Which one of us would like to be called a peacemaker? We all, at some point in our lives, have either been an actual peacemaker in our families, communities or churches, or we would love to claim being a peacemaker because it sounds like a wonderful characteristic to possess.
However, is it possible that we might be guilty of confusing peace making with peace keeping? Sometimes, in order for true peace to be made and realized it takes difficult conversations and personal or cultural compromises, so that the collective group can grow and rise together.
One short narrative in Scripture that I believe exemplifies how peace can be made even during an intense standoff is found in Acts 15. The Jews were certain that according to the law, “unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Interestingly, the Jews had a good point based on the fact that in the Old Testament that requirement was considered an everlasting covenant in God’s own words. In addition, there was no place in Scripture until this time that God had ever said anything differently or appeared to have changed His mind. Based on this reality, God allowed for the Holy Spirit to be made manifest on the Gentiles, who were uncircumcised, thus clearly revealing that salvation could come to them as well, even if they were “law-breakers” of that Jewish covenant.
We are able to witness in this passage a difficult conversation, personal and cultural clashes, but also compromise that was Spirit-filled, and that led to a peaceful solution. How? James, who was the Jerusalem conference president of the time, recognized that at the foundation of this new church, this new body of Christ, a belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus and a decision to accept Him as their Savior and Lord was at the heart of their union.
Whereas peacekeepers may want to avoid conflict and arguments to keep the peace, peacemakers are willing to acknowledge the differences in opinions and practices, but also identify the common ground on which the collective group can stand.
James listened to both sides and realized that based on the Holy Spirit’s outpouring on the Gentiles, God had given them a sign that what the Jews held as salvific was simply not the case. Consequently, in Acts 15:19-20 James declares, “Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God. But that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood.”
There it is, ladies and gentlemen. The conclusion of James was, Let’s agree to foundational, core values and principles, based on the Word of God, and leave the cultural leanings to the individual cultures, if they are not in violation of the Word of God.
The Jews did not have to stop being circumcised, and the Gentiles were not required to be circumcised; yet both could accept Jesus as their Savior and be saved if they believed on His name. James was the ultimate peacemaker, in my book. There was no committee vote or constituency meeting called. God granted humility, patience and wisdom to this leader of the early church, and when he made that spiritual recommendation all the people said “Amen.”
In Revelation 14, John describes God’s church, His remnant people, as being from every nation, kindred, tongue and people. They will look different, talk different, dress different, eat different, and certainly worship God different. However, if they have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb, have kept all of God’s commandments, and have faith in Jesus Christ, then they are all saints of the Most High God.
May we be willing in this New Year to be peacemakers, and have the difficult conversations, yet quickly find our common ground. In doing this, Mid-America Union will reflect what Jesus prayed for in John 17:21: “that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.”