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of Faith


Anglican Way to Peacemaking

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by Dr. Charles Hoole, Principal, Baldaeus Theological College, November 2001

The Anglican Church now has an activist Bishop with a strong commitment to peace- making. This was revealed in Bishop Duleep De Chickera's much-publicized peace-trip to Jaffna immediately after his consecration as the 14th Bishop of Colombo. With that gesture peace-making has taken center stage at the beginning of his term of office.

There is little doubt that Sri Lanka urgently needs a solution to the ethnic conflict. However, it would be premature at this stage to expect the Bishop to have a detailed agenda for peace. Nevertheless, it is important for us to know something about his distinct approach to peace-making as there are a great variety of methodological options available to us - peace through war, peace through appeasement, peace through justice, etc..

Liberal Agenda
Some definitive statements about peace-making have now emerged from the proceedings of the 116th Session of the Diocesan Council held on 2 - 4th October. These statements appear in the Chief Guest's address at the beginning of the proceedings. The statements are very controversial; they violate the Anglican Articles of faith and nullify the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper. The fact that there wasn't a single dissenting voice from the hierarchy shows that there is virtual consensus on this new approach to peace-making.

The chief guest's address argued that Christians, to be peace-makers, must first deal with the long history of violence in their own tradition. In tracing the sources of Christian disposition towards violence, it was asserted that `violence is rooted in some of the fundamental conceptions of the Christian faith'. Here his paper presents the classic liberal thesis that the Old Testament God is a God of vengeance, who demands blood sacrifices to quench his anger. The idea of sacrifice to appease an angry God, he claims, endorses the principle of vengeance (`eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth') which became a regulating principle in Israelite society. It was then asserted that this particular view of God in the Old Testament, contradicts the God of love revealed through the teaching and example of Jesus Christ. The Bible then presents two conflicting models for humans, the way of violence and retribution and the way of love and peace.

Accordingly Christians are thus called upon to be faithful to the example and teaching of Jesus by choosing the way of `peace'. Such a choice necessarily involves repudiation of the idea of blood sacrifice - which has always been deeply offensive to the liberal Christian sentiment. The paper states:

For many liberals there is something deeply worrying about the idea that Jesus' death should be understood as a sacrifice made for the sins of the world. What many tend to find problematic is the interpretation of the atonement in which God is willingly prepared to commit a horrendous murder upon his Son as the means by which humanity is redeemed from its own sin.

It is evident from the Proceedings that Anglicans are being called upon to adopt a distinctly liberal theological agenda for peace. According to its advocates, violence in the Christian tradition is rooted in certain core ideas of God and atonement. These are primitive (i.e. tribal, barbarous) conceptions embodied in the Scriptures, especially the OT. When endowed with scriptural authority these powerful ideas tend to influence Christian attitudes and actions, and thus generate a great deal of violence.

Marcionite Assumptions
What the new Anglican leadership is advocating is a Marcionite solution to the problem of violence. Marcion was a second century heretic, whose teaching was firmly repudiated by the church in Rome and the Bishop of Rome excommunicated him in AD 144. Marcion developed a method for rooting-out all the evil in the Christian tradition, and consequently produced his own brand of anti-Jewish Christianity. He held that the Old Testament God was basically vengeful and the author of evil. His harshness was revealed in his prescription of `an eye for an eye' (Exod.21:24). Such a being could not possibly be the Father of Jesus Christ who said "let the little children come to me" (Matt.19:14) and "if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also" (Matt.5:39). According to Marcion there were two Gods in the Bible. His solution to these contradictory views is a simple one. He excluded from his `canon' the OT and several books of the New Testament, including Matthew, Mark, Acts and Hebrews. It is noteworthy that individuals as different in outlook as Polycarp, Justin, Irenaeus, Clement Tertullian, Hippolytus and Origen condemned Marcion as the arch-heretic. Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna named Marcion "Satan's eldest son". The sharp-tongued Tertullian's comment is relevant to this discussion:

"Marcion teaches the Bible, not with his pen, but with his penknife, cutting out everything which does not agree with his own ideas"

Marcion proved to be a formidable opponent of orthodox Christianity. His rejection of the Law and all it stood for, including the principle of retributive justice was attractive for some Christians. Tertullian exclaimed, to his followers, Marcion's God was a `better god, one who is neither offended nor angry nor inflicts punishment, who had no fire warming in hell, no gnashing of teeth in the outer darkness". Apart from Rome and Carthage churches planted by Marcion flourished throughout the empire, and lasted for more than a hundred and fifty years.

Liberalism and holocaust.
Like Marcion, the modern liberals believe that the Old Testament God is the author of evil and violence. To deal with the offensive parts in the Bible, the liberals too have, without the slightest hesitation used the `pen knife' to cut out teaching that they believe is responsible for generating violence and retribution. Observing this close similarity in the theological outlook and interpretative methods, Swiss theologian Oscar Cullmann has named modern theological liberalism as Neo-marcionite. If this observation is correct then the new Anglican leadership's liberal approach to peace-making far from being original, is in reality a revival of an ancient heresy.

There are also inherent dangers in adopting the liberal-marcionite peace agenda. First, theological liberalism has been too closely associated with political nationalism and racism in Europe. It is a historical fact that the liberal tendency to despise the OT God led to the denial of ethical monotheism (in favour of immanantism) and discarding the issues of justice and human rights. This stance directly contributed to the unprecedented growth of anti-semitism particularly in Germany, which culminated in the holocaust - the Nazis' mass murder of the Jews. It is noteworthy that in Germany, the liberal Christians of the Third Reich, infected with nationalism and anti-semitism remained loyal to Hitler, whereas the theologically orthodox (including Bonhoeffer, Barth and Thielicke) dissented and became part of the Confessing Church. Secondly, theological liberalism has failed to grasp either the actual condition of humanity or the doctrine of God that could provide a remedy for the overwhelming power of sin and evil which repeatedly thwart human aspirations. With its unrealistically optimistic view of human nature, liberalism places all its confidence in the human capacity to live an unselfish life of love by following the principles and ideals set forth by Jesus. Hence it offers little for those who find themselves trapped by modern life, through war, poverty and many new forms of slavery.

Atonement and Reconciliation
There are many different ideas about peace. The liberal theological ideas were borrowed from secular liberalism; they have shown themselves to be misguided, bankrupt, often appeasing the enemy of peace. But as Christians we need to aim for Christian ideals. The beautiful Hebrew word shalom, peace, has a deeper sense than absence of strife. It includes wholeness, total welfare, that state of soundness and harmony that God desires. Shalom is therefore positive peace, achieved through proper ordering of relationships.

Peace as shalom cannot be attained without dealing with the root cause of violence, that is, our own state of sinfulness. Augustine of Hippo argued that sin as a power holds us captive and from whose grip we are unable to break free by ourselves. The human free will is captivated by the power of sin and can only be liberated by grace. It means human nature has an inborn sinful disposition with an inherent bias towards acts of violence (cf. Anglican Articles IX & X) In other words, sin causes sins; the state of violence within causes individual acts of violence - in words and deeds. Owing to this human condition shalom cannot be attained by mere human agency. Christ thus comes as a liberator, the source of grace that delivers us from the guilt and power of sin.

A.M. Toplady's famous hymn "Rock of Ages" expresses the need for Christ's atonement:

Let the water and the blood
From thy riven side which flowed
Be of sin the double cure
Cleanse me from its guilt and power

The `double cure' of sin refers to the need for sin to be forgiven and its power broken (note the appeal to the death of Christ as the source of this cure)

Christ's deliverance from sin directly leads to peace and reconciliation. (Eph.2:11-22). Sin causes broken relationships and separation. Christ's atonement thus makes peace by destroying the barrier of separation, the dividing wall of hostility, through which broken relationships are re-made. This power of the Gospel was demonstrated in the Pauline churches where Jews and Gentiles hitherto divided by a `wall of hostility' (Eph. 2:14) were made brothers and sisters, belonging to a single, universal `ekklesia of God' (1 Cor.10:32; 11:11,22). It is remarkable that in these churches, the ekklesia became virtually the primary group for its members supplanting all other loyalties.

Finally, the atoning work of Christ provides his followers an inspiring example of peace- making. His atonement means that while we were enemies God came into our situation to make peace with us. He took the initiative in breaking the "Berlin Wall", to reach us. His attitude and approach to making peace is best expressed in the life of ebed Yahweh, the Servant of God (cf. Isaiah 42-53): He totally identifies with his `enemies', understands their predicament, carries their burdens, suffers vicariously and in the end offers his own life to reconcile others to himself. The enemy-love in this sense has power to re-make broken relationships. Hence the One who became ebed not only presents His disciples an inspiring example of peace-making but through his presence in the power of His Spirit, gives us the necessary empowering to go and tear-down our own Berlin walls.

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