Editor’s note: With global migration on the rise and cultural polarization increasing, there is a pressing need for peace among neighbors and nations. In this six-part series, “Lutheran legacy of peacemaking,” we’re exploring Lutheran contributions to the Christian tradition of peacemaking. The series culminates this month, in conjunction with the International Day of Peace (Sept. 21).
God’s incarnation in Jesus Christ was, in itself, an amazing step toward peace building. The communication breakdown between humankind and God resulting from the human’s self-referential and egocentric nature was restored by God’s compassionate outreach in and through Christ. Opened up by God’s loving approach, humankind is offered new life—one that enables us to find peace with our own brokenness, with the neighbor and with the whole creation.
Could there be any other commitment for a church that participates in God’s ongoing mission than to embrace peace building as a core dimension when witnessing to Christ in words, service and public presence, advocating for those left behind? If Christ is the true and only foundation of the church, then indeed peace, justice and reconciliation belong to the key concepts describing its commitments.
These commitments are to be upheld even in, or better, because of the times we live in. A mentality of withdrawal is prevailing today, which results in fragmentation and conflict. Communities, nations and the entire human family are being challenged by divisive, if not corrosive, discourse, antagonizing people who thus far had lived together in peace and harmony. It is no longer relationships of cooperation that shape the way people live together, but increasingly relationships of domination and exclusion.
Being peace-builders today requires remaining firmly rooted in Christ, thereby not allowing being drawn into divisiveness and antagonism, but to continue offering the soothing presence and witness that speak about hope and love, so as to drive out fear and indifference—probably the two most destructive forces taking stage today. Against this background, even while challenging, I believe there is no better time to be the church than the one we are living in today because the message we were entrusted with knows so much about faith, hope and love.
“These times call for prophetic churches”
There are many different ways in which the message of peace could take shape. As a Lutheran, I believe in the power of the preached word of God and how it brings about faith. It matters what we hear from the pulpits and what we proclaim from there. Pastors and congregations must remain vigilant so the preached word of God, while indeed being critical, naming and denouncing sin, doesn’t become an encouragement for oppression and exclusion, or worse, an incitement to hatred and violence. Instead, it will offer hope, addressing alienated relationships and announcing God’s transforming and healing presence in the world. These times call for prophetic churches that don’t allow being derailed from the message of justice, peace and reconciliation as revealed in Christ.
I believe there is no better time to be the church than the one we are living in today because the message we were entrusted with knows so much about faith, hope and love.
It has become very important to me to realize anew the power that comes with baptism, which makes us a new people, a community that is not based on affinity of origin, skin color or cultural background, but on the proximity of God who reached out to us and connects us with others. Regardless of who we are otherwise, we enjoy full citizenship within this new community. The church is expected to both embrace and express this diversity, thus becoming a powerful foretaste of God’s imagination and promise. While so many boundaries separate us, they have all been overcome by the way in which God calls people, hitherto separated, to be one.
This aspect is particularly important when it comes to the search for the unity of the church. The joint Lutheran-Catholic commemoration of the Reformation anniversary in 2016 between the Roman Catholic Church—represented by Pope Francis—and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) embodied an important insight: conflict can be overcome, and a future of communion conceived. Dialogue pays off and clouded memories can heal by God’s grace. I believe churches locally and globally have a beautiful gift to share and should courageously further their journey toward unity. Such a journey represents a genuine contribution to a world wounded and burdened by conflict and division.
Yet there is an engagement for peace that drives the church far beyond its own realm and calls for its robust presence in the public space. Without becoming entangled in partisan politics, it will get deeply involved in all initiatives that envision overcoming war, conflict and violence. On behalf of its 145 member churches, the LWF has played such a role during its 71 years of existence: bridging people and churches behind the Iron Curtain, directly supporting peace negotiations in Namibia and Central America, protecting forcibly displaced people and their human rights, and now supporting peace processes in Colombia and South Sudan, for instance.
In all of this, we attempt to be faithful to the one who was announced to the world as the Prince of Peace, and who came to free us from (self)-destruction so as to enjoy life, and to enjoy it in abundance.
Against this background, even while challenging, I believe there is no better time to be the church than the one we are living in today because the message we were entrusted with knows so much about faith, hope and love.
Resources for further study and reflection
From Conflict to Communion: Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017
(Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, Lepizig/Bonifatius, 2013).
The Self-Understanding of the Lutheran Communion (LWF, 2015).
The Church in the Public Space (LWF, 2016).
LWF Gender Justice Policy (LWF, 2013).