Historic Peace Churches
Historic Peace Churches is a term widely used for the three denominations which have for centuries held the position that the New Testament forbids Christian participation in war and violence. These three are the Brethren, the Friends (Quakers), and the Mennonites. The term came into common usage in America between World Wars I and II. In 1922 the Friends initiated the Conference of Pacifist Churches, which met in 1923, 1926, 1927, 1929, and 1931. In the last conference, H. P. Krehbiel, a Mennonite (General Conference Mennonite) leader of Newton, Kansas, was appointed a committee of one to arrange the next meeting; but because of the economic depression it was not held until November 1935, when it met in Newton as the "Conference of Historic Peace Churches" (not to be confused with the Conference of Historic Peace Churches which was organized in Canada in 1940). After 1935 the Conference of Historic Peace Churches met in 1937, 1938, and on numerous other occasions. However, the meetings were not regularly scheduled, and were not always the same in character. They were planned by the Continuation Committee set up by the 1935 meeting. Similar conferences have been held in Europe since 1947 by the Continuation Committee of the Historic Peace Churches there. The term "Historic Peace Churches" has become widely accepted beyond the circles of the Christian pacifist churches. -- Melvin Gingerich
Historic Peace Churches is a label that refers collectively to the Mennonites, the Society of Friends (Quakers), and the Church of the Brethren. The term first appeared in the title of a meeting of representatives of the three communities held at Newton, Kansas, in 1935. Though the three groups, which originated separately in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries respectively, were in occasional contact over the centuries, modern joint endeavors were triggered by challenges growing from World Wars I and II support for conscientious objectors and alternatives to military service, war sufferers relief, peace witness and the like.
While American Mennonites joined neither the National Council of Churches in the United States, nor the World Council of Churches (WCC), the other two groups did, thereby facilitating an ecumenical peace witness by the peace churches, particularly in relation to the WCC (Puidoux Conferences). In the United States, the historic peace churches joined the peace societies of the major Protestant denominations in the Church Peace Mission (1950-1967), a mission of peace education directed to the churches. That conversation continued thereafter through the 1980s in a group of pacifist-just war ethicists called the War-Nation-Church Study Group.
Joint historic peace church endeavors began in continuation committees," first in the United States, then in Europe, composed of representatives of the three groups, relief and service agencies. Later occasional meetings brought representatives of other agencies in these denominations together. Peace studies programs in peace church colleges and seminaries, notably at Earlham (Friends) and Manchester (Brethren) Colleges and Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries ( all in Indiana), and Conrad Grebel College in Ontario, stimulated further joint thought and endeavor. By the late 1970s, as the result of increasing shared experiences, particularly during the war in Vietnam, an effort was launched to involve local and regional bodies of the three denominations in common reflection, leading in 1978 to an ongoing program of actions called "The New Call to Peacemaking."
Though effectiveness of such efforts is not readily assessed, the presence of the "historic peace churches" has become a constructive point of reference ecumenically. Representatives of these churches have interacted variously with World Council of Churches actions in international relations and peace. The fifth WCC Assembly, meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1975, instructed its new Central Committee to launch a consultation on disarmament. Resources to be drawn on were to include, among others, "the experience of the historic peace churches." New convictions concerning the peacemaking implications of the gospel in major church bodies in Europe and North America led several of these, by the early 1980s, to embrace " peace church" language. -- Paul Peachey
Gingerich, Melvin. Service for peace : a history of Mennonite Civilian Public Service. Akron, PA: Mennonite Central Committee, 1949: 25-38.
Cite This Article
Gingerich, Melvin and Paul Peachey. "Historic Peace Churches." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 21 Oct 2017. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Historic_Peace_Churches&oldid=56977.
Gingerich, Melvin and Paul Peachey. (1989). Historic Peace Churches. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 21 October 2017, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Historic_Peace_Churches&oldid=56977.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, p. 1092; vol. 5, p. 373. All rights reserved.
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