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  • Writer's pictureEric Cline

Luther and Erasmus and the Role of Teacher and Student

Updated: Jul 5, 2023

I present elements of the Theology of Christian Education for how Erasmus and Martin Luther approached the task of grounding their educational endeavors in a robust, theological framework.

Theology of Christian Education—Erasmus

Erasmus was a genuine but not purely humanist. Although he grounded his thoughts of prime importance to the human, his theological hermeneutic did not ignore the divine. His desire was to return “to a “golden age” of Christianity before the dominance of popes and Church tradition.”[1] Erasmus focused on the original languages, Latin and Greek, as the sources for a more pure culture towards education. He pushed back against Judaism as nothing more than legalism and though if Hebrew was learned outside biblical need, students would become more legalistic and lose their opportunity for personal faith in Jesus Christ. Faith was to be taught and learned and Erasmus blamed the priests for too many Christians ignorant in the knowledge of faith. Christ was the only one who could teach saving doctrine and deserved devotion but few had the pious and alert mind to make themselves teachable.

The Role of the Teacher—Erasmus

The teacher was to hold Scripture in the highest regard, not the leaders of the church, as Erasmus downplayed terms of “Pope” to mean love, not power. Erasmus felt too many leaders were corrupt, lacked the knowledge, and rather than showing others the way, the shepherds caused the people to go astray. Customs and ceremonies were robbing the minds for “real” Christianity. Erasmus depicted a state of affairs in which Christ’s great commandment — to love of God and neighbor — had been forgotten.[2]

The Role of the Student—Erasmus

Instruction first, baptism second, to become Christian is how Erasmus felt about the inward commitment and external ritual. Instruction is essential to salvation which, Erasmus believed was in keeping with Augustinian heritage. Correct teaching led to personal repentance and faith.[3] Baptism before correct teaching resulted in one being baptized in vain. Erasmus saw instruction as essential to faith and the only solution to eradicating ignorant Christians.

Theology of Christian Education—Martin Luther

Luther thought and theology was influenced by his studies in Aristotle, nominalism, and humanism. He earned a baccalaureate degree in philosophy, the Bible, the Sentences, a master’s in liberal arts, and a doctorate in theology. His theological hermeneutics centered on biblical interpretation in three features of sola Scripture (authority of Scripture), Christ-centered interpretation, and law and gospel. Luther’s philosophy for the true theologian is to distinguish the gospel from the law—knowledge of this is necessary to the highest degree because it summarizes the Christian doctrine.

The Role of the Teacher— Martin Luther

The parent is the teacher. Teaching is a parental responsibility. Parents who emulate the biblical model help prevent tragedy in Christendom. To spoil children, to not teach them Scripture, is to give the devil a foothold and advance Satan’s kingdom.

The Role of the Student— Martin Luther

Children are the students and Luther took interest in the education, the primary reading being the Scriptures, for boys and girls. Luther observed that youngsters knew trades of their parents but did not know the gospel. Men come from the boys, women come from the girls that parents raise and if parents lose focus on teaching Scripture, they perpetuate “blockheads” who remain ignorant of the gospel.

[1] Elmer L. Towns, A Legacy of Religious Educators: Historical and Theological Introductions, (Lynchburg, VA: Liberty University Press, 2016), 87. [2] Ibid., 94. [3] Ibid., 97.

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