So if Christianity really isn’t the point and we can’t judge who is in and who is out, then how do we move forward? What does it look like to follow Jesus passionately and faithfully with the people around us, especially those who believe or live very differently than we do?
Jesus was all about God’s Kingdom. That’s where we’re headed and what we’re pursuing; not a religion or an institution, not even Christianity. Jesus taught us to pray, “May your Kingdom come, may your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We want to start embodying God’s Kingdom now, even as we anticipate the day when God wipes away every tear and establishes his kingdom forever.
We understand the Kingdom of God to be all that is under God’s reign, characterized by the restoration of relationships – ourselves with God, with one another, and with the world around us. Central to coming under and participating in God’s reign is both knowing who God is (we can’t have a restored relationship with God unless we know what God’s character is like) and following God (God reconciles all things – so when our lives line up with God’s way, we inevitably move toward reconciliation with others and the world around us).
The question is, how are we to do that? How are we to know God’s character and follow God, i.e. join in God’s reign on earth? In this especially, we as Jesus-centered peace makers believe that Jesus is central (Heb 1:3). During his lifetime, Jesus showed us through his choices and lifestyle what God is like, what God’s reign looks like, and how to follow God by participating in that reign (he befriended the poor, practiced reconciliation, cared for outcasts, confronted unjust systems and oppressive leaders, advocated for peace between enemies, etc.). We believe that Jesus liberates and empowers us to begin living out God’s reign in our lives now. As Paul puts it, through his death and resurrection Jesus became “live-giving spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45) and we encounter that life-giving spirit of Jesus as we follow him. In so doing, we’re freed from our self-centeredness and are empowered to serve and to love, even self-sacrificially, in the process becoming transformed more and more into Jesus’ likeness.
That’s a lot of theology there – but it could be distilled down to a relationship: Jesus shows, liberates, empowers, and transforms us, while we encounter and follow him. Entering into this relationship helps us become people who come under and participate in God’s reign.
2 Corinthians 5:11-21 tells us that Jesus has “committed to us the message of reconciliation,” and in Matthew 5:9, Jesus said that peace makers are blessed and will be called “children of God.” We believe that as God’s children who are trying to follow Jesus, we are called to be reconcilers and peace makers with everyone around us (Rom 12:18). So, as Jesus-followers, we’re called to pursue peace, without ulterior motive, because that’s what Jesus modeled for us, taught us, calls us to, and empowers us to do.
At the same time, we can and should be transparent about how Jesus is our model, teacher, guide, and the one who motivates and empowers our lives and peacemaking efforts. It’s incredibly important in peace making work to communicate one’s beliefs and values transparently, yet humbly, because the foundation for peace making is trust. Trust requires that we listen to one another deeply, while also sharing honestly when asked about our own stories, motivations, and values.
Isaiah 2:1-5 describes God’s reign as a time when God will “teach us his ways” and “settle disputes” between people and nations, and we will “beat swords into plowshares” and “spears into pruning hooks.” As Jesus-followers, we are looking forward to God’s peaceable kingdom, and in the meantime, as his children, we seek to pursue and embody the peace of his reign with all people.
We will always be learners. So, as we work toward peace and reconciliation ‘out there,’ we also pray that our ‘insides,’ our character, even our spirits will be formed in the way of Jesus, transformed by encounters we may have him and with others we meet on the journey. And each encounter, every small transformation, can lead each of us a bit closer toward God’s reign.