Standing for Truth and Defending Your Freedom
Standing for Truth and Defending Your Freedom

Education's Power to Reform Culture

Karen VanTil Gushta

In October, as we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation many are saying we need a 21st century Reformation. Is this possible? There is one factor that played a significant role in spreading the 16th century Reformation across Europe. According to D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in every period of great revival and re-awakening, the education of children was given great attention. “The Protestant Reformers were concerned about it, and the instruction of children in moral and spiritual matters was given great prominence. The Puritans gave it still greater prominence, and the leaders of the Evangelical Awakening of two hundred years ago, also did the same.”                   

Some credit the Irish monks with saving Western Civilization when, as the Roman Empire collapsed and hordes of Huns and Germanic tribes swept across Europe, these monks preserved the manuscripts of the classical writers. But to do so they had to stay cloistered in their monasteries. Not until the Protestant Reformation did the light of learning spread to the general populace. The Reformation not only reformed the church, it transformed the culture—in part because it brought reforms to the system of schooling of the day.  

So how can we bring this about in our day and time?  

Martin Luther and John Calvin, and their co-reformers Melanchthon, Zwingli, Bucer, and Bullinger all were active in promoting and reforming education. They recognized that a strong church required an educated laity. Instead of education being reserved for the elite classes, a high priority was placed on education of all youth, both boys and girls. Every believer in Christ was believed to be a “prophet, priest, and king,” and, therefore, in need of being able to read and understand the Scriptures.  

Within seven years after he nailed his famed 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Castle Church door, Martin Luther wrote “To the Councilmen of All Cities in Germany That They Establish and Maintain Christian Schools.”  In his letter he exhorted parents to nurture and train their children, citing biblical texts such as Psalm 78:5-8. But Luther also recognized that some parents were neglectful of their parental responsibility in this regard, and others did not have the means or the opportunity to do so, and so he also advocated for community-organized schooling to ensure that all children would be educated. 

John Calvin placed a high priority on children being taught the catechism—so much so that when he was in Geneva he instructed the children himself on Sunday afternoons. His second priority, however, was general education. Calvin modeled his proposal for a college and academy in Geneva after the successful achievements of Johann Sturm in Strasbourg. Sturm’s curriculum combined classical studies and theology to promote both academic and spiritual development of students. In Calvin’s view, knowledge of the Bible was primary and essential for understanding every area of knowledge. For Calvin, the Scriptures are like a pair of glasses that we must put on when we study anything besides Scripture. Looking through the lens of God’s Word enables us to discern and separate truth from error (see Hebrews 4:12; 5:14).  

Nevertheless, Calvin did not denigrate the writings and work of the past. He, like America’s Founders, was well-schooled in the classics. His view of their worth was in direct contrast to that of the Muslim caliph, Umar, who gained his place in history by destroying the priceless library of Alexandria when his soldiers conquered Egypt. Umar claimed the Qur’an contained everything necessary for one to know. Calvin, on the other hand, gave a good argument for learning from the classics when he declared in his commentary on Titus 1:12:  

From this passage, we may infer that those persons are superstitious who do not venture to borrow anything from heathen authors. All truth is from God; and consequently, if wicked men have said anything that is true and just, we ought not to reject it; for it has come from God. Besides, all things are of God; and therefore, why should it not be lawful to dedicate to his glory everything that can properly be employed for such a purpose?[1]

Without the schools founded by Calvin, Luther, and the other reformers, the Reformation would have been still-born and could not have spread across Europe, nor could it have taken root in the culture of the day. An educated clergy and leaders in the professions of medicine and law and the arts and sciences took the ideas of Luther and Calvin and the other reformers and planted them in the culture at large.

So today, if the broader culture is to be impacted and even transformed by a new Reformation, the churches in America must provide greater opportunities for Christian education—inculcating children with a Biblical worldview and enlarging their vision for both the kingdom of Christ and their place in it. Without this, we will never achieve a true national revival nor be able to bring transformation to our culture and society. Unless we assume control of our own children’s education—and extend it to others—we may continue to bring people in the front door of our churches through evangelism, but we will lose the next generation and the culture as the current atheistic-evolutionary worldview retains its dominance.  

Isn’t it time that we mobilize our efforts in a concerted way to ensure all our covenant children receive opportunities for truly Christian education? Isn’t it time that we put our energies into transforming America’s schools so that America’s children and youth are not fed atheistic-evolutionistic pablum to the exclusion of all Christian beliefs? Will God not hold our generation responsible if we do not pass on our Christian beliefs and heritage of liberty to our children—if we do not do all we can to transform the culture?


[1] John Calvin, Commentary on Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, “Commentary on Titus 1:12,” pp. 247-248, ( quoted in McGoldrick, p. 125.