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Being ambassadors of peace in an age of radicalism

Why Christianity is a religion of responsibility

I recently listened to a fiery talk by a well-known Christian polemicist. If you don’t know, polemics is the practice of attacking someone (or something) through verbal and written debate. His calling in life is to “destroy Islam” (his words), in more civilized terms, his calling is to discredit the historical and theological foundations of Islam.

So, given the recent crisis surrounding the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), I asked him: “Do you think the rest of the Muslim world sees ISIS as a legitimate expression of Islam?” The question was rhetorical, of course, as from my understanding I don’t think the majority of Muslims would agree ISIS accurately reflects the heart of Islamic teachings.

To believe that all Muslims are like (or want to be like) ISIS is dangerous, and can lead to racism, political radicalism, religious hatred and unnecessary paranoia in western society. We’ve seen this with the recent rise of Donald Trump and American Islamophobia.

But when I asked him the question, his response—to my amazement—amounted this kind of thinking. “Let me ask you this,” he shot back. “When you become more like Jesus, does your lifestyle get more radical?” Without having time to reflect, I nodded my head in hesitant agreement. “Then, wouldn’t you say that if ISIS claims to be practicing the purest expression of the Quran, that this is what all Muslims would like to follow?”

He made it sound like, at any moment, the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims could fall off the cliff of sanity into the void of radical and murderous fundamentalism. A bit odd, to say the least.

There seemed to be something a bit off, maybe even something—I dare say—a bit radical about his response. Now, what he believes about Islam and Muslims is his own decision. Some of my friends are Muslims. We love them. They love us. That’s my reality, but I realize that’s not the reality of everyone.

Although his beliefs about Islam certainly troubled me, that’s not what bothered me the most. What bothered me most was his understanding about what it means to become more like Jesus.

Was he right? Does becoming more like Jesus mean becoming more radical? 

Peacemakers, Ambassadors and Stewards

The Bible uses very specific language when it talks about how Christians should live in the world. We are called to be “peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9) and to make every effort to “live at peace” with everyone we encounter (Romans 12:8; Hebrews 12:14). As blessed children of the Father (Matthew 5:9), we are called to follow the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) into a world of chaos, anxiety and hatred.

The apostle Paul says we are Christ’s “ambassadors” (2 Corinthians 5:20) in God’s work of reconciling the world. An ambassador is an official representative of an authority who engages the world through diplomacy—not hatred, violence or radicalism.

Jesus-followers are to be wise diplomats who pursue God’s justice and reconciliation in the world. Click To Tweet

We represent the Prince of Peace, and thus we are called to live in the world as wise diplomats in the pursuit of God’s justice and reconciliation in Christ.

The New Testament refers to leaders in the Church as “God’s stewards” (Titus 1:7).  But this idea of Christian stewardship is not limited to Church leaders. According to the apostle Peter, all Christians—no matter what their vocation— have been endowed with spiritual gifts. With these gifts, they are called to “serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10).

Thus, God’s people are called to responsible living—we call this stewardship—in a way that serves the best interests of their neighbor and the earth.

Need I say more?

The Bible says other things about how Christians should live in the world as well: We are to be neighbor-lovers, enemy-lovers, animal-lovers, justice-pursuers—we are to become more like Jesus in every way.

But this clearly—given the language employed in the Bible—does not mean becoming radical. Instead, the words peacemaker, ambassador and steward evokes a strong sense of responsibility and diplomacy in our dealings with others.

Granted, living responsible Christian lives may sometimes require radical measures. We see this in the life of people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and others. But radicalism is not the hermeneutic—it is not the driving force— of Christian discipleship and ethics.

Disciples of Jesus are guided by a responsibility to live a cruciform and resurrection life. Click To Tweet

Rather, true disciples of Jesus are guided by a responsibility to live the cruciform and resurrected life in the world. If we are not living responsibly in Jesus, we are living in sin. In the words of Eberhard Bethge, “The sin of respectable people reveals itself in flight from responsibility.”

Religious radicalism almost always produces hatred and violence. Human responsibility —guided by the Spirit—seeks love, justice and peace. Christianity is a religion of responsibility. 

“Those who make peace sow the seeds of justice by their peaceful acts” (James 3:18)

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About the author

Josh Valley is a long-term care Chaplain and an award-winning writer who lives in Thunder Bay, ON.