Peace, Politics, and Principle
One certain feature of current culture is the widespread consensus that truth is subjective and relative (not objective and absolute), and that the “rightness” and “wrongness” of a particular belief or action is defined by the effect it has on others. Hence, the only “sin,” the only morally reprehensible act, is to be intolerant of others’ beliefs and actions. “Openness”—the willingness to accept others regardless of their personal beliefs or behavior—is the ultimate virtue. Those who have embraced this philosophical posture view all of life through that perspective. Like “rose-colored glasses,” it serves as a lens or filter through which the legitimacy of every belief or action is assessed. Belief and actions are deemed acceptable or unacceptable on the basis of whether they are tolerant or intolerant of the beliefs and actions of others. This relativistic approach to life naturally results in a blanket disapproval of an objective moral standard with spiritual absolutes. In fact, such firm, uncompromising values are dismissed as “judgmental,” “mean-spirited,” “unloving and uncompassionate,” “politically incorrect,” and “narrow-minded.”
Within the church, the parallel to this circumstance (perhaps even the result of it) is the loss of genuine commitment to the impartial application of biblical truth. Circumstances are examined, weighed, and judged on the basis of their political ramifications, or how kinfolk will be affected, or what legal repercussions will ensue. Take, for example, the office of elder in the church of Christ. The Bible teaches that the elders’ central responsibility before God is to monitor the spiritual well-being of members in order to get them to obey God so that they can get to heaven (e.g., Hebrews 13:17). Unfortunately, however, elders can come to view their role first and foremost as one of peacekeeping. This distortion and prostitution of the role of the elder inevitably results in the sacrifice of truth and biblical principles in order to achieve a “peace and harmony” that, quite unbiblically, is defined as “absence of conflict.”
Absence of conflict becomes the polar star, the guiding light, by which an eldership may come to make its decisions. This illicit filter often results in truth being swept aside when, to act in harmony with the truth, would result in disruption, division, or conflict. It allows elders to ignore, overlook, and minimize the status of wayward, disobedient, unfaithful members, rather than pursuing the biblically prescribed process that will culminate in only one of two possible outcomes: restoration or expulsion (Matthew 18:17; 1 Corinthians 5:2,13; Titus 3:10). When righteous, godly people are demonized as “divisive,” disrespected, and sacrificed in order to coddle, appease, and mollify rebellious members, Jesus and the Bible no longer are the guiding principle of decision making. Satan has been allowed to have his way (Ephesians 4:27), his clever ploys have worked (Ephesians 6:11), people have been blinded to spiritual reality by him (2 Corinthians 4:4; 1 John 2:11), he has been feasting (1 Peter 5:8), and he has taken people captive to do his will (2 Timothy 2:26). The display of such favoritism is so unlike God (Luke 20:21; Galatians 2:6).
This intoxication with pseudo-peace, and its corresponding refusal to be scripturally confrontational, has been the cause of much heartache and perversion of God’s will. The secular mind covets freedom from conflict at all costs. But the preferable peace of which the Scriptures speak so frequently is not “absence of conflict.” Such peace will never exist in this life. Yet, the peace enjoined in the Bible may be possessed—even in the midst of conflict and turmoil. Jesus contrasted two types of peace when He said to His disciples: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27). There is a spiritual peace and a worldly peace. Not long after the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) promised this peace to His disciples, those very disciples faced tremendous conflict in their relations with other humans (e.g., Acts 5:40; 6:11-12). Did Jesus’ promise go unfulfilled?
“Peace” in God’s sight is not gauged by the presence or absence of conflict or division. In fact, when conditions are harmonious and peaceful, God’s will very likely is being neglected (Luke 6:26; Jeremiah 6:14; Galatians 1:10; John 15:18-21). Jesus was very forthright in dashing the popular conception of “peace.” He declared: “Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division” (Luke 12:51). The only conclusion to be drawn from this paradoxical declaration is that peace may be possessed only on the condition of obedience to God’s will (Romans 5:1).
Being submissive and obedient to God brings peace to the mind and heart of the individual (Isaiah 26:3; Philippians 4:7; Colossians 3:15)—even when one’s surroundings are turbulent. Due to the fact that many—even within the church—refuse to humble themselves before God’s will, it is inevitable that there must be turmoil and conflict between the obedient and the disobedient (Proverbs 28:4; Ephesians 5:11). Those who are faithful will possess peace—even as they plunge themselves headlong into spiritual war (Ephesians 6:12; 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 2:3; Jude 3).
So many look around them in the local congregation and see “peaceful” conditions, even though they worship side by side with impenitent purveyors of error, fornicators, gossips, tale-bearers, and false-accusers, and even though unfaithful members have exited the assembly never to return. When they ought to be “contending with the wicked” (Proverbs 28:4), they instead smile proudly and feel God is surely pleased, for “peace prevails.” Those who have the spiritual and godly gumption to take a stand on critical spiritual issues and speak out are immediately turned upon by a vicious pack of “peace lovers” who mount a cowardly, behind-the-scenes campaign to assassinate the character and destroy the influence of the faithful. Jeremiah alluded very directly to those who seek the promotion of peace (i.e., nonconfrontational absence of conflict) in the presence of disobedience and violation of God’s principles. He accused them of saying, “Peace, peace!” when there was no peace (Jeremiah 6:14). He meant that their notion of peace (i.e., absence of conflict over sin) was not really peace (i.e., obedient harmony with God’s will). Their “peace” was merely a makeshift, temporary dressing of a more serious wound.
May God forgive those unprincipled church leaders who congratulate themselves in their quest to maintain peaceful conditions at the expense of faithful adherence to truth without regard to personalities or politics. Their preoccupation with physical peace and avoidance of tribulation is wicked. It eats away at the foundations of God’s spiritual house. It corrodes congregational resolve to remain fervent in conformity to God’s will. It simply does not match the biblical record. For Jesus announced: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.” But in the very next breath, He said: “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33).