I am very grateful for our fellowship in this business of commending Christ. Last month I asked your prayers for the Presbytery meeting on 14 November, and I put on record how God answered those prayers. The vote by Glasgow Presbytery was two to one against same sex marriage: 171 votes to 89. Let us tenderly remember the many practising homosexual people whom this will initially distress: as the convener said, it leaves no victors, only disciples. But we cannot but see it as right before God.
This letter is the last of another year; Liz and I do wish you a tremendously happy Christmas and 2007. I am more grateful than I can say for the family spirit and the commitment which you who are Sandyford display.
We are all exercised in spirit about the nightmare that is Iraq, and that is one reason I accepted the local Muslim Mission’s invitation on Armistice Day to be the Christian speaker - the other was the Imam from their London Mosque - on the subject “The contribution of my faith towards peace.” Here is what I said.
I come also wishing peace, and reject outright that view which sees the alleged Christian West set against the Muslim nations. We see Christ’s Kingdom very differently: not a kingdom of this world, not a political identity, but a transnational community of the people in whose lives the Lord Jesus Christ is saviour and master.
We do not wish the destruction of Muslims, nor of Iraq or Palestine. Jesus led no army, started no political movement, and when abused he did not seek revenge. This is the Christian spirit.
Week by week, as taught in the Christian scriptures, we as a church pray for statesmen across the nations so that it will become possible to live quiet and peaceable lives.
I then gave a word of testimony as to how God had called me to Himself and I had surrendered to His reign - Islam means “submission”, so in that sense you could say I am a Jesus-muslim!
The result has been His personal rule over me, rather than the second-hand reign of his laws, and the experience of God Himself as my ‘Abba’ - “dear Father” - adopting me as His dear child. Christians have always found that this inner change brings peace. Only 100 years or so after the life of Jesus on earth, Justin could write “we used to delight in war, but have in every part of the world converted our weapons of war into instruments of peace - our swords into ploughshares, our spears to farmers' tools - and we cultivate justice, brotherly charity, faith and hope which we receive through Him our crucified Lord.” All over the world, spanning previous division and conflict, conversion to Christ turns former enemies to friends.
How does this come about and what constitutes the distinctive contribution of the Christian faith towards peace?
The Christian faith’s first contribution is its radical analysis that the origins of conflict lie in the human heart. We are born with a bias towards sin and no amount of well-meaning peace-making can change the stubborn pride, greed and revenge within us. The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart.
How then does Jesus Christ deal with this? A verse in our Christian Scriptures describes the change he makes:
“Our old self (the person we were till Jesus changed us) was crucified with Him - there was a death to self - in order to make our bodies inactive with respect to sin: so that, being now given new life by Him, we actually live new lives.”
Jesus does a creative work in us at conversion, changing us. It is this inner change which makes the peaceable difference described by Justin, making us a society of friends across national boundaries.
Yet even so, to make peace is no easy task. This is where the Christian faith makes another powerful contribution. The Scriptures give us a whole range of guidelines that bear on conflict resolution and the making of peace. It addresses:
“ our attitudes, teaching us humility and commitment to others' safety amidst the acceptance that conflicts will arise but can be worked on with real hope; ” our skills such as truthful speech and honest listening; " good procedure for wise peace-making. In Matthew 18, for example, Christians are given detailed instructions on how to proceed when brothers fall out, first speaking openly to the person who has caused offence (and not to others!); then if that fails to take a couple of safe people along as witnesses and umpires to ensure that the problem is worked at; then providing for asking the congregation’s involvement if the person remains intransigent.
The task is not easy but Jesus makes peace-making one of our most important character traits. I love Watchman Nee’s story of a Christian brother’s response to a selfish neighbour:
A brother had a rice field in the middle of the hill. He used a water wheel to lift water from the irrigation stream into his field. His neighbour had two fields below his and one night drained off all his water. When the brother repaired the breach and pumped in more, his neighbour did the same thing again, and this was repeated three or four times. So he consulted his brethren. ‘I have tried to be patient and not retaliate,’ he said, ‘but is it right?’ After they prayed about it one said, 'if we only try to do the right thing,
surely we are very poor Christians. We have to do something more than what is right. The brother was much impressed. Next morning he pumped water for the two fields below, and in the afternoon, water for his own field. After that the water stayed in his field. His neighbour was so amazed at his action that he began to inquire the reason, and in course of time he too became a Christian.
Dirk Willems, hero of the Mennonites (a continental group of Baptists started in the 16th century) is another remarkable example. The man chasing him to arrest him during persecution of his sect, fell through the ice of a pond they were crossing. Willems came back to save his life, the man arrested him and Willems was martyred. There is such a thing as so walking with our Lord Jesus that we instinctively do the right thing in a crisis. This is the kind of spirit that builds peace.
These are examples of Isaiah 9:6 coming true: “of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end.” This - the increasing government of Jesus Christ producing peace of such miraculous quality - is the key contribution of our faith to peace in this world.
C Peter WhiteView All Letters