ecumenical dictionary



HISTORIC Peace Churches (HPC) is a term popularized in 1935 to refer to the Church of the Brethren, the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), and the Mennonite churches which share a common witness against war. The three traditions date from different times, the Mennonites from the radical Reformation in the 16th century, the Friends from radical puritanism in the 17th century, and the Brethren from radical pietism in the 18th century. Yet all have held an official witness that peace is an essential aspect of the gospel and all have rejected the use of force and violence. Their common position on peace has brought the three traditions into many cooperative relationships, not only during times of war but also in worldwide service and relief projects.

In 1935 the conference of historic peace churches in North America, was held at North Newton, Kansas, USA, one in a series of meetings of pacifist denominations. The term “historic peace churches” was coined in part to distinguish biblical-based peaceful non-resistance from political pacifism, which was becoming a popular movement during the time between the two world wars. At the Newton meeting, which included both theological and political concerns, participants felt that cooperation was urgent because of the growing international crisis, and that they had an obligation to share their message with other Christian bodies and with the United States government. Delegations were formed to visit different denominations and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and a continuation committee was set up to promote peace concerns cooperatively. With the advent of military conscription in the USA in 1940, peace-church leaders worked to set up an alternative to military service for their members who were conscientious objectors: civilian public service. The work of the continuation committee was extended to Europe after the second world war, most notably through the series of conferences on “The Lordship of Christ over Church and State”, often referred to as the Puidoux conferences after the site of the first meeting in Switzerland.

When the World Council of Churches (WCC) was formed in Amsterdam in 1948, several of the HPC were founding members – the Church of the Brethren, Five Years Meeting (now Friends United Meeting), Friends General Conference (all from the USA), Canadian Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, Algemene Doopsgezinde Societeit (Dutch Mennonites) and the Vereinigung der Deutschen Mennonitengemeinden (German Mennonites). The first WCC assembly stated that “war is contrary to the will of God”, described three varying positions held by Christians, and urged theological reflections on the issues involved. The continuation committee took seriously this call, especially when a request came specifically from the WCC general secretary, W. A. Visser ’t Hooft. In the booklet War Is Contrary to the Will of God (1951) each tradition submitted its statement, adding a fourth from the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. Ecumenical leaders expressed appreciation for the statements but challenged the peace church leaders again. If the HPC could not formulate a common position, they could hardly expect a body as diverse as the WCC to come to agreement. The continuation committee went back to work and in 1953 presented a joint statement, “Peace Is the Will of God”. This was replaced in 1991 by the HPC in the USA, joined by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, in “A Declaration on Peace: In God’s People the World’s Renewal Has Begun”.

Service agencies of the HPC were instrumental in organizing EIRENE to provide openings for alternative service for European conscientious objectors, especially in developing countries. Volunteers from the HPC have served in many peace and service-oriented organizations in both Western and Eastern Europe. Members of these churches continue to be active in ecumenical activities, in particular through the WCC Programme to Overcome Violence and the Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV). In 2001, an HPC consultation was held in Bienenberg, Switzerland, on “Theology and Culture: Peace-making in a Globalized World” as a theological contribution to the DOV and an important marker in continuing ecumenical dialogue among the three HPC traditions and with the wider Christian fellowship.


D.F. Durnbaugh, Fruit of the Vine: A History of the Brethren, 1708-1995, Elgin IL, Brethren, 1997 ¦ D.F. Durnbaugh ed., On Earth Peace: Discussions on War/Peace Issues between Friends, Mennonites, Brethren and European Churches, 1935-1975, Elgin IL, Brethren, 1978 ¦ F. Enns, Friedenskirche in der Ökumene: Ekklesiologische Wurzeln einer Ethik der Gewaltfreiheit, Göttingen, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2002 ¦ M.E. Miller & B.N. Gingerich eds, The Church’s Peace Witness, Grand Rapids MI, Eerdmans, 1994.

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