A Church Centered on Peace
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. – John 14:27
The good news of Christ can be described in many ways. Often when we talk about the big issues within the faith, we are only describing a single aspect of a multi-faceted reality. I have heard the gospel described as peace and grace, love and life, joy and hope. A seminary professor once summed it up by saying that the good news is that God’s final word is “Yes” and not “No.” Jesus keeps comparing it to the coming of the reign of God. None of these are comprehensive; all of them point toward the good news. Even as Jesus declares that “The kingdom of God has come near,” he then describes that kingdom through a series of parables that seek interpretation.
Because last week I wrote about finding focus, I thought it would be interesting to consider what might happen if a church centered on one of these aspects and let that shape its ministry and life together. This week I am going to write about a hypothetical church that shares the gospel as peace.
The mathematician Blaise Pascal once wrote, “All of humanity’s problems stem from the inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Peace is more than avoiding violence, but is also learning contentment. In scripture peace has more to do with being whole and complete than the absence of war and strife. The good news of peace is that you are whole and complete in the eyes of God just as you are.
Every day we are faced with images and ideas that tell us that we are not enough; that we don’t look good enough; that we don’t have enough; that we are not smart enough. A congregation centered on peace would begin by reminding its members that whoever they are and whatever baggage they bring, they are complete in the eyes of God. There is nothing they have to do to be loved and nothing they have to do to be accepted.
Worship in this congregation might be a bit quieter and calmer than others. Where other congregations might find value in getting people emotionally stirred up, this congregation would intentionally provide a space to calm down and decompress. The congregation might be more apt to work with silence and contemplation. Musically, its worship would tend toward simplicity.
The challenge for this peaceful congregation would be twofold. While the gospel offers good news of acceptance and love, it also offers the challenge of growth. As the Buddhist teacher Suzuki Roshi once wrote, “Each of you is perfect the way you are and you can use a little improvement.” The purpose of peaceful contemplation and not simply to snuggle with the loving presence of God, rather the contemplative seeks a transformative experience of God, one that sets them free from habitual thinking of regrets for mistakes or grudges over past offences or distractions from love. Without the challenge of growth as disciples and the conflict this kind of change and growth can bring, this church could easily fall into holy naval gazing.
Second, this church would have to work to get outside of itself. It would be tempting to sit together in the warmth of God’s peace, but that would miss the outward call of the gospel of peace. The church seeks to find its peace in God so that it can spread peace in the world. A congregation that is centered on peace might look for ways to establish wholeness in the local community, making sure that the hungry are fed, that the homeless are safe, that the lonely have companionship, that the anxious find calm. This congregation might also be involved in environmental causes and ministries, whether that be seeking natural settings for prayer and meditation or advocating for the care of those same settings.
The peace-centered congregation may not appeal to every person. Some will find it too quiet and not stimulating enough but others will find it to be a helpful alternative, especially if they find that their lives are already overstimulated by stress and anxiety. It could stand as a living example of the gospel as voiced by Jesus, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)