Christians Are to be Taught

Oct. 09, 2017 by Philip Schielke

Christians are to be Taught

Nine of Luther’s 95 theses begin with the Latin phrase, “Docendi sunt christiani,” in English, “Christians are to be taught…”  In the theses of 1517, Luther enjoined that Christians should be taught specifically about the church’s abusive practice of selling indulgences, because it was antithetical to the faith.

As the Reformation progressed, Luther’s conviction that Christians “are to be taught” never wavered. As foreshadowed in these early theses, a primary emphasis of the Reformation would be to teach Christians the faith, and Luther would work tirelessly to clarify what “the faith” was and is.

During the years of 1526-1528, Luther and other reformers visited clergy and laity in Saxony. Luther was appalled by the laity’s lack of basic knowledge of Christian doctrine, and he found similar lacking in some of the clergy as well.  

In his words, “The common people, especially in the villages, have no knowledge whatever of Christian doctrine, and, alas! many pastors are altogether incapable and incompetent to teach. Nevertheless, all maintain that they are Christians, have been baptized and receive the holy Sacraments. Yet they [do not understand and] cannot [even] recite either the Lord's Prayer, or the Creed, or the Ten Commandments.”   

These visitations prompted Luther to write the Small Catechism for heads of households to teach their families, and the Large Catechism to instruct clergy.  Luther’s goal was to put the key tenets of Christian doctrine in a form that could be comprehended by anyone.  These teaching aids are still used by Lutheran parents and congregations today to instruct and teach the faith.

“The faith” is not some abstract concept or a set of obscure propositions, but is the power of God to salvation. Luther writes extensively throughout His career on what the true teaching of the church is to be. He summarizes the chief article of the faith in the Smalcald Articles of 1537, “That Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins, and was raised again for our justification, Rom. 4:25. And He alone is the Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world, John 1:29; and God has laid upon Him the iniquities of us all, Is. 53:6.  Likewise: All have sinned and are justified without merit [freely, and without their own works or merits] by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood, Rom. 3:23f”

One can find parallels between 21st century Christianity in America and the situation Luther observed in early 16th century Saxony. Recent polls would indicate that Biblical illiteracy in this country is on the rise  and engagement with the Bible itself is in decline.  Where does Concordia’s mission of “developing Christian leaders” fit within this context?  As an institution of higher education, Concordia University Texas is tasked with teaching a wide variety of disciplines. As an institution of the LC–MS and in the tradition of Luther, Concordia University Texas and her sister schools are called to teach the faith. Concordia University Texas teaches the faith formally in the classroom through required classes in the Bible and other courses and through our chapel services. In addition, Bible studies available to students and interactions amongst students and between students and staff and faculty present opportunities to teach the faith in a less formal setting.

The faith is taught and proclaimed to lead people to repentance and to rest confidently in the promises of God guaranteed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. All people need this comfort.  Following the example of Luther and the other reformers, may we in our day be steadfast in teaching the faith to this generation.

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