On Peace

The modern Semitic greeting “salam aleykoom”[1] embodies the desire of urban ministers everywhere: peace be upon you.  But most modern users limit the term to the absence of chaos or the absence of violence.  Even in this limited usage, the work necessary for the fullness of the essence of the term is rarely embodied by the people currently using the term; however, the intent of God is that the church herself would embody and release the fullness of His peace in practical ways.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, that fullness is revealed in parts of the over 250 occurrences of “shalom” (~Alv’) each flowing from the root concept of completion and fulfillment that comes through “entering into a state of wholeness and unity through restored relationships.”[2] The full range of the semantic domain of the Hebrew term could not be consistently translated into one word in Greek.  Hence, the LXX also includes translations of “shalom” into various forms of “life” (zwh,) or “completion” (avnaplhro,w) reflecting the depth of meaning intended that go beyond the limits of the Greek term “peace” (eivrh,nh).[3]

The 21st century church in the United States limits the scope of biblical peace based on their individual theological presuppositions. Of course, generalizations such as these about to be mentioned are not intended to reflect and absolutize individuals who may be categorized therein, but rather provide a framework through which some understanding of the current affairs of biblical peace may be understood.  Although there may be some overlap, generally speaking, evangelical and fundamentalist ministers of the gospel limit the scope of biblical peace to spiritual, moral, and interpersonal.  More charismatic and Pentecostal ministers seem to limit biblical peace to material, physical, and personal.  Finally, the liberal minister may limit the gospel to the communal/political, material, and physical.  A biblical peace transforms each of these seven categories[4] of life with greater and greater degrees of peace as believers walk in the Spirit over time.

This section of the chapter calls for the urban minister to apply a missiological ecclesiology that reflects the embodiment of peace through the four categories of the church’s mission applied in the urban context.  The degree of peace an urban church will experience and the degree of influence it will extend are determined by the contextualization of the interactive roles of proclamation (kh,rugma), worship (leitourgi,a), fellowship (koinwni,a), and service (diakonia).[5] An understanding of these terms is foundational to an understanding of how they are expressed within a specific context.  This section now turns to addressing these terms.

Kh,rugma

Proclaiming the good news that Jesus Christ satisfied the wrath of God against sin[6] allows the church freedom to step into the Lord’s desire for her to exercise her ministry of reconciliation.[7] As individuals and groups receive the forgiveness that is offered with God through the completed work of Jesus Christ on the cross, they now have peace with God.[8] This frees and empowers them to be freedom workers[9] on behalf of those they know who, as enemies of God, are still enslaved to the chaos and violence of the world, the enemy, and the flesh.[10] This is seen in Micah’s prophetic call for the ancient city to repent to do justly, love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.[11] In a New Testament perspective of having been called into reconciliation with God,[12] the believer (along with others reconciled) is called into community,[13] humanization, justice, and celebration.[14] Herein, evangelistic zeal is fully realized as believers follow the Spirit’s leading to influence all aspects of life through the proclamation of the good news through word and deed.

The attitude through which the proclamation is delivered is one with the message. The proclamation begins with the messenger self-emptying oneself in order to step into positions of servanthood.  Proclamation is to be done in culturally sensitive ways reflecting a forgetting of oneself,[15] obedience to the leading of the Lord’s Spirit, and sacrificial service for the benefit of the hearers. Attention to cultural sensitivity ensures that the clear message of redemption offered through Christ’s cross is not confused by cultural misperceptions.[16] The same attitude of humility not only is to permeate the proclamation of the good news but also serves as the eternal starting point for deepening relationships within the fellowship of the saints.

Koinwni,a

The fellowship of the saints is based upon each and every one involved being one with the Father through the cleansing of the Son as each remains filled with the Spirit.[17] Authenticity within the relationships remains dependent upon the believers choosing to devote themselves to the Lord by obediently abiding in the apostles teaching, striving toward speaking with the Lord in prayer, and communicating oneness with Christ’s death through the common union of breaking bread.[18] The natural outflow of the authenticity of hearing the Word and doing the Word[19] will be mutual care for one another, especially those less able to care for themselves.[20]

Mutual care as an outflow of authentic devotion to Christ worked out through transparent spirituality with other spirit-filled believers was evidence of Christ’s Spirit at work in the body of believers throughout the book of Acts.  This resulted in tangible needs being met.  The literary signpost of the Spirit’s filling in the community of the early church was its care for those of least means within that community as people shared their resources with one another.[21] Later, this would extend across thousands of miles from community to community as the early church sought to meet the tangible needs of communities who were part of the fellowship of the saints.[22] The Spirit’s work of sharing tangible resources was not limited to the wealthy sharing with the poor.[23] Even among the poor of Macedonia, sharing self-sacrificially across ethnic and geographic regions was initiated not by the will of regional missional leaders but by the Spirit of God working out the salvation of those who were convicted by Him within a specific faith community.[24] The essence of authenticity as fundamentally assumed within the community and the high personal cost to an absence of honesty on the part of anyone within the community revealed itself in the contrasting accounts of Barnabas’ honest provision for the poor and Ananias & Sapphira’s deceitful, and partial, provision for the poor.[25] The deceit of the husband and wife violated the essence of mutuality inherent in the fellowship and thereby polluted their ministry of service and undermined the community’s worship of the Divine within.

Leitourgi,a

The ministry of service that cultivates and nurtures those gathered together to worship He who is the Eternal often includes meeting of the tangible needs of the saints[26] who define the aforementioned fellowship.  The importance of the believers (saints) to the Lord is based upon the staggering truth that they are that in which the Eternal has chosen as His temple.[27] In the past, His manifest presence among His people was in the tabernacle[28] and the temple.[29] Then, both the tabernacle and the temple were cleansed by the blood of animals[30] but the temple of the saints was cleansed by the perfect blood of His Eternal Son.[31] The preparations, sacrifice, and ceremony was done in and around and in preparation for people to be in the presence of the Eternal was the labor of liturgy[32] conducted by those He selected to the work of preparation for worship.[33] At the cross, He Himself did this labor of liturgy[34] in order that those whom He calls to serve Him would not only be cleansed without but also within.  Their consciences were now freed[35] to worship the Eternal Father by His Spirit not just in truth but also in spirit.[36] The ministry, service, and labor of liturgy for the purpose of worship remains distinct from other forms of practical service.  It is the Spirit of God within His temple mobilizing the individual aspects of His body to work out from worship into tangible out-workings of peace into His creation.  This includes recreating the social structures wherein He sends His temple.

Diakonia

The temple of the Lord mobilized for effective activities that create greater degrees of wholeness (peace) in the world requires culturally specific, practical activities of service and ministry.  The types of service and ministry of the aforementioned leitourgia are specific to the temple of the Lord as part of the worshipping of His people. In contrast, the types of service and ministry within diakonia are not limited in that way.  When it comes to the care for the people of God, the two are in fact very interdependent.[37] However, generally speaking, the diakonia of the church is as the Lord’s “agent of reconciliation, welfare, and justice”[38] throughout the culture.  This occurs as the Lord prepares the way and leads her into activities that redeem the cultures in which people exercise their faith.  This requires self-sacrifice both on the part of the collective (the church) and the individual believer as modeled by the Master.[39]

In some contexts, the temple of the Lord is called upon by His Spirit to provide relief from the suffering of those within their sphere of influence.  In other contexts, the church is called to develop the individual in various areas of wholeness.  With growing influence of having provided relief and individual development, the bride of Christ may be led of the Spirit to develop the community under the authority of the civic governmental structures or, in their absence, to develop a community from total chaos into a community of wholeness.  From within a faulty social structure, the Lord may lead either believers and/or Christ’s body en mass into spearheading structural change within a society, or a social sub-structure, that inherently undermines the fundamental honor and respect of the image of God.[40]

The limitless potential of the church to exercise grace and truth within a culture as part of working out the ministry of reconciliation within that culture is only limited by the specific spiritual gifts the Spirit disperses within the church.[41] His ministry through His people flows from Him as He directs to accomplish what He desires to accomplish.  Further, the great variety of ministry, based on the great variety of giftings,[42] that flows from the church not only brings help, healing, and wholeness to the people within the culture but also simultaneously matures the individuals[43] within the church as well as the entire community of the faith.[44]

He Himself poetically sung out into being before the beginning of time the works of service in His foreknown saints.[45] He selected the specifics of who, when, where, why, and how the work would be completed.  This, thereby, ensured in eternity that His work would be accomplished through His people.

This understanding of proclamation, worship, fellowship, and service, as the components that bring the peace of God, has unique cultural manifestations.  The interrelatedness of these concepts expressed in specific contexts creates forms through which an urban church can seek to extend peace and influence in its setting.

Peace: A Contextualized Orthopraxy

Within the context of this current ministry, proclamation, fellowship, worship, and service take some unique forms.  The culture massages each of these into a form that presents itself as an expression of the place in which the church seeks to worship and serve.  Some methods reflect convictions and values of the senior pastor and others are convictions of various ministry leaders.

The primary method of proclamation is through the weekly preaching of the word on Sundays.  Annually, the pastor retreats to plan out the coming year by prayerful selection of various books of the Bible that he will preach through on Sunday mornings. Through various discipling tools, many members and attendees of the Sunday morning worship celebration have been trained to share their faith so as to invite others into the eternal relationship that comes with receiving the good news of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.  Also, a few young men who have proven themselves to be students of the Lord with potential to preach have been trained to preach.  Finally, vision is cast for the congregation to regularly gather together in gender specific groups.  These Life Transformation Groups (LTGs)[46] are groups of twos and threes gathering together to read the Scriptures, pray, and encourage one another toward godliness.

Although some fellowship occurs in the LTGs, other avenues also present themselves.  In order to facilitate fellowship in the large group setting, refreshments are available both before and after the worship celebrations.  Although it is preferred that the refreshments are not brought into the sanctuary, no one is corrected in doing so.  This encourages people to place a higher value on one another than on the facility.   During the worship celebration, a time of asking for prayer requests and praying for one another is a defining characteristic of this fellowship.   Throughout the preaching of the word, the preacher encourages members to be engaged in home Bible study groups and LIFE groups.  The nature of the LIFE group is revealed in unpacking the acronym: “Living In Fellowship Everyday.”  As such, these groups are encouraged to be for people who live in close proximity to one another so as to facilitate regular, non-scheduled interactions. Also, life circumstance specific groups also organically crop up, like the new moms & moms of toddlers midweek play group.  None of these midweek groups are managed by the pastor or church administrator.

The work of the ministry that encourages people to worship the King of kings in spirit and in truth occurs primarily on Sundays.  Without pretense, a Scripture reading interrupts the conversation of those gathered in the sanctuary.  The pastor prays out from the Scripture read then invites the congregants to stand to sing songs of praise to the Lord God.  After a few songs (typically three), a season of praise reports, prayer requests, and prayer encourages those gathered to again sing songs of praise and adoration.  After this second music set, children are dismissed to facilitate age appropriate teaching both for them and for the adults.  During the preaching, the pastor will often call for action out from the text. Both the music and the preaching are complemented by the use of a digital overhead projector that has the words for the music and the main ideas for the sermon.  Bibles, both in English only and bilingual, are available and distributed at the outset of the sermon. Seminars lasting two to four hours on various topics are available two of four Sundays per month.[47]

Leaders within the church call the members to engage their culture in different ways.  The facility is utilized free of charge by a local block club on a monthly basis.  Also, a church plant to Amharic speaking peoples meets Sunday afternoons and uses the facility for monthly prayer meetings.  Periodically during the winter, a couple of members may take the initiative to provide relief from the cold to homeless who cannot get into a shelter by hosting them in the sanctuary.

With so many social service entities and mainline churches focused on meeting relief type needs in the community, the congregation is encouraged to build relationships with people who are less well off than they rather than simply giving a few dollars to someone who asks.  This is facilitated through the home groups and LIFE groups being encouraged to build relationships and meet the needs of people within that context.  Also, the members are encouraged to not fill their lives with things that may interfere with the Spirit leading them into serving their neighbors in mowing a lawn, raking leaves, and shoveling snow.

Each season the members rally together to host an event that meets a need and cultivates relationships within the neighborhood.  In the summer, the church hosts between one and three picnics down by a local beach and a vacation Bible school for the kids to invite their friends.  In the autumn, a Halloween alternative party called the Holy Ghost Party provides opportunities to give away something for the sweet tooth and something sweet for the soul.  Annual Christmas parties are also special times of fun for the whole church to rally together to reach out to those within the community.  The special events may include singing by the music team or dramatic performances by the teens.  Winter and spring are the most varied.  Most typically, the church hosts other groups during spring break who want to do service projects in the inner city.

Most recently, a system of serving those within the neighborhood has developed within the church to assist people needing to learn to navigate the social service system within the city.  Called the Boaz Ministry, it is scheduled to begin after the first of the year.  It will serve both to train people in navigating the social service system as well as train people to assist those who need to navigate the system.


[1] Transliterated Arabic translating to “peace upon you.”

[2] R.L. Harris, G.L. Archer, & B.K. Waltke, The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1981), in Bibleworks 7 [CD-ROM] 2006, s.vv. “~Alv’, eivrh,nh, zwh,, avnaplhro,w.”

[3] Ibid.

[4] Eldin Villafañe, class notes, Center for Urban Ministerial Education, 7 June 2007.

[5] Although the interrelationship of proclamation, worship, fellowship, and service has been noted extensively elsewhere (e.g. 29-39 above and illustrated in Appendix G), it is crucial to note that the order and pattern of interrelationship of these occurrences is a culturally bound contextualization of the mission of the church to seek and save the lost (Luke 19.10) on route to making disciples of all ethnic groups (Matthew 28.19).

[6] John 3.16-18, 3.36.

[7] Romans 5.9-11, 2 Corinthians 5.11ff.

[8] Romans 5.1.

[9] A.k.a., slaves of righteousness, Romans 6.18-19, 10.14-15, and 2 Corinthians 5.11ff; on “freedom” also see James 1.25.

[10] Ephesians 2.2, 1 John 2.16.

[11] Micah 6.8.

[12] Romans 5.11.

[13] E.g., Hebrews 10.24.

[14] Harvie Conn in Villafañe’s class notes, 7 June 2006.

[15] This is another aspect to believers’ humility.

[16] Eldin Villafañe, class notes of Philippians 2, Center for Urban Ministerial Education, 7 June 2007.

[17] Ephesians 5.18-21, 1 John 1.3-9.

[18] Acts 2.42, 1 Cor 11.17-34.

[19] James 1.22.

[20] James 1.27.

[21] Acts 2.44, 4.32.

[22] 2 Corinthians 9.12-13.

[23] 1 Corinthians 16.1-14.

[24] Romans 15.26, 2 Corinthians 8.3-4.

[25] Acts 4.32-5.11.

[26] E.g., 2 Corinthians 9.12.

[27] 1 Corinthians 6.19, 1 Peter 2.2.

[28] E.g., Exodus 40.38.

[29] 1 Kings 8.10-11.

[30] Hebrews 9.21.

[31] Hebrews 9.12-14.

[32] Here liturgy is used to refer to “the form and arrangement of public worship” as opposed to the form of Christian Communion, especially in Eastern churches. Encarta® World English Dictionary [North American Edition] 1998-2007 Microsoft Corporation, http://office.microsoft.com/research/quesry.asmx (accessed April 1, 2009).

[33] E.g., Leviticus 23, Numbers 4, 1 Chronicles 23.

[34] Christ’s labor on the cross fulfills the aforementioned labor of liturgy of the Old Testament.  In this New Testament era, the work of preparing for worship is completed in the crucified Christ.  Hence, identification with Christ and His work is sufficient for all who come to worship the Almighty hwhy.

[35] Hebrews 9.14.

[36] John 4.24.

[37] 2 Corinthians 9.12.

[38] Eldin Villafañe, class notes, Center for Urban Ministerial Education, 8 June 2007.

[39] Mark 10.45.

[40] Eldin Villafañe, class notes, Center for Urban Ministerial Education, 8 June 2007, based on Ronald J. Sider, Philip N. Olson, and Heidi Rolland Unruh, Church That Make A Difference: Reaching Your Community with Good News and Good Works (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002).

[41] E.g., Romans 12.3-8.

[42] 1 Corinthians 12.5.

[43] Philemon 6.

[44] Ephesians 4.11-13.

[45] Ephesians 2.10 & 1 Peter 1.2.

[46] Neil Cole, Life Transformation Groups (Signal Hill, CA: Church Multiplication Associates, 2000).

[47] Appendix A.

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