On the Gospel of Peace and Becoming a Peace Church – Part 3

PEACEMAKING IN THE CONGREGATION

by J.R. Burkholder

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

[This is the third 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.]

In the first two installments of this series, we learned that peace is an integral element of the gospel we proclaim and seek to embody. Commitment to the peaceful way of Jesus is an inseparable part of the message and mission of the whole church. Now we want to set forth some implications for the life and work of the local congregation.

21. Fundamentally, we are called to be a people of peace. The Christian understanding of pacifism is not just a refusal to do violence, or a rejection of military service. It is not just something we do; it is who we are, because of what we believe. Our witness to peace is the fruit of a different way of life that is formed and sustained by a special kind of community, the church.

22. Becoming a peacemaking congregation is a continual challenge that dare not be limited to a particular committee or interest group. Calling forth peace convictions, grounded in adequate theology, should be as fundamental as talking about Jesus, the gospel, the meaning of salvation. Peacemaking is part of the essential work of the church, it must be upheld and modeled by all those in leadership.

23. In an earlier thesis (# 11) we noted the pattern of belief, education, and action. Our churches need to learn to do education that has the specific goals of creating conviction (beliefs) and inspiring action. Genuine education will include dialogue and feedback and, above all, engagement and experience. We are not just preparing people to answer quizzes; we want them to hear and think and grow toward Christian maturity.

24. But do we know how to do this? The church congregation ought to be one of the best places for life-changing education to happen, but one wonders. So much of the time we seem to be stuck in routine rituals. It appears that we often confuse education and information. Much of the activity that we call “educational” often seems to be just passing on “information.” Whether it’s exegeting Bible passages or giving statistics on hunger in Africa or describing the horror of nuclear weapons–the passive participants sit and listen, take it or leave it.

25. If we are to be truly a peace church, we must give attention to more effective ways to call forth personal commitments to follow Jesus the peacemaker. The evidence suggests that conviction grows from meaningful experience and action, such as service assignments or the need to give public testimony to one’s faith. Our churches should provide a whole range of learning experiences for ages 9 to 90: the “Shalom Lifestyles” video, summer camp or youth conference workshops and seminars (such as the “Just Peacemaking” weekends for youth), service projects, workcamps, Christian Peacemaker Team actions, other kinds of experiential involvement.

26. The church needs to work with the best kinds of teaching and conviction-forming activities that are available. To create more working models for teaching and learning that enable the growth of genuine conviction, we need better understanding of what really works. What do we know about how people internalize the gospel of peace? s it caught or taught? Can we learn, for example, from developmental stage theories regarding faith and morality? Can we evaluate the educational and counseling techniques that are most likely to encourage nonviolent convictions? Working at these questions should be a challenge for the educators and researchers among us.

27. These comments move us toward the realm of peace action. That heading would include a great variety of peace-making and justice-doing activities: conscientious objection to military service, community development projects, programs dealing with sexual abuse and domestic violence, anti-war toy campaigns, civil disobedience, mediation and conciliation programs, nonviolent direct action, community peace centers, witness to various levels of government, tax resistance, draft refusal, Christian Peacemaker Teams projects, acts of public witness against militarism, etc. The spectrum includes all kinds of things from traditional to radical, from individual acts to highly organized group efforts.

28. The breadth and scope of possible peace action can be overwhelming, but let’s be clear that this whole agenda is not the responsibility of each and every congregation. We need to sort out the appropriate peacemaking activities for particular settings. What sorts of activities would seem essential to the witness of a particular local congregation? What is more appropriately carried out by conference or denominational groups, or by MCC staff? Which tasks are best done by special committees or organizations such as CPT or the Peace Tax Fund?

29. Further, we need to encourage appropriate support for the variety of peacemaking efforts. Unfortunately there are too many prejudices and misunderstandings between various groups in our churches. Those who feel strongly about the importance of certain kinds of controversial public witness (tax resistance, nonviolent demonstrations) should not expect that everyone else must do the same. At the same time, these more activist efforts should be encouraged, not criticized, by the rest of the church, as long as the actions are expressions of a clear faith commitment. We need to recognize our different callings and relate pastorally as a whole body to a wide range of peace witness activities. The minimum common ground for all who claim to be Mennonite should be an agreement that Christians ought not be in the killing business!

30. As we work at becoming a true peacemaking church, how do we respond to those who don’t agree with us? To claim that “peace is integral to the Gospel” may well create some conflicts as we engage in church planting and evangelism. We live in a culture where the gospel message has been trivialized and distorted by those who would market it like soda pop or life insurance. Widespread beliefs about patriotism, loyalty and the necessity of violence are barriers to hearing the authentic gospel of peace. We recognize that there is no simple foolproof technique for proclaiming the whole gospel. But let us begin by renewing our commitment to be disciples of Jesus, a people of peace.

BEGINNING BIBLIOGRAPHY

Barrett, Lois. “Questions about Peace,” “The Gospel of Peace,” “The Journey Toward Shalom.”

Branding, Ronice. PEACEMAKING; THE JOURNEY FROM FEAR TO LOVE

Brown, Dale. BRETHREN AND PACIFISM.

Burkholder and Bender. CHILDREN OF PEACE (Foundation Series)

Mauser, Ulrich. THE GOSPEL OF PEACE.

Stoner & Barrett. LETTERS TO AMERICAN CHRISTIANS (especially chapters 1 and 7)

Stoner, Egli, and Bontrager. LIFE TO SHARE: DISCOVERING A BIBLICAL VISION FOR EVANGELISM . Esp Chaps 4 & 5.

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