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Concerning Christian Education

Carl S. Meyer

1943 Synod Convention Essay

St. John the Divine, in addressing his first epistle to the Christians of Asia Minor as well as to us, says by inspiration of the Spirit of God (I, ii. 12–14): /

I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake. I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known Him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one.

I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father. I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known Him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.

He was an old man when he wrote these words, already beyond the three score years and ten spoken of by the psalmist. He is called the “Apostle of love,” for he spoke much of love; he calls himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved;” and we often refer to him as “St. John the beloved.” The characteristics of love and paternal affection are evident in the words just read from his first letter. He addresses his readers as “little children,” once using a word which breathes love and affection, the second time using a word which connotes his authority as a teacher and as apostle over them. He calls all his readers “children.” He is their spiritual father, their father in Christ. He makes no reference to their chronological ages, for under this designation he includes both the parents and the children, those whom he later calls “fathers,” and those whom he calls, “young men.” Picture to yourself, if you will, the old man, now perhaps ninety or more years old, addressing these words to his beloved readers, the believers of Asia Minor and of all ages, regarding them with affection and love. What shall he write them and what specific message has he for each class of his readers?

To all in common he writes the simple Gospel, the message of the forgiveness of sins, and adds an exhortation to holiness in life.

The Apostle of love never tired of reminding his readers of the forgiveness of their sins. “The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin,” (I John 1:7) he writes. Again, “My little children, these things I write unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for our’s only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (I, ii. 1f). There is forgiveness of sins, forgiveness “for His name’s sake,” forgiveness for the sake of Christ Jesus. This message of the forgiveness of sins, total, complete forgiveness, forgiveness not because of any merit or worthiness in man, but for His name’s sake, the sake of Him who suffered and died and rose again and by the perfect fulfillment of the law atoned for all sins, is the message which St. John would stress again.

“I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake, … I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father.” Speaking now with the voice of the teacher and the apostle of the Lord, he reminds them that, having the forgiveness of sins, they have come to faith in Christ Jesus. In this faith they know the Father, their Father and the Father of their Lord Jesus Christ. “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God,” he cries out in evident wonder (I, iii. 1). And then he continues, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God.”

As children of God, knowing God, they walk as children of God. How do they know that they know God? St. John answers (I, ii. 3ff):

And hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth His word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in Him. He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked.

Bringing men to a saving knowledge of God the Father through faith in the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake, the work of the Spirit, and holiness of life are the primary aims of all true Christian preaching and teaching. The preaching of justification and of sanctification remains the primary objective of the Church. Although St. John has written concerning these to all in common, it is not amiss to speak of these as also the primary aims of Christian education.

Dr. Edward W.A. Koehler has well expressed the relationship between these two objectives of Christian education in the following words:

The child must first have become “wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” before he can be trained in righteousness and holiness of life. Because faith justifies him before God by accepting the saving merits of Christ, it also sanctifies him in his life by working in him a new mind and a new attitude toward God. The child now sees and judges the things of life from an entirely different viewpoint. Because he knows himself to be a child of God and an heir of heaven, his thought and desires are no longer earthward, but heavenward, not worldly, but spiritual. Because he is born again of the Spirit, he is also able to walk in the Spirit. Though we must therefore distinguish these two objectives of Christian education, they may not be separated. Faith in Christ is necessary if Christian training is to be possible and effectual. [1]

There you have the fundamental difference between a merely moral life and a truly Christian life, between a moral education and a Christian education, The difference is not one merely in methods, it is a difference in goals. The point of departure, the starting-point, hence the whole road along which it travels, is different.


As if he wanted to emphasize these facts for the training of children, St. John turns specifically to the parents among his readers and says to them: “I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known Him that is from the beginning. … I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known Him that is from the beginning.” There is seemingly nothing new here. He had written to all: “I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father.” The Father is He that is from the beginning. Why, then, should the Apostle repeat this thought, if not to impress parents that they might teach their children? He emphasizes the importance of knowing that God Who gave His Son, Who made us His sons, Who is the Father of light in which we walk, that parents, as fathers and mothers, may so deal with their children. The fact that the Apostle speaks to the children and parents separately, after having addressed them all in common, makes this interpretation evident.

The apostle is speaking to Christian parents. They know God. They have the forgiveness of sins and walk in holiness of life. That knowledge,as children of God, they would impart to their children. That is the most precious thing which parents can give their children, We, as parents, worry and fret that our children have strong and healthy bodies; that they be well-educated, that they be provided with this world’s goods. But none of these things are of real importance compared to a knowledge of God.

This is the estimate which God Himself makes. About twenty-five hundred years ago when another people was bent on conquest, having already destroyed the cruel Assyrian Empire and was about to destroy the kingdom of Judah; Jeremiah, speaking as the mouthpiece of God, reminded his people of fundamental values (Jer. ix.23f):

Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth Me, that am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord.

For our day these words of the prophet Jeremiah are not without significance. In the chaos and confusion of our times; augmented by a lack of true understanding and knowledge of God, men in high places are asking this nation to return to God and to religion. They speak of the necessity of rehabilitating the home, for in the home the very foundations of morals and religion must be taught. One investigator, for example, has attributed about 90 per cent of disorders in conduct among children to poor training and discipline in the home, Another, writing on “The Challenge of Delinquency,” shows how serious the breakdown discipline in the schools has become. She says:

War tensions have broken through the weakest links in our social fabric, creating little islands of anarchy, but what does it all mean? Youth, supposedly the seedbed of idealism, is not revolting for anything. The attack on discipline and traditional authority is negative, cynical, petulant. … Normally, fundamental disciplines are the task of the parents. Now, with mothers being called into industry, and fathers occupied with war work or completely removed by military service, the home is not retaining its former influence. … Accompanying this removal of authority, there is the fundamental moral upset of war itself. With hatred and violence, once decried from every hand, now a matter of national policy, the immature personality cannot keep its balance. The old virtues tarnish easily under such conditions, and with snipers and commandos the heroes of the day, what attraction is there in standing by and doing what the teacher says? [2]

The newspapers and popular magazines come to this theme again and again. Some articles tell us about shameful, horrifying conditions among the youth of our land. If a remedy is suggested the remedy is usually that of the home.

Modern educators and psychologists are rediscovering an old truth, the truth that Solomon expressed in the words (Proverbs xxii, 6): “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. These modern psychologists and educators will tell you that the pre-school years of the child are perhaps the most important of the child’s life, especially for laying the framework of his personality and character. One man has said:

Men have always felt that the first few years of home may make or break a child in his personal and social ways of behaving. There is now so much proof for this belief that it stands out as a major premise in all teaching. It is not too much to say that we will almost surely be in adult life the sort of person we have been trained to be almost before we have learned how to walk or talk. [3]

Because of the rising tide of juvenile delinquency and the importance of the early years in the life of the child, Christian parents will be concerned that their children know Him that is from the beginning as they themselves know Him. Luther, in his day, said:

That Christendom is now in such evil straits is all due to the fact that no one pays attention to the youth; and if things are to take a turn for the better, the beginning must certainly be made with the children. [4]

Luther, of course, stresses the responsibility of parents in the true education of children. We say “true education,” because many parents do not know God and therefore cannot teach their children the true knowledge of God. Let us, as Christian parents, be more ready than ever before to provide our children with that education which is based on Christ, on the forgiveness of sin for His name’s sake and love for one’s fellowmen because of God’s love towards us.

As the best institution or aid which parents can use for this purpose we point to the Christian school. By means of the Christian Day school the Church fulfills her responsibility, for the Church, too, has the responsibility over against the children of the Church of providing the knowledge of salvation and of pointing the way toward a God-pleasing life.

The Lutheran elementary school is a church institution. It has been found to be the most efficient agency by means of which the local congregation may meet its obligation to teach and train children according to the solemn charge of Christ to His disciples of all times in the Great Commission: “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations (including the young) … teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” Matt. 28:19–20. It is an institution at the same time by means of which the called servant of the congregation or any of his official associates or assistants carry out the obligation of the congregation summarized by Christ in His word to Peter: “Feed My lambs!” John 21:15. This agency of Christian training is therefore rightly called a parochial school, that is, a school of a parish, of a congregation. It is also owned and operated by the congregation as a corporate body, not by the parents, not by private persons, not by the State or the civic community, not by Synod.

The parents have their own particular obligation toward the children, regardless of what the congregation may or may not do by way of educating children. Their obligations parallel those of the congregation so far as religious and spiritual education is concerned, as will be seen from the command of Scripture: “Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Eph. 6:4. But parental obligations go farther in that they include the child’s entire education, also for the common requirements of life. In the case of the Christian child or Christian parents, all of education is Christian education.

Holy Scripture recognizes no dual education; neither does the Christian Church nor the Christian parent. Hence, while the Church as such has no command to teach anything but the Word, it undertakes a full educational program in its parochial school for these reasons: 1. The Church has the example of the Old Testament Church. 2. A Christian congregation bears a definite responsibility toward all the baptized children in its midst in keeping with Scriptural injunctions, e.g., Matt. 28:20. 3. The Word of God is taught not only during the so-called religious hour, but also in the form of practical application throughout the entire school day and the entire course. 4. In order to have the children present for continued observation, guidance, and training, the church school is made to substitute for the public school in general education. 5. Since education is never really non-religious, and since, cause of its moral objectives, it is as personal as religion itself, the Lutheran Church holds that the education of a Christian child should be wholly in the hands of his parents and the church of his faith. [5]

It is difficult to understand how those who have come to a knowledge of God, either as parents or members of a Christian congregation, can be indifferent toward fostering Christian schools. We think of the complaint of the sacred writer against those who show no growth in knowledge, comparing them to babies that still need milk when they ought to be eating strong meat (Hebrews v. 12ff.). We think of that prayer which St. Paul uttered for his Ephesian Christians (Ephesians iii. 17ff.):

That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.


We think, too, of the description of the young Christian which St. John has given us, one who is victorious over the devil, strong, abiding in the word of God.

In turning to the young men, the youth, — and this includes both sexes in the younger years of life — St. John says: “I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. … I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.” They, too, have the forgiveness of sins and are the sons of God; they, too, know the Father.

They are strong, strong in faith and in the knowledge of God. In their strength they have overcome Satan, the wicked one, and his wicked ally, the world. “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the son of God?” (I John v. 4f.). John the Beloved is emphatic in his distinction between those who love God and those who love the world. In the verses immediately following the words; “I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one,” he writes (I, ii, 15f.):

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of he Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

Christian boys and girls, Christian young men and women, will find themselves in conflict with the world. They must be strong, able to overcome. They will be the stronger because of a Christian education. They go from strength to strength and from victory to victory, because the word of God abideth in them. Their faith, their strength, their victories come from God. They are not sufficient in themselves. They have followed the words of St. Paul (Ephesians vi, 10ff.):

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness: and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace: above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Strong in the power of God’s might, equipped with truth, righteousness, faith, salvation, and the word of God, they are prepared to stand and to win the victory.

Also in the warfare against the devil and his cohorts must youth fight the great battles. It is one of the tragedies of war that young men, entering the vigor of maturity, alert, eager, strong are cut down. It is a grim fight which the youth of our land faces against the hordes of Nazi Germany and pagan Japan. The two, five, seven, or ten million young men that go out against them: must be physically fit, properly equipped, imbued with the highest ideals of patriotism to make the supreme sacrifice, if necessary, for their country. But there is another warfare, grimmer in its aspects and more momentous in its outcomes, demanding spiritual fitness, proper spiritual equipment, God-inspired ideals, and that is the warfare against the wicked one and the wicked world. It is one of the glories of this warfare, that young men and young women, strong, abiding in the word of God, overcome the wicked foe.

Prepared adequately to meet this foe with weapons from God’s own arsenal they stand boldly, strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man. That Word which makes them free, that Word which enlightens them and gives them wisdom and understanding, that Word which is their spiritual food, that Word abides in them. They recognize it as the Word of very God. To them it is the most precious truth, superceding the speculations of the philosophers, the theories of the scientists, and the hypotheses of the sociologists.

St. John, in his second letter (vv. 8–9), points out the necessity of abiding in God’s Word, when he says:

Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward. Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.

If anyone were to question the need of Christian education, we could point to that passage alone. If anyone were to ask what the outcomes of Christian education are, we could point to that passage and say that by a sound Christian education our youth will the better abide in the doctrines of Christ and thereby have both the Father and the Son, the Savior. The Word of God abides in our Christian youth and they are strong, able to overcome the wicked one.

The secular schools cannot do that. They cannot prepare for the battle against the world and the devil; they cannot strengthen the inner man; they cannot teach the doctrines of Christ. These are the outcomes of a Christian education, and of a Christian education alone.

Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and for ever. Amen. (II Peter iii. 17f.)

We feel sorry for those of the coming generation who cannot attend Christian elementary and secondary schools. We expect to see growing immorality, a still greater disregard of God’s Word, tribulations for the children of God, yea, perhaps even bloody persecutions. The rosy dreams of the social planners do not impress us. They look for a near-millennial society in which abundance and freedom will be the watchwords. Their hopes of a mundane paradise may deceive even our Christians. When these dreams and hopes do not materialize and instead perilous times appear they may be in great danger of falling away. We must face the coming of the last days realistically, as St. Paul did, preparing this coming generation according to the manner in which a Timothy was prepared. To him St. Paul wrote (II Timothy iii. 12–17):

Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou has learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

Trained as was Timothy, our Christian youth will not be so easily deceived, nor will they be vacillating, but will be strengthened, established, settled, strong, abiding in the word of God, overcoming the wicked one, withstanding in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.


These, we sincerely trust, are the outcomes of a Christian education. This education is begun in the home, fostered by diligent Bible study and regular attendance in God’s house, and is the chief aim of Christian elementary and secondary schools.

We are not trying to distinguish between the need of Christian training in the elementary grades and in the secondary grades. To us it seems that it should be a Christian education, whether in the first, the seventh, or the fourteenth year. The command to parents to train their children in Christ’s nurture is not nullified when the child reaches the age of six or sixteen; the command to the Church to pasture Christ’s lambs is not abrogated when the lamb reaches the age of ten or fourteen. It is not too much to say, I believe, that the entire education of the child through the age of adolescence should be a Christ-centered education.

The common goal of Christian elementary education and Christian secondary education is one reason for asking that we think of Christian education in terms of this common goal. The aims of both are alike. The desired outcomes are alike. We cannot foster an artificial rivalry, as if Christian elementary education excludes Christian education on the secondary level. It cannot be either the parish school or the high school under church auspices. To do that would be denying, as said, the common goal, the common aims, the common outcomes of these agencies.

The nature of the child likewise excludes the desirability of thinking of different kinds of education on various levels. The growth process of the child is a continued one, proceeding, it is true, according to a varied tempo, yet not one which is divided into easily perceived periods. The boy of two years ago is not a fully matured man today. He may be on the road to manhood, but he hasn’t arrived yet. And while we distinguish between adolescence and childhood or between adolescence and adulthood, we recognize that childhood and adolescence alike belong to the years in which the developing and maturing child is preparing for adulthood. Since this is true, we believe that the educational process should be a continuous one, continuous in the sense that throughout it is to be founded on the infallible Word of the infallible God.

The nature of the schools, too, argues for the continuous nature of the underlying guiding principles of the schools. Let me quote briefly what Hollis L. Caswell, Professor of Education in Teachers College, Columbia University, has to say on this point. He writes:

Now agreement is increasing that the elementary school and the high school should not be considered institutions which differ in function. They both should be concerned principally with the general education of the citizen, and their programs should center around the same broad objectives and should recognize that education is a continuous process. [6]

He, of course, is speaking of the common school system of our country. He is thinking of the education of future citizens of the terrestrial city; we are thinking of the education of citizens of the city of God. We have the same broad objectives in Christian elementary and Christian secondary education.

A growing number of educators is recognizing the importance of the junior college years as belonging into these years of general education. We would include these years under “secondary education.” The particular type of organization for the schools or the desirable administrative divisions do not interest us now. We are merely concerned with pointing out the unity in the educational philosophy — if you wish to use that term — of Christian elementary and secondary education.

Nor are we concerned now particularly with the so-called part-time agencies of Christian education, the Sunday School, the Saturday School, summer schools or Vacation Bible Schools. Their aims are laudable; their outcomes are desirable. Their very designation, however (part-time agencies), tells us at once that they cannot fulfill the functions demanded of Christian educational institutions as efficiently as can the full-time agencies, Christian elementary and secondary schools.

It will not make one strong to engage in physical exercise only once a week or for two or three weeks a year. We cannot say that the word of God abides in one who returns to it only now and then at more or less regular intervals. If we think again of the words of John the Divine, “I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one,” we still say that this ideal of Christian youth can best be attained in our Christian elementary and secondary schools. Their sins forgiven, knowing God and walking in the holiness of God, steadfast, strong, these are the products of Christian schools.

We pray for our children in the words of Jane E. Leeson:

Let Thy holy Word instruct them;

Fill their minds with heavenly light;

Let Thy powerful grace constrain them

To approve whate’er is right;

Let them feel Thy yoke is easy,

Let them prove Thy burden light.


[1] Edward W.A. Koehler, A Christian Pedagogy, St. Louis, Concordia Publishing House, 1930, p. 117.

[2] Anne Crutcher, “The Challenge of Delinquency,” The Civic Leader, Vol. X, No. 14 (January 11, 1943), p. 1.

[3] Coleman R. Griffith, Psychology Applied to Teaching and Learning, New York, Farrar & Rinehart, Inc., 1939, p. 523.

[4] Quoted from the Sermon on Luke 1:39–56, St. Louis Edition, XI, 2234f by Paul E. Kretzmann, Luther on Education in the Christian Home and School, Burlington, Iowa, Lutheran Literary Board, 1940, p. 58.

[5] A.C. Stellhorn in the “Forword” of General Course of Study for Lutheran Elementary Schools, St. Louis, Concordia Publishing House, 1943, pp. iii–iv.

[6] Hollis L. Caswell, Education in the Elementary School, Cincinnati, American Book Co., 1942, p. 28.

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