The abolition of war and the task of the church: Reading Paul with Stanley Hauerwas

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April 17, 2013 by jmar198013

Because all the fullness of God was pleased to live in him [Jesus],
        and he reconciled all things to himself through him—
        whether things on earth or in the heavens.
            He brought peace through the blood of his cross. (Col. 1.19-20 CEB)

So then, from this point on we won’t recognize people by human standards.Even though we used to know Christ by human standards, that isn’t how we know him now. So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived! All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation. In other words, God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them. He has trusted us with this message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors who represent Christ. God is negotiating with you through us. We beg you as Christ’s representatives, “Be reconciled to God!” God caused the one who didn’t know sin to be sin for our sake so that through him we could become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5.16-21 CEB)

I would ask that before you move on, dear reader, you would meditate on those words. When I say meditate, I mean taste and relish them and stand in awe of the bigness and boldness of their claims. Because they reveal cosmic implications with very tangible consequences for the band of earthlings who know themselves as the church.

What these words reveal is that in the person of Christ, we humans and everything that comes along with us–all things in heaven and on earth, the sweep of our history–have been reconciled to God in the person of Christ. The problem is, of course, that the world does not know that it is reconciled. The purpose of the church is to live as a reconciled people so that the world will receive God’s message of reconciliation.

I would offer that once we embrace the implications of Paul reveals in these verses, and recognize the consequences they bear on the vocation of the people called the church, we will find the words of Stanley Hauerwas presented below a) more comprehensible and perhaps b) more palatable.

I write as one committed to Christian non-violence, but I would like to extend a kind of invitation for those who do not share my commitments to join in an effort to try to think through what a world without war might look like …

Let me begin rather immodestly. I want to convince Christians that war has been abolished. The grammar of that sentence is very important. The past tense is very deliberate. I do not want to convince Christians to work for the abolition of war, but rather I want us to live recognizing that in the cross of Christ war has been abolished.

So I am not asking Christians to work to create a world free of war. The world has already been saved from war. The question is how Christians can and should live in a world of war as a people who believe that war has been abolished.

I am well aware that the claim that Jesus has abolished war will strike many as absurd. We live in a world of war. So what could it possibly mean to say that through his death and resurrection Jesus has brought an end to war?

. . .

The real world is the world that has been redeemed by Christ.

That world – that is, the world that has been redeemed by Christ – has an alternative politics … The name for that alternative politics is “church.” That there is a world without war in a war-determined world is an eschatological remark …My claim [is] that Christians are called to live nonviolently not because we think nonviolence is a strategy to rid the world of war, but rather because as faithful followers of Christ in a world of war we cannot imagine not living nonviolently.

. . .

I believe that after the Ascension all that is, including those who rule, cannot avoid being a witness to the rule of Christ. Even the rejection of Christ’s lordship cannot help but testify to him.

The church simply names those whom God has called to live faithfully according to the redemption wrought through Christ. The difference between church and world is not an ontological difference, but rather a difference of agency.

The world by being the world is not thereby condemned to live violently, but rather the violence that grips our lives is the result of sin. This understanding of church and world is, therefore, a “duality without dualism” because Christians believe that we are what the world can be.

That Christians believe we are what the world can be means we can act in the hope that the world can and will positively respond to a witness of peace. That witness begins with Christians refusing to kill one another in the name of lesser loyalties and goods.

Such a refusal creates the necessity for Christians to imagine what it might mean to live in a world in which war has been abolished. That is no easy task given the way war shapes our habits of speech, the fundamental explanatory accounts of the way things are, and the way we see the world.

The challenge for those that would worship Christ, therefore, is to allow what we do in prayer to challenge the habits that seem to make war inevitable.

John Howard Yoder observes that to imagine a world in which war has been abolished requires that we live in a community that celebrates and shares a language that helps us see an alternative world.

According to Yoder, because the church is that kind of alternative community, Christians can see things that other people cannot see, we can notice what others fail to notice, and connections can be made that otherwise are overlooked. Such a community, moreover,

“enables perseverance, it motivates, it protects us from the erratic and the impulsive, because the stance we take is a shared and celebrated stance. We live with one another the maintenance of the language that gives meaning to our countercultural identity.”

The church, in other words, is to be an alternative to war.

. . .

As one committed to Christian nonviolence, I think this also helps us to give an account of war that acknowledges the real sacrifices of those who have participated in war.

One of the reasons I think it is difficult for many to think of themselves as pacifist is that such a position seems to dishonor those who have gone to war. Defenders of war may say that they respect those who are pacifist, but they continue to assume that there are times when war is a necessity.

That assumption seems justified because if, as most rightly think, good people fought in past wars, then it may be necessary to fight in future wars so that those that fought in past wars are not forgotten or dishonored. From this perspective the pacifist disavowal of war seems to suggest that those who have fought in past wars are morally culpable.

If we are to even begin avoiding the unhappy characterizations pacifists and non-pacifists make of one another it is crucial that those of us committed to Christian nonviolence make clear that we do not understand our disavowal of war to be a position of “purity.”

A commitment to nonviolence rightly requires those who are so committed to recognize that we are as implicated in war as those who have gone to war or those who have supported war.

The moral challenge of war is too important to play the game of who is and who is not guilty for past or future wars. We are all, pacifist and non-pacifist alike, guilty. Guilt, however, is not helpful. What can be helpful is that we begin to think together to make war less likely.

Amen and amen, Stanley.

I know these are a lot of words. But they are true and faithful words about our calling. They are an invitation to the church at large to be faithful to its task of being a reconciled people in a world at war. And they are a healthy admonition to pacifist Christians that we do night wage peace from a place of moral superiority, but as a matter of vocation. It is never ours to point fingers at those who have fought or might fight in wars. We are called only to witness peace in our lives and in our lives together, and say, We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done! (Luke 17.10 NRSV)


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