The Wardrobe of Easter: Peace

The things which most unite Christians often most divide them. Honest believers at times honestly disagree. But too often—and too quickly—they turn disagreements into unholy quarrels.


“Aggression, like charity,” Bronislaw Malinowski once quipped, “begins at home.”

And if it begins there among family members, such aggression follows not far behind in churches—among members of God’s family. The things which most unite Christians often most divide them. 

Honest believers at times honestly disagree. But too often—and too quickly—they turn disagreements into unholy quarrels. 

The effects of a quarrelsome spirit 

It’s sad but true:

“To dwell above with saints we love,
That will be glory.
To dwell below with saints we know—
That’s a different story.” 

The effects of a quarrelsome spirit, and of the anger and hatred it frequently produces, are obvious. Snarling Christians hurt one another, blur their witness and displease God.

To show that we’ve been raised to fresh living with our risen Lord Jesus, St. Paul encourages us to “let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts.” (cf. also Philippians 4.5, Ephesians 4.29-32, I Thessalonians 5.13, Romans 12.18, I Peter 3.15, Titus 3.2, James 3.17) When the risen Jesus holds power in Christians’ hearts, bitterness, quarrelsomeness, vindictiveness, contentiousness have no place. 

Period. Not a trace of any expression of them.

Cultivating a peaceable spirit 

How, then, to cultivate a peaceable spirit within Christian fellowship? What follows are a few lessons I’m still trying to master, seven in all, along with mention of the wise Christians who first taught me them.

1. “Pray daily for a peaceable spirit.” (My gentle Grandma Mast).

2. Distinguish between fundamentalia/non-fundamentalia (John Calvin)

Not all issues, says Calvin, are of the same rank of importance. On points of doctrine which are central, all Christians must agree (unitas). On the non-centrals, they are free to differ (libertas). And in all of them, they must display charity (charitas). An orthodoxy that allows for no disagreement is schismatic. Equally bad, it is fossilized spiritually and dead.

3. “The Lord hath more truth and light yet to break forth out of his holy word.” (Rev. John Robinson, pastor to the American pilgrims,1620) 

Open to the insights of others?

I once heard Gordon MacDonald warn a group of us pastors: “Never assume, whoever you are, that you own the exclusive right to speak on behalf of Jesus.” Wise counsel, I think. I do well to remember that other Christians, too, including those with whom I (may) disagree, are beloved by the same Savior and Lord who loves me. They, too, as do I, in turn love him. Listening carefully to them, I just might have a thing or two—Robinson’s “new light and new truth”—to learn. The real question is: “Is my spirit peaceable and gentle enough to receive their words, to be open to their insights?” 

4. “Keep a light spirit—not everything is dead serious” (N.T Wright)

Countering a (too)-heated remark from a fellow theologian who was disagreeing with him, Wright replied with a chuckle: “Well, in my humble but accurate opinion….” The tone of their debate changed immediately for the better. 

5. “All human beings—opponents, too—are remarkably similar” (Frederick Buechner)

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said: “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” 

6. Don’t argue with others in their absence 

In his classic devotional, The Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis wrote: “Oh how good it is, and tending toward peace, to be silent about other men, and not to believe promiscuously all that is said, nor easily to report what we have heard.”

7. “And when, Dale, you think you (must) differ with a fellow Christian, 

-say what you think you heard him say before responding.
-don’t call him names, or label him.
-express what you affirm before stating what you must challenge.
-challenge his ideas, not his motives, intelligence, or integrity.
-get beyond either-or thinking.

As C.P. Snow once said: “The number two is a very dangerous number. Attempts to divide anything into two ought to be regarded with much suspicion.” 

“By their speech and actions,” Matthew Henry once commented, “some Christians show they’d rather lose a brother than an argument.” Such behavior is as foolish as perverse. Far more life-affirming—and more Christ-exalting—to aim to:

“Be such a person,
And speak and live today in such a way,
So that if every person should speak and live like you,
This would be God’s paradise.” 

Agree? Or disagree?

For Further Reflection: 

“Though we cannot all think alike, may we not love alike. May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? We may not always see eye to eye, but can we not walk arm in arm?” ~ John Wesley, 1703-1791, Sermon 39

“Is it not a pity that our hearts are not as orthodox as our heads?” ~ Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, 1615-1691 

“I choose gentleness… Nothing is won by force. I choose to be gentle. If I raise my voice may it be only in praise. If I clench my fist, may it be only in prayer. If I make a demand, may it be only of myself.” ~ Max Lucado

Hymn: Salaam/Peace

Your peace within us, Lord, will stand,
surpassing all we understand. 
Even when fears surround our land
you will our lives with peace.
Salaam, salaam, the peace of God to every race.
Salaam, salaam, the peace of God in every place.

When walking we are led astray,
your Spirit in us lights the way
to bring us back and guard our days.
You fill our lives with peace.
Salaam, salaam, the peace of God to every race.
Salaam, salaam, the peace of God in every place.

God's peace you offered us to live,
a peace the world can never give,
and while your Spirit in us lives,
you will our lives with peace.
Salaam, salaam, the peace of God to every race.
Salaam, salaam, the peace of God in every place.

Words: Manal Samir, Egypt; tr. Anne Emile Zaki, adapt. Emily Brink © 2008 Faith Alive Christian Resources

The Wardrobe of Easter Series

This series was written to be read in the following order:

 

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