Church And Peace Pamphlet Series
Theology and Peace
“Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit”, says the Lord (Zech.
• This paper was written for a peace consultation
entitled "The Christian Understanding of Peacemaking" organised by Quaker Peace
& Service at Woodbrooke College in Birmingham, England in October 1987. Of
those attending the consultation one came from Africa and some from Moscow and
Prague; several were British Friends and Quaker Peace and Service staff. The
meeting was a follow up to the Christian Peace Conference founded in Prague in
1958, which had been interrupted for many years. Consultation participants
explored issues such as "What do we mean by peace and justice?" and the dilemma
of loyalty to conscience and loyalty to State. Quaker Ursula Windsor felt moved
to write the following essay which was distributed to the participants. The
process of writing the essay made her aware of how alive the Bible can be in
today's context when the Scriptures are seen in the light of the Spirit and
understood in the context of the people of God.
Terri Miller & Ursula Windsor
“Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit”, says the Lord (Zech.
One of the most important things I have learned since joining
the Society of Friends concerns the people of God and their relationship to the
Creator: "Obey my voice, and I will be your God and you shall be my people, and
walk in all the way that I command you" (Jer. 7:23). "Today, when you hear his
voice, do not harden your hearts." (Heb. 3:15) In western Christianity, this
call and calling of the Church has become obscured, overlaid with culture and
civilization; what is more, this overlaid Christianity is what we have offered
to the rest of the world. We have done many things in the name of religion, some
of them good, others appalling, instead of practising the "pure religion from
above" with God's call to work for the good of all, "the widows and fatherless
and the stranger at your gate" (George Fox). It is hard to get back to the roots
when there is so much jungle to clear away. Much of the jungle has to do with
the history of the Church in the early centuries, especially the establishment
of Christianity as an official religion of the Roman Empire after the conversion
of Constantine in the fourth century.
Even those of us who feel cut loose from this conditioning are
more affected by it than we realize. Erastianism (the supremacy of the state in
ecclesiastical affairs) is so firmly established and so deeply embedded in our
western consciousness that most Christians accept the existing relationship
between Church and State. The church has blessed actions by the State including
war and preparation for war. The individual's loyalty to the State is rarely
questioned. In so-called Christian countries, men and women have to justify
themselves before tribunals for being conscientious objectors to military
In a report in the Church and Peace journal of a discussion on
Peace, Justice and the Integrity of Creation at the Assembly of the Evangelical
Church in Germany (EKD) in Frankfurt in 1987, André Gingerich pointed out
that only the representatives of East German churches regarded the Church as "a
minority, as salt and as light", asserting that what is most important is that
"Christians obey the living God even if other nations and peoples bow down and
worship their own Gods" (Micah 3 & 4).2 Are we among the nations and peoples
who worship their own gods - for example, weapons of mass destruction - rather
than being God's own people who trust in his power to save?
In the West the edges of what it means to be a Christian in a
hostile world have blurred, which is the price we pay for our freedom to
worship, to engage in outreach, run Sunday schools, and so on. Our world does
not seem all that hostile, so we relax and become like "all the nations" (1 Sam.
8:20 & Luke 12:30). If it has become a problem for us how to recover the
witness of the early Christians, the Anabaptists, and the seventeenth-century
Quakers, we must ask ourselves, not how to imitate them, but whether we have
shifted from the foundation on which they built. Their faithfulness as followers
of the Light of Christ aroused the suspicion of the authorities and so
endangered their livelihood and often their lives; but they were clear what they
must do, which we in more comfortable circumstances often are not. Their
testimony for peace was implicit in their discipleship; most important, they
felt commissioned to go out into the world and preach "the everlasting gospel
.... to every nation and kindred and tongue and people” (Rev. 14: 6) and
where that gospel is preached, there peace is preached for "he is our peace"
(Eph. 2:14). In Christ all are one, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, transcending
all boundaries and frontiers.
Most Christians pay lip service to these ideals, but to carry
them out can mean a revolution in the life of the individual and of the
churches. To accept Christ as our peace, who breaks down the walls of partition
now, and through whom the world is reconciled to God, demands new priorities of
"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the
renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good
and acceptable and perfect." (Rom. 12:2) No longer are we to accept the
standards of the imperfect world around us, choosing (only if necessary) the
least of several evils, but we should - and can, by the grace and power of God
- live by the standards of the Kingdom of God that is among us, of which Christ
is the ever-present (therefore now present) King, who rules among us.
The purpose of Christ's own obedience in accepting the cross
was not only that we might be forgiven (necessary though that forgiveness is)
but that we in turn will be enabled to obedience, to love one another as he
loves us, to do good to them who hate us, and to do the work of the Father as
Jesus did in his earthly life.
"And greater works than this will you do, because I go to the
Father. ... As the Father sent me, even so I send you." (John 14:12 &
"The servant is not greater than his master", so the Church,
to do his work, must be prepared to die as he did. "Unless a grain of wheat
falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much
fruit." (John 12:24) Instead of living by this truth, the Church has employed
means to perpetuate itself, which has come to stand in the way of the immediate
working power of the Lord in the midst of his people. We have come to listen to
human voices and to rely on human wisdom instead of recognizing that "the
foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than
men" (1 Cor. 1:25). When shall we learn not to limit the power of Christ to
save, and when shall we live by the knowledge that we cannot continue in sin
because we are dead to it (Rom. 6:2)?
"In the new economy of grace the vicious circle of human sin
is broken; henceforth the Christian is restored from his sinful state and is
lifted into the glorious liberty of the sons of God." 3
Jesus Christ is the enabler and the forgiver; he reveals and
heals; he speaks and we hear; he gathers us and gives us order; he commands and
empowers us to obey. He is the shepherd who rescues us; he is the prophet who
interprets Scripture and the present age. George Fox wrote early in his journal
quoting 1 John 2:27 that "there is an anointing within man to teach him, and the
Lord will teach his people himself." 4
Where Christ is heard as authority and head of the Church, our
problem of when and how to obey human authority takes a different character. The
community that is gathered in his name is that of the New Covenant with God in
which the Law will be written in our hearts and we shall be his people (Jer.
31:33), the new Israel, a holy nation, a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9) serving
not one family, tribe, nation or culture, but existing to accomplish God's
redemptive purpose. Too exalted a vision this may seem, but not one to lose
sight of, as we learn faithfulness.
"To move from a specifically British, (German, Russian,
American) position to a distinctively Christian one is very hard." 5 I have been
fortunate in this respect; as a refugee during the last war, coming to live in a
supposedly enemy country (where I now find my home), I do not find it difficult
to make that move. Having experienced a totalitarian state, it is easier for me
to see the danger of giving first loyalty to the State or any other human
authority. Moreover, my experience has taught me much about what the Church can
and should be and how it has failed.
"The first duty of the Church and its greatest service to the
world is that it be in very deed the Church"6 - "the Church against which the
gates of hell cannot prevail"; it was in this spirit that the Quakers in 1661
were empowered to say that "the spirit of Christ, by which we are guided ....
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 kingdom
of this world".7
This brings us into conflict with human authorities, be they
Church or State. This may be less obvious in the so-called democracies of the
West. However, I believe that we are not sufficiently aware of our involvement
with the forces of materialism, the principalities and powers of our age, or the
subtle erosion of human rights owing to the over-riding pre-occupation of
governments with financial priorities rather than welfare, and with national
security rather than the good of international community. We are implicated in
such systems by our lives as consumers and our involvement with institutions and
industries that do not work for the common good. In our efforts to improve
conditions, do we go along with our systems rather than distance ourselves from
them? Do we fear the loss of our good name or that we may invite persecution? I
have heard it said that the dynamic of early Friends was their being a
persecuted people. They did not invite persecution, but they could do no other.
No one wants to give up freedom and security, but if we are led and commanded by
Christ, we know that he will not leave us without his Spirit to see us through.
We have to take the risk of the first step. If the result should be suffering,
we know that we are in good company. "If the world hates you, know that it has
hated me before it hated you." (John 15:18)
We sometimes forget that in its beginning the peace church -
early Christians, Anabaptists, seventeenth century Quakers - was also a Church
of the Cross. All three groups suffered persecution at the hands of
ecclesiastical and civil authorities, because their life style and prophetic
witness were seen as a threat to the establishment of Church and State. The
former, by its acquired structure, had lost the ability to live "according to
the counsel of his will" (Eph. 1:11) so it became vulnerable to the thrust of
movements that were learning once again to listen to the voice of God together,
to obey it together, and in many cases to suffer together.
When the power of the Church assumes a worldly character, it
will use worldly means to put down whatever threatens to undermine its
authority, much as the State will persecute its enemies. The Christian's
attitude to the State will be influenced by the nature of his or her Church.
From the peace church point of view, we shall recognize that governments are
instituted by God to maintain law and order, "to be a minister to thee for good"
(Romans 13:4); but we also remember that at best they have merely delegated and
limited authority. At its worst, the State can be permeated with evil, because
of the corrupting nature of misused power. The demonic quality of such a State
and its consequent downfall is described in the Book of Revelation. Whatever the
merit of any government, "at no point may its function presume a suspension of
divine will". 8 The Christian's role is to be watchful, "to take the whole
armour of God .... and having done all, to stand" (Eph. 6:13) so that when a
conflict arises we can “obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).
1. “Towards a Theology of Peace”. Presentation
given by Dr. Paolo Ricca in Budapest in 1984.
2. Church and Peace Journal, Vol 7, No 2, 1987. p
3. The Christian and War: A Theological Discussion.
International Fellowship of Reconciliation, 1970. p 19.
4. Journal of George Fox. ed. John L. Nickells. 1975. p
5. Praying in the Shadow of the Bomb. Mark Mills Power. Grove
6. The Christian and War, p 20.
7. Journal of George Fox, p 400.
8. The Christian and War, p 17.
Ursula Windsor was born in Hamburg, Germany and emigrated to
England in 1939 at age fifteen with her family. She qualified and worked for
several years as a librarian. She was confirmed in the Lutheran Church before
leaving Germany, joined the Methodist Church in England, and later became a
member of the Religious Society of Friends together with her husband. She and
her husband became War Tax Resisters in the early 1980s, a decision which
resulted in a prison term for her husband.
She currently lives in Gloucester and is a member of the
Church and Peace Steering Committee for Britain and Ireland.