“The Gospel of Peace
Pamphlet 1 - Theology and Peace
This publication of Mennonite theologian Marie-Noelle von der
Recke‘s presentation "The Gospel of Peace Revisited" marks the start of a
Church & Peace theological pamphlet series.
The intent of this pamphlet series is to continue the
tradition of dialogue and theological discussion of the post-war era -
specifically the Puidoux conferences of 1955-65 - between the Historic Peace
Churches (Mennonites, Quakers and Church of the Brethren) and the mainline
churches and thereby emphasize two fundamental truths:
(1) Active nonviolence is one of Jesus' fundamental teachings
for his Church.
(2) The biblical message of reconciliation and forgiveness
leads to active nonviolent witness and service for peace, one of the essential
characteristics of the Church of Jesus Christ.
Christian Hohmann, Church & Peace General
15 April 1999
The Gospel of Peace Revisited
by Marie-Noëlle von der Recke
Presentation at the Church & Peace English-speaking
conference, June 1998, Hothorpe Hall
I - The Gospel of Peace
The theme of reconciliation poses a critical question for
humankind. A major theme in the Bible, in fact this is its most crucial and
central theme. From Genesis through Revelation we read about how God creates
relationships, heals and restores them when they have been broken. Referring in
this article to the "Gospel of Peace," we will concentrate on the climax of the
Biblical story, which is the coming of Jesus of Nazareth. This man lived among
his own Jewish people, and as a consequence of his life and action, died the
death of a political criminal. Those who witnessed his life and death also
became the witnesses of his resurrection. They transmitted a message to us, a
message which is best summarized with their own word Gospel: Good
The New Testament uses various expressions to speak about this
Good News. One of them is "the Gospel of Peace". All too often in the life of
the church the "Gospel" has been interpreted in a very narrow way, which has had
very serious consequences for its life and witness. One scholar has commented
colourfully on this tendency toward narrowness: "reductionist interpretations of
the Good News almost inevitably end up with a truncated gospel, an amputated
Christ and a crippled church" 1. Let us look at several texts in the epistles
attributed to the apostle Paul in order to gain a new and wider vision of what
the New Testament means when it speaks about the Gospel and particularly about
the Gospel of Peace.
II - Some key passages from the New Testament (NRSV)
Rom. 5:6-11 For while we were still weak, at the right time
Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous
person - though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.
But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died
for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood,
will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were
enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more
surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than
that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have
now received reconciliation.
2 Cor. 5:16-21 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a
human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view,
we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new
creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All
this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us
the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world
to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the
message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is
making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled
to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we
might become the righteousness of God.
Gal 3:26-29 In Christ Jesus you are all children of God
through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed
yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer
slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in
Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring,
heirs according to the promise.
Eph. 2:11-21 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles
by birth, called "the uncircumcision" by those who are called "the circumcision"
- a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands - remember that you
were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel,
and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the
world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near
by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both
groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility
between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that
he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making
peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross,
thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace
to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both
of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer
strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of
the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets,
with Christ Jesus himself as the corner-stone. In him the whole structure is
joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord.
Col. 1:15-22 He is the image of the invisible God, the
firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were
created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or
powers -all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is
before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the
body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he
might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God
was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself
all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of
his cross. And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil
deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to
present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him.
Each of these texts speaks directly or indirectly about
reconciliation. Each one contains fundamental thoughts about salvation in Jesus
Christ. Each one spells out the essential shape of Paul's theology on the
relation between reconciliation and salvation. However, a closer look at the
context of these passages shows that Paul's aim in writing was not to formulate
a clean and well-cut theology. Each affirmation is a response to particular
tensions in particular churches.
III - Tensions within the early Christian communities
The epistles to the Romans, Galatians and Ephesians, all
three, address the question of the place of Christians of non-Jewish origin in
the Church; all three letters can only be understood in the context of the
tensions between Christians of Jewish background and Christians of Gentile
The letter to the Colossians reflects the tension which
existed within the early church with the emergence of Gnosticism (which for the
sake of simplification we might compare with today's New Age Movement). Both
letters to the Corinthians are full of allusions to a personal conflict between
Apostle Paul and some members of the church in Corinth, who questioned the
validity of his ministry. These "super apostles," as Paul called them, preached
a gospel of spiritual self-fulfillment while Paul lived and preached a ministry
Keeping in mind the conflicts in these churches, we can make
sense of Paul's statements about reconciliation. The things he says about
reconciliation are not abstract dogmas. He does not put forward lofty,
unattainable ideals. What he attempts to do is the very opposite of giving easy
answers from an ivory tower. His aim is to encourage people not simply to accept
conflicts and tensions. Paul desires to help them to face the conflicts and to
cope courageously with them on the basis of the ministry of Jesus
It is clear that we cannot give pat answers to all the
difficult, bitter and painful situations of non-reconciliation in our world and
in the Christian Church today. We cannot give cheap formulas for healing the
wounds of wars nor suppress the reality of conflicts with some pious words. But
I believe we can find genuine help in these passages - Paul's practical teaching
in the face of particular, often severe, tensions.
IV - Paradigms for reconciliation
Paul approaches tensions and enmity within the Church with a
number of paradigms, all of which have something to do with the ministry of
Jesus, and especially with his death on the cross. These paradigms, or patterns,
show the consequences of Jesus' way for mediating God's peace to
Social revolution - In this paradigm reconciliation means that
classes and casts disappear. All people have a right to a common heritage. The
text in Galatians affirms that faith in Jesus Christ2 makes all well-anchored
barriers between people disappear. In Jesus all people become heirs of God and
can call God their father the way Jesus himself did. "Clothing ourselves with
Jesus" is just like putting on a new coat. It makes us experience this new
reconciliation of relationships.
Sacrifice - Both the Romans and Ephesians texts speak of the
pouring out of the blood of Christ, a metaphor of sacrifice, as the means for
War and Peace - The letters to the Romans and to the
Colossians speak of people as God's enemies for whom Christ died because of love
for them, thus reconciling them to God.
New Creation - This paradigm opens for us a new way of viewing
enemies. The II Corinthians text explains how Paul can see his opponents with
new eyes: if someone is in Christ, a new reality has begun. The Greek word
ktisis here should not be understood in a narrow or individualistic sense, but
in a global sense. It is the act of creation. And so our text says “there
is a new creation”.
Destruction and Construction - In the Ephesians text, Jesus'
ministry has two facets. He destroyed or annulled the efficacy of barriers,
institutions and regulations which separated the Jews from Gentiles. There is an
allusion in the text to the wall in the Jerusalem temple which prevented the
Gentiles from having full access to worship. But Christ not only broke down the
barrier wall. He also created a new body, the Church, a reconciled community
which is made up of former enemies.
Looking at these five paradigms we see that the language of
sacrifice (which in later theological affirmations has tended to become just
about the only way of speaking about salvation in Jesus Christ) is just one
among a variety of ways of trying to express what Jesus' life, death and
resurrection mean for us. We may presume that the vocabulary of sacrifice made
sense for the first readers of these texts, but it has become more and more
difficult for people today to understand, at least in Western societies. In
fact, people are tempted to reject the whole message as unacceptable when it is
presented in terms of sacrifice. The variety of the paradigms we have examined
allows for a wider view of the meaning of Christ's work. We can better
understand them because they are borrowed from areas of life which are more
familiar to us. These paradigms lead us away from a vertical understanding of
salvation focused on the individual, and towards an understanding which is
holistic and community-centred.
V - Towards a holistic and community-centered understanding
A closer look at the word "reconciliation" will help us move
further in the direction of this holistic and community-centred understanding of
reconciliation and salvation. We discover that the Greek verb katalasso does not
come from the language of worship or law but rather from that of diplomacy and
social relationships. Katalasso means to exchange, to change. In our texts the
agent of this change is always God. It's not we who reconcile ourselves with God
but God who reconciles us to himself. Thus reconciliation is a one-sided
declaration of peace from God to his enemies.
This thought is unique in religious history. In the Greek
religion, the divinities were distant from humans. They were so far away from
humanity that any idea of reconciliation with them was unthinkable.
Pacification of the anger of the gods was the issue, not human reconciliation
with them. This was true in Greek, Roman and German religions. An angry God or
angry divinities had to be pacified through rites of purification, sacrifices,
prayers, and asceticism. All these actions were aimed at appeasing the gods. The
biblical view on reconciliation is the precise opposite. God is not an angry God
whom humans have to pacify. Instead, God is himself the agent of
This appears clearly in our texts, which address two crucial
questions: 1. What is God's attitude towards his enemies? 2. What does God do
about enmity between people? The answer to both questions is: God gives his own
life; God offers himself, thus breaking the endless chain of sin, violence and
retaliation. The answer is supremely in the cross of Christ, which is "the
expression of God's nonviolence, who does not annihilate his enemies but goes
into death for them"3.
Our Ephesians text adds one more element to this thought: In
Jesus Christ a new humanity arises; a reconciled community takes shape. The
cross of Christ spells peace for us: peace with God. This is peace which becomes
possible and tangible precisely where God creates peace between former enemies.
To put it another way around, peace between estranged people is "the realm in
which the reality of peace with God may be experienced"4. And so, peace between
enemies is not be seen as just a possible result of reconciliation with God.
Peace with God takes its very shape in the community of reconciled antagonists.
The new humanity is a visible reality. It is recognizable by the fact that in
this new community the barriers between classes, races and genders no longer
count. Here the Galatians text is very much in keeping with the Ephesians
It is clear throughout the New Testament witness that peace
with God cannot be reduced to quietness of an individual's soul. Peace with God
inevitably means reconciliation with the estranged, with the enemies. This kind
of peace is possible only through sacrificial love. What is meant is not some
faraway goal or ideal or even a vision for the hereafter. The tense of all the
verbs in our texts is the aorist, which is the tense for fulfilled actions.
Jesus' victory over enmity and sin is not somewhere in the future. It is here
already. All creation longs for this reality to become visible.
Realizing this new understanding of community was,
undoubtedly, not an easy process for the early churches. Not only the texts we
are looking at, but also many incidents in the Acts of the Apostles and other
New Testament epistles bear witness to the difficulty of accepting this new way
of thinking and doing.
But this is the basis, the very foundation on which the
apostle Paul builds when he speaks to his opponents and affirms that he is able
to love them. He is able to do this without making compromises when he thinks
the truth of the Gospel is at stake. This is the foundation for Paul's
conviction that love and reconciliation are possible for people whom cultural,
social and historical differences have separated and alienated.
VI - The task of the Church
What do our texts say about the task of the Church in the
world? In the Ephesians passage the Church is the arena, the place where
salvation can be experienced. The responsibility of the Church is just to be the
Church. It is the place where former enemies live together and practice
reconciliation in their daily lives. It is the place where the Spirit of Christ
is given room to move, where the Spirit enables people to follow Christ's
example, particularly in his behaviour towards enemies. The task of the Church
is to live out the peace Jesus has given us. Our task is to give our
contemporaries a glimpse of what things could and will be. This task for the
church simply to be the Church is as urgent today as at any time of history. It
is beautifully put in this description: "God chose a people whom no one would
have to fear" 5.
The disintegration of the socialist block has led to an
explosion of all kinds of suppressed nationalistic tendencies. Even in western
democracies racism and nationalism are growing at an alarming rate. The role of
the churches in this situation should not be underestimated. William Trevor from
the Corrymeela community said, at the 1997 Second Ecumenical European Assembly
in Graz, that the situation in Northern Ireland has many similarities with that
in former Yugoslavia, but that the strong involvement of the churches for peace
and reconciliation in Northern Ireland has contributed considerably to the fact
that things have not become as tragic there as they did in former
On the other hand Ivo Markovic, a Franciscan priest from
Bosnia told, also at the Graz Assembly, of the difficulties of convincing his
colleagues in the Catholic Church in his country that it is important that they
contribute to creating a climate of reconciliation. What happened in Rwanda and
Burundi, two countries where a majority of the population is Christian, shows
that the churches did not have a role in preventing genocide. Many church people
ask themselves how things could go so wrong and if healing is at all
The Church is to be a people whom no one should fear. If Jesus
Christ is our peace, then our message consists in just living as peace
communities in which the word peace becomes incarnated. Peace will be lived out
in prayer, in worship, in sharing and working together. The church will comprise
communities which are not homogeneous but in which men and women, foreigners and
nationals, waged and unwaged, old and young experience something of what
reconciliation means. And in that reconciliation, in that breaking down of
barriers, they will know the meaning of the peace which God gives.
Addressing conflicts should be a high priority task in the
Church. Our Corinthians text speaks about the ministry of reconciliation which
is entrusted to us. We are messengers of reconciliation. God's declaration of
peace has to be carried by people to people. The Church is not only a place
where reconciliation should become visible, the church is called to be an agent,
an ambassador of reconciliation. And so, where there is conflict or hate or
suffering, that is exactly the place where the Church should be acting as an
agent of reconciliation.
Peace service is needed wherever tensions are increasing or
conflict has already broken out. The experiences we gather in learning to
practice reconciliation in the daily life of a Christian community can help us
tremendously in this kind of service to others. It is useful to acquire the
skills that are necessary in order to help effectively where we are needed.
Numerous examples from around the world, of Christians engaged in the work of
reconciliation, provide tremendous encouragement. Let us keep believing and
praying that God may pursue in us and through us the work of reconciliation and
peace which was accomplished once and forever through Jesus Christ.
Marie-Noëlle von der Recke
28 January 1999
1. Marlin Miller, 'The Gospel of Peace' in Robert Ramseyer,
ed., Mission and the Peace Witness (Scottdale PA: Herald Press, 1979),
2. Some New Testament specialists translate: Jesus' faith, the
way Jesus lived out his faith, the way he related to God and did God's
3. John H. Yoder, The Politics of Jesus (Carlisle:
Paternoster Press, 1994).
4. Marlin Miller, 'The Gospel of Peace' in Robert Ramseyer,
ed., Mission and the Peace Witness (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press,1979),
5. Said by Wilfried Warneck in a sermon, 1985.
Church & Peace Chairperson Marie-Noëlle von der Recke
is a Mennonite theologian originally from Paris, France. She is a member of the
Laufdorf (Germany) group of the ecumenical community Laurentiuskonvent.
Ms. von der Recke studied theology at the Associated Mennonite
Biblical Seminaries in Elkhart, Indiana (USA), and taught Bible and ethics for 8
years at the European Mennonite Bible School near Basel, Switzerland.
She is married and has three daughters.
Edited by the Church and Peace International Office and
Church & Peace Britain and Ireland
Printed by Evangelisches Rentamt (Wetzlar,
Volume 1, Number 1 - May 1999