What is the Purpose of Education? Part 1

Martin Luther was born in 1483 in Eisleben, Saxony (Germany).  His parents wanted him to become a lawyer but, in the university, he developed a love-hate relationship with Aristotle: he believed faith was the only way to know ultimate truth, but he also believed faith was rational and could be defended with reason and logic.

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Since his love for God was greater than his love of law, he ultimately left jurisprudence and became an Augustinian friar in 1505.  He had, in fact, rejected the possibility of finding truth by means of any of the infinite variations of rationalism: the reasoning of the majority, the reasoning of an elite group, or the reasoning of his own mind.  After all, there are just two choices on the shelf for acquiring absolute truth: rationalism or revelation.  Since all possible varieties of rationalism have differing internal conclusions, none can be trusted.

While in the monastery, he stumbled upon the fundamental doctrine of justification by faith, with slightly different nuances in Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews.  He properly understood that justification is a declaration of legal righteousness based on the three phases of imputation:  Adam’s sin to my account, my sin to Christ’s account, and Christ’s righteousness to my account.  Imputation makes one righteous.  Justification declares one righteous.

By 1517 he had written his 95 theses, not to attack the Roman Catholic Church but rather to reform it from within.  This Bible truth had so revolutionized his life that he was certain that if ordinary Germans, who did not have access to a Bible, had one in the German language, many in the country would become true believers.

This conviction so inspired him that he translated the entire Bible from Hebrew and Greek into German, which stabilized and formalized the language in much the same way that Wycliffe, Tyndale, and the King James did in English.  Guttenberg had invented the moveable–type printing press in 1456, so it was possible to mass-produce affordable copies of the Scriptures. Some years later, however, he discovered to his dismay that Germany had not changed.

The explanation for this deep disappointment was that the people could not read, not the Bible or anything else.  This propelled him to advocate for education, and a public education at that, so that every German would be able to read the Bible for himself.  Germans would learn for themselves that Jerome’s (Vulgate)  “do penance” was not a faithful translation of metanoia, which is correctly rendered “repent”, and literally means “a change of mind” about God and about sin.

They would learn that they were a kingdom of priests and that they could confess sins directly to God without a human intermediary.  They would learn that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, without any purging in Purgatory.  As a secondary benefit, they would also become better citizens, which Calvin took to its logical conclusion in Geneva.

However, to his credit Luther also perceived the danger in formal, state-supported schooling.  “I am afraid that the schools will prove to be the very gates of hell, unless they diligently labor in explaining the Holy Scriptures and engraving them in the heart of the youth.”   When the Massachusetts Bay Colony education acts were passed in the 1640’s, the 1647 contribution soon became known as the Old Deluder Satan Act.  Townships of 50 or more families were required by law to retain a teacher for the children so that they could learn to read the Bible so that they would not be deceived by that Old Deluder Satan.

And that brings us to this most foundational question: What is the purpose of education?  Succinctly, we may state that education is the process of inculcating a worldview in the mind of the student.  

In Part 2 of this series, this idea will be further developed.  Stay tuned…

These articles are based on a devotional presented to the SCACS Executive Committee on January 8, 2015, by Dr. Huey Mills.

What do you think?  

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Dr. Beach has served faithfully in Christian education since 1978. After a decade of leading a Christian school in another part of SC, he led Northside Christian in Charleston for 24 years. He currently serves as the treasurer of SC Association of Christian Schools and remains active in Christian education.

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  • Marcia McConnell

    History is amazing…as we study history, we can find previous mistakes, learn from them, and strive for better educational pursuits for our future generations. Thank you for the study on Luther and the strength he showed to make his generation a better place.

  • Wow… starting education so the majority of the population could read the Bible. I love this quote… “However, to his credit Luther also perceived the danger in formal, state-supported schooling. “I am afraid that the schools will prove to be the very gates of hell, unless they diligently labor in explaining the Holy Scriptures and engraving them in the heart of the youth.” What an insightful, courageous man. We are so thankful for his contribution. Thanks for sharing.

    • Matt Ticzkus

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts here at FOCUS!