Fall 2012 · Vol. 41 No. 2 · pp. 212–213 

From the Editor: Church and School: Compañeros

Vic Froese

For those still unfamiliar with the International Community of Mennonite Brethren (ICOMB), this body consists of nineteen Mennonite Brethren conferences from sixteen countries around the world. Its reason for being is to facilitate ongoing dialogue among members on matters of shared concern. It officially came to be in 1990 during the Mennonite World Conference assembly held in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Since then, there have been three global consultations, the first and the third focusing on Christian higher education. The first consultation explored the theme “Shaping Mennonite Higher Education for the 21st Century” and took place in Fresno, California, in 2007. The second, hosted by Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in June 2011, was themed, “Church and School: Compañeros in Growing People of God.” (For non-Spanish-speakers like myself, compañeros can mean companions, partners, or co-laborers.) This issue of Direction publishes all of the major addresses presented there.

The venue nicely fit the theme. CMU, an undergraduate university, is owned by two Mennonite church conferences: the Mennonite Church of Canada and the Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba. As a member of the Association of Universities and Colleges in Canada (AUCC), it is accountable to the Canadian university and college community and strives to meet its academic standards, but, as an institution of higher learning owned by the aforementioned conferences, it is also accountable to those bodies and animated by the spiritual and moral vision they represent.

CMU has found that this kind of “dual citizenship” can work. Yet it does involve ongoing tensions. On the one hand, CMU is viewed with suspicion by some secular academics who question the ability of a religious university to produce real scholarship or to offer faculty true “academic freedom,” and, on the other, it is never fully trusted by some Mennonite constituents who are scandalized by the willingness of faculty to raise critical questions about church practices and beliefs or to engage non-Christian thinkers in serious conversation. CMU is almost always being criticized by someone. Even so, there is no thought either by the conferences or the schools of ending the relationship. Both CMU and its Mennonite church sponsors recognize that their relationships are mutually beneficial.

But there is always room for improvement. The joint-addresses given by David Wiebe, former executive director of the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, and Gerald Gerbrandt, president of CMU (now retired), are “wish lists” of a sort—Wiebe identifies what churches wish the college or university might do or be more mindful of, while Gerbrandt discusses what kinds of assistance a church-based school like CMU wishes from its supporting churches. These discussions illuminate persistent church and school issues in helpful ways.

In their introductory paper, Lynn Jost and Valerie Rempel organize their thoughts on Christian education around the narrative of creation, human rebellion, and the new community, arguing that Christian education takes on its fuller significance against the backdrop of this forward-looking meta-narrative. Alfred Neufeld follows up by considering whether describing the mission of church and school as “growing people of God” adequately sums up the scope of God’s mission. And do we know enough to say what guidance the “Anabaptist-Mennonite Brethren tradition” might give us as we accept that mission.

Johann Matties offers practical thoughts on how best to educate disciples for outreach ministries. On the basis of his reading of the Scriptures, Nzuzi Mukawa argues forcefully that the goal of mission (both the church’s and the school’s) must not only be the winning of souls but the transformation of culture and even creation itself, for the mission of God encompasses the entire created order.

The two following essays explore the meanings of holistic witness. Arthur Dück suggests that holistic witness in religiously diverse societies will require the church and school to model together the reconciliation which they proclaim. Marlene Wall proposes several ideas for how a Christian college or university might be a holistic witness in rapidly changing societies, including being places of genuine hospitality.

Included in this issue is the report of the ICOMB Findings Committee, which found that the conviction affirmed in Fresno, i.e., that Christian schools are essential to helping the church pursue its mission, was strongly reaffirmed in Winnipeg.

Our Ministry Compass piece consists of Elfriede Janz de Verón’s thoughtful devotional (also presented at the latest consultation) on the mission of Jesus according to Luke. Under Recommended Readings we have an annotated bibliography of selected works that examine the always changing relationship of church and school. Finally, our Book Reviews appraise books that explore New Testament attitudes toward violence, the phenomenon of church repentance, the relationship of Jesus to Paul, the history of Amish and Mennonites in the southern States, Amish tourism, Mennonite spirituality, and the life of a Christian community ordered around the Sermon on the Mount.

Vic Froese
General Editor