It's obviously been awhile since I wrote any original pieces as I've been swamped with my responsibilities stemming from the vocations of Husband, Father, Corporate Recruiter, and Sinner In Desperate Need Of God's Saving Grace.
However, today is one of those days when I simply have to write about a few things that make absolutely no sense to me.
It's both confusing and heartbreaking so maybe some of you can help explain it to me.
As all of you know, we just celebrated another "National Lutheran Schools Week" and remembered why it's important for us to celebrate and commemorate this occasion each year. If you're new here or curious about why that's the case, then please listen to the excellent 5-part series that Issues, Etc. produced during this same week last year.
What is Lutheran Schools Week all about?
It's Lutheran Schools Week time! This is one of the best weeks of the school year, and one that our children look forward to and remember for years! Most of our national sister schools celebrate this week, as well. Here are a few facts about our Lutheran schools across the country...there are 1,190 Early Childhood Centers, 842 Elementary Schools and 85 High Schools reaching more than 250,000 students, their families and the community! There are 200 Lutheran Schools in Asia, as well as three international schools run by the LCMS in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Hanoi. Praise God! His faithful servants continue to reach children and families from around the world with the Saving Word!
Yes, praise God indeed!
However, this has become a bittersweet week for me, personally, for the past few years now.
Why exactly? Well, first, a look back to last year to help set the stage...
A Liberal District's "Lutheran Schools Week" = Celebrating All Things Lutheran By Being As Ecumenical/Heterodox As Possible The Whole Week— LutheranLayman (@LutheranLayman) January 30, 2016
Yes, unfortunately, that's the case here in Western New York or the Eastern District-LCMS I'm afraid. Has been for some time too.
Best intentions and hard work aside, there's simply no denying the fact that our unique Lutheran identity is downplayed significantly throughout the entire school year, and even during the annual National Lutheran Schools Week activities.
How do I know this? I'm a parent of two children and an uncle to a nephew who all attend this Lutheran Day School. Each year, I ask them when I get home from work to tell me about the activities and lessons they did during the day to celebrate Lutheran Schools Week, and it would be a struggle to try to identify something that was distinctly Lutheran about any of it.
Am I being too unrealistic? Am I asking too much? Is this a common practice nowadays? Worse, is everyone who's a Lutheran Educator ok with this? Are other Lutheran parents around the country ok with it? These are the questions that have been on my mind this week.
Now, I'm all for a Day School using fun and games with young children during the entire week, but I would hope that there would be regular daily devotions and lessons that reflected our Lutheran heritage and that highlighted what's distinct about what we believe, teach, and confess.
I know a lot of schools based their activities on this year's "Upon This Rock" theme and that makes perfect sense. I would expect that. What I wouldn't expect is a weekly schedule that included a "Gospel Reductionist" mindset.
Where's the Small Catechism? Where's the Book of Concord? Where are the hymns? Where's the history lesson on the Reformation? Where's the discussion about the importance and impact of a Classical Lutheran Education? Where's anything that even remotely resembles Lutheranism?
Can someone please explain to me how much of what was celebrated this past week in our schools has anything to do with National Lutheran Schools Week? Better yet, can anyone explain to me how many of those same ideas have anything to do with with the "Upon This Rock" theme for this year?
Friends, this isn't complicated. Each year, the LCMS publishes FREE RESOURCES that schools can use to help.
I actually asked those questions quite casually one day this past week and learned that any mere implication that you are criticizing contemporary Christianity's sacred cow, the Moral Therapeutic Deistic Private Christian Day School, is sacrilegious.
Sure, I know many people who will disagree and reject my assertions here. That's fine, but I would kindly ask them to prayerfully consider the evidence and look at recent history before arriving at the conclusion, because it may be a New Year, but there's nothing "new" about my insistence that I believe it's essential that we repent of this madness and return to "the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3).
I've mentioned this before, but it was several years ago when the local Lutheran Day School removed the title "Lutheran" from its formal name since it felt it was too "exclusive" or "offensive" and so the decision was made to replace it with the much more "inclusive" and "non-offensive" title of "Christian" instead.
I guess. Whatever.
The wisdom that fueled such a move was based on the faulty reasoning that it is *we* and *only us* who can ever grow Christ's Church and, by extension, *primarily the private Day Schools* affiliated with them too.
"How will we ever continue to attract Christian families and bring in enough students and money to help keep the school open?"
It certainly wasn't the first Private School to ask that question and it won't be the last, but I personally think that any Christian School that begins going down a road like that that's littered with fear and uncertainty is only asking for trouble.
I mean, where do you draw the line then? A name change today, removing key doctrines of the Lutheran faith tomorrow.
Don't tell me it can't happen, because it has.
Ever so subtly, that was the first spiritual battle that was lost as lifelong Lutherans sacrificed their confession about the power and truth of God's Word and Sacraments to succumb to practicality.
Of course, I know some who vehemently disagree with me on this point. They contend that changing the name by removing the title of "Lutheran" was the best thing that ever happened to the school and assure me that the Day School can be (and still most certainly is) distinctly Lutheran no matter what I think.
Really? That's interesting though, because I don't seem to recall hearing, reading about, or seeing any Baptist or Catholic parochial schools in the area making the same decision to remove the very title that clearly communicates to the public what their Christian identity is.
Plus, I'm no "Church Growth Expert" (or even a "Missionalist" for that matter), but it would seem to me that once you open your doors to children and families from various denominations (which is a VERY GOOD thing, by the way, so please don't misunderstand what I'm trying to say here!), and then operate in such a way that your beliefs, teachings, and confessions are watered down to the lowest common denominator (a.k.a. "Gospel Reductionism") so as not to "offend" anyone, then you run the risk of not only losing your identity, but inadvertently creating crises of faith.
Don't tell me it can't happen, because it has (I know a couple of people there who are experiencing this "crisis of faith" themselves and a couple more who have fallen away from the faith completely!).
Maybe this is why "Moral Therapeutic Deism" is the prevailing course of study there (as in most Private Christian Schools today) as opposed to a "Classical Lutheran Education" that prepares our children and grandchildren for serving in their God-given vocations in the 21st Century.
There used to be a time when families who were interested in having their kids enrolled in Lutheran Day Schools had to go through a formal catechesis with the goal of converting them to Lutheranism and making them and their families new members of the Lutheran church.
There used to be a time when you had to be a Lutheran in order to be employed at a Lutheran Day School.
There used to be a time when Lutheran Schools Week meant emphasizing and highlighting those beliefs, teachings, and confessions that make us Lutheran. Imagine that! Not any more I'm afraid.
Don't tell me it can't happen, because it has.
Today, it seems as though Lutheran School Weeks is an annual celebration of Parochial Schools in general and everything that makes them "better" than the "evil" and "satanic" Public Schools (how's that for "love your neighbor" because that's not very "missional" is it?).
As a result, there's this pious push to constantly pat ourselves on the back all because we're the good, moral, noble ones in our local community simply by way of attending a Christian School in the first place, and it's up to us to "change the world!" for Christ.
Pragmatism may have won the day, but now heterodoxy and pietism rules it.
Last year, I remember this same school encouraging its students to attend a "Vacation Bible School" at a local United Church of Christ (UCC) parish during its Winter Break, which was on the heels of celebrating National Lutheran Schools Week!
Yes, because nothing says "Lutheran Schools Week" like encouraging the very students entrusted to your care to attend a local denomination's VBS during Winter Break when that denomination is so completely at odds with EVERYTHING we believe, teach, and confess as Lutherans.
This is most certainly true.
Ironically, an acquaintance of mine wrote this on Twitter at the time...
Today, a UCC divinity school student remarked to me that his denomination is "tight" with the Lutherans. I resisted...— Timothy Sheridan (@TimothyAD30) January 27, 2016
To which I replied...
@TimothyAD30 Must be something in the air b/c our "Lutheran" Day School is encouraging students to go to UCC VBS during winter break!— LutheranLayman (@LutheranLayman) January 27, 2016
Now, in case you think I'm "overreacting" here, let's just take a quick look at what the United Church of Christ (UCC) believes, teaches, and confesses as Biblical truth...
We believe in the triune God: Creator, resurrected Christ, the sole Head of the church, and the Holy Spirit, who guides and brings about the creative and redemptive work of God in the world.
We believe that each person is unique and valuable. It is the will of God that every person belong to a family of faith where they have a strong sense of being valued and loved.
We believe that each person is on a spiritual journey and that each of us is at a different stage of that journey.
We believe that the persistent search for God produces an authentic relationship with God, engendering love, strengthening faith, dissolving guilt, and giving life purpose and direction.
We believe that all of the baptized 'belong body and soul to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.' No matter who – no matter what – no matter where we are on life's journey – notwithstanding race, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, class or creed – we all belong to God and to one worldwide community of faith. All persons baptized – past, present and future – are connected to each other and to God through the sacrament of baptism. We baptize during worship when the community is present because baptism includes the community's promise of 'love, support and care' for the baptized – and we promise that we won't take it back – no matter where your journey leads you.
We believe that all people of faith are invited to join Christ at Christ's table for the sacrament of Communion. Just as many grains of wheat are gathered to make one loaf of bread and many grapes are gathered to make one cup of wine, we, the many people of God, are made one in the body of Christ, the church. The breaking of bread and the pouring of wine reminds us of the costliness of Christ's sacrifice and the discipleship to which we are all called. In the breaking of bread, we remember and celebrate Christ's presence among us along with a 'cloud of witnesses' – our ancestors, family and friends who have gone before us. It is a great mystery; we claim it by faith.
We believe the UCC is called to be a united and uniting church. "That they may all be one." (John 17:21) "In essentials -- unity, in nonessentials -- diversity, in all things --charity," These UCC mottos survive because they touch core values deep within us. The UCC has no rigid formulation of doctrine or attachment to creeds or structures. Its overarching creed is love. UCC pastors and teachers are known for their commitment to excellence in theological preparation, interpretation of the scripture and justice advocacy. Even so, love and unity in the midst of our diversity are our greatest assets.
We believe that God calls us to be servants in the service of others and to be good stewards of the earth's resources. 'To believe is to care; to care is to do.'
We believe that the UCC is called to be a prophetic church. As in the tradition of the prophets and apostles, God calls the church to speak truth to power, liberate the oppressed, care for the poor and comfort the afflicted.
We believe in the power of peace, and work for nonviolent solutions to local, national, and international problems.
We are a people of possibility. In the UCC, members, congregations and structures have the breathing room to explore and to hear ... for after all, God is still speaking, ...
Are Lutherans down with the UCC? Yeah, apparently! Yet, the above statements of faith are in no way, shape, or form consistent with our own.
Now, why in the world would we encourage our young and impressionable students to attend a 3-day event where this particular church and group of people admit that "the UCC has no rigid formulation of doctrine or attachment to creeds or structures" because "its overarching creed is love" when that is so completely at odds with what it means to be Lutheran?
Seriously, can someone please answer that question for me, because this parent is dumbfounded (though not surprised). My gosh, even a casual familiarity with the Book of Concord should set of bells-and-whistles here as one should be seeing multiple red flags too.
Sadly, discernment is severely lacking, and not a single person will stand up and say, "Wait a minute! This isn't right!" Not even the Pastor who is called to faithfully serve and protect God's people from such "leaven" (Galatians 5:9).
I'm sure there's probably a UCC family that attends this Lutheran -- err, excuse me, Christian Day School -- and they merely thought they were doing a good thing by letting the school know about this upcoming event at their local church.
I get that.
However, it's a path that will only lead to confusion within the kids' hearts and minds and could very well lead some to eventually "shipwreck" their faith (1 Timothy 1:19). Our confession of faith matters!
Friends, this is what happens when we go through our days with spiritual amnesia and intentionally forget that we are supposed to be Lutherans. This is hardly anything new I'm afraid.
"In the Preface of his Large Catechism, Luther states substantive reasons why the Christian faithful should continually use the catechism. Both the weighty reasons and the urgency remain today, Luther was concerned with the lack of teaching of the faith that he saw in the churches of his day. I believe that we face a similar crisis today. Churches are full of activity, but may often fail to ensure quality teaching, especially for the young. The Church continues to struggle against the prevailing winds of the culture. ... While the culture pushes toward a conception of faith lacking in distinctions, faithful Lutheran pastors, DCEs, teachers, and, most importantly, parents seek with much prayer to impart the unique claims of the Christian faith into the hearts and minds of young people. ... Catechesis is an educational practice of the Church that provides a portion of the pushing back against the tide of our culture. Through the sounding again of the truths of Scripture, one generation bequeaths to the next the essential core of Christianity."
-- David Rueter, Teaching The Faith At Home, p. 10
(St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2010)
This is most certainly true.
I guess what frustrates me the most is that we as parents have a tough enough time at home and outside of school teaching our kids the truth when we're in constant competition with the Old Adam, Satan, the world, family and friends, and so we'd like to think that a Christian Day School (and a Lutheran one at that!) is helping us day-in-and-day-out by reinforcing the very same things we're teaching at home day-in-and-day-out.
Instead, often times than not, they're only serving to create more problems by wavering from (or outright ignoring) the very confessional identity that we have come to cherish and are trying to impart to our kids, because now we have to constantly monitor anything and everything that is being taught during Chapel and Religion Class to ensure that it is consistent with Scripture and our Confessions.
I'm sure if you made it this far reading this you're probably thinking, "If he's so frustrated and unhappy, then why doesn't he just save himself the aggravation and money and remove his kids from that school then?" That's fair. I guess I just don't believe in putting my tail between my legs and running away in fear of being ridiculed, especially when this is such an important issue to contend for.
Look, I don't have a problem with the Teachers as faithful Educators. They're FANTASTIC! I have a problem with the Teachers as faithful Lutherans.
The staff at this Private Christian Day School are all EXCELLENT Teachers who all love the Lord (of that I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever since I know each and every one of them personally), but they are all clearly reluctant to be distinctly Lutheran in their doctrine and practice within the classroom and it's a shame, especially during National Lutheran Schools Week each and every year.
Is is possible to rediscover our Lutheran identity? I believe it is, especially as we approach the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation.
In a Lutheran layman's terms, don't tell me it can't happen, because it has in other places around the country I'm sure.
Please feel free to share your experiences with other Lutheran Day Schools in the Comments Section below.
NOTE: Please understand that I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or just a regular Christian, Corporate Recruiter, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this disclaimer/note, please understand that I'm also a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little more than 4 years ago now. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and repeatedly point us back to over and over again) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Also, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote for this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that "Old Evangelical Adam" category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). This knowledge of the Lutheran basics was completely foreign to me even though I was baptized, confirmed, and married in an LCMS church! So, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because they are not blasphemous/heretical, because we now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors both past and present have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries (this disclaimer/note is a perfect example of what I mean! haha). I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a "Christian Dude's Diary" in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Feel free to comment/email me at any time. Grace and peace to you and yours!