On the Gospel of Peace and Becoming a Peace Church – Part 2


By J. R. Burkholder

J. R. Burkholder is Professor Emeritus of Religion at Goshen College.

[This is the second of a three-part series about the need to rethink the way we as Mennonites understand and proclaim the gospel, which I prepared at the invitation of Susan Mark Landis. I have set forth my ideas in the form of numbered theses, for testing with brothers and sisters concerned about the intersection of evangelism, peacemaking, and congregational life. What you have here represents work that is still very much in process, not yet ready for the general public. It is intended as the basis for conversation among persons with similar concerns. I invite readers toward thinking, reflection and reaction that will carry the conversation forward.]

The first installment (published in Fall 93) set forth some basic beliefs about the relation of peace and salvation. My central argument is that to be truly saved is to find in God the final security that delivers us, not only from the fear of death and damnation, but from the fear of evil and of enemies. God’s gift of salvation sets us free to take on the risks of peacemaking, enabling a Christ-like response to hostility, violence and injustice. The ten statements entitled “The Gospel of Peace” outlined briefly both the biblical and theological foundations for these understandings.

Now, what would a church look like that was shaped by these fundamental convictions? In the following paragraphs, I will suggest some ways in which the structures and priorities of the Mennonite church (as a denomination) might be reshaped if we are truly to be a peace church. The numbering follows after the first ten theses.

11. As a church, we need to keep in mind the essential relations between believing, learning/thinking, and doing. Belief has to do with convictions, with truth, above all with God–the fundamentals of our faith that call us to worship and commitment. Education is what we call all the activities of thinking and learning about that faith and its implications. Belief and learning lead to action–the tasks of living and behaving and witnessing to the truth.

12. If we affirm the gospel of peace at the level of basic beliefs, then that truth must be close to the center of the church’s message and mission. Peace is not something tacked on after the gospel is proclaimed; it is an integral part of the offer of salvation. Calling forth peace convictions, grounded in biblical theology, should be as basic as talking about Jesus, the Bible, and the meaning of salvation.

13. What are some essential implications of those peace convictions? As a church, we have in the past often given most attention to our stand against participating in the armed services and the defense industry. That’s OK, and still important. But the gospel of peace means much more:

-taking the initiative to love and bless those who wrong us

-being ready to suffer rather than to retaliate against violence

-trusting God for our life, protection, and security

-pursuing alternatives to violence

14. In brief, our calling has both a “defensive” and an “offensive” dimension. As we learn to model a Christ-like nonviolent response to evil, hostility and injustice, we must also work as positive peacemakers, acting with truth and love in the power of the Spirit. We need to give more attention to the implications of the “way of the cross” in other social, economic and political aspects of life, as well as domestic and congregational settings.

15. Therefore our educational efforts must be directed toward a total peacemaking lifestyle. Faithfulness to the nonviolent way of Jesus is much more than a question for 18-year-old males facing the draft. We must recognize that peace convictions cannot stand alone, amidst the seductions of nationalism, materialism, and glorification of violence. We are well aware that it takes continuous effort to maintain a testimony that contradicts the mainstream North American culture around us.

16. What then can denominational leadership do to help provide the kinds of settings in which peace convictions can be called forth and nurtured? We must consider the need to re-orient our church leadership and structures. Attention to the “gospel of peace” cannot be shunted off to a special committee or interest group, because it is integral to the basic self-understanding of the church. It makes no more sense to have a “peace” committee than it does to have a “Jesus” committee, or a “God” committee, or a “salvation” committee. For these are fundamental beliefs, not special assignments for a select group. Every part of the church program, every board and committee, would need to look at what peace conviction means for their efforts.

17. The purpose of committees is to carry out specific tasks–ways and means of worship, modes of mission, strategies of service, etc.–that are necessary functions for the believing community, activities that follow from the basic faith commitment. So there could of course be a “peacemaking” committee, just as there is a mission or evangelism committee. But denominational or even district committees simply can’t do the job of turning pastors and leaders from seeing peace as an embarrassing appendage, toward a holistic gospel of peace. That calls for a whole re-orientation of the church structure.

18. My whole point is that unless we begin with a grounding in the gospel of peace for the total life of the church, all our other efforts at so-called peace work is going to be futile.

19. As with everything else, if it’s going to happen, it has to happen in the congregation. This means, among other things, special attention to the key role of congregational leadership. The challenge, the motivation, the inspiration that evoke authentic conviction can only be called out and nurtured and expressed from a primary group level. Pastors and teachers must come to understand the crucial importance of this task. We need to begin again with the fundamentals of congregational life and make sure that “peace” is there.

20. When the peaceable way of Jesus becomes an inseparable part of the message and mission of the whole church, we should be seeing our buildings filled with disciples who know that they are truly being saved. Grounded in that faith , they will hold strong convictions on kingdom values, including peace, justice and service. These disciples will then seek to live out their convictions in daily life and in special situations of need or challenge.


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