Despite the best effort of some, we live in a world fractured along ethnic, religious, political, and racial lines. Peace seems to elude the human race. Many of us believe that under certain conditions, peace would be attainable. If only we all had the same religious or political beliefs, or if only we were more forgiving and understanding, peace would become reality in our world.
In theory, peace seems possible, and yet in practice, it is so far out of our reach. In such a context, it would be normal to feel disheartened and become cynical. Some will argue that we should face reality and be pragmatic because in some cases, violence is inevitable and even necessary.
But as Christians, we have the truth of Christ, who challenges us to live and act differently: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). These are challenging words. How can we as Christians be peacemakers and not resort to violence when it seems the obvious and most reasonable choice?
Defining a peacemaker
First, let’s define what it means to be a peacemaker in a Christian context. The German theologian Hans-Werner Bartsch argues that to be a peacemaker should not be conflated simply with being nonviolent. In fact, in the Sermon on the Mount, the Greek word translated “peacemakers” does imply, and is not restricted to, what Bartsch calls a “passive attitude; it has necessarily the active counterpart of making peace, promoting endeavors toward peace, and eliminating any discernible causes of war and hatred.”
In a way, this is what Jesus encourages His followers to do when He speaks about turning the other cheek or when He tells the disciples to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:38-48). Jesus also says to not exclusively greet those who are our brothers and sisters, implying we should greet our enemies (actual enemies or perceived as such).
Christians are not to passively stand by and put up with abuse, but they should actively work for peace by being loving, by praying, and by meeting and welcoming those they perceive as enemies. What a challenge! Indeed, in the Christian worldview, there is no room for assimilating peacemaking with military action or with preparing to kill a perceived assailant.
A new worldview
We can easily become legalistic in trying to obey this injunction to be a peacemaker. We can feel self-righteous about being that true follower of Christ who eschews violence at all cost. But with every action we take as Christians, it all comes down to the intent of our heart (1 Corinthians 4:5). As believers, how do we reframe our worldview so that we can better love whomever we encounter in life?
As noted by Herbert Warren Richardson, an American theologian, to be effective in reaching our neighbors, whether perceived enemies or not, our attention should be “directed against the forces, or structure, of evil itself rather than against the person or group who is doing the evil. Christian faith sees neither particular men nor particular group as evil, but sees them trapped within a structure of ideological separation which makes ritual conflict inevitable.” The problem is not so much the human beings who do evil “but the structure of evil which makes men act violently.”
In order to successfully challenge the structure of evil, Christians have no options but to “meet violence with non-violence.” Otherwise, how can Christians claim to be different, to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13, 14)? To think and act that way echoes the words of Paul to Timothy when he affirms that some human beings are held captive to evil powers (2 Timothy 2:26). It does fit well with Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount.
A peacemaking church
This is why the statement of faith for the Church of God (Seventh Day) can rightly affirm “participation in physical warfare as contrary to a Christian’s humanitarian calling.” If our role as the church is to be God’s representative on earth and to be a window into the upcoming kingdom of God, we need to thoroughly reflect on what it means to be a peacemaker according to how Jesus qualifies it. Peacemaking needs to be faith in action, and it needs to be actions that effectively challenge the modus operandi by which our world functions (violence, abuse, and coercion, either physical or psychological).
Christians are to be an example of resistance against the structures of evil, which can take many forms. We still ought to remember that “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh.” Those weapons nevertheless “have divine power to destroy strongholds” and “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4, 5).
In this way, we will exemplify the same peacemaking gospel that Christ preached so that we may “proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” to the captives among the nations (Luke 4:19).
Blessed are the peacemakers!
Recommended reading: Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence, by Preston Sprinkle