Early Lutheran Views Towards Public Education

I stumbled upon an interesting document in Moving Frontiers: Readings in the History of the LC-MS concerning the relationship of a Christian to the Public School. It was written in 1870 and explains the evils of the state education and the need for Lutheran congregations to establish their own parish schools for the sake of education. Here are a few excerpts:

Thesis XI. The duty to provide for the elementary and religious education of children belongs to the parents and the church.

Thesis XII. It is, sad to say, a known fact that in this country the parents and congregations which want to be Christian congregations have generally neglected this duty.

XIII. The tragic consequence is the prevailing dechristianizing and demoralization of the masses (and this in 1870!!)

XVI. It is to be regarded a gracious dispensation of Providence when the reading of the Bible is still legally allowed in the state schools.

XVII. Where Lutherans can do so legally, it is their obligation to strive that the Bible is not banned from the public schools.

XVIII. In so far as Lutherans have political influence on the public schools, they should be solicitous

  1. That Christian-minded individuals be appointed as teachers in the public schools, so that, even as also the laws of the state forbid, no atheists or other persons of notoriously immoral character [are appointed];
  2. That the teachers not assert anything or that the textbooks not contain anything which militates against the truth of natural religion or the Christian religion;
  3. That in them [the public schools] a good outward discipline be exercised.

XIX. On the part of Lutheran parents it would be an inexcusable lack of conscientiousness if, before their children have been made firm in the knowledge of the pure doctrine and in faith, even before confirmation, they wanted to send them to the public schools. This is true for the following reasons:

  1. Because in the public schools no orthodox religious instruction may be imparted.
  2. Even if the Bible may be read in the public schools, this is far from being a substitute for formal religious instruction.
  3. Praying, if permitted in the public schools, does not at all give these any worth; rather the very praying entails great danger for the children’s souls, since it is done for the most part by false believers and unbelievers.
  4. A spiritual poison can be instilled into the children also with the giving of instruction in history, geography, and other subjects, and sad to say, this does happen, as experience teaches us.
  5. Likely without exception the textbooks used in the public schools of this country contain the leaven of false doctrine.
  6. The discipline which is practiced in the public schools is almost always very unchristian and quite corrupting, because it is now too lax, now too strict, and knows hardly any means other than confounded ambition to obtain diligence and correct behavior or through other sinful motives to spur the children on to zeal in learning.
  7. Since Lutheran children in the public schools easily come into very close relationship with such children who are already fully corrupted, they are thereby plunged into the greatest danger of being imbued with a false spirit and of being seduced into false doctrine, unbelief, and vice, because the antidote of Christian training is lacking.
  8. ……..
  9. Through attendance in the public schools the children’s dread of false doctrine (duh…what’s that?) and love of their evangelical Lutheran mother church are stifled.

XXI. In the same way it is also dangerous and by no means to be sanctioned when orthodox congregations in some which way want to satisfy their educational needs through the use of the public schools instead of erecting their own confessional schools.

In the next post, I will post “A Daily Program for a One-Teacher School, 1854”


About Rev. Paul L. Beisel

Graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN in 2001 (M Div.) and 2004 (S.T.M.); LC-MS Pastor and Adjunct Instructor for John Wood Community College; Ph.D student at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. Husband of Amy and father of Susan, Elizabeth, Martin, and Theodore.
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3 Responses to Early Lutheran Views Towards Public Education

  1. Rev. Shane R. Cota says:

    I wish I could get my congregation to see this stuff. We have a Lutheran school (been here for 75 years) that is declining, and yet we have plenty of members with children, who won’t send their children to the school. We don’t even charge tuition for memebers! There is just some $300 a year educational fee to cover books, etc. and still they send their kids to the public school because 1) they don’t have to pay anything and 2) they have “personality conflicts” with some of our staff. So much for seeing the “big picture.” Petty stupidity. Lord save us all from it.

  2. Dan @ Necessary Roughness says:

    Rev. Cota:

    Does your state or local area have any voucher programs for private schools? You could remind your congregation that public school isn’t free; they’ve just already been forced to pay for it through taxes.

    I would also see if there aren’t ways for the Christian school to take standardized tests. Higher test scores are a big draw.

  3. Anonymous says:

    My two cents worth…

    Around these parts,

    money isn’t the issue.

    Education isn’t the issue.

    Christian catechesis isn’t the issue.

    The main reason folks send their kids to the public school instead of their own parochial school has to do with the extracurricular offerings. YOu know…sports, band, theatre, etc…

    That is what I have not only surmised, but have personally observed after serving alongside Lutheran day-schools for the past thirteen years.

    Not only is this the case, but around here many of the extra-curricular public school activities occur on Sundays. This way the kids not only miss daily chapel, etc…, but they also miss the Divine Service on many occasions throughout the years.

    The children aren’t the ones making these decisions. The adults and parents are the ones making these decisions.

    Then everyone wrings their hands over the plight of the youth.

    Perhaps we ought to fold our hands over the decisions of these parents.

    Kyrie eleison!

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