Can you really be an Evangelical Peacemaker?
by Rick Love
What does it mean to be an evangelical peacemaker? For many this is an oxymoron. How can you be a true peacemaker and at the same time be a faithful evangelical? I get criticisms from both Muslims and Christians about this. Some Muslims accuse us of doing peacemaking only as a means to evangelize. Some Christians believe that peacemaking without evangelizing is meaningless.
Is this really an either/or issue? Is there a tension between peacebuilding and gospeling?
I see no tension between peacemaking and evangelism for three reasons. First of all, we bear witness by demonstrating the good news as much as proclaiming it. "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). We don’t always have to use words to promote the good news (See John Dickson’s definitive book on this important topic: The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission: Promoting the Gospel with More than our Lips).
Second, when we use words to bear witness, we do so with grace, gentleness, and respect. This kind of proclamation finds favor with God and promotes peace (Colossians 4:5-6; 1 Peter 3:15). Third, I see no tension between peacemaking and evangelism because the gospel we demonstrate and proclaim is a gospel of peace. In fact, the gospel is referred to as "the gospel of peace" five times in the New Testament.
And, are you ready for this? The gospel of peace was first preached to a man of war (Acts 10)! Cornelius was just the person Peter didn’t want to share with. Cornelius was a Gentile; he lived in the wrong place - Caesarea (the Roman Capital of Judea); he was the enemy, an occupying soldier. That’s why it took three God-inspired visions before Peter was willing to meet him.
Peter’s message? “You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all…” (Acts 10:36). The gospel of peace here had salvation power to reconcile a non-Jew with God. It also had social power to reconcile two enemies into one new family/body. Cornelius’ story demonstrates what Paul later teaches about the gospel of peace in Ephesians:
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one … His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross,…. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near (Ephesians 2:13-17).
Through Christ’s death, Jews and Gentiles have experienced a double reconciliation. They have been reconciled to God and to one another. According to Paul, Jesus is our peace. Jesus makes peace. Jesus proclaims peace!
One can hardly overemphasize how radical this message of peace must have sounded to Paul’s original audience. The relationship between Gentile and Jew could be described as a prototype of all division or racial alienation in the first century – comparable to the relationship between whites and blacks in the United States during the civil rights movement or in South Africa under apartheid. The animosity felt between most Americans and Muslims since 9/11 serves as a more up-to-date example.
Through the gospel, the church becomes an alternative society, a community where humanity’s divisions have been overcome. A foretaste of heaven’s harmony. Anything less would be a denial of the gospel and nature of the Church. We’ve got some work to do here! That’s why Peace Catalyst puts on peacemaking seminars!
The next explicit reference to the gospel of peace is in the context of war, or more precisely, spiritual warfare. Paul describes one part of our spiritual armor as our gospel boots: “… and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15).
This piece of armor has to do with the Christian warrior’s feet. The Roman boot was studded with sharp nails for a firm grip, comparable to the cleats modern athletes wear in football, baseball, or soccer. This boot enabled the soldier to stand firm in battle and also enabled him to go on long marches.
In the same way, the gospel-of-peace-boots function in two ways for the follower of Christ engaged in spiritual warfare. The gospel of peace enables us to stand firm against Satanic attacks (stability), and it empowers us to stamp out the divisive work of the powers of darkness by sharing the gospel (mobility). It is a gift to be received and a message to be proclaimed.
The fourth mention of the gospel of peace is in Romans:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1).
The profound nature of this peace becomes clearer as we examine the broader context of this passage (Romans 5:1-11). This peace-giving gospel is the gospel of justification and reconciliation. Moreover, the recipients of the gospel are described as helpless, ungodly, sinners and enemies. Thus, the gospel demonstrates God’s love for his enemies, resulting in peace. We experience peace instead of wrath. Enmity gives way to embrace.
The fifth and last mention of the gospel of peace is found in Colossians:
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Jesus], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross (Colossians 1:19-20).
The scope of Christ’s reconciliation is breathtaking! This is one of the most profound and astounding claims in Scripture. Reconciliation extends to both heavenly and earthly realities - a promise of universal and cosmic peace. God’s reconciling purpose at the cross was to restore humanity to fellowship with himself and to restore the harmony of the original creation.
I can hear some objections: “Rick, these five passages about the gospel of peace make it clear that evangelism is the key to peace.” Well, I think it’s more accurate to say that Jesus is the key to peace, not evangelism. Jesus is God’s Comprehensive Peace Plan.
And Jesus’s comprehensive peace plan includes commands like “pursue peace with everyone” and “love your enemies.” This implies that there can be peace outside of the Christian community, and it indicates that it’s our responsibility to help make it happen.
God blesses those who work for peace and calls them His children (Matthew 5:9). Jesus gives us the gift of peace (“My peace I give to you” John 14:27; John 16:33) and commissions us to go in peace: "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you" (John 20:21). As Jesus’s followers, we pursue peace and share the gospel of peace! Evangelical peacemakers are both-and thinkers and doers.