In 1943, a rumor that spread throughout North America like wildfire! The rumor was that anyone could buy a brand new Ford car for the price of one penny. The rumor was that if anyone would bring in a new, 1943 US copper penny, they could buy a new Ford car. People by the thousands, called Ford wanting details. Banks were deluged with people wanting as many pennies as they could get in their hands. Ford Motor Company was forced to investigate. It turned out that the rumor was false. Of course, it was a hoax. Out of the millions of US pennies minted in 1943, none of them contained a speck of copper. The 1943 penny was made of zinc because copper was too valuable for the WWII Allied effort.
St. Paul had to end another rumor flying around in First Century Christianity. The rumor was that good works justify a person before God! But, a hoax cannot save you! Righteousness and salvation are gifts of God’s grace through faith. Later, Martin Luther reminded Emperor Charles V that nothing had changed: We’re still justified by grace through faith. Rumors, hoaxes, and corruption both in Paul’s and Luther’s time, threatened the pure teaching of God’s grace. The Christian Church needed money. So some clergy decided the way to get money was to go on the road and demand money in exchange for time of in some concocted “sinners’ holding tank.” Full forgiveness was no longer pronounced. Even after a poor soul died, the Church taught the families had to pay to release them from torment and punishment.
An outspoken monk was confused by a price tags and gimmick attached to forgiveness, grace, and repentance. He discovered that the Bible said we’re saved by grace through faith. He couldn’t understand why, nor find anywhere in the Bible that money ever enter in into the equation of God’s grace. He searched for answers but was turned away. “Don’t trouble yourself, Martin,” he was told, “Do your job, teach what you’re told, not what you read.”
Luther was troubled to the point that he wrote 95 questions because the Bible said one thing but he heard 16th century clergy say something different. He just wanted answers. He wasn’t looking for anything new. Just answers.
Eventually, Luther’s scholarship led him to write over 250 books, preach twice a week, print the Bible in the common language of the people, headed of a university department of theology, raised a family, and traveled extensively throughout Western Europe. Yet, Luther found time to pray, study Scriptures and do his devotions 6 hours each day.
We’ve inherited a very precious gift: The distinction of God’s pure Gospel. St. Paul wrote that the Gospel is God’s pure promise of grace – not by works. Salvation, forgiveness, and grace cannot be replaced by human reason, human work, or human obedience. Grace is purely and solely God’s action on our behalf. This precious gift is what we must teach and confess. This is precisely why the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod supports Christian education.
When the LCMS was founded in 1847, the tradition of Lutheran education was a first and high priority. The synod was started by twelve churches that operated a total of nineteen schools. Several of the churches operated a number of schools in the rural countryside so that students would not have to walk too far to school each day. What is more, most of the rural areas did not have a schooling option available for the children.
Today The LCMS operates the largest Christian (protestant) school system in the United States. Among its 6000+ congregations, it operates 1,368 Early Childhood Centers, 1,018 elementary schools, 102 high schools, ten universities, and two seminaries for a total of 2,488 schools in the United States. These schools educate more than 280,000 students and are taught by almost 18,000 teachers. We are blessed with eleven elementary schools and twenty-five early childhood centers in the Mid-South District. The only state without a Lutheran school is Maine. We can’t do anything for Maine, but there’s room for more in the Mid-South District. Because Lutheran schools are operated by the LCMS also exist in Hong Kong, mainland China, and, several countries in Africa, and Vietnam, we have to recognize that people around the world are hungry for Christian education and the solid doctrines of the Lutheran Church.
Our founders knew full well that the Gospel can be and should be proclaimed to the earliest age. Children are moved by the same Spirit who brings about faith in an adult. This message – our privilege of Christian education – was first taught to Adam and Eve when God pronounced the Gospel of grace to them. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the faithful of old heard the same Gospel promise, awaiting the joyous announcement of the angels that our Savior was born, to redeem, to save and to win God’s pure grace for us as well.
What a great honor and privilege for our congregations, schools, and pre-schools have: To share God’s pure promise of life in Christ Jesus. Jesus brought the Light of truth and grace to everyone. Luther only repeated the urgent plea, “As the head of the family teach them in a simple way to his household,” by educating everyone – young and old – in the basic doctrines of the church that begins in the home and is supplemented in the schools of the church. Through God’s Word, superstition, rituals, legalism, false rumors, and hoaxes evaporate. The only justification for mankind is the sacrificial, vicarious suffering and death of God’s own Son. No one in secular society can or ever will provide our young people with that life-giving truth. Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Justification by God’s grace is the center of our Lutheran confessions.
Liberal theology and secular scholarship paint a picture God as some old, senile grandfather, who would never think of punishing anyone. New age searches for perfect harmony in all creation, Eastern religions construct gods from imagination and probability. But, in the end, there is no solution offered to sinners who fall short of the glory of God. It is only Christ’s perfect life, given to us by the grace of God, through His perfect Son that will stand. It’s truly a matter of life and death that we teach and confess in this time and place.
Just like trying to get a single penny that never existed, self-righteousness and finding “inner peace” by navel gazing is an empty rumor that is short of winning the blood-bought prize that is ours in Christ Jesus. How else can sinners stand before a perfect and righteous God? Despite rumors of modern thinking, and flawed theology, God is still holy and living. Human reason is nothing but filthy rags. But, we may confidently stand before our Almighty and eternal God – justified by the Lamb of God, our Lord Jesus Christ. But, it’s free! Jesus gave us His life out of love. Where else in a dark and decaying world can our precious young lives hear this message? That’s why we want, support, and promote our Lutheran education, schools, and early childhood centers.
Message from President Paavola