Table of Contents
- Christ’s Peaceable Kingdom
- Christ: The Manifestation of God’s Redemptive Love
- Breaking the Chain of Violence
- Entering the Peaceable Kingdom
- Peace: The Symbol of God’s Transforming Work
- Peace: Christ’s Healing at Work
- Peacemaking: The Call to Faithful Action
- The Lamb’s War
- Waging the Lamb’s War
- Peace: The Way of the Cross
- The Meeting as the School for Peacemakers
- The Meeting: A Center for Transformation
- The Meeting: Where Forgiveness Is Offered
- Admonition: The Path to Reconciliation and Healing
- The Meeting: Discerner of God’s Will
- The Meeting’s Ministry through Its Members
- The Meeting: The Body of Christ in the World
The peace testimony is one of the most distinctive hallmarks of the Society of Friends. It is a witness which grows out of a profound understanding of life in Christ. The fruit of the peace testimony is love manifested in countless ways: refusal to take part in military endeavors, finding a manner of living that does not exploit the labor and resources of others, working for a more just and equitable social, political, and economic order, and sacrificial giving to those in need.
The root of this peace testimony is deep. It draws its nourishment from the power of God to bring transformation and healing into our inverted and wounded lives, from our deepening experience of Christ’s love, and from our willingness to yield our lives to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Only as this testimony remains rooted deep in its nourishing soil is it able to produce fruit.
In a world which desires the fruit but does not understand the root of the peace testimony, we who would live this witness must take care not to succumb to the notion that the fruit can exist independent of the root.
This essay will explore the spiritual root of the Friends peace testimony, in the hope that all people may be drawn into God’s emerging peaceable kingdom.
In a world threatened with nuclear annihilation, the peace witness is most often understood as a social testimony promoting the abolition of nuclear war and, more broadly, the abolition of all war. This application becomes increasingly relevant as the world moves closer to holocaust. But the peace testimony is even more profound than this one significant application alone. It refers to God’s work of reconciliation in every area of our lives. All too frequently we live in alienation from one another, nation against nation and neighbor against neighbor. Within, we find parts of ourselves at war with each other, allowing us no inward peace, We exploit and decimate the earth which is our home. And underlying all these struggles is our separation from God. The peace testimony is our response to God’s power which brings reconciliation in our midst at every level.
Our understanding of peace comes primarily from the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. His ministry was and is peacemaking. This theme pervades his work from the beginning of his public ministry to his resurrection. Jesus’ first words to his gathered disciples after his resurrection were, “Peace be with you,” Indeed, he repeated these words twice. Then he said, ., As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (John 20: 19-21 RSV). As he was a peacemaker sent by the Father, so the disciples were sent to proclaim peace to all nations. As part of the body of Christ today, we are heirs of that promise of peace and of the command to proclaim it far and wide.
The Gospel of Luke records Jesus’ first act of public ministry after his baptism. In his hometown of Nazareth, Jesus stood up in the synagogue on the Sabbath and read from the book of Isaiah:
- The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
- because he has anointed me
- to preach good news to the poor.
- He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
- and recovering of sight to the blind,
- to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
- to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,
- (Luke 4:16-21 RSV)
When Jesus finished the reading, he astonished his listeners by saying that the Scripture had been fulfilled in their hearing.
Through these words Jesus was recalling to mind the vision of Isaiah of a day when all the chains that bind humanity would be broken: illness would be overcome, prisoners set free, the poor released from poverty, and the oppressed given liberty. For Jesus this vision was more than a vague hope for the future. It was a proclamation of the acceptable year of the Lord for all who heard those words that day.
The acceptable year of the Lord was reminiscent of the Jubilee Year of the Old Testament religious law. Every fiftieth year, according to the Torah (Leviticus 25), all debts were to be forgiven and all slaves were to be freed. Even the land was allowed to rest from its forced cultivation and permitted to lie fallow. In short, all the oppressive social structures which alienated people from one another (and from the earth itself) were to be cast away. All were to live in freedom, harmony, and fullness. The word which summed up this vision was shalom, peace.
Shalom is the absence of war. But it is much more than a negative vision of the absence of fighting. It is a positive vision of a world of mercy, justice, and righteousness where all may live fully, as God intended.
Jesus understood his ministry as a fulfillment of this vision of peace. “I am come that they might have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 RSV). Jesus experienced the reality of God ushering in the peaceable kingdom. The kingdom is at hand, he declared. Physical illness, emotional difficulty, interpersonal conflict, group hatreds, and separation from God all yielded before God’s gift of new and abundant life.
Jesus’ ministry was an expression of God’s reconciling and transforming work. For example, among his disciples Jesus selected two men who came from groups which hated one another and strove to attain diametrically opposed goals in society. Simon was a Zealot, dedicated to the overthrow of the Roman occupation of his homeland, while Matthew was a publican or tax collector who worked for the occupation government. Yet Jesus expected God’s love to overcome even these most severe of human hatreds. A modern equivalent might be for a Pentagon general and a Marxist revolutionary to hear Christ’s call to discipleship, to respond faithfully, and to become mutually loving members of his church.
In describing his work Jesus said he was a physician come to heal the sick. The sick were the blind and lame but also the sinners and publicans. Among those healed was Zacchaeus, chief tax collector. When Jesus came into his home, Zacchaeus declared that he would give half his goods to the poor, and if he had defrauded anyone, he would restore the money fourfold. Jesus replied, “Today salvation has come to this house… for the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:9-10 RSV).
Jesus did not divide the hurts and afflictions he encountered into the limiting categories we often use today: some people in need of medical doctors, some in need of social reformers, some in need of psychiatrists. All came under God’s power. Jesus brought inward peace to those whose inner wars paralyzed them. Luke’s gospel tells the story of the man who lived naked among the tombs. He could not bear the company of other people. But when Jesus spoke to him, his fragmentation was healed and he was left in his right mind. When the people next saw him, he was sitting and listening to Jesus. When the man wanted to follow Jesus in his travels, Jesus asked him instead to return home and declare what God had done for him.
In these stories of Jesus’ ministry, he brought peace and healing where there had previously been only fruitless struggle and pain. He brought reconciliation where there had been only hatred and separation. He brought wholeness and love to people whose lives had been full of hurt, poverty, and greed. The wounded and the wounders were both in need of healing and reconciliation. Jesus’ ministry reached out to encompass them all.
This ministry of reconciliation and love is the peace testimony. Shalom is both the goal and the process of God’s emerging kingdom. It is an expression of God’s power bringing healing and wholeness to every part of our hurt and alienated lives: our inequitable and unjust socio-economic structures, our discordant community affairs, our broken interpersonal relationships, and our guilt-ridden interior lives. Underlying all the rest is the restoration of our ruptured relationship with God.
Christ is the window through whom we may see God’s redemptive love for the world most clearly. When we look at Christ’s life and teaching we see something startling about the way God works in our midst. For in Christ’s life, which is the embodiment of God’s love, we see an understanding of peace which turns upside down many of the accepted categories of human interaction. That upside-down quality begins with his birth. The Son of God was born in a poor little town, Bethlehem. He was born into a modest family which had no economic power. At his birth no one in the town noticed. Only a few shepherds and several distinguished foreigners bothered to pay their respects.
Already with these accounts of Jesus’ birth, our expectations about how the Messiah would enter the world are turned upside down. If we were uninformed about the way God works, we might have expected that the one who came to transform the world would have great political, economic, and military power. We might have assumed that he would be a member of an aristocratic family in Jerusalem. We tend to make such assumptions because we have been taught to expect transformation to come through the exercise of power, usually coercive and manipulative power. God shows us otherwise.
Jesus himself had to wrestle with these issues. After his baptism, he went into the desert where he was tempted to turn stones into bread, have himself declared king, and throw himself off the wall of the temple to be saved by a band of angels. Jesus was struggling over the use of economic, political, and religious power, respectively, as leverage in his ministry of transformation.
But Jesus rejected these ideas as temptations from the devil. He chose instead to take a different path, a path of powerlessness which eschewed the usual modes of coercion and manipulation. Jesus taught this path to all who would listen:
You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matthew 5:38-39 RSV)
The disciples never clearly understood the significance of Jesus’ choice to walk the path of powerlessness. For example, while going to Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples passed through a Samaritan village. The villagers, upon discovering where they were headed, withheld their support and favor. When the disciples in anger asked Jesus if they should bring down fire from heaven to burn up the village, Jesus rebuked them (Luke 9:54-55 RSV).
A similar incident occurred shortly before Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus had come to Gethsemane to pray when a crowd led by Judas arrived to arrest him. Peter, in an effort to protect his master, took out his sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s slave. Jesus, however, told Peter to put up the sword. Then he healed the damaged ear.
Peter was trying to protect his master from arrest. He hoped to prevent what seemed like the complete collapse and failure of Jesus’ ministry. But Jesus rejected the power of the sword to save his ministry.
All his life, Jesus rejected the use of coercive and manipulative power as inconsistent with his ministry. Now, facing the threat of death, he continued to refuse coercive means to save himself. Instead he practiced love. He loved so completely that he accepted his own death rather than retaliate in bitterness against those who hated him. Beyond refusing to use outward means of retaliation, he refused to become even a psychological or emotional enemy of those who wished his death. He prayed to his Father to forgive them, since they did not know what they were doing.
At the cross, the significance of Jesus’ path of powerlessness became clear. With his death he showed the extent of his love. At the cross, we see that Jesus’ love was his ministry. Being completely faithful to his Father’s will meant continuing to love and refusing to use force to make others accept him or his ministry.
From the point of view of the world, Jesus’ love had failed. The powers of violence had overwhelmed him. But his followers discovered that this was not true. Christ and his love were not dead. Christ was risen. His love was still being poured out on the world. Moreover the paradox of the cross itself was that here Christ’s love was released in a way that did transform the world. Christ’s love broke the bonds of hatred and violence. The path of powerlessness was, in the end, the only power strong enough to overcome the world.
An old story for children may open up this level of meaning in the cross: An employer gets up one morning and bawls out an employee. The employee is resentful and hurt. When he goes home, he is angry with his wife. The wife, feeling misused, slaps their child who, in turn, kicks the family dog, who chases the cat down the street … and so the story goes on forever. Anger and violence reach out to ensnare the next one until the whole world is caught in their grip.
This little tale gives an insightful look into the nature of our world. One nation is angry, afraid, or abusive toward its neighbor. In turn the aggrieved nation strikes out at the country next to it. On a personal level, we all know the experience of passing along our hurts, wounds, and unsatisfied demands to our children, friends, or even acquaintances, only to have them do the same to us. We are all enmeshed in this chain of hurt and violence. The familial, social, political, and economic structures of our world have all been shaped in some degree by hatred, distrust, bitterness, and self-centeredness. Those fallen structures impinge on our lives, wounding us.
How can this chain reaction be broken? If one person were to accept all the anger and hurt of the chain but not pass it along … If one person could take upon himself the hurt and anger and still show forth love, the force of the chain would be broken forever. Not only would the domino effect of the hatred be stopped before it could grip others, but those who were already enmeshed might have a chance to be released by the power of such love.
This is exactly what Christ has done. By taking the hate of the world upon himself and responding with love and forgiveness, he has broken the chain of hatred and violence which gripped the world.
If Jesus had responded with coercive economic, political, or religious power to combat the force of evil, he might have been able to contain some of the expressions of hatred and violence temporarily. But in the long run he would only have been increasing the power of the chain to grip new lives. He would have done nothing to release those already caught in its power. Instead he would have found himself caught in its grip as well.
Through Christ’s death on the cross, the chain was broken. The kingdom of peace was ushered in. This does not mean that all people are yet released from bondage to their own woundedness or their propensity to inflict wounds. Each one must still respond to Christ’s healing love. But the love is given and continues to be poured out. The ultimate power to overwhelm has been taken from the forces of evil.
The chain of hatred and violence does not exert its power only through the fallen structures of the world around us. Insofar as our lives continue to be ruled by our hurts and selfishness, we remain links in this chain. When we accept Christ’s healing love and respond to his transforming power, our link in the chain is broken open. We then become reflectors of his love for people whose lives are still bound by their fears, hatreds, and hurts. We become part of Christ’s redemptive process.
The peaceable kingdom is the kingdom of God. On a fundamental level this means that we enter the kingdom through God’s love (grace) and not through our own struggling. The kingdom of peace is a gift. We do not build it with our hands, although we are called to be faithful citizens of this kingdom with all our hearts, minds, and strength.
The early Friends discovered this truth about the peaceable kingdom. It was from this insight that their peace witness drew its enormous power.
George Fox enunciated this truth early in his ministry. In 1651 a group of Commonwealth commissioners asked Fox to accept a position as an officer in the militia. In that day many Puritan reformers believed that England could become a holy commonwealth if only the righteous followers of God could maintain control of the armed forces and hence the government. Fox’s response was one of the earliest Quaker testimonies about peace:
I told them I lived in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars and I knew from whence all wars did rise, from the lust according to James’s doctrine. . . . I told them I was come into the covenant of peace which was before wars and strifes were.
Fox’s statement is a radical witness to the way one enters the peaceable kingdom. Fox proclaimed that he lived in the life and power that took away the occasion of all war. He did not just say that war was morally wrong and we should try not to be part of it. He did not say that the Sermon on the Mount prohibited fighting and that we were to obey its precepts, so as to usher in God’s kingdom. Rather he said that he lived in a power (God’s power) which eradicated the causes of war from his heart. War was no longer possible for him because he already lived in the peaceable kingdom, not because he hoped to bring it about with his efforts.
Thus, the Friends’ peace testimony was at root a witness to a kingdom already at hand. It was a testimony to the love and power of God who had brought them into this kingdom. And it was a call to others to recognize God’s work in their own lives.
Fox’s response to the Commonwealth commissioners was also an extraordinary evangelical witness to the transforming power of God in his life, a transformation so radical that the causes of war were removed from his heart. In our day many religious communities have favorite phrases to describe the transformation God effects in our lives. Some ask, “Are you saved?” Others ask whether you have experienced Jesus. Some say they have been reborn. Fox proclaimed that he lived in the life and power that took away the occasion of war and that he lived in the covenant of peace which was before wars and strifes were. Living in the peaceable kingdom was one of Fox’s symbols of transformation.
What does this transformation mean in our lives? Fox attributed the occasion of war to lust, a term which in contemporary English usage has unfortunately lost its depth of meaning. In religious terms, lust is a desire for that which God has not given us and which therefore is not ours to take. Fox was quoting the book of James where the causes of war are discussed:
What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. (James 4:1-3 RSV)
War often does result from lust or inappropriate desire (for example, for the land or resources of other nations). War is given added impetus by the fears and desire for revenge resulting from these original acts of lust.
Too often the human situation is that of wanting more: more land, more wealth, more security, more power, more respect. At the same time, we live in a state of fear that we will lose whatever goods now seem to give meaning or pleasure to life.
War takes place between nations. And it also occurs inside our hearts as our drive for more and more pushes us further away from centeredness in God and makes us put our desires at the center of our lives. “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:21 RSV).
Somewhere in the depth of our being we realize that none of these finite treasures brings the wholeness, security, and sense of meaning we desire. Often we become even more frantic and divided in our search for an answer.
In his statement to the Commonwealth commissioners, Fox acknowledged that the usual human condition was separation from God and one another. We experience fear, loneliness, and frustration. We often act out of these feelings in ways that are destructive to our relationship with God, with ourselves, and with others. This situation is called sin. Sin is separation and turning away from God to focus on some finite center.
The Good News that Fox proclaimed was that this separation could be overcome. People can find a center for their lives that relieves the constant desire for more. When that center is found, then the occasion for war is taken away.
Fox found that center for his own life. After a long search that lasted several years he heard an inward voice declare, “There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition.” (2) By coming into relationship with Christ, Fox found his life transformed. One element of that transformation was that the occasion for war had been removed from his .life. He was able to tell the Commonwealth commissioners that he would not join the militia because he lived in the covenant of peace which existed before wars and strifes.
Fox encountered the same power which transformed the lives of those who met the historical Jesus, and he realized that Christ was alive, calling us all into relationship with him. Fox began to preach the Good News far and wide. This proclamation is still true today. Relationship with Christ brings wholeness to our lives. With our lives centered in God, our relations with other people and the rest of creation fall into their proper order. We are finally free from the need to aggrandize or protect ourselves. Only then can we see clearly the needs of others. We become an avenue through which God’s love can touch the wounds of others. The peace testimony is a witness to the power of God to transform our lives. It is also an expression of the love through which God’s power is manifested.
Peace comes from God’s gift of transforming love in Christ. Peace is both the result of this gift of love and its active expression at work in our lives. Thus, peace is both a goal and a process. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that the goal is in many respects the process. Peace is not just a vision of the perfected order of creation where all creatures live in harmony. Peace is the life-giving acts of love by which Christ expresses his caring for the whole world and by which we, in turn, express our caring for one another. Thus peace is possible not just at the end of time when Christ will be all in all. Peace is possible now in the midst of the tumult and strife, as we become part of the active love Christ showers on the world. This love is not extinguished by pain, bitterness, and violence. It continues in the midst of all our turning away from God. Thus, the peaceable kingdom is never threatened with extinction because of the hurts and wounds of this world. Its presence or lack of presence is never measured by the degree of violence which swirls around us. It is measured by Christ’s boundless love which continues to be poured out on us, waiting only for our response.
This understanding of the peaceable kingdom as already present (at least as a seed) takes the wrongly-held burden of accomplishing peace off our shoulders. For we do not create the peaceable kingdom with our power. We enter into God’s kingdom which is emerging in our midst. With this understanding, despair cannot overwhelm us. Hate can never extinguish the love of Christ.
Our awareness that peace is the process of Christ’s love in our lives should remind us that this peace is not a possession which we receive once and for all and can tuck away as a mark of our religious accomplishment, making us superior to those who are not “at peace.” Our entry into the peaceable kingdom may be given great impetus by special religious experiences which help the healing of our wounds and make us aware of God’s love. But we continue in that kingdom only through ongoing relationship with Christ. Our power to love is constantly renewed by our experience of being loved. Our protection from moving our hurts, fears, or lusts to the central motivating place in our lives comes only as God continues to hold that central place. Our lives as peacemakers are rooted in a life of contemplation, a constant, living awareness of our relationship with God.
Thus, we reach out to others not as people who have all the answers but as those who know the experience of fear and hurt and who are in the process of being healed. We speak to others who disagree with us not in condemnation but with eyes which ever look toward the Source of our healing.
Adherence to the peace testimony grows out of our experience of God’s transforming love. It grows out of our ongoing life of prayer and worship which nurtures our relationship with Christ. But it also grows out of our obedience to the prophetic call of Christ to follow his will in faithful living in the world.
Peace is a gift, but it does not come magically through our passivity. Only in our faithful response to God’s call do we receive God’s peace. Simon and Matthew, Jesus’ two disciples who were political enemies, were called to enter the same band of disciples and learn to live with each other day in and day out, After Jesus entered his house, Zacchaeus made radical changes in the way he acted with his money and possessions. The man in the tombs, once he was healed, followed Jesus’ request to return home and proclaim the power of God to all.
Our peacemaking cannot wait until we feel completely loving. Feelings are notoriously unreliable guides. We are called to obedient love even though we may not be feeling very loving. Often it is through the performance of loving acts that loving feelings can be built up in us. We may start with small, perhaps very tiny, steps. It is only as we begin to allow Christ’s love to act in and through us that it can become a part of us.
Action requires discernment of God’s will. Discernment requires that attention be focused on our Inward Guide who speaks to us through prayer, Scripture, the discipline of our Meeting, and the voices of our brothers and sisters in the church-community. From Christ we learn where our lives need healing and where they need re-ordering. We discover what we are called to lay down and what we must take up. We shall probably find that many of the accepted patterns of life in our society are inconsistent with those of God’s kingdom.
Becoming a peacemaker may require changes in our everyday way of life (e.g., the way we earn a living, our unquestioned payment of war taxes, the wasteful manner in which we secure and use possessions). While we are all led toward peace, we are led by many different paths. Some witnesses may be required of us all. Other witnesses may be for those with calls to special ministry. Jesus asked one person to join his band of disciples and another to proclaim God’s power at home. We must discern what is asked of us.
Christ’s call involves not only discipleship in our personal lives. It is also a call to witness to the world about us: family, friends, community, and nation. We may be led by word and deed to speak a challenge to those who follow the path of violence and hatred. We may become witnesses of the love and power of God to bring new life. We may find concrete ways to help individuals and even nations to walk in the path of peace.
Such witness requires knowledge of the specific causes of injustice and war in our contemporary society. We need to be informed about the workings of the social, economic, and political structures which govern so much of our lives. Discipleship is informed obedience, not naive or ignorant action.
Faithful response to Christ’s call on both levels, personal obedience and witness to others, is not easy. It involves struggle because we often resist the surrender of our selfish will. We can think of a thousand reasons why we would rather continue in the old ways. But through our failures we are always brought back to the realization that it is not by our own strength that we walk the ways of peace. “I have been crucified with Christ; I no longer live as I myself, but Christ lives within me” (Gal. 2:20 RSV).
The Lamb’s War was an image used by the first generation of Friends to illumine many levels of insight about the call to become a peacemaker and follower of Christ.
The image of the Lamb’s War comes from the book of Revelation, and describes the great cosmic struggle going on between Christ (the Lamb) and the forces of evil and destruction. Christ is at work throughout creation, challenging and overcoming that which turns away from God.
Early Friends recognized that this struggle is taking place within each individual as each is called to surrender to God’s will. We all can feel what Friends understood by this image as we think of the interior struggle we undergo to become and remain centered in God rather than our job, our search for money, our desire for reputation and power. In this struggle we are called to choose whom we shall serve: God or Mammon.
However, this struggle has ramifications beyond our own personal faithfulness. By our choice, we contribute to the Lamb’s War which is going on in the larger social order. As the eighteenth-century Quaker John Woolman said:
May we look upon our treasuries, the furniture of our houses, and the garments in which we array ourselves, and try whether the seeds of war have any nourishment in these our possessions or not. Holding treasures in the self pleasing spirit is a strong plant, the fruit whereof ripens fast. A day of outward distress is coming and divine love calls to prepare against it.
Woolman recognized, as did the earliest Friends, that the Lamb’s War does not just take place within individuals. Christ is struggling with unrighteous social, political, and economic orders. Societies also are called to obedience to God’s will. The Lamb continues his struggles as long as the earth bears people who must cry out for the basic necessities of life: food, water, and clothing, while a few spend their resources buying diet soft drinks, designer jeans, and whipped lipstick. In the Lamb’s War we are all called to obedience ill both aspects of the struggle: personal and corporate faithfulness. Both levels of faithfulness interpenetrate one another. It is not possible to change social structures without changing personal lifestyles or vice versa.
Our personal obedience to the Lamb may become a sign of challenge to the forces of evil. The first generation of Friends entered the Lamb’s War by refusing to doff their hats, by wearing simple garb, by charging set prices instead of haggling for the most advantageous price, and by refusing to pay forced tithes to the state church. These actions were not only attempts to be faithful to the Lamb in their own personal lives. They were also ways of challenging the unrighteous structures and attitudes of the society around them.
These Friends who participated in the struggle of the Lamb recognized that the strength to overcome evil came from Christ, not from human power. This realization gave them courage to act faithfully in the midst of great hostility.
The followers of the Lamb today need the same courage. Our world clings to military power as the source of its security. The peacemaker must proclaim that military might does not bring security. True security comes only from God. Our reliance on the force of arms has become an idol which usurps God’s place in our everyday lives. To rely on military power is to rely ultimately on self and to misunderstand how God works in our midst.
For example, Gideon was ordered to winnow his army from 32,000 to 300 men, so that when they had victory over the Midianites they would know from whom that victory came. Moreover, Gideon’s famous victory came through the blowing of trumpets and the flashing of torches, not through the force of superior arms. David, the young shepherd, overcame the fearsome Goliath when none of the well-equipped soldiers of the Israelite army dared stand before the giant warrior. And finally Jesus’ death on the cross revealed both the depth of God’s challenge to our reliance on force and might, and the extraordinary power of God’s love which vanquishes evil.
The War of the Lamb leads us toward the peaceable kingdom, the era of shalom, which includes justice, mercy, and fullness of human life. But, as we have seen, the peaceable kingdom is not just in the future. It is now. So the Lamb’s War speaks to the present quality of peace by its almost shocking use of paradoxical imagery. Putting “the Lamb” and “war” together seems incongruous and even nonsensical. Christ is the Lamb. We have seen how he refused to use any coercive or manipulative power to secure his goals or ensure the success of his ministry. On the contrary, the true power of his ministry was revealed through his suffering on the cross. We are left with the paradoxical question, “How can a defenseless Lamb wage war?”
The image of the Lamb’s War holds this paradox constantly before us. Christ’s war is waged with love and not might, with spiritual weapons, not carnal ones. It is a struggle, the nature of which the world does not understand. As followers of the Lamb, we are called to enter this very unusual struggle using the same weapons Christ uses.
The earliest public Quaker document of the peace testimony, the famous letter to King Charles II known as the “Declaration of 1660,” implicitly refers to Friends’ participation in the Lamb’s War while it explicitly rejects participation in war that uses carnal weapons:
We… utterly deny… all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end or under any pretence whatsoever. And this is our testimony to the whole world The spirit of Christ, by which we are guided, is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing as evil and again to move unto it; and we do certainly know, and so testify to the world, that the spirit of Christ, which leads us into all Truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdoms of this world.
This great stress on the rejection of outward weapons did not mean that Friends were sitting passively doing nothing. On the contrary, it meant Friends were involved in a different kind of struggle. Fox wrote:
Now the holy angels of God are spirits, so then they had spiritual weapons, and not carnal swords, muskets, pikes, and pistols, etc., to fight with the dragon. . . . And were these, think you, carnal weapons, that Christ and his followers made war with, against the beast and the false prophet? … Do you think that Christ or his army, that sat on white horses, and followed him… that they had outward swords, and pistols, and pikes, and muskets, and guns, and cannons, by which they overcame the beast and the false prophet? No: it is said that Christ’s army was clothed in fine linen, and Christ’s vesture was dipped in blood, which army followed him in heaven.
But how does the follower of Christ fight in this war without outward weapons? The answer is found in Jesus’ teaching, which is but an articulation of his life. A passage from the Sermon on the Mount describes the way in which the Lamb’s War may be fought by those who choose the side of the Lamb.
You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you. (Matt. 5:38-42 RSV)
We hear these words so frequently, we often do not think of their implication for our behavior. What happens when we are struck? The defensive barriers go up inside us. Sometimes we become outwardly aggressive too. We immediately classify the striker as an antagonist. Our behavior changes accordingly. Even if we refrain from open retaliation, we do not treat our “antagonist” as our neighbor. Jesus goes on to say in this passage:
I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. . . . You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt. 5:43-46, 48 RSV)
Jesus is asking us to be oriented in such a way that the defensive barriers do not go up when we are struck, that we respond to the hostile one not as an enemy but as a neighbor. We are asked to love as God loves, showering his sunshine and rain on the good and evil alike.
We are not told in the Sermon on the Mount what the outcome of our actions will be. But we may assume that closing off our love to an antagonist carries no possibility of change in our relationship, while continuing to love holds out the possibility of transformation. Indeed, if we raise defensive barriers and become angry, we have already lost the Lamb’s War. We have been drawn into the fallen structures of hatred and bitterness. We have lost the war because we no longer manifest God’s abundant and transforming love. If we choose love, the peaceable kingdom has already come to birth in our lives. If we choose hatred or fear, the kingdom is far away.
Perhaps the most obvious and expected application of Jesus’ message is found in the Christian’s response to the growing nuclear arms race. There are people who assume that as long as nuclear weapons are never exploded but are deployed only as an element in the political strategy of a nation’s foreign policy, then the arms race is acceptable. Jesus’ words and example would point toward an understanding of love which makes not only the use but even the threatened use of these weapons impossible. Even by making the threat, we have succumbed to the structures of hate and violence and have made them our own. We have lost the Lamb’s War.
But Jesus’ words point beyond the long-accepted application to outward war, whether nuclear or conventional. The methods the Lamb uses to wage his inward war challenge every aspect of our life with others, particularly our work as peacemakers. We may work hard for peace, talking with legislators, diplomats, economists, social scientists, ordinary citizens, and even members of our own Meetings. What happens when people do not respond to our pleas for peace? We often feel angry and frustrated. We try even harder. We press others and we put up defensive barriers round ourselves. Slowly we begin to classify those who do not agree with us as our enemies. In turn, those who hear us feel pushed, manipulated, and guilty. We are angry. In the end nothing happens. No one is transformed. We wonder why!
Our life is no longer one which showers God’s love on all. Our life instead is cramped and resentful. We begin to measure peace by the success of our work rather than by our willingness to accept and show forth God’s peace in our lives. Jesus’ words call us back to fullness and power. As we are conduits of God’s love, our ministry may be an occasion for God’s transforming Spirit to work in our midst.
This vision, of a loving attitude of mind and heart which enables us to shower love even on those who are opposed to that which we hold most dear, is so extraordinary that we are apt to dismiss it as an utopian dream. We realize that we cannot manufacture such love in ourselves. But the portrayal of love in the Sermon on the Mount is not a commandment we are expected to obey out of our own resources. Rather it is a description of the transforming power of God, who may allow such love to reign in our lives. Our lack should turn us to God as the source of our strength. God’s love is manifested as we live our lives through its power. Only in our willingness to obey the call to love, does that love become a real force in our lives.
The Christian witness of love and peace is very different from the secular notion that if one is nice to one’s enemies they will be nice in return. First, the call to faithful love entails far more than the call to be nice. It requires turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, and even dying for the “enemy.” Second, God’s love may not be reduced to a technique to bring people around to one’s own point of view. God’s love, like the sunshine and the rain, is poured out on the just and unjust alike. It is not a ploy to make people behave nicely in response. Third, the Christian peace testimony does not assume naively that love will bring an immediate transformation in the hostile one. In fact, the decision to act in love may increase the aggression of the adversary, who now sees a chance to overpower us. Furthermore, the choice of peace may challenge the deeply-held notions of our friends about the “right” way to live. Turning the other cheek may contradict their accepted ideas of how to achieve security and the good life. That challenge may make our friends into antagonists.
The call to love may entail that challenge. Healing requires that the one who is ill leave the source of illness, depart from ineffective cures, and ignore false preventive measures. In fear, ignorance, or greed, we sometimes cling to that which makes us sick (or will not cure us). We even rebel against the physician who can make us whole. A good physician will continue to give the correct prescription even in the face of hostility. The peacemaker-physician must do the same.
Sometimes the peacemaker’s work is immediately successful; sometimes the immediate result of peacemaking efforts is a sentence to die on the cross. Such was Jesus’ reward. God does not promise us an easier path. But we believe in the ultimate victory of the Lamb because we know that God’s transforming love for the world was revealed precisely in Christ’s death on the cross. Through the cross, the chain of hatred, bitterness, and death was broken by Christ’s love. To become a peacemaker is to follow Christ in self-giving love on the cross today. The resurrected Lord continues to give himself in love and he leads us along the same path. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16:25 RSV).
The peaceable kingdom is by definition a vision of community. It is a vision of renewed relationships: between people and God, among people, and between people and the rest of God’s creation. The spiritual root of the peace testimony is therefore inextricably bound to life in community.
Those who respond to the movement of Christ’s spirit in their lives are drawn together into a community of caring, sharing, and proclamation. This community is the church. One of its most important functions is that of a school for peacemakers. For it is in the church community that God’s gift of peace is learned, practiced, and nurtured.
Paul calls the church the body of Christ. In the gathered community we experience Christ, and together we learn to be the vehicle for Christ’s transforming power to reach others. We become Christ’s hands and feet, doing his work in the world. Since Christ is the peacemaker par excellence, so the church is the peacemaker at its very core.
This is a compelling vision of the church. . Yet we all know our Meetings fall far short of its realization. Coming together only once a week for a brief period of worship, we have little opportunity to act as Christ to one another. We do not know one another well enough to give each other support. We feel too far from the Truth in our own lives to offer any admonishment to our brothers and sisters. Besides, we fear that they would resent our intrusion into their “private lives.” We are usually too busy carrying out our own personal affairs to think about whether we ourselves are caught up in a way of life which may spread the seeds of war.
As a result it is easy to become disillusioned with our Meetings and turn away from the call to participate in the church community. Yet it is always in situations of need that Christ is present as a physician, come to heal those who are ill. He is present in our broken and imperfect communities, calling us to faithfulness, ready to heal our wounds.
The Meeting may become an avenue through which we receive Christ’s invitation to enter the peaceable kingdom, and a training ground for learning how to live in that kingdom. To make it so, participants need only come with a recognition of their need, and a commitment to live by the disciplines which this training ground requires. Learning to live in the peaceable kingdom takes the same kind of discipline as learning any other skill. New ways of living must be practiced. New attitudes need to be nurtured. And new habits must become ingrained.
It is worthwhile reflecting on some of the basic ways the Meeting functions as a school for peacemaking. For the spiritual roots of the peace witness receive much of their nourishment through this school.
In the Meeting we encounter Christ and are transformed by the experience. Of course, the Meeting is not the only place where we meet Christ, but it does provide us with special opportunity for encounter. First, Christ meets us in meeting for worship and in our prayer with and for each other. Second, we have the opportunity to be Christ-like to one another in our everyday love and caring. Such caring may express itself in critical times of illness, bereavement, or financial need. But it also is manifested in hidden and ordinary ways. Where people feel lonely or ignored, caring may be a friendly smile and willingness to spend a while talking. Love may be a thoughtful offer to baby-sit so a harried mother can have an afternoon’s rest. It may be a drive to town so an elderly friend can get to the eye doctor. Love may be a casserole for the new family who just moved in across the street. In our everyday caring we bring God’s charity to each other so that our hurt places are healed and our empty craving is given satisfaction in the fullness of God’s love.
Because of Christ’s love for us, we are enabled to love one another. At the same time our love for each other must be practiced. The Meeting community is a school where we practice the art of loving.
In the give and take of community life, we learn how to love. Often we fail. Hurts occur. Conflict arises. Then we need to forgive and be forgiven. Christ is present in a special way where forgiveness is practiced. Perhaps this is true because there is a depth in the love offered through forgiveness that is not always present in the love that is given when no hurt has occurred.
Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” This famous passage is often misunderstood as referring to gatherings for worship. But the context of the passage makes it clear that Jesus was speaking of two or three people gathered together to forgive sin. This verse is followed immediately by the story of Peter asking Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answers, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:20-22 RSV).
This story gives us a powerful insight into the nature of the brotherly and sisterly love we give and receive in the Meeting. Participation in the church community does not mean that we must all be able to love so perfectly that we never get angry and we never cause hurt. Rather, being part of the Meeting means that we are willing to take on the discipline of learning to love. And one of the basic aspects of that discipline is learning to forgive and be forgiven. In forgiveness is the seed of the peaceable kingdom. “As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col. 3: 13 RSV).
Learning to love entails the disciplines of caring and forgiveness. It also involves a discipline much neglected and even despised in our individualistic and permissive world: the discipline of admonition.
The term “toughlove” is popular today in dealing with family members who are addicted to drugs and alcohol or whose behavior is otherwise out of control. The term is also appropriate for describing one manifestation of Christ’s love in the church community. Healing sometimes requires challenge. Too often we cling to that which makes us unwell. The Meeting has a responsibility to encourage its members to find helpful ways of admonishing one another to leave those paths which lead toward destruction and to follow those ways which lead to abundant life.
When Jesus speaks of being present where two or three have gathered in his name, he also makes a suggestion for the practice of admonition. He advises that if a brother or sister commits a sin, one should go to that person alone and see if the problem can be straightened out. If that solution does not work, one or two others should be taken along. If the person still will not listen, the problem should be brought to the attention of the whole church community. The goal in this situation is not to apply sufficient pressure to force the “offender” to give up the offensive ways. Rather it is for all those involved to be open to hearing God’s will. The admonisher must also be ready to have faults pointed out. He or she may have a responsibility in the alienation which has occurred. The whole procedure is designed to bring reconciliation and renewed faithfulness.
Jesus’ words point out to us that admonition is part of the process of reconciliation. It is not possible to have the fruits of the peace testimony without the willingness to challenge and be challenged on the ways we live which block the coming of peace.
Taking on the discipline of admonition means recognizing that the individualistic assumptions of our society do not lead toward Truth in the peaceable kingdom. There is no such thing as a private part of our lives that is inaccessible to God or to our brothers and sisters. Of course, this is not an excuse for being a busybody or a gossip. Certainly this discipline has been incorrectly used in the past. But misuse is not an excuse for neglecting one of the most essential aspects of the school of peacemaking. In earlier generations of the Quaker movement, Meetings selected elders who by virtue of their gifts were recognized as having special responsibility for the work of admonition and reconciliation. Today few Meetings in the United States have functioning elders. Friends need to look again at the ways we might carry out this discipline of love in our generation.
Another discipline of peacemaking practiced in the Meeting is discernment of God’s will. Its significance for the process of admonition has already been mentioned. It is equally important in every part of peacemaking, for being a peacemaker means living under the guidance of Christ, the source of our peace. It is his love we manifest in our peacemaking.
Discerning God’s will means discovering how God would have us live as individuals and as a church community. The role of the Meeting is important in both types of discernment.
The task of listening for the Meeting’s call as peacemaker is growing in significance today as many Friends’ groups recognize how hard it is for individual to live a life of peace while they are caught up in a social structure that depends on destructive competition, violence, wasteful consumption of the world’s scarce resources, and, ultimately, on war. Only by living another model based on new structures is it possible to express God’s peaceable kingdom. Living this new model is possible only in concert with others. Thus, our love is made real as we practice forgiveness, admonishment, and mutual support. Simplicity can become more than an unrealistic dream when Friends together develop attitudes and styles of living which reshape our expectations and help us share our resources (both material and spiritual). Thus, in a small way the Meeting may remove some of the seeds of war already growing in our lives. The new patterns of peace developed by the Meeting’s discernment may become models that groups in the larger society might follow as well. Both in formal structures (meeting for business) and in informal ways (sitting around the kitchen table or on the back steps), we need to think together about what God’s call to peacemaking means in our community.
Group discernment does not occur only around community issues. It is also an important discipline in personal discernment. Of course, listening to our Inward Guide is the heart of each individual’s personal decision-making. But on a fundamental level members of a Meeting discern together, not just individually, even about questions of a personal call to peacemaking. The voices of Friends can help test a leading by raising unasked questions and pointing out potential pitfalls. In earlier generations Friends who felt called to a public form of ministry always brought their leading before the meeting for business for its approval. Today the use of clearness committees is increasingly popular as a way to help one another discern leadings. But the individualistic assumptions of the larger society have made great inroads on the practices of our Meetings. Too often individuals no longer see their call to peacemaking as part of the ministry of the whole body of Christ. Both the community and the individuals suffer an impoverishment of their ministries as a result.
Communal discernment of personal calls to peacemaking has an important function both for the Meeting and for the individuals called to ministry. When corporate approval is given, the Meeting acknowledges that the individual is called forth to this work by God. The Meeting is able to own the ministry and see it as part of the ongoing work of the whole community. Thus, the Meeting’s sense of its ministry is immeasurably enriched.
Beyond this enrichment, the Meeting also understands that is has a commitment to support its members in their acknowledged call to ministry. This support might be spiritual, emotional, or even financial. Mutual support in ministry is very important. Being a peacemaker may arouse the hostility of those who feel threatened by its challenge. Faithfulness in the face of such hostility is never easy. Even in our relatively tolerant political order, faithful witness may entail imprisonment, fines, and other forms of suffering. To give one example, Meetings may need to offer various kinds of support to a family that has decided in conscience to withhold payment of its military taxes. Accompanying members to court, visiting IRS officials, helping to decide how to use withheld tax money, care for families and prisoners in case of imprisonment might all be ways that the Meeting is called on to offer support to contemporary peacemakers. The discipline of mutual support is an important way the Meeting teaches those who are learners in the school of peacemaking.
Many of these disciplines of peacemaking have their locus primarily within the church community itself. These disciplines are very important. But the peace testimony extends beyond the church itself and reaches toward the whole world. The church is sent as the body of Christ into our broken world. The peace witness is real only as we become vehicles for Christ’s spirit. Where people are in prison, where they are starving, where there is disease, where people live in terror, where individuals live alienated and separated from family and friends, where human beings commit suicide or destroy their lives with drugs, where communities know nothing of God’s love and call to peace, there Christ wishes to be. As his body, members of the church community will act as personal representatives of his love and care. As we are touched by Christ’s healing power and brought into the peaceable kingdom, we are called upon to become Christ for others. As we bear one another’s burdens, the peaceable kingdom emerges in our midst.
Our peace testimony will remain strong and vibrant as its roots remain deep in the nourishing soil which gives it life: the Living Christ who is our teacher and healer. As we are conformed to the spirit of Christ rather than the spirit of this world, our peace testimony will be a witness to Christ’s ministry of reconciliation. Christ will continue to draw us into the love which the Father has shown him and which he showers on the whole world.
I am the vine, you are the branches.
He who abides in me, and I in him,
he it is that bears much fruit,
for apart from me you can do nothing.
As the Father has loved me,
so have I loved you;
abide in my love.
If you keep my commandments,
you will abide in my love,
just as I have kept my Father’s commandments
and abide in his love.
- (John 15:5,9-10 RSV)
Peace be with you. . . .
Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me,
even so I send you. . . .
Receive the Holy Spirit,
- (John 20:19-22 RSV)
1. George Fox, The Journal of George Fox, rev. ed. by John L. Nickalls, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1952, p. 65.
2. Ibid., p. II.
3. John Woolman, “Plea for the Poor,” in The Journal and the Major Essays of John Woolman, ed. Phillips P. Moulton, New York: Oxford University Press, 1971, p. 255.
4. Fox, Journal, pp. 399-400. The Declaration was issued in 11/1660 according to the old calendar then in use and in 1/1661 according to the new calendar.
5. George Fox, “Gospel Truth Demonstrated,” in Works, Philadelphia: Gould, reprinted 1831, Vol. VI, pp. 167-168.