Why the Reformation was Crucial to Christian School Education
October 31 celebrates the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s courageous act of conscience, igniting the Protestant Reformation. It not only changed church history, but the very course of civilization as we know it.
Although many people are unaware of it, this October 31 marks a turning point in the history of the world, an event that took place 500 years ago that still has an effect on Christian education today, even here at Alta Loma Christian School.
October 31 is Reformation Day, the day in 1517 when a young Augustinian monk named Martin Luther—who was also the president of Wittenberg University—rejected and strongly disputed several teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church, and nailed his handwritten Ninety-five Theses to Wittenberg’s Castle Church door in protest. The action began the Protestant Reformation, leading to the translation of the Bible for the common people and changing the course of human history. Wrote F. V. N. Painter (1886) in Luther on Education: “The most important event in history since the advent of Christ is the Reformation of the sixteenth century.”
The Reformation also ignited a revolution in education. Luther was a strong advocate of Christian schools and Bible-centered learning. As Dr. Paul Kienel (1998) describes in his book, A History of Christian School Education (Volume One), “Again and again, Luther drew from the Scripture in building his case for Christian schools.”
Luther’s actions set in motion the second great Christian school movement in human history, The Reformation Christian Schools period, that stretched from 1517-1850. Quoting from a research study1 completed at the University of Southern California:
It became one of the centerpieces of a revolution that reshaped much of the thinking of the Western world (Kienel, 2005). Under the dominance of the Holy Roman Catholic Church academic instruction and basic literacy were still unavailable to the general populace, the Bible was inaccessible to all those who were not members of the clergy, and death was the sentence for anyone deemed a heretic (Kienel, 2005; Boettner, 1962; Cubberly, 1920).
In spite of these threats, there were groups of Christians who broke away from strict Catholicism regarding educational freedom, laying a foundation that would usher in a non-Catholic system of religious expression and learning that was radically different from what was in existence at the time. These groups, committed to free access to the Bible, became unwavering advocates of basic literacy, establishing hundreds of Christian elementary and secondary schools that typically met in secret (Kienel, 1998). The 300 Christian schools John Hus established in Bohemia (for which he was burned at the stake) added to the critical mass of change that would inexorably explode as the Great Reformation (Kienel, 1998). Luther…ignited immeasurable change. The Reformation was a far-reaching awakening in Western civilization (Kienel, 1998; Eby & Arrowood, 1934), and it has been noted that Luther wrote more about education than any of the other reformers. He is considered a champion for Christian education as much as for Bible-centered churches (Kienel, 2005; Painter, 1886). The Christian schools of the Reformation transformed education.2
The second Christian school movement lasted for over 300 years. It also helped set the stage for the third great Christian school movement in history, the Associated Christian Schools period, that began in 1950 and continues today. Alta Loma Christian School is part of this third great movement of Christian schools, as is every evangelical Protestant Christian school in the world today.
Our current Christian schools would likely not be here without the courage of people like Hus and Luther and others who came before us, who bravely took up the cause of Christ and spread His word and the gospel and a message of hope to children and parents of everyday families through Christian education.
That is still our mission today.
So this October 31, in the midst of the candy and costumes and revelry around us, let’s pause to remember an act of conscience and courage 500 years ago that forever changed the world…and countless souls for Christ.
Have a great weekend and a wonderful week ahead, and we’ll see you around campus.
For the Glory of Christ and the Good of Our Kids,
Dr. Vance Nichols
Head of School
Alta Loma Christian School
1. Nichols, V. E. (2016). Schools At Risk: An Analysis of Factors Endangering the Evangelical Christian School Movement in America. ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (UMI No. 10160167)
2. References cited in quoted research:
- Boettner, L. (1962). Roman Catholicism. Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co.
- Cubberly, E. P. (1920) The History of Education. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.
- Eby, F & Arrowood, C. F. (1934). The Development of Modern Education. New York: Prentice Hall.
- Kienel, P. A. (1998). A History of Christian School Education (Vol. 1). Colorado Springs, CO: Association of Christian Schools International.
- Kienel, P. A. (2005). A History of Christian School Education (Vol. 2). Colorado Springs, CO: Association of Christian Schools International.
- Painter, F. V. N. (1886). Luther on Education. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing. Available through
Dr. Nichols (BS, MS, EdD) also serves as an adjunct professor of education and on the MSEd Specialization Advisory Council at California Baptist University, and on the Private School Advisory Committee for California State Assemblyman Marc Steinorth. He recently completed a three-year term as commissioner and chair of the ACSI Southern California Regional Accreditation Commission, and was an educational researcher, organizational leadership theorist, and 2015 Innovation Scholar at the University of Southern California. His most recent published research—“Schools At Risk: An Analysis of Factors Endangering the Evangelical Christian School Movement in America”—can be accessed online via the USC Digital Library at: http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/p15799coll40/id/294584/rec/82