Skip to content

Which Wisdom?

Martin Galstad

1941 Synod Convention Essay

We have chosen the word “wisdom” for our theme because it is a noble word and is defined as “the right use of knowledge.” Education ought to be the getting of wisdom. Education could he given a more specific definition, but we all agree that it is in part the getting of knowledge. The use of the knowledge that is acquired, the purpose to which it is put, and the ultimate results of its effects upon us, tell us which wisdom we have gotten. What education we get is not nearly so important as what wisdom we acquire.

We are not now concerned with two classes of knowledge, one to he sought and the other to be avoided. No culture ought to be avoided, if the knowledge of it is tempered with the correct wisdom. No truth is to be shunned simply because it is not a part of the revealed living Truth. Common scientific truth, or truth as it is known from the experience of mankind, becomes an enemy of revealed Truth only when the two are not properly kept together — more learned diction would call it “integrated.” Therefore we are concerned with the getting of the right kind of wisdom, the one that keeps both revelations together as friends. And we insist that this wisdom is also the wisest wisdom for our life in the world that now is.

What use we make of information, of education, of science, all depends upon which wisdom we employ. Which wisdom rules our lives? Are we governed by the earthly or by the heavenly? Are our principles temporal or eternal? Are they material or spiritual? Are we pragmatists, behaviorists, and determinists? Or are we governed by a wisdom that is far superior to these high-sounding terms? Are we satisfied with knowing and doing, or are we concerned also with being? Are we concerned first with what our children and youth learn, or do we look rather to what they come to be? Are we prepared to say with the “Tenth Yearbook of the Department of Superintendence” (1932): “Our age has power over nature, over life and death, over mind,” or have we a greater wisdom than that? It is timely to ask, “Which wisdom for our children and youth?”

We have indicated that there are two separate wisdoms This ought not so to be. We could wish that it were impossible to give a study in education a title such as the one we have chosen. If things were as they ought to be, man’s knowledge of God and his knowledge of creation would be in perfect harmony, just as there was a time when Adam’s knowledge of God was correct and his knowledge of the creatures was also correct. Yes, there are Scriptural reasons for believing that man’s pristine knowledge of the world about him was scientific. We declare with the “Brief Statement” of the Missouri Synod: “We teach that the first man was not brutelike nor merely capable of intellectual development, but that God created man in his own image – endowed with a truly scientific knowledge of nature, Gen. 2:19–23.” There was no schism between man’s knowledge of God and his knowledge of the world about him. The knowledge of one was not more sacred than the other. There was nothing “secular” about man’s tending the Garden God had given him. Nor is there to this day any discrepancy between the facts and truths which God has written in nature and the facts and truths about Himself which He has written in the Word. When God’s scheme of things is not disturbed, there is only one knowledge, one truth, one wisdom, one happiness, one blessedness of communion between the creation and the Creator.

But there entered in a disturbance when man began to follow the wisdom of the Serpent. From that time there have been two separate wisdoms in the world, one true and the other false. It is with these two wisdoms that we are concerned, even as it is by one or the other of these two wisdoms that we are bound and ruled, whether or not we are aware of it.

Let us realize, then, that the wisdom of the world knows not God. It can figure out that there must be a Supreme Being who brings retribution upon evil. Beyond that, natural man cannot rise, for he is sunk in total depravity. He is dead in trespasses and sins and is an enemy of God.

Man’s Efforts

And yet natural man seeks after wisdom; he seeks noble wisdom; yes, he seeks what he calls the divine. His wisdom at times appears very wise. We have observed natural man spell out the immortality of the soul. He has learned to use the language of God’s Revelation, to speak of love and of goodness and sacrifice. The foremost of the world’s wise men have done so well as to be called by some, “Seekers after God.” But it has been suggested that the best of them would have been the first to admit the wavering uncertainty of his hopes and speculations. They confessed the powerlessness of their wisdom to energize their wills for good. St. Augustine touched the point at which they failed when he declared that, although in Plato and Cicero he met with many utterances which were beautiful and wise, yet among them all he never found, “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

The fact is that the wisdom of God for restoration of the lost righteousness and correct knowledge of God is something that no man in the world ever invented, discovered, or thought well of. It was not produced by the philosophical method, nor yet by the scientific; but it is supreme wisdom nevertheless. Not that man has not tried. Man has devised many religions; and he has made many forward-looking movements, especially in social and political affairs. In the scientific laboratory he has done much to conquer disease, ease pain, and lessen the struggles that arise from sin. The inventor has done much to alleviate the curse of sweaty toil for bread which was imposed on man when he separated from God. But he has not discovered that wisdom unto eternal life which alone can avail before God. It is outside his sphere.

Even in the realm of knowledge in which he can operate, man has not done any too well. It is strange how quiet the voices of progress in the land keep themselves today. The implements of man’s invention have apparently begun turning upon him. His use of science as a substitute for grace doesn’t seem to be working. His cleverness at psychoanalysis has not eradicated guilt. Evil is not cured by the education he has devised nor by what he has done for the glands. And not only has man’s wisdom failed to lift him toward God; it has also failed to save man from himself.

When God’s Word says that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:14), it does not use a word which describes man at his worst, following the lusts of his depraved fleshly nature. The word for “natural” man is a word which Greek literature used “in praise of the noblest part of man.” Therefore it is man at his best, man as we hear him described as being “good,” man in whom a spark of divinity is said to remain, man who is said to be surging upward, reaching for the heights, hotly in pursuit of truth — just that man, says God’s Word, “receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God.” That man has not arrived at the true wisdom, and he never will. That man is unable to combine the truths of the two revelations.

Let us say that just such a man were charged with the task of preparing the form and content of the wisdom which is to be taught in the schools of the world. Would that be a safe wisdom for our children and youth? Is that our choice? Is the best in the world good enough? If the product of the best is not good enough, what shall we say of the wisdom taught the children of our land by those who are mediocre, or those whom thinking men consider entirely unfit?

The one term which best describes the wisdom of these men who are most proficient in the world’s way of doing things, is materialism. What you and I call moral and immoral is explained by the materialist as a result of environment, of comfortable living or of poverty, even the result of the “system.” Lift men out of poverty, they say, and they will be good. Give children every material advantage, let them have an education without having to work for it — in other words, give children “advantages” which the parents did not have, and they will do better and be better. “Ill health and anaemia are the basis of moral delinquency,” writes the author of the Iowa Plan for Character Education, quoted by W.A. Squires in “Educational Movements Today,” p. 21. In other words, when men become social failures, when they become criminal and dangerous, the wisdom of the world declares that they are the victims of circumstances, but it does not say that they are reaping the fruits of guilt and sin. Neither does the wisdom of the world know that there is a way to remove that guilt, whereupon a God of love will make man a new creature with desire and ability to do good. Even when the wise men of the world seek earnestly to remove both the causes and the results of the world’s materialism, their approach is again materialistic, it is worldly. Their efforts become what has been called the lifting of oneself by the bootstraps.

Let us take an instance to show that the efforts of world-wisdom can only fail to give man temporal and eternal blessedness. We need not take time to establish the fact that selfishness rules the world. The self-seeking of men is too well known to need demonstration. Nor are men themselves ignorant of its consequences to them. They are even trying to overcome its evil effects. They realize that in the matter of work and employment it is what one can give that rewards him with advancement, not what he can get. Not a man’s ability to get, nor even his need to have, gives him real advancement. If man has learned to earn, that is usually in proportion to his ability to give to his employer. Thinking men of the world have learned this. They have been able to tell us that there is something of great value above what the self-seeking world-citizen considers life’s chief goal. But in all their wisdom the wise of the world have not been able to rise above their material and worldly sphere.

Take an illustration of this. Perhaps the most popular dose of generosity and “divine” big-heartedness toward other people came out in Dale Carnegie’s “How To Win Friends and Influence People.” There, at first glance, it seemed that the world had learned some true wisdom. It seemed to have grasped something of the conduct of God and distilled it into a working formula for every man. But alas! It did not take long to discover that it was selfishness parading in the garments of light. The livery of God was to be stolen to do the devil’s work again. Its basic idea turned out to be one of selfishness: how to get people to do what you want them to do for your advantage! See how far from the true wisdom of God is the best wisdom of the world! Behold, also, how the world exalts the Golden rule; and note how it has changed it from a positive to a negative norm of conduct.

Thinking men have come to see this basic selfishness and sinfulness of the world’s scheme. Some have agreed that the world has no real wisdom at all. They have tried to show that real worthwhile wisdom and training, that is, education, can come only from developing a large supply of good habits, habits of generosity, fair play, co-operation, self-sacrifice, cheerfulness, honesty, and noble-mindedness. In their efforts to do this, they have also called for the teaching of the Ten Commandments, and they have asked for a greater awareness on our part of the beauties of His life who came into the world as Jesus of Nazareth. But still they have not arrived at a means that really lifts man out of sin and frees him to serve God in righteousness and purity for ever. They are still plodding in the mire of worldly wisdom. They are still deluded to think that the Ten Commandments hold forth hope for man. They want to teach the Law with optimism. They are still under the delusion that merely by looking at the Master from Galilee men can lift themselves to happiness and bliss. They have come to the point where they. realize that we must have religion; school men all over the nation are saying this; but they have not learned that we must have Christianity. Their best wisdom is not true wisdom. Their best is not good enough for our children and youth!

The Issue

The purpose of our discussion, then, is not to show you the dangers of the world at its worst. It is to warn you against the world at its best. We are not looking for the devil with his horns and forked tail; we hope to teach you how he looks when he comes in garments of light, mouthing smooth words of deception. It is not the glaring immoralities of the world’s ways that we are seeking to avoid by asking you to demand Christian education for our children and youth; it is the smooth and sneaking damnation that lurks in that of which our country has come to be proud. It is the world at its best that can be most dangerous. O that we all had the gift of discerning the spirits!

It is not so many decades ago that a child’s wisdom was learned, not so much in the world as at home. That was where his real character was formed. The schools were an added incidental which helped the child to learn the mechanics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Some recordings of history and geography and the like were added. Schools were considered as aids to the parents. Sense experiences, motor training, and moral discipline, to use the language of schoolmen, were, under simpler social conditions, afforded to children by the incidental contacts of everyday life in the home and in the community. Today, school comprises the child’s life. Education, under the influence of John Dewey, is no longer called a preparation for life; it is called life itself. As such, education is a matter of the present and of the future. Education is called the development of social efficiency. To develop social efficiency, says Dewey, the child must participate in the life and activities of a democratic society. The child must be put into a world by itself. The school must have everything that goes to make up a world. It must be a world that is as broad and as wide and as comprehensive as is the adult-world outside it. It must be a world in which the teacher is, as has been said, “at once leader, inspirer, interpreter, and friend.”

The degree to which Dewey-ism has tried to make the school a world is shown by Luther A. Weigle in “Religion the Dynamic of Education,” p. 11: “In the elementary and secondary public schools of the better sort today children learn not only reading, writing, and arithmetic, the languages, and the traditional subjects of literature, history and geography, but the physical and biological sciences and their applications; cooking, sewing, and household economy; wood-working and metal-working; gardening and agriculture; stenography, typewriting, bookkeeping, and the economics of business; journalism and printing; drawing, painting, modeling and decorating; music, dancing, dramatic expression, and public speaking; physical education, personal hygiene, and the principles of public health.” Yes, the school is a world.

Further to show that it has the effect of being a world we need only to look at the other Dewey-doctrine of child-centeredness. Yesterday the child’s school was material-centered, or subject-centered. Yesterday the home and the community and the church were the center of the child’s world. Today his world centers in the school. Yesterday the parent took the responsibility for his child’s character and behavior; a spanking in school called for another at home. Today the parents hold the teacher and the school responsible, because today the school is the child’s world.

To argue the wisdom or the folly of this situation is not our purpose here, although we may here have a cue to some of the failure of the schools of the world. Have educators been unable to construct another world for the children? The complaint is so often heard that their graduates are not ready to fit themselves into the world of reality. Has Dewey-ism boomeranged? To urge this subject is outside the scope of our study; we have merely called attention to a situation which we have before us in the world’s schools.

Our question is, Which wisdom do children and youth learn in the world’s schools? Is it necessary to answer that it is the wisdom of the world? Must we prove that? Must we prove that world is world wherever we find it? No. It is world even if it is the best world. It is a world which is enmity against God, which wants nothing to do with the wisdom of God, which has in it the seed of death.

Now if Christianity means anything, it means that Christians are to take with them the wisdom of God in Christ, the Redeemer, and their new life in that Christ, into every nook and corner of their lives. Whatsoever we do in word or deed is to be done in the name of the Lord Jesus. To do anything in Christ’s name means to do it in connection with His revelation and redemption. We are to glorify God in our body and in our spirit. We are to be sanctified wholly. We are to be in Christ, and He in us. We are to grow up into Christ. “We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory.” II Cor. 3:18. In this there is a different accent, there is a different aim and purpose, there is a different direction. This is a different wisdom.

Let no one say that we are comparing things of two different categories. We are not comparing the knowledge of things with the wisdom of God. Neither are we comparing the knowledge of redemption in Christ with the wisdom of the world. What we want to show is this, that the knowledge of worldly things alone ends in a certain wisdom; and the knowledge of God in Christ plus a knowledge of worldly things ends in another wisdom. Let us not ask in which knowledge our children and youth shall become most proficient. That is a vastly important question, to be sure; but it is not the chief question. It is more important to ask, Which wisdom do we teach them, and by which wisdom are we training them to live?

The practical application of this is important. When we say that the world’s schools are not good enough for our children, we must make clear that it is their worldly wisdom we are talking about, not their ability to teach the lesson materials. When we say that our schools are the better, it must be clear that they are better because of the eternal wisdom instilled by them. The competition between the world’s schools and ours in the ability to impart knowledge is a secondary matter. Superiority there may go to the one, then to the other. But it is in the category of wisdoms that we are making comparisons.

Harmony or War

We insist that the knowledge of things and the wisdom of God should go together, for only then can we have true wisdom. We want them harmonized. It is only when they are not harmonized that they become enemies. What we contend is that in the world’s schools the knowledge of things has been divorced by the fall of man from the wisdom of God, and the world has not effected, and does not want to effect, a reconciliation. In the world, the wisdom which interprets and integrates only the knowledge of things is a wisdom at war with the wisdom of God, and it is eternal war, war to the death.

We do not want that war. That is why we want Christian education. We do not want our children and youth to think that Cain’s descendants became skillful in the arts of the world because they followed the wisdom of the world and not the wisdom of God. It is not true that the line of demarcation between the two wisdoms divides between the knowledge of God and the knowledge of things. When education is not Christian, that is where the line of battle comes to be drawn. And it is an unfortunate place for the line to be drawn. It is too bad when knowledge is attacked in the name of Christianity; and it is too bad when Christianity is attacked in the name of knowledge. It is unfortunate that our children ever get the impression that science — and we mean science — is agnostic and inimical to the faith; and it is unfortunate that a child of God is ever given to understand that he had better curtail his knowledge of things.

That line of division is pietistic and Puritanical. It bids the followers of Christ to a void all activities and interests which arc not directly connected with. the knowledge of salvation in Christ, the Substitute and Sanctifier. But God does not forbid us to probe the mysteries of His creation. In fact He assigned to man the position of dominance over what He had made. God did not ask man to avoid investigation into the creation. He did not ask him to concentrate all study on the mysteries of the promised Redeemer. God did not make divine wisdom an enemy of scientific and cultural knowledge. How could He? Is not He Himself revealed to us in His Word and in His works? Where have these two revelations been more beautifully harmonized than in the 19th Psalm of David? We do not want the Unknown God to remain unknown. The Unknown God of those who know the creation is the Triune God of the Christian. Our children and youth must learn to know that. Then are they getting themselves real wisdom. Then they will not flounder in the wisdom of the world, which, at best, is but a system of hedonism, self,satisfaction, selfishness, and work,righteousness.

No Romanism

Nor do we want the line of division between the two wisdoms to run horizontally, in the manner of Rome. We do not believe that Rome has true Christian education, the right wisdom, even with all its day schools, secondary schools and universities. We have seen too much evidence that with the Roman Catholic church the wisdom of God is looked upon as something superimposed on a very independent world, wisdom. Witness the big space between the Roman congregation and the Roman Mass, with its at-a-distance dumb and awful admiration of that sacrifice. Note, too, the oft-noticed contradiction between the Roman devotee’s willingness to follow the world into sin as long as he does not neglect the confessional. Even rank heretics are not always dealt with as long as they abide under the holy roof. Then again there is also evidence of insincerity in the lands where Rome has all its own way; in such lands Rome gives its people neither Christianity nor education. Rome comes out for two orders of knowledge, the natural and the supernatural. The natural can run its course without let or hindrance as long as it will admit the priority of supernatural knowledge as mediated by the Church. Gilson, in “The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy,” p. 37, quoted by Bergendoff in “The Church in the World,” calls the Christian revelation “an indispensable auxiliary to reason.” The comment is then made: “To the Roman Church there is a possibility of an almost independent rational knowledge which is crowned by the Church’s revelation.”

The more we study the Christian philosophy of education, the more we will want to avoid that distinction. That distinction can be understood correctly; but to call revealed truth an “auxiliary” is not enough. There is involved a final fallacy in logic. For while we may start out with the consideration that knowledge is merely natural and according to reason and experiment, we will find that it ends by being divorced from its true position with regard to God’s relationship to us. It ends, then, in being wisdom of the world, and it disappears in the darkness of separation from God. Factual knowledge separated from Christian interpretation and integration becomes worldly wisdom. We do not want that wisdom.

We must beware, however, of becoming Roman. We must not think that we have Christian education, or are teaching the right wisdom, just because we have religious instruction in addition to what we call the secular subjects. Many of our country’s educators are Roman in this respect; and so are a lot of Lutherans. If that principle were true, then there is no longer a reason for having any Christian schools. Then Christian education can be attained simply by adjusting the supply valves of secular instruction and religious instruction. And that could be done, if we insisted, in cooperation with the schools of the world. But we would be arriving at the ridiculous conclusion of combining the wisdom of the world with the wisdom of God! We would not be combining the knowledge of the world with the wisdom of God, as many fondly hope; for the world’s schools have not only the world’s knowledge, but also its wisdom. And two exclusive wisdoms will not mix.

But we do insist that there is to be a combination and a harmony between the so-called secular knowledge and the revealed truth of God and that combination is what we have called the wisdom of God, which we demand for our children and youth. That is the wisdom of God, which begins with the fear of the Lord, and which continues with the fear of the Lord.

This is made clear in “The Meaning of a Lutheran Education” by A.C. Stellhorn: “The need for education came with the fall of man, when his knowledge, righteousness and holiness were gone, and man was totally depraved, both body and soul, steeped in wickedness and ignorance, blind and dead in spiritual things, an enemy of God, and subject to temporal and eternal death. Since that time, man has been in need of the exact education that we today call a Lutheran education. He needed to be brought back to God, from whom he fell away, and to dedicate himself and his whole life once more to the glory of his Creator, accepting the gracious and free gift of eternal life. He needed to be called out again from among the trees of his forfeited Paradise, where he hid in shame, fear, and nakedness, and to be directed to his loving Father in heaven, who, in His mercy beyond measure, sent His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believed in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. And since this return of man means a return in his whole being and life, he needed to be educated in all his temporal activities of body and soul. Everything must be made to conform to his regenerated state and his new life in God,” p. 29.

True Integration

We must come to realize that wisdom is much higher and nobler than knowledge, and we must understand that this applies not only to the soul, but to the body and to this life as well. It is a mistake to separate body and soul when we consider education. Body and soul are even joined organically. Why then should we attempt to separate them ethically? God didn’t do that when He tested man’s allegiance in Eden. We can try to do it in our education, but we are then only making fools of ourselves. It is wrong for us to separate manual education in the home or in the school from soul education at the hands of God. It is stupid. It borders on tempting God. It is tempting God. To this day the test of our faithfulness to God includes soul and body. Let us not belittle the body, thinking that the body typifies the temporal life. Remember that bodiliness was a high aim of God in creating man. We can’t be so sure that the angels are higher creatures than man just because they do not need bodies to make them complete. It is not said of angels, but of man, that he was created in God’s image. The Son of God is not humiliated today just because he wears a human body. Perhaps God meant man, man with a body, to be the crowning glory of His whole creation. And let us also remember that it is our bodies that are to be fashioned like unto the glorious body of the exalted Christ. If we realize this it may help us to put the accent where it belongs when we consider education. God’s Word never treats man as a soul only; it treats him as a complete integer of two parts, body and soul. God does not separate man’s psychology from his physiology. Let us Christians take that word “integrate” which we read on almost every page of educational literature and sanctify also that! For “integrate” comes from “integer,” and the main integer we are concerned with is the integer man, body and soul. The idea of nine months of world’s school and one month of Bible school plus Sunday- and confirmation-school begins to look ridiculous. We want to separate; God wants to integrate.

Let us neither get into a false mysticism nor into a false materialism, “as if God would make a world, people it with a human family and then give them a religion suspended in the air instead of one set down in the very movement of human history. These are misinterpretations of the fundamental principles of Christianity, which belong to the realm of reality, not of imagination and ideality. The Bible never dissevers three things — nature, history and religion. Hence it depicts a sane religion, with its feet on the ground; yet in the midst of its practical affairs, its thoughts are often occupied with the contemplation of celestial and eternal verities. The Biblical system is not narrow and one sided; it is our human systems that are so. No wonder we do not get on in our spiritual thinking when we cast God’s revelation aside and try to solve impossible problems by the use of the unaided intellect!” “Man’s First Disobedience,” L.S. Keyser, p. 72. Let us avoid the false idea of the world, that man is chiefly a body; and let us not think that salvation is only of the soul.

If education is primarily for the purpose of overcoming the results of the Fall, and if the world is unable to do this in its own way, ought there be a moment’s hesitation in the decision of all of us to have only Christian education for our children and youth? For what does Scripture say of the best that man can do? This: “He that findeth his life shall lose it.” Matt. 10:39. He who gets everything that this life can provide cannot gain life eternal with all his getting! Natural man thinks that being as good as possible means eternal salvation. But, on the contrary, it only confirms him forever in his natural blindness and depravity. Hence, we are now ready to deny that the world can educate; it can only confirm the Scripture report of its own death.

Out of their Own Mouths

Thinking men of the world’s educational have come to see their failure; in a sense they have come to see our success — in a sense, we say, for it is hardly true that they have learned to see what is the eternal value of what Christian wisdom is and does. They seem to have caught a glimpse of what we have, just as the world can note, at times, the ray of supernatural hope that glows in the countenance of a Christian. Some of the world’s schoolmen seem to be feeling for the Unknown God. They are really a pitiful sight. They are crying out for what we have, in the same manner as the whole creation is groaning and travailing together in pain until now, waiting to be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. Not that the world actually wants what we have; it doesn’t; it opposes it. But still its need cries out. Here we could insert statements by the dozen to show this. “Education in our time has eliminated religion and the Bible,” complains the Superintendent of Rockingham County Schools, Virginia, “and the people don’t stop at anything any more.” “Godless education has had its day,” said Jacques Chevalier, Secretary-General in the ministry of Public Instruction in France, December 7, 1940, as he announced plans to restore religious instruction in French schools. And on the same day Colonel John J. Hannan of Madison, Wisconsin, is reported as telling directors and officers of the Central States Probation and Parole Conference that “religious instruction should be given in American schools because our educational system has failed to build character and keep children from growing up to be delinquents and criminals.” Writing in the “Saturday Evening Post” Will Durant uses almost the same words and says, “Today we may well ask, ‘What kind of education should our children receive?’” Walter Lippman said at the University of Pennsylvania on December 20, 1940: “Modern education rejects and excludes from the curriculum of studies the whole religious tradition of the west.” And the warden Sing Sing Prison voices a growing fear when he says, “We have somehow failed to find the link between education and character.” Thus the voices are crying out for fear, not asking for the wisdom of God as we know it, but making plain that the wisdom of God is needed for our children and youth and demonstrating that the wisdom of the world has failed. The words of thinking men cry out that they need what we have! Must we, too, wander away into the darkness of unbelief before we see in the setting sun the golden windows of our own home-windows that reflect, not the setting sun, but the light of Jerusalem above? We have “the Light of the world.” Let us use our lamps, not merely for looking out our doors at the pitiful wretches stumbling their way to eternal death, but to show them the way of true wisdom to eternal life!

At the risk of appearing too insistent we call your attention once more to the difference between the wisdom of the world at its best and the wisdom of God. Better educators are calling for a return to religion, to truth, to honesty, fair play. They want religion in education, religion in the form of Ten-Commandment-morality. But Jesus did not say that men’s truthfulness, honesty, morality and the like would draw men to Him and make them better. He did not say that the world’s best would lead men to eternal life. He did say that He, if He were lifted up, nailed to the cross in substitution for us, would draw men to Him, and thus to everlasting life. The religion of the best man in the world will not solve the problem. We must have the Christianity of the true visible church. The line between the two wisdoms is clear. We must see it clearly. Good influence is not enough. To have religious teachers is not sufficient. We are not saved by “religion,” by principles and ideals. Religious emotion is often a shallow thing. What the world calls religion is little better than an emotion. And an emotion not based on absolute truth is “a spree,” — which doesn’t last. Take a look at revivalism and Moral Rearmament! The only wisdom worth the candle is that which is based upon the historical Jesus, upon the body and blood of the Man from Galilee, true God in man’s tabernacle, become one of us to lift us into Himself that we might be filled with His fulness. Only under these conditions is education religious. “The Bible knows nothing of an unpractical theology, but, on the other hand, the Bible knows still less of an untheological morality.”

No Star-gazing

Lest anyone say that we are forgetting the practical side of education, let us say a word about the every-day benefits of one’s growing up in the wisdom that is according to God. We can take time to hint at only one or two such benefits. He who thus becomes established upon truth has real freedom. The Christian knows where he stands. Therefore he is free to move. And although he, too, is many times puzzled and perplexed, he does not have to stop and stand bound, unable to decide the right or wrong of what he plans to do. He soon decides whether a certain intended act is right or wrong, for he has a standard of conduct which does not change. He has learned not to temporize because of expediency and temptation to do what is wrong, even if it will bring gain. He is not bedeviled by every situation, robbed of indecision — an anemic failure. He has a freedom that men of the world do not know.

In addition, the Christian’s wisdom has a way of simplifying life, which is a true benefit. There is much foolish talk about the complexity of life today. The world thinks it is showing great wisdom when it spends words, words, words on things that are very simple, things that any common Christian has long ago mastered. Apply this to the troubles between industry and labor, to government, to social problems. The whole nation seems dedicated to analyses and solutions and objectives. But simple Christian wisdom has a way of penetrating, all unknown to us, to the heart of the many situations which the world spends so much good time surveying and analyzing. When we read educational literature and see all the worries of schoolmen, we cannot but be struck with the simple fact that the follower of God’s wisdom with his Bible is quite ready with the answers. Could we do better, then, in all this than to offer the revealed wisdom of God, before which social problems pale and life is restored to its pristine simplicity? Life and living shouldn’t really be complicated just because we have radios and refrigerators, Xrays and sulfanilimide. But rather than increasing our abilities, the world’s wisdom, not being master of the modern age, has rather shrunk our capacity for doing things. It has made us passive instead of active. And rather than improving upon simplicity, it has made men simpletons. To all of which Christian wisdom is an antidote, for, along with the redemption from sin by Christ, it brings to life an unselfish activity, responsibility, service to others, a big-hearted fulness instead of the close-fisted self-seeking of the wisdom of the world. Christian wisdom does not consist in a musty atmosphere of facts for facts’ sake; it applies itself to life at every turn. And it keeps things simple, for truth is simple-a true boon.

Professor William Lyon Phelps glimpsed what God’s revealed wisdom means to us when he wrote: “I thoroughly believe in education, but I believe a knowledge of the Bible without a college course is more valuable than a college course without the Bible. In the Bible we have the nature of boys and girls, men and women, more accurately charted than in the work of any modern novelist or playwright.”

But we have not time nor space to explore the manifold advantages of God’s wisdom for our children and youth. That we must choose this wisdom over the wisdom of the world is plain. That we must set up schools for the propagation of such wisdom among our children and youth is not said by God in so many words; but the training given by Christian schools is demanded of us. The terminology is unimportant; the substance is of eternal consequence.

And Now to Work!

We have taken our stand according to the Word of God. We have had much instruction, so much so that it has been said that the subject is talked of too much. Synodical essays, pamphlets, and periodicals have devoted much time and energy to the task of clarifying the issue between the two wisdoms. On our choice between the two, there can be no debate, and, we trust, there is none. But when it comes to obediently carrying out what we have agreed is right, there is much coldness and unwillingness. Some schools are maintained only by the rugged determination of the pastor that the school be kept alive. Some continue only because Christian teachers are willing to make the real sacrifice of working for pay that is hardly above the barest subsistence level. Some schools are still working, although there may be many members in the congregation that would only too gladly see them die. Then there is also the spectacle of members of congregations and of workers in the church, whose children are within walking distances of Christian schools, but who choose the schools of the world. We have been told that in the Old Synod teachers of the church despised in their lives the Christian schools which they so nobly praised in public and in print. After read’ ing excellent statements of the case for Christian education by one of the champions of Christian day schools in the Old Synod, we learned, to our chagrin, that he himself chose the world’s school for his children, although there was a Christian school near. If these were isolated cases, not so, much should be said; but they typify the conduct of many individuals and congregations: they do not choose what they know is right. The situation is similar with regard to Bethany College. The Annual Report for 1940 shows that there are 55 students enrolled in Synodical institutions, and 363 in the world’s high schools and colleges. We cannot believe that financial difficulties are the cause of all this inequality. There must be an unwillingness to choose that which we know is right.

Perhaps one reason for this condition is that our duty to provide Christian schools is preached only where there appears to be some possible chance of building a Christian school. We look upon it as something that would be “nice to have.” But is a small congregation excused from this requirement because it is small? Furthermore, not all small congregations are without Christian schools, nor do all larger congregations have them. This is a fact, although in our Synod the congregations that have schools average 96 souls larger than those that have none.

We must, however, guard against the danger that our noble declarations in this matter become a sort of salve for the conscience when that conscience ought not be so easily salved! Thomas Carlyle once said: “It is a sad but sure truth that every time you speak of a fine purpose, especially with eloquence and to the admiration of bystanders, there is less chance of your ever making a fact of it in your poor life.” This is much the same as taking a firm position for pure doctrine but neglecting the holiness of life which that doctrine demands, as if the mental resolution becomes a sort of substitute for the actual deed. Just as men of great principles can be amazingly mean and cheap and think little of it, so there is a chance that our exaltation of Christian education makes us feel the part of heroes, although we may be doing very little to make a practice of what we profess. “Let us search and try our ways.” Lam. 3:40.

There is much to be done to show our congregations that they caw not afford to be without the Christian school. There is much our Synod can do; there is much every one of us can, by the grace of God, do. May it be done before it is too late!

“I pray Thee, dear Lord Jesus,

My heart to keep and train

That I Thy holy temple

From youth to age remain.

Turn Thou my thoughts forever

From worldly wisdom’s lore;

If I but learn to know Thee,

I shall not want for more.”

Visit Us
Follow Me