Peace in the church is fragile and precious. Threats to peace in the church are many and mighty. The call to peace in the church is urgent and necessary.
When we speak of the church, we are not referring to the mystical body of all the elect, but to the church institute as the visible congregation where we have our membership. Think of Jerusalem of old where the Israelites gathered for temple worship, or think of the congregation gathered in Corinth during the apostolic era, or think of your own congregation (and denomination). Concerning God’s church may we all sincerely say and sing the words lifted from the sixth stanza of Psalter 348, “My heart desires thy peace.” As often as we pray, “Lord of the harvest, send forth laborers” (Luke 10:2), we ought to pray twice as often for the peace of Jerusalem, that peace may be within her walls and prosperity within her palaces (Ps. 122:6-7).
As we begin the year 2023, peace is the crying need in the PRC, as it surely is anywhere God has built and maintains His church in these last and evil days. We need God’s grace poured out in rich abundance, for the sake of Christ, through the Holy Spirit, and into the hearts of all the members of the church so that each one says about the church, “I love thee O Jerusalem, and therefore, my heart desires thy peace.” Many things are necessary for peace in the church and I intend to address some of them in upcoming articles; but we must begin with the desire for peace.
A needed desire
Our desire for peace in the church ought to become more and more fervent this year. The reasons are manifold. First, in recent times we in the PRC have been confronted with great perils. These perils have included doctrinal controversy, which always has the potential to tear the church apart, especially should the churches ever adopt false doctrine instead of vindicating the truth by identifying and condemning error.
In addition, the perils of our day include the sin of schism. A minister in the PRC was recently deposed for schismatic behavior. Matters worsened when some members and a couple of other ministers separated from the PRC in support of the deposed minister. Together, now, they create more schism and try recruiting more followers by slandering the PRC with preposterous and oft-repeated claims like “the PRC teaches salvation by works,” and “the PRC hates the gospel and persecutes those who love it,” and “the PRC is the great whore of Babylon.” Under the judgment of God, schism always begets more schism and endless fragmentation until finally even chief friends are estranged and, most grievous of all, a generation of children is scattered.
Finally, there is the great peril of the horrific evil of abuse that has been exposed in recent years and includes the deposition of a younger minister for spousal abuse and an older minister for sexual abuse. With minimal effort Satan could use the abomination of abuse and any number of wrong responses to it to rip the church to shreds and cause still greater damage to abuse victims. But for the astonishing grace of God, the PRC in the midst of these perils would be reduced to the spiritual carnage of an American Civil War battlefield. Is not peace in the church more precious to your heart this year?
Second, our desire for peace in the church must grow stronger this year because the world outside grows increasingly restless. The nations are on edge. People all across the globe are anxious and agitated. This is to be expected because Scripture depicts the future antichristian world-kingdom as a hideous beast that will arise out of the “sea” (Dan. 7; Rev. 13). Have you ever stood alongside of or above the sea on an outcropping of rocks and looked below? The sea is not like a small freshwater lake in the mountains with a surface so calm and clear that it acts like a mirror. The sea moves. With its tides and waves it never stops moving, churning, pounding, heaving, and foaming. The nations are like the sea. All through the earth there is constant fear, restlessness, rioting, murder, strife, animosity, tyranny, stark political divides, war and rumors of war. The church may not be like the sea. How urgent is the call to peace!
Third, the spirit of our age is diametrically opposed to peace in the church institute. Take for example the socalled wokeism and critical race theory that are pushed by progressive activists and promoted in big corporations and secular institutions of learning. A new generation is being indoctrinated to view all reality through the lens of oppression, bias, and victimhood. They are taught to look for injustice everywhere, and automatically assume that all white (especially heterosexual, Christian) males are privileged oppressors while everyone else is a victim. This spirit is fatal to unity in the church institute because it promotes suspicion, distrust, frustration, and rebellion, and ultimately it would seek to eradicate church government exercised through God-ordained special offices as an inherently oppressive structure. How urgent is the call to unity among brethren in God’s church!
Fourth, in the modern world we are navigating our way through a new era of peril with social media and various forms of global-wide communication via the Internet. The Internet is one of the most amazing developments of world history, and for the church it is a powerful tool to disseminate the gospel, work efficiently, and connect believers from the four corners of the earth. There are many true, honest, just, pure, lovely, virtuous, and praiseworthy things of good report that are easily accessible to a universal audience on the Internet. God be praised! But for every one of them, there are far more false, dishonest, unjust, defiled, ugly, sinister, and damnworthy things of evil report. For every bright and flowering meadow where the light of Christ’s truth and holiness shines, there is an immense and dense forest of darkness filled with words that can cause irreparable damage to the unity of the church. In that darkness flourishes vitriolic rants, vile slander, cruel defamation, anonymous threats, pompous scoffing, envious gossip, manipulative sophistry, and all the chatter of the babbler. Sometimes even the devout Christian is tempted to traffic in and repeat what goes on in those black forests, dismissing the words of our Lord, “But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Matt. 12:36), and the warning of the inspired apostle “Be not deceived, evil communications corrupt good manners” (I Cor. 15:33).
Fifth, every person whose name is written in the church directory, including the minister, elders, and deacons, possesses a sinful nature, and that old man of sin will not improve a whit this year. According to our old man, we are stubborn, proud, envious, angry, dramatic, and defensive. We often do not handle conflict in a manner becoming the gospel because hatred for one another and God yet resides in our flesh. With the appearance of the slightest disturbance in the church we are prone to an “us vs. them” mentality and we quickly form sides. Before long, we count the brother in the church with whom we have a disagreement as an “enemy,” and even suppose we honor God by doing so! How fragile is the peace of the church!
Sixth, our desire for peace must be ever stronger this year because we are one year closer to the appearance of the beast. This year brings us closer to the end that God has determined in His counsel. Before that end comes, the great beast that represents the final antichristian world-empire will rise to power by a combination of unrivaled force and diabolical deception exercised through the false church. The antichrist as king will seek to wear out the saints by making war with us (Dan. 7; Rev. 13). This systematic persecution will be so severe and such a trial of our faith that God will shorten the days lest the very elect perish (Matt. 24:22). Satan has great wrath, and it intensifies every year, as that blood-thirsty fiend knows his time is short (Rev. 12:12).
Brothers and sisters in Christ, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you with all malice. And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Eph. 4:31-32). We need each other, and we will need each other in that hour of great tribulation as never before! How can we prepare for battle when we are at each other’s throats? How can soldiers march toward the last great enemy when they are crossing swords in their own ranks? In this calm before the storm, as our churches still enjoy material prosperity in the world and still fly under the radar of the evil powers that be, there is no time for strife in the church. An army divided against itself cannot stand. Every day we are one day closer to the end, and every day it becomes more and more urgent that we heed the call to church unity.
A commanded desire
Let us hear those calls then from the apostle Paul. Oh, how the Spirit of Christ dwelt richly in that servant of the Lord who fervently exhorted the churches unto peace. Paul did not consider his work on behalf of the church finished after the Lord used him for the establishment of new congregations all throughout the spiritually dark and hostile Roman Empire. When he departed a congregation, he always kept them in his heart, prayed fervently for their peace, and pleaded with them to dwell in unity.
In her early years, the Corinthian congregation looked more like the city of Corinth than the church in Corinth because of all her inner turmoil and strife. Toward the very end of his final inspired letter to them, Paul pleads, “Finally brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.” To the saints of the church at Rome he urged, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:18), and then he immediately warned against vengeful paybacks in congregational life (v. 19). He exhorted the Ephesians to walk worthy of their calling by “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). He charged the congregation of Thessalonica to know their officebearers, “and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves,” (I Thess. 5:13), implying that proper esteem for officebearers is demonstrated by living in peace with each other.
Finally, how often would not Paul (Peter too) close his letters with “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (Rom. 16:16; I Cor. 16:20; II Cor. 13:12; I Thess. 5:26; I Pet. 5:14)? You and I do not need to kiss each other with holy kisses at church, for there are other symbolic actions of Christian charity and friendly greetings. However, we had better be striving to the utmost of our power to live with each other in such a way that we are able to kiss one another.
A sought desire
May God grant hearts that desire peace in the church! Not a fleeting desire that appears one day only to vanish the following, but a sustained desire secured in the heart all the way to the grave. Not a weakening desire that fades like the summer grass under the heat of adversity and worldliness, but an ardent desire that swells with age and maturity in Christ. Not a frail desire easily overcome by the flesh when we feel slighted, but a steadfast desire that governs every thought, word, and deed, especially when our will is opposed. Not a base desire for the false peace that the world cultivates in the sphere of unbelief and iniquity, but a heavenly desire for the very peace of God enjoyed in the way of truth and holiness. Not a mere human desire, but the desire of the Prince of Peace who as the eternal Son of God became incarnate and entered into the torments of hell to accomplish peace for His church—peace with God and peace with one another, applying the same by His Spirit. May God graciously fill the hearts of His people with such a desire for Jerusalem’s peace!