During a recent visit to South Korea I was asked ‘what is the role of the Church in peace-building and how can we prepare for reunification?’ These are huge issues, particularly in light of the present challenges facing all on the Korean peninsula.
The Bible has much to say about peace. The Apostle Peter describes ‘the message God sent to the people of Israel’ as an announcement of ‘the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all’ (Acts 10:36). The New Testament scholar Howard Marshall writes that ‘Those who experience divine peace are called to be agents of that peace to others.’1
So what kind of framework is needed for followers of ‘the Lord of peace’ (2 Thess 3:16) to be agents of peace?
1. Build confidence in the gospel.
For many churches the first step will be to regain confidence in the breadth, depth and power of the gospel. Peter preached the good news of peace to Cornelius which blessed him as he received it. But it also effected a radical reconciliation where a Jewish peasant entered the house of a Gentile officer in the army that was occupying his land, and oppressing his people with heavy taxes. This astonishing event is part of the good news of peace.
2. Break down stereotypes.
Michael Cassidy was a courageous white South African Christian leader who spoke out against apartheid and challenged the theology of the church that supported it. In one of his books, written before the dismantling of apartheid, he said ‘If South Africa has a problem, it is in the stereotypes ‘apartheid’ has allowed to develop. We all relate to ghosts. Reconciliation, on the other hand, insists that we work at breaking stereotypes.’2 In our own diverse society in the UK, Christians have an important role to play in breaking down stereotypes, even within our own church communities.
3. Love your neighbour.
A respected Christian leader in East Asia once told me that in his country ‘the Christian community is hardly associated with any work of reconciliation.’ There may be many reasons why Christians are not perceived as peacemakers but it should concern us if followers of ‘the Lord of peace’ are not known as people of peace. In the early Church, Christian love extended beyond the family. It was extraordinary in the eyes of outsiders that Christians extended care and love to Christians in other places beyond their own particular clan; and of course it went beyond that because Christians were willing to serve anyone in need, including their enemies!
4. Pursue peace and do justice.
There is such a thing as cheap reconciliation. The missionary-scholar David Bosch warned that ‘Cheap reconciliation … means tearing faith and justice asunder, driving a wedge between the vertical and the horizontal dimensions: it suggests that we can have peace with God without having justice in our mutual relationships.’3
This means that where there has been conflict, peacemakers will seek to address the socio-political and structural dynamics that hinder peace. The Church’s commitment to the task of biblical peace-making raises important questions about the relationship between reconciliation, justice, and forgiveness, especially where the Church is seeking to build peace in a current or post-conflict situation. The Cape Town Commitment wisely states that ‘Reconciliation to God and to one another is also the foundation and motivation for seeking the justice that God requires, without which, God says, there can be no peace. True and lasting reconciliation requires acknowledgement of past and present sin, repentance before God, confession to the injured one, and the seeking and receiving of forgiveness. It also includes commitment by the Church to seeking justice or reparation, where appropriate, for those who have been harmed by violence and oppression.’4
5. Demonstrate radical unity.
Peace is also about how we relate to one another, locally and globally in the Body of Christ. It is about how we become the gospel of peace in community. Our witness to the gospel and our efforts to build peace require creative, imaginative, even subversive ways of demonstrating what reconciled communities of Jesus look like.
6. Let Scripture shape our vision, not ideology or activism.
One of the most recognised paintings by an American artist is The Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks (1780-1849). The painting is based on Isaiah 11:6-9 and Hicks produced over 100 versions of it. He was captivated by the biblical vision of shalom. The vision of Isaiah finds its fulfilment in the Lord Jesus Christ. Followers of Jesus are called to be communities of peacemakers, to love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us and become communities that embody the good news. Activism has its place, and inspiration for peace building has various sources, but our witness to the gospel of peace must supremely be shaped by the biblical vision that points to the One who alone can deliver on the promise to heal the nations (Rev 22:2) and to ‘make all things new!’ (Rev 21:5).
Dr. Peter Rowan
1. I. Howard Marshall, Aspects of the Atonement: Cross and Resurrection in the Reconciling of God and Humanity, Carlisle: Paternoster, 2007 p. 113
2. Michael Cassidy, The Passing Summer, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1989, p 268
3. David Bosch in Cassidy, The Passing Summer, p. 283
4. The Cape Town Commitment, IIB, 1a.