Cross-cultural communities of learning in a seminary are rooted in the cross. Ephesians 2:14 tells us that Christ brought peace among various groups. “In his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.” His body was broken for us all. The same passage further explains that the various groups are made one body, essentially through the body of Christ. Christians participate in communities together regardless of barriers, with a commitment to live out being the one body of Christ fulfilling the “unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
A community of learning in a seminary happens when people mutually agree to challenge each other to learn, agreeing to overcome any relational or cultural obstacles. Obstacles are always present, especially cross-culturally. When a Winebrenner Seminary professor travels to teach in a different culture, such as Haiti, there are obstacles of culture, language, and world-view and challenges that go with each obstacle.
The process is led by a loving instructor who insists on dwelling in God’s presence together so that all involved know Him a little better. It is advanced by dialogue. Quality instruction is never one-way dissemination of information; that is even more important when culture divides the instructor and students. A new group is formed, a group that creates its own culture.
Communication scholar Quentin Schultze said, “Participating in a community means that we agree to co-create culture with others” (p. 5). We agree to create a culture within that new group, one that honors God.
While teaching biblical hermeneutics in Haiti in the summer of 2019, I led a discussion with the students (pastors) about patterns found in scripture and how that translates to ministry concepts. It quickly moved to discussing the ordinances of the church and the frequency with which a local congregation ought to celebrate. The discussion became animated with lots of passion expressed by many. I determined that the answer was not as important as the attitude we would bring. Students heard Ephesians 4:3 and were encouraged that keeping the unity of the Spirit should guide all conversations. In particular, the Church’s discussion of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (along with other ordinances or sacraments) far too frequently creates division through absolute pronouncement of certainty concerning theology and practice. What should unite in practice, divides us in belief. As time ran out that day, I encouraged them to continue the dialogue. We formed a circle, joined hands, and prayed together. Afterward, we say a hymn together (though I participated in spirit rather than singing in Creole).
A community of learning will commit to discussing those differences in “all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (Eph 4:2). A new culture is created, one in which the Church celebrates “one body and one Spirit … one hope … one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Eph 4:4-6). The best expression of such a learning community is one that welcomes dialogue, respects each other, listens to our differences to understand the other, and commits to grace.
Schultze, Quentin. Communicating for Life: Christian Stewardship in Community and Media. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2000.
By Dr. Bruce Coats, Academic Dean
Photo from Pixabay, accessed via Adobe Spark.