A Depth of Learning for a Depth of Fellowship

Is there a formula for successful Christian community? What I wanted as a young Christian, and could not find, was a fellowship of disciples which could learn and flourish together.  The inner fellowship of three, the group of twelve, the seventy, and the mentor who would impart a depth of learning and experience—we all want to experience an abiding depth of love in an intimate group. We want to do life together!  So, what prevents this from happening?

The One who made a cohesive group of the original disciples, radically different individuals that they were, imparted a message that broke down zealotry, class prejudice, political hostility, chauvinism, and bigotry of the worst sort. The one who drew them together accomplished this in his person and teaching. What they learned and who they learned it from became a singular point which fused this disparate group together. As they were drawn deeper into the Word they were drawn deeper together with one another. The depth of learning and the depth of fellowship were (and are) integral to one another. A fellowship based on commodification, good health, happiness, or simply the promotion of fellowship will lack the depth of the Word – the profound peace that draws us into community.  On the other hand, an academic theology, an historical or higher critical approach to Scripture, or an education geared toward vocation and information, does not contain the substance to draw us into an enduring depth of fellowship.

I have floundered in depthless fellowships and foundered on misdirected learning. As a teenager several of us attempted to create a Christian commune.  We had the desire to do life together and a vision – we (this should read “I”) simply lacked the substance.  The commitment to community alone is not enough.  We fell short of some of the more tragic and the more glorious experiments in communal living – we were a middling sort of tragedy. (I will spare you the embarrassing details so as to protect the guilty; namely, myself).

I have also spent hours in Bible college and seminary, learning in such a way that did it did not bind one to the object of study. Academic theology or information delivery may create the atmosphere of learning but it does not engage the Subject so as to bind learners together with the Master and one another. On the institutional or teaching side of the equation, there is a content to the peaceable Kingdom and a peaceable Gospel, which, by its very nature, is not suited to the inherent “violence” of the typical institution.

“Accredited” higher education is designed to serve an economy which is in tension with the alternative community called “the Church.”  Finances more than faith is the determining factor in entry and success. If the seminary is simply a religious version of the secular institution – receiving federal funds and following federal guidelines – it will create a community in this likeness and with this depth. The seminary, existing as it usually does, between church and state typically exhibits the confused values, confused modes of doing identity, and conflicted modes of training, that make for a distorted notion of discipleship and education. The institutional sediments of self-importance, politics, and infighting, to say nothing of the vast waste of resources spent on “administrating” such an education, are not geared to either community or the learning which would create community.

Forging Ploughshares is offering an education which would extend and draw others into an already existing community. This came about, in the first instance, through teaching on the Gospel of peace which was too much for the traditional institution to bear.  At the same time, a community sprang up “outside the city.” This community of the unaffiliated and unaccredited have not been drawn together by anything other than a shared understanding and experience of the Word.

As Jason has formulated it for our catalog: “The philosophy behind Ploughshares is not opposed to accredited higher education but suggests that the structures and hierarchies necessary to make institutions ‘accredited’ do not fit with the Gospel of peace. We have concluded that there is an inherent pressure within institutions of Christian higher education to serve power structures and interests which are hostile to the truest nature of Christianity.”

There is a learning that binds us together.  An authentic understanding of the Gospel is a means of breaking down the dividing wall of hostility and creating an alternative economy founded on an alternative value system.  The system of the world will not accommodate this radical Gospel. The depth of learning which will sustain an enduring and deep koinonia must be fused together beyond the principalities and powers which inherently oppose it.

As the designer, director of the curriculum, and delivery of PBI courses, Jason has summed it up best: “Forging Ploughshares is an organization devoted to the notion that peaceful Christian living and teaching are inherently linked.  Therefore, the Ploughshares Bible Institute seeks to extend the exploration of Christian peace in the community of the Church through accessible and affordable learning modules which are designed to inform and transform learners through theological and biblical study and dialogue within a larger community.”

Apply online at Ploughshares Bible Institute. Registration begins this week. Learning modules will be offered for enrollment soon with the first beginning January 8th.

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Author: Paul Axton

Paul V. Axton spent 30 years in higher education teaching theology, philosophy, and Bible. Paul’s Ph.D. work and book bring together biblical and psychoanalytic understandings of peace and the blog, podcast, and PBI are shaped by this emphasis.

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