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A Theology of Peace II

People sometimes say to me, “Do this peace and justice thing on your own time. Don’t distract the church from the work of preaching the gospel.” But I believe this limited definition of the gospel is overly reductionistic. Jesus’ way was not limited to theological proclamations. It was love. It was peace. It was lived. A few examples from Jesus and the early teachers emphasize the relational aspect of the good news of Jesus’ kingdom:

  • Matt. 5:23-24— Relational reconciliation should precede religious expressions; steps are given in Matt. 18.
  • Matt. 22:36-40— Love of God and others are inseparable.
  • Matt. 23:23— Justice is more important than tithe.
  • Matt. 25:31-46— Sheep and goat designations are based on loving actions.
  • 1 John 3:17— Love of God doesn’t exist when love for others is lacking.

We see this in the early church as they lived the gospel of peace. It brought together men and women in amazing new ways; same with Jews and gentiles, slave and free, rich and poor. Social relations were turned upside down. Unity with God brought peace to relations as never before. Paul says way too much about peace in our relationships to limit the ministry of reconciliation solely to our relationship with God (e.g., 1 Cor. 7:15; 12:13; Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:14-17; 4:3; Col. 3:11; 3:15; 1 Thes. 5:13, and more).

Yes, the peace Jesus brought includes peace and reconciliation with God, but it does not stop there. Therefore, to be faithful to Jesus and the gospel of peace, we also must not stop there! Compassion, mercy, justice, love and meeting needs are all elemental to God’s peace, God’s shalom.

I shouldn’t limit this consideration to the New Testament alone since peace and justice are prevalent in the Hebrew Scriptures as well. Matt. 23:23 listed above echoes Amos, who said God hated the religion that lacked justice (Amos 5:21-24). This is also consistent with Micah 6:8, and Deut. 16:20also fits here–“Follow justice and justice alone.” Similarly, Isaiah actually connects justice with God’s salvation. That is, Is. 56:1makes God’s approaching salvation the motivation for pursuing justice, not a reason to neglect it.

Consistent with these verses, Ellen White saw social realities as part of the gospel, not as an optional add-on. She writes, “Much more than mere sermonizing is included in preaching the gospel….The union of Christlike work for the body and Christlike work for the soul is the true interpretation of the gospel” (Welfare Ministry, pp. 32-33). The first 40 pages of Welfare Ministry emphasize this repeatedly, especially in relation to Isaiah 58.

This continues the post from yesterday. Part III coming tomorrow.

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