The Peace Testimony [4 of 4]

Ancient Roots:
The Christian Peace Testimony has its roots in the early church and is therefore the oldest tradition and in my opinion the best. Ringma writes of how there was a dangerous memory among the early church of how the Prince of Peace came proclaiming the kingdom of God and did much good before suffering a cruel death at the hands of the establishment. Also that He never tried to justify Himself or use force to protect Himself in retaliation. Ringma further points out that Christians have found it difficult to follow such an example and not justify, defend or retaliate. The pages of Church history are full of this retaliation. He writes, ‘It is the history of the sword wielded in the name of religion much more than the history of the peaceful dove.’ He goes on to quote the French Sociologist, Political activist and Theologian, Jacques Ellul, who says ‘violence seems to be the great temptation in the Church and among Christians.’ Ringma also reflects that, ‘To be a peacemaker requires more certainty and courage than to be a warmonger.’ Dymond argues that after Jesus’ death His followers did not believe in war, as they believed He had forbidden it. This is why so many of the early Christians chose to die and suffer persecution in the name of non – violence. This was not a minority view among the first followers, but a majority view. Marcellus, a centurion in the Trajana legion, on being converted threw off his belt (that no doubt had his sword on it) and declared himself to be a Christian and no longer able to be involved in war. He was sent to jail for this uncompromising act, at which he stated that it was not lawful for Christians to bear arms. Such a witness is likely to have prompted Cassian from his own legion to also abandon the legion and face the death penalty. Another example of such dedication to Peace Testimony is that Sulpicius Severus spoke of a man called Martin who was taught in the ways of War, but on conversion to Christ gave it all up. He gave it up saying that he was a Christian and therefore could not fight. These are just a few examples of the roots of the Peace Testimony in early Christianity. The question for us today is will we be faithful to the early roots of our faith? Will we follow the Prince of Peace? Will we consider the implications of applying the idea of peace to 21st Century earth? Jesus was betrayed with a kiss and in a way to this day is being betrayed, sometimes with swords too and in a sense he is being crucified afresh. Yet the Prince of Peace takes the cup of suffering, loving even enemies. It is time for us also to choose – The Kiss, The Sword or the Cup!

(This series of talks were originally taken from an article I wrote in my University days and had published in Ploughshares Christian CND Journal)

References used and other useful resources:Acta Martyrum (Ratisborn, 1859)Cadoux, The Early Christian Attitude to War: A Contribution to the History of Christian Ethics (Headley Bros: London 1919)Constitution of the Oberlin Non – Resistance Society (www.nonresitance.org 17/01/09)Dresser The Bible Against War (Oberlin: Ohio, 2006)Dymond ‘The Early Christians on the subject of war’ (1821) An Inquiry into the Accordancy of War with the Principles of ChristianityGillman A Light that is Shining: an introduction to the Quakers (Quaker Books: London, 2003)Kurlansky Nonviolence (Jonathan Cape: London, 2006)Lock ‘Transcribers’ notes’, Pacificus A Solemn Review of the Customs of War (Oberlin: Ohio, 2007)Meyer The Pacifist Conscience (Rupert Hart – Davis Ltd: London, 1966)Molnar A study of Peter Chelcický’s Life and Translation of from Czech of part one of his Net of Faith (Berkeley: California, 1947)Pacificus A Solemn Review of the Customs of War (Oberlin: Ohio, 2007)Penn Address to the American Indians (1682) cited in Meyer The Pacifist Conscience (Rupert Hart – Davis Ltd: London, 1966)Ringma Resist the Powers (Albatross, 1995)Vanier Finding Peace (Continuum: London, 2003)Water Moral Choices Made Simple (Hunt Ltd, 2002)Whelpley Letters addressed to Caleb Strong ESQ (The Elm Street Printing Company, 1870)