Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Theological Competence Exam Question #1 - Peace

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned having passed my Theological Competence Exams. I have now gotten my actual graded exams back with comments from the readers, and thus I feel that they are safe to post in public.

Here is the question I was asked to answer, with my response in smaller print below:

Several people in the congregation you serve as pastor have recently asked about the passing of the peace during the worship service.  In response, you and the session decide that peace will be the subject of the next adult education series.

In preparation, you turn first to John 14:27 (New Revised Standard Version), in which Jesus says, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."

As you consider the many different types of peace, you turn to The Book of Confessions.
Write an essay in which you identify and discuss different aspects of a Christian understanding of peace from a Reformed perspective.  Use and discuss four (4) citations (e.g., 0.000) from The Book of Confessions.  Citations must come from four (4) different documents in The Book of Confessions.
(We were allowed to use a "clean, unmarked, printed copy of The Book of Confessions" for this question.  This was the only such "open book" question of the three I answered)

Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)  Consequently, we talk about “peace” a lot within our churches.  But as with many terms that get a lot of use, it can actually be confusing what we mean when we use the term so much, and perhaps in different ways.  Here are some ways in the Reformed tradition has articulated the concept of “peace.”

One obvious way in which we talk about peace is the absence of armed conflict.  For example, when the Second Helvetic Confession discusses war, war is clearly seen as a last resort:
“And if it is necessary to preserve the safety of the people by war, let (the magistrate) wage war in the name of God; provided he has first sought peace by all means possible, and cannot save his people in any other way except by war.” (5.256)
While the Confession allows for the possibility of war under certain circumstances (specifically, “to preserve the safety of the people” in this instance), it emphasizes that peace (here being specifically opposed to the concept of war) should be sought “by all means possible.”  Too many people give lip service to this kind of teaching (almost no one comes right out and says they want war), yet fail to actively pursue all possible alternatives.  The Confession emphasizes how important it is to pursue peace so persistently by adding the next line, reminding the magistrate that war is permissible only when all other alternatives have been exhausted.

But peace is not simply the absence of armed conflict between nations.  Indeed, conflict need not even be between two people, let alone two nations.  An individual may struggle within him or herself, especially as there are unresolved matters of sin involved.  For this reason, the Westminster Larger Catechism links peace to prayer for forgiveness:
“In the fifth petition (which is, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”), acknowledging that we and all others are guilty both of original and actual sin… we pray for ourselves and others, that God of his free grace would, through the obedience and satisfaction of Christ apprehended and applied by faith… fill us with peace and joy.” (7.304)
But if God does grant us this peace, we are not intended to retain it only for ourselves.  We are called to work to spread that peace to others.  We cannot do this on our own, of course.  But God’s Spirit gives us this ability, as noted in this section of a Brief Statement of Faith:
“the Spirit gives us courage…
            to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.” (10.4)
This work may take many forms, of course.  It need not be in the suppression of conflict as done by a policeman or a soldier.  Indeed, peace is often sought through social action.  By building homes for those who need them, we create an environment in which people are safe.  By advocating for economic equity, we help them to meet their need for food or clothing.  By passing laws protecting the unprotected, we enable people to be free to be who God created them to be.  The Spirit is not only a part of all of this, but indeed makes it possible.

Ultimately, all peace comes from God through Jesus Christ, as the Confession of 1967 makes clear:
“God’s reconciliation in Jesus Christ is the ground of the peace….  The church, in its own life, is called to practice the forgiveness of enemies and to commend to the nations as practical politics the search for cooperation and peace.” (9.45)
But even if God’s act of reconciliation in Jesus Christ is the “ground” of peace, the Confession likewise makes clear that we are not to sit idly by.  God calls us to participate in that peace.  We must practice the peace that God’s Spirit enables in us.

May the peace of Christ be with you all.

I'll follow up with the other two questions in the coming weeks.

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