Education is an important faith practice of the ELCA because it belongs to our Lutheran baptismal vocation and is fundamental to the church’s mission in the world. The ELCA’s 2007 social statement, “Our Calling in Education,” explains what this means, and it should be part of the toolkit of every congregational educator.
The social statement grounds education in the triune God. God creates us with the ability to learn and teach, and God is active through education to address us as whole people. God gives us the need, capacity and delight to learn (p. 6). Though sin “persistently warps” human learning, the gospel sets people free “to care for education as an arena for service to the neighbor” (p. 7). “Jesus of Nazareth teaches us what it means to be truly human, living and dying for others” (p. 8). Christians rely on the Holy Spirit to work through us to shape our character and impart gifts (p. 9). We teach and learn “so that we will not be conformed to the world but instead be disciples who are transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2)” (p. 9).
Congregations carry out a ministry of education when they:
- center education in, and let it flow from, worship;
- give priority to the ministries of children, youth and families through trained leaders and resources;
- include people with disabilities;
- strengthen the family for partnership between church and home;
- support those called to be teachers of the faith;
- select materials and programs rooted in the triune God, the Bible and Lutheran Confessions;
- provide opportunities to discuss social issues, science and other religions in light of the faith; and provide early childhood education centers and day schools (pp. 21, 2).
Education is part of maturing in the faith. Therefore, the social statement declares, “As Christians mature in their knowledge and experience in the world, their faith also should deepen and mature. “As people grow older, a changing world presents new questions and dilemmas to them, and based on their continuing life experience, they raise new questions about their world and faith. Continued growth and learning in the faith enable Christians to see how their faith gives direction and sheds light on their changing lives” (p. 13).
Lutherans have a long and rich tradition of caring about maturation in the faith beyond the congregational setting by supporting church-related colleges, universities, seminaries, lifelong learning partners, and outdoor and campus ministries.
But it is not only ourselves, as the church, to whom we have a responsibility for proper education. Luther argued that education was part of an orderly and healthy society, when he wrote, “A city’s best and greatest welfare, safety and strength consist in its having many able, learned, wise, honorable and well-educated citizens” (p. 22).
It is for this reason that the social statement claims that the same baptismal vocation that calls us to grow in faith also calls Christians individually and collectively “to strive with others to ensure that all have access to high-quality education that develops personal gifts and abilities and serves the common good” (p. 1).
The ELCA is committed to public schools and public higher education, especially on behalf of those who are not receiving a good education, and seeks to work with others to improve these centers of learning as part of its calling to be a public church (pp. 23, 46).