Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Honor of Teachers

September Newsletter Article

What is the Fourth Commandment?
Honor your father and your mother.

What does this mean?
We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.

It’s that time of the year again. School is starting. At my other job, we’re selling lots and lots of things that students need for their classes. Since I’m in the electronics department now, I’ve noticed that many schools are requiring USB flash drives for their students to turn in homework, and even ear-buds for using various learning resources without disturbing other students. I never realized before how technological going to school is these days compared to when I was a student at Holy Cross Lutheran School and Concordia Lutheran High School in Fort Wayne. Our own school, Concordia, has several classrooms equipped with smart boards, and we are working towards equipping all of them as funding permits. College students are getting their dorms equipped, some even with large TV’s, and many with brand-new laptops as well as other electronic gadgets both for study and for entertainment. Of course, the old supplies of paper, pens, pencils, rulers, crayons, and glue are still there as well. It’s made for several busy weeks at Walmart, but since our own congregation shares in the ownership and operation of a Lutheran school, it’s also a time that merits some reflection in our church newsletter as well, especially since Concordia’s opening service is being held at Faith Lutheran Church on the same Sunday as this newsletter is being released.

As I pointed out in my sermon for last year’s opening service, which was held here at Holy Cross, owning and operating a private school such as Concordia isn’t easy. We’re in competition with schools that are perceived as being “free” (even though the reality is that there is no such thing as “free” in this life, and those things that are supposedly free are really being paid for by someone else in some way). Everyone is forced to pay the bill for the public schools, even those who have no children, and those who willingly pay tuition to a religious or other private school. While I could get on my libertarian soap-box here about the problem of forcing people who have no use for government schools to pay for them, I’ll try to restrain myself. The reality is what it is. It’s hard to compete with the public schools, which is why when we hear the phrase “private school” we usually think of some exclusive academy that caters only to the richest of the rich. That’s not what most Lutheran schools (nor most Roman Catholic or other Christian schools) are. They usually operate on a shoestring budget (having sat in on a couple of school board meetings for Concordia where the primary item of business was the budget, I can safely say that ours is no exception). They don’t always have the latest technology or the best sports equipment, and with very few exceptions multiple grades share one teacher and one classroom. There are many disadvantages to operating a private school, especially one whose target market is the average middle or working class young family (i.e., the membership of most of our churches when it comes to the school-age demographic). And yet, we do it.

There are many reasons for this, some of which have to do with the fact that, in religious schools especially (but also in private schools in general due to the heavy investment parents have in the form of tuition), the parents are generally more involved than they often are in public schools, and parent involvement is one key area that is vital to the success of their children’s education (and there are God-given reasons for this, related to the Fourth Commandment – more on that later in this article). The main reason many congregations of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod operate schools is, while related to this, something that is even more important: the Gospel, the good news that Christ died for our sins and rose again for our justification. Related to that, of course, is a biblical view of God’s Law, because before anyone can appreciate the forgiveness of sins he must first understand that he is a sinner (this is one area where secular schools in general, and public schools in particular, have followed our whole society into the ditch over the last several decades, with devastating results throughout our society). And there are many other areas, including science (especially biology!), literature, the social sciences, etc. in which the Biblical worldview forms a better background to teaching those subjects than does the rigidly secular background that is the official position of the public schools. But the most important point in a Lutheran school is, knowing about Christ and Him crucified, and integrating faith in Him into whatever vocations those children will have as they go on through their lives. That includes not just working vocations, but also those of father, mother, husband, wife, citizen, etc.

Now, ultimately the job of teaching children about the world and their place in it belongs to the parents. Neither the Church nor the government has any right to determine for parents what is the best for their own children’s welfare. Many parents choose to send their kids to Lutheran schools. That was my own parents’ choice, and I believe I am the better for it. Some parents choose, if they have the education, time, and resources, to do it themselves. And that is a perfectly legitimate (and, indeed, praiseworthy) alternative, which many Christians, and even many Lutherans, have utilized with excellent results, especially in communities where there is no Lutheran school. Other parents choose to send their children to the public schools or to another private school. This also is a legitimate alternative, because as I said it is the parents alone who have the right to determine for themselves the best way to raise their own children. Even when it comes to teaching the faith, Luther’s catechism subtitles each of the Six Chief Parts (Ten Commandments, Apostles’ Creed, Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, Office of the Keys, Sacrament of the Altar) thus: “As the Head of the Family Should Teach Them in a Simple Way to His Household.” Notice that it doesn’t say “as the pastor should teach,” let alone “as the day-school teacher should teach,” but “as the head of the family should teach.” What this means is that, when it comes to teaching children, whether teaching the Faith or teaching about the created world, both the pastor and the day-school teacher are in an assisting role. The primary role is held by the parents. This is true even when it comes to teaching the Catechism. Now, I and the elders have the responsibility of examining children to make sure their understanding of the faith is in line with our Church’s doctrinal position before admitting them to the Sacrament of the Altar, and in the vast majority of cases the parents do ask the pastor to do the actual teaching. However, I will perform that examination and (if passed successfully) admit children to communion, even if it was the parents (or, for that matter, a Lutheran day-school teacher) rather than myself who did the actual teaching.

It is precisely, then, the parents whom our teachers are assisting. It’s not my responsibility as pastor to teach about math, physics, biology, literature, the social sciences, and so on, and so when our teachers do that they’re not assisting me (though if I were in a tiny community where I was the only person educated enough to teach these things, as was often the case when our old German Lutheran churches were planted on the frontier, I would also gladly teach those subjects as I had time and opportunity). Even when it comes to teaching the Faith, it is the parents, not me, who have the ultimate responsibility, and so even in that subject they’re assisting the parents themselves first and foremost.

It should be noted that assisting the parents is actually a higher calling than assisting the pastor. The office of parent is actually a more basic office in society, even in Christian society, than that of the Holy Ministry. The family is a more basic unit of society even than the Christian congregation. We dare not underestimate this honor bestowed on teachers. We dishonor them when we refer to them as assisting any other office than that of parent. Teachers assist in that very office which is to depict for us the First Person of the Holy Trinity Himself, the Father. Each family is a created image of the Godhead, and teachers have the honor of assisting those who are created in the image of God the Father Himself. That’s the honor bestowed on Lutheran educators, and that’s why it’s worth it to do the hard work of owning and operating Lutheran schools. - Pastor Schellenbach

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