There have always been two main kinds of learning: academic and experiential. Most of us have an inclination toward one or the other, but the reality is that both are necessary for learning. Knowledge doesn’t do anyone much good if it’s not applied. Alternatively, it’s often counterproductive and wasteful to implement something without prior investigation. Navigating diverse perspectives could be understood in multiple contexts whether that relates to our global Anabaptist family, the worldwide body of Christ, or our broader multicultural society. Our ability to learn from someone is only limited by our ability to see the image of God in each person, and our openness to allow the Spirit of Christ in us to teach us through any person or situation – no matter how different, uncomfortable, or unlikeable. In thinking about what it looks like for us to learn together as a global Anabaptist family, four essential qualities that Jesus displayed come to mind: humility, integrity, discernment and responsibility.
Humility and integrity
Humility and integrity are equally tied to our identity in Christ. Psalm 119 starts with: “Happy are the people who walk with integrity, who live according to the teachings of the Eternal” (The Voice). If we know who we are as beloved children of the Father saved by grace through faith, we are able to engage in conversations with diverse perspectives humbly and without feeling prideful or defensive. Knowing who and whose we are gives us security so that we can act with integrity in diverse settings.
Jesus is clear: if we abide in him, we will do what he commands, and our lives will show it. The more up front we are about who we are and who we follow, the less people are surprised when we behave a certain way, and they are forced to make a choice in response. In the same way, Jesus knew his identity as the Son of God and his calling from an early age, which shaped his priorities, his ministry and how people reacted to him.
To operate in our own calling as priests and ambassadors of God, we must know who we are in relation to our Father. When we are confident in who we are because of our Father’s love and forgiveness, we are free to extend the same without expectations. Jesus knew he was the beloved Son of God and yet he came to serve, not be served. We are able to live in that same identity of divine sonship and servanthood that he modelled for us.
Discernment is not so glamorous, but I’ve realized lately it will become more essential for the church as the noise and news and never-ending reels inundate us with information – both true and false. How – amid the clamour of voices in the world – are we to learn from others while discerning and bearing witness to what is true and authentic?
A pastor recently reframed discernment for me as being able to identify the source: the world, our flesh, Satan or the Spirit. Our ability to do this is something that only comes through the Spirit. One passage of Scripture that illustrates this is 1 Corinthians 2: “for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God …. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God…. Those who are spiritual discern all things…. But we have the mind of Christ.”
One of the most difficult things to learn to trust is someone else’s experience of God. Among Christians, there is a wide range of how people experience their relationship with God and discern God’s direction and guidance in their lives. Sometimes we evaluate learning from others as if we are always learning directly from God. But what we learn from others isn’t always from God or aligned with God’s Word. This is something that is discerned by the Spirit, with whom we should always be testing everything we receive (1 John 4:1, 1 Thessalonians 5:21) – whether prophecy, teaching, or experiences – and measuring it against God’s Word.
Responsibility is the most dangerous thing that comes with learning. It’s a kingdom principle that with knowledge and blessings come responsibility to steward them well before God. “When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required” (Luke 12:48, NLT).
Therein lies the danger of one-sided learning: acquiring knowledge without putting it into practice. This particularly applies to the West and to those of us who have grown up in Christian environments. Even so, having less does not exempt anyone from responsibility. There is so much available in my culture to resource people from books, to conferences, to social media content, to retreats to cohorts – any kind of content you want, you can find. I wonder sometimes what would happen to the church in the West if all of that was taken away. If all we were left with was the Word of God, the created world, and the people of God directed by God’s Spirit, would that be enough for us to learn?
I’m not saying we need to disregard all the resources out there, but my concern, even as I evaluate my own life, is how easily I can turn to other sources for growth and knowledge than the true Source. And more importantly, what am I doing with all I have learned and gained?
This is my challenge to you, dear brothers and sisters, in these tumultuous times, to, as Ephesians puts it, “no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:14-15). As we become continually transformed into the image of Christ, may our ability to learn together in all humility and integrity lead to greater discernment through the Spirit to know truth and display what it means to live our lives according to it.
This is the kingdom Jesus initiated, and this is our calling as the body of Christ: to flesh it out for the world to see.
—Larissa Swartz serves as chair of the Young Anabaptists (YABs) Committee (2015-2022). Currently, she is transitioning to New York City to be a part of a house church movement.