The Reformation and Education

If  anyone has been around me for the last year and a half they would have heard me bang on about the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. This was not just one event but a series of events and movements that came to a head on October 31, 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses, attacking indulgences, on the Wittenberg Church door. This event, in turn, has had repercussions to this day. I don’t have the space to go through this momentous time in history but I would like to highlight some of its outcomes. (If you are unfamiliar with this historical period it is well worth studying).

One of the frst major outcomes of the Reformation was the return to the centrality of Scripture. This is highlighted in what is known as the “5 Solas” (Sola is Latin for alone):

  • Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”) : The Bible alone is our highest authority.
  • Sola Fide (“faith alone”): We are saved through faith alone in Jesus Christ.
  • Sola Gratia (“grace alone”): We are saved by the grace of God alone.
  • Solus Christus (“Christ alone”): Jesus Christ alone is our Lord, Saviour, and King.
  • Soli Deo Gloria (“to the glory of God alone”): We live for the glory of God alone.

While in hiding from his enemies, Luther went to work translating the Latin Bible into German so that everyone could read it. Wycliffe, and later Tyndale, mirrored this process in England.

This return to reading and studying Scripture had many results:

  • One was Christian education. Luther and other reformers like John Calvin disagreed with the medieval idea that “Ignorance is the mother of piety” and set up the beginnings of universal education. 
  • We see developments in art: the idea that God was Lord of all of life and not simply ruler over that which had previously been seen as religious, saw artists broaden their perspectives to everyday life and landscapes as these also brought glory to God. 
  • Science, liberated from the judgement and strictures of the medieval church, blossomed.
  • Physical labour, rather than being considered second in comparison to spiritual endeavours, had an elevated status leading to what later became known as the “protestant work ethic”. Much of Northern Europe’s success in industry and commerce can be traced back to this period.

But freedom has its drawbacks when disconnected from God and His Word. The constant temptation we face is to make ourselves ‘god’. The period of the “Enlightenment” was a time when mankind began to turn its back on God and His Word. We see many of the results of this thinking in western societies today. Frequently laws, behaviours and attitudes no longer refect a Biblical understanding of life. We live in, what many label, a post-Christian society. For the Christian this can be both frightening and exciting. All past certainties have disappeared yet there is now an opportunity for the church and its people to return to its task of being counter cultural – refecting God’s will and not that of the world. In that environment it is clear that there is a definite role for a partnership between home, church and school to grow and nurture disciples who are equipped to be God’s agents in the world. In a very real sense we are to continue the ideals of the Reformation.
This article was written for the Covenant College newsletter

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Categories: christian education, Christianity | Tags: , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “The Reformation and Education

  1. Richard Rice

    Pieter, it’s interesting that the 4 outcomes you listed of reading and studying the Scriptures seem have have now come to something of a full circle. As we’ve stepped away from Scripture it seems we’re back in something of a Dark Age. We live in relational isolation, ignorance of reality and truth, art without intelligible purpose, science based on politics rather than study and fact, and scores who labor at leisure.

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