Edited by Jeffrey Gros & John D. Rempel, The Fragmentation of the Church and Its Unity in Peacemaking (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, USA, 2001). ISBN: 0-8028-4745-5
At a time of gathering war clouds, heated rhetoric, sound-bite analysis and the retrenchment of assumed positions, this demanding but accessible volume could not be better timed. Edited jointly by a Catholic and a Mennonite, The Fragmentation of the Church and Its Unity in Peacemaking takes its inspiration from a 1995 conference on Faith and Order called by the National Council of Churches in the US. It is the second volume in an important but infrequent series which began with Marlin Miller and Barbara Nelson Gingrich’s The Church’s Peace Witness in 1994.
The symposium examines – from the viewpoints of history, confession and (to a lesser extent) contemporary engagement – the vocation to peacemaking as it has been variously understood in different Christian traditions. The contributors, church leaders and academics alike, come from Catholic, Church of the Brethren, classical Evangelical, Lutheran, Mennonite, Quaker, Pentecostal, Reformed and Orthodox communities.
Anabaptist viewpoints are strongly represented throughout. The book is dedicated to John Howard Yoder. If there is one common thread it is his contention that theology, ethics and ecclesiology cannot properly be considered in isolation from one another.
All the papers display thoughtfulness, commitment and openness. The Orthodox contribution seems least developed, however. As an Anglican formed by engagement with Anabaptists, I am especially pleased that John D. Rempel (who relates to the UN on behalf of Mennonite Central Committee, and who I met at the 1998 WCC Assembly) locates Mennonite witness squarely within the traditions of churches journeying, arguing and witnessing together.
Other writers re-explore familiar themes underlying Christian approaches to war and peace – the Lutheran two-kingdoms doctrine, Apostolic restorationism, gathered / national church models and the call to holiness. There is a genuine (but not reductionist) attempt to make this a shared conversation about the shape of the Gospel in church life. Mutual ecumenical accountability is especially important here, since mass violence centred on the West has frequently been a history of Christians killing Christians.
Inter-religious issues are largely absent from this volume. However after 11 September there is a growing awareness among those engaged in inter-Christian conversation that the meaning of Christian witness and identity in a religiously plural world cannot be constructed as an afterthought. Anabaptists have much to offer here: Christ the crucified peacemaker claims their heart, but not (by definition) in a way that kills or wounds ‘the other’.
The Fragmentation of the Church and Its Unity in Peacemaking is an invaluable single-volume entrée into the historic link between the call to peace and call to be church.