A (Sometimes) Neglected NT Theme: Peace

The term peace appears some 9o times in the New Testament, almost as often as “grace” appears, though only about half as often as “love.” Word counts don’t prove weightiness but they ought not to be discounted either. By the way, in the NRSV the word “justice” appears 14 times; 23 times in the CEB.

Ron Sider, in If Jesus is Lord , examines peace in the New Testament as one of his approaches to discover what the NT teaches about violence and war.

Here is summary of the expressions connected to peace in the NT:

Tie good news is a “gospel of peace.” God is a “God of peace. Jesus is the “Lord of peace.” And God’s will is “peace in the Holy Spirit. Christians are urged to live at peace both in the church and in the larger world.

Social tensions were as prominent then as they are now, though our social media culture has made social tensions ugly. David Brooks, in his new Second Mountain, talks about tribalism in ways that deserve quotation in this post as what he says sets up what Sider thinks the NT is saying (to us especially today):

Tribalism seems like a way to restore the bonds of community. It certainly does bind people together. But it is actually the dark twin of community. Community is connection based on mutual affection. Tribalism, in the sense I’m using it here, is connection based on mutual hatred. Community is based on common humanity; tribalism on common foe. Tribalism is always erecting boundaries and creating friend/enemy distinctions. The tribal mentality is a warrior mentality based on scarcity: Life is a battle for scarce resources and it’s always us versus them, zero-sum. The ends justify the means. Politics is war. Ideas are combat. It’s kill or be killed. Mistrust is the tribalist worldview. Tribalism is community for lonely narcissists.

These days, partisanship for many people is not about which political party has the better policies. It’s a conflict between the saved and the damned. People often use partisan identity to fill the void left when their other attachments wither away—ethnic, neighborhood, religious, communal, and familial.

This is asking more from politics than politics can deliver. Once politics becomes your ethnic or moral identity, it becomes impossible to compromise, because compromise becomes dishonor. Once politics becomes your identity, then every electoral contest is a struggle for existential survival, and everything is permitted. Tribalism threatens to take the detached individual and turn him into a monster.

Once one grants Brooks his definitions one can grant him the realities to which he points: we are in a combat zone today. Everything Trump says is demonic; everything Obama said was demonic. When this is happening, and it’s all over the church and has been for a decade or more, what Sider is saying about the NT gains relevance.

We need to hear the NT message about peace. Someone say Amen! How about a few preachers out there beginning a 10 week series on nothing but peace?

Sider now, summarizing the NT as a whole:

This chapter provides abundant evidence that the earliest church that we see in the New Testament did not forget or neglect Jesus’s message of peace. A strong concern for peace—not just in the home and the church but also in heaven and earth (Col. 1:20)—is pervasive in Paul’s letters. Hays concludes that “there is not a syllable in the Pauline letters that can be cited in support of Christians employing violence.”

Christ brings peace to the worst ethnic hostility in the first century—that between Jews and gentiles. There are echoes of the Sermon on the Mount in several different places. Again and again, the New Testament calls Christians to imitate Christ—precisely at the cross. And in faithfulness to Jesus’s teaching that his disciples must love their enemies in order to be children of our heavenly Father, Paul states clearly that at the cross, God loves God’s enemies. “Thus, from Matthew to Revelation we find a consistent witness against violence and a calling to the community to follow the example of Jesus in accepting suffering rather than inflicting it.” [quoting R Hays]

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