Make Peace—Embody Shalom

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Honored are the peacemakers, 

for they shall be called sons of God. 

(Matt 5:9)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Garden of Eden begins as a picture of God’s shalom whose harmony was shattered when Satan tempted Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When Adam and Eve responded by eating from the tree, they displayed more trust in Satan than in God. This broken trust shattered their intimate relationship with God and God cursed Satan saying:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. (Gen 3:15)

God then expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:24). Adam and Eve’s sin in Eden thus originated our tension with God—“enmity” sounds like a 50-cent word for tension.

The need for peacemaking followed in the first post-Eden generation, when we read:

So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The LORD said to Cain, Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it. (Gen 4:5-7)

God saw Cain angry at his brother, Abel, and counseled Cain to avoid sin by controlling his anger (Gen 4:6–7). Unable to control his anger, Cain ignored God’s counsel and murdered Abel, displaying tension within himself, with God and with his brother. Jesus recounts this story in the Sermon on the Mount where he links anger with murder (Matt 5:21–26).

In the story of Cain and Abel, God models peacemaking, a divine attribute and messianic title (Isa 9:6–7) by advising self-control, avoiding sin, and helping others. In doing so, God embodies shalom (Guelich 1982, 92). The Hebrew word, shalom,  means “completeness, soundness, welfare, peace” (BDB 10002). The Greek word for shalom has a similar scope, but more often it focuses on “concord, peace, harmony” (BDAG 2285). The English word, “peace”, is almost exclusively focused on the absence of war and requires extension to encompass shalom, which mitigates all three dimensions of tension. For example, we might talk about inner peace or peace and well-being, but peace itself is too narrow to compare with shalom.

Peacemaking is a major motif in the Sermon on the Mount. Peacemaking anticipates the next two Beatitudes and provides a context for later teaching on love, where Jesus commands:

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt 5:44-48)

Note the parallel here between loving your enemy and peacemaking and that God models both activities. Other applications of shalom appear in Jesus’ teaching, as found in Matthew 10:

1. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. (Matt 10:13)

2. Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. (Matt 10:34)

In Hebrew, “shalom” is used to say both hello and goodbye, but the idea of taking it with you suggests something more like hospitality. Divine hospitality, the idea of peace on earth, suggests a more political interpretation—peace as a the absence of conflict among nations—where peacemaking can be positive or negative depending on its object. In first century Israel, for example, Pax Romana (translated as Roman peace) promised tranquility but delivered via a brutal occupation, not what we normally associate with peace. The key is to ask what is the object of the peace: justice, wholeness, or maintenance of privilege? (Neyrey 1998, 184)

The context of peacemaking is important in understanding the transformational potential of tension. Listen for the tension in Jesus’ words to the disciples:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)

Jesus comforted to his disciples following his crucifixion in the midst of fear and uncertainty by offering them shalom. But, he went even further. In Christ’s atoning death on the cross, he defeated sin and offered us peace with God.

References

BibleWorks. 2011. Norfolk, VA: BibleWorks, LLC. <BibleWorks v.9>.

Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius (BDB). 1905. Hebrew-English Lexicon, unabridged. (BibleWorks)

Guelich, Robert. 1982. The Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding. Dallas: Word Publishing.

Neyrey, Jerome H. 1998. Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

Newsletter: https://bit.ly/Obituary_HFH

 

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Barthel and Edling Troubleshoot and Teach Peacemaking

Redeeming_conflict_01182016Tara Klena Barthel and David V. Edling [1]. 2012. Redeeming Church Conflicts: Turning Crisis into Compassion and Care. Grand Rapids: BakerBooks.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

At the heart of the Gospel message is conflict between who we are in ourselves and who we become in Christ. In my forthcoming book, Life in Tension, I explore this theme in great depth, in part, because both conversion and sanctification involve what can be painful transitions. The transformation of souls often requires giving up cherished sins, dysfunctional relationships, and fears. This is why redemption in Christ requires active participation of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

In their book, Redeeming Church Conflicts, Tara Barthel and David Edling—both attorney’s by training—focus on the Jerusalem council controversy summarized in Acts 15 and discuss it in the context of  troubleshooting church conflicts with Peacemaking Ministries. By conflict, they mean: “a difference of opinion or purposes that frustrates someone’s goals or desires” (16). They present a number of case studies of churches in conflict, but return to one conflict with particular frequency: Lakeview Community Church (a pseudonym; LCC; 13).

In Acts 15, the authors see four core principles—perspective, discernment, leadership, and biblical response—and structure their book around these four principles (15-19). Let me follow their lead.

Perspective. A starting point in church conflicts is that a healthy perspective is lost and things often get personal (15).  In Acts 15, we read:

“And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.” (Acts 15:2 ESV)

People get into conflict when they begin to pick nits, let worldly views dominate, and demonstrate a lack of trust in God and one another (27-33).  Groups within the church also start picking sides and things may get emotional (37). Still, the authors admonish us that:  “No matter the level of conflict in our church, God is still at work.” (35) Centering on God is an important first step both in prayer and in moving towards a resolution of conflict (50-58).

Discernment. Citing Ken Sande, the authors see 6 types of conflicts: Internal conflicts, material conflicts, value and belief conflicts, relationship conflicts, information conflicts, and system conflicts (61). Classifying conflicts is helpful in diagnosing what to do about them.  For example, personal conflicts are typically resolved not through negotiation but through repentance, confession, and forgiveness (62).

Like Jesus, the authors focus on motivations and the heart. They define: “A heart motivation (or interest) [as] the primary reason a person favors one position over another.” (63) This is an important observation because many conflicts begin over rather trivial disagreements among individuals that spin out of control. Learning to deal with such spiraling conflicts in a church context has the benefit of teaching conflict resolution skills that can be applied at home and in the workplace.

In Acts 15, we read:

“The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said…” (Acts 15:6-7)

The authors underscore this point:

 “We are unaware of any church that has successfully resolved its churchwide conflicts without first going back to the basics of what the gospel message is, its implications for faith, and life, and God’s statement of purpose and mission for his church…” (78-79)

At the heart of this point is the need for serious discussion and dialogue: “much debate”. This point is particularly important today as our society has increasingly tried to sweep important controversies under the rug, arguing that they are not politically correct.  Because discussion is required for resolution, political correctness stagnates the democratic process and, in doing so,  ultimately leads to further conflict.

Citing Ephesians 4:29-31, the authors observe these standards for biblical discussion:

  • It starts with prayer.
  • Perfection is not the objective.
  • Communication requires listening.
  • Emphasize agreement, not disagreement.
  • Be flexible and charitable (79-80).

Humility, hard work, and a willingness to admit contribution to the problem all help to resolve church conflict (86).

Leadership. The authors observe that “many church conflicts center around church leaders” (135). Common issues include:

  • Moral failure.
  • Failure to meet expectations.
  • Failure to implement change appropriately.
  • Personality differences.
  • Conflict with lay people with informal influence and power.
  • Selfish misuse of church leadership positions.
  • Idolatry (135-137).

In particular, they highlight 4 characteristics of failed church leadership:

  • A lack of biblically balanced shepherd-leadership or even the expectation of it.
  • The pastor develops a “hired hand” mentality.
  • The pastor refuses to set by example.
  • The lack of a long-term vision (138).

In view here is the image of a shepherd-leader (the good shepherd) found in John 10 and also in 1 Peter 5:1-3. As lay leaders and pastors, we are truly under-shepherds of the Good Shepherd and accountable ultimately to Him.

Biblical response. The idea that church conflict, much like other forms of individual adversity, can be redemptive or formative is a uniquely Christian idea, one that is frequently rejected out of hand in our society. The authors return at this point to the LCC and ask these questions, based on the core principles articulated earlier:

  • How can we glorify God at LCC?
  • How have I [personally] contributed to the conflicts at LCC?
  • How are we called to speak the truth to one another?
  • What does it look like for us to forgive one another just as in Christ we have been forgiven? (167-168)

These questions are, in fact, a restatement of the 4 Gs of the Peacemaking Ministry:[2]

  • Glorify God.
  • Get the log out of your eye.
  • Gently restore.
  • Go and be reconciled (171).

Each of these admonishments are taken from scripture.

Tara Klena Barthel and David V. Edling’s book—Redeeming Church Conflicts—is filled with helpful advice about conflict resolution, especially in a church setting. I was frankly surprised at the number of scriptural situations that are directly related to this ministry of peacemaking. This is the kind of book that church leaders should study seriously and apply. Seminarians and young pastors should take special note.

[1] https://redeemingchurchconflicts.wordpress.com.

[2] Ken Sande. 2005. Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict. Grand Rapids: Baker Books. Page 11. Also see review: Sande Resolves Conflicts; Makes Peace (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-eV). Also: http://PeaceMaker.net.

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