“Peacemaking in a Crisis”

“Oh Peace Train take this country, come take me home again.

Oh Peace Train sounding louder, glide on the Peace Train.

Come on now, Peace Train, yes, Peace Train holy roller.

Everyone jump upon the Peace Train.

Come on, come on, come on, yes, come on, peace train.

Yes, it’s the peace train!”

“Peace Train” is a song written and performed by Cat Stevens. The song reached number seven on the Billboard Hot 100 chart during the week of November 6, 1971. It was the first of four Top Ten hits for Stevens, and is arguably his number one fan favorite. After all, who wouldn’t want to ride the Peace Train?

Unfortunately, that train has been difficult to jump aboard in recent months. Peace has been disrupted in our country lately by a variety of issues—social injustice, racial unrest, politics, economics, and, of course, a pandemic. And sadly, churches have been affected, as well. Peace has been disturbed by disagreements over masks, vaccines, reopening the doors, the use of social media, to livestream or not to livestream, what can or cannot be used on a video, and the role of women.

Peace has been difficult to sustain. Unity has been difficult to preserve. And yet, pastors, along with their congregants, are called to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3, NIV). How does peacemaking occur in a crisis?

Caught in the Middle

Turmoil erupted! A crisis occurred! The new deacon responsible for “worship direction” planned to implement innovations into the assembly that would enhance our worship, making it more attractive to seekers. The elders nervously accused this deacon of not being honest and “up front” with them. I counseled this deacon to proceed with caution. He didn’t listen. I advised a second time. He still didn’t listen and initiated the changes. Relationships were damaged. A lack of trust arose. What’s a pastor to do? Be a peacemaker!

Being Like Jesus

The word “peacemaker” (εἰρηνοποιός) occurs only once in the New Testament. Jesus declares in Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Those who “make peace” receive God’s favor. Being a peacemaker does not mean simply mean being “peaceful” nor being a “pacifist.” Peace is far more than the absence of violence, just as goodness is so much more than the absence of evil. It means to actively pursue peace. A peacemaker is a participant in reconciliation. When Jesus spoke of peace, he was referring to shalom, an all-encompassing state of health, harmony, and justice that extends even to enemies. The blessing emphasizes that peacemakers enjoy a unique relationship with God. To be a peacemaker is to be a child of God. We are like Jesus when we pursue peace.

A Case-Study from the Old Testament

In Joshua 22, peace in Israel is threatened by a misunderstanding between the tribes which settled on the western side of the Jordan River and the tribes on the eastern side. The misunderstanding almost caused a war. Fortunately, peace prevailed, war was averted, and Israel remained united. Before suggesting some lessons to learn to better equip peacemakers, a summary of this encounter is in order.

The conquest of the promised land is over (Joshua 21:43-45). Nine and one-half of the tribes have secured their inheritance on the western side of the Jordan River. The remaining tribes, Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh, are dismissed by Joshua to possess their inheritance on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Joshua commends those tribes for fulfilling their obligation to help their brothers take their possession (22:1-4), he challenges them to remain faithful (22:5-7), and he calls attention to maintaining a sense of unity with their brothers (22:8). Upon dismissal, the two and a half tribes erect a conspicuous alter that could be seen from miles away. Their intention in building this replica was not for worshipping purposes, but was to be a witness of unity for future generations (22:21-29, 34). The western tribes assume unfaithfulness and they scramble the troops for war (22:11-12). While the troops prepare to go to battle, Phinehas, the priest, leads a delegation to express their concern to the eastern tribes. The confrontation occurs (22:12-20), an explanation is given by the eastern tribes (22:21-29), Phinehas accepts the clarification (22:30-31), and peace and unity prevail (22:32-33).

This story from ancient Israel suggests several “Rules of Engagement” for peacemakers:

1. Lessons Learned from the Accusers

a. It is commendable for believers to be zealous for the purity of the faith. (The western tribes were concerned that faithfulness to God was at stake.)

b. It is wrong to judge motives on the basis of circumstantial evidence. (The western tribes assumed unfaithfulness.)

c. They acted before they had ascertained the facts.

d. An act of diplomacy preceded an act of decisiveness. (Dialogue before war)

e. Involve your most qualified people to resolve conflict.

f. A confrontation should be approached in a spirit of gentleness, not arrogance.

2. Lessons Learned from the Accused

a. The lack of communication created a misunderstanding. (The eastern tribes could have anticipated a misunderstanding.)

b. A person wrongly accused must remember Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

c. Do not get defensive or abusive but defuse the situation by building common ground and clarifying the factual issues. (There is an emphasis on the theme of God’s faithfulness and an emphasis for God’s people to respond with faithfulness.)

3. Lessons Learned from Both

a. Listening is an important ingredient in conflict resolution.

b. It is important to trust others, rather than believing the worst about them without investigation.

c. Things are not always as they seem.

d. Do not allow misunderstandings to divide.

e. Be aware of the Jordan River! (The Jordan River symbolically represents potential boundaries that threaten peace in churches—generational, political, educational, theological, etc.)

The “Big Takeaway” is this: Frank and open dialogue will often lead to understanding, promote peace, and preserve unity. So, whether in a time of crisis or a time of concord, peacemakers must be active. James perhaps had the blessing of Jesus in mind when he wrote, “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness” (3:17-18).

The Rest of the Story

After several days of anxiety, tension, and unrest, a meeting convened among the deacon and his wife, two elders, and myself to dialogue about the difficulty. The two elders who participated know this couple well and a mutual respect existed. The elders began by affirming this couple, airing their concerns, and then, patiently listened as the deacon explained himself. Everyone was honest, transparent, and vulnerable. Trust returned. Understanding occurred. Commitments were made. Unity was preserved. Peace prevailed!

Now I’ve been smiling lately, thinkin’ about the good things to come.

And I believe it could be, something good has begun.

Oh Peace Train sounding louder!

Glide on the Peace Train, come on now Peace Train.

Yes, Peace Train holy roller.

Dr. Randy Johns is the Preaching Minister for the Lamar Avenue Church of Christ in Paris, Texas, the second largest Paris in the world. When he is not ministering, he is bass fishing on his lake, or watching the St. Louis Cardinals.