peace isn't a position

What do you think of when you consider “love and nonresistance” beliefs of Mennonites and Anabaptists in general, often referred to as “pacifism”?

Well, here I offer some considerations on the topic (i.e. I’m not claiming to provide any sort of definitive answers on the subject).

The Mennonite World Conference - “a community of Anabaptist-related churches” - states:

The Spirit of Jesus empowers us to trust God in all areas of life so we become peacemakers who renounce violence, love our enemies, seek justice, and share our possessions with those in need.

At the conference last week discussing Mennonite Brethren (MB) identity after 150 years (which I've already mentioned here), the question of peace arose on several occasions. MB’s are a diverse bunch, so it wasn’t surprising to hear a variety of opinions on this theological “position.” It’s nothing new or surprising that the peace “position” is often viewed as idealistic, impractical, and theologically narrow. Hence it’s held by a minority faction within the larger global Christian community. As an Anabaptist myself, I can’t ignore the critiques especially when I realize the way of peace offers no easy answers.

But the problem, as I see it, is this very idea that peace is merely a “position” we choose to accept or reject. Peace is an abstracted idea we kick around in the playground of theology and culture. Sure, we can provide good arguments theologically and even socially for why peace and nonresistance is a viable option for Christians to follow (or we take our toys and run home!), but we also know there are many thoughtful and faithful Christians who don’t choose to accept this position, many times for very good, often theological, reasons.

But as Christians, we need to be reminded that peace doesn’t only come as a position. Peace comes in a person.

First and foremost, peace needs to be understood in the concrete reality of Jesus Christ in history. As the anointed Son of God, the true King of Israel, the “Prince of Peace,” Jesus offers a tangible expression for the reality of peace - an expression consistent with God’s work in the world (now and in the future). Jesus' way peace wasn't based on pragmatic or popular ideas but in the very presence of God in the world.

Recently, in a similar discussion, Ryan helpfully quotes Stuart Murray’s description of Anabaptists’ confession for peace:

Peace is at the heart of the gospel. As followers of Jesus in a divided and violent world, we are committed to finding non-violent alternatives and to learning how to make peace between individuals, within and among churches, in society, and between nations.

The biblical way of peace - this subversive, active, creative response to injustice - is a direct implication of the gospel itself, evident most clearly in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ could only live out his way of peace because of who he was. And the same goes for us.

Any attempts to follow Jesus’ way of peace must recognize this fundamental factor: living out peace requires an ongoing transformation by the Holy Spirit, both individually and communally (I’m thinking Fruit of the Spirit might help - Gal. 5). We aren’t inspired to live peacefully through an idea alone, but through God’s transforming presence with us.

And Jesus himself only describes loving our enemies in the context of our God-given identity (Mt. 5:38-48). For peace to be more than an idea or position, then, we must live in this reality of who we are: Spirit-filled followers of Jesus. Only then, in the words of the MB confession of faith, can we explore how to be “agents of reconciliation” in which we work towards “alleviating suffering, reducing strife, and promoting justice” in a world so often characterized by violence.

I realize this reminder doesn’t answer the difficult questions facing our attempts to faithfully follow Jesus’ way of peace. I mean, really, it’s easy for me to say I support Jesus’ way of peace from the comfort of my office - you could call it "armchair peace." Yet knowing peace was an historical reality in Jesus’ life and how it will one day be a reality for all, I can’t help but hope that God’s people can offer glimpses for peace as an historical reality now.


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