Tag Archives: Unitas Fratrum

Ecumenism, education, culture-engagement and the “slippery slope” argument

Do ecumenism and culture-engagement lead to a loss of the gospel? Let’s put this to a historical test (article previously posted at Christianity Today’s history blog):

Ecumenism, education, culture-engagement and the “slippery slope” argument

The vision of John Comenius and the story of the Unity of the Brethren give us a good way to test a hypothesis.

by Chris Armstrong


History is a great place to go to test “slippery slope” arguments–claims that “Questionable Belief or Practice A” will inevitably lead us to “Horrifying Situation B.” One way to answer the argument is to appeal to precedent: “Let’s look back and see whether things like ‘A’ have led to situations like ‘B’ in the past.”

These days evangelicals with a heart for (1) ecumenical dialogue, (2) liberal education, and (3) cultural engagement are being told by fundamentalist watchdogs that they are leading good, faithful, Bible-believing people straight down the road to “liberalism.”

Let’s put this to a historical test. Continue reading

Comenius post #2

In today’s public-school classrooms, boys and girls learn together with others of their age and ability. They are given pictures and hands-on materials to connect abstract concepts with the observable world around them. Their teachers address them as whole people–not just brains for the memorization and regurgitation of facts.

But elementary education did not always look like this. Schoolchildren of today, though they do not know it, owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Jan Amos Comenius (1592-1670), a Moravian bishop often called “the Father of Modern Education.”

A brilliant young man whose own experience of elementary schooling was anything but happy, Comenius called the schools his age had inherited from the medieval period “slaughterhouses of the mind.” He was appalled by their oppressive strictness, their stress on abstract concepts unrooted in sense or experience, and their indifference to the moral and spiritual development of their young charges. And he set out to do something about it. Continue reading

Educators and friends of children’s education, take note! Did you know the father of modern education was also an evangelical leader?

Feels like time for a couple of John Amos Comenius (Jan Komensky) posts today. It’s amazing that Protestants don’t know about this guy. He was quite literally the father of modern education. And he was the leader of a small pietistic church in the lineage of pre-Protestant reformer Jan Hus. He was all about heart religion . . . AND liberal education. First I’ll post my entry on Comenius for the forthcoming Zondervan Dictionary of Spirituality. Then a brief newsletter from my days at Christian History & Biography, which will give you a bit more of the flavor of the man.

Comenius, John Amos (1592 – 1670). Pietistic educational reformer. He is known today as “the father of modern education.” He was an educator, writer, ecumenist, and from 1632 to the end of his life, bishop of an old pietistic evangelical communion called the Unitas Fratrum or “Unity of the Brethren,” with roots among the followers of Jan Hus. He lived through the religious strife of the Thirty Years War (1618 – 1648), in which some members of his Brethren church (forebears of today’s Moravian Church) were slaughtered and the rest exiled from their homelands of Bohemia and Moravia. His allegory The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart, treasured as a jewel of Czech culture, tells of a young pilgrim traveling through the world, seeking truth. He discovers the sinfulness shot through every vocation (his portrayal of the academic world is particularly incisive) and every walk of life (evangelicals will squirm at his negative portrayal of family life). Near despair, the pilgrim finally discovers the “paradise” of heart-devotion to Jesus Christ in the company of the redeemed—portrayed as a small, ragged remnant. Comenius dedicated his life to ecumenical brotherhood and international peace. To those ends he pioneered a truly liberal mode of public schooling grounded in Baconian empiricism and biblical morality, aided by the innovation of illustrated textbooks, and accessible equally to boys and girls (a radical idea at the time). An Enlightenment man, Comenius worked throughout his life on a Christian “pansophy”—that is, an encyclopedic summary of all knowledge. His vision of an international “College of Light” helped inspire the founding of the British Royal Society.