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Fall 2014 · Vol. 43 No. 2 · pp. 228–242 

Toward a Mennonite Brethren Peace Theology: Reading the Bible through an Anabaptist Lens

Doug Heidebrecht

1 Mennonite Brethren, even though they stand within the Anabaptist tradition, have struggled at times to be “consistent in practicing their ideals surrounding peacemaking.” 2 While their own journey represents a glance back to the sixteenth-century Anabaptist movement, they are also now attempting to live within a very different historical and cultural setting. This dual focus raises two critical questions. First, why Anabaptist? What does this radical Reformation movement have to offer the Mennonite Brethren church in the twenty-first century? Second, how could this Anabaptist perspective contribute to the development of a contemporary Mennonite Brethren peace theology that might nurture a more consistent practice of peacemaking? 3

How Mennonite Brethren engage in theological reflection as a hermeneutical community must also reveal what it means to be peacemakers living under God’s reign.


The sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation gave birth to a swirling ferment of new religious convictions that irrevocably challenged medieval Catholic Christendom and reshaped the landscape of Christianity. Martin Luther’s initial call for reform in 1517 was further challenged by more radical reformers who believed that he did not carry a biblical vision of reform {229} far enough. The Anabaptist movement was the embodiment of this radical wing of the Reformation, and it was first expressed among the young followers of Zwingli, the reformer in Zurich, Switzerland, when they re-baptized each other one January evening in 1525. While this marked the beginning of the movement, these re-baptizers—or Anabaptists, as they were first called by their opponents—reflected neither a consistent nor unified group. 4 Eventually the early Anabaptists coalesced around three primary constituencies: the Swiss Anabaptists, the South German/Austrian groups, which arose almost simultaneously, followed a few years later by a distinct North German/Dutch contingent. 5

Until recently, most Protestant historians followed Luther’s lead by describing these Anabaptists as “fanatics and heretics,” despite their unswerving orthodoxy regarding the central elements of the Christian faith, such as the affirmation of the historic Creeds, belief in the authority of Scripture, and the conviction that salvation is by grace through faith. 6 Yet today, not only do their direct descendants—Mennonites, Amish, and Hutterites—reflect important aspects of their theological legacy, so do all who belong to the free church or Believers Church, which represents a Christian tradition that is somewhat distinct from both Catholicism and Protestantism. 7 It is telling that Lesslie Newbigin labeled this tradition “Pentecostal” and James McClendon identified it as “baptistic,” suggesting that a glance back to the sixteenth-century Anabaptist movement offers a relevant reference point for a broad spectrum of contemporary Christianity. 8


A significant challenge confronts Mennonite Brethren when they seek to articulate the relevance of early Anabaptist experience within the sixteenth-century. Clearly, the early Anabaptists worked out their theological response to force and violence within a very different cultural context, one where the social, political, economic, and religious elements of European society formed a unified and indistinguishable whole. 9 Anabaptism emerged at a time when the ideal of medieval Christendom was breaking apart as nation states confronted the political authority of the papacy, as an emerging capitalism undermined the church’s control over the feudal system, and as the religious authority of the Catholic church was challenged by multiple visions for reform—all of which were infused with an apocalyptic excitement fueled by the threat of an invasion of Europe by the Turks. 10 In the midst of this turmoil Anabaptists were forced to develop their theology in an openly hostile environment that denied them any political legitimacy. 11 To be Anabaptist required “a faith decision that directly confronted and challenged the social, religious, and political status quo” of sixteenth-century Europe, and consequently they were “sought {230} out, persecuted, jailed, dispossessed, exiled, and put to death by Lutheran, Reformed, and Catholic cities and rulers” alike. 12

Yet it was this experience of marginalization and suffering that enabled these early Anabaptists to think “outside the box” of medieval Christendom and move beyond the Protestant reformers who could not imagine the church functioning separate from the power structures of the state. Rather than appealing to the authority of papal edicts, Canon Law, or the scholarly interpretation of Scripture all enforced by the sword of the state, Anabaptists recognized that the source of authority rested in the promise of the presence of Christ within the gathered community as they read the Bible together. 13 This practice was guided by the “Rule of Christ” (Matt 18:18), where the consensus of the community around the interpretation of the Word carries “binding” and “loosing” authority; and by the “Rule of Paul” (1 Cor 14:29), where the guidance of the Spirit is discernable when all are free to participate in the conversation. 14

Therefore, one significant and relevant contribution that the early Anabaptist movement offers Mennonite Brethren is a model for how to engage in biblical study and theological reflection within a particular, perhaps even marginalized, setting: anticipating the active involvement of the Spirit within the community when it gathers around the Scriptures, seeking to pattern one’s life after Jesus and the New Testament church, and giving voice to everyone within the community. This Anabaptist understanding of the church as a hermeneutical community is not only a model for communal discernment, but also an innovative example of how to engage peaceably in theological reflection through the promotion of noncoercive conversation, community consensus, and a counter-cultural perspective.


Another challenge facing Mennonite Brethren in an attempt to articulate the relevance of early Anabaptists in the development of a peace theology is the reality that there was no “normative” Anabaptist position during its early stages regarding the question of state or individual participation in violence. 15 The early Anabaptists represented diverse views that ranged from the denunciation of all violence based on a literalistic interpretation of Jesus’s words, to more moderate approaches regarding the role of government, to calls for the faithful to take up the sword as God’s vengeance against the ungodly in preparation of Christ’s return. During the early formative years of the Anabaptist movement the presence of these various approaches revealed a profound struggle regarding how to interpret the Bible.

Yet, by the end of the chaotic and bloody sixteenth century the three Anabaptist streams had developed a common approach regarding how to interpret the Bible in relation to war and violence. 16 This eventual {231} agreement emerging among the Anabaptists’ descendants suggests the presence of a shared hermeneutical framework within the early movement (despite their struggles) by which Anabaptists sought to relate the Bible to their situation. 17 Instead of the elusive task of trying to identify which particular position held by the diverse Anabaptist factions may actually be representative of a “true” Anabaptist approach, this hermeneutical framework offers Mennonite Brethren an interpretive lens that can focus their reading of Scripture toward the development of a peace theology within a very different time and cultural context. 18 This Anabaptist hermeneutical framework is characterized in two ways.


First, the Anabaptists believed in the active working of the Spirit within the life of individual believers as well as within the gathered church. 19 This recognition of a “lively pneumatology” lay behind the significance of a dualism perceived by Anabaptists, not as two contrasting spheres of good and evil, but as “two distinctive realms or points of reference” that are mutually dependent. 20 It was this profound Anabaptist conviction regarding the active presence of the Spirit that connected the two realms of this dualism and carried significant implications for how this was worked out in practice.

The Anabaptist belief in the active work of the Spirit meant that their biblicism was always “mediated by the expectation that the Spirit would illuminate and provide the proper understanding of Scripture.” 21 This emphasis on both Scripture and Spirit together, rather than just “Scripture alone,” recognized that divine authority was reflected in the mutual and necessary relationship of the dualism of Spirit/letter in the interpretation of Scripture. 22 This is why the role of the gathered community in the discernment of both the voice of the Spirit and the meaning of the biblical text was emphasized. The relationship between the inner and outer points of reference was also seen as the necessary connection between the outward public proclamation of the gospel and the inward illumination and conviction of the Spirit as he invites people to respond to God. 23

Many Anabaptists insisted on the “essential and necessary unity” of the inner and outer lives of believers because they recognized that the Spirit’s work within a person through faith and regeneration must be expressed visibly in a life of discipleship and obedience. 24 This is why the outward sign of adult baptism carried such importance—it signified an inner change, an inner yielding to God, which required a visible pledge as a witness to one’s commitment. 25 This emphasis on adult baptism, which came to define Anabaptism as a distinct reform movement, reflected their conviction that the church was to be the visible Body of Christ expressed in a community of faithful, committed, and obedient believers. 26 Anabaptist ecclesiology was {232} marked by an initiation through water baptism, the practice of church discipline, sharing in the Lord’s Supper as a memorial of Christ’s death, and mutual aid, which redefined social and economic relationships because of Jesus’s call to love one another. 27 The emphasis on both the outward life of discipleship and the church as a visible community was seen as an integral expression of the presence of the Spirit working within the lives of believers.

Besides supporting the practice of the church as a hermeneutical community, the Anabaptist affirmation of the active presence of the Spirit connecting inner and outer realms offers Mennonite Brethren a hermeneutical framework that emphasizes the visible expression of inner realities. This hermeneutical lens challenges a reading of Scripture in the development of a peace theology that might separate personal piety and social justice, individual and corporate transformation, and private and public participation. 28


A second aspect of an Anabaptist hermeneutical framework is their Christocentrism. Anabaptists consistently contended that the words of Jesus and his example held primary significance. 29 This Jesus-centered conviction carried significant implications for how Anabaptists interpreted the Bible because it led to affirming the precedence of the New Testament over the Old, recognizing that the whole of Scripture pointed to Jesus, looking to Jesus as the authoritative interpreter of Scripture, and insisting that Jesus’s life and teachings had greater authority for doctrine and practice than other passages. 30 While this assertion of a canon within a canon did not threaten the Anabaptists’ strong belief in the inspiration and authority of the entire Bible, it did mean that when they “began with Jesus’ teaching and example on issues and interpreted other passages in that light,” they reached radically different conclusions than the other Reformers. 31 This Christocentric approach “at its best was not a literalistic and legalistic application of Jesus’ teaching,” but recognized Jesus’s “example, lifestyle, spirit, relationships, and intention” as the lens for clearly interpreting the rest of Scripture. 32

The implications of the Anabaptists’ Christocentric approach went far beyond how they interpreted the Bible—permeating their theology, ecclesiology, ethics, and spirituality. 33 Although the Anabaptists basically accepted the Reformers’ understanding of Christology and soteriology, it was their profound commitment to imitate the example of Jesus and obey Christ as Lord that guided their vision for reform. 34 While the Reformers emphasized the Christological nature of God’s salvific acts and the doctrine of justification by faith, the Christocentrism of the Anabaptists focused on the life and teaching of the historical Jesus, thereby leading them to significantly different interpretations that were distinctive within {233} the Reformation context. 35 Furthermore, a focus on the Gospels rather than doctrines encouraged the emphasis on “practical application and personal discipleship” since Christ was seen as authoritative in ethics. 36 One of the early Anabaptist leaders, Hans Denck, would declare, “No one can know Christ unless he follows after him in life, and no one can follow him unless he first know him.” 37

The Anabaptists’ Christocentrism also shaped their conception of the “two kingdoms,” where Jesus’s proclamation of the Kingdom of God called for very different ethical behavior than what was experienced within earthly kingdoms. 38 The visible church, as “part of God’s kingdom incarnate,” must be separate from the world and reflect renewed social and economic relationships that are to be governed by the love of Christ. 39 Because these two kingdoms are ruled by two separate “princes,” the church lives in tension with the world when it seeks to follow the teaching and “concrete example of Jesus’ life.” 40

Anabaptist Christocentrism, as an expression of their profound experience with the living Jesus, offers Mennonite Brethren a hermeneutical lens for reading Scripture and developing a peace theology that begins with and is centered on Jesus. This Christocentric focus recognizes that a true knowledge and understanding of both Christ and the Scriptures can only be found through a life of discipleship within a visible community that reflects the character of God’s reign. 41

A significant aspect of the relevance of sixteenth-century Anabaptism for the development of a Mennonite Brethren peace theology is reflected in how they engaged in biblical study and theological reflection. The Anabaptist emphasis on the church as a hermeneutical community and the presence of a hermeneutical framework shaped by their recognition of the active presence of the Spirit and pervasive Christocentrism provides a trajectory that points beyond their sixteenth-century context and offers an interpretive lens that can guide a contemporary Mennonite Brethren reading of Scripture.


Following an exploration of the relevance of sixteenth-century Anabaptism for Mennonite Brethren is the question of how an Anabaptist perspective might contribute to the development of a contemporary Mennonite Brethren peace theology. How might an Anabaptist hermeneutical lens provide an interpretive strategy for reading Scripture that could possibly shape a robust peace theology?

The following response is necessarily both preliminary and limited. 42 The basic approach will be to follow the language of “peace,” primarily in the New Testament, in an attempt to articulate the significant themes {234} that could inform a Mennonite Brethren peace theology. 43 An Anabaptist hermeneutical lens highlights the significance of beginning with Jesus and consequently the nature of the Triune God. The invitation to encounter the God of peace comes through the proclamation of the gospel of peace. Finally, the call to be peacemakers arises as people live together under God’s reign, identify themselves as his children, and follow Jesus’s example as his disciples.

The God of Peace

The Bible portrays peace as an essential characteristic of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament prophets anticipated God making a new covenant of peace with his people (Ezek 37:26; 34:25; Isa 54:10) through the coming Messiah who would be called the “Prince of Peace” (Isa 9:6–7; Zech 9:9–10). The pronouncement of “peace on earth” by the angels at Jesus’s birth echoes Zechariah’s prophecy that this child would “guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79; 2:14; Cf. Isa 59:8). Scripture reveals that peace with God is only accessible through Jesus Christ, who reconciles both Jews and Gentiles to God by making peace through the cross (Rom 5:1; Eph 2:13–18; Col 1:20). As “our peace” Jesus creates in himself “one new humanity,” and all who are part of the body of Christ are now called to “let the peace of Christ” rule in their hearts (Eph 2:14–15; Col 3:15). Paul identifies Jesus as “the Lord of Peace” (2 Thess 3:16), the source and presence of peace.

The New Testament also portrays peace as an essential characteristic of God himself. Six times in the New Testament the unique expression, “the God of peace,” is used, which is unprecedented in the Old Testament or in the Classic and Hellenistic Greek. 44 With this expression Paul moves beyond interest in an ideal concept or phenomenon of peace that could somehow be connected with God, to the affirmation of God as the source and promoter of peace, because peace describes the very character of God himself. 45 These references to “the God of peace” are linked to God’s presence within the church (Rom 15:33; Phil 4:9; 2 Cor 13:11; Cf. 1 Cor 14:33), his pledge to sanctify believers wholly (1 Thess 5:23; Heb 13:20), and his promise to crush Satan (Rom 16:20). The identification of God as the source of peace is also evident in the stereotypical salutations Paul uses in twelve of his letters: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” 46 These salutations highlight the inherent bond between God the Father, Jesus Christ, and peace—a peace that is beyond human understanding (Phil 4:7), yet which alludes to Israel’s experience of shalom or well-being, due to the Semitic character of Paul’s greeting. 47

Finally, peace is integral to the character and work of the Holy Spirit. As one of the fruits of the Spirit, peace is evidence both of being led by the Spirit and of the unity of the Spirit within the church, Christ’s body {235} (Gal 5:22, 25; Rom 8:6; Eph 4:3). The nature of the kingdom of God is also represented by the peace of the Spirit (Rom 14:17).

This recognition of the Triune God as the “God of peace” centers a theology of peace in the character of God who is the source of peace. This implies that peace is never an optional concern, but imperative to God’s work within the world because it reflects his very nature and characterizes the relationships he seeks to have with people and creation. Those who have been reconciled with God have peace with him and are now called to imitate the character of God within their own lives (Eph 5:1).

The Gospel of Peace

It is the “God of peace” who offers the good news of peace. Several times in the New Testament the gospel itself is referred to simply as the “gospel of peace” (Acts 10:36; Eph 6:15) or as “preaching peace” (Eph 2:17). Jesus came announcing the coming of the kingdom of God and calling on people to repent and believe the good news (Mark 1:15), which Paul encapsulates as “he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (Eph 2:17). Inherent to this gospel message is the holistic offer of peace with God, of peace with one another, and of peace with God’s creation. 48

Jesus’s announcement of God’s reign reflects God’s initiative “to reconcile to himself all things” (Col 1:20) through Christ. The possibility of a relationship with God is proclaimed to those who are characterized as enemies, ungodly, sinners, children of wrath, aliens, strangers, and without hope (Rom 5:6, 8, 10; Eph 2:3, 12). It is to these same people that the God of peace offers the good news that peace with God is accessible through Jesus Christ whose death and resurrection provide the means of reconciliation (Rom 5:1, 10; Col 1:19–21; Eph 2:15–16). The direct link between Jesus’s death on the cross and his “making peace” makes it synonymous with reconciliation as an atonement image (Eph 2:13–16). Furthermore, the close connection between peace and reconciliation highlights the relational nature of peace with God. 49

When a person is reconciled with God they become part of God’s people, since they are now in Christ and members of his body. When Christ “makes peace” through the cross he breaks down the barriers and hostility between people who have been reconciled together into one body (Eph 2:14–16), where there is no distinction made between male and female, nation, or race (Gal 3:28; 1 Cor 12:13; Col 3:11; Rom 10:12). God has called his people to peace (1 Cor 7:15) in all their relationships and they are actively to “pursue what makes for peace” (Rom 14:19) by “making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3). Not only are God’s people called to be at peace among themselves (1 Thess 5:13; 2 Cor 13:11), they are to “pursue peace with everyone” {236} (Heb 12:14; 1 Pet 3:11) and, as much as is possible, to live at peace with others (Rom 12:18; 1 Tim 2:2; James 3:18).

The good news of peace also entails peace with God’s creation. This often neglected aspect of the gospel recognizes that God seeks to “reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven” through Christ because “all things have been created through him and for him” (Col 1:15–17, 20). 50 This vision for peace within God’s creation (Isa 11:6–9; 65:25) acknowledges both God’s own care for the birds of the air and his delight in the lilies of the field (Matt 6:26–30) as well as the groaning of creation to be free from the bonds of decay (Rom 8:19–23). God’s mandate to exercise dominion over the earth (Gen 1:28) carries the responsibility to reflect his own care for his creation because it reveals his power and divine nature (Rom 1:20).

Be Peacemakers

Given the character of the Triune God as the “God of peace” and the proclamation of peace as intrinsic to the gospel message, it should not be surprising that Jesus calls God’s people to be peacemakers (Matt 5:9). This call not only reflects Jesus’s expectations for living under God’s reign but more specifically it represents identification with God himself, for peacemakers “will be called children of God” (Matt 5:9). This appeal to imitate God by embodying his character and to participate in his mission to “make peace” is manifested in four practices within the New Testament.

Witness to God’s Reign

First, God’s people are called to witness to God’s reign in this world. The gathered church, as the visible embodiment of those who live under God’s reign, expresses the reality of reconciliation with God when they live at peace with one another (Mark 9:50). The nature of the kingdom of God, characterized by peace in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17), is vividly reflected in the unity of the Spirit within the church (Eph 4:3). The specific connection between references to “the God of peace” and his promise to be present among his people (Rom 15:33; Phil 4:9; 2 Cor 13:11) highlights how the presence of peace reveals God’s active reign. Within this context the call to forgive one another within the church is significant because it exemplifies the forgiveness that God has already extended to those who have been reconciled with him (Eph 4:32; Col 3:13). As the incarnate body of Christ, the church continues to reflect the nature of Christ’s presence and his Lordship within society.

Jesus’s command that we love our neighbors (Luke 10:27; Rom 12:9–10; Gal 5:14) and, more specifically, love our enemies (Matt 5:43–45) again represents the authenticity of the claim to be one of God’s children {237} and even the genuineness of one’s claim to love God (1 John 4:20–21). Since God loves those who are still sinners (Rom 5:8) and seeks reconciliation with those who are still his enemies (Rom 5:10), he asks no less of his own people who say they are living under his reign. Jesus’s command that we love our enemies is followed by the call to “be merciful just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:27–28, 35–36). The common linkage between God’s mercy and his peace in the New Testament (Gal 6:16; 1 Tim 1:2; 2 Tim 1:2; 2 John 3; Jude 2) highlights how mercy, love, and compassion for others (James 5:11) are integral to God’s initiative to “make peace” and his own motivation for reconciliation.

Ministry of Reconciliation

Second, God’s people are entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation. The active involvement of the church in reconciliation is directly connected to its own experience of having already been reconciled with God and with God’s continuing work of “reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor 5:18–19). God’s people are portrayed as “ambassadors for Christ,” who are compelled by his love for people, and through whom God makes his own appeal to be reconciled (2 Cor 5:14, 20). As agents of reconciliation they proclaim the holistic good news of peace with God and make every effort to reconcile people with each other and with God’s creation.

Promotion of Justice

Third, God’s people are called to promote justice. Throughout the Bible, God is characterized as a “God of justice” (Isa 30:18) who “loves justice” (Isa 61:8), and always acts with justice (Jer 9:24). Justice is the purposeful expression both of God’s love (Hos 12:6; Luke 11:42) and his impartiality (Deut 10:17; Rom 2:11; Eph 6:9), which seeks to address the imbalance of relationships within a community, honor each person’s participation, and maintain equity between people. Without justice there is no shalom, there is no peace (Isa 59:8), so God actively helps the oppressed, feeds the hungry, sets the prisoners free, opens the eyes of the blind, lifts up those who are bowed down, watches over strangers, and upholds the orphan and the widow (Ps 146:5–9; cf. Ps 72:12–14).

When Jesus declares in his inaugural sermon, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18–19), he links the gospel with God’s concern for justice. Therefore, the church’s ministry of reconciliation cannot be separated from God’s concern for the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized, which was also so clearly evident in Jesus’s incarnation, ministry, and teaching. In particular, the church must reflect God’s own impartiality by loving all people without making distinctions based on ethnic, economic, or gender differences, which so often demarcate the presence of injustice. {238}

Rejection of Violence

Fourth, God’s people are called to reject violence. Jesus’s radical statement, “blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (Matt 5:10–12; Rom 12:14), acknowledges that one cannot always control the coercive, violent, or oppressive actions of others. But Jesus goes even further to say that God’s people should “not resist an evildoer” violently (Matt 5:39), but absorb their insult or unfair treatment. In the face of such actions, Jesus calls his disciples to love their enemies (Matt 5:43–45), to do good to those who hate them (Luke 6:27; Rom 12:14, 20), and not to repay evil for evil (1 Pet 3:9; Rom 12:21). Rather than responding with a similar level of aggression, which may escalate the situation, Jesus calls his followers to be intentional about responding in a positive way that imitates the very character and reconciling actions of God himself.

Part of the reason why God’s people are called not to avenge themselves (Rom 12:19) is because the present experience of violence or injustice is not the whole picture—God is the righteous judge who will hold all people accountable for their actions. In light of this, the willingness to suffer, even for doing good (1 Pet 3:14, 17–18), not only recognizes Christ’s Lordship in the midst of every situation (John 16:33), but also follows the example of his own willingness to suffer peaceably in the face of extreme violence and injustice. The eschatological image of the bloodied Lamb opening the scroll (Rev 5:6) disconcertingly reveals it is “the cross not the sword, suffering and not brute strength” that determines “the meaning of history.” 51


This brief survey biblical texts using the language of “peace” offers an interpretive approach that attempts to reflect an Anabaptist hermeneutical framework. As such it seeks to acknowledge the priority of Jesus’s teaching and example, to recognize the significance of the mutual relationship between an inner faith and an outer life of discipleship, to affirm the visible church as an expression of God’s reign in this world, and to anticipate the transforming work of God’s Spirit. While this reading does not replicate a strict Christocentrism, given its Trinitarian focus, it does intentionally begin with the character and example of Jesus as the “Lord of peace,” whose own reconciling work calls for consistent and active involvement in peacemaking.

Articulating the biblical themes relating to peace is but one step in the development of a Mennonite Brethren peace theology. There is certainly the need to vigorously engage the entire canon in the development of a more comprehensive biblical understanding of peace. As Mennonite Brethren seek to relate Scripture to their own lives, it is clear that the nature of the gospel and the kingdom of God, the varied dimensions of {239} reconciliation, and the meaning and implications of justice cannot easily be reduced into pragmatic strategies. Furthermore, the development of a peace theology that seriously engages the realities of life must address complex questions about involvement in war or the legitimacy of protective force, the effects of systemic poverty and oppression, demands for national or ethnic allegiance, environmental exploitation, dysfunctional family relationships, and the prevalent need of so many to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. Mennonite Brethren cannot offer simplistic or dismissive solutions to these difficult issues.

It is here where the relevance of a glance back to sixteenth-century Anabaptism challenges Mennonite Brethren to pay attention to more than just the content of their peace theology. How they engage in theological reflection as a hermeneutical community must also reveal what it means to be peacemakers living under God’s reign. At its heart, an Anabaptist hermeneutic invites the contemporary church to actively seek the Spirit’s guidance as they journey together in their study of Scripture.

Furthermore, the Christocentrism of the Anabaptists continues to challenge Mennonite Brethren today to look to Jesus and in doing so to reexamine their own assumptions regarding privilege, status, power, and authority, which can so easily be used to silence marginalized voices or perpetuate divisions within their own communities. Mennonite Brethren must honestly grapple with the stark truth that the “line between church and world passes right through each Christian heart” and that all are in need of the Spirit’s transforming work. 52 The good news of peace and reconciliation cannot be “trapped, tamed, and packaged for observation,” in a way that allows the church to detach its theological convictions from its personal conduct or provide justification for injustice. 53

It is the “God of peace” himself who proclaims the good news of peace and calls his people to be peacemakers. The sixteenth-century Anabaptists heard this call and wrestled with its profound implications for the church living within a turbulent time. Mennonite Brethren today also encounter this same call and face the challenge of developing a peace theology that can nurture a more consistent practice of peacemaking.


  1. This article has been revised from a presentation given at the conference, “Biblical Perspectives on Conflict Resolution and Peace,” hosted by the Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies, Mennonite Brethren Centenary Bible College in Shamshabad, India, November 22–24, 2013.
  2. Jonathan Janzen, “Passing on Peace: Canadian Mennonite Brethren and Peacemaking,” in Renewing Identity and Mission: Mennonite Brethren Reflections after 150 Years, ed. Abe J. Dueck, Bruce L. Guenther, and Doug Heidebrecht (Winnipeg, MB: Kindred, 2011), 118. See pages 122–28 {240} where Janzen identifies several factors that have undermined Canadian Mennonite Brethren peacemaking: (1) confusing terms and definitions; (2) Canadian cultural values; (3) individualism; (4) church conference mission structures; (5) diverse theological orientations; and (6) inadequate training.
  3. Janzen defines “peace theology” as “the God-centered study of peace, the living of life in the light of God’s peace, and the ongoing process of articulating, implementing and revising one’s understanding and approach to peace” (121). The purpose this paper is not to assess earlier attempts by Mennonite Brethren to develop a peace theology. One example is the 1986 General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches’ publication, The Power of the Lamb, which sought to “make the case for the biblical peace position for Mennonite Brethren who are struggling with its importance or even validity.” See John E. Toews, “Introduction,” in The Power of the Lamb, ed. John E. Toews and Gordon Nickel (Winnipeg, MB: Kindred, 1986), 3. Cf. Abe Dueck, “Anabaptism and the Issue of Peace Today” (paper presented at Mennonite Brethren Bible College, Winnipeg, MB, January 5, 1984), Papers and Essays, Box 15, Fld. G, No. 4, Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies, Winnipeg, MB.
  4. Gerald Biesecker-Mast, Separation and the Sword in Anabaptist Persuasion: Radical Confessional Rhetoric from Schleitheim to Dordrecht (Telford, PA: Cascadia, 2006), 91.
  5. C. Arnold Snyder, Anabaptist History and Theology: An Introduction (Kitchener, ON: Pandora, 1995), 6. I rely heavily upon Snyder’s depiction of early Anabaptist theology. For a critique of Snyder’s approach, see Biesecker-Mast, 41–43.
  6. Snyder, 3, 84, 86–87.
  7. Ibid., 3. Cf. Franklin Hamlin Littell, The Free Church (Boston: Starr King, 1957); Donald F. Durnbaugh, The Believers’ Church: The History and Character of Radical Protestantism (New York: Macmillan, 1968); and Walter Klaassen, Anabaptism: Neither Catholic nor Protestant (Waterloo, ON: Conrad Press, 1973).
  8. Lesslie Newbigin, The Household of God: Lectures on the Nature of the Church (London: SCM Press, 1953), 88; and James Wm. McClendon, Jr., Ethics: Systematic Theology, vol. 1 (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1986), 19. Cf. Ian M. Randall, “Tracing Baptist Theological Footprints: A European Perspective,” Perspectives in Religious Studies 36, no. 2 (Summer 2009): 133–148; W. R. Estep, “Anabaptists, Baptists, and the Free Church Movement,” Criswell Theological Review 6, no. 2 (1993): 303-17; and Charles H. Byrd II, “Pentecostalism’s Anabaptist Heritage: The Zofingen Disputation of 1532,” Journal of the European Pentecostal Theological Association 28, no. 1 (2008): 49–61.
  9. Snyder, 11. Thomas Yoder Neufeld defines violence as “intentional physical harm and injury.” See his Killing Enmity: Violence and the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 1. For the distinction between “violence” and “force,” see Janzen, 119–120.
  10. See Snyder, 11–15.
  11. Ibid., 2, 183. {241}
  12. Ibid., 2.
  13. John Howard Yoder, “Radical Reformation Ethics in Ecumenical Perspective,” in The Priestly Kingdom: Social Ethics as Gospel (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), 117–118; and John Howard Yoder, “Binding and Loosing,” in The Royal Priesthood: Essays Ecclesiological and Ecumenical (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), 331. Cf. John Howard Yoder, “A Summary of the Anabaptist Vision,” in An Introduction to Mennonite History, ed. Cornelius J. Dyck (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1981), 137; and Stuart Murray, Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition (Kitchener, ON: Pandora, 2000), 138.
  14. John Howard Yoder, “The Hermeneutics of Peoplehood: A Protestant Perspective,” in The Priestly Kingdom: Social Ethics as Gospel (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), 22–23.
  15. See Snyder, 220. For further details, see pages 185–224.
  16. Ibid., 220, and Biesecker-Mast, 24.
  17. Richard Hays defines the hermeneutical task as seeking to answer the question of how to appropriate the Bible’s message in a way that addresses the reader. See Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), 5.
  18. Yoder recognizes that “the label ‘Anabaptist’ is not a century but a hermeneutic,” which is then relevant for the contemporary church. See John Howard Yoder, “Anabaptist Vision and Mennonite Reality,” in Consultation on Anabaptist-Mennonite Theology, ed. A. J. Klassen (Fresno, CA: Council of Mennonite Seminaries, 1970), 5. Cf. John Howard Yoder, “The Hermeneutics of the Anabaptists,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 41, no. 4 (1967): 291–308.
  19. Snyder, 87.
  20. Biesecker-Mast, 30. See Harold S. Bender, “The Anabaptist Vision,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 18, no. 2 (1944): 79.
  21. Snyder, 87–88. Cf. Murray, Biblical Interpretation, 136–37.
  22. Snyder, 88.
  23. Ibid.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Ibid., 91.
  26. Ibid., 90.
  27. Ibid., 91–93.
  28. See Janzen, 126–27.
  29. Murray, 70–71.
  30. Ibid., 73–74, 91.
  31. Ibid., 74.
  32. Ibid., 78.
  33. Ibid., 80.
  34. Ibid., 80, 81, 82.
  35. Ibid., 84.
  36. Ibid., 92.
  37. Ibid., 189. {242}
  38. Snyder, 185, 189. Cf. Robert Friedmann, The Theology of Anabaptism: An Interpretation (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1973), 41.
  39. Snyder, 93.
  40. Ibid., 185, 213.
  41. Murray, 82, 83, 189.
  42. For a comprehensive exploration, see Willard M. Swartley, Covenant of Peace: The Missing Peace in New Testament Theology and Ethics (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006); and Willard M. Swartley, Send Forth Your Light: A Vision for Peace, Mission and Worship (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 2007).
  43. For an introduction to the background and semantic range of shalom and “peace” in the Bible, see Swartley, Covenant of Peace, 27–52.
  44. Romano Penna, “ ‘The God of Peace’ in the New Testament,” Deuterocanonical & Cognate Literature Yearbook 2010 (March 2010): 279.
  45. Ibid., 280. Paul also asserts that “God is a God not of disorder but of peace” (1 Cor 14:33). Swartley contends, “the God of peace appellation has not received the attention in Pauline theology that it merits.” See Swartley, Covenant of Peace, 210.
  46. See Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3; Eph 1:2; Phil 1:2; Col 1:2; 2 Thess 1:2; 1 Tim 1:2; 2 Tim 1:2; Titus 1:4; and Philem 3. Cf. 1 Pet 1:2; 2 Pet 1:2; 2 John 3; Jude 2; and Rev 1:4–5.
  47. Penna, 289.
  48. Cf. Ross Langmead, “Transformed Relationships: Reconciliation as the Central Model for Mission,” Mission Studies 25 (2008): 5–20.
  49. See I. Howard Marshall, “Reconciliation: Its Centrality and Relevance,” in Aspects of the Atonement: Cross and Resurrection in the Reconciling of God and Humanity (London: Paternoster, 2007), 107–14. Swartley also highlights the essential relationship between peace, justification, and reconciliation. See Swartley, Covenant of Peace, 193–206.
  50. See Howard A. Snyder with Joel Scandrett, Salvation Means Creation Healed: The Ecology of Sin and Grace (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2011).
  51. John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972), 238.
  52. McClendon, Ethics, 17.
  53. Trevor Hart, Faith Thinking (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1995), 138.
Doug Heidebrecht (PhD Wales) is currently working in an international setting. Previously, he served as director of the Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies in Winnipeg and as an instructor in biblical and theological studies at Bethany College in Hepburn, Saskatchewan.

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