Reformation Month: Day 11

31 Days, 31 Books

It is easy to commemorate and acknowledge when the Reformation began–October 31, 1517. The mental image of Luther marching down to the church door at Wittenberg bearing a sheaf of papers containing the 95 Theses and lugging along a hammer and nails is quite vivid. It is a powerful reminder of the law of unintended consequences, which is actually a way of saying “God rules history.” Luther wanted to shake matters up a bit and he wanted to give the church a firm kick in the pants, but he had little idea of how strong his kick was going to be. So now, nearly 500 years later, we still remember and celebrate Luther’s actions.

Trying to find the closing date of the Reformation is another matter. The Reformation may be said to have started on October 31, 1517, and we may find certain phases of it ending or declining at points later in history, but the event lives on. The Protestant Reformation continues to spark further reformations throughout time and history.

There is a continuing of the forces unleashed during the Reformation.  Christians still find themselves often either at Wittenberg or Worms.  By that, I mean that Christians have to post their objections to the current state of things, call certain matters to the forefront, and challenge the assumptions of the day.  They have to be like Luther posting the 95 theses at Wittenberg.  Sometimes a firestorm erupts; sometimes the world walks by without noticing.  Sometimes there are great changes; sometimes it seems as though nothing changes.  Luther didn’t nail the debate points up in order to change the world.  He did it because he was convicted that this was the right thing to do.  If the world of his time and the church leaders had responded with apathy or neglect, Luther would have pressed on.  Sometimes modern Christians have to be like Luther was at Worms and take a stand on the Word of God.  There are many issues confronting us today where we have to say, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God.”

We also, like Luther and many of his contemporaries, have to notice the many areas of life that call for Reformation.   Along with church, family, and state, the institutions of education also call for reform.  In a fallen world, just as the church and family are always under attack, so are the schools.  Schools are the future.  As it happened, there was much about Medieval education that was outstanding.  After all, Luther, Calvin, Erasmus, Melancthon, Bucer, Bullinger, and others were educated in the systems and traditions of the 1000 plus years of educational reform that Christianity grafted on to Europe.  Books ranging from Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization to Christopher Dawson’s The Crisis of Western Education have chronicled and celebrated the achievements of Christian education.

The question in the days of Luther and Calvin was how to reform what was needing correction without losing what was good.  So much of the classical heritage, along with the vast works by the Church Fathers, both early church fathers and Medieval church leaders, was worthy of retaining.  A lesser known figure who was prominent in the field of education was Johann Sturm.   He is, thankfully, still remembered by Lutherans.  In fact, it was at a Lutheran conference on Christian education, featuring Dr. Gene Edward Veith, where I first learned of Johann Sturm.

Sturm was a contemporary with Luther, Melancthon, Calvin, and other leaders of the Reformation. His life’s labors were focused on promoting and furthering classical Christian education. He wrote treatises and letters on education and produced new editions of classical texts. He translated and taught the Greek and Roman classics, which provided a “wise and eloquent” piety for students. He developed a liberal arts curriculum that spanned from the lowest grades in elementary school to graduate training in the university. He began an academy in Strasbourg which eventually became the University of Strasbourg. One man who worked under Sturm’s guidance in Strausbourg went on to found a similar academy in Geneva. His name was John Calvin.

Sturm’s area of labors complemented and fulfilled the vision of the Reformers, for Reformation depends upon continually bringing the mind into contact with the Word of God and the world and culture God’s Word has produced.

For those of us who are hurrying about trying to rediscover our Christian heritage, the best we can hope for is finding the great works in English. Thankfully, Concordia Publishing House has produced the first translation from the Latin of Sturm’s essays on education. It is titled Johann Sturm On Education: The Reformation and Humanist Learning.

This book, which is rich in historical significance and in present and future application, is a Reformation feast indeed.  This work has been edited by Dr. Lewis Spitz and Dr. Barbara Sher Tinsley.

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