Thursday, May 22, 2014

Lest we forget: How we can change the world

As pacifists, we need to spread the message of Jesus' teachings on nonviolence.

By Christine Sheller

The peace churches have a special responsibility that could truly change the world. We teach a picture of Jesus that includes his example and instruction of nonviolence. However, many of us, including myself, have neglected our peace witness in the area of making disciples.

The Church of the Brethren and other denominations have long held a stance against coercion in religion, but we have taken that doctrine too far in that we don’t share our faith with others. As Christians, we take our model for peacemaking from Jesus in the Bible, but it seems we have deemphasized the Biblical call in Matthew 28 to teach others about Jesus and His teaching. This teaching includes his instruction on nonviolence. Moreover, this call for sharing the Gospel exists in at least 19 other passages in the New Testament.

We have a responsibility to share with our neighbors, coworkers, and even strangers who are not of a peace tradition or conviction. We need to share Jesus’ example of nonviolence. Some of us take our instruction for baptism from Matthew 28, but we have forgotten Jesus’ instructions in these same verses where he told his disciples to spread the Good News.

Jesus said in Matthew 28:18-20, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

What a powerful passage! What a responsibility Jesus has bestowed upon us! I challenge you, as a friend and member of the Iowa Peace Network, to take up this awesome responsibility to share the peace testimony with others who have yet to be convinced of Jesus’ nonviolent example. Let us also pray on how we may further live out the peace testimony. The peace witness doesn't only include our personal conviction against war, it includes what we will do instead.

The above display appeared at First United Methodist Church in Des Moines at a Palm Sunday service sponsored by the Des Moines Area Ecumenical Peace Committee.                                                                     (Jon Overton/Iowa Peace Network)

Sharing with others is one alternative, and it can be a difficult task, as it includes non-Christians, as well as Christians who do not teach the peace testimony and may believe and teach “just war.” This is something we have been told in former days. An article from 1905 in the Gospel Messenger (a Church of the Brethren magazine) stated that, “As for us, our duty is clear. We should not only obey the complete gospel, but we should teach it to others.”

“Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me,” Jesus said in Matthew 10:38. Lest we forget — the call to non-violence requires much. The title of the book, “Non-violence is Not for Wimps,” by Ralph Dull, continues to convict me of my calling and remind me of where I might be led when I pray for God’s clear direction.

I have felt this calling in my heart for some time now, and I hope you will all pray with me about how we might fulfill God’s calling on us, in lieu of the calling for nonviolence in ours’ and others’ lives. I believe this includes everything from the challenge of buying fair-trade food and clothing to stepping into the middle of conflict whether it is a street fight or in conflict-ridden countries such as Palestine.

Where do we get the courage to do that? We look to Christ, who was crucified for a sinful humanity. How much did Jesus love us? Very much. And people should know that and what we can do to love Him. What can you or your church do, practically, right now? There is a Bible study accessible through the Christian Peacemaker Teams website that is a great resource for adult (or youth!) Sunday School classes. Click here to access the Christian Peacemaker Teams’ booklet, “Getting in the Way: Studies in the Book of Acts.” It is a study on the Book of Acts and the Christian Peacemaker Teams. I urge you to contemplate, suggest to your church, lead, or read on your own and study this Biblical literature on peacemaking.

Please extend grace to embrace this written challenge to you and myself, which has been upon my own reflections and prayer. God bless you in your journey.

Christine Sheller is a former coordinator of Iowa Peace Network (2009-2011). She currently represents the Church of the Brethren on the IPN Joint Oversight Committee.

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