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Peace Theology Was a Journey for me, Are You On a Journey to Find It?

My journey of discovering Biblical Peace Theology happened while reading scripture with Bangsamoro Muslim friends in the southern Philippines. I listened to their history, a history of oppressed people, from their perspective and in it I learned to hear Jesus message of peace, hope and salvation in the bible with new ears.

Christians and Muslims Living for Peace and Justice

While I was serving my Muslim friends as a Christian Peacebuilder in the southern Philippines I was asked to speak in a Muslim school about my hope for the Bangsamoro (Nation of Muslims) people of the Philippines. They asked why following Jesus lead me to hope that Muslims would experience peace and justice in their historical territory.

Most Christians are surprised when I tell them that I was asked by Muslims to speak about Jesus. They are surprised to hear that Muslims want to talk about Christian scriptures in the mosque. But why? Muslims believe Jesus speaks with authority as a prophet.

As a Mennonite Christian Peacebuilder I was standing on the trusted relationships built between Muslims and Mennonites 25 years before I arrived in the Philippines as a volunteer. Mennonite Christian peacemakers had been building relationships of trust through service, development and advocacy for decades. My wife and I joined this journey as part of my journey into everyday peacemaking. When we arrived we also started building relationships of trust and transparency about our hope for justice in Mindanao and peace for the Bangsamoro nation.

Christians and Muslims in Mindanao celebrate common islamic peace theology Values Enhancement Training
A group of Muslim madrasa teachers who are now facilitating islamic peace theology training called values enhancement training.

 

Scripture and Peace Theology was Born Again in Me

While I was in the Island Mindanao, Philippines I started reading the bible through a lens of peace. I started to realize that peace as a central theme to all of scripture. How could evangelicals miss this? I started studying more, I wanted to know how peace and reconciliation fit into the bible story that leads to Jesus Christ.

Was the hope for biblical peace (shalom) a foundational principle in Jesus ministry? Was it important for the Apostle Paul’s understanding of the Gospel? Was it a big part of the Old Testament people of Israel’s understanding of their mission and scripture? Did the early church believe that God’s mission is to give all people on earth justice, peace and reconciliation in every relationship and every way?

A filipino muslim religious leaders and christian missionary talk about peace and justice
Standing with my friend and mentor Ustadz Abdul Kadir Abubakar.

Yes! Yes! Yes! And Yes!

Finding Peace in Scripture

photo credit: ~Brenda-Starr~ via photopin cc
photo credit: ~Brenda-Starr~ via photopin cc

I found the connections between these three key scriptures during my journey in Mindanao. These scriptures were the tipping point when I dipped my toes into a new way (that’s actually a very old way) of reading the bible. This is how I was transformed.

These verses are on the metaphorical keychain I carry around and they anchor me in peace and reconciliation as the hope and foundational description of God’s will for all creation.

1. Peace Theology of Peace, Good news and Salvation – Isaiah 52:7

Biblical Peace Theology is directly related to the good news Jesus announced. This section (Isaiah 52:7-10) is the deep root that connects Jesus and the Apostle Paul’s preaching about the gospel/good news, peace and the Kingdom of God. (1)

This passage is the foundation of Jesus’ identity as Messiah/Christ when he announced that He came to give freedom to captives, give sight blind people and announce that now God is fully showing the world his love. Jesus “Gospel idea” is rooted right here in Isaiah! This passage explains the Old Testament prophet’s hope that the world would be made new, the Creator God would be it’s true king and all people will experience perfect peace in every relationship.

This passage says every culture will experience “peace, good news and salvation” because the creator God has overcome evil and is the just and loving king of creation! The nations experience justice and peace because “our God reigns.” The Kingdom of God is here or in my translation: Jesus is king of creation and he is making everything new again! Jesus says exactly this in Rev. 21:5, Look! I’m making everything new!” That’s another way that scripture describes perfect peace and reconciliation.

When Jesus is king, we experience peace, good news and salvation in every relationship and part of the world.

2. The Kingdom of God is here! Mark 1:15

This was Jesus’ first announcement of the Gospel, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!” Mark highlights both Gospel and Kingdom together as a direct reference to Isaiah 52:7.

New Testament Professor Willard Swartley highlighted these descriptions by Mark, especially using gospel 3 times in the first 15 verse of his Gospel. Swartley concludes this connection by explaining that the scriptures Jesus was using as a young man would have translated Isaiah 52:7 as the good news of the Kingdom of God revealed so…

…it’s quite probable that Mark and indeed Jesus himself understood his mission in light of as as a fulfillment of Isa. 52:7.

This was one of my first exciting links. It tied together the Old Testament and New Testament, the message of Jesus and the hope of the Old Testament Israel. The OT hoped for a king to heal the world and Jesus came to embody and fulfill that hope.

3. Paul Continued to teach about God’s Kingdom and the Lord Jesus Christ – Acts 28:30-31

The difference between Jesus’ “good news about the Kingdom of God” and Paul’s message about the gospel of grace is hard for some people to deal with. Why does it look like Jesus and the Apostle Paul were teaching two different things?

This passage undoes that thinking by connecting the Good News about the Kingdom of God directly to the Apostle Paul and his Mission. The idea that Jesus preached about the Kingdom of God while Paul talked about grace is a false idea. The idea came from reading the ancient bible a 2000 year old hebrew religious book 1300 years after it was compiled and asking 16th century questions. The answers 1600 years after the events happened lead to the disconnect. What’s my point? Paul described Jesus message for a new, nonJewish, audience. He used different and new language they would understand from their own worldview.

Paul lived in Rome until he was killed by the Roman Government. He was under house arrest as a subversive political activist who taught Caesar was not the true king of the world as he claimed, Jesus is the real resurrected and divinely appointed king of the world. Acts 17 is another passage about this:

But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.”When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. (Acts 17:6-8)

No wonder they killed Paul, and that 10 of Jesus original 12 disciples were killed as martyrs for following Jesus. Like my dad says, If you play with the bull, you get the horns. Click here to read the whole Acts passage to understand more of the story.

Paul was teaching that Jesus is the true king of the world. That’s politically subversive and the religious and Political elite of the time didn’t like the implications of that. Jesus said to Pilate, no political leader would have any power unless God allowed him to be there.

10 So Pilate said, “You won’t speak to me? Don’t you know that I have authority to release you and also to crucify you?”

11 Jesus replied, “You would have no authority over me if it had not been given to you from above. That’s why the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.” 12 From that moment on, Pilate wanted to release Jesus.

However, the Jewish leaders cried out, saying, “If you release this man, you aren’t a friend of the emperor! Anyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes the emperor!” (John 19:10-12).

Paul taught that Caesar is accountable to the creator God and his son who was killed by rome. Jesus came back from the dead and now rules the world with Justice and love. He invites all people to follow him and heal the world with him. That’s essentially the message of the good news about Jesus.

When Paul taught that Caesar is accountable to Jesus his former prisoner in caesars capital of the world, he chopped off Paul’s head. That’s what church tradition says.

The end of the Acts of the Apostles says that Paul spent the last years of his life in Rome: 

30 Paul lived in his own rented quarters for two full years and welcomed everyone who came to see him. 31 Unhindered and with complete confidence, he continued to preach God’s kingdom and to teach about the Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 28:30-31)

Paul’s life ended where Jesus ministry began. The Kingdom of God.

Peace Theology Matters For The World

Today Peace Church Philippines continues to work towards peace and reconciliation because that’s what Jesus did. Our Peace Theology is an expression of living what we believe God’s Kingdom on earth looks like.

  • We work towards reconciled relationships between Christians and Muslims.
  • Work for justice between the first nations people of the Philippines and oppressive mining companies and the national military.
  • We respond to disasters by supporting marginalized people who get less help than others.
  • We train military leaders in nonviolent peacebuilding skills and human rights law with partner organizations.
  • We challenge the larger church of the Philippines, the largest nongovernment organization in the country, to love their neighbor and their enemy the ways Jesus taught us by seeking peace and justice as our King and Lord Jesus taught us.

Biblical Peace is not a 60’s hippy idea. It’s not an individualistic new age feeling. Peacebuilding has a real result: healed relationships and experienced justice of varying degree’s in all sectors of society.

God is bringing his peace into the world. That is why the church is and embodied community of hope in this world. The Creator God is doing it and we follow along with his lead. Jesus said, “Look! I am making all things new!”

Join us at Peace Church Philippines, a community of hope who gathers to share life together and partner with the God of peace and he brings salvation, good news, peace and reconciliation into the world.

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Footnotes

  1. This is based on the work of New Testament scholar and Peace Theologian Dr. Willard Swartley’s book The Covenant of Peace. Chapter 1 is about this Isaiah passage and the connection between Jesus, Paul, peace and the Kingdom of God.
  • Thanks for this Garry. I missed the edit. I wanted Mark 1:15 there. I agree with the more direct and active “kingdom of God is at hand.” I was reviewing a few translation and have been really falling in love with the CEB. In that translation he writes, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!” This seems to connect a lot with me also. As long as trust is understood as a harmony of heart/mind and hands and not solely done in the head.

    Thanks for the comment.

  • Garry Janzen

    Is not the Mark passage 1:14 & 15? The NIV uses “the Kingdom of God has come near,” which has a mystical sense to it, but I like the more traditional “the Kingdom of God is at hand.” It has a more active sense to it.