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April 1974 · Vol. 3 No. 1 · pp. 173–76 

Response: The Theology and Strategy of Peace as Evangelism

John E. Toews

My task is to isolate the important issues raised in the discussion of “Peace as Evangelism.”

I will try to do that by emphasizing the three issues which I view as crucial in an understanding of “evangelism from the peace perspective.” First, I will focus the theological centre of such an evangelism. Secondly, I will outline the strategy of such an evangelism. And, thirdly, I will comment on the test of a true evangelism.

First of all, the theology of evangelism from the peace perspective must be rooted in the voluntary confession of Jesus as Christ (Messiah, if translating the Hebrew).

The gospel is the message that Jesus is Christ and Lord. He is the one who fulfills the hopes of God’s people and who brings the reign of God into history. His life-style, his teachings, his passion are vindicated in the resurrection-exaltation as God’s Way and God’s Word for sinful mankind.

To confess Jesus as Christ and Lord means two things: a) to heed his call to repentance, to accept his announcement of God’s forgiveness and to obey his teachings. Jesus came proclaiming the reign of God as his central message. He announced that the final act of God in visiting his people had begun. The reign of God was entering history in his teaching and actions, as evidenced especially in his liberation of people from sin and demon possession for whole and authentic commitment to the rulership of God in contrast to all other earthly and cosmic rulership. A new day, a new era, was dawning.

The people who heard this message were called to repentance and entrance into the disciple community of the Messianic Kingdom. That is, they were asked to make a volitional decision to change their mentality (metanoia) and follow Jesus.

The people who responded and entered the Kingdom community were called disciples of Jesus. That title indicated their volitional commitment to live a new life-style in obedience to the teachings of Jesus as an expression of their forgiveness from sin. At the heart of the teachings which governed the disciple life-style was the exhortation to love God and to love neighbor. The radical intent of this Jesus word is seen most clearly in the command to love especially one’s enemies. In the earliest catechism of the Christian community, which was used to instruct new converts in the Jesus way, this word was viewed as so important that it was placed in second position immediately after the beatitudes.

The significance of this teaching of Jesus is reinforced by many other Jesus words, such as sayings about serving rather than being served, humility over arrogance, rejection of power and the quest for power, peace-making, turning the other cheek, cross bearing, etc.

The basic assumption of this disciple life-style is newness. It presupposes that people have been changed; they have become “new creatures,” to use Paul’s famous words. It is thus not an ethic for the {174} whole society, but only an ethic for converted people. The disciple lifestyle is only for people who have voluntarily entered the new age inaugurated by the coming of the Kingdom of God. It is a highly visible life-style which says to people living in the old age with its old value systems that the Father of the Kingdom is the Father who loves sinners and who blesses his own sons in their sufferings and martyr deaths in faithfulness to the teachings of Jesus the Christ.

b) To confess Jesus as Christ means to follow the new ethical alternative which his life-style represents in first-century Palestine. Jesus could have become a monastic and withdrawn from Jewish society and its conflict with Rome as did the Essenes of the Dead Sea community, but he didn’t. Jesus could have become a Pharisee or a Sadducee and compromised with a corrupt political system in order to preserve his life and the life of his followers, but he didn’t. Jesus could have become a Zealot, a revolutionary committed to violent assistance of God in the liberation of the Jews from Rome, but he didn’t. The temptation story, the desire of the people to make Jesus king after the feeding of the 5000, the question about tribute to Caesar, the preoccupation of his own disciples with the coming of a political kingdom till the very end of Jesus’ life on earth indicates that he was tempted most by the Zealot option. But he perceived that the Zealots were most like the Romans, both were committed to violence. Jesus, therefore, repeatedly rejected this ethical stance as unfaithful to God. In its place he introduced a new ethical alternative, the ethic of suffering love. He rejected violence and accepted suffering in love, even death on a cross. The confession of Jesus as Lord means the voluntary rejection of coercion and the acceptance of that life-style, that ethical stance, which has the cross as its ultimate culmination.

“Evangelism from the peace perspective”, then, is centered in Jesus the Christ. It does not assume that all peace movements and causes are Jesus or Christian movements, it thus rejects all Constantinian attempts to baptize secular-humanistic peace causes and individuals as Christian. As John Howard Yoder has shown clearly in his recent book, Nevertheless, this understanding of evangelism “can be known only in relation to Jesus Christ.” It is a position which collapses if Jesus is not Christ and is folly if Jesus Christ is not Lord.

Secondly, the strategy of “evangelism from the peace perspective” is the formation of disciple counter-culture communities in the world. It is an evangelistic strategy which calls repentant people to enter the disciple community of the Kingdom proclaimed by Jesus. This community later became known as the church.

The task of evangelism is not simply saving individuals from hell for heaven, or of calling individuals to repentance and an individualistic struggle to be faithful to their confession of Jesus as Lord. Rather, it is calling individuals to repentance and entrance into the Kingdom community of God’s people here and now as a living foretaste of the coming and consummated Kingdom of God. In other words, the primary concern of “evangelism from the peace perspective” is the formation of disciple communities. Both the task and the nature of the community to be formed are given us in Jesus’ life and teachings.

Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom involved the creation of a new and voluntary community of God’s people. By definition it was a minority community, a counter-culture community. As such it had its own leader {175} and teacher, Jesus; its own organizational structure centered in 12 disciples, symbolizing a renewed Israel; its own organizational style, shared power and shared decision-making in humble and loving service; its own economic program, shared bread; its own judicial system, binding and loosing; its own social program, sharing one another’s burdens; its own ethical and political stance, suffering love in faithfulness to Jesus; and its own political ideology, proclaiming the Kingdom of God and making disciples in all nations.

The disciple community called into existence by Jesus has all the characteristics of a new socio-political order intent on changing the world. It was, to use twentieth century categories, a Messianic counter-culture which challenged the basic assumptions of the existing socio-political order. In fact, the challenge was so sharp that the leader, Jesus, was crucified as a political criminal, and many of his followers shared a similar fate.

“Evangelism from the peace perspective” is thus concerned to participate in the formation of disciple communities which are authentic Messianic counter-culture communities. People are invited to confess Jesus as Lord and to enter local disciple communities. One fundamental dimension of the style and witness of these communities is the rejection of coercion and violence in all human relations and the faithful and joyful acceptance of Jesus’ way of love and peace. It must be emphasized that this pacifism is a communal stance of the Kingdom counter-community, not the stance of heroic individuals, and it represents only one important characteristic of the total community’s stance. To isolate the peace witness from the other components of the Kingdom community-shared economics, brotherhood process in internal decision-making, forgiveness of erring brethren, mutual admonition, etc. is to fracture the strategy of evangelism and to be unfaithful to Jesus.

The gospel, then, is the good news of Jesus the Christ calling people to a new life of love and obedience within the context of a Kingdom community on earth which is looking forward to God’s ultimate reign over the cosmos.

The early Christian community faithfully proclaimed this gospel in the light of Jesus’ death “for our sins” and resurrection by God, and in the power of the Messianic Spirit of Pentecost. While it changed the language as it translated the gospel for different cultural settings, this understanding of the good news was followed faithfully. Christians everywhere called Jews and Gentiles to repent, confess Jesus as Christ and Lord, and enter the Kingdom community, now called the church. For 250 years this Kingdom community functioned as a counter-culture challenging and evangelizing the ancient world. Throughout this period, the era of the church’s greatest spiritual power and growth in history, the Christian community proclaimed an ethic of peace and non-resistance in rejection of violence and war. Even those writings of the earliest disciples of Jesus which Christendom later used to justify violence and war, such as Romans 13, were understood by the earliest Christians as exhortations to non-violence in the face of Zealot pressure to violent rebellion against Rome.

In early Christianity the only evangelism known is “evangelism from the peace perspective.” The gospel is the good news that in Jesus God has acted to forgive man and to enable him to live the life of obedience and love in the context of a Kingdom community which God intended {176} from the beginning. In Jesus God has acted to reconcile man and to create a new order.

Evangelism from a non-peace perspective evangelism which is concerned only with individual salvation from damnation or which accepts a violent life-style—is foreign to Jesus and the early Christian church. It is known only where faithfulness to Jesus has been compromised with pagan culture, Roman, Medieval or North American.

Our forefathers, the Anabaptist reformers of the sixteenth century, saw the sinfulness of that compromise clearly and rejected it. They called people to repentance and a discipleship life-style, they established Christian communities which functioned as counter-cultures, and they lived the ethic of love and non-resistance as evidence of their discipleship stance.

Thirdly, “evangelism from the peace perspective” is not for all men nor does it promise success. It is an evangelism which calls all people to repentance but which forms disciple communities only of repentant people. Its peace witness characterizes only the life-style of the disciple counter-culture, not the life-style of pagan American culture. Nor can its peace witness be divorced from the disciple community for use as a strategy in resolving the fundamental crisis of violence in American society.

Another way of making the same point is to assert that success is not the criterion for evaluating “evangelism from the peace perspective.” American democratic liberalism has taught us that the criterion for the truth is universality, the truth is that which works in most cases. Applied to evangelism that ethic says that numerical success establishes the rightness or wrongness of an evangelistic theology and strategy. “Evangelism from the peace perspective” rejects such pagan criteria and calls for an evangelism that is faithful to Jesus and the early Christians. Jesus never said that the test or the fruit of the truth was success; he said the opposite. The truth gets crucified. The true test of “evangelism from the peace perspective” is the formation of disciple communities which are obedient to Jesus, even obedience unto suffering and death.

John Toews is Professor of Bible at Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kansas.

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