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Educating for Eternity

Rev. Luther Vangen

1966 Synod Convention Essay

A word which especially characterizes our way of life is the word “go.” People are forever “on the go,” and people like to think of themselves as “people on the go.” They are caught up in a mad rush to succeed in the world. They feel under compulsion to achieve, to produce, to out-produce, to sell, to out-sell. They pride themselves on being forward-looking people. They admire progress and growth and expansion.

All this requires a great deal of educating. People must not only be conditioned to do all these things, but, more important, they must be conditioned to desire and want them. Hence, it is not strange that there should be an intense interest in education in our times. However, it is to be feared that the goal of education is quite often uncertain and even unknown. People are in a breathless hurry to be on the move, yet do not really know or perceive the direction they are moving. They are like frightened people on a runaway train bravely hoping that everything will end peacefully.

The end we shall all ultimately face is eternity. Our time in this world is a brief time in which to prepare for the eternity that shall follow this present life. It is unspeakably urgent not only that we prepare for the eternity to come, but that we do so forthwith and that we do so in the right way. This present life must be dedicated to preparing for the life that is to come, or in

Educating for Eternity

I. Understanding the Goal

Where do we set our sights? What shall be our goal in life? If our real life were to consist only of life in this world, and if it embraced only the proverbial three score years and ten, our goal in life would understandably be quite “this worldly.” However, this present life is but a very small segment of our real existence. After these three score years and ten we shall find ourselves on the threshold of an eternity that shall extend onward forever, world without end. Since this is the case, it goes without saying that our goal in life must be so extended as to include not only the brief portion which lies on this side of the grave, but especially to include the life beyond.

Our goal in life cannot be thought of apart from God’s will for us and our salvation.

In this connection we must have a right understanding and evaluation of ourselves. We are not, as the evolutionist would say, the product of millions of years of development through an extended process of evolution from simpler forms of life. We are not here because of an imagined chance-happening, or rather because of millions of successive chance-happenings. We are here because in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth … and said “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” (Gen. 1,26–27.) This fact, that God created us and that we therefore are not the product of evolution, is the first important determining factor in establishing what our goal in life must be. We belong to Him. Therefore His will for us must be taken into account.

Nor are we mere animals. The evolutionist, seeing how many physical resemblances we bear to the various animals God created, concludes that people are simply higher forms of animal life. We readily acknowledge the many similarities. We acknowledge that our bodies are vertebrate, that according to biological classification we belong to the family of warm-blooded mammals. We also acknowledge that our human bodies appear to resemble those of certain apes, and that this resemblance is more striking than the resemblances between other members of the Class Mammalia. For instance, there is apparently much less resemblance between the bodies of an ape and elephant than between those of an ape and man. These resemblances, however, do not prove or even indicate the descent of any one species from another. These similarities are rather the trademarks of the Almighty Maker.

We are not animals. If we were merely animal creatures, which the Bible describes as the “beasts that perish,” our life’s goal would quite logically relate only to this present life. But God has created us not only with bodies, but also with immortal souls. “I believe that God has made me … and that He has given me my body and soul.”1 “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” (Gen. 2,7.) Since we have by our Creator been endowed with an immortal soul whose existence shall extend into and continue throughout eternity, it is evident that our life’s goal must relate not only to this present life, but also to the never-ending life that is to come.

The eternity that confronts all people will come whether people believe there is such an eternity or not, and whether they are prepared for it or not. The rich fool of whom the Savior tells in Luke, chapter 12, apparently did not count on such an eternity. He concerned himself quite exclusively with the preoccupations of this life only. His life’s ambitions and objectives concerned the things of this world and of this world only. His great ambition in life was to arrive at such outward prosperity that he would be able to say to his soul, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” (Luke 12,19). But before he “arrived,” his plans were drawn short by God Himself who confronted him with objectives the rich fool had overlooked: “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee; then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?” (v. 20.) And the Savior concludes, “So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (v. 21.)

A twentieth century version of such a “rich fool” was encountered once when a man proudly told about the successful accomplishments of a younger brother. The younger brother, he said, had during his early college years carefully planned his goals and objectives in life. He wished to educate himself for a vocation which would yield the best of every personal convenience and satisfaction. He had therefore carefully outlined the requirements of his future career: a well-paid position; pleasant and healthful work; reasonable hours; free time for his own leisure without being subject to call; adequate vacation time to pursue his interest in outdoor sports; and, finally, an establishment in his native region. Having determined all these objectives he set out to choose the calling that would most nearly fulfill his dreams, earnestly working for the education necessary. We must admire this man’s ambitions and forethought. We see in his goals, however, the image of that provident rich man whom the Savior termed “Thou fool.” His avowed objectives were concerned altogether with this life. If he relentlessly worked only for these, he would fail to educate himself for eternity.

In order to understand the goal we should have in mind as we educate ourselves for eternity, we must also bear in mind how the image of God in which we were created was lost through the fall into sin and how this shall be restored in us. In Genesis, chapter 1, we read, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” (vv. 26–27.) Martin Luther comments on the wonderful implications of the term “Image of God” in his lectures on this Bible passage:

The image of God in which Adam was made was something most beautiful and noble. The leprosy of sin adhered neither to his reason nor to his will. But, within and without, all his senses were pure. His intellect was very clear, his memory very good, and his will very sincere. His conscience was clean and secure, without any fear of death and without any Care. To these inner perfections came also that beautiful and superb strength of the body and all its members by which he surpassed all the other animate creatures in nature. For I fully believe that before he sinned, the eyes of Adam were so clear and their vision so acute that he excelled the lynx and the eagle. Stronger than they, Adam handled lions and bears whose strength is very great, as we handle little dogs.2

But then followed the most tragic event in the annals of man, the fall into sin. Man lost the divine image, and thereby lost his perfect knowledge of God and of God’s will, lost his holiness and happiness, became by nature a child of the devil, an enemy of God, an object of God’s wrath, and by nature utterly without hope — other than the certain prospect of eternal death, for “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6,23.)

“The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6,23.) Man fell into sin and lost the divine image in which he had been created. But it was God’s gracious will that the image lost in the fall should again be restored. In order to accomplish this, God sent His Son into the world to keep the law perfectly for man which man no longer could keep at all. He sent His Son to suffer and die in man’s stead and thereby to make perfect atonement for all sin. “When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” (Gal. 4,4.) “God hath made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5,21.) God therefore no longer charges or imputes our sins to us but declares us righteous. “God can and does declare a sinner righteous because on the basis of the redemptive work of Christ He has acquitted all men of the guilt and punishment of their sins, and has imputed to them the righteousness of Christ; He therefore regards them in Christ as though they had never sinned.”3 “To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” (Rom. 4,5.)

The Apostle Paul comforts the Roman Christians and us with the message of justification when he writes: “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” (Romans 5,6–10.) The good news of our justification before God in Christ is the chief doctrine and the heart and essence of the Word of God. The forgiveness of sins by grace through faith in our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, is our mightiest incentive for educating for eternity. We have been redeemed by His blood, not that we should set our sights only on the things of this world and in this life, but that we should set our sights especially on eternity. For we have been redeemed by Him that we might be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

The following story illustrates how in a double sense we belong to God, who is both our Maker and our Redeemer. Belonging to Him in this two-fold sense we cannot think of our future apart from Him or apart from His will for us. There was once a young boy who loved boats more than anything else in this world. He especially loved to build and sail models of sailing boats. One year he spent many, many hours building a scale model of an American clipper ship. It was a beautiful ship when completed and fitted with a full complement of rigging-masts, stays, sails, sheets, rudder, and helm. One day when it was ready to sail the young boy carefully carried it down to the river which flowed past the town where he lived. He gently placed it on the water and carefully adjusted its rigging. When all was ready he lightly shoved it out from shore. The wind filled the graceful sails and the little clipper ship majestically sailed down the river. The young boy was delighted no end to see how well it sailed. For quite some time he ran along the shore of the river admiring his creation. Little by little, however, the little ship outdistanced the boy and before long it disappeared around a bend in the river. The boy searched the river until dark but was unable to find the run-away clipper ship. It was with a heavy heart that he returned to his home. In the days that followed, he often thought of his dear little ship and wondered what had become of it … until one day on his way to school as he passed a pawn shop he spied his boat in the window. How delighted he was. He ran into the shop and tenderly lifted his boat out of the display window and was about to leave the shop when the keeper called to him and asked where he was taking the ship. “I’m taking it home,” said the boy. “I’m so glad I have found it at last.”

“But you can’t take it from the store without paying for it,” the shopkeeper insisted. “It’s mine now.”

The boy was heart broken, but the shopkeeper insisted. He could have the boat, but he would have to pay the price. The young boy set about at once to find odd jobs and saved his earnings until at last the happy day arrived when he could walk into the pawn shop and redeem his little ship. As he walked out the door with his dear clipper ship safely tucked under his arm, he said, “Now you are twice mine, little boat. Once because I made you, and once again because I redeemed you.”

In much the same way, we belong to our Lord twice. Once because he created us and again because he redeemed us. He has redeemed us, not with gold and silver, but with His holy, precious blood with His innocent suffering and death. Since we belong to Him, it goes without saying that we should live our lives unto Him and prepare for the happy eternity for which He has redeemed us. We should be especially concerned with educating ourselves, not just for this present life, but above all for eternity.

The Apostle Paul, writing to the Christians at Colosse (chapter 1,9–14), speaks of this kind of educating for eternity. He prays and desires that the Colossian might be filled with the knowledge of God’s will and walk worthy of the Lord, being fruitful in every good work. The sainted Dr. S.C. Ylvisaker regarded these verses as a wonderful inspiration for continued growth in spiritual knowledge and zeal godly lives. He required his students in Greek to commit these verses to memory:

For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins. (Col. 1,9–14)

May this admonition inspire us also to such spiritual growth.

The sainted Dr. N.A. Madson, in an essay delivered at the 1956 convention of our Synod entitled, “Looking to the End of the Road,” points out the earnestness with which we should pursue our educating for eternity. What if for lack of earnestness on our part we should fail to achieve the goal of eternal blessedness which we seek? What if we because of indifference should in the end be cast away? Our life is rightly likened to a journey:

It is a road which has but one objective — that we may win Christ. When the question is being asked today, as it has been asked down through the centuries, “Are there few that be saved? What is its answer? Well, our Savior has given the true answer in that 13th Chapter of St. Luke: “Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them, Strive to enter in, at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut the door, and ye begin to stand without, and knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence you are: Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou has taught in our streets (Yes, they had that outward connection with the church all right, which is so important to many, without being earnest about their Christianity). But he shall say, I tell you, I know ye not whence ye are; depart from me all ye workers of iniquity. There shall be weeping and nashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, an Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.” (v. 23–28.)

There are countless numbers who say they want to be saved, and many may even make themselves believe that they mean it. But at the same time that they want to get to heaven, there are so many other things they also want, that the one thing becomes blurred in the variety of things their eyes want to behold. What does Christ mean when He says: “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil (the Greeks used that word “evil” to designate a diseased eye — PONEROS), thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness?” (Matt. 6,22–23.) He means of course that you either seek Him first, or you do not seek Him at all. Scripture uses all manner of expressions to teach this singleness of purpose in the matter of your soul’s salvation. There we have the sickened eye which sees double, the backward gaze, the trusting in uncertain riches, the cares and riches and pleasures of this life — all of them meant to teach us this lesson, there must be one thing we really want above all others, or we will not attain to it at all. Your attitude toward life here must be such that you can honestly say that you hate this present life that the life eternal may be yours. For says Christ: “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.” (John 12,25.)4

Our great objective in this life is to become and remain unto the end citizens of God’s Kingdom. To that end our lives are to be lives of repentance and faith and love. Prof. Paul T. Buszin, father of our former Prof. Walter E. Buszin, delivered a lengthy and exhaustive essay on Christian Education at the 1934 and 1935 conventions of our Synod. In his essay the writer most vividly describes the Christian life of repentance and faith and love which is the goal of Christian education:

At the present point we have in mind that specific result of Christian education which is comprehended in a life consecrated to God; the life of a child of God. Let us recall Luther’s statement in the first of his ninety-five theses, that “the entire life of believers should be repentance.” “That is a great art, indeed!” as someone has exclaimed. That is the aim which we now wish to contemplate, to which every other aim in a life of service of God is sub-aim. The Holy Spirit, who graciously supplies the life and the power in such a life, furnishes the complete and greatly needed instruction, but the indispensable thorough exercises as well, tantamount to constant practice. According to His plan the curriculum — the race-course, if you will — cp. 2 Tim. 4,7; 1 Cor. 9,26, but by all means also Rom. 9,16! — in the faith-life of a Christian child offers this regular, daily, I should say uninterrupted, circuit: He considers his station according to the Ten Commandments, the Law of God, and realizes his damnable sinfulness, not superficially or merely in a general way, but as a matter of knowledge (“By the Law is the knowledge of sin” — Rom. 3, 20). — A merciful God at the same time, through the influence and operation of His Gospel of Salvation, does not permit him to despair, but has him fly to the arms of his Savior and Redeemer to obtain through and from Him the forgiveness of all his sins; he is by the blood of Jesus Christ cleansed from all sin (1 John 1,7). He has now the “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost” as a saint within the kingdom of God (Rom. 14,17–18). — This joy breaks forth into gratitude by word and deed, and the faith-life of the Christian child is in truth also a life occupied in the service of God. That service shows forth his right relation toward God with respect to trust, love, reverence, worship, obedience in all the activities of Christian stewardship; toward man with respect to charity, fellowship, the demands of his daily occupation, and all branches of practical Christian service, chief among which will always be the efforts in mission work; toward life in general with respect to God’s Providence in nature and God’s dispositions and dispensations in the experience of the individual, personal and social.—

All this is the service of devotion to God, the Father, the Redeemer, the Sanctifier, the devotional life of a child of God, a manifestation everywhere, at all times, in all conditions and situations, a manifestation of the life and growth out of Christ (John 15,5: “I am the vine, ye are the branches”), into Christ (Ephes. 4,15: “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ), up to Christ (Col. 2,19: “… the body … increaseth with the increase of God” — Luther’s translation: “… wachst zur göttlichen Grösze,” groweth to the divine stature”), a glorious testimony of his estate of grace and of the reality and actuality that Christ is formed in him (Gal. 4,19).—

And now the day is over. The Christian child, reflecting upon the happenings of the day, finds that he is by no means perfect, but encumbered with all the misery which persists in clinging to him on account of his sinful nature — Old Adam; that the good he would do he did not, but the evil which he would not do that he did (Rom. 7,19), sin in him thus acting contrariwise, — reviews battles and victories, but sorry defeats as well — falters at his wretchedness, but — oh, God be thanked through Jesus Christ our Lord (cp. Rom. 7,15–25, esp. here, v. 25!) — all his deficiencies are washed away, all iniquities subdued, and all sins cast into the depths of the sea (Micah 7,19), and with a prayer of happiness in and praise of “Jesus’ blood and righteousness,” in the peace and joy of his “sonship of God” (John 1,12), he commends body and soul to the protection and safekeeping of God, and smilingly falls asleep in Jesus for the night — and, finally, too — at the end of his life.

That is the life of a Christian child created in baptism. He is God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that he should walk in them (Ephes. 2,10). That life is nurtured, fostered, increased,and promoted by the grace of God revealed in and imparted by His Gospel, to the glory of God in time and eternity, and for the service of God here and hereafter. That service of nurture, direction, and guidance we call Christian education.

The possessions and powers involved in the faith-life of a Christian child are valuable: They did cost the very life of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. An education dealing in these surpassing, divine values that came to mankind by “a price” (I Cor. 6,20), commands our love and esteem. We cannot prove our appreciation of the gifts and our desire to be workers together with the Giver in a better way than by bringing up the children of our homes and churches by means of the education and to do of his good pleasure. (Phil. 2,13)!5

We close this section the essay with the prayer set forth by Martin Luther in his hymn:

O Holy Ghost, to Thee we pray

For true faith to guide us in our way;

Grant its faithful keeping

Till our life’s brief story,

When in death we’re sleeping,

Ends at home in glory.

O have mercy Lord!

Shine in our hearts, Thou blessed Light,

Teach us Jesus Christ to know aright,

That we all may surely,

In His grace confiding,

Be with Him securely

Evermore abiding.

O have mercy, Lord!

II. Educating for Eternity — Knowing the Times

It is an exciting age indeed in which our generation finds itself. Due to the rapid advances in science and technology our way of life has changed more during approximately the last hundred years than during all the centuries that preceded.

During all the previous centuries of man’s existence on earth, his modes of transportation were limited by the speed with which his beasts of burden could travel and his sailing ships could move. These modes of transportation remained quite static for centuries until, in the 1800’s, the age of steam ushered in a new era. Then followed the development of internal combustion engines, the automobile, and the airplane. By the end of the World War II it was possible to attain the speed of sound. Today rockets have been developed which are so powerful as to be able to propel payloads far out into space at several times the speed of sound.

The field of communications is another that has, during the last century, seen tremendous development. Men call our age the age of the “communications explosion.” Who would even fifty years ago have ventured to believe that it would be possible anywhere in the United States to view in one’s very own living room the reentry and retrieving of a manned space craft returning from earth orbit and splashing down in the ocean thousands of miles away. But such are the wonders of digital computers and television and communications’ satellites. It is said that the day is not far off when it will be possible for a man in any location on earth to be seen and heard by every other person on earth.

A third area of technological advance lies in the field of explosive force. For centuries gunpowder was the standard explosive. Since World War II the ability to release the energy within the atom has made possible the use of explosive forces millions of times greater.

These are examples of the material progress of the last century. Material progress in this century has been greater than in all previous centuries since the creation. Man is now challenged urgently and directly to learn how to live with all that his science and technology has produced. In educating ourselves for eternity it is important that we understand the times in which we live and that we do not permit the overpowering scientific and technological advances of our age to confuse our sense of eternal values.

Another area in which it is urgent that we understand our times is the area of human thought. What values in life do men regard as being important? What standards for behavior do men recognize? Why do people think as they do? Why do they react as they do? To what extent do the people about us influence our thinking and our behavior? All of these are important factors which must be taken into account as we go about the task of educating ourselves for eternity.

Many terms have been employed to seek to describe the culture of our land. By culture we mean the concepts, habits, skills, arts, and institutions of its people. Any such description must take into account how and why individuals think, feel, react, and behave as they do. Included also must be the sense of values people have, the things they fear and the things for which they hope. All of these put together make up their outlook on life. The Norwegian word is “livsanskuelse.” In German — “Lebensanschauuang.” Let us consider some of these terms.

One term often employed in describing our culture is the term “materialism.” People are materialistic when they set their affections on the things of this world. Materialism has no room for God or things supernatural. It is a philosophical theory which regards matter as the original cause of all phenomena. We believe that the environment in which we live today is very much governed by materialism. Another related and similar term frequently used to describe our culture is the term “secularism,” which has been described as “an attachment to a way of life in which there is neither need or place for religion.” “Humanism” is another such term. Humanism, growing out of the Renaissance, is characterized by a deep interest in the cultures of the past. Dr. Roberts M. Hutchins, of the University of Chicago, for instance, speaks of “absolute and eternal truth revealed by human reason, and imbedded in the great books of the past.”6

The theory of evolution so almost universally taught in our schools and accepted in our society, fits perfectly into the thought of those who hold the above “’isms.” In fact, the theory of evolution has become a basic part of contemporary thought. Mr. Paul Roubizcek in his book, Existentialism: For and Against, states that “evolution has been made the basis of a complete philosophy; it provides philosophers with a metaphysical, ethical system, thus deeply influencing their ideas about the nature of man and his behavior. In fact, philosophy based on Darwinism has exercised an extremely strong influence, often far beyond the realms of science and philosophy, upon the whole development of European thought. The ruthless life and death struggle of survival has been translated into a new morality, as ruthless competition in the capitalist world, as ruthless class warfare in the Communist world, and as ruthless nationalism everywhere. Moreover, for the first time in human history, mind and reason are no longer seen as some mysterious higher power, as part of a supernatural, divine sphere breaking in upon human factors, and nothing has done more to fortify materialism.”7

But some will say that we need not be too much concerned about what our public schools teach so long as we maintain a strict separation between church and state. Our public schools will teach our young people academic skills and secular knowledge. Then it is up to Christian parents and churches to inculcate religious knowledge and a Christian way of life. This reasoning, however, rests upon a glaring fallacy, the fallacy that it is possible to teach and educate without imparting to the student a way of life. In his essay on Christian Education, Prof. Paul Buszin stated, “there is no educational system in our day which does not seek in one way or the other to convey life principles and to minister to character building.”8 The popular philosopher Herbert Spencer said, “Education has for its object the formation of character.”9 Addressing the graduates of a Wisconsin University, Carl Rowan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, quoted John Ruskin, English essayist, as saying: “education does not mean teaching people to know what they do not know; it means teaching them to behave as they do not behave.” Mr. Rowan added, “We have done extraordinarily well at teaching men to know what they do not know in technology, but how much have we taught men about their behavior. They cheat as they cheated in the days when Christ drove the money changers out of the temple.”10 Martin Luther knew the solution to this problem. It is reported that he once said, “Human reason teaches only the hand and the foot of a man; God alone teaches the heart.”11 Supreme Court Justice Jackson in the case of Everson vs. Board of Education (1947) writes in dissent that public education “can be isolated from all religious teaching so that the school can inculcate all needed temporal knowledge and also maintain a strict and lofty neutrality as to religion.” But he also at once betrays some doubt as to this pronouncement by adding, “whether such a disjunction is possible, and if possible whether it is wise, are questions I need not try to answer.” A year later Justice Jackson in the case of McCollum vs. Board of Education stated:

I think it remains to be demonstrated whether it is possible, even if desirable, … completely to isolate and cast out of secular education all that some people may reasonably regard as religious instruction. … The fact is, that for good or for ill, nearly everything in our culture worth transmitting, everything which gives meaning to life, is saturated with religious influences. …

But how one can teach, with satisfaction or even with justice to all faiths, such subjects as the story of the Reformation, the Inquisition, or even the New England effort to found “a Church without a Bishop and a State without a King,” is more than I know. … When instruction turns to proselyting and imparting knowledge becomes evangelism is, except in the crudest cases, a subtle inquiry…11b

The Educational Policies Commission holds that “knowledge about religion is essential for a full understanding of our culture, literature, art, history, and current affairs.”12 Let this suffice to show that (a) shaping of character is truly a part of education, and (b) educators today frankly acknowledge this.

In our educating for eternity how important it is not to be blind to the tremendous impact that educators at every level have upon us and our children. Let us not be blind to the fact that most educators today have grown up in this environment. Let us not be blind to the fact that thousands of young people today lose their faith when thrown into the whirl of the modern educational world. This is not to include the Christian teachers among us who in their teaching impart a Christian outlook on life. We thank God for these exceptions.

As we proceed to educate ourselves for eternity, it is most important to know something about theology popularly taught and accepted by contemporaries. This also is important in understanding the times in which we live.

We know that the true mission of the Church is well defined in the Scriptures. We know that it is the mission of the Church to preach the Gospel and to administer the sacraments. First, the Church must preserve these means of grace pure and unadulterated. Next, it must faithfully use these means of grace for its own edification. Finally, it must bring them to all those who do not as yet belong to the Kingdom of God.

It is most distressing to see how many churches today take no interest in preserving God’s Word in their midst in purity. Many of the central teachings of the Bible have been discarded, and for a very great number of churches the Bible itself is no longer regarded as the Word of God, verbally inspired, true and reliable in all its parts, without error, the only source and norm of faith and life. Having discarded the authority of the Bible, it is not strange that its teachings too should be discarded one by one, so that theologians finally come to the point of doubting the very existence of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Sir Walter Moberly remarks that “some think God exists, some think not, some think it is impossible to tell, and the impression grows that it does not matter.”13

The “new” theology is based on a new authority, man, not God; it has a new source and norm, human opinions and theories, not the Word of God. The Apostle Paul says, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Cor. 10,3–5)

The “new” theology no longer has as its goal and purpose to bring the Gospel of Christ to a perishing world so that souls may, by the work of the Holy Ghost, be brought into the Kingdom of Grace now and into the Kingdom of Glory after this life. This theology has as its goal simply making a heaven here on the earth, that is, making the Prodigal happy, comfortable, and prosperous in the Far Country rather than bringing him home in repentance to his Heavenly Father. Someone has said, “Man is no longer considered to be a child of God fallen from grace, but part of the continuity of Nature.”14 Hence, according to the new theology, the message of the Church is not one of sin and grace but rather a social gospel. The Rev. William A. Wendt reports about the Unitarian minister, the Rev. James Reeb, civil rights marcher killed in Alabama: “He had a great love for people and their needs. He could not have cared less about whether they were going to heaven. He cared where they were going now.”15 Contrast such secularized, this worldly religion with the precious words of the Apostle Peter. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. Wherein ye greatly rejoice.” (1 Peter 1,3–6a)

Having rejected the absolutes of God’s Word a “new morality” has emerged. This new morality no longer acknowledges God’s Ten Commandments as the standard of right and wrong. Rather it accepts the mores of unregenerate man as its new standard for life. Conduct is not determined by God’s absolute, the Law, but by the average conduct of the crowd.

Dr. Elmer W. Engstrom, a graduate of the University of Minnesota, an R.C.A. official, discusses the need for an absolute standard in an article entitled, “Christ and the Century of Change:”

There is one fundamental concept I have learned very clearly from my business experience. There is need for a definite and clearly understood charter for one’s operations. Having established that charter, there is need for complete belief in it and in the program which it provides.

In the Christian life the Bible is our charter. It is the supreme authority for our life and it is sufficient for our needs. I believe it is a requirement of paramount importance that Christ be the Lord of our whole life, and that our allegiance to Him be in no way divisible.

Our world today is filled with riots, with demonstrations, with wars and with threats of war, and rebellions against authority — human as well as divine. But one of the most serious shortcomings is the loss of belief that there is an absolute standard. The average performance of all people has become the norma against which the performance of an individual is tested or gauged.

The place of the Bible in our life has, in a large measure, lost its significance. Yet the Bible, in fact, is the only absolute standard we have for behavior. The coins we carry in our pocket bear the motto, “In God We Trust,” yet there are efforts with which we are all familiar to erase this heritage from all public recognition.16

Martin Luther condemns those who turn right into wrong and wrong into right:

“Woe to Them That Call Evil Good” (Is. 5,20) This is the sin of the devil: he not only sins and is disobedient to God, but what he does is to be considered well done. There God cannot come to forgiving sin. This is why punishment must come upon Germany, for sin and shame have turned into honor. Why, even heathen philosophers have said that matters stood bad in a country where what was formerly considered vice has become virtue. Then the country is lost. As long as in1morality is still considered vice and sin, help and remedy are possible; but when it is regarded as right, one cannot help. It is as if a man were lying on his bed mortally sick but nevertheless to insist that he is well. In that frame of mind he will ask for no remedy, and he cannot be helped. (W 46, 218 – E 20 I, 102)17

In educating for eternity may we become more and more aware of the dangers of our times. May we not underestimate these dangers, remembering the Scriptural injunction: “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” (I Cor. 10.12) May we continue always to hold fast to God’s Word as our guide.

“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 hast 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. (2 Tim. 3,12–17)

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 tho’ts forever

From worldly wisdom’s lore;

If I but learn to know Thee,

I shall not want for more. Amen.


III. Educating for Eternity Employing the Means

When the emigrants left their childhood homes in Norway, many of them carried everything which they possessed in the so-called “Kister” — the wooden chests which served as their baggage containers. We have seen many of these trunks decorated with fancy painting or “rosemaling.”

Into these chests was packed ail that was considered good enough to go along. There were a few clothes, perhaps some kind of food that would not spoil, a Bible, and a few trinkets. Poor were the travelers when they left Norway; poorer still they were made to feel as they arrived in big New York, unable to speak English. But how they guarded their wooden trunks, for, as more than one “newcomer” confessed, “It is all that I have.”18

As the homemade chest contained all that the immigrant possessed and was all that he had but contained all that he needed, so God’s Word, which is our treasure chest, is all that we have but contains all that we need. The Apostle Paul states, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” (Romans 1,16). Again the Apostle affirms that the Holy Scriptures “are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 3,15) The Gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. It is the means of grace through which the Holy Ghost operates in men bringing them to faith and keeping them in faith. We believe with Luther that we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called us by the Gospel, enlightened us with His gifts, sanctified and kept us in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.

It is this blessed work of the Holy Ghost through the Gospel in the hearts of men that we gratefully acknowledge in the Collect for the Word at the close of our services, thanking God for having given us His holy and blessed Word by which He also among us gathers His Christian Church. We therefore pray Him to grant us His Holy Spirit, that we may receive His Word with thankful hearts, and live according to it, and ever increase in Christian faith, and hope, and love, and at last obtain eternal salvation through Jesus Christ.

It is by the work of the Holy Spirit operating in us through the means of grace that God’s Kingdom comes to us. For this our Lord Himself has taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, saying, Thy Kingdom Come. Martin Luther’s explanation of this petition is that although the Kingdom of God comes indeed without our prayer, of itself; we pray in this petition that it may come unto us also. This is done when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead a godly life, here in time and hereafter in eternity.

All this serves to point out how important God’s Word is in our lives. It is indeed the power of God unto salvation. It is therefore the means God has given by which we educate for eternity.

In this connection the Reformer said: “True it is that human wisdom and the liberal arts are noble gifts of God, good and useful for all kinds of things, wherefore one cannot do without them in this life. But they can never thoroughly tell us what sin and righteousness are in the eyes of God, how we can get rid of sins, become pious and just before God, and pass from death into life. Wisdom divine and an art supreme are required for this; and one does not find them in the books of any jurist or worldly-wise person, but in the Bible alone, which is the Holy Spirit’s Book.”19

Our Bible is therefore the most useful and practical book of all. In educating for eternity it answers our very greatest need. Ten years ago in his essay, “Looking to the End of the Road,” Dr. Madson put it this way:

The Bible is the most practical book ever written. And why is it that? Not only because it has a most unique author (the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of all grace and truth), but also because it answers life’s most vital question. It has been written for such as are in sore need of it, yea, who could not get along without it — poor sinners, telling them how they can be saved, nay, have been saved. Ever so often we hear men who ought to know better say (when matters of doctrine have for some time claimed their attention): “We shall now turn to something more practical.” But tell me, how can anything be more practical than that word which tells mortals, “who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2,15), that there is life and immortality in store for them, and that it may be had without money and without price?20

The Evangelist John cites the end and purpose for the Holy Scriptures when in concluding his gospel he writes, “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” (John 20,30–31)

How can anyone therefore belittle this Book, as a recent Lutheran publication does, by referring to it as “The Bible — that human and weak instrument.”21 This is certainly contrary to what Scripture itself teaches, for the writers did not write their own thoughts and ideas but “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” (2 Peter 1,21) And of the holy men who wrote the Bible it states that “We speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth.” (1 Cor. 2,13)

Having such a precious treasure, it behooves us to make use of it to the fullest extent possible in educating ourselves for eternity. It is the means by which we are to help one another along life’s way to learn to know Jesus as our Savior and to reach our goal at last, an eternity of bliss and glory in the heavenly home. In this connection we are to use this means for our own selves and we are to bring this means to all those who are not yet on the one way that leads to life. We are presupposing that every effort will be made to preserve God’s precious Word in its purity among us. In these last times when “many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4,1), we do well not only to guard ourselves from falling into misbelief but also to guard the Word lest false doctrines enter in unawares and our one and only means for educating for eternity be lost.

Educating for eternity begins in the home. Here is where we first learn the only wisdom and knowledge which really matters for time and eternity. Here we first learn to utter the precious name of Jesus. “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Act 4, 12) In the home we first learn to pray to our Triune God. In the home we first learn that God’s Law is an “absolute” according to which every member of the family strives to live and please God. In the home we first learn a Christian outlook on life, learning with father and mother and sister and brother to fear and love and trust in God above all things. In the home we first learn a Christian sense of values and begin to understand which things in life come first and are most important. Here we first learn to treasure and love God’s Word and to gladly hear and learn it.

All these things we learn first in the home — in a Christian home, that is. For in a home that is not Christian we might just as easily first learn to curse and swear from hearing father and mother or sister or brother do so. Here we might learn to make mere outward lip-service of prayers understanding that mother simply wants us to be quiet and go to sleep when she says “now don’t forget to say your prayers.” In such a home we might first be filled with a materialistic outlook on life sensing already in pre-school years from parents, brothers, and sisters that the really important things in life are having a good time, getting on in the world, money, and all the things that money can buy. We might also learn that church and Sunday School are a sort of burden that comes with each Sunday. We might learn that one doesn’t always worry too much about God’s Ten Commandments, but that one is permitted to do most anything if one can get by with it. In short, in such a worldly home we might never learn to know what alone really matters for time and eternity, that is, we might never learn to know the way that leads to life.

God places the responsibility for Christian education squarely upon the shoulders of parents. To fathers God says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt 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. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates. …… Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name. Ye shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you; (For the Lord thy God is a jealous God among you) lest the anger of the Lord thy God be kindled against thee, and destroy thee from off the face of the earth.” (Deut. 6,4–9, 13–15).

Paul praises Timothy’s mother Eunice and grandmother Lois for their “unfeigned faith” which they had transmitted to Timothy by teaching him in early years to know the Scriptures. He says, “that from a child thou (Timothy) hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 3,15).

Teaching in the home can be carried out in many ways. The family altar, using materials on an age level that can be understood by the children, will be one such important way of teaching. Reading and telling Bible stories, memorizing Bible passages, memorizing and singing hymn verses, memorizing and talking about Luther’s Small Catechism, reading and discussing portions of the Bible-all these are ways of beginning in the home the process of educating for eternity.

Such educating for eternity never ends. It continues as children grow to become young adults and until at last they leave their parental home to establish homes of their own. Then father and mother will steadfastly continue their education for eternity until at last they leave their earthly home to join the family of saints in heaven. The process of educating for eternity never ends this side of the grave.

Educating for eternity in the home consists also of educating by example. Just as “’Tis all in vain that you confess the doctrines of the church, unless you live according to your creed,” so it is all in vain to seek to teach a Christian outlook and Christian way of life to children unless parents also strive earnestly themselves to follow the Christian way of life in word and deed. One picture, it is said, is worth a thousand words. So is the example of parents, brothers, and sisters either for good or for bad. “And ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” (Eph. 4,6).

However, parents must realize that they are not the only teachers in the home. Other teachers will share this work of teaching. Many of these other teachers will have totally conflicting views. For we live in the age of radio and television and magazines and paperbacks of every kind. Our society, and not least our children have a great deal of leisure time for receiving instruction from these foreign teachers in our homes. Parents should therefore do all in their power to direct the interests of the members of their family away from programs and reading materials that are in conflict with our Christian way of life. They should channel the time, interests, and energies of the members of their household into wholesome past times and seek god-fearing companions with whom to share them. Our Savior taught us in the 6th petition of the Lord’s Prayer to pray for deliverance from these foreign teachers that intrude themselves into our homes. “Lead us not into temptation.” We pray that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our own flesh may not deceive us nor seduce us into misbelief, despair, and other great shame and vice; and though we be assailed by them, that still we may finally overcome and obtain the victory.”

Our Christian schools are most important tools in educating for eternity. Christian parents, knowing the dangers of the environment and the philosophy which persists so much in our state schools, wonderfully good and efficient as they are otherwise, will earnestly make use of every Christian educational agency possible. These include whatever schools our churches conduct to teach the one thing needful-Sunday Schools, Saturday Schools, week-day schools, vacation Bible schools, nursery schools, and the like. Not only will Christian parents see that their children are able to attend such schools, but they will take an individual interest in what each child is learning and help each child develop a “friendly” attitude toward the school and a sincere love for the Word. Never should children be roughly forced to go to religion classes in such a way as to develop resentments for the school which may transfer to become resentments against church and even the Word of God itself. Such resentments on the part of children are most often the fault of parents who themselves fail to show an interest in Christian schools and act as if such schools are necessary burdens children must endure in the process of growing up.

Christian parents will also do all in their power to support every Christian school they can in every way possible — by their prayers, with generous financial support, with their own abilities and talents and time-as the Lord makes them able. Support of Christian schools, of course, is the great privilege of every Christian.

The schools which serve in the very best way in educating for eternity are our full-time parish schools, Christian high schools and colleges. For here young people not only learn the way of life, but they are taught by teachers consciously seeking to implant the Christian way of life in the young people entrusted to their care. In such full-time Christian schools God’s Word controls and permeates everything in education. The unfortunate and tragic situation is avoided that young people are taught something at school which must be discounted or dis countenanced by the Christian, or to have learned a mode of living at school which must be branded as wicked.

Our dear Luther was firmly convinced that culture of the intellect alone, without the regeneration of the heart of man, is civilized barbarism and veneered animalism. The Duke of Wellington said: “Educate men without religion, and you make them but clever devils.” That the Reformer would subscribe to this statement is clear from what he tells the councilmen of Germany a little later:

“But where the Holy Scripture does not rule I certainly advise no one to send his child. Everyone not unceasingly occupied with the Word of God must become corrupt; therefore we must see what people in the higher schools are and grow up to be. … I greatly fear that schools for higher learning are wide gates to hell if they do not diligently teach the Holy Scriptures and impress them on the young folk.”22

Again Martin Luther states that the Word of God must have supremacy.

“Above all things, the principal and most general subject of study, both in the higher and the lower schools, should be the Holy Scriptures.”23

Our Synod is most singularly blessed to have its Bethany High School and College. Some of our congregations are highly blessed in having Christian Day Schools. Realizing the exceeding precious worth of these schools, let us all firmly resolve that we will do all in our power, as God gives us the ability and points the way, to preserve them for our children and for generations yet to be born. Let us have more Christian Day Schools and more of our young people attending our Bethany and receiving the blessings of Christian education. What value shall we place on Christian education? What can we give our young people that will excel this in value — in real, eternal value? May our God give all of us eyes to see the worth of Christian education for people who must live in this world and willing hearts and ready hands.

Our Synod’s Centennial Booklet, “A Blessing in the Midst of the Land”, contains a chapter on the great importance of Christian schools. One paragraph reads:

“The schools of the world may make children successful lawyers and miners and business men as well as farmers and teachers and airplane pilots, but they do not teach them what to do when their business no longer does them any good, when they can’t farm any more, or fly again into the wild blue yonder. Christian people have their eyes fixed on a city in the heavens where there shall be eternal life, and they must get ready for that. They must learn so to believe and live that they do not miss the next life entirely by just letting it slip by. And it may slip, if the children’s only school is the school of the world. “One learns in the school to which he goes” is an old saying that is certainly true. So Christian parents want to make sure that their children go to the right kind of school and learn the right things.” (page 11).

In educating for eternity we must not forget about the poor unfortunate people who do not as yet belong to the Kingdom of God. Mission work at home and abroad is also educating for eternity. “Go ye therefore and preach the Gospel to every creature,” is the Lord’s directive to His believers. The need for such educating is everywhere. When we think of missions we think of far away lands where heathen people bow down to gods of wood and stone, where they lead lives of dreadful fear of imagined spirits, and where they lay down the sad burdens of their lives at last only to find themselves without — without where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Have we Christians honestly done what we could to bring them the Gospel? Are we mission minded people who are willing to sacrifice and really give for this work? Are we instilling in our children and youth a zeal themselves to “go and make disciples of all the nations?” Are we making use of the many, many opportunities God gives every one of us to be His witnesses among the very people with whom we live and work? The answer to all these questions will in the end depend upon our sense of values.

“One thing is needful,” Jesus told Martha. He praised Mary for having chosen “that good part.” She had by God’s Spirit’s prompting placed a high value upon the healing of the Word. So it is God’s Holy Spirit that must fill us and lead us more and more to love our Savior and His Word. It is the one thing needful. It is all that we have. “It is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” It is the means by which we are educated for eternity.

One thing needful! This one treasure

Teach me, Savior, to esteem;

Other things may promise pleasure,

But are never what they seem;

They prove to be burdens that vex us and chafe us,

And true lasting happiness never vouchsafe us;

This one precious treasure, that all else exceeds,

Gives joy above measure and fills all my needs.


Notes and Documentation

1. From Luther’s explanation of the 1st Article. God has given us our body and soul in order that we should thank and praise, serve and obey Him.

2. Ewald M. Plass, WHAT LUTHER SAYS, Concordia Publishing House, #2738.

3. Quoted from proposed new ELS Catechism, Chapter 25, Qu. 5.

4. N,A. Madson, Sr., “Looking to the End of the Road”, convention essay, 1956 E.L.S. Report, pp. 22–23.

5. P.T. Buszin, “Christian Education”, convention essay, 1934 E.L.S. Report, pages 29–31.

6. Quoted by B.W. Teigen in his essay, “The Philosophic and Religious Foundations of Modern Education”, published in The Lutheran Synod Quarterly, Dec. 1965, page 19.

7. Paul Roubizcek, “Existentialism: For and Against”, Cambridge University Press, 1964, p. 20. Also quoted in B.W. Teigen’s essay, p. 13.

8. P.T. Buszin, Op. Cit., p. 27.

9. Quoted in B.W, Teigen, Op. Cit., p. 6.

10. Carl Rowan quoted from an article in the Eau Claire Telegram, June 6, 1966

11. Ewald M. Plass, WHAT LUTHER SAYS, #1329.

11b. Robert M. Hutchins, “The Future of the Wall”, in THE WALL BETWEEN CHURCH AND STATE, edited by Dallin H. Oaks, The University of Chicago Press, pages 19–20.

12. Robert M. Hutchins, Op, Cit., page 20.

13. Quoted from B.W. Teigen’s essay, page 23.

14. A.W. Brustat, “Return Christ to the Classroom”, American Lutheran, June 1956.

15. Time, 19 March 1965, page 26.

16. Elmer W. Engstrom, “Christ and the Century of Change”, Collegiate Challenge, Vol. 5, No. 2, page 13.

17. Ewald M. Plass, WHAT LUTHER SAYS, #4146.

18. Erling Ylvisaker, quoted from Synod Centennial Program.

19. Ewald M. Plass, WHAT LUTHER SAYS, # 1328.

20. N.A. Madson, Op. Cit., page 12.

21. Kent Knutson, “His Only Son, Our Lord”, reviewed in Augsburg Advance, Vol. VI, No.6.

22. Ewald Plass, WHAT LUTHER SAYS, #1327.

23. Ewald Plass, WHAT LUTHER SAYS, #1326.

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