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Key #2: A Kingdom View of the Poor.
“Line up!” shouted the man who climbed out of the Ford Econoline 350 box truck. “Stand back! Stand de vuelta!” Clowns, balloons, and face painting helped attract people from the nearby pueblos. The dry wind swept up the grey dirt as the crowd of people from Cuidad Juarez, and the surrounding Mexican border squatter villages, gathered to receive clothes, food, and other donated items. Obediently, the people stood in line and waited for the man to open to back of the truck. I have no doubt the man and the others with him had kind intentions, however my heart sunk as I watched these people reduced to pitiable passive recipients of American excesses.
The truckload of donations was part of an outreach ministry of a church on the El Paso side of the Rio Grande. It was the summer of 1990. We were in Juarez for six weeks with our Field Ministry Internship student teams of Youth With A Mission‘s Student Mobilization Centre. On this hot July afternoon, we were assisting the American group that came to plant a church. We were asked to conduct simple health examinations, primary health care, in a makeshift medical clinic. This personal contact also gave us opportunity to ask if we can pray for the children and their families.
However, the oversized sound system and overzealous worship leaders made it difficult to pray, let alone conduct any thorough examinations in the clinic. The loud and raucous singing and music was giving me a headache.
I stepped out of the clinic to observe the open air meeting. The music continued as young American evangelists, many with clown outfits, went into the audience to pray for the sick.
Please understand, I am a firm believer in prayer and God’s power to heal.
But this disturbed me.
A small Mexican child, obviously frightened by the clowns laying their hands on him, was crying and reaching out toward his mother. Others were surrounding “Mom” and praying for her. The noise and confusion even had me anxious to leave. I wondered what this child and family would think of Jesus after this traumatic day.
This brings us to the second key to ministry among the poor.
Christian ministries will always reflect their leadership’s view of the poor, their understanding of the nature of poverty. That view may be less biblical and more the prevailing view of the surrounding culture.
What is your view of the poor?
The way we approach our ministry to the poor communicates value, either positively or negatively. No matter how many dollars or valuables we donate, our posture and attitude in what we do and say communicates far more than what we give.
When Christians reach out to the poor, we too often unintentionally communicate what we think of their value.
This is what the poor “hear”:
“We are complete, you are not.”
Simply put, the goal of our outreach to the poor should be to avoid communicating that lie. Our goal should be to identify with the poor in our mutual recovery of identity in relation to God’s creative design and purpose.
How do we do that?
In order to communicate value to the poor, we must first communicate value to the volunteer serving alongside us in ministry to the poor.
This is why we emphasize “Calling” in our university student ministries and outreaches. If our outreach emphasizes the discovery of vocation in the life of the volunteer, the Christian participant in ministry to the poor, then we will effectively communicate the value of the design and purpose of God to the community in which we minister.
Then we will fulfill the commission to preach the good news to the poor.
Our aim is the same as that of Jesus’ public ministry:
“And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, ‘THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED, TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD.’” (Luke 4: 17-19)
Our goal is to ‘set free’ the poor from their destructive relationships so they may enjoy Shalom, a Hebrew term for peace, completeness, and welfare. All of us are called by God to an abundant life of healthy kingdom relationships.
The way we reach this goal must begin with the right posture, the right attitude. We must begin by demonstrating a servant heart, the nature of our servant King Jesus.
In our outreach to the Poor we must represent a kingdom community, demonstrating the biblical story and representing God’s identity and purpose in our relationships.
Our outreach should portray the kingdom of God, which represents the character of God in all the various expressions of his callings.
God is healer, communicator, builder, author, creator, artist, counselor, teacher, etc. Therefore, these vocations are representing God’s character in community.
Outreach is best when we represent the kingdom of God in a community of servants. We represent the character of God and the holistic and interrelated spheres of His ministry.
Ministry to the Poor requires a view of the poor and a vision of the kingdom of God.
In this series, I am referring to the book: God of the Empty-Handed: Poverty, Power, and the Kingdom of God, by Christian, Jayakumar.
Biographers and historians have conferred the title, “Father of Modern Education,” on John Amos Comenius primarily due to his contribution to modern educational methodology. Comenius was born on March 28, 1592 in Moravia, now in the Czech Republic. Much of this Moravian theologian’s writings suggest that the overarching objective of his life and work was of greater consequence than reformed educational method. The examination of the life and works of this seventeenth-century educational reformer will help us to understand if it was the intent of Comenius to influence positively the work of world mission.
Kenneth Scott Latourette writes that Comenius was “a pioneer in an educational theory which was to exert a wide influence.” Comenius’ set out to organize the teaching process in a way that “everything be [sic] taught through the senses.” He demonstrated this idea by including pictures in a textbook on foreign languages, something that had never been done before. Comenius’ chief task may be lifted from the title page of his Great Didactic, “teaching thoroughly all things to all men.” However, the purpose of his task of teaching was broader; he sought to “shape the human creature into an image of the divine.”
His proposals for universal education and the use of pictures in children’s education make him a forerunner of many modern developments in the field of education. Comenius advocated many basic principles of our modern educational system, such as “the free and universal opportunity for education of members of all classes, and both sexes.”
He is considered the first educator to have put forward the concept of international education. Comenius’ efforts on behalf of universal education earned him the title of “Teacher of Nations.”
At the time of Comenius’ birth, the Catholic Church sought to recover territories lost to the Protestant Reformation, doing so by purging heresy and burning renaissance thinkers at the stake. The pope who had the greatest influence on Comenius’ early life was Paul V, a pontiff who was intolerant of the growing numbers of Protestants in Europe, including the Bohemian Brethren. Comenius lived during the time of the first truly worldwide war, the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), which caused the destruction of wealth, cultural values, and freedoms the Bohemian Brethren had enjoyed. The Bohemians faced the fears and dangers of tyranny, accusations of heresy, and martyrdom. As we shall see, Comenius was not only aware of the over-reach of papal authority in previous generations; he was intimately acquainted with that tyranny in his own generation.
Exile and International Influence
The first decisive battle of the Thirty Years War between the Protestant and Catholic States in Europe directly affected Comenius when Catholic armies defeated Czech Protestant armies in 1620 at the “Battle of the White Mountain.” Comenius witnessed the horrors of Protestant leaders publicly executed in Prague and the brutal imposition of Catholicism on the total population of his people in Bohemia and Moravia. Comenius lost “all his property and library in 1621, when the town was taken by the imperialists.” All protestant clergy were banished from Bohemia by an Imperial mandate in 1624. Comenius fled to the mountains to hide, but secretly visited his congregation as often as he could. Exiled from his congregation, his home and his family, Comenius began the life of a writer who eventually had an international influence.
Comenius had an extraordinarily large circle of acquaintances, including royalty, and people from all branches of the Church. His life of travels afforded the breadth of multi-cultural relationships he developed. “I led a wandering life, I had no homeland. I was constantly propelled from one place to another, never and nowhere did I find a permanent home.” As a refugee, he came in contact with many of the intellectual leaders of his time in Germany, Poland, Sweden, England, and Holland. In 1641 he was called to London and in 1642 he traveled to Sweden and then to Prussia where he lived until the end of the Thirty Years War in 1648. After the war, he lived in Hungary, in Poland, and finally in Amsterdam until his death in 1670. Comenius maintained correspondence communicating his ideas with several learned men, church leaders, publishers, and historians. His extensive travels granted an ever-widening influence through which to share his dream.
Comenius possessed a passionately optimistic view of the future. His optimism appears to have come from his understanding of the character and purposes of God. He writes: “Focus on Jesus Christ as the Coming One, the Lord of the Future, Christus Renovator.” He apparently lived in expectation of God’s promises and at least their partial fulfillment in human history. As Comenius saw it, education was the best way out of the Thirty Years War. Comenius lived in a time when war was tearing apart the political, religious, and social fabric of Europe. His view of the world and apparently his work as an educational reformer was informed by his faith in God’s plan. He writes,
Jesus Christ is Lord. He is not only the Savior of souls and the teacher of wisdom, but the king of the Church and of the world. He will reign! What really matters, then, is to live in conformity with his coming kingdom and in this light to shape the alienated world, first within the Church, and then also in society.
Comenius’ dream was that “all men would participate in a universal civilization.” Out of his biblical view of the world, he pioneered an educational system that promised that all people could acquire the knowledge that led to understanding and peace. He called it “Pansophism”, an integrative and holistic system embracing all knowledge. If he indeed intended this system to make a positive contribution to world missions, further examination of his major published works will reflect that intent.
His major work, Labyrinth of the World and the Palace of the Heart, was written in 1623, his first year in hiding. The Labyrinth describes the “wanderings, bewilderments, errors, vanities, and miseries of all of every age and sex, in all circumstances and conditions.” It is a devotional classic written in the Czech language in which he describes “the journey of a pilgrim through the marketplace of seventeenth-century Europe.” Comenius identified with the “pilgrim” who he portrays as “an outsider, a voluntary exile, searching for a spiritual home,” and “a wandering scholar who worked in seven countries and was doggedly pursued by war and personal misfortune.”
By examining this personal disclosure, we can learn something of the difficult personal journey and profound calling of Comenius:
I came to the decision that I should first look into all human affairs under the sun and then only, having wisely compared one with another, choose a vocation and arrange for myself the things necessary for leading a peaceful life in the world. A pilgrim who wishes to visit the world in order to choose his vocation views all the ranks and occupations of mankind, and finds shams and confusion reigning everywhere, he withdraws from the world into his inner self and, as a true Christian finds solace in converse with Jesus Christ. Jesus reveals to him a society constituted by his true disciples whose lives are governed by the precept of disinterested love for one’s fellow man.
The Labyrinth reveals how Comenius saw the turbulent social system of his day and the way that God called him to love his fellow men, bringing reformation to more than the Church. Comenius took on huge projects such as his Didactica Magna or The Art of Teaching All Things to Everybody. Apparently this is a change from his earlier work. His concern was no longer only with teaching children; his vision was broadened with concern for all human beings.
Comenius was a theologian of hope, hope for a new generation. He believed a new order of society could be established, but with special devotion to Jesus Christ. He writes of the need to prepare “for generations of those and future times, a simple system of training . . . to qualify youth for the discharge of the important duties of life and fit them for their highest, their eternal calling.” He set out “to accomplish the means of disenthralling the world from the meshes of false principles in the affairs of religion and state,” and to compile “suitable educational works.”
Through the “means” of education, Comenius devoted his life to bringing peace to the church, the state, and ultimately in the world. He stood out among the Reformers as a true peacemaker. “In his day, we hardly find any theological thinker who was as energetically involved for the unity and harmony of Christians as he.” His hope was for the unity of all Christians. However, it was not limited to the Church alone; he hoped for “the integration of all civilization under the leadership of religion.” He wished to unite the warring Christian factions, “whose strife was wreaking an unprecedented havoc upon Europe of the Thirty Years War period.”
His passionate concerns were for the souls of all humankind, his own devastated country, and his fellow expatriates from the Unity of the Brethren. All of these things “completely engrossed his soul.” However, disappointment and failure seemed to stalk him. His greatest discouragement came in 1648 when he felt deeply betrayed by the Swedish Chancellor who failed to support the Unity of Brethren’s case in the Peace of Westphalia, a treaty that completely altered the socio-political framework of nations. No provision was made for the Protestants in Bohemia or Moravia. If they returned, they would live under the rule of the Hapsburgs with no permission to practice their Protestant faith. Rather than accept failure, the indomitable Comenius decided to work for the unity of the universal Church.
Comenius was an “apostle of reconciliation who dreamed a better future that could be built only by better men.” While war and destruction were brought through the unbridled powers of the State or the institutional Church, he argued “the only constructive task capable of really changing the world [is] molding better men by educating and inspiring them to strive after more humane ideals.” “Comenius’ inspiring motive was that of all leading educationalists, social regeneration,” writes the historian Laurie. But society, as the secularists see it, was not all he intended to reform. In his final work published in 1668, Comenius writes of his hope for “a utopian church to unite all religions in Christian love through education.” His view of the goal of schooling was “to mold students into the image of Christ.” For Comenius, Christian character, not just absorption of facts, was the goal. Comenius was an early pioneer for ecumenism, but not at any cost. He disagreed with Michael Servetus’ idea that unity could be achieved even with the Turks, if we sacrificed the Trinitarian dogma. He believed unity must be sought, but not at the cost of the truth.
Vision for Education
Comenius wrote a tract, entitled The Way of Light, with the purpose of bringing about a “national disquisition as to the manner in which wisdom, the intellectual laws of minds, may now at length towards the evening of the world be felicitously diffused through all minds in all nations.” The university is important as a teaching institution, but what is essential, Comenius writes, is “learned men in all parts of the world devoted to the advancement of God’s glory.” It is in his unique vision for the university that Comenius stands out as a true pioneer and apostolic leader in Church history. Not only did he call for universal education, Comenius had vision for his pansophic encyclopaedic college to “be found in every kingdom or large province.” His plan was for an international university that would have the same curriculum for training young men and women to embrace all knowledge, scientific and biblical, and teach all peoples of all nations the truth. His hope was that this universal education scheme would bring an end to all war and discord. His pansophic vision was to begin in Christian nations “and go from there to the Muslims, Pagan, and finally the Jews.”
Comenius understood that “neither one man nor one generation is sufficient for this great task.” To accomplish this vision, he needed a place to start. Despite the failure to raise the needed funds, his Reformation of Schools tract outlining his pansophic college vision was distributed and read throughout Europe. “It was the pansophic proposal which aroused such an enthusiastic interest in England that in 1641 he was called to that country by an influential group of churchmen and the nobility.” The English friends who invited him to England had in mind to present him “a plan for the propagation of the gospel among the heathen.” Parliament actually considered assigning the “Chelsea College, near London, as a suitable place for the Pansophic College with which the Comenian scheme was to be inaugurated.” Once again, Comenius faced disappointment and failure when the Irish Rebellion of 1641 put the plans for his pansophic college in England to an end. Parliament was permanently distracted from the Chelsea College project.
The fame of Comenius reached distant America. According to Cotton Mather, in his Magnalia Christi Americana, Comenius received an invitation to emigrate to puritan New England, possibly with a view to becoming president of the newly founded Harvard College. Mather writes:
“That brave old man, Johannes Amos Commenius [sic], the fame of whose worth has been trumpeted [sic] as far as more than three languages could carry it, was indeed agreed withal, by one Mr. Winthrop in his travels through the LOW COUNTRIES, to come over to New England, and illuminate their Colledge [sic] and country, in the quality of a President, which was now become vacant. But the solicitations of the Swedish Ambassador diverting him another way, that incomparable Moravian became not an American.”
SO THEN, WHO WAS COMENIUS?
Comenius has been remembered for the reforms that began the modern secular field of education. During his life span, his books earned him a reputation through much of Europe. He was invited first to England, and then to Sweden and Hungary to reform school systems. Comenius completed the reformation of the Swedish schools in 1648. His book, Orbis Sensualium Pictus, 1658, the first illustrated textbook, was used for 200 years. Czechoslovakia, which passed into history in 1992, celebrated the four hundredth anniversary of the birth of Comenius throughout that year. Recognition of Comenius was given in seventy other lands as well. The influence and fame of Comenius is reflected in a 2002 poll that shows over 27 percent of the Czech people consider him the most famous Czech in history. University projects, societies, and centers of language study have developed in honor of Comenius as his work has been interpreted in recent generations.
It is evident that John Amos Comenius was a pioneer in the task of world missions. With apostolic zeal, he worked toward international peace through universal education. Comenius may be remembered as an educational innovator, but he lived his life intentionally working to advance the cause of Christ and world mission. His vision was more than proud human optimism. Comenius dreamed of the equality of human races and an all-embracing community. However, he was far too experienced and too familiar with the forces that destroy and divide humanity to conclude that he was just a pious dreamer hoping for a pure utopia. His own words and his work exemplify a life responsive to Christ’s Great Commission, “Go ye therefore and teach all nations” (Mt. 28:19 KJV). His apostolic passion is revealed in this paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer in The Way of Light:
“Through the whole of Europe, of Asia, of Africa, of America, through the Magellanes [the southern parts of the present-day Chile and Argentina], and through all the islands of the sea, may thy kingdom come, may Thy will be done!… raise up men to write Thy purpose in books, but books such as Thou Thyself mayest write in the hearts of men. Make schools to be opened in all parts of the world to nurse Thy children! And do Thou raise up Thine own school in the hearts of all men in the whole world that they may ally themselves together for Thy praise.”
[From a paper I wrote in June 2004 as part of my studies at Fuller Seminary.]
© Copyright 2008 John Henry. All rights reserved.