep, Feed my sheep.” Why this thrice repeated charge? this impressive, forcible command? Without doubt for a purpose. Though we do not doubt the Lord’s intention hereby to commission Peter once more to the work of an apostle, He no doubt had also a deeper meaning by this charge. The main purpose was undoubtedly to teach the apostle Peter and all believers that the supreme proof of a true, heartfelt love is not loud talk, nor illustrious works, or impetuous, spasmodic zeal and readiness to draw the sword and fight. No, but steady, patient, faithful work, untiring efforts to do good, to serve Christ’s lambs and sheep scattered throughout this sinful world. That is the real secret of Christian greatness. As Jesus says in Math. 20: “Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your servant. Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
This question, “Lovest thou me?” as recorded in the verses read is directed to every Christian congregation. And all congregations that truthfully can answer, “Yes, Lord, thou knowest that we love thee,” are charged with the duty to feed Christ’s lambs.
Who are the lambs of Christ? Selfevidently the Christian Children, such as have by baptism been brought into the fold and have received the right of sonship. For these, His lambs, Christ is very solicitous. He is very much concerned about their care. For this reason He repeatedly commends and praises the act of caring for His lambs. Thus He says: “Whosoever shall receive this child in my name receiveth me.” Luke 9,48. And: “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.” Math. 18,10. And who is not familiar with His solemn admonition, not to offend one of these little ones? That it were better for such wicked people if a millstone were hanged about their neck and that they were drowned in the depth of the sea. Math. 18,6. The Son of God was Himself born as a little child, and has by this act honored and sanctified the state of childhood. And us, His saintly congregation, He has taught, yea, expressly commanded to cherish these children and feed them.
To feed Christ’s lambs is to care for them, watch, nourish and cherish them. Note here, it is not the bodily care that is urged, but the care, the “feed” that these children must needs have in order to be retained in the fold, Christ’s fold. When the little children through baptism are admitted to Christ’s fold He places them within the pale of His congregation as its property, its charge, and says to the congregation: Feed them! Care for them! Nourish them with the unadulterated milk of God’s Word! Teach them to keep all the things that I have commanded you! This is the duty of the whole congregation, the joint duty of all individual members. Here all have the same responsibility regardless of parenthood.
The practical question then for us to answer is, How can a congregation comply with this command and meet its obligation? What must a congregation do? In searching the Scriptures I find that there are chiefly two things that must be done: pray and teach. We must carry these lambs before the throne of grace in prayer and teach them all things that God has commanded us.
When we can say with the apostle Peter, “Lord thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee,” then our relation to Him is of such intimate nature that we dare undertake nothing without first consulting Him. Then God is indispensable to us. In regard to every thing we consult Him in prayer. We say with the apostle: “This is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask. we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.” 1 John 5,14–15. We know that “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much,” that our heavenly Father has so arranged His dispensation and our stewardship that he considers our prayers and gives what we ask. Hence the necessity of carrying these lambs to Jesus in prayer. This fact is also recognized in our “order of service.” There the whole congregation is taught to pray: Grant that the little ones who are baptized in Thy name may be brought up in Thy fear.” And the sponsors are admonished to remember the child in their prayers before God. In our “barnelærdom” we were taught that this is a special duty of the sponsors, to pray for those, of whose Baptism they are witnesses. This is a matter of great importance indeed. Parents can not be too careful in the selection of sponsors for their children. There is a foundation for the say- ing, that a praying mother’s child can not be lost. And if the same child has praying sponsors, belongs to a congregation of praying churchmembers, what a bulwark these prayers will be against the attacks of the spiritual enemies!
Prayer alone, however, be it ever so important, will not suffice. In addition, we must also provide for instruction in the Catechism, in the tenets of christianity. Salomon says: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Prov. 22,6.
That it is the duty of the congregation to do something along this line, is well recognized in our Lutheran congregations. But few seem to have grasped the full import of the duty imposed. When we examine the work done by the great majority of the Norwegian Lutheran congregations for the instruction and education of the children, what do we find? We find that the major part of the work is left to the state to do through its public schools, and that the congregations only attempt to supplement or fill in with a little instruction in religion. For this purpose many congregations establish and maintain Sunday schools. And I would not dare deny that a good Sunday school can be of some help in feeding Christ’s lambs. In the Sunday schools we lead the little children to Bethlehem, show them the child in the manger and teach them why Jesus lies there as a little child. We teach them the blessed truth that Jesus Christ came to this world in order to save sinners. We lead them to Golgatha, that they may see and behold the lamb of God that carries the sins of the world. Here they are exhorted to praise and glorify the love of God, which caused Him to redeem the world by the precious blood of His only begotten Son. And who would clare deny that this seed, sown in the hearts of little children, can bear good fruit? Still the best that can be said about the Sunday school is that it is better than nothing. It is indeed very little that a child can learn in a Sunday school. What can you reasonably expect of such an institution? There the children are assembled one hour each Sunday. Of this hour one half at best is employed in class work. Now consider if you employ one half hour each week, (that will be 2 hours per month, 24 hours in one whole year) to teach arithmetic or any one of the secular branches of study, how much will you accomplish? What kind of instruction in the doctrines of christianity can be given in these scattered half hour periods? What sort of a Christian education will the children get in these short periods, where the instruction as a rule is very superficial, given by inexperienced, incompetent teachers, often without any preparation? Oh no — in temporal, worldly matters you would not invest such a meager capital. But here, where spiritual and eternal values are involved, where the object is to learn the greatest of all the sciences, how to live and die a Christian, — here, where we have God’s plain command not only to “train up a child,” but to teach them to observe all things whatsoever He has commanded us in His Word, here we shall lull our conscience to sleep by giving half hour periods of instruction per week. And then consider that these same lambs, that we pretend to “feed” by half hour weekly periods of instruction in Christian doctrine, they spend 5 consecutive days each week in a school where God, His Word and the church is disregarded, at times even despised and mocked. What kind of “feed” and care does such a combination afford the “lambs?” Oh that our Christian congregations could be aroused to a full realization of their great responsibility for the “lambs” entrusted to their care!
We find a number of congregations that admit that the Public-school-Sunday-school combination does not accomplish what is required, that it is inadequate, and fails to nourish the spiritual life of Christ’s lambs and sustain them on their journey toward the heavenly home. As a remedy for this want they have introduced the summer school, and instruction by the pastor preparatory to confirmation. And it must be admitted that these summer schools are a great help in inculcating historical knowledge, in teaching the children the tenets of christianity. Likewise the pastor can as a rule by faithful and diligent work teach his catechumens so much that they can answer fairly well the questions directed to them on the clay of confirmation. Butt — do we thereby reach the standard and attain our object, to feed Christ’s lambs and nourish them? By this method they are not daily nourished by the Word of God. Do we not on the contrary make religion and christianity nauseating to our children by administering it in such extreme closes as we do in these summer schools? It is equivalent to giving the congregation all the sermons they should have during the entire year bunched together in one month. When the children are given nothing but Catechism, Bible history and Explanation, with some hymn verses and reading by way of diversion, the result is that they get too much for the time being and they are not able to assimilate it all. An abnormal condition arises that might properly be called spiritual dyspepsia. And then this school is conducted during the hot summer days. While their comrades from the public schools are enjoying their vacation our little children shall sit and sweat and twist in their school desks. Under such circumstances do we wonder that they get disgusted not only with the school but also with the subject matter taught? This is so logically self evident that every honest soul, who in the light of God’s Word will earnestly consider the command: “feed my lambs,” must agree that in this manner we do not do as we are commanded nor can we expect to attain our object.
However, though this seems plain and self-evident, let us go slow in arriving at a definite conclusion. We have considered the duties of the Christian congregation to whom Christ has given the command to feed His lambs. These congregations consist of families, parents and children, and it may help us realize the duties of the congregations, when we ponder the paramount duties of the parents.
We that are parents have indeed been signally blessed by our heavenly Father. “Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord and — his reward,” says the Psalmist. “Happy is the man that has his quiver full of them.” But along with these precious gifts He has imposed a great and difficult task. The difficulty does not consist in grasping what our duties are, in finding out what we as parents are to do. This our Lord tells us in His Word, and in such plain, simple and obvious language that there is room for no misunderstanding. Thus He says: “Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Eph. 6,4: “Bring them up,” i.e. nurse them, rear and foster them, bring them up to the age of discretion “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Through the days of childhood and youth, from the cradle to manhood and womanhood they are to be reared in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. But the Lord nurtures and admonishes alone through His Word. Or can you point to any other means that He employs? That our children must be brought up is self-evident. Children that are not trained usually grow up such that they later have to be cared for in the reformatories and prisons of the land. That the Word of God is the means, the wherewithall to train them, at all times and at all places is evidenced also in the 6th chapter of Deuteronomy where we read: “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart, and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shall talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.”
The same is stated in the 78th Psalm, where the necessity of teaching the growing generation and confirming them in the fear of the Lord is impressively urged in these poetic words: “Which we have heard and know, and our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born: who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments, and might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God.” What an earnest admonition to each and every one of us to acquire a thorough knowledge of the sacred records, so that we can adorn them with a pious life and instruct the growing generation in the precious truths of God’s Word, that they may know them and set their hope in God, and not forget His works, but keep His commandments. Clearly we are here urged to lead our children to God that they may obey and serve Him.
And the Lord is very much in earnest concerning this. Bear in mind how displeased He was when His disciples rebuked the mothers for bringing their children to Him. “Suffer the little children to come unto me,” He said, “and forbid them not.” The disciples were solicitous for Jesus. They saw how He spent His vigor and strength in administering to the wants of adults, and considered it outrageous to burden Him with the little children. But Jesus rebuked them. He made them understand that they were concerned without reason or judgment when they turned little children away from Him. He wants us to bring our children to Him so He can “admonish” them. And how this is to be done Jesus tells us in this statement to His disciples when He adds: “for of such is the kingdom of God.” Hence we must bring our children into Christ’s kingdom, where He rules.
Now we all know how our children can be admitted to Christ’s kingdom. We are all familiar with His command: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations. baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” Math. 28,19. Through baptism our children are brought into union with Christ. Not only externally. Baptism is not only an external sign. No, the union is internal, a real union. Baptism is a “washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” Our children who are born in sin, flesh born of flesh, children of wrath, are through baptism born again as God’s children and joint heirs with Christ. Hence baptism is the means whereby we bring our children to Christ. Mindful of this, Christian parents will hasten the baptism of their children. What a relief it is to know that they are safe in the arms of Jesus.
But is that all that is required? Can we rest easy now and let the children take care of themselves? No, no! After we have carried them to Christ we must strive to keep them there. Of themselves they will not remain with Him. Aside from the many external enemies bent upon robbing them of their faith, they have an evil heart always prone to run away from the heavenly home. Therefore we must detain them and strive to continue the good work so well begun in baptism.
Christ’s command is to baptize and teach. Both must be done. These go hand in hand, belong together. And who will dare deny that this is necessary with children above all others? And it is specifically Christian instruction we parents are in duty bound to give our children. Any kind of instruction does not satisfy the demand. There is no lack of instruction in the secular branches and training of the mind in our land. But the fact that our children have a soul is not given clue consideration. So also the fact that this temporal life constitutes a comparatively small part of their existence. Willingness to do a great deal and expend a considerable amount in educating our children for this short life here upon earth should comprise a readiness to do ever so much more to train them for the endless eternity. Indeed, it is not our paramount duty to help our children to attain worldly honor and riches, nor great learning and thorough efficiency in the arts and the sciences, however advantageous and useful such attainments may be. What does it profit our children to be familiar with the history of the world, and to become expert mathematicians, able to compute large values with accuracy — if the history of the life and work of Jesus is unknown to them and they are unable to calculate what follows after this temporal life? When they on life’s journey reach the valley of the shadow of death, through which we all must pass, when the black specter of fear confronts them, then there is only one knowledge that avails, the living knowledge, childlike faith in Jesus Christ. Hence this is the paramount duty of parents: to lead their children to the Lord through baptism and instruction. Our natural love as well as God’s earnest command should constrain us to do so.
Now let us note that we are to lead our children to Jesus while they are little children, and not wait until they grow older. We find a number of parents that do little or nothing for the Christian education of their children until they send them to the pastor’s confirmation class. Then they shall learn it all in a short time. We even find parents — socalled Christian parents — that purposely allow their children to grow up without any specific religious instruction in order that they may be free to choose for themselves what to believe and to do after having reached the age of maturity. But what about their childhood? Who knows how long the children will live? All children do not live to maturity. What if they should die? Can such parents come before God and declare that they have endeavored to lead to Him the children entrusted to their care? It is generally admitted that children should be baptized as soon after birth as possible, and it is just as important that Christian instruction should follow as early as possible, as early as the child can be taught any thing. Now consider, — to prepare the child for this temporal life of 50, 60 or 70 years a steady training in school from the age of 6 to 16 is considered insufficient, but to prepare the same child for eternity, for the life that can not be numbered by years very little training is required. Does not sound reason tell us that this is absurd? Christ’s command is to teach them to observe all that He has commanded us. And that can not be accomplished without diligent application of time and opportunity. Furthermore — children do not only need instruction in the Word of God while young, but this instruction and training must be given during childhood days if they on the whole shall obtain the true blessing therefrom. There is no other place that the Word of God finds such fruitful ground and bears such good fruit as in the heart of little children. Their hearts are soft and pliable. What they learn is not easily forgotten. Many indeed have on their sickbed and deathbed experienced the great blessing flowing from the biblical knowledge acquired during childhood days. And these treasures must be gathered while yet young. When we arrive at the age of manhood and womanhood, we must take our appointed place in the ranks and file and enter the battle of life. Then we are to apply in practice the acquired knowledge of God’s Word. But how can we apply in practice a knowledge never acquired? During childhood preparation must be made for the entire subsequent lifetime. Hence the importance of the thoroughness and continuity of this Christian instruction, that what they learn be never forgotten, but be increased from clay to day, a treasury of guidance and consolation through life’s journey.
Have you made an earnest attempt personally to do what the Lord commands every father and mother, to teach your children all the parts of the Christian doctrine? If you have you will agree with me, when I state that this is an exceedingly arduous task well nigh impossible of accomplishment in connection with the daily toil of your vocation. It can not be denied that it is the paramount duty of parents to instruct their children, but where are the parents that have time to give their children a thorough education? If they have time how many have the necessary qualifications? How many parents are so well grounded in all doctrine and have the necessary gifts to teach, so they are able to teach them all? And when they have the time and qualification, how many do as commanded? Is it not the rule that the parents complain, when they are asked to help the children get their lessons for school? It is a fact that we can not get away from that the parents need help to educate their children properly. And for what other purpose do we build and maintain schools? Is it not for the very purpose of assisting parents who have not the necessary time, opportunity or ability to take charge personally of the education of their children? Selfevidently. But then it is just as selfevident, that the school, if it shall be a help for Christian parents, must give the same education that the Word of God requires of the parents. Jt must be a school with Christian teachers and the Word of God as the guide and perfect rule, where the entire instruction is based upon and permeated by the Word of God. Otherwise the school will be of no help to Christian parents. Thus Dr. Martin Luther says: “Where the Holy Scriptures do not rule there I certainly do not advise any one to send his child. All must be ruined where the Word of God is not constantly exercised. I have a great fear, that the schools are wide portals to hell, when they do not persistently and diligently use the Word of God and impress it upon the young.”
Mark these words of Luther. It is now about 400 years since Luther made this statement and many wiseacres have placed a large question mark here, considering the statement erroneous. But now we find that the best scholars and teachers of our land have, along the thorny path of experience, reached the same conclusion. That the Holy Scriptures do not govern the public schools of our land we all know. It is a fact that our public school system is so planned as to educate without the Word of God as a factor. And this plan has now been in operation through a period of time, long enough to test its efficiency. The result of the training given in these schools is now so apparent that any one qualified to examine and pass judgment in matters of education, can come to a conclusion regarding their efficiency, and decide upon the merits of the instruction as an educational agency. And the leading educators of the land have spoken. They have weighed the system and found it wanting, unable to solve the educational problem.
Prof. James of Harvard University says in a speech, delivered at the Chicago University, that 50 years ago people thought that the schools would save us from crimes and all kinds of evil, but such sanguinary hopes are no longer entertained; the schools rather aggravate the evils instead of remedying them.
Richard Grant White says in a treatise in the North American Review: “The census returns show that crime, immorality and insanity are greater in proportion to population in those communities which have been long under the influence of the public school system, than they are in those which have been without it.” In a report to congress Dr. McDonald, a member of the U.S. Bureau of Education, says the same.
The National Educational Association, whose membership includes the best educators of our land, has adopted resolutions containing the most serious accusations against the boys and girls of our public schools. They are accused of harboring disregard for existing authority, laws and order, for the personal rights of others, for old age, given to disobedience to parents, to lying, cheating, cursing, swearing, etc. These are serious charges.
Judge Ben Lindsey of Denver, Col., says: “I am inclined to think that if we tried the morality of children in the public schools in this country by this test, namely: Is the child disobedient, does he swear, does he steal, is he impure in word, thought, and act? the result would be so startling that I have always seriously doubted the wisdom of its discussion, except in a most guarded and careful way.”
Prof. J.G. Schurman, president of Cornell University, says: “It (the present) is a generation which has no fear of God before its eyes; it fears no hell; it fears nothing but the criminal court, the penitentiary, and the scaffold. To escape these ugly avengers of civil society is the only categorical imperative, the only law with which its Sinai thunders. To get there and not get caught is its Golden Rule. To ‘get rich quick’, financiers of this age will rob the widow and orphan, and grind the faces of the poor, speculate in trust funds, and purchase immunity by using other people’s money to bribe legislators, judges and magistrates. And then we hear the praises of poor boys who have become millionaires! O God, send us men of honor and integrity!”
Thus I could go on quoting “ad nauseam”. But only two more quotations. Judge Lindsey, previously quoted, says: “Now, my friends, in closing I want to emphasize this point — that the child is moral just in so far as he is strong — do not forget that; just in so far as his character is developed. Character comes through conscience — do not forget that; and conscience comes through the development of the human heart; and until we reach the heart of the child, until we can teach him to do right because it is right and not because he will get in jail, we are not going to have a morally strong boy.”
Prof. Nicholas Murray Butler, professor of Philosophy and Education at Columbia University, says: “Religious training is a necessary factor in education, and must be given the time, die attention, and the serious continued treatment which it deserves. That religious training is not at the present time given a place by the side of the study of science, literature, art or of human institutions is well recognized.” And he adds: “The problem is not religion AND education, but religion IN education.”
Before proceeding allow me to call your attention to the fact that these men, that I have quoted, are not demagogues or yellow journalists, but men that are honored and respected for their erudition and sound judgement. And the sum and substance of their statements is, that without the educating influence of the Word of God, the problem of education can not be solved. Hence — the same in substance as the quotation from Luther.
The problem then, that we must solve, is how to get religion IN education, so as to really educate, form and develop firmness of character. We are doubtless all agreed, that this can not be done in the public schools of our land. We thank God that the stars and stripes wave over a land where church and state are separate, where all are granted the liberty and right to serve God according to the dictates of the individual conscience, where the civil law protects our liberties and rights in spiritual as well as in temporal affairs. The state prescribes no religion or belief and forbids none. Once for all the American people has declared, that its legislative bodies: “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” — and thus it has built a wall between the church and the state.
As citizens of the state each individual has the same duties and enjoys the same privileges regardless of religious conviction, be he Christian, Jew, Mohammedan, Mormon, or what not. But from this follows with necessity, that the state institutions, all of them, hence also the public schools, must abstain from exercising any specific religious influence, and that state funds must not be used for the support of religious institutions. When the Catholic church through its teachers in the public schools has exercised religious influence in favor of the Catholic church, we Lutherans have protested against this, and justly so. Such acts are in conflict with the fundamental laws of our land and a violation of our civic and religious liberty. So also when this same church has contrived to get possession of state funds for the support of its church schools and institutions, they have violated the constitution and the state and federal laws, an act, which we as loyal citizens MUST protest against and debar them from doing. Separation of church and state necessarily estops the church from asking financial support of the state for any of its institutions, and the state institutions have no right officially to exert any specific religious influence.
Hence — no Christian education in our public schools. No Word of God there. The only means that can change the heart, the only means in the wide, wide world, that has power to form, develop and strengthen the moral Christian character in man, can not be applied there. The one and the only practical, serviceable textbook in morality, in heart-training, character formation, the Bible, is excluded from the public schools. There it does not belong. Its use there is a violation of existing laws. W.T. Harris, former Commissioner of Education in Washington, says correctly: “The necessity of considering the rights of conscience of all citizens alike in the state schools, renders it impossible to bring in religious ceremonial or teach doctrines that are distinctively religious. An undenominational religion is not to be found. Mere deism is opposed to all the creeds of Christendom.” That the Bible has been used in the public schools, and is at the present time used in a number of schools, does not prove it right and lawful. The Supreme Court of this state (Wisconsin) has pronounced judgment in a case concerning the use of the Bible in the public schools. The question at issue was whether or not the reading of the Bible in the public schools was sectarian instruction. The Court finds that the reading of the Bible in the schools is instruction, even though no explanation is made by the teacher, that, as the Bible contains many instructive passages and the different sects base their particular doctrine on some of these passages, and as such passages in the Bible can rationally be understood as teaching the doctrines founded thereon, then reading of the Bible is also sectarian instruction; — that, therefore, the use of the Bible as a textbook in the public schools, and reading thereof in such schools without limitation, has a tendency to inculcate sectarian ideas and falls under that which is forbidden in the constitution and the statutes of the state of Wisconsin.
In this decision there are some very interesting remarks concerning the general question of religious education and the place of the Bible in education. Thus the Court says: “The priceless truths of the Bible are best taught to our youth in the church, the Sabbath and parochial schools, the social religious meetings, and, above all, in the home circle. There those truths may be explained and enforced, the spiritual welfare of the child guarded and protected, and his spiritual nature directed and cultivated in accordance with the dictates of the parental conscience.”
The Supreme Court of Wisconsin has in this decision declared, that the state under its present constitution and statutes is not able to solve the educational problem, but that the church with its schools, and the parents, must do this. When the public schools are what they should be according to the school laws, they are “Godless”, devoid of all religion, and can not use the Word of God for educational purposes. In a supplementary opinion Judge Orton says: “The schools are called “Godless schools.” They are godless, and the educational department of the government is godless, in the same sense that the executive, legislative, and administrative departments are godless. So long as our constitution remains as it is, no one’s religion can be taught in our public schools.”
To avoid possible misunderstanding, allow me to call your attention to the fact that I have no quarrel with the public schools, that I do not oppose them as a secular institution. It is not in my interest to disparage the public schools nor to discredit our department of public instruction. On the contrary I recognize their importance, and with all their faults they are absolutely necessary under prevailing conditions. All our citizens are not Christians. The majority of the inhabitants of the United States are outside of the pale of the church. Where the conditions are such the state must provide for the instruction of the growing generation, in order to enable them to exercise their political rights somewhat intelligently. As good citizens Christian parents will therefore support the public schools and do all in their power to make them as good as possible. Our public school system is a good civic institution. Many of these schools have attained a high degree of efficiency. They are good for others, but they are not good enough, no, they come far short of being good enough for our children, who above all must be educated for the heavenly citizenship. What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world, but lose his soul? What real benefit is there in nourishing our children’s bodies and developing their mental faculties when the soul is neglected and left to famish?
But where shall we Christian parents seek the necessary help, when we can not along with our fellow citizens turn to the state for aid? Our Lord and Master tells us. He has commanded the Christian congregation to FEED HIS LAMBS. Hence we must turn to the larger family, the congregation, the Christian church for help to educate our children.
Granting this, the only question that remains to be answered is: How can the congregation help Christian parents? What must a Christian congregation do in order to feed Christ’s lambs? To this question there is to my knowledge but one answer: Establish and maintain Christian day schools. If there is any other way, any other method by which it is possible for a Christian congregation to help the parents to teach their children ALL that Christ has commanded, then we have so far failed to discover it. Here there is only one choice for a Christian congregation, a choice that the experience of centuries has proven to answer to expectations, a plan by which we are enabled to truly educate the children, and this ONE plan is to establish Christian day schools. Christian schools for Christian children must be our motto, if we as genuine Lutherans shall abide by what is written and feed Christ’s lambs.
A Christian day school is a school that takes charge of the entire elementary education of a child, a school where christianity and the secular subjects prescribed by the state laws are taught, where the entire plan, discipline and instruction is based upon the Word of God as the guide and perfect rule, hence, where Christian parents really get help in bringing up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
In such a school the children learn to fear, love and trust the God, who has created them. They learn to know their relation to God, that they are sinners, who can not stand before God by their own righteousness and escape His wrath and punishment. They are taught what God has done for them in order to save them, how He has not spared His only begotten Son, but has given Him as a ransom for all. They learn how to find God in His blessed Word, how they by faith shall grasp Him and salvation through Christ. They are taught how to walk in the fear of the Lord, until He transfers them from this vale of tears to His heavenly mansions. In short, they are led to Christ. And this is done not only now and then, at stated intervals, during the periods of doctrinal instruction, no, the entire instruction is planned so as to lead the lambs to their good shepherd, to Christ. A Christian spirit pervades the whole school. The secular branches are explained in the light of the Scriptures and, if necessary, corrected. The children are spared from the direct assault upon the Bible comprised in the evolutionary theory and modern reason, taught in the public schools, a theory that is diametrically opposed to the true knowledge of man’s past, present and future. They are led to begin and close every day, every undertaking with prayer, in their daily walk, whatever they undertake, step by step, through their entire lifetime always to consider: What does my Lord and Master say about this? Thus the children are educated for Christian life as well as for good citizenship. A good Christian is always a good citizen. Also worldly minded men of erudition admit that those, who lead holy lives in accordance with the Word of God, are the best citizens. So when bigoted legislators attempt to enact laws to hamper the operation of these schools, they actually attempt to cut off their own nose to spite their face. The best interests of the state are served in these Christian schools. But the point of paramount importance is, that in these schools we do what the Lord has commanded us the best we know how. Here Christian parents get the best help that can be had in bringing up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord and in teaching them all that the Lord has commanded us.
Now we dare not deny that such an undertaking, to establish and maintain Christian elementary day schools, calls for sacrifices. But when has it ever happened, that a great and noble enterprise has been accomplished with ease, without proportionate sacrifices? We must sacrifice considerable money. Besides our taxes to the public schools the congregation must support its own schools. The public school alone comes cheaper. Certainly it does. But then it is cheaper, (in quality). If we want to figure values alone by dollars and cents we had better leave the Christian day school out of consideration. But a Christian has been taught a better way of ascertaining the properties and relations of quantities. In our mathematics we compute ETERNAL values, and we know that when we pass through the valley of the shadow of death, we can not take our dollars with us, but our children — they shall with us appear before the judgment seat of Christ. And it is our earnest desire and prayer that on that last fateful day our children with us may stand at the right hand of Christ. Very well — then we will make our dollars serve this purpose by investing them in Christian training for our children.
This money question, however, is not as difficult as it may seem. The congregation that in Christ’s name, relying on His promises, establishes a Christian day school will soon experience that the Lord moves the hearts like waterbrooks in His hand, and that the gold and the silver belongs to the Lord.
Have you ever heard the fable about the birds? It is only a fable but it contains an important lesson. It states that when God created the birds, He made them without wings. And they wabbled about — some clumsy, awkward and helpless creatures. Later the Lord came to them with wings and asked them to put them on and carry them. But then the birds grumbled. They thought they had enough to carry as it was without being burdened with the wings. And they wabbled about looking askance at the wings, unwilling to comply with the Lord’s request, until He reminded them of how well He had provided for their comfort and happiness, how He had fed them and clothed them and done well by them in every way, and chided them for their distrustful unwillingness to put on what He had made for them. Then the birds bowed their heads in shame and came forward, willingly ready to receive and carry the extra burden. And what was the result? Not that the birds carried the wings, but the wings carried the birds. So also the congregation, that in obedience to God’s command assumes the burden of supporting a parochial school, will soon experience that it is the school that sustains the congregation. This is just as natural as it is for the wings to carry the birds. The Word of God does not return void, “but accomplishes that which I please,” God says. Many of the children who attend the Christian day school must obtain great spiritual blessings from the education given there, and this in turn will strengthen and invigorate the congregation. It is true, the school will not attain its object with all the children enrolled. But that should not annoy us. It is our work to plant and water, it is God that gives the increase. Let us beware of the idea that when the Christian day school enters a congregation the Old Adam departs. No, no — the Old Adam is here to stay, and he will fight hard for his existence. But in this school he is combatted and from day to day drowned and destroyed and subjugated so that he fails to gain dominion over the heart.
Such are the fruits of the Christian day school. And are not these worth making sacrifices for? The majority of parents will readily sacrifice large sums of money to promote the temporal and bodily welfare of their children. They will spend hundreds of dollars for an operation and hospital fees, when necessary, in order to remedy bodily ailments. Our Christian day schools are hospitals, dispensing spiritual care, where the leprosy of the soul is treated by the only unfailing remedy, God’s Word. Should we then hesitate to make sacrifices for the spiritual cure of a disease far more loathsome than any bodily ailment? And if we fail to obtain the good results hoped for, we must not weary and grow feint. The results are not all visible. Yonder, on the last day, when the Lord shall bring to light the hidden things, then we shall with joy and thanksgiving SEE that we have not fed Christ’s lambs in vain. Then the real, the genuine fruits of our efforts will become apparent.
It has been stated, that the greatest blessing that a person can ask or desire, is that he may on the last day stand at the right hand of Christ. But there is one desire that is even greater than that, and that is — standing on the right hand of Christ to be able to answer not only, Here I am, but also to add, And the children that thou gavest me.
O let us eagerly sacrifice all that we have, energy, money, in order that this object above all objects may be attained! We can not more fittingly celebrate the 400 anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther’s firm biblical stand at Worms than to establish Christian day schools, Bible schools, in all our Lutheran congregations.