by Garry Koop
Some Christians are willing to die rather than kill. Regrettably too many are not. When Christians refuse to die, wars break out and Christians participate, if they have not started them to begin with. When Christians refuse to die they will do essentially anything, say anything, or think up anything to stay alive. Violence, coercion, manipulation? You bet! When Christians refuse to die, they cease to live in or like Christ Jesus.
A commuter in a big city was on his way home from work. The taxi he was in stopped behind several cars at a red light. He glanced to the right and saw a circle of boys kicking and beating someone crouched helpless on the grass. It was clear in an instant how serious it was (to the death he thought). Someone has to do something.
The life of peace assumes conflict as an existential reality. It is interpreted in at least four erroneous ways.
First, it has been reduced to a moral conviction. It has been relegated to the back office, where it sits in the archives only relevant as a response to war or the largely hypothetical scenario where someone breaks into your house. As such it is summarily rejected as irrelevant.
Second, pacifism is conflated with passivism which turns into “do nothing.” Do not get involved.
Third is smoothing. Make every attempt to smooth over conflicts. This often turns into some form of passive-aggressive behavior, a virus which infects our social DNA.
Fourth is avoidance. Avoid conflict at any cost, which typically manifests as not talking. It comes to the point where we are no longer capable of dialogue when there is disagreement or conflict. These interpretations are a travesty.
The Life of Peace doctrine is a top priority in our Conference tradition. Our Conference has redefined and fine-tuned it over the decades. It has received a name change and, further, it has been elevated in visibility and importance, moving from the back pages of our Constitution to the main stage in our Statement of Faith.
The first English catechism our Conference published for baptizands in 1954 talked about “non-resistance and suffering.” “Non-resistance” was placed in the category of Special Ordinances in the 1957 Conference Constitution. In 1973 the belief and articulation of non-resistance moved to the Church Practices section of our Conference Constitution. The doctrine received substantial overhaul in the ensuing years, and in 1994 made its debut in our Conference Statement of Faith, under a new title: Article #9 Life of Peace.
I had the opportunity to examine the vast majority of printed materials from our Conference as part of a special project I undertook over the last year. “Live it” is traditionally the first emphasis when it comes to matters of the gospel. The second is that Jesus is Lord; he is the centre of the biblical message. Close to this, essentially tied in occurrence and emphasis, is the focus on peace.
Peace is highlighted in our history, in the church and recalled in various actions. Peace was elevated in prominence and sharpened in focus as it moved from a Church Practice to doctrine in the Statement of Faith. This progression also reflected a move from a negative (being against) to a positive (what we are for).
The life of peace is theological conviction expressed in context. As our context changed over time, the definition of a life of peace gained focus and fullness.
God has a mission (Missio Dei). His objective is peace, shalom. God’s mission in the world is to bring about peace and reconciliation between him and his creation, and amongst creation; peace in the future (eschatology) and peace in the present. “Creation in Genesis and by Jesus (see Colossians 1:17) is the establishment of shalom in a universe that apart from God’s rule is disordered, unproductive, and unfulfilling,” posits Walter Brueggemann, renowned Old Testament scholar (Peace, p. 16)
The clear and vivid expression both of God’s mission and the means of achieving it, are revealed in the life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension and eventual return of Jesus Christ. Incarnation, soteriology (doctrine of salvation), atonement, eschatology—these are the theological notes that are part of the music that is the life of peace. “The eschatological reality of peace has broken into the present through God’s gifts of the Son and the Spirit,” writes Michael Gorman, one of my past professors (Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission, pp. 147, 153).
Christ Jesus is central to our Anabaptist hermeneutical framework. The cross of Christ is a vivid and tangible reference for the life of peace doctrine. The cross is the means by which the Missio Dei is accomplished through Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.
When Jesus first breaks the news to his disciples of his death and resurrection in Luke 9:23, he raises a challenge of allegiance. To express one’s unqualified loyalty to Jesus is at the same time to deny one’s self, that much is clear. But there is more: to take up one’s cross and follow Jesus’ ways and life. The “cross” is metaphorical to be sure, but it is as real a directive as any other. Jesus’ cross was real.
Jesus challenges people to demonstrate their allegiance. Jesus was faithful to God, his mission, his covenant to Abraham. Jesus’ unswerving faithfulness got him killed. He gave up his life to establish and offer peace. They thought he was dead, but the Holy Spirit raised him to life, the kind of life which cannot be put to an end. Indeed, that is the promise given to anyone who accepts and follows Jesus as Lord. This promise is sealed in us by the Holy Spirit, no less—the One who raised Jesus to life.
A Daring Proposal
The life of peace is first and foremost a theological conviction. We have trouble playing this song if we have not learned the musical rudiments of the theology. This is a good reason to learn, study, ask questions and dig into theology.
If God’s mission is to restore peace and, if the cross is the means he has deemed to accomplish it, then the cross of Christ informs and forms our life of peace. The cross certainly has to do with war and break-ins, but first and foremost it has cosmic implications. The incarnation of God in Christ and the cross are supremely active and involved. There is no avoidance or smoothing of any kind. This cross of Christ (the life of peace) is a stumbling block for many to be sure. It is foolishness to some, outlandish, outrageous.
Followers of Jesus, is the cross of Christ the one you see and carry? Then be creative, be assertive. Lean in the direction of peace. Attend to the Holy Spirit already present wherever you are. Extend and amplify the mission and the means of God, the character and conduct of Jesus.
Be daring. Take risks. Break up the fight. Address the issues. Select the appropriate time and place and have that much-needed conversation. Seek to understand, not argue to be right. Make mistakes. Go ahead. But make them because you live a life of peace not because you refuse to die. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Corinthians 13:14). Shalom.
Oh, about that crazy commuter. He took three or four strides out of the idling cab, door ajar, shouting “hey, hey, hey!” all-the-while (he must have left his senses with his seat inside the cab). The gang stopped kicking. They all turned to him. He caught their attention. Clearly. The boy in the middle made it to his feet and stumbled off, wounded but desperate to survive. In mere seconds the gang started running toward the interrupting commuter. It seemed he was the next target for this gang.
At that moment he came to his senses and the sense of personal danger. He pivoted on the grass in the direction of the cab. It’s still there. Phew!
I don’t remember the run back to it, or even getting inside. I just remember sitting in the back seat, door closed, shouting again—this time at the man aghast in the front seat—“Drive, drive, drive!” And so he did.
Garry Koop (MDiv, Tyndale; DMin, Northern) is a follower of Jesus, husband, dad, lead pastor at Steinbach EMC, runner, hockey player and jazz fan. He enjoys a good laugh and a strong cup of coffee.