Magyar Serbish Russian
Church And Peace Pamphlet Series
No. 3
Theology and Peace

“Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit”, says the Lord (Zech. 4:6)

• This paper was written for a peace consultation entitled "The Christian Understanding of Peacemaking" organised by Quaker Peace & Service at Woodbrooke College in Birmingham, England in October 1987. Of those attending the consultation one came from Africa and some from Moscow and Prague; several were British Friends and Quaker Peace and Service staff. The meeting was a follow up to the Christian Peace Conference founded in Prague in 1958, which had been interrupted for many years. Consultation participants explored issues such as "What do we mean by peace and justice?" and the dilemma of loyalty to conscience and loyalty to State. Quaker Ursula Windsor felt moved to write the following essay which was distributed to the participants. The process of writing the essay made her aware of how alive the Bible can be in today's context when the Scriptures are seen in the light of the Spirit and understood in the context of the people of God.

Terri Miller & Ursula Windsor

“Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit”, says the Lord (Zech. 4:6)

One of the most important things I have learned since joining the Society of Friends concerns the people of God and their relationship to the Creator: "Obey my voice, and I will be your God and you shall be my people, and walk in all the way that I command you" (Jer. 7:23). "Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts." (Heb. 3:15) In western Christianity, this call and calling of the Church has become obscured, overlaid with culture and civilization; what is more, this overlaid Christianity is what we have offered to the rest of the world. We have done many things in the name of religion, some of them good, others appalling, instead of practising the "pure religion from above" with God's call to work for the good of all, "the widows and fatherless and the stranger at your gate" (George Fox). It is hard to get back to the roots when there is so much jungle to clear away. Much of the jungle has to do with the history of the Church in the early centuries, especially the establishment of Christianity as an official religion of the Roman Empire after the conversion of Constantine in the fourth century.

Even those of us who feel cut loose from this conditioning are more affected by it than we realize. Erastianism (the supremacy of the state in ecclesiastical affairs) is so firmly established and so deeply embedded in our western consciousness that most Christians accept the existing relationship between Church and State. The church has blessed actions by the State including war and preparation for war. The individual's loyalty to the State is rarely questioned. In so-called Christian countries, men and women have to justify themselves before tribunals for being conscientious objectors to military service. 1

In a report in the Church and Peace journal of a discussion on Peace, Justice and the Integrity of Creation at the Assembly of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) in Frankfurt in 1987, André Gingerich pointed out that only the representatives of East German churches regarded the Church as "a minority, as salt and as light", asserting that what is most important is that "Christians obey the living God even if other nations and peoples bow down and worship their own Gods" (Micah 3 & 4).2 Are we among the nations and peoples who worship their own gods - for example, weapons of mass destruction - rather than being God's own people who trust in his power to save?

In the West the edges of what it means to be a Christian in a hostile world have blurred, which is the price we pay for our freedom to worship, to engage in outreach, run Sunday schools, and so on. Our world does not seem all that hostile, so we relax and become like "all the nations" (1 Sam. 8:20 & Luke 12:30). If it has become a problem for us how to recover the witness of the early Christians, the Anabaptists, and the seventeenth-century Quakers, we must ask ourselves, not how to imitate them, but whether we have shifted from the foundation on which they built. Their faithfulness as followers of the Light of Christ aroused the suspicion of the authorities and so endangered their livelihood and often their lives; but they were clear what they must do, which we in more comfortable circumstances often are not. Their testimony for peace was implicit in their discipleship; most important, they felt commissioned to go out into the world and preach "the everlasting gospel .... to every nation and kindred and tongue and people” (Rev. 14: 6) and where that gospel is preached, there peace is preached for "he is our peace" (Eph. 2:14). In Christ all are one, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, transcending all boundaries and frontiers.

Most Christians pay lip service to these ideals, but to carry them out can mean a revolution in the life of the individual and of the churches. To accept Christ as our peace, who breaks down the walls of partition now, and through whom the world is reconciled to God, demands new priorities of loyalty.

"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." (Rom. 12:2) No longer are we to accept the standards of the imperfect world around us, choosing (only if necessary) the least of several evils, but we should - and can, by the grace and power of God - live by the standards of the Kingdom of God that is among us, of which Christ is the ever-present (therefore now present) King, who rules among us.

The purpose of Christ's own obedience in accepting the cross was not only that we might be forgiven (necessary though that forgiveness is) but that we in turn will be enabled to obedience, to love one another as he loves us, to do good to them who hate us, and to do the work of the Father as Jesus did in his earthly life.

"And greater works than this will you do, because I go to the Father. ... As the Father sent me, even so I send you." (John 14:12 & 20:21)

"The servant is not greater than his master", so the Church, to do his work, must be prepared to die as he did. "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." (John 12:24) Instead of living by this truth, the Church has employed means to perpetuate itself, which has come to stand in the way of the immediate working power of the Lord in the midst of his people. We have come to listen to human voices and to rely on human wisdom instead of recognizing that "the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Cor. 1:25). When shall we learn not to limit the power of Christ to save, and when shall we live by the knowledge that we cannot continue in sin because we are dead to it (Rom. 6:2)?

"In the new economy of grace the vicious circle of human sin is broken; henceforth the Christian is restored from his sinful state and is lifted into the glorious liberty of the sons of God." 3

Jesus Christ is the enabler and the forgiver; he reveals and heals; he speaks and we hear; he gathers us and gives us order; he commands and empowers us to obey. He is the shepherd who rescues us; he is the prophet who interprets Scripture and the present age. George Fox wrote early in his journal quoting 1 John 2:27 that "there is an anointing within man to teach him, and the Lord will teach his people himself." 4

Where Christ is heard as authority and head of the Church, our problem of when and how to obey human authority takes a different character. The community that is gathered in his name is that of the New Covenant with God in which the Law will be written in our hearts and we shall be his people (Jer. 31:33), the new Israel, a holy nation, a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9) serving not one family, tribe, nation or culture, but existing to accomplish God's redemptive purpose. Too exalted a vision this may seem, but not one to lose sight of, as we learn faithfulness.

"To move from a specifically British, (German, Russian, American) position to a distinctively Christian one is very hard." 5 I have been fortunate in this respect; as a refugee during the last war, coming to live in a supposedly enemy country (where I now find my home), I do not find it difficult to make that move. Having experienced a totalitarian state, it is easier for me to see the danger of giving first loyalty to the State or any other human authority. Moreover, my experience has taught me much about what the Church can and should be and how it has failed.

"The first duty of the Church and its greatest service to the world is that it be in very deed the Church"6 - "the Church against which the gates of hell cannot prevail"; it was in this spirit that the Quakers in 1661 were empowered to say that "the spirit of Christ, by which we are guided .... which leads us into all Truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ nor for the kingdom of this world".7

This brings us into conflict with human authorities, be they Church or State. This may be less obvious in the so-called democracies of the West. However, I believe that we are not sufficiently aware of our involvement with the forces of materialism, the principalities and powers of our age, or the subtle erosion of human rights owing to the over-riding pre-occupation of governments with financial priorities rather than welfare, and with national security rather than the good of international community. We are implicated in such systems by our lives as consumers and our involvement with institutions and industries that do not work for the common good. In our efforts to improve conditions, do we go along with our systems rather than distance ourselves from them? Do we fear the loss of our good name or that we may invite persecution? I have heard it said that the dynamic of early Friends was their being a persecuted people. They did not invite persecution, but they could do no other. No one wants to give up freedom and security, but if we are led and commanded by Christ, we know that he will not leave us without his Spirit to see us through. We have to take the risk of the first step. If the result should be suffering, we know that we are in good company. "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you." (John 15:18)

We sometimes forget that in its beginning the peace church - early Christians, Anabaptists, seventeenth century Quakers - was also a Church of the Cross. All three groups suffered persecution at the hands of ecclesiastical and civil authorities, because their life style and prophetic witness were seen as a threat to the establishment of Church and State. The former, by its acquired structure, had lost the ability to live "according to the counsel of his will" (Eph. 1:11) so it became vulnerable to the thrust of movements that were learning once again to listen to the voice of God together, to obey it together, and in many cases to suffer together.

When the power of the Church assumes a worldly character, it will use worldly means to put down whatever threatens to undermine its authority, much as the State will persecute its enemies. The Christian's attitude to the State will be influenced by the nature of his or her Church. From the peace church point of view, we shall recognize that governments are instituted by God to maintain law and order, "to be a minister to thee for good" (Romans 13:4); but we also remember that at best they have merely delegated and limited authority. At its worst, the State can be permeated with evil, because of the corrupting nature of misused power. The demonic quality of such a State and its consequent downfall is described in the Book of Revelation. Whatever the merit of any government, "at no point may its function presume a suspension of divine will". 8 The Christian's role is to be watchful, "to take the whole armour of God .... and having done all, to stand" (Eph. 6:13) so that when a conflict arises we can “obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).

Ursula Windsor

1. “Towards a Theology of Peace”. Presentation given by Dr. Paolo Ricca in Budapest in 1984.
2. Church and Peace Journal, Vol 7, No 2, 1987. p 15.
3. The Christian and War: A Theological Discussion. International Fellowship of Reconciliation, 1970. p 19.
4. Journal of George Fox. ed. John L. Nickells. 1975. p 8.
5. Praying in the Shadow of the Bomb. Mark Mills Power. Grove Books, 1984.
6. The Christian and War, p 20.
7. Journal of George Fox, p 400.
8. The Christian and War, p 17.


Ursula Windsor was born in Hamburg, Germany and emigrated to England in 1939 at age fifteen with her family. She qualified and worked for several years as a librarian. She was confirmed in the Lutheran Church before leaving Germany, joined the Methodist Church in England, and later became a member of the Religious Society of Friends together with her husband. She and her husband became War Tax Resisters in the early 1980s, a decision which resulted in a prison term for her husband.
She currently lives in Gloucester and is a member of the Church and Peace Steering Committee for Britain and Ireland.