Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Peace of the Body of Christ, Part VI: Becoming God's Peaceable People

In John Howard Yoder's book Nevertheless (Scottdale: Herald Press, 1971), he outlines the various, sometimes overwhelming sorts and stripes of pacifism represented by different texts and groups. The chapter devoted to his own claimed position is called "The Pacifism of the Messianic Community," and he explicates the descriptive phrase further:
To say that this is the pacifism of the messianic community is to affirm its dependence upon the confession that Jesus is Christ and that Jesus Christ is Lord. To say that Jesus is the Messiah is to say that in him are fulfilled the expectations of God's people regarding the coming one in whom God's will would perfectly be done. Therefore, in the person and work of Jesus, in his teachings and his passion, this kind of pacifism finds its rootage, and in his resurrection it finds its enablement. ...

When we speak of the pacifism of the messianic community, we move the focus of ethical concern from the individual to the human community experiencing in its shared life a foretaste of God's kingdom. Persons may severally and separately ask themselves about right and wrong in their concern for their own integrity. That is fine as far as it goes. The messianic community's experience, however, is different in that it is not a life alone for heroic personalities. Instead, it is a life for a society. It is communal in that it is lived by a covenanting group of men and women who instruct one another, forgive one another, bear one another's burdens, and reinforce one another's witness. (pp. 133-34, 35)
This description accords with that of Richard Hays in The Moral Vision of the New Testament (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996):
The vocation of nonviolence is not exclusively an option for exceptionally saintly individuals, nor is it a matter of individual conscience; it is fundamental to the church's identity and raison d'être. ... The church is called to live as a city set on a hill, a city that lives in light of another wisdom, as a sign of God's coming kingdom. ...

Not only the teaching but, more important, the example of Jesus is determinative for the community of the faithful. The passion narrative becomes the fundamental paradigm for the Christian life. This means that the community is likely to pay a severe price for its witness: persecution, scorn, the charge of being ineffective and irrelevant. When the New Testament canon is read through the focal lens of the cross, Jesus' death moves to the center of attention in any reflection about ethics. ...

[However,] the New Testament's ethical teaching must always be situated within the context of eschatological hope. If we fail to read the New Testament texts on violence through the lens of new creation, we will fall into one of two opposing errors: either we will fall into a foolish utopianism that expects an evil world to receive our nice gestures with friendly smiles, or we will despair of the possibility of living under the "unrealistic" standards exemplified by Jesus. But if we do read the texts through the lens of new creation, we will see that the church is called to stand as God's sign of promise in a dark world. Once we see that, our way, however difficult, will be clear. (pp. 337-39)
Building off both men's work, Lee Camp puts it this way in Mere Discipleship (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2003):
Thus "church," biblically speaking, is much more than "doing church right." Being church means embodying God's intentions for the world as revealed in Christ. "Church" is not about showing the world how to be "religious," but showing the world how it is supposed to be a world that reflect the intentions of its creator. The body of Christ, by simply being the church, exhibits to the world "the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places" (Eph. 3:9-10). The church embodies the new social order, the new-world-on-the-way; the church exists as an outpost of the coming kingdom. (p. 106)
And in his book What About Hitler? (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006), Robert Brimlow names clearly the frightful and seeming impossibility of this calling:
So this is, I believe, the fundamental difficulty of [choosing not to respond to Hitler with violence]. Our call to follow Jesus and be peacemakers means that we will die. We don't like this message, so we recoil from it and consider it incomprehensible; and we find ways to try to reinterpret the gospel or to understand the "real" meaning of Jesus's message in order to obfuscate and avoid this conclusion. He could not have meant what he said; "death" must be a metaphor for something else.

We maneuver in this way because we are afraid. The anxiety of dying and death -- in their physical and spiritual manifestations -- seems overwhelming in their incomprehensibility. We are already on Mary's path in the Lazarus story. Our relationship to Jesus has become inverted in that our hope is more fundamental than our faith, and our expectations of him determine how we will live; rather, we ought to understand that his expectations of us should determine how we will die. ...

I think this difficulty is right on the mark. As long as peacemaking and repaying evil with good are seen as extraordinary, they will also be seen as outrageous. I think this is also true for most of what the gospel calls us to be as disciples of the Lord: the prohibitions against divorce and fornication, the requirement to give of our goods and ourselves to the poor, that we must love all our neighbors -- even the bad ones -- and on and on. All of these things run contrary to our instinctive reactions; all of them are unnatural; all of them are counterintuitive; and all of them appear extraordinary. And in the right circumstances -- circumstances that occur too often -- they are also outrageous. We have a problem with the message of the gospel, but the problem is with us and not with the message itself. Our task as the church is not simply to grit our teeth and accept peacemaking as the outrageous requirement it appears to be but to live lives of following Jesus in such a way that such actions (they are all related to each other) become ordinary and run-of-the-mill, so that they express the way we are as people of God. (pp. 167, 168)
As these and so many others attest, God's people are called to peace. The body of Christ is God's peace for the world, a keyhole vision into the mutual life of the triune God which will be the shared life of all creation in the coming new age, when all strife and all division and all violence will be abolished by the word of the rider on the white horse. The body of Christ is that community of men and women (and children!) who treat one another and their neighbors with the kindness, gentleness, patience, and grace which will characterize life in the new creation, for they live as if the coming age is already here because in point of fact it is: in the broken body of Christ on the cross, and in the triumph of God over death in the raising of his Son by the power of the Holy Spirit, the old is gone -- the new has come! In the life, death, and resurrection of Israel's Messiah all of the hopes of God's people for God to act once and for all to heal his creation have been fulfilled and accomplished, and through the presence of the Spirit this Messiah, Jesus, reigns as Lord over all things and reveals himself in the common life and suffering service of his community of disciples, the church. Just as he emptied himself in love for his enemies on the cross, so his disciples embody the form of the Christ's kenotic life in love for all people: in hospitality to the poor, in renunciation of violence, in sharing of goods, in marital faithfulness, in telling the truth. The mission of this community of disciples is to announce the good news to all nations that in his Son and by his Spirit and through his people, the creator of all things, the God who is love, has acted, is acting, and will definitively act for the just rectification and merciful amelioration of all brokenness and suffering, all violence and death, all absurdity and all chaos; and that in order to see and to share in this eschatological action now, even today, one must witness the life of the body of Christ, and finally turn from the old ways of the passing age and instead become part of the vanguard of God's kingdom.

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