Ambassadors in Chains: Ephesians 2-3 and M.L. King’s Letter from Birmingham City Jail

With Elaine Enns. The Bechtel Lectures, March 26, 2009, Conrad Grebel University College. Published in The Conrad Grebel Review (27:2) Fall, pp 4-27. 21 pp.

One of the central questions that faces Anabaptist identity in every generation is: “What does it mean today to be a Peace Church?” In this year’s Bechtel Lectures, we address this issue afresh. We are interested in how the contours of this question have changed over the last 50 years under the impact of two historic developments. One is the way in which 20th century experiments in nonviolence, from Gandhi to Martin Luther King to Christian Peacemaker Teams, have influenced how the traditional Peace Churches understand their vocation. The other is the fact that in the last half-century, the just war theory has steadily atrophied among mainstream churches. This is due primarily to two factors: the moral challenge of weapons of mass destruction, and the slow but steady unraveling of the Constantinian arrangement. This means that today, the question of how to be a peace church is increasingly one that faces all Christian churches. This has opened up a vigorous ecumenical conversation in which we believe Mennonites have much to offer, but also much to learn.

A second question we also wish to explore in these lectures is: “What does it mean to be an evangelical peace church?” For many Mennonites over the past century, evangelicalism has meant embracing the culture and theology of Pietism while trying to retain a distinctive peace witness, a strategy that has yielded decidedly mixed results. In contrast to mainstream contemporary evangelicalism, Menno Simons contended famously that “true evangelical faith” is expressed not in theological dogmas, but in “clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, comforting the sorrowful,
sheltering the destitute, serving those that harm it, and binding up that which is wounded.” Menno further exhorted believers to wield nonviolent “weapons with which the spiritual kingdom of the devil is destroyed.” But it is well documented how the militance of early Anabaptism has, due to centuries of persecution and accommodation, largely been replaced by a culture of being “quiet in the land.” In these lectures, we wish to explore how Mennonites might recover a more engaged evangelism, by looking at both ancient witnesses from the N.T. and contemporary witnesses from the emerging, non-Mennonite (and non-Evangelical!) “Peace Churches.”

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