Did you know that you owe your ability to read and write to a 16th century European movement called the Protestant Reformation?
500 years ago the child of a fisherman, shepherd or carpenter could not go to school in Europe. Education was in Latin, mainly for those who wanted to serve the church.
The Protestant Reformation took education from the elite and gave it to everyone. Why? Because the Bible taught that ignorance and deception was the kingdom of Satan (in Revelation 20), but that God wanted all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. [1 Timothy 2:4]
In order to reform Europe, Martin Luther demolished elitist education. In 1520 he wrote a letter to the Christian nobility in Germany, expounding the Bible’s teaching that every child of God, whatever his colour, class or gender, is a royal priest [1 Peter 2:9]. He called this doctrine the “Priesthood of all believers.”
Every priest needs to know God. That requires studying God’s word. That, in turn, required the Bible to be available in the languages of the people. Luther himself translated the Bible into German. But people who spoke German dialects did not read their language. That required schools.
Who will pay for building schools? In 1524, Luther wrote another letter to the Councilmen of all Cities in Germany. Using Scriptures such as Psalm 78, Luther argued that City Councils were responsible to build and maintain schools.
God is our “Father” means that a man has to be more than an animal. He has to nurture and teach his children as does God.
By 1530 Luther realised that parents were a part of the problem. They could not see why children should go to school, if their life was to be spent milking cows, chopping wood, or bringing up babies.
Therefore, Luther asked parents to send children to school and keep them there. His appeal rested upon God’s Word. Poor peasants wanted their children to help with the family’s meagre income. Luther asked them to trust and obey God’s Word: to seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness. [Matthew 6: 31-33] That would be God’s way to improve their economic life
Did it work?
By the year 1600, at least 300 German cities and towns had established schools. These were so effective that, as early as 1537, a political opponent, the Roman Catholic theologian John Zwick, stated that if he were a boy again, he would attend a Lutheran school. They imparted better education because the schools were not established to make money. Their purpose was to help every child seek God’s kingdom.
The education of illiterate masses was God’s idea. He gave a written text, the Ten Commandments, to Hebrew slaves who were shepherds and brick-makers. They were oral learners. God wanted to transform them into a great nation. Therefore He required them to learn to read, write, think (meditate) and teach His written Word.
Turning oral languages of the masses into literary languages makes printing and publishing commercially viable mass media. Making the language of the common man, the language of learning, literature, and law democratises knowledge. It is the foundation of modern democracy. You cannot have a government of the people, for the people and by the people unless it functions in the language of the people.
The Bible turned dialects into literary languages. It inspired the missionary movement to translate and publish the Bible into every major language. That has globalized the Bible’s idea of universal education.