What Is the Purpose of Education?

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.  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. 

Every educational curriculum has this purpose.

In a Muslim country such as Yemen, we could infer that the purpose of their education is to produce a soldier trained to eliminate unbelievers, establish a worldwide caliphate, and at death enjoy eternal bliss.  In a former Communist Bloc country such as Poland, the purpose of education appears to be identification of propensity and then specialization such as medicine, gymnastics or piano with a rudimentary exposure to the liberal arts.  In the United States, a progressive education seeks to graduate an open-minded citizen. The only absolute is that there are no absolutes.  We must tolerate anything and everything except intolerance.  This bodes ill for those of us who take John 14.6 at face value: there is no way to come to the Father but by Jesus Christ.  This is an absolute (i.e., intolerance).

What is the purpose of a Christian education?


Notice that we used Luther’s “engrave”, which is graphic and strong.  Notice also that this worldview is more than an intellectual way of interpreting the world in which we live: it is also a matter of the heart.  It teaches how we are to live out what we believe.

How do we “engrave a Biblical worldview in the mind and heart of the student”?

We accomplish this heavenly goal by teaching them to listen and read with discernment.  The Hebrew root word commonly translated “discern” is “hear”.  Later two such uses are cited.  Teaching reading begins with decoding, but that is nothing more than a means to an end, which is reading with comprehension.  For the believer, hearing and reading with comprehension is likewise a means to an end: listening and reading with discernment.

Why is that important to us? 

Discernment is vital for every Christian.  Listening and reading with discernment is the foundation for understanding the workings of God in language, history, math, science, and the fine arts.  Northside has carefully prepared position papers explaining HOW we teach each of these disciplines.  This is not part of the American culture any more.  Teachers must deliberately think ahead and incorporate the Biblical worldview on purpose in their instruction.   Christian educators must teach discernment.

And how do we teach discernment? 

We lead students into discernment by teaching them to discern good from bad, to differentiate between right and wrong and between the genuine and the counterfeit.  When Dr. Mills stated in his devotional that Solomon did not ask for wisdom, the SCACS board to a man was jolted.  We read that Solomon’s father David had a measure of this gift (2 Samuel 14.17).  When we study the dream and request of Solomon, we find that he asked for discernment, the gift of hearing and knowing good from bad, right from wrong, genuine from counterfeit.  He did not ask for wisdom (1 Kings 3.9).  Wisdom was the result having his “senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5.14).

And how do we teach students to discern good from evil?

Really, we do not and cannot do that.  The Holy Spirit uses His Word to make our students wise.  It is God’s Word that is “a discerner of the thought and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4.12).  We must challenge them to hear, read, study, memorize, and meditate on God’s Word.  May it dwell in them richly.  Then and only then will they differentiate good from bad, right from wrong, genuine from counterfeit.

If we invested more time in reading, we would need to spend less time in “original” thinking. Selah!


This post is based on a devotional presented to the SCACS Executive Committee on January 8, 2015, by Dr. Huey Mills, president of South Carolina Association of Christian Schools and pastor of Fellowship Bible Church in Lancaster, SC.

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.