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Understanding an author is almost as important as reading what they wrote. In the case of The Labyrinth of the World -and- The Paradise of the Heart, such is an indispensable approach. John Amos Comenius was multifaceted and complex of a writer as any ever was. Unfortunately, this can present difficulty in understanding him, which will short sell our understanding of his first major work: Labyrinth of the World.
John Amos Comenius was a teacher first and foremost. Teaching was perhaps his spiritual gifting even though he operated in many capacities from administrator to shepherd. His gifting as a teacher—first being well studied and well-read—makes The Labyrinth of the World eloquent on an extraordinary level. Compared to Pilgrim’s Progress, its profoundness is in a much different capacity. While Pilgrim’s Progress fixates on getting to the Celestial City, which is imagery for heaven, it also implies that the world—the collective of the unbeliever—is to be tolerated and escaped from. Comenius, by comparison, teaches us that God’s purposes are to be aliens and strangers, but most of all, ambassadors to the kingdoms of men. Comenius wanted to teach the followers of Christ that we are to co-exist with the kingdom of the world. We do this as light, truth, and a reality that the world can see, experience, and understand, but that the people of the world can only have if they surrender to Christ individually in order to become part of the kingdom of God.
The Labyrinth of the World is fundamentally pedagogical in nature (teaching style). Don’t let the word pedagogical stump you. It has a specific meaning. Pedagogy is an approach to instruction wherein teachers present what they mean to have students understand in theory and in practice. In Comenius’s case, he offers to us that those who mean to follow Christ must live in two kingdoms—the kingdoms of the world and the kingdom of God. Yet, since they are exclusive realities, they are fundamentally distinct. This is in no way presented through the idea of John Bunyan in Pilgrim’s Progress. But Comenius’s teaching is a shared idea with the New Testament. For instance, 1 John 2:16-17a states, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts….” This comes on the cusp of a former statement by the Apostle John, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15).
How did John Amos Comenius pedagogical recommunicate the teaching of the New Testament in The Labyrinth of the World? First, through imagery. First, Comenius creates two kingdoms—the kingdom of the world—which he depicts in horrific detail for 36 chapters (along with his character’s struggle to do deal with it). Everything is vanity, violence, and destruction. Secondly, Comenius depicts the kingdom of God, which starts in the heart—in The Paradise of the Heart. This section is short and sweet—only 18 chapters. Pilgrim (the protagonist) figures out that living a good life is impossible in this world without automatically contributing to all the evil and violence of the world. Christ appears to Pilgrim to welcome him into His way. For Comenius’s part, this follows his own path, which is the second part of pedagogy: the practical side of instruction. Comenius’s life reflects what he wrote, which lends authenticity. In this newest edition of Labyrinth of the World, 32 pages are dedicated to outlining Comenius’s life and why it fed his writing.
The Czech Reformation, of which Comenius was perhaps the latest and greatest of its writers, depicts the ideas of being a dissident faith group, of being a light, truth, and a reality the world cannot be for itself because God is inspiring it. Comenius shows through his writing, not a belief in a belief, such as western European Reformers taught. But instead, an impactfulness of the transformed life, which affects society and the world, without being like the world to do it. The answers to the world’s problems are not fixing them or even attempting to on a large scale. As Comenius teaches us, it is to be an utter contrast to the mess within the mess so that the kingdom of the world can see its true self. Political and social instability is the name of the world’s game. Being the good Samaritan who was on a mission of his own but took the time to meet the needs of the person in front of him is the game of the kingdom of God amongst the kingdoms of men.
The Need For Reformation
There is a need for further reformation amongst the followers of Christ in order to distinguish dead religion from God’s purposes in a vibrant, transformed life. As the Czech Reformation stood for separating from corrupt religion, Comenius’s teaching inspires and encourages us to become distinct from religion that identifies with the kingdoms of men. This identification seeks to dominate the kingdoms of men rather than contrasting them with something utterly differentiated. I see great hope in homeschooling as one embodiment for this differentiation and contrast, as much as house church.
In the opportunities of house church and homeschool, we can return to being those of dissident faith who will walk the narrow, lonely road of learning to be ambassadors of our kingdom amidst a world that is going mad. House church, as with the Moravians and Bohemian Brethren before them, can be those enclaves in a world that have not bowed the knee to belonging to the world or trying to dominate it in order to be comfortable until one should be welcomed into the Celestial City for just having believed a person gospel of belief in a belief.
It is tough to accept that The Labyrinth of the World inspired Pilgrim’s Progress. While the two are similar in many aspects, the devout ideas behind them are fundamentally different. Comenius’s book is about living a good life, which is only possible through a transformed life. Pilgrim’s Progress is about personal salvation and escapist religion. Pilgrim’s Progress has some significant aspects, but they are marred by a ground basis—personal salvation and escapist religion—which were not advocated in the New Testament.
The pedagogical nature of Comenius’s style and story is unmistakable. He teaches with theory and in practice through his life and story. Then, the student can observe what Comenius said (theory) and what he lived (practicum) to get a comprehensive picture of what he was teaching.
The effect of Comenius’s ideas for homeschooling and house church are immense. Both will encourage a more personal, familial learning environment. Both can develop people more genuinely according to God’s design. Additionally, among the home fellowships, all the giftings of God can be used in conjunction with one another because they will be employed in genuine relationships. In this way, true community can be achieved. Comenius’s life shows this to be true. Additionally, the Moravians, in keeping with the example and teaching of Comenius, kept such a reality and continuing dynamic.
How does this piece explain Two Kingdoms to be different than you understand?