Multum non multa – A principle for parish life

“The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” – Ecclesiastes 12:11-12

Pliny the Younger put it this way: multum non multa – that is, not many things, but much.

It’s a principle of classical education, a movement which is growing within confessional Lutheran parish schools. In short, it says that the long, careful study of a few most excellent texts is of greater value than a rushed study of a greater number of lesser texts. This — and not any perceived snob factor — is why great schools spend time on Shakespeare and Virgil but probably not Divergent. Spending careful time with great literature gives students a greater familiarity with the texts, but it also teaches them that long, difficult tasks are both possible and worth doing. It’s a great way to plant and grow wisdom in young people in a school, but it’s also good advice for parish life as well.

There is a tendency in the parish to stay busy. When the monthly calendar is being published, it seems important for everyone to know just how busy the pastor, secretary, and boards are. There is often pressure to hold a different study group for every possible demographic — singles, couples, young people, widows, retirees, families. Study groups spend much time discussing what they’re going to study next, even as they’re not finished with the current subject! During Bible studies, there is pressure to “get through the material.”

This is not helpful, and it does not lead to an increase in wisdom for the Christian disciple, because it usually means that there is little time or attention given to thoughtful reflection and making connections between topics. A Bible study (or parish school theology class) should allow time for students to make connections between new information and previously-learned information. This requires much time and, frankly, a slow pace. But the benefit is a Christian who can not only regurgitate facts and bullet points from the day’s lessons, but he can also begin to think theologically in an orthodox manner about questions and topics that come to him throughout the week.

Here are some practical ideas to cultivate Christian wisdom in the parish according to the principle of multum non multa:

  • Study the Bible the most. Study it frequently and thoroughly, and don’t apologize for it. If there is any wisdom in all the world, it’s to be found most surely and best in Holy Scripture.
  • Study the Confessions, too, but never at the expense of Holy Scripture. Focus on the creeds and the catechisms before branching out to the other confessional writings.
  • When selecting writing that is not Scripture or the Confessions, take into account who wrote it and what biases or false teachings he might have been inclined to put into his writing. It’s often said that such groups can “pick out the bones but keep the meat” but think about it — what kind of lame host serves venison but tells his guests to spit out the buckshot? Give them the good stuff and leave the bone-picking for the pastor’s study where it belongs.
  • If you’re using a pre-packaged study, and it contains a certain number of lessons, give yourself and your group permission to leave a lesson unfinished and return to it the next time. A ten-lesson series might do better in twelve or thirteen sessions, if the questions and discussions warrant.
  • Consider not using a pre-packaged study and simply studying a book of the Bible or great book together. My congregation has had — since long before I got here — a men’s group which meets at 6:30 am to read a solid theological book together and discuss. Not having pre-packaged questions allows everyone the freedom to ask their own questions and for us to pause as we read and reflect on what we’ve just read. To give you a sense of the kind of book we read, we finished Charles Porterfield Krauth’s The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology about a year ago. Laymen really can handle these things, and they’re usually delighted to find that out. That love of learning will serve the parish well, too, with lay leaders who can think theologically about parish administration.
  • One passage of Scripture can accomplish much theological education. If a passage lends itself to an excursus on the inspiration of Scripture or a discussion of a current event, use it! If the excursus serves to broaden theological understanding, helps Christians to confess the faith in the world, or otherwise edifies the hearers, don’t feel badly that the conversation has “gotten off topic.”
  • Don’t be afraid to use the Bible in order to teach the Catechism. When studying 1 Kings 21 and Naboth’s Vineyard, for example, don’t hesitate to work in the Ninth Commandment and its explanation.

Though it’s always been important for the church to cultivate wisdom among the faithful, it’s especially true now as Christians are unlikely to get much wisdom from the world. Hopefully this principle will prove useful to pastors and congregations as they continue to hand over the faith to the next generation.

About Pastor Daniel Hinton

Pastor Hinton is pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Lubbock, Texas. He is a graduate of the University of Arkansas, having majored in poultry science, and of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He was ordained on Holy Trinity 2011. He has been married to Amanda for seventeen years, and has five daughters and one son. He grew up in the ELCA, and left in 2004 over issues of scriptural authority. It was because of a faithful Lutheran campus ministry that he was exposed to The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod. He enjoys old books, teaching the faithful, and things that are beautiful.

Comments

Multum non multa – A principle for parish life — 12 Comments

  1. Pastor Hinton, “the classical education” for Lutheran High
    Schools was attempted in Christ Lutheran High School,
    in the Quad Cities of Iowa/Illinois and Robert Preus High
    School in Peoria, Illinois. After four or five years both
    of these schools closed. Why did these schools never get
    established?

  2. @Pastor Dave Likeness #1

    Not being familiar with those efforts, I have to say I don’t know. My congregation’s school was tremendously blessed by having been established in 1892 and open from that time until today. I can say that as difficult as operating a school is, I imagine that opening new schools would be even tougher. Further, if these were brick-and-mortar high schools then I will say that the money required to operate and staff it is prohibitively expensive. There are a number of forces that can come together to make operating a school very challenging: the presence of other private/parochial schools, a community’s love for its public schools without knowing much of how well it educates or what challenges its students face, increasing prices of all goods and services as wages remain stagnate, the economic health of a town, rapid turnover of a community’s residents, and the difficulty of “selling” the idea of classical education to a citizenry who probably does not often give thought to educational theory and why they do what they do.

  3. Your points are very good, especially regarding Bible studies and other literature. Lutherans need to be VERY careful about what’s extracted from the non-Lutheran evangelical world, even from those who are more “conservative” in their theology.

  4. @Pastor Dave Likeness #1

    I don’t know about both of those schools, but I know that “The Great Recession” played a part in the closing of one of them. It was a small school to begin with, and the recession reduced the number of families who could afford to pay private school tuition. Losing any Lutheran school is sad, but especially so in the case of one with an emphasis on classical education.

  5. It seems to me that a Lutheran High School would need
    some Lutheran Elementary schools as feeder schools.
    In the Midwest, the Lutheran High Schools in Chicago,
    Milwaukee, and St. Louis have many Lutheran Elementary
    schools to draw from.

    Secondly, it is almost too costly, for a Lutheran High
    School to start from scratch today. Ultimately, you
    will need your own building, plus a faculty that is not
    strictly part-time.

  6. I am beginning to believe that the greatest hope for “feeding” the high schools with students who have an elementary Classical education is going to be from home-schoolers. Let’s face it. Most Lutheran educators today have been taught to use the progressive American model of instruction.

  7. My husband and I are starting our 4 yr old in a Classical Christian school this fall. While there is a Lutheran elementary and high school close to this other school, after looking at the curriculum, of which a lot was similar to the public school curriculum, we decided to enroll at the Classical school. This particular school started in 2000 with 3 families and 10 students. It now has over 350 students, in grades PK through 12th. For a frame of reference, we live in the Houston area, and a lot of the LCMS churches are becoming distinctly non-Lutheran. We were blessed to find one that still celebrates the Divine Service.

  8. KayDee……it is good to hear the good news of a
    Lutheran School which grew from 10 students to 350
    students in 15 years. The concept of PK through 12th
    grade is a good idea. It builds up the life of a child
    in the same environment from 4 years old to high school
    graduation. This is great spiritual nurture.

  9. @Pastor Dave Likeness #10

    KayDee seems to be saying that it is the Classical Christian school that has shown impressive growth, and is also the one she and her husband chose over the Lutheran school. Perhaps she will revisit these comments and confirm.

    Classical Christian schools can focus on a core set of instructional principles and a few orthodox points of doctrine while drawing students, leadership and financial resources from a wider pool, independent of denominational peeves, politics and confessional complexities. That tends to lend strength and endurance to the institution, as long as God blesses it.

  10. Carl,
    That is correct. The Lutheran school near us is using similar curriculum to the public schools, and while Texas hasn’t adopted Common Core officially, much of the curriculum is based in it, and the religious instruction is limited to a chapel service and some Bible classes. There is a large number of students who aren’t Lutheran at those schools, so in essence more of a non-denominational environment. The Classical school, on the other hand, has a much more rigorous and historical curriculum, teaching Biblical history with secular history, apologetics, and really integrate Christ into all the subjects.

    My husband and I have noticed that many of the Lutheran churches in our area are unfortunately getting away from the Divine Service. And, with that change in practice, we have also noticed that the doctrine isn’t being taught and the parishioners aren’t being catechized.

    My grandmother taught at Lutheran elementary schools for many years. My parents both attended Lutheran school up to the 8th grade, though in different states. Its unfortunate that the Lutheran schools (and churches) in our area are losing their Lutheran identity.

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