Category Archives: Lutheran Schools

Wilhelm Sihler on the Importance of Seminaries and Teacher Training Schools

Thesis 16

It stands in precise connection with the confession that every Lutheran synod in its part uses all diligence to call and to help obtain orthodox schools for development of faithful and capable preachers and school teachers for the preservation of the church in life.

When it says in the thesis: “that every Lutheran synod in its part uses all diligence” etc, then it does not mean that every Lutheran synod must have its own seminary and teacher training school; no, they should take part wherever possible in the work of educating orthodox preachers and teachers. It is contradictory to the confession and is a gross piece of Unionism if Lutheran synods call their preachers and teachers from United seminaries rather than from Lutheran institutions. It is positively frivolous to allow vagabonding teachers in Lutheran schools, and to entrust the souls of the poor children to vagabonding subjects while we, as we should, warn about visits to the local state schools on the part of Lutheran children.

The importance of the thesis in question was brought to light beside the history of the Lutheran Church in this country. The decline of the Lutheran Church in America at the beginning of this century can be attributed in large part to the lack of training of her preachers. Once the Lutheran Church had a good beginning under blessed Pastor [Heinrich] Mühlenberg servants of God, America was supplied with Lutheran pastors from Halle. However, the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars has interrupted the further sending of pastors. Hartwick Seminary, the oldest Lutheran seminary in America, was founded in 1815 and the Gettysburg Seminary was founded in 1826. Apart from the false doctrine that was presented in them, these seminaries could only provide a poor education and could not send into the field the required number of preachers. Due to the latter reason, some older preachers then took young people to themselves, instructed them and sent them, provided with a license from the synod, into office, in order to let them be further trained practically and, after they had proven themselves, engage them as a proper pastor. Therefore, there was then capable, faithful Lutheran preachers, and as now all now completely comprehended Methodism and Rationalism, then the Lutheran church declined in very many places. The best Lutheran synod in previous times in this country still has been the Tennessee Synod. She has followed the strange principle to have no seminary, but has let the individual preachers train young men for service in the vineyard of the Lord. The result has been that even this Synod has passed away. Only in recent times she seems to show some life in her again, in that members of her remembered to undertake the training of pastors in their own seminary.

Luther thus testifies about the thesis in question: “So I can by no means commend the Waldensian Brethren for their neglect of the languages. For even though they may teach the truth, they inevitably often miss the true meaning of the text, and thus are neither equipped nor fit for defending the faith against error…. [T]hey may lead saintly lives and teach sacred things among themselves, but so long as they remain without the languages they cannot but lack what all the rest lack, namely, the ability to treat Scripture with certainty and thoroughness and to be useful to other nations. Because they could do this, but will not, they have to figure out for themselves how they will answer for it to God.”[1]

Without academically educated preachers, a larger church fellowship cannot exist in the long run. We need colleges or Latin schools. The three ancient languages, Latin, Greek and Hebrew, in which was written on the cross: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”, are necessary; namely Latin, because the greatest treasures of knowledge of the Church are set forth in it; Greek, because the New Testament was originally written in it; Hebrew, because Moses and the prophets have composed the Old Testament in it. While not every preacher must be proficient in these languages; yes, one who has not learned them is often a better preacher than another who has studied them; but the church, as such, cannot do without classically educated preachers, and if a church fellowship will do nothing in this respect, then she digs her own grave.

With the expression: “It stands in precise connection with the confession…to help” it should be cautioned that one should not hope in an enthusiastic manner God will keep His Church without means, without colleges! No! The Methodists should be also therein a cautionary tale to us, who always wanted nothing to do with the education and scholarliness of preachers and thought “The Spirit! The Spirit!” must form preachers and Latin schools were despicable. But they have to learn to sing another song and now also have colleges.


[1] Luther, M. (1999). Vol. 45: Luther’s works, vol. 45 : The Christian in Society II (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.) (366). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

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We Lutheran Christians Will Not Attempt to Make the State Schools Christian

We [Missourians] are an anomaly here in America, for which we scarcely find an example in other countries. Wherever the Christian Church is also merely a small force, there it also presses for Christian schools. Everywhere you can see where there is still a somewhat Christian understanding that the Christian school belongs to the Christian church. If Christian missions wish to assert themselves and gain a foothold in a country, then they set their attention from the outset on the establishing and maintaining of Christian schools. Americans missions are no exception. They maintain in Africa, Asia, and wherever they work especially the Christian school with particular zeal.

But things are different in America itself. Although the Christian Church is a power in this country, yes, although there is almost no country on Earth where the Christian Church exerts such an influence on public life as in the United States of America, we believe that we are still faced with the astonishing fact that the vast majority of Protestant Christians have no religious schools and will know nothing of Christian Schools. Even the greatest number of sectarian fellowships, Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians, with their approximately 100,000 congregations have no Christian schools. People who would be earnest Christians still entrust their uneducated children year after year throughout the week to the non-religious state schools, in order to remember that only on Sundays Christian children are in Christian schools. One is satisfied with “Sunday Schools”. And this is considered in general not as an emergency – for where should a state of emergency also come with the full freedom of the Church and with rich earthly means, over which these fellowships mostly have? – but regarded as the right state of things. Among the Protestant sects only the Episcopalians and the German Unionists [Evangelical Synod] are a partial exception. Also not all who would be Lutherans have Christians schools. In the General Synod and the General Council, with the exception of the Swedish Augustana Synod, one usually has no Christian school, although it is recognized that there are more exceptions to the rule in the Council than in the General Synod.

How could it come to this miserable condition? Generally speaking: the great mass of Christians in America has fared as some pagan peoples of ancient and modern times. If certain gross sins were public and in fashion a long time among the heathen, then the natural conscience ultimately was drowned out and one lost the feeling for sin. So also in Christian America the Christian conscience has been dulled by long practice regarding the lack of the Christian school. By the long, evil practice it has reached the point that only very rarely stimulates the feeling that the non-religious school may be an impertinence to the Christian Church. We inquire further into the sources that lie behind this abnormal condition as no doubt several factors here work together.

First of all, sectarian Christianity in this country almost without exception is the Arminian type. The very essence of Christianity, the Gospel, the doctrine of justification of a sinner by faith in the Gospel, retrogresses; however, an externally legalistic way, “to keep the commandments”, is pushed to the foreground as the real essence of Christianity. The specific distinction between nature and grace is blurred. Christianity often is regarded only as a higher morality that develops under a certain care of natural morality. So one can be satisfied with the non-religious public schools as long as “to do right” in inculcated in them. A chapter from the Bible is now read in the public schools even at the beginning of class, so one is easily persuaded that the public schools are still even a kind of Christian schools.

However, the main reason why one is content with public schools and basically looks at every congregational school as an “attack on our American institutions”, is yet another. The average American, not just the “natives” but in many cases also the “foreigner”, considers the establishment of “public schools” with the riches thrown out by state funds as the non plus ultra of political-social wisdom. Nevertheless, individual sober men always have warned, even from Anglo-American circles, about the overestimation of public schools, nevertheless the public school over time has become a kind of national idol in the country. The vast majority of American Christians have taken themselves captive to this trend and the obligation to establish and maintain Christian schools is allowed to move entirely out of sight.

We Lutheran Christians, by God’s grace, do not want to be carried away by this trend, but remain mindful of our Christian duty. We are not enemies and opponents of the non-religious state school. We allow them their domain, in all due respect. Non-religious state schools are schools for non-religious people. There are enough non-religious people in America. To be sure, the duty does not rest primarily with the state, but with the parents to ensure instruction of their children. As befits natural law, the parents first feed and clothe their children, so obviously it is also according to natural law that parents first have to provide for the instruction of their children.

However, the state, if experience teaches that many parents otherwise would not meet or could not meet their responsibility, may come to the rescue, that it builds, maintains, and makes available schools to them at its own expense. The state also may tax its citizens for this purpose and Christians among its citizens will refuse least to pay these taxes. The state has an interest in ensuring that its future citizens are equipped with a certain amount of knowledge. So we recognize the relative necessity of public schools and render these schools their value in their field.

We Lutheran Christians will not also attempt to make the state schools Christian. We distinguish ourselves in this respect from both the papal Church as well as the sects. The papal Church in our country works toward the goal to make popish schools into state schools. The Archbishop of Ireland even submitted this plan quite bluntly last year at a meeting of public school teachers. Even most sectarian preachers envision it to this day as ideal to make our public schools Christian in their sense. Only recently prominent sectarian preachers were gathered somewhere in the east in order to cut a deal about a Christian religion which could be introduced in the public schools. It is precisely the character of both the papal sects, as well as the Reformed sects, to mix church and state. However, sober Lutheran Christians distinguish sharply between church and state. The state has nothing to do with the spreading and preserving of the Christian faith. So also schools that the state establishes, maintains, and controls should not teach the Christian faith. When the state tries to establish such schools, it then pushes things that are not commanded to it, and the result will be oppression and tyranny of conscience. Therefore Lutheran Christians advocate for non-religious state schools, if state schools may be necessary.

They themselves certainly cannot be satisfied for their children with the non-religious state schools. Before their eyes is the commandment of God: You fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord. The congregational school grows out of this commandment of God. Indeed, the Christian educating of children is also primarily a task of Christian parents, but the Christian congregation also has to take care that they do not interfere in the rights of parents. If individual Christian parents can and want to keep the educating of their children solely in their hands, so the congregation should not want to turn this into a sin for them.

As it is now, as Luther already mentioned, most parents have neither time nor skill for the necessary instruction of their children, so Christian congregational schools become a necessity. The Christian congregational school belongs under existing circumstances to the means by which Christians follow the commandment of God to educate their children in a Christian manner. And since this is a global command, that is, concerning all Christians on the entire earth, it also binds the Christians of America. That currently even Christians in our country call the establishing and preserving of congregational schools “un-American” is a terrible delusion. We do not want to get caught up in this delusion, but seek to remove it for our part through our contrary witness.

In short, we do not wish to make our congregational schools suspect or even let them slip out of our hands because of the accusations made against them. We wish instead, by God’s grace, to cherish congregational schools as one of the finest features of our church. Only then can we fulfill the duty imposed upon us by God under existing circumstances to raise up our children in the discipline and admonition of the Lord. Only then will our children be formed in the pure doctrine of the Word of God, in order that they can defend themselves against unbelief and all sorts of heresy. Only with the help of congregational schools will the Church of the Reformation in this country gain firm footing and healthy growth; because if the sects without a congregational school increase significantly, then it must be remembered that they disregard from the outset the purity and unity in doctrine required in God’s Word. Finally, we also need the congregational schools in order for the Church to evangelize to the ends of the earth. May God bless our congregational schools!

– Franz Pieper, Forward to the 1891 Volume of “Lehre und Wehre”. Credit is given to Mr. Ken Howes for his assistance in helping me smooth out the rough places in this translation.