What is peace?
The concept of peace may be superficially characterised as the absence of violence, conflict or war. However, the definition of peace can be more complex than this. It encompasses not only world peace where nations hold amicable relationships but also peace on a personal level – inner peace or a state of calmness and tranquility with oneself. Many ideas of peace have been formed through religious ideologies. Both Christianity and Islam have developed deeper ideas about peace through their teachings attempt to instil peace in the adherent, and consequently strive for peace throughout the world.
CHRISTIANITY: How is the understanding of peace informed through significant writings in the New Testament?
The New Testament follows the life and ministry of Jesus where peace is a frequent and ubiquitous theme. Notions concerning peace are expressed:
- in the announcement of the birth of Jesus “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on Earth to those with whom God is pleased” (Luke 2:14)
- in the teachings of Jesus “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9)
- in the life of the early church community “But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness” (Galatians 5:22)
- and is most commonly used as a form of greeting “Grace to you and peace from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:7)
Since the New Testament is the story of the life and ministry of Jesus, and themes of peace are frequent, it can be said that at the heart of Jesus’ teachings is peace. Jesus himself is called the Prince of Peace “For us a child is born…and he will be called… [the] Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Christians are taught to model themselves on Jesus’ teaching which therefore means Christians are encouraged to emphasise peace in their everyday lives.
However, this peace is not explicitly emphasised as to not war against others, rather the New Testament explores how peace can be achieved on a personal level:
- modelling Jesus’ life and ministry
- placing trust and faith in God “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding , will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7)
- forgiveness of others’ sins “if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18)
New Testament on Violence and War:
While the New Testament offers obvious themes of peace, the majority are concerned with finding inner peace, rather than providing unequivocal prohibition of warfare. The strongest statements against warfare come from the preaching of Jesus:
- “if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other check” (Matthew 5:39)
- “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9)
- “love your enemies and prays for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44)
Although the New Testament does not explicitly prohibit war, reading of the New Testament would conclude that Jesus was a strong advocate of peace and thus opposed to violence. Therefore, drawing upon their reading of the New Testament, Christians, for many centuries refused to undertake military service and engage in warfare.
In summary, the New Testament informs Christians of peace through presenting Jesus as the model for which they should live their life. Christians should draw upon the teachings of Jesus within scripture and follow the messages of peace he preaches.
What are the principle teachings about peace in Christianity?
Ministry of Jesus: As mentioned Jesus’ ministry forms a principle teaching about peace. Jesus preached peace, not only in opposition to war and violence, but through faith to God, an overall sense of wellbeing and inner peace is achieved.
Pacifism: was the Christian position adopted during the early church and stated that all war was unjustifiable. With this Christians refer to Jesus’ teaching to turn the other cheek and thus refuse to engage in warfare or military service. However, during the fourth century, philosophical changes were made to the Christian pacifist stance in order to protect their religious freedom and property from theft or destruction. From this the Just War Theory developed.
Just War Theory: originated during the time of Constantine in the fourth century where it was said that to forbid ‘the state the right to go to war was to condemn it to extinction’. It sought to establish guidelines under which it was morally accepted to engage in warfare.
The Just War Theory maintained that nations are morally justified to wage war providing certain circumstances are met. Augustine proposed his theory to reconcile three things:
- Taking human life is seriously wrong
- States have a duty to defend their citizens and defend justice
- Protecting innocent human life sometimes requires willingness to use force and violence
The Just War Theory is based on the premise that sometimes war is necessary to prevent a greater evil. In order for a just war to be waged:
- It must have a just cause and not be for retribution
- It must be used as a last resort
- It must be waged by a legitimate authority
- It must use proportionate means, target only combatants and avoid innocent loss of life
- It must have a reasonable chance of success