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The Reformation was about education as much as it was about reforming the church. Luther’s education, ultimately a Doctor of Theology degree, began with his father’s determination to see Martin succeed.

As a result of Luther’s insistence on “faith alone” and after years of controversy, he observed the religious chaos in the churches of Saxony, Germany, due to the lack of Christian education. Luther, in the Introduction to his Small Catechism: “The deplorable condition in which I found religious affairs during a recent visitation of the congregations has impelled me to publish this Catechism. … The people have no knowledge of … Christian doctrine, and many of the pastors are ignorant and incompetent teachers.” These “deplorable conditions” motivated Luther to write the Large and Small Catechisms and publish them in 1529.

Luther recognized the need for urgent educational improvement and reform. There were no public school systems. Teaching was often limited to the children of the wealthy. Luther wrote that for Christian education to flourish, parents must nurture their offspring in the teachings of the Bible. Luther knew that, in order to carry out this responsibility, suitable materials were needed.

Luther wrote the Catechism because of the absence of any effective learning tools available to preachers and teachers and the absence of any readable texts available for the German parents. In Luther’s view, education was crucial to the advancement of the Gospel. He believed scripture to be the basis of education for believers, who are saved only by God’s grace through faith. He is often quoted as having said “I am afraid that the schools will prove the very gates of hell, unless they diligently labor in explaining the Holy Scriptures and engraving them in the heart of the youth.”

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod believes that Christian education is crucial to the advancement of the Gospel and that Scripture is the basis of Christian education for believers saved only by God’s grace through faith. The LCMS uses the Catechism as its basic Christian educational text because Luther based the Catechism on the foundation of Christ’s inspired word, the Bible. The Catechism is a summary of the truths of God’s word and the basis for the doctrine and the beliefs of the LCMS. The LCMS believes that the Catechism should also be used as a prayer book for individuals and families in their meditations each day.

The Catechism is used in confirmation instruction because it has the six “wheels”—the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Holy Baptism, Holy Communion and Confession—that enable the doctrine of Lutheranism to be moved into the hearts and minds of all people.

The LCMS is a respected leader in the field of Christian education. We place great emphasis on instruction in the Word, recognizing this as one of the most effective ways of reaching out boldly with the Gospel. The LCMS and the Rocky Mountain District support many Lutheran educational institutions. As of 2013, there were 1,285 Early Childhood Centers (not connected with a school), 880 elementary schools, ninety junior/senior high schools, nine universities and two seminaries. Within the RMD in 2015, there were 36 Early Childhood Centers, 26 Early Childhood Elementary schools and one High School.

This year, 2017, is a year precious to all Lutherans: the 500th anniversary of Luther’s blessed discovery of the Gospel and his rebellion related to the beliefs and celebrations of the Roman Catholic Church. This article is part of a monthly series covering topics and historical events leading up to October 31, 1517, the date of the posting of the 95 Theses on the Castle Church doors in Wittenberg, Germany. It is republished, with permission, from the Rocky Mountain District, LCMS.