- Isaiah 50:4–10
- Psalm 116:1–9
- James 3:1–12
- Mark 9:14–29
You may be operating under the belief that our reading from James does not apply to you. ‘I am not a teacher.’ you may say — ‘at least not a teacher in the Church’ you may think. And that may be true, in a strictly limited sense, but the proper understanding of Scriptural warnings and duties is seldom the strictly limited one. Are you a husband? You are a teacher with regard to your wife. Are you a parent? You are a teacher with regard to your children. The central issue for the teacher is the duty to speak the truth, and that is certainly not limited to religious matters.
All truth is one. To teach falsely with regard to any truth is to become a false teacher and invite the stricter judgement. Certainly, it is a more egregious violation to stand up in the Church and lie about God or His Word, but do you for a second believe that God will ignore it when you lie about Him elsewhere? The God Who watches as a false teacher preaches works righteousness is the same God Who sees you put pronouns in your bio on social media. Or did you think that God would simply ignore Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok?
And do not for a second believe that you will escape scrutiny by declining to take up the task of teacher. If you are a husband or a father — and you had best be the former if you are the latter — then I direct you to the undertitles in the Small Catechism: ‘As the head of the household should teach.’ Just as abortion does not preclude a woman from becoming a mother, but merely makes her the mother of a murdered child — of a child she murdered — so failing to properly teach your wife and children does not prevent you from becoming a teacher, but merely makes you a failed one. And mothers? You are also teachers of your children — God will require their souls from you no less than He will require yours from your husband.
And so what does it mean to be a teacher? It is nothing more than to have a duty to instruct someone in the truth. This duty may be — to some degree — assumed, but is more often simply acquired. If God has given you the gift of intelligence, then know for a certainty that He will require from you that you put that gift to proper use.
Of all the gifts God bestows, intelligence may be the most dangerous — although it could be debated how precisely the curve interacts with the danger. God does not bestow gifts randomly or without purpose. If God has blessed you with an agile mind, a keen intellect, or a sharp wit, then He has done so for a reason — and it is incumbent on you to make good use of your gift. Failing to use your gifts is just as much sin as is misusing them: From him to whom much has been given will much be required.
You may be thinking ‘thank God I barely passed by classes’ or ‘good thing I got all Cs’, but, leaving aside the matter of the correlation between grades and intelligence, you should not be so quick to presume you have not fallen afoul of this duty simply because you are comfortably average, or even if you are significantly below average. To attempt to exercise a gift you have not been given is just as much a sin as failing to use a gift you do possess. If you are not a prophet, then prophesying is sin; if you are not called o teach, then teaching is a sin. And do not neglect the fact that a call to teach one person is not equivalent to a call to teach another. Wives, you are to teach your children; you are not to usurp your husband’s headship and attempt to teach him, nor are you to teach in the Church.
Do you enjoy arguing on the Internet? You may be teaching — best make sure you are teaching the truth. Or do you think that you will evade God’s rules on a technicality? The Jews hang special ‘cords’ — called an "eruv" — to — per their rules, not God’s — delineate certain public spaces as private in an attempt to circumvent their fundamentally disordered understanding of what it means to keep the Sabbath. ("What does this mean? We should fear and love God that we may not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it.") A sizable chunk of New York City is actually encompassed by an eruv. A reminder: God will not be mocked.
And so what are the respective duties — teachers to students and students to teachers? The duty of teachers is simple — if by no means easy: teach the truth; do not mislead your students. Yes, it is a greater sin to lie directly about God, but lying about His Creation is still egregious sin. Do you hold that there are more than two genders or that they are not biologically determined? You are a false teacher. Do you adhere to Neo-Darwinian Evolution? You are a false teacher. Do you deny the reality of the nations? You are a false teacher. To deny any truth is to deny Truth. God’s Creation is a reflection and a product of His Nature; to deny the nature of Creation is to deny the Nature of God — is to lie about God. Teachers, you must speak the truth, no mater the consequences. Praevaleat veritas ruat caelum.
The duty of students is to be teachable; in the words of our Isaiah reading, the student must be neither rebellious nor inclined to retreat to his former (incorrect) ways. But this is not a hapless or a mindless credulity — use what gifts and resources God has given you. Hold your teachers to the Word of God. Ultimately, it is the Scriptures that are your one infallible teacher and you must hold all other teachers to the standard of Scripture. This is not ‘me and my Bible under a tree’ — we are not Schwärmer; we stand in a long line of faithful teachers God has raised up to instruct and to protect His Church. We hold to the Confessions because they are faithful to Scripture, because they guide us along the strait and narrow. If you believe a teacher is in error, demonstrate the error from Scripture or the Confessions — if necessary or helpful, enlist the aid of other teachers. The wise teacher will thank you for the correction; the false teacher will reveal himself.
God has provided us with a wealth of resources to guide us through this life, and we must make use of them — instruct your children from the Catechisms, read from the Scriptures with your spouse, attend Bible studies, listen to (good) podcasts. There is no excuse for ignorance. Never before in history have we had such a wealth of resources. Yes, there are dangers — false teachers who would lead astray — but God has not abandoned us and the Spirit will lead us into all truth using the Word and faithful teachers.
Above all, hold true to the core of our faith: Christ crucified for sinners. Do not fall for the siren song of Gospel reductionism — do not deny the Law or the nature of reality — but boldly profess that all truth is one. The same God Who shed His holy, precious blood for you on the Cross is the God by, for, and through Whom all things were created. Do not deny Him by denying His Creation or His Nature. God will not be mocked.