Lutheran schools are all about Christ. Somehow over the years, some Lutheran school communities have struggled with whom is welcomed into it. Congregational members? Daughter/sister congregations’ families? Other Christian families? Faith seekers? And how do these decisions impact the overall community and program of the school?
It’s fair to say that for most folks in Lutheran circles, it’s been understood that the traditional purpose of Lutheran schools is to train the church’s young. It’s only been in recent decades as there have been fewer little Lutherans and declining Lutheran congregational membership throughout the US that schools widely opened their doors to non-members.
Our country has a desperate need to know its history and to know history based on historical documents and not on reconstructed notions of how the world used to be. Edmund Burke said, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” The Old Testament writer penned, “There is nothing new under the sun.” (Eccl 1:9).
Lutherans need to know their history, too. Many churches and schools are desperately seeking the novel and innovative in an attempt to reach out with the Gospel. Yet one may reference Burke and Solomon and choose to look to the past for guidance for the future. A reacquaintance with our roots might be the greatest gift that the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation could bring.
Consider the following items that come from writings at the dawn of the LCMS in the 1800s.
“Pastor O.H.Walther had already set the precedent of accepting children of non-members. For the opening of the new school term on October 1, 1840, O.H. Walther had announced from the pulpit that the school would accept the children of non-members “at a nominal fee for the teacher. Students who were not members of the congregation paid 50 cents a month in tuition” (Schools of The Lutheran Church —Missouri Synod. 84-85.)
1840? Accepting non-members into the school? Tuition? There’s more….
“…an official school enrollment policy was passed in the 1850 Synodical Convention which allowed nonmember children to enroll in parish schools and in confirmation instruction even if their parents refused to become members of the congregation. The Synod declared,
“It is to be deplored that alas! it has occurred in certain congregations that children of other denominations were either not accepted at all or only reluctantly. It is our obligation to follow the commands of the Lord Jesus, ‘Feed My lambs and suffer the little children to come unto Me.’ A congregation which turns away the children of other confessions may bar them from coming to Jesus and will have it upon its conscience if the little ones are taught false doctrine and are lost.” (Svnodal-Bericht. (1850). 139: trans. Stellhom. Schools of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. 75)
What do these quotes imply? First, the LCMS has always understood the power of the Gospel and the Church’s need to boldly proclaim it. Walther and company understood that the true work and blessings of Lutheran churches and schools do not come from our effort. Rather, we hold to Luther’s confession in the 3rd Article, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” Those words are personal but also provide the depth of understanding of the mission and operations for churches and schools. Hold fast to sound doctrine, get out of the way and let God take care of the rest.
Secondly, it’s also a good practice for families to directly invest in the operations of the school. Member or non-member (or to quote Walther- “strangers”), support of the salary of the teachers is good and right. The aforementioned quote continues by saying that at times, tuition was discontinued. The point is that situations dictate varying degrees of support from those who were directly utilizing the educational services of the school.
Two more quotes– “Makeshift arrangements had to be made, because there was such a shortage of teachers. The congregation minutes of April 27,1840, revealed, ‘A Schullehrer (teacher) Helbig, or Hellwig and his wife were named; apparently he never held a teaching position in America. (Minutes of Trinity Congregation of April 27.1840; trans. Stellhom, “The Period of Organization.” 1838-1847″, ed. Repp, 100 Years of Christian Education.) Also, “Since the teacher shortage was a perpetual problem, Trinity Congregation called Buenger’s younger brother, Theodore, to be the teacher at the “St. Louis Gardens” school. Buenger and Walther had to tutor him and give him a special examination first, because he only had a Gymnasium education. (Stellhom, Schools of The Lutheran Church —Missouri Synod.)
Teacher shortages? Tutoring for teachers? Just as today, the availability of teachers was at a premium. And just like today, the Church did what it needed to do to put teachers in schools. So today, we need to emphasize recruiting of teachers and discounting Lutheran college teacher training, promote the colloquy program as a means of theologically educating non-synodically trained teachers and recognize more and more pastors initiating direct tutelage of teachers in his school.
As was the case in the 1840s and is the case here in 2017, we have issues to address, challenges to overcome. But when all’s said and done, our schools are still “all about Jesus.”