The Task of the Church

I have argued for some time that the primary task of the Church is to educate.

Turns out that this idea is one that has deep roots in the history of western education.

I am currently working my way through editor Matthew Etherington’s Foundations of Education: A Christian Vision, and so far I’m finding it to be a clear defense of the critical role that the Judeo-Christian worldview has played in the development of western education systems.

Chapter 2 of Foundations, by Jan Hábl, is an overview of the influence of Jan Comenius (born in 1592). Hábl focuses on three ways Comenius influenced education:

  1. language learning and teaching,
  2. wholeness and universality in education, and,
  3. the concept of following nature in education.

It is the concept of following nature in education that provides a foundation for my view that the Church is fundamentally an educational enterprise.

Comenius builds his case through simple observations on the nature of humanity. In part:

  1. Humans are different from inanimate objects (stones, water) that have being, but are not alive; from plants that are alive but do not sense their environment as we do; and from animals which have the ability to sense their environment but do not possess the ability of complex reasoning.
  2. Our ultimate goal in life is not this life. The fact that we develop towards perfection but never attain it, is evidence for Comenius that we were designed for more than this life.
  3. The ultimate goal of every human is eternal happiness with God which requires each of us to fulfill our human vocation, summarized in three tasks
    1. to be rational,
    2. to govern creation by first governing our own selves,
    3. to be in the image of God, that is, directing our thoughts and desires toward God.

Comenius argues that we have a natural tendency towards learning, virtue and piety grounded in our pre-fall nature as humans. Since we are fallen, though, we must work towards our ultimate goals. He quotes Ludwig Vives, who asked

What else is a Christian, but a man restored to his own nature?

In concluding his discussion of Comenius’ contributions, Hábl writes:

human nature is not defined (even by an excellent observer) empirically, but theologically; man is the most perfect and excellent of all creation because he was made in th eimage of God, but he is also a sinner because he has denied that image. Out of this arises the need for education – human nature is broken and cannot by its own efforts become good; on the contrary, it has a tendency “to become obstructed by empty, fruitless and vile things.” Comenius’ education is thus educatio in the original sense of the word: e-ducare, a leading out of or away from, the hindrances of one’s sinful self. Without any exaggeration, for Comenius education plays a soteriological role: it is a God-given means for the salvation of mankind.

After all, Jesus’ last words on earth were:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, …  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. ~Matthew 28:18-19